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Number of Competing Pages and Rankability: The “Other” Keyword Research Metric

Along with determining the goals and objectives for your SEO campaign, keyword research is fundamental for creating a solid foundation on which to grow your search engine optimization efforts. When it comes to SEO keyword research, there are many elements to be considered: predicted search volume, the relevance of your SEO keywords, and even a process we like to call Rankability.

Simply put, Rankability begins with the direct comparison of predicted search volume to the number of competing Web pages provided by Google, Yahoo!, or MSN. The Rankability process is based on many of the fundamentals of the KEI (keyword effectiveness index) method. However, Rankability reboots the process by improving on many of the factors that caused KEI to be discounted.

. . . it is quite tempting to get sucked in by reported search volume numbers from keyword tools.

Throughout the SEO keyword research process, it is quite tempting to get sucked in by reported search volume numbers from keyword research tools. But this is only half the picture. The other half resides at the search engines in the form of a metric called “number of competing pages.” Google, Yahoo!, and MSN display this statistic as a measure of pages indexed that are related to the search query entered. That means if you are going to target a keyword/search query, you will essentially be competing against a number of other pages to get to the #1 spot.

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How Do You Determine a Keyword’s Rankability Score with the Number of Competing Pages?

After you’ve brainstormed on keyword ideas, created silos for organizing your research (based around themes, or even your site’s content-it’s up to you!), and compiled search volume data from the Google Keyword Tool, Wordtracker, or KeywordDiscovery, it’s time to determine those keywords’ Rankability Score.

Enter each keyword into Google and perform a search on that keyword. Take the number of competing pages and enter this into your keyword research matrix (assuming you’ve got one-tsk-tsk if you don’t). Perform this for each keyword in your research list. Perform the basic math to calculate the Rankability Score: Search Volume / Number of Competing Pages = Rankability Score %. Keywords with higher percentage scores statistically show greater potential for achieving rankings quickly-in other words, the path of least resistance. But keep in mind that the Rankability Score is a guide, not the end-all-be-all decision maker for your keyword research.

How Do You Use the Rankability Process to Make Keyword Research Decisions?

One of the major reasons the KEI method was all but abandoned by the search engine marketing community was that the KEI score could prove to be contradictory. For example, you could have a keyword with 1,000 searches to 1,000,000 competing pages and a score of 0.1%, but also have a keyword with 20,000 searches to 20,000,000 competing pages and also have a score of 0.1%. Ultimately, while the input was different, the output (KEI score) remained the same, meaning your decision making was impaired. KEI did not allow for an apples-to-apples comparison and could mislead you into choosing the wrong keywords.

The Rankability process takes this into consideration by adding another level of segmentation. To get an accurate feel for the results of your SEO keyword research, start by sorting your keyword research matrix by the number of competing pages-smallest to largest. From here, find natural breaks in the stats. For example, you may have keywords with competing pages in the hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, etc. Segment your keywords by these natural breaks. Doing this will allow you to compare the Rankability Scores more accurately:

Keyword Suggestion Rankbility Score Search Volume Competing Pages
cars dealerships 3.2673267% 9,900 303,000
car dealer ships 0.2918919% 5,400 1,850,000
car dealer software 0.0632411% 1,600 2,530,000
car dealership software 0.0333333% 480 1,440,000
cars dealers 3.8135593% 450,000 11,800,000
used car dealers 1.2108434% 201,000 16,600,000
used car dealerships 0.4805195% 74,000 15,400,000
cars dealer 0.1345455% 22,200 16,500,000
auto car dealers 0.0780645% 12,100 15,500,000
auto car dealer 0.0515924% 8,100 15,700,000
online car dealer 0.0218182% 3,600 16,500,000
online car dealers 0.0192000% 2,400 12,500,000
car dealer sales 0.0121212% 1,600 13,200,000
car dealer inventory 0.0085437% 880 10,300,000
car dealership sales 0.0076336% 1,000 13,100,000
car sales dealerships 0.0031373% 480 15,300,000
car dealers 4.0760870% 1,500,000 36,800,000
car dealer 1.8032787% 550,000 30,500,000
car dealership 1.0514286% 368,000 35,000,000
car dealerships 0.9825328% 450,000 45,800,000
new car dealership 0.5238095% 110,000 21,000,000
used car dealership 0.2020408% 49,500 24,500,000
cars dealership 0.0302752% 9,900 32,700,000
local car dealers 0.0196429% 4,400 22,400,000
local car dealerships 0.0118367% 2,900 24,500,000
car dealer ship 0.0113695% 4,400 38,700,000
used car dealer 0.0601093% 110,000 183,000,000
used cars dealers 0.0303279% 74,000 244,000,000
used cars dealer 0.0030986% 6,600 213,000,000
used cars dealerships 0.0002018% 4,400 2,180,000,000
locate car dealer 0.0000955% 210 220,000,000

In this “car dealers” example, one keyword’s number of competing pages fell under the million mark, only a handful in the millions-but he lion’s share have competing pages numbering in the tens of millions. These are where the natural breaks occurred. Once you’ve sorted your keywords by the natural breaks in the number of competing pages, it’s time to dig into the Rankability Score. Sort each keyword segment by the Rankability Score-largest to smallest. The keywords with the highest Rankability Score are those keywords that potentially make the most sense to target in your SEO campaign.

By and large, the process involves manual review of your keyword research and hand-picking those keywords that have the desired balance of search volume and Rankability Score. Keep in mind that this could possibly mean passing up a few of the most searched keywords, those with the highest search volume. Think of a good basketball player who is only 5 foot 5 inches tall trying out for the NBA-regardless of skill, he’s just not going to make it! Some keywords in your research will prove to have similar handicaps.

Think of a good basketball player who is only 5 foot 5 inches tall trying out for the NBA-regardless of skill, he’s just not going to make it! Some keywords in your research will prove to have similar handicaps.

You will find keywords with such great search volume that you may need to pass over them in favor of keywords that are A) more relevant and/or B) easier to rank based on available statistics. Regardless of search volume potential, if the number of competing pages is too high (thus providing a low Rankability Score), this should be an indicator that you should be looking elsewhere. There are likely other keywords, perhaps long-tail variations, that may have slightly lower search volume but have much lower competition-this is the low-hanging fruit you should go for.

Let’s assume you’re targeting general SEO keywords in your keyword research. You’ve come to a crossroads between two keywords: “search engine optimization” and “search engine optimization strategy.” The general version has search volume of 90,000, but it has over 26 million competing pages. The long-tail “strategy” variation only has search volume of around 880, but there are only 494,000 competing pages-not to mention that the simple act of appending “strategy” to the keyword “search engine optimization” made it much less nebulous. In this instance, it would make sense to pass over the general, high-volume “search engine optimization” in favor of the lower-volume, more targeted “strategy” variation.

For most SEO campaigns this is OK. For others, you will need to carefully weigh all of the factors-relevance to users, relevance to your brand, conversion opportunities, etc. If the keyword with the worst Rankability Score is a “must-have” for your campaign, so be it. Keyword research, while based on statistics, is in part a subjective process.

What Separates the Rankability Process from the KEI method?

In the heyday of the keyword effectiveness index, the same general approach was taken to keyword research using search volume compared to the number of competing pages. This begs the question, “How is Rankability different from KEI?” Whereas KEI was absolute (the KEI score was the only factor considered), Rankability is a process, not just a score. This ultimately allows for flexibility and a deeper understanding of the keyword research results.

Researching the number of competing Web pages and determining your Rankability Scores can be time consuming, as it potentially involves manual searching and copy-and-pasting stats without a proper tool. The good news is, SEO Boy is working on a new keyword research tool that will do all of this for you. Keep your eyes open for this tool in 2009.

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