Keyword Research Pt 3: Understanding Ranking Difficulty - 1.4. SEO Course by Ahrefs
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Hey, it's Sam Oh and welcome to the fourth lesson in our keyword research module.
Hey, it's Sam Oh and welcome to the fourth lesson in our keyword research module. Today, I'm going to show you how to determine ranking difficulty for a keyword. This will help you understand how hard it'll be to rank high in Google for your target keywords. Let's get started. So when it comes to ranking in Google, you need to understand who you'll be up against before you target a keyword. Otherwise, you could be entering a battle you won't be able to win. From an SEO perspective, competitors are pages and websites that rank at the top of Google for your target keywords. So that means your competitors can be different for every single keyword you target. So there are three main things you'll want to consider before you decide to pick a fight. And those are: search intent, metrics of the top ranking pages and websites, and topical authority of the top-ranking websites. Now, as we go through these points, we're going to create a list of self-check questions which should help you make informed decisions in your keyword targeting. Also, in order to see things like metrics of top-ranking pages, you need an SEO tool since Google won't show you data on other pages. So I'll be using Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer throughout this lesson. Now, if you don't have an Ahrefs account, you can use our free SERP checker tool which will give you data on the top three pages. Alright, let's start with search intent. The first thing you need to do is look at the SERP and ask yourself: "Do some of the top-ranking pages fail to closely match search intent?" To find this out, you can go through the 3 C's of search intent as we discussed in lesson 2 of this module. And by the looks of it, they're all listicle blog posts using the freshness angle. So they do match it. Also, pay close attention to the titles and URLs of the ranking pages. In general, if the top pages include the primary keyword or a variation of it in the title and/or URL, they're likely targeting that keyword. For example, all of the top-ranking pages for the query "how to save money" are exactly about that.
Whereas a query like "best convertible car seat for small cars" is a bit mixed.
Whereas a query like "best convertible car seat for small cars" is a bit mixed. As you can see, some pages have gone specifically with the angle "for small cars." As a result, it's probably matching searcher intent better than the more broad posts about the best convertible car seats for any car. This is a sign of weakness in the SERP because it means there's probably a lack of rank-worthy content out there about the best convertible car seats for small cars. Now, I don't want you to take this as advice that you must include the exact keyword phrase in your titles and/or URLs. With this example, finding convertible car seats for small cars is actually a very specific need for a specific person. Alright, let's talk about the metrics. The first metric to look at is the number of websites that are linking to the page. At Ahrefs, we call this "referring domains." As I mentioned in module 1, backlinks are one of Google's most prominent ranking signals. So if a page has a lot of quality links pointing at it, then it'll be more competitive to rank. So before choosing a keyword, you need to ask yourself: "Can I get more quality backlinks than the top-ranking pages?" Now, at this point in the course, we haven't talked about the attributes of quality backlinks, but our link building module that's coming out in a couple of weeks should help you answer this question. The second metric is website authority. At Ahrefs, we call this Domain Rating, which represents the overall strength of a website's backlink profile. Very generally speaking, you should be going after keywords where your website's DR is in a similar ballpark range as the top-ranking pages. Or at the very least, one of the top-ranking pages should be in the same range as your website. For example, if all of the websites that rank in the top 10 have high DRs and you have a DR of let's say, 10, then you may want to consider competing when you're at a similar level.
So let's add that question to our checklist.
So let's add that question to our checklist. "Is my website in a similar DR range or higher than the top-ranking websites?" Again, this is a very general recommendation but still a decent one to follow if you're a beginner to SEO. To see the Domain Rating of your own site, you can enter your domain in Site Explorer and see it here on the Overview Page. Or you can enter your domain in our free Website Authority Checker. I'll be leaving links to all of these tools in the description. Alright, let's move on to the third part which is topical authority of the top-ranking websites. Google wants to rank pages from authoritative sources. And this goes beyond backlinks. For example, if we look at the SERP for "how to unclog a toilet," you'll see that this DR 42 site is outranking much more powerful websites with significantly more referring domains. Well, this page comes from a website that's just about plumbing so it's likely more authoritative on the topic. So the question you need to ask yourself is: "Is my website equally or more topically authoritative than the top-ranking websites" If the answer is yes, then that's a positive thing for you. The easiest and quickest way to find out is to just look at the domain names and use some common sense. For example, looking at the SERP for "best convertible car seat for small cars," you'll see sites like Experienced mommy, Baby center, Parenting pod, Babylist, and other relevant sites that talk about products for children. And for domains that aren't as easily distinguishable like 800bucklup.org, you can just visit the site, hit the About page, and get a general idea of what the site is about. In this case, you'll see that they talk about car seat recalls and review car seat brands. So yes, it is topically authoritative on car seats. Alright, let's look at our full list of "yes or no" questions. As a very general rule of thumb, the more yeses you can check off, the better your
Chances of ranking. Again, very general because SEO is quite nuanced.
chances of ranking. Again, very general because SEO is quite nuanced. With that said, let's go through a couple of hypothetical examples for our golf site. To set the scene, let's say you have a website that's about golf instruction and you also review golf equipment. And your website's Domain Rating is low at around 15. Alright, so the first example is for the query "best golf grips." Let's start with the first question: "Do some of the top-ranking pages fail to closely match search intent?" From the looks of it, they all look decent, so I'll check the no box. Next up: "Can I get more quality backlinks than the top-ranking pages?" Again, we haven't covered anything about "quality" backlinks yet. So for now, let's just look at quantity. Most of the sites have very few referring domains. So I'd say, this is a yes. Next question: "Is my website in a similar DR range or higher than the top-ranking websites?" Based on the SERP, there are a few sites with similar website authority, so let's give this a yes as well. And finally: "Is my website equally or more topically authoritative than the top-ranking websites?" Well, all of the top pages are from golf sites and so is mine, so let's give this a yes as well. So based on our analysis, it looks like this would be a topic worth going after. Alright, the next analysis is for the keyword "best putters." Looking at search intent, overall, it looks like the majority of pages are good so I'll check the no box. But, I do want to touch on this page on "the best blade putters." This is more of a focused post and they're likely ranking high for this because of all of the other factors, like high website authority, lots of referring domains and topical authority. So I would actually exclude them from the rest of this analysis. Alright, next up, can I get more quality backlinks than the top-ranking pages? Again, just looking at the quantity of links to these pages, the answer would likely be
A yes, seeing as we're still looking at about a dozen referring domains.
a yes, seeing as we're still looking at about a dozen referring domains. But it's important to realize that getting more links than the #1 page probably won't happen in the near future. Meaning, getting the top-ranking spot will be tough. Next: is my website in a similar DR range or higher than the top-ranking websites? The answer is no. And finally, my website is topically authoritative, so I'll give this a yes. Now, it looks like we're at a tie between yeses and noes. And this is exactly why I said: "As a very general rule of thumb, the more yeses you can check off, the better your chances of ranking." Again, SEO is nuanced. Plus, you need to weigh out some of the other principles we discussed like traffic potential and business value. And the best way to make sound judgement calls is through experience. So it will take time to hone your skills and gain a better grasp of keyword analysis. So as you can see, understanding how hard it'll be to rank in Google will be a key skill to your success in search. Why? Because it's the first step to getting predictable results. Afterall, if you know what it'll take to rank ahead of your competition, then it all comes down to execution. And that's what the next two modules are all about. Next week, I'll be dropping our on-page SEO module which will help with actually creating content that ranks. So make sure to subscribe so you don't miss out on those lessons or if you're watching at a later time, then check the description to continue on with the course. I'll see you in the next lesson.
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