I recently asked the Freelance to Freedom community the following question:
What is your #1 single biggest Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) challenge right now?
There were a number of great responses, but the overwhelming theme was that people don’t know how to get started because they work in a saturated market.
I get it. I’m an SEO consultant and there aren’t many industries more saturated than that!
A google search for “SEO” returns 355 million results. How am I supposed to get any organic traffic to my site when there is so much competition?
It is possible, but you have to be strategic. How do I know? Over 60% of my traffic in the last 3 months came from organic search. I also have another website in the Lean Manufacturing niche which is highly competitive, and 78% of the traffic to that site is from organic search.
So in this post I’m going to share how I go about approaching the problem of SEO in a saturated market.
First things first…
One of the most important things to understand when it comes to SEO is that pages rank, not websites.
Let me explain.
A website is made up of a number of individual pages with unique URL addresses. These can include the homepage, contact forms, about pages, service pages, blog posts and everything in between.
Each of these pages is different.
So even within a single website, some pages are going to be better optimised for a given search query than others.
For example, if I search Google for “the freelance to freedom project” I get one set of results. However, if I search for “freelance to freedom blog” I get a different top result. Furthermore, if I search for “freelance to freedom free stuff” I get different results again.
They differ because Google is applying its algorithm to the pages in its index and then returning the page it believes is the best fit for my search query.
Sometimes the homepage may be the best match, but this doesn’t mean the website as a whole is ranking.
Why is this important?
Once you realise that individual pages (or posts) are what matter you can start to target different keywords or search queries with each piece of content you create.
Every post should target a different keyword. They can be related, but should never be duplicated.
If all of your pages target the term “WordPress” for example, this causes a few issues. First, all of those pages are competing with each other for one keyword. Second, you’re missing out on traffic from all of the long tail keywords that are related to your site such as:
- WordPress themes
- WordPress plugins
- WordPress security
- How to update WordPress
- How to add a blog page in WordPress
So the best thing you can do to improve your organic traffic with SEO is to target very specific keywords with every article you publish.
Which leads to the question…
Which keywords should I target?
There is no right or wrong answer here. There are many factors to consider before choosing a keyword including:
- audience interests
- your own interests
- searcher intent
There is no point in ranking a sales page for a keyword where the searcher is only looking for information. Choosing a keyword that matches the content on the page to the intent of the searcher is critical.
There are two other factors to consider that we can actually measure. This means we can use keyword research tools to provide data which can guide our decision-making process. The two factors are search volume and keyword difficulty.
Search volume is simply the number of times a specific keyword is searched for in a month.
Keyword difficulty is more complex. It measures how difficult it would be to outrank the current top 10 pages for that keyword. It’s often scored between 1 and 100, with higher numbers being much more difficult to rank for.
To help put this into perspective, let’s look at some examples:
I used the Moz Pro keyword difficulty tool to find the average monthly search volume and keyword difficulty for 3 potential keywords and plotted them on an XY scatter plot.
Which keyword would you target?
Who chose WordPress developer? How did you come to that decision?
Here is my thought process. We’re obviously looking for keywords that have both high search volume and low keyword difficulty. In other words, we want to identify the keywords that are easy to rank for and will send us lots of traffic.
Straight away we can discount “Website developer” because it has the lowest search volume and highest difficulty!
So how do we decide between the two remaining keywords? One offers more potential traffic but is more difficult to rank for. The other is easier to rank for but fewer people search for it.
In this case, I would advise that you err on the side of caution and target the lower difficulty keyword. It’s better to get a small amount of traffic by ranking well than to not get any because the keyword was too difficult.
To illustrate the point let’s consider the potential traffic we can get if we ranked in the top 10 for either keyword. In order to work that out we need to make an assumption about how many people click on each result. Fortunately, someone else has done the hard work for us. The team at seoClarity conducted a study into how many clicks each of the top 10 pages for a search result receive.
If we multiply the average monthly search volume by the clickthrough rate from the seoClarity study we can estimate how much traffic we would get for each keyword.
From this graph, we can see that if we were to rank 1st for “WordPress developer” we are likely to get the same amount of traffic as if we ranked 7th for “Web developer”. This is more feasible because it has a lower difficulty. It’s also less likely to be targeted by others because of the lower search volume.
Let’s look at a couple more examples.
In this example, I would choose the term “copywriter” over “copywriting” because it had a higher volume and lower difficulty.
Using the CTR data mentioned earlier I can calculate that a 1st place ranking for “freelance copywriter” should get as much traffic as ranking 7th for “Copywriting” and it’s a much less difficult keyword to target.
In this example, “freelance logo designer” is as difficult to rank for as “professional logo design”, but only receives a fraction of the search volume, so we can discount that. We can also see that ranking 1st for “professional logo design” is likely to generate a similar amount of traffic as ranking 3rd for “custom logo design”.
What do all these graphs and numbers mean?
By now you might be wondering what all this means. You might be asking how this helps you with SEO in a competitive niche.
Your first takeaway should be that not all keywords are created equal. Even within a competitive niche, there are hundreds of different keywords you could target. You should try to identify the keywords with the lowest difficulty so that you can create and optimise a piece of content for each of them.
Assuming you create high-quality content and optimise it well, you will start to see organic traffic to these pages.
Your second takeaway is that any traffic you generate for these less competitive keywords brings opportunities. These could be in the form of social shares or backlinks. Other opportunities might be requests for interviews or guest posts.
I have written very few posts on my blog, but they each drive traffic searching for a specific keyword. This has been enough for people to find my site and then request that I contribute or write guest posts for other blogs. I wrote one post about increasing Adsense earnings that led to a feature on FE International’s website which in turn led to a feature on Entrepreneur.com!
So the thing to remember here is that you’re not wasting time by optimising for easier keywords. You’re giving your site the opportunity to get in front of influencers that can help promote and boost your rankings.
In the long run, it is these natural, high-quality backlinks that will improve the authority of your site and allow you to target and rank for more competitive keywords.