How to Seek Out Content Ideas with Low SEO Competition

When I conduct keyword research for clients, a lot of focus is given to product/service keywords, a.k.a. ‘money’ keywords – i.e. the search terms that’ll likely convert visitors into enquiries and sales (e.g. “car insurance quote”). However another angle is to look at informational/content-driven keywords, such as ‘how to’ terms, which may not necessarily convert into a sale directly, but may draw in potential future customers as well as links and social shares (“how to get proof of no claims bonus”).

Recently I’ve given recommendations to a few clients based on what they could be blogging about or creating informational resources around, which could rank highly of their own accord – especially those that have a ‘high search volume:low competition’ ratio. In this post I share my process as well as a case study where it’s worked pretty well…

Keyword Research 101

When I started writing this post, I almost jumped straight into the next section (how to assess low competition for a keyword), but I realised that some readers may be new to or inexperienced with keyword research, so I didn’t want to gloss over the subject…

The Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a good way to determine whether keywords have search volume or not – i.e. whether or not people actually type them into Google. Obviously there’s little point chasing a keyword that has little-to-no search volume (unless it’s extremely niche, it’s a potential grower in the future, or one enquiry is worth big bucks), so it’s important to make sure that you’re honing in on the right keywords for your clients’ industries. It’s also important to consider semantics and synonyms, e.g. people type in “car insurance,” “vehicle insurance,” or “auto insurance”? It may be obvious in some cases more than others, but it’s always worth taking the time to double-check – I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me that they’re adamant that a keyword is popular only for the data to prove otherwise.

If you’re new to keyword research and you’d like to learn more, I recommend this resource by Moz.

Assessing Low SEO Competition Keywords

Once you have your list of content-driven keywords, a quick and easy way to assess their competition from an SEO point of view is to do a Google search for them:

Keyword example (normal)
Using the aforementioned example (“how to get proof of no claims bonus”), you can see that there are a million results in Google’s index related to the topic. However some of these could be fleeting – e.g. they could include a page that randomly has the words “proof,” “claims,” “bonus,” etc. scattered around the page, completely out of context with one another.

A good way to look at the realistic SEO competition is to do an ‘allintitle’ search for the keyword. This limits the results to pages that contain the words of the search term in their page title. Given that the page title is considered to be one of the most important elements of SEO, it’s fair to say that if a page has the words in the title, they are a serious contender in terms of the SEO side of things.

Keyword example (allintitle)
So for the same keyword, we’ve gone from 1m+ results… down to just 6.

Now it’s not foolproof, as there are many other factors related to SEO success, but it can be suggested that if someone writes a post all about how you can get proof of no claims bonus with those words in the title, it stands a very good chance of ranking on page 1 for the keyword. I stress: it’s not foolproof, but wouldn’t you rather write a blog post that has a good chance of ranking of page 1 than one that has no hope of ranking at all…?

If you’re drilling through a long list of keywords, you can use the formula KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index) to help distinguish the better opportunities at a glance. KEI is a ratio between high search volume and low competition – when those criteria are met, the KEI score is higher. So if you have a list of dozens of opportunities to scan through, you might find that a low search volume keyword with virtually zero competition is more encouraging than one with higher of each – even if it has higher search volume (which can sometimes be the lead incentive in deciding whether to fight for a keyword or not).

Case Study – An Immediate Page 1 Ranking

I’ve done this for a few clients recently – and it’s worked especially well for TestLodge, a test case management software provider who I started working with very recently. After doing a big keyword research project for them covering their market to kick things off, I used the allintitle method and KEI to find all the content-driven keywords reporting monthly search volume data globally that also had less than 10 competing webpages. We ended up with a list of c. 200 keywords. Here’s a snippet of some of the best (in terms of search volume):

TestLodge content strategy example screenshot
Now 200 keywords does not necessarily mean 200 different blog post ideas, as some keywords would inevitably overlap (e.g. “how to write test cases in software testing with example” and “how to write test cases in software testing with sample” are essentially the same thing, but with a different synonym at the end). But there were at least a few dozen ideas there – they aim to write a blog post a week, so it should keep them busy for a while…! Not only that, but they had been struggling for ideas for future posts, and now they have a list of ideas that are SEO-focused to boot.

They tested the water by writing a post titled “Agile Testing Tools List” (search volume: 30; competing pages: 7; KEI: 128.57). Within only a day or two, it started ranking on the bottom of page 1 of Google UK:

TestLodge's page 1 result screenshot
Obviously higher would be better, but it’s not bad for starters.  It shows proof of concept to the client, who are now 100% on-board with the idea and wanting to approach it full steam ahead. We’re also early on in our working arrangement, so hopefully it’ll increase in the future as we conduct more SEO work in the coming months.

Regarding the above case study, it’s fair to say that it could be the case that freshness could also be a factor here for its early success – but the client is serious about SEO and so it’s our hope that this will be here to stay, and that other keywords will follow suit. But even if it only remains temporarily, it’s a good sign that something has the potential to rank highly pretty quickly.

Other Considerations

If you’re doing this kind of research and analysis, here are a few other tips and/or considerations to bear in mind:

  • Even if you decide to go after one keyword from a list based on its KEI score, there’s no reason why you can’t try and go for multiple keywords in one post. The title can reflect one keyword, while the body of the post can reflect others related to it. Take the “how to write test cases in software testing with example” example above – if you also include the words “example” and “sample” in the post naturally (rather than just the former), you might end up standing more of a chance ranking for both keywords.
  • I always recommend tweaking the title. Make sure that it contains the words of the keyword, but don’t hesitate to make it more fun, more eye-catching, more clickable. For example, the post didn’t have to just be called “Agile Testing Tools List” – it could be “The Ultimate List of Agile Testing Tools” or “An Agile Testing Tools List for the Pros” instead. This is especially important if all the competition is simply mimicking the keyword in the page title – be the result that stands out.
  • Lastly, with anything keyword research-related, it can be all too easy to get carried away by the data. Just because something has high search volume and low competition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a topic worth writing about for you. So always keep in mind the psychology of the searcher in relation to the keyword… Is what you’re offering related to the searcher? Is it important to them? Are they a likely potential customer, whether now or in the future?

If you find any really good examples, I’d love to hear about them – feel free to leave an example in the comments below or tweet me instead. Have fun!

[Scrabble image credit]

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About Steve Morgan

CIM-qualified Online Marketing & SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Consultant with 8 years of online marketing experience: 4 years' agency experience; around 6 months' experience working in-house for a national household name in the insurance industry; now freelancing full-time.