SEO Keyword Research – Should Competition Ever be A Consideration?

In the words of La Whitney Houston “I’m asking you ‘cos you know about these things.”

In the general course of business, I will ask clients, trainees and others how they currently approach keyword research and am told time and again that level of competition is a key consideration; and that choosing less competitive keywords means you can rank highly, easily.

I take issue with this.

I can not see why competition (and to be clear I’m talking about the level of competition not specific competitor research) should ever be a consideration in term selection. Surely competition is an environmental factor outside of our control? It is nice to have insight to the level of competition only insofar as it can inform our rate of progress against objectives; however I’m yet to come up against a keyword research project where this should inform consideration to term selection.

Photo via http://www.flickr.com/photos/bowbrick/3074462120/in/photostream/

To my mind the practise of optimising a website in the persuit of greater, more relevent traffic is itself a competition. Sure, the rain makes the going harder, but it never stops play.

Keyword Research Considerations

My core considerations in research and selection of keywords are around the following;

  • Relevence to page/product on page etc
  • Does term(s) used on page fit with user search habits and understanding of page/product
  • Propensity to convert
  • External factors, significant trends (e.g. noun becomes verb and other shifts in common parlance)
  • All of the above feeding into the other

Where Does the “Competition Consideration” Come From?

I suspect that the competition consideration is possibly rooted in good advice elsewhere in search that has been misattributed to organic keyword selection.

As an example I can understand why, when seeking to identify an affiliate business opportunity that would require (comparatively) little investment, seeking a niche business sector that is yet to be optimised should naturally lead to low levels of competition on componant terms in that niche.

In the main, I suspect this red herring comes from an over-reliance and misunderstanding of the Google Adwords Tool.

What Am I Missing?

The above case is a very one-dimensional picture, and in every other aspect of search engine optimisation practise, I endeavour to vary approach from site to site, sector to sector – which is why this troubles me. What am I missing? Are there instances when level of competition on a term should be considered?

About Nichola Stott

Nichola Stott is owner and co-founder of theMediaFlow; online revenue optimisation and audience services (including SEO, SEM and SMM). Prior to founding theMediaFlow, Nichola spent four years at Yahoo! as head of UK commercial search partners.