In some ways that’s not wrong, as they would need to outrank around 60 million webpages in order to rank first for that keyword, however, not all of those pages are actually trying to rank for the phrase ‘mortgage calculator’. Google isn’t saying that 60 million website owners want to rank for that search term, just that 60 million pages have that phrase included somewhere on it. The vast majority of those 60 million pages will actually either not be trying to rank for ‘mortgage calculator’. They will be either trying to rank for a different keyword phrase or not be trying to rank for anything at all.
It’s not actually possible to find out exactly how many website owners are trying to rank their site specifically for a keyword – not without individually reviewing each of the pages returned in the search results for that keyword anyway. It doesn’t matter though. What matters is who is currently ranking on the first page of results for that keyword. The 10 sites on the first page are the ones that you will ultimately have to dislodge if you want your business’s website to rank first. Those 10 sites are your real competition for a keyword.
If you don’t think you can beat those 10 sites on the first page then there’s no point in trying to rank for the keyword in the first place, as if you’re not at least on the first page then there’s not much chance that your site will get clicked on, or even seen, by people searching for that keyword anyway. Therefore, when conducting keyword competition analysis, only concern yourself with the websites that are currently ranked on the first page for a keyword. Arguably, you should even go as far as to only concern yourself with the websites ranked in the top 3, as that’s where you really want your site to be ranked.
So, having established who the real competitors for a keyword are, how can you assess the strength of those competitors and whether it’s realistic for you to attempt to rank your website for that keyword? These are the factors that you need to consider when assessing competitors:
On-page tags – Having the keyword, or close variations of it, in a page’s header and image alt tags show that a competitor has gone a step further in optimising the page for a particular keyword. If they’ve done that they have probably invested money in SEO in the past, or are currently doing so. Having the keyword in on-page tags doesn’t make a competitor strong though, it just means that they aren’t weak.
Content – If your competitors have good content on the particular urls shown in the search results for a keyword, not just in terms of length, but in terms of quality and authority, then that contributes towards a higher level of competition. If you want to rank well in the long term then your aim should be to have the content on the page that you want to rank to be equal to or better than the content on the webpages of your top 10 competitors.
PageRank – PageRank (PR for short) is a score of between 1 and 10 that Google gives to every webpage on the internet which estimates the importance and authority of that page. It’s not as big a factor as you would think in terms of rankings though, as rankings are concerned with relevance as much as importance and authority. A webpage with a PR of 1 can rank higher for a keyword than a webpage with a PR of 4, if Google considers the PR1 page to be more relevant. That’s actually not an uncommon scenario, so don’t think your webpage with a low PR can’t rank higher that 10 webpages with a high PR. Still, if the sites on the first page generally have a PR of 4 or more, then you should consider the level of competition to be high.
Backlinks – This is the most important factor in determining the strength of your competitors. It’s also the most difficult factor to assess. It’s not a straight forward case of whoever has the most backlinks ranks highest, but rather a combination of the number of backlinks, where those backlinks come from and what text is used to form those backlinks. If competitors have lots of backlinks from different websites, backlinks on pages with a PageRank of 2 or more and with the text used for the backlinks being the keyword, or a variation of it, that you’re trying to rank for, then consider the competition to be very high.
To fully assess the above factors, you need access to a specialist suite of tools, with ahrefs.com being recommended. The more thorough you are, the better, as if you misjudge the level of competition for a keyword that you want to rank for and try to rank for a keyword with a very high level of competition when you don’t have a high level budget, then you’ll never rank for it and you’ll never see a return from the money you invest in trying to rank for it. Only 10 sites can be displayed on the first page of results, so if you have a small budget to spend on SEO then it’s unrealistic to expect your company’s website to rank well for high competition keywords, at least in the short-term.
A good analogy is a non-league football team trying to win the FA Cup. Playing against teams with better players and more money stacks the odds heavily against them. It’s not impossible for them to win the cup, however, the nearer to the final they get, the harder it becomes as the quality of the opposition improves. They might well be able to beat some stronger opponents as they progress, but to ask them to win the whole competition is asking too much. They can punch above their weight and get some good results, but to win things they need to compete in competitions that give them a realistic chance of success.