When you start optimizing for keywords, a few chosen terms will typically be the most that you can focus on at any given time, so it’s super important to be focused on the right terms. In my previous article introducing SEO keyword research I reviewed keyword intent, and how to determine search term value. Now I’ll be going over the process of finding keyword ideas, and determining competition.

Finding keyword ideas

First things first, you’re going to want a plentiful list of keywords to sort through so you can find a few valuable terms to optimize for, as well as low hanging fruit that you can sprinkle into your content. Going back to our original example, helping a friend’s cupcake recipe site, let’s see what kind of terms we can find.

First let’s look at the Google keyword tool’s keyword ideas.


For the results above, I clicked “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms”. In this case, I used both “cupcake recipes” and “cupcake recipe” to get more ideas, given I’m using exact match. Looking at the keyword ideas, we can see some of the top searches by clicking on local monthly searches. I choose local typically because it’s often easier to monetize off of US traffic. It looks like the traffic isn’t great for the top related terms. Interestingly the short tail is recipe specific, the slightly longer tail (with more traffic) is more about the quality of the recipe.

Remember to sign in, otherwise you’ll be limited to 100 results. I got 800 results (the max) after signing in, and if I wanted to get more ideas, I could use more narrow terms to find a broader selection of keyword ideas. To save time researching, remember that you can export the results to spreadsheet!

For more resources, here’s a nice survey of keyword generator tools.

I’ve used the Wordtracker trial to good effect myself.

You can also sign up for SemRush, and look at your competitors terms that are driving the most traffic.

Now let’s narrow this down by competition to find out some reasonable targets given a first campaign.

Keyword competition

Now it’s time to plug all of these terms into a spreadsheet based on value (intent x traffic) and determine their short term value.

Short term value = (intent x traffic / competition).

Ways to gauge competion:

  1. Seomoz keyword difficulty tool (first month is free). I’d advise avoiding the terms above 55 for the difficulty number if this is a new site. The keyword difficulty number takes a lot of different factors into account, and is fairly accurate, although if you’re trying to get to a specific spot on the SERP, you need to do your own research.
  2. Average number of root domain links for top few competing pages ranking for the term. Take a look at Open site explorer cupcake recipe results for an example.
  3. Page authority of the top results. It’s a good indicator of quality links with good anchor text, and domain authority factors in a bit here too.
  4. Site authority of the top results. It’s easy for Wikipedia to rank for terms because of its massive authority, but with authoritative links and the right anchor text, you can compete easily.
  5. Average number of links per high ranking site with the chosen term as anchor text.
  6. Number of pages with the term in their title. Put allintitle:”cupcake recipes” into google, and you’ll see that nearly 100K results show up with pages that have “cupcake recipes” in their title. This is a fast and cursory way to see overall keyword competition.


Disclaimer: Niches vary in competition. There’s a lot of factors that Google’s algorithm looks at, which requires testing, and a few months for your efforts to propagate, particularly if your site is still in the Google sandbox.

Wrap up

I’ve now shown a few different ways of finding keywords, as well as shown some tools to guess at the difficulty in terms. Of the five methods I mention, it will take some experience to figure out the right mix. If you’re looking to get a very specific SERP spot for a term, you can use a combination of page authority and number of links with anchor text to see how tough the competition is, otherwise I’d advise using a mix of all five methods. Your milage may vary. It’s a question of how you want to spend your time building up the site overall, versus optimizing for specific keywords, and it takes some experience to figure out the right mix.