It’s estimated that there are 5.6 billion Google searches every day. In order to monetize your website, your goal is to appear on the first page of search results as much as possible for any searches that are relevant to your business.
Here’s the problem: in order to land on the first page of search results you’ll need to knock someone else off it, and the chances of kicking out someone who's been busy blogging for years when you're just starting out are simply next to nil.
However, with billions of daily searches, there are bound to be search terms that are missed even by experienced bloggers (these are called “content gaps”) and here's the great news: there are literally millions of them, which could land new solopreneurs like yourself on the first page of search results!
Introducing Your New Best Friend: Keyword Research
The best way to find content gaps with your competition that you can readily exploit is to focus on keywords that meet the following three criteria:
- They have high monthly search volume
- They have low organic keyword difficulty
- They have high paid difficulty
Let’s expand on each criteria:
High Monthly Search Volume
A term that has high (or relatively high) monthly search volume implies that there's a significant audience searching for it.
This means that if you can rank a blog post that targets that term or keyword on the first page of search results, you’ll drive a lot of traffic to your website.
If you focus instead on a keyword that has a relatively low monthly search volume, then you’ll be spending a lot of time, talent and resources writing an amazing article that very few people are going to see.
In this case you'll end up with very little traffic coming to your website—even if you land on the first page of search results (if, say, 10 people/month do the search you're targeting and you manage to land on position 1, at most you'll get 3 or 4 people reaching your website from that search).
Having said that, targeting a keyword with high monthly search volume is just the beginning, because you'll also need to make sure it has...
Low Organic Keyword Difficulty
If you publish a blog post about a keyword that has high organic keyword difficulty (e.g. "web hosting"), then you’ll be publishing content among hundreds if not thousands of other bloggers, many of whom will have been doing this for a lot longer than you.
As a result, all of the available organic spots on the first page of results will have websites that are entrenched in their spots, most likely for several years (provided they’ve kept their content current).
On the other hand, if you find a keyword with high monthly volume and low organic keyword difficulty you’ll definitely be on the right track because you’ll be dramatically upping your chances of ranking high on search engines, while driving a decent amount of traffic to your website.
So, this is definitely a step in the right direction, but you’re not done yet! That’s because you also need to look for keywords with...
High Paid Difficulty
Wait what? Are you talking about paid ads? I thought we were focusing on organic search results.
Here's the thing: if you write a fantastic post with high search volume (i.e. a big audience) and low organic keyword difficulty (i.e. a good chance you’ll be able to work your way up to the first page of search results) BUT no one in that audience is interested in buying anything from you, you’ll simply never be able to monetize your website.
In other words, you don’t just want any audience, you want an audience who’s highly motivated to buy. An audience who has a problem and who’s seeking a solution they're willing to pay for.
How do you know when someone is motivated to buy? By assessing their “search intent” to figure out if it’s strictly informational (not interested in buying) or commercial in nature (is interested in making a purchase immediately or in the near future).
Now, detecting intent from a keyword is sometimes easy (e.g. “best web hosting service”) although you’ll soon find out that most of these phrases will likely have high organic keyword difficulty and you won’t be able to rank for them.
But, there will be other phrases with high commercial intent that are not so easy to decipher by just looking at the individual words.
Fortunately, there’s an easy proxy for high commercial intent: if advertisers are competing fiercely for a keyword, then there's a pretty good chance that it has high commercial intent, otherwise they wouldn’t be bidding their hard earned dollars on it.
There you have it
Now, all you have to do is to look for keywords with high monthly search volume, low organic keyword difficulty AND high paid difficulty, and before you know it you’ll end up on the first page of search results with a solid amount of traffic coming to your website from an audience who’s eager to buy from you.
How do I Find Keywords that Fit a Content Gap in my Niche?
Now that you know the top three criteria for your target keywords, you’ll need to jump on one of the many keyword research tools available out there.
Basically, this is the way they generally work:
1) You enter a group of seed keywords that capture the essence of your niche, for example “indoor photography.”
2) The tools will then generate a large list of suggestions including related keywords based on their own algorithms, autocomplete keywords (harvested from Google’s autocomplete feature) and keywords phrased as a question (harvested from Google's “People also ask” section).
Here are some examples for “indoor photography”:
- best lighting for indoor photography
- indoor family photos
- indoor family portraits
- indoor maternity photos
- indoor maternity photo shoot
- indoor photography lighting
- indoor photo shoot
- indoor portrait photography
- indoor silhouette photography
- indoor studio photography
- indoor wedding photos
Once you choose your shortlist of keywords you’d like to target, the tools will then list the three critical pieces of information you need to land you on page one of search results: their monthly search volume, their organic keyword difficulty and their paid difficulty.
Based on this information you can easily figure out what the content gaps in your niche are. All you have to do now is to write articles that center on those keywords.
Now, before we switch gears to content writing, it’s important that we first clear up some common misconceptions about blogging and search engine optimization.
The Truth About SEO
Whenever people talk about outranking competitors in search engines, the conversation typically centers around SEO techniques.
In fact, a simple Google search on search optimization will show you countless blog posts offering a thousand and one suggestions that you should follow to make your website SEO-friendly—from fine tuning the tiniest of details (e.g. the length of your meta title) to the macro level (e.g. doing a full site audit to check for broken links, missing descriptions, missing H1 tags, etc.)
But here’s the thing: even though everyone talks about wanting their websites to rank high on Google, at the end of the day websites don’t rank high on search engines on their own—individual pages do. The more pages that you can rank high on search results, the higher your website will rank overall.
So, your focus needs to change from SEO at the site level to SEO at the page level—yes, every single page that you write needs to be search optimized individually in order for your website as a whole to rank high.
If you discover the perfect “content gap” keyword but your page is not SEO friendly, you’re just not going to rank high on Google.
However, once you’re able to master on-page SEO you’ll be off to the races, and over time you’ll become a force to be reckoned with, leapfrogging more mature websites with a much higher domain score than you.
Here’s an example of a site that used the content gap strategy plus on-page SEO to make it to the first page of search results for the term "sheepskin seat covers", with a tiny domain score (7) and relatively low traffic (5K visitors/mth) showing up in 2nd place on a Google search while outranking an industry giant with a domain score of 88, 10 million visitors per month and a multi-million dollar marketing budget:
Now, in order to do on-page SEO like the pros, you’ll need to look at the first page of search results for your target keyword and audit your top competitors to assess the many on-page signals that Google uses to rank pages, among them:
- The average word count of relevant articles
- The average number of headings they use (H2, H3, H4, etc.)
- The average length of their meta title and description
- The average number of bolded phrases they use
- The average number of paragraphs in their articles
- How many exact keywords they use and where they placed them (title? headings? bolded phrases?)
- The specific words that are considered important by Google’s algorithm and their number of occurrences
- The specific words that are considered relevant but not critical that should also be present
Granted, to do this analysis manually would take an inordinate amount of time and effort, but fortunately there are tools out there that can help speed up this important work (Surfer SEO is my favorite.)
Once you’re able to identify the above ranking signals and create your piece of content using the suggested averages, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of landing on the first page of search results.
Alright, now that you’ve made use of keyword research to find your competitor’s content gaps and mastered on-page SEO, it’s time to turn your sights to the actual competitors you’re trying to dethrone and to the strategies that they use to play the search-engine game.
How to Reverse Engineer Your Competition
The Internet is a highly competitive space because the technological barriers to entry are low and operating costs are affordable. As a result, no matter what niche you choose to be in, you’ll be vying for a piece of the pie among thousands of players.
Having said that, while some players are successful, most are not. To win at the search engine game you only need to focus on the select few that know how to play it right and ignore the rest.
Here's a good analogy:
The real estate industry is packed with novice realtors because becoming accredited is not a high barrier to entry. Yet, only a relatively small percentage of realtors make most of the sales because they're the ones who know all the tricks of the trade that generate the best results.
Now, technically, the same dynamic takes place on the Internet with one big exception: you have a key advantage that doesn't exist in any other business—it’s really easy to spy on the top players in your niche and learn all of their tricks (without their consent or knowledge!)
In fact, it’s virtually impossible on the internet for anyone to hold their cards too close to their chest. The reason is that everything that’s performed online is tracked, measured, dissected and archived for posterity.
Analyzing your competitors
If you know where to look, you can always find the specific strategies that make your top competitors successful. All you have to do then is to reverse-engineer them and apply them to your own business.
The ability to spy on and emulate the top competitors in your niche will give you a significant leg up when you’re planning your own online strategy.
If you don't take the time to figure out what your competitors are up to before you plan your own strategy, you’ll be just shooting in the dark.
Now, when it comes to analyzing your competitors you want to be able to focus on the following areas:
- What’s their keyword strategy?
- What keywords are they ranking for and which ones drive the most traffic to their pages?
- What specific pages are bringing the most traffic to their sites?
- How do their pages rank in search results?
- What specific backlinks are pointing to their pages and what domain authority do the referring sites have?
- If they are running paid search ads, what keywords are they bidding on?
What ads are performing the best for them?
- What's the specific ad copy of their winningest ads?
Just use some of the many spying tools available and you’ll be able to fully reverse-engineer what your competitors are doing.
In closing, outranking your competitors is a 3-pronged approach. Let’s summarize the essence of each stage:
1- Keyword Research
As you know, the entire online journey begins with someone doing a search on their browser. (Google processes over 6 billion searches each day.)
The main currency of search engines is the keyword phrase that users enter when they do a search. Whether your site ranks for these keywords or not will determine your success or failure in the online income generation world.
Keyword research is your back door to this immense wealth of user data. With the right tools you’ll be able to figure out which keyword phrases in your niche drive the most traffic with the least amount of competition and the highest commercial intent.
2- Search Engine Optimization
In order to maximize the traffic you receive, you need to optimize your website for search engines to make sure that you're complying with their best practices.
But the SEO game is won and lost at the page level. On-page SEO tools allow you to audit your site’s pages against the first page of search results so you can emulate the success of the top players for each one of your target keywords.
3- Competitor Analysis
The final stage in this 3-pronged approach is to reverse engineer your top competitors’ strategies by spying on their online marketing activities.
By using competitor analysis tools you’ll be able to reverse engineer your competitors’ entire blogging strategy, allowing you to find out every single keyword they’ve ever written about and how their sites are performing in terms of traffic generation.
They also allow you to spy on what their top pages are so you can study them for clues and to see what specific keywords are driving most of their traffic so you can then use content-gap variations of those as part of your targeted keyword list.
While many new websites fail over time, there’s a number of them that always manage to hustle their way to the top, even in highly competitive niches.
If you want to belong to this last group, follow the strategies in this article and you’ll be able to make your website outrank your competition—even if your site is brand new.
But remember: the search-engine game is won one page at a time, so arm yourself with the best tools for the job, roll up your sleeves and don’t be afraid to grind and hustle your way to the top (if this was easy, then everybody would do it.)
The good news is that once you make it to page one with the above strategies, you’ll become entrenched yourself and, provided you keep your content fresh, you’ll be able to ride the Google gravy train for years to come!