If you've used Google's Keyword Tool, you've probably seen the column called "Competitiveness," with levels low, medium, and high. The low. medium, and high are based on the competitiveness of a keyword among paid search advertisers. The more advertisers are bidding on a keyword, the higher the competitiveness. By itself, paid search competitiveness tells you nothing about the organic search competitiveness, but in reality they usually run about the same. So, most people ask the same thing about keywords: "Should I stay away from highly competitive keywords?"

Like any good consultant, my answer is, "It depends." I mean, the tendency is to shy away from that much competition, which could be exactly the right decision, depending on your business. After all, if you have a small business with a no-name Web site, then it is unlikely that you'll do well on high competitiveness keywords.

But consider this. It isn't impossible to do well if you have a truly valuable message that is a better fit for that keyword than everyone else. Remember, someone is #1 for even the most competitive keyword around.

So, my advice is to focus on how close a fit the keyword is for your site before focusing on competitiveness. But if you have a local camera store in Akron, Ohio, don't think that "digital cameras" is a great fit for your site, because thousands of other local stores are equally good fits, and Web retailers and nationwide chains such as Best Buy are even better fits. But "Akron camera stores" could be a great fit, even if Google says it is highly competitive.

If you know your business is a very strong match for even a highly competitive keyword, go for it. You can always stop if it doesn't work.

Originally posted on Biznology.
May 26, 2015

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Nice to see someone honestly state "it depends" and admit that it likely won't work.

That said - you can fight smarter than most competitors.
Rather than banging on about "long tail", which generally means "low-search volume", you can go for the composite and accumulative.

Yeah - that's what most people say.

The reality is, the chances of you building a site to do with a specific topic, and ranking highly for the short keyword(s) and/or phrase(s) - you build up relevance.
Lets assume your site focuses on a single keyword - something that sums up everything.
Let's say "SEO".
You are Not going to rank for that word. Not even if you get 1000 links in a single day.

But - you can build up around that word.
So you have the primary term - SEO.
You have the variants of Search Engine Optimisation, Optimising for Search Engines, Optimising content for Search Engines, Optimising pages for Search Engines, Blog post Optimisation etc. etc. etc.
You also have the related terms - rankings, page rank, SERPs, SERP position, higher rankings, lower rankings, organic SERPs, natural SERPs, SEM, Search Engine Marketing, SMM, Social Media Marketing, IM, Inbound Marketing etc. etc. etc.
You then look at expanded phrases - those that use any of the above, along with normal text/phrases ... how to improve your SERP position, how to enhance your on-page SEO etc.

Over time, you have built up content that revolves around the same concept/topic/domain.
Every page should utilise your primary term.
You should be interlinking your content with relevant link text - and when possible, you use your primary term (or a direct/non-ambiguous synonym).

This also means that a fair percentage of links to your site will include the related/associated/variant/primary term(s).

The end result is - without limiting your self to a single word/phrase - you have built up content, traffic and links focusing on those key terms, that all point to your primary term.
That is how you improve your rankings for the shorter phrases.
It's not fast, it's not magic, it won't put you in position 1 by itself - but with good content and solid marketing/promotion strategies, you can push your way up the SERPs ... but it does take time and effort.

Now all you are left with is figuring out all the terms you need to use,
and all the content your market wants,
and a way to merge the two together :D

I agree, R. There are many tactical approaches that give you the best chance to compete.

But the biggest one is your differentiation. If you really know the area that customers love you for, you should be able to succeed there, even if it is highly competitive--because you beat the competition.

Thanks for your comment.

Time! This is what is against us all. Single keywords, words in the singular, words in the plural, sematic phrases, Longtail all of these will help with your website results in time. As the Google algorithm changes and becomes more more accurate for semantic s, then the results from so many different sources has to play a more significant role in the search results. I suspect that organic growth is at the centre of this, but onace again, time is against us in that. As usual, it leaves so many of us playing catch up.

But for some keywords I see that they are more searched monthly than some others, but have less competativity. Should it be easier for me to optimise my site for these keywords?

I personally don't put much stock in the perceived competition around a keyword. To me, it's more about how well your site fits a keyword. After all, no matter how competitive a keyword is, some site is #1 for it. So, focus on the keyword that fit your site and don't shy away from a competitive keyword if you really have the best answer to that question.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Should I stay away from highly competitive keywords?