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General Search Engine Marketing Issues Forum

How do you beat heavy competition...
...for relevent search phrases?

 5:51 am on Nov 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

My experience so far with SEO...

If the site doesn't have excessive competition, and if you follow the advice of reputable SEO experts, you can do very well in most search engines.

But take a classic example -- a website designer site. Google typically returns over 3 million results when the usual search phrases are searched upon. Even if a tiny fraction are using sound SEO practices, that is a lot of competition!

So what do you do when you discover the website you are optimizing has a ton of competition in SEs? Give up on search engines and turn to other forms of marketing? Buy your way to the top with pay-per-click? Or am I missing something?



 6:14 am on Nov 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hello eugenebarnes, welcome to WebmasterWorld!

You bring up some good questions that I'm sure will generate a few good responses. Here's a start for you...

> So what do you do when you discover the website you are optimizing has a ton of competition in SEs?

Depends on your definition of a ton of competition. If you do exact phrase searches (using quotes) what are the total number of results returned? Those are the numbers you look at. Your example using website (not web site) returns 36,300 results in Google, a very high number and a term that has very tough competition. Separate the word web site and you get 50,400, even stiffer comp!

Now, start targeting a more regional market with your terms. Add city names, state, country, etc... and you'll see those results drop considerably. That's where you target! Two word generic phrases are passe. Searchers are getting smarter every day and know that they need to refine their search to get the relevant results they are looking for. No, they won't be using exact search criteria (quote marks) but, using that method tells you exactly how many websites you are competing with that use that exact term.

> Give up on search engines and turn to other forms of marketing?

Never give up on search engines, at least not right now. Yes. Turn to other forms of marketing. Rely solely on free se traffic and you may be doomed for failure.

> Buy your way to the top with pay-per-click?

Yup! This is the industry trend and has been for quite some time. If you can afford the high dollar phrases and there is an ROI, then go for it. If not, look at those more targeted phrases, spend less, and probably get better quality traffic and conversion.

> Or am I missing something?

Nope! Don't think you missed any of the basics. Others are sure to chime in and offer their perspective. Good luck!


 6:47 am on Nov 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

The way I see heavy competition is everyone fighting for the top slots and few realizing how much traffic there is in the lower keywords. A ficticious example:

top 10 keywords: 2,000,000 results. top page pr7+
related phrases: 150,000 results. top page pr6+
related phrases: 75,000 results. top page pr5+
etc etc.

Here's a close to real world example (kw's changed). Lets say you sell hp printers. I'm looking at an ad flyer for them right now. The trick is to give up trying for anything major like "hp" or "ink jet" as a keyword and instead go for longer phrases:

HP PSC 2110 Color
HP PSC 2110 Color Flatbed
HP PSC 2110 Color Flatbed All-in-one
Color Printer, copier, and scanner
Prints and copies up to 14ppm black, 10 ppm color.

Most think such phrases are a waste of time. I pulled them straight off that advertising flyer - it's classic Google seo. Similar phrases on a similar product using the same scheme did 150 referrals today and netted 3 sales.

We ceeded the high ground of "inkjet printers" and "hewlett packard" to the competition and instead are ruling all the related phrases down deeper. We just keep building content around those phrases. What happens is we start to pick up other scrapes and related phrases. One page is pulling from over a hundred different searches a week - that's a hundred more pages we should have built to target those kw's.

I think the moral is that before you fight in the title fight, you have to go through some warm up bouts in the longer phrases. If the content is there, the pr and gold level referrals will come.


 9:10 am on Nov 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

It is actually surprising that when you have adopted this strategy, you see referrals from keywords you hadn't really thought of. Some of which prove to be absolute goldmines i.e. lots of searches - very little competition.


 1:40 am on Nov 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

What they said above is right on. I call it the "surround 'em" strategy. Some of the SEO work I do is in extremely tough categories, and we nibble away on the less popular phrases to build sustainable, qualified traffic before attempting what amounts to a frontal assault on the castle.

Did anybody read Sam Walton's book about Wal-Mart? They snuck up on Sears and K-Mart. They never tried to go head to head with the "big boys." They built Wal-Marts in rural areas, smaller cities, all over the country, until the buying/discounting power they developed was sufficient to invade the Sears/K-Mart home turf and win, head to head. Smart guy, Sam was. ;)


 2:02 am on Nov 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

So, I gather you are actually creating separate pages for each targeted phrase? Interesting...


 6:00 pm on Nov 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi eugenebarnes,

Whether you want to call it "surround 'em" as Beachboy or "cede the high ground" as Brett says, it works. I happen to call it "working the edges." It's all the same thing.

Our competition is the Biggest of the Big Boys, then the Bigger Big Boys, the Big Boys and then all the little folks like us. It is impossible for us to compete with the Big Boys on our "Main Three Keywords" so we go to "Main Three Keywords Plus" and "Main Three Keywords Plus Plus." And, lo and behold, you start getting a few thousand referrals a month from each of the Biggest of the Big Boys.

There are a lot of users out there that are becoming more knowledgable in web use in general and using much more targeted searches. They know what they want and how to find it. These are the visitors you want. (Just make sure you give them what they want when they get there.)

So, cede the high ground, then surround 'em, then work from the edges in.



 6:55 pm on Nov 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

In chess there is an opening game that surrenders control of the center of the board right up front, and then takes control of the game from the sides. This strategy can work in chess (and warfare). It really works in SEO, as the consensus here is saying. As the size of the webs grows, it becomes essential to find these approaches. The top ten spots will always and only hold ten pages, no matter how many may be out there.

Competition is not just measured in sheer numbers returned, but by whether those pages are also optimized. So, I go beyond extending the most competitive search terms into longer phrases -- I look for other targeted phrases where the pages returned are not so well optimized. Sometimes this works so well it's like "shooting fish in a barrel."

For instance, no two web development companies are exactly alike. Each one has particular strengths and those strengths can be expressed in the words of commonly searched phrases. So, for instance, instead of competing with every "web site developer" you start bringing in traffic from people who specifically value "online copy writing" or "ecommerce database". The joy here is that your traffic is more focused on EXACTLY what you do best.

I've used this approach with many happy clients in different markets. It requires them to examine their precise business strategies in depth, and clarify their own "unique selling proposition" ... and between us, to find the right words for whatever they sell.

Then the game becomes promoting exactly who you are, instead of trying to look like everyboy else. No use fighting for a piece of the same pie when you can really thrive on apple cobbler and peach tart.


 7:32 pm on Nov 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

>clarify their own "unique selling proposition"

>the game becomes promoting exactly who you are, instead of trying to look like everyboy else.

Sixty years later and Ted Bates' unique selling proposition is still a major component of marketing. Combined with all above a very good way to come up with key words for a "web designer" or "web developer" site.

Many marketers answer the following questions when trying to identify the USP:

1) What are the key features of my product?

2) What are the key features of the competitive products?

3) Which of my product's key features are truly different?

4) If there's more than one, is there one that is the most significant?

And this to be answered when visitors come to the site:

5) How does that most important unique feature, or combination of features, translate into a real benefit?


 7:36 pm on Nov 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Also use tedster overall initial SEO strategy.

Normally start with whatever the highly competitve keyphrases are and look for these in association with search queries involving geographical locations.

Highly effective, particularly with commercial sites reselling physical products since buyers normally would prefer short delivery times vice longer for purchases made online.

After that - long queries that return one or two results per day.

When attempting to determine the competitiveness of a particular query use "quotation" on the phrase, the results return will be the most competitive sites.

Both of these generally require no real changes to a web site.

After that work up the competitive "term tree" add new content when needed to support a specific query and alway keeping in mind the original queries (most competitive and related terms) so that the site grows each update.

[edited by: fathom at 8:04 pm (utc) on Nov. 23, 2002]


 8:00 pm on Nov 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

I get some good help looking for those relevant but "parallel" sets of keywords from the Google Related Word Sets [labs1.google.com] tool.


 12:41 am on Nov 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

I must query that tedster, I found that working out from my own referral logs was much more effective than the keyword tool.


 6:46 am on Nov 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi Eugene,

Just passed thru your neck of the woods & enjoyed the snow... not.

So, I gather you are actually creating separate pages for each targeted phrase? Interesting...

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends on the level of competition for a phrase. If you're going after "relatively" non-competitive kw's, you can probably create a single page to effectively target 2-3 kw's. You'll be fine as long as the competition doesn't change significantly. On the other hand, relatively more competitive kw's really require a dedicated page.

My approach has been to segregate my kw's into groups by level of competition & importance. Let's say I've got 10 pages top work with & I've id'd 30 phrases that interest me. I group those into maybe 3 sets. 1st set is most comeptitve &/or most desirable, these get dedicated pages for each single kw phrase. 2nd set maybe I target 2-3 on a single page. 3rd set, I'll sprinkle in the other pages but I'm careful to not detract from the more important sets.

The important work come in a month or 2. Check your logs & see what's working. If you got good rankings on a kw from your 1st set but few referrals, maybe you need to re-evaluate what is in your 1st set. Likewise, maybe a kw from your 3rd set only got a #18 ranking but you've gotten some traffic from it. Go back & try to work it a little harder. Remember that the tools that we have for front end SEO research are not the be-all & end-all.

And a little hint, tag lines on multiple pages can be slightly altered to help target variations of your main keywords.



 7:06 pm on Nov 25, 2002 (gmt 0)


I would agree with the "nibble around the edges first" strategy adding that it applies to pay-for-position as well as regular SEO. I had to launch a campaign and get results quickly because it can take months for a regular SEO effort to yield results.

Unfortunately even with PPC options the main keyword/phrases were very expensive, so I was really forced to use geographic and specialized sub search terms. It turns out that these more specific phrases yielded higher click throughs and better qualified leads.

Good Luck


 8:32 pm on Nov 25, 2002 (gmt 0)


Wholeheartedly agree, the strategy is exactly the same. We did a down and dirty test on adwords a couple of months ago and saw right away that we couldn't have our ad pop up each time KEYWORD was entered, or even MORE SPECIFIC KEYWORD. So we went with OUR REALLY REALLY SPECIFIC KEYWORD PHRASE and a very specific text teaser. It's impossible for us to match up the resulting traffic with resulting business but business did increase and I bet we got much more targeted bang for the buck than otherwise.



 7:16 pm on Nov 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

Referral logs can only take you so far. That is, they can point to areas which can be improved (people are finding you via "Xxxx Yyyy") and possibly if you could improve rankings for "Xxxx Yyyy" or target ads around that, your traffic/conversions would improve. But they can't tell you what to try- that's different (hasn't been done or optimized by you before). For example, I've found hits via searches on terms that a client wasn't even optimizing on (deliberately)- nor their competitors. That was an obvious area to improve (fairly quickly) with tangible results.

However, eod, keyword research via a variety of tools on an on-going basis is still useful. IMO, while the keyword tools online that are available are useful, they're no substitute for a smart human and direct market and online research. (This, of course, is tied in with the various other marketing efforts- so you know which buzzwords, etc. you're raising consciousness about.)


 4:33 am on Nov 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

This has been one valuable and informative thread. Thanks to all who contributed! And, hey, while you're on a roll, don't stop now... :)


 7:35 am on Nov 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

<tease>We just had a big discussion about this in the WebmasterWorld supporters forum</tease>.

Ok, that's not fair. So here was the bottom line:

Do keyword searches with the toolbar. If the top page of results is more than one pr away from your page/site, then the kw is to big to worry about and go back to finding kw's you can be competitive on.

running scared

 9:15 am on Nov 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

The nibbling around the edges strategy is great but does anybody find a time when a site that has been designed to nibble has successfully nibbled but then finds it difficult to start gulping because it has been so targeted?

I am probably answering my own question but is it just a case of making continuous additions of more nibbling elements to the site to eventually add up to gulping?

Do you need to think fairly long term from the start or is a piecemeal evolution OK? In other words do you need to have a vision of the main structure of the theme pyramid from the start. My experience to date suggests that you do but are there techniques for building in flexibilty?


 11:16 am on Nov 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Fish in a completely different pond as well. The Spanish market is huge.

From the translation a number of existing pages, create new pages in Spanish and put them out there. We have a girl in the office that's bilingual handling those inquiries. It works so well that we're now having to hire another Spanish speaking person.

Be sure to have the pages translated by one who speaks the language and not by some automatic word translating program. Different words mean different things to people when crossing cultural and language lines.

In the UK a man may ask a woman "Shall I knock you up in the morning?". (Meaning to call on you in the morning.)
In the USA he may get his face slapped for saying the same thing.



 6:48 am on Nov 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

The nibbling around the edges strategy is great but does anybody find a time when a site that has been designed to nibble has successfully nibbled but then finds it difficult to start gulping because it has been so targeted?

Not at all in my experience. Just the opposite, in fact.

I am probably answering my own question but is it just a case of making continuous additions of more nibbling elements to the site to eventually add up to gulping?


I sometimes wish days were 48 hours long and I had a clone of myself to take better advantage.

What I call "zig-zag" can be applied to any marketing opportunity... When they zig, you zag.

Great thread!


 7:06 am on Nov 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

If one optimizes keywords surrounding the competitive keyword, would that have a cumulative effect making your competitive keyword rank better?


 11:35 am on Nov 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

>What I call "zig-zag" can be applied to any marketing opportunity

I completely agree. I've tried all the other papers.

cheater copperpot

 11:17 pm on Nov 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

lol nell


 11:47 pm on Nov 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

some intersting stuff in this thread, and I must say I have to agree with Most of the things fellow members have said.

I work in a very competitive industry, where 95% of searchers ONLY search for "keyword" and the other 5% end up doing that as quite often the rest of the results are by NON-profit type sites.

In the past I have focused on the "keyword" and "buy keyword" strategy, this has worked very well, but I am getting greedy :)

So with all the hours spent here, I decided that maybe the angle is to start creating pages in relation what the "keyword" is actually used for.


Client: Bose Sound Systems
Competitive keywords: hi-fi, sound systems, dolby, etc etc
Alternative Keywords: Opera, Classical music etc etc.

Client: 5 star Holiday/Tour Operator
Competitive keywords: Holiday, Luxury Break, Hotels
Alternative Keywords: Lottery Winners, Stars Hideaway, Honeymoon

The above is probably not a good example, but I hope you understand what I am trying to say.

The angle I am now going at is, lets now try and go for the surfer who had no intention of buying our product, but instead let him read content which he understands and then upsell our product to him/her.

Hope that makes sense, its midnight in the UK, so excuse me for talking gibberish.


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