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Is there any way of understanding this before starting the site and seeing it in your logs (where itll be obvious, of course)?
Is it as simple as typing in your main keyword into the google adwords tool and comparing broad search to exact match, etc.?
I think understanding this would help a lot with market research and deciding whether you want to enter a market or not.
If one market seems more competitive than another one keyword-wise, but the one that seems more difficult is a long-tail kw industry, whereas the easier one is a short-tail kw industry, then I might still go for the more difficult one if I can create content to optimize the heck out of the long-tail.
These terms mean different things to SEO than they do PPC. With PPC your concerned about cost per conversion and with SEO your concerned about how hard it is to rank for a term.