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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Google Optimization: Using Search Operators

New Google Keyword Tool
Image by rustybrick via Flickr
The underlying premise of SEO suggests that you understand the task at hand when it comes to outranking the other 999 entrants for any given keyword.
Google stops indexing a particular keyword after 1,000 results when assessing the aggregate relevance score to determine which results are spawned. By truly understanding this, you can discover a great deal from using a few basic Google search operators to determine what type of foothold a competitor has for a given keyword or niche.

Basic Competitive Analysis Metrics

1. Start with the keyword you are interested in researching. Place the keyword "in quotes" in a Google search box.
For example "SEO" returns 262,000,000 competing pages with the chronological order of the strongest sites first.
Then look to the right and determine the number of competing pages you are up against "for that keyword". It will say results 1 of 10 of (the number of competing pages).
This allows you to assess the competitive landscape with one brief metric. The extent of what you consider a competitive keyword depends on the website. For example, most websites can acquire a keyword under 50,000 competing pages with ease and competitive keywords start above 100,000 results and ascend into the millions (pages in index / divided by the top 1,000 results).

The next few metrics will allow you to understand where your SEO ceiling is (what threshold your website has for keyword benchmarks). Our blog for example can devour a keyword with up to 1,000,000 competing pages just from one post of mentioning those keywords (without backlinks).
So, all the talk about building website authority does have a place when you understand the implications to rank with less effort. Authority sites have the ability to zero in on a keyword and skip over hundreds of other websites and reach the top 10 results by the merit of trust and internal link weight and dynamism they possess. In keeping with the topic at hand, let's move to the next metric.

2. Evaluate your competitors domain and determine the amount of pages they have by using this search command in Google. You can use the #1 site and the #10 site to gauge an average of pages required to capture the keyword or, if you want you can use the #1st, 2nd and 3rd site that rank for the selected keyword to see which formulas they are entrenched in.
site:competitorsite.com (this shows you how many pages they have indexed in Google)

3. Next, determine how saturated their website is with the keyword in question.
site:competitorsite.com keyword
This shows you how many pages are indexed that include the keyword within their website. If the site in the top 10 is an authority domain, it can rank from one keyword alone in the title tag, description tag or having the keyword in the body text (or any combination of these three metrics).
While most websites do not have that luxury, often dozens or hundreds of pages are required to cross the tipping point of co-occurrence for that keyword within the website and acquire a top ranking. However each keyword has a threshold which is going to vary depending on the unique metrics of each website (which is why you need to look at more than one site for evaluation).

4. Now that you know that your competitor's site contains Y amount of pages and X amount of those pages are dedicated to a specific keyword, you can go the the most relevant listing returned from their site and look at the off page factors (which means finding out how many backlinks are linking to that page). To do so, use Yahoo Site Explorer and type the specific URL in and look at the inlinks tab to see how many pages are linking to that page.

For example, if the homepage is returned as the top ranking result for the keyword using the competitorsite.com keyword search command, ignore it and look for an actual page that has a title, or relevant shingle with the keyword (in the title, URL or description).
If they targeted a keyword using a broad match method (which means it was not necessarily the objective, but their site acquired the ranking based on ambient factors, then you will only see a sparse mention of the keyword). The point being, the homepage is a catch all and will not provide you with the same amount of depth when attempting to data mine deep links from your competitors.

The idea is, you want to know (a) how many pages they have indexed (b) how many pages contain the keyword (c) how many deep links (how many links just to that page) the top ranking page has (from outside the site) as well as (d) how well the site in internally linked (for that keyword).
We can determine criteria a-c with simple search commands, and you can also determine if the site is treated as an authority based on the keywords that appear in bold when using the site: command, websites start transforming into authority sites through topical relevance after 200-300 pages are developed around a topic (if they are linked and optimized properly).

5. Crunch the numbers and assess the competitive landscape of the keyword in question.
For example, if you know that the top 3 sites all have an average of 1000 pages and out of those 1000 pages 50% or more of them contain the keyword in question and your site has 20 pages, then you are not being realistic with your ranking objectives.
I am not suggesting to go add 1000 pages overnight (as that would not be natural) but rather, start chipping away at the keyword using a variety of SEO tactics.

6. Check the allintitle, allintext and allinanchor thresholds for the selected competitors' sites. This means finding where they rank in Google (in the top 1,000 results before the results get obscured / redundant) using the following search operators.
allintitle:keyword (who has the highest occurrence of keyword in title)
allintext:keyword (who has the highest occurrence of keyword in their body text)
allinanchor:keyword (who has the highest occurrence of anchor text / links with this keyword)
Using Google again, you can look at the competitor's on page and off page metrics, instead of breaking them out individually, you can just use NicheWatch instead, or our Ultimate SEO Toolkit, to perform this function.

The Conclusion
SEO is only limited by your imagination when it comes to determining the extent of how you use tactics for discovery and analysis. We covered a few simple metrics using Google search operators above that allow you to isolate co-occurrence and determine the global keyword density for a site.
This does provide a preliminary analysis to at least let you know what your up against (qualifying a competitor or your domain to a keyword). If you reverse engineer the averages, you can find the tipping point for essentially any keyword and craft a plan of action to acquire it.
For example 1,000 pages indexed, 900 have the keyword in exact match and the main landing page has 50 inbound links from Page Rank 4 pages. Now you have a threshold to exceed. Although this is a preliminary method, sometimes looking at basic metrics such as these can provide an immense amount of insight and determine the next competitive threshold you target for analysis.

About The Author:
Jeffrey Smith is an active internet marketing optimization strategist, consultant and the founder of Seo Design Solutions Seo Company. He has actively been involved in internet marketing since 1995 and brings a wealth of collective experiences and fresh marketing strategies to individuals involved in online business.

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