How to find low-competition keywords

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We all want to rank for super-broad and competitive keywords, but let’s be honest: there’s a very finite amount of space on Google and if you’re reading this guide you probably won’t make it there for broad keywords.

I see your mouse going right up to click out of this post, so stop right there. I know the feeling.

I’d love to rank for ‘seo’ but take a look at the competition:

Yeah we’re not beating Google’s developer docs or Wikipedia (though we’re coming for you Moz!).

In my opinion, this is the #1 reason people think SEO does not work - they're targeting the wrong keywords, and the ones they are focusing on are way too broad.

We could try to optimize for SEO, spent an unimaginable amount of time building a pillar page and loads of backlinks… or we could rank for a host of other keywords that are a bit less crowded.

What if I told you that other option was much faster, and would net a much better return on your investment than targeting the super-broad keywords. Interested?

These are keywords that are less competitive (also called low-competition keywords, or long tail keywords). In this article I’m going to walk you through my favorite tactics to finding low-competition keywords and how to target them with content that ranks.

What are low-competition keywords?

I define low-competition keywords as keywords that are less competitive to rank for. Competitive is a relative term, but the broader the keyword the more websites there are that will be targeting it. For broad keywords, you’ll need links in addition to rockstar content in order to rank.

Low-competition keywords though? These keywords are usually more niche, which means fewer websites will be targeting them and you’ve got a better chance at ranking.

Why go after low-competition keywords?

If you’re hesitant to dive into the wonderful world of link building, low competition keywords are your best friend.

To rank for competitive (broad) keywords, you need great content and a lot of links to back you up. That takes a lot of time, and for newer websites it’s a long uphill battle.

While high search volumes are attractive, the return on investment is not encouraging. Rather than spend hours and hours trying to target one competitive keyword, you could publish several pieces of content targeting low-competition keywords.

And trust me, the search volume does add up.

But what about search volumes?

Maybe you're on the fence about low-competition keywords due to the low search volumes that come with them.

Don't be.

If I had to pick between a broad keyword with 1,000,000 searches per month and a lower competition keyword with 10, I'd go with the low-competition keyword 10/10 times. Here's why: ranking for a keyword with 10 searches per month will get you infinitely more traffic than targeting a keyword you cannot rank for.

We ran a blog post a while back on why Google might show the wrong meta description. This is a very niche question that shows around 10 searches per month on Google. Except for the fact that this keyword is asked on Google around 20 different ways and we rank for all of them, which adds up to hundreds of visits each month from Google.

Don't let low search volumes scare you off of long tail keywords, let your competitors be scared off while you siphon traffic away from them.

What is a good keyword difficulty?

Like I said above, keyword difficulty is a relative metric.

My ‘ideal keyword difficulty’ is probably not yours, but that’s because your site might be more, or less, authoritative than ours.

A good keyword difficulty is within the realm of possibility for you to rank, because going after keywords you do not stand a chance at ranking for is a waste of your time.

To identify your ideal keyword difficulty, take a look at the keywords you rank on page 1 of Google for. This will give you a decent sampling of the types of keywords you can reasonably target. If you pop open your favorite keyword research tool, or run a quick Google search, you should be able to get a sense of how competitive these keywords are.

If you’re ranking for competitive terms, then congrats! You’ve got a pretty broad range for the types of keywords you can target.

If you’re only ranking for niche keywords, don’t fret. That just means you’ll want to target the especially low-competition keywords for now, and then build up authority over time.

The best free tools to find low-competition keywords

There are plenty of excellent, and free, ways to find low-competition keywords. Here are a few of my favorites.

Pen, paper, and customer conversations

Everyone uses keyword research tools, but only you have direct access to your customers.

There’s no good substitute for the questions real customers are asking. Think of this as your secret stash of quality questions to answer with your content. Anyone can load up a big list of keywords, but being able to refer to a real question that someone asked gives you a richer understanding of the intent behind that question, and that’s a recipe for better content.

Before diving into a keyword research tool, I like to take out a pen and piece of paper and jot down the questions my customers are asking. This is the same exercise we take our clients through as well and serves as an excellent starting point for keyword research.

If you’re short on customers, forums like Quora and Reddit are also great sources of questions people in your target market are asking.

Google keyword planner

A classic free keyword research tool is Google’s ad keyword planner.

While Google built this tool for advertisers, it’s an excellent free option for keyword research. All you need is a Google Ads account and you’ll get access to this great tool which gives you a host of keyword suggestions based along with search volume data and paid competition.

This won’t be the same as organic competition, however it does give you a sense of what keywords your competitors are buying ads for. It’s also a great way to brainstorm some long tail keywords off one basic keyword.

Google Search Console

My all-time favorite SEO tool is Google Search Console.

Google Search Console shows you how your website performs in search results, and what keywords it appears for. It’s an excellent tool to view keywords your site ranks for that you may not be directly targeting, which can be a goldmine for finding long tail keywords.

Google auto suggest and People Also Ask

In addition to software provided by Google, there’s another favorite of mine hiding in plain sight: Google’s native functionality in search.

Google handles billions of searches each day, and you better believe they have a metric ton of data from that. Google spends a painstaking amount of time trying to understand why people are searching for a specific keyword, what content they want, and what they will search for next.

Because of that, you can learn a lot from Google’s autosuggested searches as well as the “People also Ask” feature. This is a great way to load up long tail versions of a broad keyword. In fact, you’ll probably learn a lot about how your customers use Google along the way.

Here’s an example. Say I start off with a broad keyword like ‘dog food’:

If I select ‘dog food brands’ suddenly I get a few more interesting and niche questions appearing:

‘dog food brands to avoid’ looks interesting, after I search for that here’s what I see:

Now this is interesting, I’m getting lots of modifiers like “vet recommended”, “healthiest”, or even “cancer-causing”. Clicking “healthiest dog food” yields even more niche queries:

If I’m running a pet food company, rather than simply target ‘dog food’ I’d probably go more niche - have categories by dog size, along with dry vs wet, and use modifiers like vet recommended. Suddenly, these keywords get a bit easier to rank for and I’m just scratching the surface.

These are all great as free options to do some keyword research, though there are a few paid tools that are worth mentioning as well.

The best paid tools to find low competition keywords

If you’ve exhausted your options with the free tools and tactics, there are a few great paid options as well.

Centori

The Centori software platform is an excellent companion for keyword research. Not only do we pull from a database of over 3 billion keywords but we have all sorts of advanced filters allowing you to pull keywords within a specific search volume range or under a certain difficulty metric.

This makes it exceedingly simple to load thousands of low-competition keywords. Unlike other tools, we don't like limiting you. That means:

  • You can save and track your rank for as many keywords as you'd like
  • Create as many lists as you'd like for each project
  • Invite your entire marketing team

SEO

And at $29/month we think that’s a great deal (did we mention the SEO Slack community we have for support, and monthly group coaching call available for all customers?). Learn more about our keyword research tools here and see how you can get started.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is one of the leading SEO tools on the market and a great fit for SEO specialists and experts.

Like Centori, it taps into a massive database of keywords and allows for advanced filtering to refine the keywords that you pull. Ahrefs starts at $99 and allows you to track 750 keywords and only have 5 lists and one user login- if you need more you will have to pay more.

SemRush

Like Ahrefs, SEMRush packs in a lot of power in an interface designed for pro SEOs. It boasts many of the same features as Ahrefs with a few extra features geared towards marketers (like social media management tools) though comes in at a higher starting cost at $199/month which includes 500 keywords and like Ahrefs just one user.

How to target low competition keywords with content

Well isn’t that the million dollar question.

Now that you’ve got a healthy list of low-competition keywords, how should you target them and use them in your content? Google has gotten well ahead of checking whether your target keyword is in the page or not. Instead Google looks holistically at your content to determine how well it answers the intent behind the keyword.

That’s a lot of jargon. I boil it down to this: take a moment to think about the question behind the keyword and answer that as comprehensively and helpfully as possible. The key is helpful. Write content that addresses the question your reader is asking, and helps them along their way.

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