When you type a keyword phrase into a search engine, the search engine will return pages containing that keyword phrase with the most relevant pages first. Some people make the mistake of taking the number of pages returned by the search engine as a measure of competition for that keyword phrase, but in reality it is not so and here is why:

Search engine results usually become irrelevant after 10-15 pages. In fact, you can easily outrank many pages by just doing some simple onpage optimization. This is because some of the pages just contain the keyword phrase in the content and the website owners are not even targeting it.

Finding your competitors is simple and straight forward. Just go to Google and search for your keywords without quote – the way a normal search engine user will search. The first 10 webpages on the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) are your real competitors. Once you know who your competitors are, the next thing will be to determine the level of competition. That is, you want to know if you can afford to outrank any of these competitors and appear on page 1.

You can determine the level of competition by spying on your competitors’ onpage and offpage SEO strategies. If you don’t understand what onpage and offpage SEO means, you can read this SEO Tutorial.

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Onpage SEO involves all those things you do on your website to improve its search engine ranking while offpage SEO has to do with building backlinks to your webpage. Onpage SEO is fully under your control and you don’t have to worry about it because it is easy. Your worry, however, should be on offpage SEO. You have to worry about the number and quality of links you need to outrank your competitor. But before you can estimate this, you have to spy on your competitors to know the number and quality of backlinks they have. There are many tools that can help you accomplish this and two free ones are backlinkwatch and TrafficTravis. Note: By quality of backlinks, I mean the page ranks of the webpages where the backlinks are coming from. The higher the page rank, the higher the quality of the backlinks.

While analyzing your competitors’ backlinks, you have to take note of the following.

  • Link text of the backlinks. This is very, very important because the more backlinks that contain your keyword in the linking text the higher will be your ranking. (You can determine this with BackLinkWatch.com or TrafficTravis).
  • The number of webpages that link to your competitor. (You can also determine this with BackLinkWatch.com or TrafficTravis).
  • The page rank of your competitor: This is not that important because you can still outrank a high page rank webpage if it is not well optimized for your keyword. On the other hand, if such a webpage is well optimized for the keyword you can hardly outrank it. (You can use SEO Quake to view the page rank of any webpage)
  • The page rank of the webpages linking to your competitors. This is very important because the higher the page rank of the webpages linking to your competitor, the higher it will rank.
  • Check the number of backlinks that are nofollow. Backlinks with this attribute will not contribute anything to your page rank and ranking. So just ignore them. If your competitor has 300 backlinks and 50 of them are nofollow, just assume that it is 250 backlinks that he has.
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Finally, to outrank a competing webpage, you have to do a better onpage and offpage optimization. Your backlinks should beat that of your competitor in terms of number and quality. But note that backlinks from high page rank sites are worth more than those from low PR sites. Therefore, if you can get higher quality backlinks than the competitor, you will need fewer numbers of backlinks to outrank him. Doing keyword research and competition analysis manually can be very stressful and time-consuming. However, Keyword research tools like SEO SpyGlass can automate the process for you.