Competitive keywords: why your content should target them

“Much bigger websites are already taking the top spots for your chosen keywords. I’d recommend we target less competitive keywords.”

If you hear these words come out of your copywriter’s mouth, channel your inner Lord Sugar and fire that copywriter.

But why? Doesn’t it follow that you’ll more easily get onto page 1 for keywords that are overlooked by the competition?

No! Search is semantic now

Back in the day, SEO copywriting was pretty simple: pick a keyword; use that keyword as many times as possible in your copy; then wait for Google to play a fancy version of Snap in which it shows your content to users who type in that exact keyword.

Then, in 2013, Google released its Hummingbird algorithm, which heralded the age of semantic search. The idea behind Hummingbird was to go beyond the words people use to understand what they mean. Understanding user intent enables Google to offer more targeted and relevant search results. So, if you search “1984”, Google will use any context around your query to work out whether you’re looking for information about the year 1984, or whether you mean the novel by George Orwell.

This means that a website repeating “1984” throughout its copy won’t rank unless there’s good contextual information around it that helps Google categorise it properly. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether “1984” is deemed to be a competitive keyword or not. What matters is whether your content as a whole is rich, detailed, and targeted.

Also, people don’t think in keywords

Just as Google has changed, so have the people who use it. They no longer just type one or two words into the search box and sift patiently through the results. Users expect to be able to run a search query in their own language and get an instant result. In fact, Google will anticipate what they’re about to say and make suggestions to help them finish the query (this is known as predictive search).

So while you’re fretting about whether you should target a competitive keyword like “car insurance comparison”, your user is already reviewing a set of options that look like this:

predictive search

Depending on their search history, each user could see a different set of predictive suggestions for the same query.

We should think of “car insurance comparison” not as a competitive keyword to be avoided, but as the starting point for many long tail variants that we can work into our content.

With an infinite number of variations on potentially relevant search queries, it’s clear the choice between competitive keywords and ‘easier’ alternatives is false. What good SEO copywriters need to do is to write extensively across a broad range of relevant topics. Your content should have enough depth and substance for a lexicon of related terms to appear naturally.

You shouldn’t ignore what people actually want to read

Let’s get one thing out of the way: just about every topic and every angle has been covered extensively already. Even your less competitive search terms will still return many thousands, even millions, of search results.

The best thing your copywriter can do is take inspiration from the topics people care about. Where are the pain points? What are the problems your audience needs to solve? Use this as the starting point for your editorial plan.

Even then, you’re unlikely to uncover a brand new topic. The key is to write insightfully, and to try to go beyond what other sources have covered. This is what will earn links and shares. Targeting a competitive keyword isn’t a problem, but failing to add a unique view most definitely is.

A guaranteed number 1 spot on Google doesn’t exist (sorry black hat SEO guys*)

Let’s say you take the (bad) advice of the copywriter who wanted to target less competitive keywords. You gain that coveted number 1 spot. A high profile site can still publish a similar piece, and knock you off the top spot.

(*If your SEO person/agency promises you this, fire them too. Only Google can guarantee a top spot on Google – and they tend to avoid doing this, for some reason.)

And finally, remember: people do stuff outside of Google

Heresy, we know, but Google is not the be all and end all when it comes to getting eyeballs on your content.

You’re presumably also generating traffic from your email and social media campaigns, paid advertising, in-person marketing, client referrals and so on.

Ignoring the needs of these audiences in favour of chasing a top spot on Google for a tangentially-related keyword would be a very bad move indeed.

There’s a marketing maxim that it’s 7 times cheaper to keep an existing client than to get a new one. Therefore, do keep in mind that your clients, former clients, current prospects, and social media followers are all more likely to engage with your content than somebody landing on your site for the first time from Google.

Think of it this way: by avoiding so-called competitive keywords, you’re actually just failing your existing audiences in favour of chasing a new one. A far better strategy is to consider what kind of content suits each of your audiences and channels, then create an editorial plan that covers all your bases.