In the new look Keywords tool we’ve included two ways of measuring competition.
For most keywords you’ll see a ‘Competition’ number listed next to the search volume. These work on a 1-100 scale - where 100 means you face lots of competition. If you’re new to keyword research, simply look for keywords with low competition scores.
And if you’re interested in more detail on how we calculate the numbers, Owen Powis explains ...
It’s possible to collect ‘Live Competition’ data for up to 30 keywords at a time. This gives you a second opinion, using a lot more data, on the competition you’ll face.
Although the figures look simpler, the aim of the changes isn't to ‘dumb down’. In fact, the results are now ‘cleverer’ than before.
What we have done is make the metrics easier to understand, filter and manipulate so you can do more clever things with them. We know that advanced users will want to take the data out of the tool, so it’s been designed with this in mind as well.
Changes to IAAT
The first metric we looked at was how users measure competition, or how difficult it is to rank on each of the keywords. In the old tool this figure was known as IAAT.
Users of the old tool are probably familiar with IAAT, but if you’re new to Wordtracker, it stands for ‘In Anchor And Title’. It is a count of the number of web pages for which the keyword appears in both the title tag and the anchor text of a backlink. Hence ‘In Anchor And Title’. IAAT measures the level of competition for each keyword. The higher the number, the more competition the keyword will face.
We decided that, instead of IAAT, it would be simpler to call this metric ‘Competition’ in the new interface.
As a basic measure of competition it works well. It tells you how many sites there are where there is a page targeted to the keyword in question. However IAAT was first introduced several years ago and since then the web has moved on. Those of you familiar with the Panda update will know that Google has been removing low quality content from its results pages, targeting what is termed ‘thin’ or poor quality content.
Responding to Panda
As the web has evolved, the way in which sites are made has also changed. It’s now easier to generate and maintain large dynamic sites with masses of content. This has created a problem for Google: too many big sites with not enough unique or high quality content were featuring in its results. One of Panda‘s aims was to remove these sites from the search results.
IAAT doesn't make a distinction between the high quality content Google likes and the low quality pages it’s ignoring. IAAT only looks at whether a page conforms to two core aspects, keyword in title and keyword in anchor text. With the increase in dynamic sites and the amount of low quality content and link building strategies, IAAT has become less useful as an accurate measurement.
We have analyzed hundreds of keywords and worked out what we regard as the true competition for these, then compared it against IAAT.
IAAT is still able to give a broad steer, but is no longer as pinpoint accurate as it was.
A scale from 1-100
There is another problem with IAAT. The range the figures are given on are not easily comparable. One search can result in keywords with scores ranging from 100 to 10,000,000. Many users found this impractical.
The solution was to place our competition metric on a 1-100 scale. We have grouped IAAT scores together and in such a way that differences in the lower end of the scale become more meaningful. IAAT gave a very precise number, yet that doesn’t mean it was always helpful.
We just tend to look at the more precise number and assume it’s more accurate.
We found that the variance of accuracy within IAAT meant that placing it onto a scale with broader increments did not affect the accuracy of the metric.
In the past, SEOs used to measure competition by asking: "how many other sites on the internet compete on this keyword?" A much better, more concise question to ask is: "how difficult will it be to rank on this keyword?" This is the question our new ‘Live Competition’ metric answers.
Using Google for inspiration
When deciding which results to present, Google ’s algorithm is broadly measuring three categories: Relevance, Strength and Trust.
Relevance comes from the on page factors (for example, whether the title tag contains a relevant keyword) and off page factors (such as the anchor text used to link to you).
Strength comes from the number and type of those links. Better links - for example those from an authoritative website - means more strength.
Trust comes from factors like domain age and links from other trusted sites.
This is a broad explanation which is useful for understanding a specific behavior. There are lots of other attributes such as freshness which we haven't included as they haven't been used as part of this metric.
We wanted to create a competition metric that would be able to assess the results from a given query and get quantitative data about them. Using this we would be able to understand how strong these sites were and therefore how difficult it would be to beat them.
- Ranking position of the site
- Exact Match Domain to the keyword
- How Many Linking Domains to URL
- How Many Linking Domains to Domain
- Google Exact Match Search Count
- Google All in title Search Count
- Page depth of Ranking page
- Alexa Rank of Domain
Once we have figured out which sites rank where for a keyword and then looked at all of the above factors we apply our own algorithm to the data to create the ‘Live Competition’ figure. This is a system of weightings, where some elements are given greater value than others. For instance if the best ranking results have very few links to the page then they may be low competition, however they might be on very powerful domains so we would rely on the links to the domain and the Alexa Rank to bring the competition score back up.
As a live metric, the numbers you see will change over time, which will reflect changes in Google’s search results. The figures are unlikely to change dramatically and should do so gradually over time.
We are also committed to keeping the algorithm updated as different elements become more and less important. This doesn’t mean that you need to go back and redo all your keyword research every week, though it does mean that when you do, you’ll be using the most accurate and up to date metric possible.
We worked towards 30 seconds to fetch all the metrics, do all the number crunching and update the ‘Live Competition’ results, but we've actually achieved under 10 seconds for many queries which we are really pleased with.
Analyzing competition can be done as part of a two-step process. First, use the Competition you see first to refine your keyword list. As you refine down the list using the filters, the need for accuracy becomes greater. In this case you can hit the ‘Live Competition’ button to get the most up to date information. This is also a great way of double checking any numbers that you don’t think look right.
We are still refining the weightings and algorithm that we use. We will keep our formula up to date so that it reflects changes to Google’s algorithm. You may find that in the first few weeks the results differ by a few points as we refine the way it works. After that it should settle down to be only as volatile as the level of competition is for the keyword in question.
Changing IAAT was the result of lots of research and analysis, a lot of which has been shared in this post. We will continuously be looking at how to improve our metrics and if you have any suggestions then please do get in touch. If you get results that you don’t feel are accurate do let us know. We want to carry on improving our metrics.
If you love it, hate it, or have a great idea for a feature, please leave a comment, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org Or join us on Google+, find us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for updates.
We look forward to hearing from you!
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About Owen Powis
Owen Powis is the lead SEO Consultant at Wordtracker and has a half decade of experience working as an SEO Consultant. That time has been spent working at some of the UK's largest agencies dealing with clients ranging from SMEs to large blue chip organizations. He can be found @owenfantastic on Twitter.