“Check what keywords your competitors are using, and build better content to win their traffic.” Sound familiar? While that statement represents one traditional approach to keyword research, it could also kick off a losing battle. You really want to be where your competitors aren’t, but where you can still find lots of traffic looking for what you have to offer. To do this, you may need to do a little research off the beaten path.

I’d like to tip my hat to David de Souza, writing for Search Engine Land on the topic of using these “hidden gems,” as he calls them, to find performing keywords that your rivals haven’t stumbled upon yet. I’m not covering all of his gems here, so by all means, check out his article for the ones I’m missing.

His first suggestion seems counter intuitive at first. You’ve no doubt noticed that many keywords for which you want to rank return searches with a Wikipedia page in the number one spot. They’re not your competitors, and you sure don’t want to try to outrank them! Or do you?

For many pages that you don’t own – especially your regular competitors – you lack some important data necessary for outranking them: the amount of traffic they receive. Interestingly enough, however, that’s not true with Wikipedia pages.  There is a tool to which de Souza links that gives you some excellent information. He notes that it “will allow you to find traffic volume for any Wikipedia page over the last 90 days,” but it actually gives you a bit more than that; you can fiddle around with it and even analyze the popularity of any particular page over a longer period of time.

Why is this useful? When you try a keyword in Google and see a Wikipedia page ranking at the top, you can check the traffic that article receives to see if it’s  worth it to try to outrank that page. One caveat: the fine print on every page of this tool says “This is very much a beta service and may disappear or change at any time,” so I’d recommend finding a spare 10 minutes or so to play around with it reasonably soon.

The second suggestion for keywords off the beaten path takes advantage of a traditional year-end habit of websites in many fields. No, I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions; I’m talking about most popular posts lists. These can yield all sorts of interesting ideas. Of course, it’s February now, so how do you find those posts if it’s not the right time of year?

You need to create a query for Google that joins several things. The first part will be your niche, the phrase “most popular posts of 2012” (or whatever year has just passed) and the word “traffic.” So if your niche is electronics, your search would look like this: electronics “most popular posts of 2012” traffic.

Okay, so it’s pretty clear why you want the niche and the “most popular posts of 2012;” the niche directs Google and the quotes tell it to look for an exact phrase. But why the traffic? You want to find lists that mention how much traffic the site received. One of the posts that de Souza found in this manner noted that it posted 50 articles during the year and received more than 100,000 visitors. “Using the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule), we can estimate that the 10 articles listed received around 80,000 visitors,” de Souza notes.

Now here’s where it really gets interesting. You can check out those popular articles to see if you can create better content on those same topics. If you can, you know what to do, right? In fact, if you really want to make your efforts pay off, check out those popular posts to see which ones got links. After you’re created your killer content, send an email to the webmasters of those websites to make them aware of it. You just might get a link, which will certainly help you in your goal of beating the competition.

You should never do one form of keyword research to the exclusion of others. These ideas aren’t meant to take the place of whatever you’re doing now. They’re there to help you when you’re stuck and want to find something different that could still bring in good traffic for your website. Good luck! 

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Terri

Terri

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