Your websites Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are determined by various SEO factors, on page content (your body text, the title tag etc…), anchor text of links to your web sites pages, the search engines algorithms tweak of the day and of course the number of websites/pages competing for that search phrase: are there a lot of webmasters targeting the search phrase.

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In this section of the SEO Tutorial we’ll deal with roughly estimating the number of competitors for a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This is a very rough estimate, don’t take it as an exact number or because a number is low it means easy.

Determining your Search Engine Results Pages SEO Competition

Determining SERPs Competition

Determining SERPs Competition

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The first mistake a lot of amateur SEOs and professional SEO consultants make is looking at the total number of pages found for a given SERP and from this limited information concluding the difficulty and number of competitors for that search phrase.

This method is inaccurate and should not be relied upon, for example the word HOME is found on a lot of pages 25,270,000,000 (September 2019), not because they are targeting SERPs related to the word home, but because they use home as the anchor text of home page links and the word home is quite commonly used within title tags: there’s over 25 billion pages indexed in Google for home!

When this SEO tutorial first went live (in 2005) the Home SERP had 5,960,000,000 pages, as I update the tutorial in 2019 the number of pages found has quadrupled! It’s going to be a rare SERP where the number of pages found will go down in the future.

There aren’t 25 billion webpages targeting the keyword home.

Keyword Proximity Suggests True SEO SERP Competition

Google SEO & Keyword Proximity

Google SEO & Keyword Proximity

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An exact phrase match search is where you enclose your search phrase within speech marks (“search phrase goes here“) when making a search in Google. An exact phrase search removes all loose matches (see below).

An exact match would be the bold text below-

1. ‘At SEO Homepage search engine services we deliver great results’

A loose search match would be text like this-

2. ‘SEO Gold the Homepage of amazing SEO Consultants’

Keyword proximity (how close the keywords are to each other) is important to Google SEO, as you can appreciate an exact phrase match (like text #1 above) to a search engine is considered much more important than finding the keywords separated, a loose match (like text #2 above).

You can’t get a better keyword proximity than right next to one another.

Two similar webpages with the above strings of text and no other mention of the keywords SEO and Homepage you would expect to find the page with text number 1 way above the page with text number 2 for the SEO Homepage SERP.

We basically assume web pages with perfect keyword proximity for the given search are targeting the SERP either by choice or by luck (not all webmasters are SEO’s).

When you perform the exact phrase match “SEO Homepage” it gives 39,900 (September 2019). This tells us the vast majority of the 61,300,000 pages found for SEO Homepage (loose search) are not interested in the SEO Homepage SERP; only 39,900 pages are probably your true competition since they use the exact text on their page or have backlinks with anchor text SEO Homepage.

SEO Homepage loose search – 61,300,000 results (September 2019) : shows similar pages to the SEO Home search, just a different order.

“SEO Homepage” exact match search – 39,900 results (September 2019) : probably your true competition.

That is not to say a loose matching page or even a page with some or all of the keywords not present at all can’t rank highly since anchor text alone from high PageRank (PR) links or lots of links with the right anchor text like the Miserable Failure Googlebomb SERP many years ago can beat exact phrase matches.

Let’s have a quick look at the top results for loose and exact match SERPs.

SEO Homepage loose search top results
How to Create an SEO Friendly Homepage – Neil Patel
Homepage SEO Best Practices (Checklist Included)
Homepage SEO Best Practices (with 16 Examples)
Does homepage SEO exist at all? • Yoast
Homepage Optimisation | SEO Mark
Does homepage SEO exist at all? | SEO Q&A | Moz
On-Page SEO | The Beginner’s Guide to SEO – Moz
Title Tag | 2019 SEO Best Practices – Moz
Homepage SEO Strategy That Works – SEOJet Blog
The Importance of Homepage Content and SEO – SEO.co

“SEO Homepage” exact match search top results
How to Create an SEO Friendly Homepage – Neil Patel
6 SEO Homepage Mistakes to Avoid – VIEO Design
12 Things To Check In Your Local Homepage SEO Audit …
Homepage SEO Strategy That Works – SEOJet Blog
SEO Guide: 11 Real Ways to Optimize Your Homepage – WebFX
Seo Homepage | WordPress.org
Homepage Backlinks: How to Get the Right Links Through …

The vast majority have a title tags including both keywords SEO and Homepage. Title tags are one of the top Google ranking factors, always put time into crafting an optimised title tag.

An Example SERPs Competition Calculation

Let’s look at a SERP or two, to see if we can narrow down the true competition.

WordPress SEO 299,000,000 loose search results
“WordPress SEO” 2,610,000 exact search results

So we have around 300 million webpages using WordPress and SEO, of those 300 million, less than 1%, 2.6 million use the exact term “WordPress SEO”, that’s your true competition.

We can narrow it down further with an allintitle: Google search, with the allintitle: Google search operator we only search for the keyword within the title tag. Any webpage that’s seriously targeting a SERP will use the keywords within the title tag and if they are REALLY serious it will be exact match.

We can do a loose and exact allintitle: search.

allintitle: WordPress SEO

allintitle: WordPress SEO 413,000 loose search results

allintitle: "WordPress SEO"

allintitle: “WordPress SEO” 98,000 exact search results

Now we have even more data points.

1. WordPress SEO = 299,000,000 loose search results
2. allintitle: WordPress SEO = 413,000 loose search results
3. “WordPress SEO” = 2,610,000 exact search results
4. allintitle: “WordPress SEO” = 98,000 exact search results

To put things into perspective, this webpage uses WordPress SEO in the body text, but not the title tag, so will be included in data points 1. and 3., but not points 2. and 3. This webpage is NOT seriously targeting the WordPress SEO SERP and so it’s highly unlikely to be listed in the top 100, this page is not serious competition for that SERP.

For this phrase “SERPs Competition” this webpage is listed for all 4 data points.

1. SERPs Competition = 391,000 loose search results
2. allintitle: SERPs Competition = 93 loose search results
3. “SERPs Competition” = 175 exact search results
4. allintitle: “SERPs Competition” = 8 exact search results

As you can see there’s no real competition for the SERPs Competition search phrase even though the loose search has close to 400,000 results. Few webpages are targeting this SERP, there’s no traffic.

Other Factors Impacting on SERP Difficulty

As you saw with the SERPs Competition example above from the 400,000 pages found with a loose search only 175 are using the exact phrase and of those only 8 within the title tags. This information is vital to determining the difficulty of a SERP, but does not always reflect true difficulty since if there are just 10 pages online targeting a SERP and they all do better than your page you don’t get the prized top 10 listing.

For a search phrase to provide traffic to your site you ideally want one of the top 3 listings and no less than top 10 (first page result). Other than very high traffic SERPs after the 10th result traffic practically stops and so you need to look at what actually has the top 10 listings for a given SERP.

David Law
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: Freelance SEO Consultant with 20 years of SEO and Search Engine Marketing experience... Creator of multiple WordPress SEO Themes and SEO Plugins.

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