Getting volume and competition data
⏱ 1 hour
In this step, you’ll be gathering volume and competition data and inputting that data into the spreadsheet. As a practical matter, you’ll probably want to export volume and competition data at the same time, so read both sections below before continuing.
Gathering Volume Data
You can think of volume as the demand for information on a topic (and later we’ll look at competition, which is supply).
There are lots of different ways to gather, or guess, at volume data. Just remember, no matter which tool you use to get your volume data, it’s going to be an estimate. That’s why volume data is most useful as a general, directional indicator rather than as a specific number. For example, if you see a datapoint that reports 3,000 searches a month for “cloud computing”, the real number could actually be quite different—but you can assume there is significantly more volume for “cloud computing” than for a related term that only shows 300 searches a month.
Most guides will recommend signing up for a keyword volume tool, and there are many to choose from—SEMRush, Moz, Ahrefs, and many others. Most of these tools are pretty easy to use, and you can get reasonable estimates from some (but not all) of them with just a single month of membership. It’s also possible to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool for AdWords, but estimates from this tool have been getting less and less useful over time.
Here’s where to find this data in a few of these different tools.
SEMRush is a fully-featured tool and may be useful to you even beyond building your initial keyword strategy. It’s a really solid place to start and makes pulling data fairly straightforward. The best place to pull keyword data is the “Keyword Overview” tab. You’ll use the “volume” measurement in your spreadsheet.
If you feel more comfortable with Moz, feel free to use their Keyword Explorer tool – though you may need to sign up for a paid plan (instead of a trial) in order to get data for more than one keyword at once.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is available under Tools and Settings in your Google Ads account, though you’ll need to have an active account in order to use it. Once you’ve entered your keywords into the tool, use the Historical Metrics tab to get data. Note that while Google Keyword Planner is free, its data is the roughest out of all the tools available, with very broad search volume ranges (we suggest you take an average) and only qualitative data on competition. If you can use a tool that gives you more precise numbers, you should.
Once you’ve got your volume data somewhere, put it into the spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet should now look like this:
What if a keyword has no volume?
If a keyword shows no volume in a tool, it’s likely too narrow to target as part of your strategy. You can try the keyword in a different tool, or broaden it until you have some indication of monthly search volume.
Gathering Competition Data
If volume is the demand for content about a given keyword, competition is the existing supply.
There are lots of different ways to gather, or guess, at competition data. And just as with volume data, no matter what source you use, competition data is going to be an estimate or a directional guide rather than a number you can truly rely on.
There’s one additional wrinkle: while volume is a very simple measurement of the number of searches conducted for a specific term, competition is a much more complex measurement that tries to estimate how hard it will be to rank for a certain keyword. Nobody can really predict this, but a good estimate can help you make informed decisions about which keywords you have a chance of ranking for.
Every tool has its own way of making this competition estimate, but a typical approach might go something like this:
- Take the top 10 sites that rank for a specific seed keyword.
- Estimate how much authority each one of those sites has with Google by making a composite of how many sites link back to that site, how much content they have, and so on.
- Assign this a score out of 100. (So Wikipedia might be 100, while my ballroom dancing blog might be 1.)
- Take the average score for each of those top 10 sites, and that’s competitiveness. If Wikipedia, major news organizations, and the US government occupy the top 10 slots, we say that’s a very competitive keyword. If sites in the top 10 are not of that level of quality, it isn’t.
If you’ve already signed up for a tool to get keyword volume, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to pull competition data as well. If you haven’t signed up for any of those tools, you can still estimate competition. We’ll give suggestions for both cases below.
In SEMRush, we recommend using the KD measurement (“Keyword Difficulty”) for competition.
Moz has a “Difficulty” score that goes from 1 - 100.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner competition scores are extremely rough, so we don’t recommend trying to use them. We have an alternative method under “Estimating competition without competitive data”, below.
Popular search volume tools will typically also give you some competition data.
Manually estimating competition without competition data
If you don’t have, or don’t want to sign up for, a service that gives you data, you can also make a rough estimate based on search results. This will be totally subjective, but a lot of competition data is fairly subjective in any case.
While free, this is an extremely time-consuming way of estimating competition data — our three-hour estimate doesn’t include this manual step. Think carefully about whether it might be better to sign up for a free trial or spend the money for a month’s subscription to one of the available tools.
To do this manually:
- Google each of your seed keywords
- For each one, look at the top 5 results and rank them each from 1 - 100, where 100 is something like Wikipedia, and 1 is someone’s personal blog. Don’t spend too much time deciding on an exact number – even consider just ranking each item as 100, 80, 60, or 0.
Take the average of these numbers and use this as your competition measurement.
Once you’ve gathered this data, from a tool or on your own, put it in your spreadsheet. You should end up with something like this:
Excellent! Now you have a refined list of seed keywords with relevance, volume, and competition data.