Why you should target the most competitive keywords

competition.jpgEverybody writing about SEO will tell you that it is not a good idea to optimize your site for the most popular keywords in your niche. What are your chances of success if you tried to rank for “internet marketing, where there are about half a million websites ranking for that term and most likely many savvy competitors?” I want to tell you why I chose to ignore such advice years ago, and how I was able to reach heights I couldn't have dream of by doing so. Of course it is also clear why the guys at the top are so eager to give such advice—nobody likes to face more competition. 😉

I remember reading such advice five years ago when Sumantra Roy's KEI was a key ratio to identify keyword opportunities. I similarly recall an earlier period when I was still working on salary and planning to branch out on my own. I used to ask my friends and colleagues, mostly engineers, whether they thought that starting a business was a good idea. Their answer was always that they didn't think so. “Why leave the security and comfort of a paycheck every two weeks?” “Why take unnecessary risks?” After a while I realized that I was asking advice from the wrong people. How could they provide advice for something they didn't have any experience with? I decided to trust my instincts instead, and put my confidence in taking calculated risks.

Most of my affiliate web sites were promoted to seek highly competitive keyword niches. I did not initially target the competitive keywords, I always started from the tail, but the head was the ultimate goal. The advantage is that you see some, albeit minimal, results as you improve. You continue with these incremental results as you move your efforts toward more competitive keywords.

It usually took more than a year of link building effort to get to page one or two of the search results for the most competitive ones, but it was definitely a rewarding experience. I had decided to take the risk of working on several sites for so long because I was confident in my ability to reach my goals. The more successes you have under your belt, the more confident you get about your decision-making abilities and the better you are at judging risk.

If I had followed the experts' advice, I would probably still be a work-from-home affiliate, earning a good commission every month and switching links as merchants went out of business or as markets saturated. Fortunately, that was not how I envisioned my future. 🙂


The lesson seems clear. The goals that appear most out of reach are actually the ones that we are more likely to achieve—if we pursue them hard enough. Why? When you have tough challenges you prepare and work accordingly. You know you need to work hard and you set high goals for yourself. On the other hand, easy goals can be deceiving for a couple of reasons. First, everybody is targeting the easy goals, hence seemingly easy goals put you up against a lot more competition. Secondly, because we suppose them to be so easy, most of the time we don't put in enough effort. The combination of increased competition and a lack of will on our own part can spell the end.

Please note that I am not saying that it is easier to go for the gold medal every time. Rather, I am suggesting that, ultimately, fewer people go for it, which may open up an opportunity. But no matter what, to be successful you must be prepared for hard work.

I can tell you from experience that the reward is definitely worth it.

28 replies
  1. Internet Marketing
    Internet Marketing says:

    Hey Hamlet,

    Apologies for the keyword username, but I thought it was particularly appropriate in this case 😉

    You're still posting quality ideas. I agree 100% – it's the same idea in fitness training. If you set yourself stretch goals you will consistently improve. If you set yourself achievable goals day-in, day-out, your rate of improvement will be slow, if any.


  2. egorych
    egorych says:

    >>I can tell you from experience that the reward is definitely worth it.

    I also promote for low-competitive keywords :). May be it's better not to be so shy, ha? :). Thank you for this advice. I've got something to think (and work) about.

  3. Jez
    Jez says:

    I'm glad you wrote this post. I have been working on a new site with which I plan to go for the best keywords in the sector.

    The problem with setting up a string of smaller long tail oriented sites is that you are starting from scratch each time, not as you suggest here, building incrementally.

    The other problem I had was the topics I chose for sites, I went for "sub niches" where I could get a quick return without considering whether I could scale sites up.

    Competition for long tail traffic is getting stiffer too, as hordes of bloggers are trying their luck in "sub niche's".

    I had also estimated a year + to get in the top three sites. so it is interesting to see that you worked on a similar time line.

    Finally when analyzing the search volumes of key terms, they go up on an almost logarithmic scale, so I am sure it is "definitely worth it"!

    A really encouraging post 😉

    • David Hopkins
      David Hopkins says:

      Jez, I was wondering why the blog posts had dried up. If you are looking for a good dose of hand-picked link text I would recommend some good WP templates. There are 1001 places you can go and post your WP templates to get a link and of course the main benefit is that people will have your link on their blogs. Someone I know has been putting out blog templates for a while and managed to get quite a lot of .edu links from it. You could use PHP to change the link text in the template each time it is downloaded to get a few extra keywords in the mix.

      Hamlet, are we ever going divulge any link building stratergies? Or are they being kept under wraps? I can't remember you ever mentioning link building stratergies in the time i've been visiting your blog.

      • Jez
        Jez says:

        Hi David, yes that is why my blog is a little static, I have a plugin to rotate posts which I keep meaning to enable for the time being…

        I mailed you an alternative idea to WP themes…


      • Hamlet Batista
        Hamlet Batista says:

        David – It is funny that you say that as you commented on my recent blog post about some of my link building strategies http://preview.hamletbatista.com/2007/08/23/long-tail-vs-

        And also on the follow up post about buying sites for link building. I plan to expand on the ideas presented there as well as share several non conventional link building tactics in future posts.

        I hope to resume posting at the usual rate after our product beta launch next week. I've been swamped with a lot of work lately 🙁

        • David Hopkins
          David Hopkins says:

          I guess too much work is taking its toll on on short-term memory.

          Looking back at the post you referenced, I guess I was hoping that you had some 'advanced link building techniques' up your sleeve.

    • jobucks
      jobucks says:

      We should to target the more competitive keyword because those keyword was used by thousand people who are looking for an information about those keyword" examples" make money online". When you rank on that keyword your blog will be visited by more people everyday..

      Lastly, there is no sense if you rank number on google when nobody used that keyword.

      • Dan Thies
        Dan Thies says:

        Relevance is so very important to making search marketing successful.

        If your site is about "payday loans," then damn it, that's a search term that matters for your home page.

        If "everybody" tells you not to optimize for that, then "everybody" is nuts.

  4. Mike Levin of HitTai
    Mike Levin of HitTai says:

    As the creator of HitTail, I actually believe that the goal is the head. But as with any large journey, you have to start with the first step. And a critical component of spurring you forward towards your goal is a series of smaller successes. When you employ the long tail strategy, you systematically take that journey towards dominating the competitive keywords in the head, but it's built on a foundation of easy pickings.

    • Hamlet Batista
      Hamlet Batista says:

      Mike – Thanks for your comment. We are on the same page.

      I decided to highlight the fact that I start with the tail, but the head is my ultimate goal. Jen's post made it look like I start with the head terms and that is not the case.

  5. SEO ROI Services
    SEO ROI Services says:

    The long tail is not necessarily what you need to go for either. The short tail can work just fine. Aim for the three word keyword phrase and eventually you'll get in there for the two worder as well 😀

  6. Tarun
    Tarun says:

    Hamlet Batista,

    I like the sprit you want to spread.

    I was also fan of the Sumantra Roy because he have defined the KEI to measure the keywords and WordTracker have acquired that formula later.

    I have also felt the same thing 3.5 years ago that when people are moving towards less competitive market, I should target more competitive market where I should be the king and all the result followed.

    I am happy to know you that you and I have experienced the same.

    Search Engine Optimization Consultant
    Search Engine Marketing Foundation

  7. Rex
    Rex says:

    My experience was similar to yours. I started out with Site Build It (SBI) and it was a great place to start. But the emphasis was on long-tail keywords.

    I finally figured out that it makes more sense to target the most competitive keywords. The payoff is greater.

    And you just have to be willing to be competitive which to a great degree means linkbuilding.

  8. Sante
    Sante says:

    There are a number of good points here … I too gave up a very comfortable job to become an entrepreneur in '94 at the dawn of the commercial Internet and I'm very happy that I did it back then.

    Getting back to the main focus of your post I'd say that the decision to tackling the head or tail of search is one that the Customer must take and, in the very beginning, may not be ready to invest enough to tackle the big players of their field, hence the decision (and recommendation) to go the other way around, i.e. from the tail.

    In my experience, this happens all the time – especially with smaller companies: I was on the phone today with a laboratory in Milan favoring a step by step approach which more often than not leads to the head.

    One last consideration: it's great when it gets tough – even turkeys can fly if the wind is strong enough …

  9. Andy F
    Andy F says:

    Like most people new to this business, I followed conventional 'wisdom' and went for the thin end of the long tail.

    I was surpsrised to find that I could rank really well for those keywords within a relatively short space of time, but then realised why they're not competitive!

    Since then, I've been hedging around and trying for more competitive two word phrases, with some success. But this post has given me the courage to just go with what I wanted to do, but was put off from doing.

    Do you think those 'in the know' in certain markets are actually spreading this point of view to preserve their high rankings? Perish the thought!

    PS I've only just come across this blog, so I've got many hours of reading ahead of me. But I can't wait!

  10. ubaidullah
    ubaidullah says:

    I do agree with you. But I think searching for niche to start our website is the hardest part of all. Sometimes, we will feel that we want to change the niche after 1 or 2 months of running the website….pity on me because I felt that way. Can you give tips on finding the best niche whether competitive or less competitive niches..

  11. Ryan Bassett
    Ryan Bassett says:

    Hi, Hamlet. I am a new reader of your blog and I would just like to chime in that this post has helped me to get started on my seo journey toward a keyword that is rather competitive. I hope that you continue to write in the future. Thanks a lot.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  4. […] disagrees. In fact, he wrote a post yesterday explaining exactly why he feels the suggestion to aim for less competitive phrases is a bad one. I understand what he’s trying to say, but he’s missing the […]

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