Truffle pig topics - how to find long tail keywords

Long Tail Keywords: Digging Through the Mud to Find Buried Gems

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If Niche Site Twitter is any indication, new niche sites are all the rage:

While we’re fast approaching (have reached?) the cynicism stage of Niche Site Twitter, building and optimizing websites and consulting with businesses has been great for me personally (and my family), so I love this trend.

(I also love the general enthusiasm and messaging around “work hard, be patient” from a lot of these accounts).

Beyond niche sites, lots of companies have new or very low authority sites, as well.

For both SEO and PPC most niches are much more competitive than they were even a couple of years ago. Keywords that may not seem that difficult can be hard to rank for for new and low authority sites.

So What’s An SEO to Do?

In this post I’ll walk through:

  • A bunch of different specific steps you can walk through to find relevant, low competition topics
  • Tools you’ll need
  • Mistakes to avoid

Let’s dive in!

Digging Deep: Getting a Big List of Low Competition Topics

First off I’ll say: links matter, and if you want to rank for head terms in competitive niches you will need lots of links. For lots of sites, I still think investing in link building makes sense – especially if you have a very finite universe of terms that make sense for your business, and many of those are competitive.

Effective link building won’t be the focus of this post (we’ll cover that in a future post) but some of the highest traffic, most successful sites online invest aggressively in links.

There’s “more than one way to win,” however, and lots of sites can scale to significant traffic numbers without an aggressive investment in links.

Either way, the topic of this post is finding low competition keywords, so let’s get started.

Method One: SERP Competitors

For the sake of this walk-through we’ll assume we have a brand-new site. Let’s say we’re a company that just came out with a great new pickleball racket. An obvious way to start our keyword research journey may be to just drop pickleball racket and pickleball rackets into Google and see who is ranking there.

The first few results are product listings, then Dick’s Sporting Goods, Forbes, Just Paddles, Amazon, Men’s Health (see what I mean about links?), FINALLY at number six we have a pickleball site (the next two listings are Walmart and Consumer Reports, if you’re scoring at home – I’m sure all of those high DR results were crafted with great love and care :)):

This site has a 29 DR and around 600 linking domains, and since our site is brand new is obviously older than our site. As a result we don’t want to just assume everything they’re ranking for is a great target. But there are some learnings we can take away here.

As a first step if the site is tightly topically aligned with yours (which in this case it is) I like to drill down to the keywords they’re ranking on that are zero difficulty.

For this I’ll go to Ahrefs and drop in the domain, look at organic keywords, and filter by keyword difficulty 0 (you can run through a similar process using something SEM Rush as well):

A branded search for the site or branded searches for specific products may not be great targets, but “pickleball gloves” is a search that may help me turn up more candidates to research here (note: that term may or may not be a good target for my site, either way it could lead to more candidates of sites to look into).

I can go and see what else is ranking for pickleball gloves to get additional ideas:

This is the SERP overview in Ahrefs for this term. I can see here that there are a few more pickleball sites I can dive into to look for their keyword difficulty zero terms as potential candidates to target.

I can now rinse and repeat this process to find more and more potential sites to analyze. A couple of additional steps you can take:

  • Obviously if you have a bit older and more authoritative site you can up the keyword difficulty filter (keyword difficulty scores are imperfect – many terms in the 1-10 range will actually be much easier to rank for than KD 0 terms).
  • Once you find a really good SERP competitor (ie a site that is ranking for relevant terms, is very low DR and has very few external links – or a site that’s just less authoritative than yours generally) you can just remove KD filters altogether and replace them with a filter for what they’re ranking top 3 for and get a bunch of keyword candidates that way.

CRITICAL note here: these keyword difficulty zero terms are not ready to add to your keyword list. These are potential candidates – not all keyword difficulty zero keywords will actually be low keyword difficulty (see an in-depth post about this in my walk through of keyword difficulty scores) and you need to conduct your own SERP analysis for each term before deciding to add it to or remove it from your list.

This post is dedicated to unearthing potential keyword candidates – make sure you go the extra mile and vet them.

Using Keywords to Find More Keywords

The premise here is similar, but we’re using keywords as a starting point. We can drill down to see any KD 0 terms containing pickleball by adding the difficulty filter and looking at matching terms:

This is a great example because many of these terms may not be great targets for our site promoting our pickleball paddle.

That said, we can:

  1. Look in these SERPs and see if we can find more sites that we can then drill down into and find more low competition keyword candidates
  2. As we keep scrolling there are more candidates like pickleball skirts, hat, etc. which may make sense to target on our site in some way (depending on our SERP analysis)

Mine Forums & UGC Sites

This is a process that’s been talked about a lot, but often times finding sites like Reddit, Quora, or niche forums in a search result is a sign that your site will be able to rank well for a term if you create a comprehensive answer to that question (but not always! I actually think there are still some SERPs that UGC sites are a great response for, and it seems so does Google).

I won’t go into a ton of detail here but there are two great Twitter threads here:

And here:

That are great ways to find low competition topics.

Look at Search Suggestions, People Also Ask, & Related Topics

This can be a bit trickier, because it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly how much traffic these topics get, but using what Google indicates is a related search (or the things they’re layering into search results like search suggestions and people also ask questions) can be great low competition terms.

Like with the previous methods you want to start by just building a list of possible topics. You can do this manually by starting to type your keyword into Google and seeing the search suggestions there:

Or you can use a variety of tools that give you more comprehensive lists of search data such as:

If a term looks like a good topic that you could write a good post about, throw it on your list. I’ll walk through some ways to quickly prioritize topics later in the post, and as you’re researching these types of terms having the Keywords Everywhere chrome extension turned on is generally a good idea.

Using Long Tail Keyword Research Tools

Beyond the tools outlined below, there are some others that focus specifically on digging out long tail keyword insights. My three favorites here are:

Each of those tools have tutorials on their own sites, and we’ll be walking through how to use each in future posts.

Your Own Data

Obviously this is a tactic more for established sites, but looking at your own data is a great way to find non-obvious low competition keywords.

Here is a great walk through on this process:

And this is a great step-by-step walk through of how to use Regex to find new topic ideas:

Prioritizing Your List

Once you find a ton of possible keyword targets, what I like to do is the following:

  1. Run through Low Fruits (which gives you a “weak spots” measurement showing you quickly how many low DR and UGC sites are in a SERP).
  2. Layer Ahrefs data for volume and difficulty, as well as a third source (eg Google’s keyword tool) on top of the other too for volume.
  3. Based on the output of all of this cull and prioritize your initial list (remove or de-prioritize terms that have very few or no weak spots and terms that don’t show any search volume across sources)

At that point you have a better-prioritized list of keyword candidates – you still need to go term-by-term and look at the SERPs to see if:

  • Your site is the right type of site for the SERP (the theme of your site, the level of authority relative to other sites in the SERP)
  • You can create the right kind of content to rank in the SERP (make sure you have the resources and expertise to create content that answers the question in a way that will out-compete with other sites in your SERP)

Finally, when you pick your “winners” you need to start to think about clustering topics together and actually creating the content. Those are topics for their own posts, but after a lot of work if you run through this process you’ll have tons of great keyword opportunities.

Tom Demers
Tom has over ten years of experience in search engine marketing, including as the Director of Marketing for search marketing software provider WordStream, Inc. Prior to working at WordStream, he was an in-house SEO specialist and SEO Manager, worked as an SEO consultant for a search engine marketing agency, and has done independent organic and paid search engine marketing consulting for numerous clients. Tom lives about a half hour outside of Boston. You can get in touch with Tom via Email at tom at MeasuredSEM dot com, or you can follow him on Twitter @TomDemers.

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