Unlike keyword advertising, it isn’t possible within the scope of search engine optimization to test out all thinkable terms, combinations and synonyms, simply because the space is limited and the loss of time would be too much.

Thanks to the AdWords campaign, used as analysis tool, relevant data are already on hand: Supposedly often looked-up terms have proven to be shop keepers, supposedly conversion promising keywords have only cost money, and other terms, which initially have hardly got any attention at first, have emerged on top.
With it, many wrong decisions could have been avoided from the outset, but unfortunately, not every word that achieves a good performance in the context of keyword advertising is instantly a candidate for search engine optimization.

It’s logical that when there’s more competition tussling for a search term, the more laborious it will be to snatch a top ranking in the so-called "organic listings".  So, whoever wants to optimize efficiently, should select best those terms that could bear up a competitive analysis.  Sounds easy, but still, it is difficult to answer how such an analysis has to look like. The most widely used measure that factors the competitive situation into the assessment is the Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI). While it has its own set of challenges to overcome such as not being able to provide insightful results for a long period, it is still able to illustrate how to proceed with the keyword data.

The KEI was first verbalized by the Indian SEO specialist Sumantra Roy, who composed a simple quotient, consisting of the search popularity in the enumerator and the number of competing documents in the denominator. The result: The KEI either grows with increasing popularity or decreasing competition. That’s plausible, but all in all of no avail. A variation of Roy’s KEI is still used by Wordtracker:

KEI = (P2 / C)

Whereas P constitutes the search popularity and C the number of competitors.

Wordtracker points out that a SEO should adapt the potential of P according to his skills, as extreme popular terms receive a much too high efficiency from the above formula since the enumerator grows exponentially and the denominator only linearly. That leads to conditional reasonable results only.

So there is still the question “how to quantify the competition?"

The criteria are many, but I want to mention at least a few:

  • Number of documents in a normal search
  • Number of documents in a phrase search - with quotation marks
  • Number of documents where the term appears in the page title
  • Page ranks of the top rankings in comparison to your own website
  • Nature of the external links of the top rankings in comparison to your own website
  • Link building potential of your website compared to competitors

But where are the respective thresholds? And to what extent does the pure technical level of the Website have to be factored in?

Unfortunately, the appropriate rule of thumb has to be collected in a self-experiment and that always anew.

The time-honoured KEI formula may still serve its original purpose simply by ensuring that newbies in the field of search engine optimization approach highly competitive terms with a healthy caution and that they work their way step by step up from the niche terms to the more popular keywords.

The advantage is that each gained ranking has a value, no matter how niche the term is, as it has been achieved with an evidentially functioning term. It is effective regarding conversions, as rankings alone are commonly nothing but a means to an end.  Who is trying to improve it without deploying keyword advertising as a market tool beforehand, is largely flying blind.

By Daniela La Marca