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Or, how to drive website traffic when there are too many cars on the road.

So, you’re trying to rank for a particular keyword phrase in Google? Great! Hopefully, you’ve based this decision on some solid keyword research. (If not, try reading this article on how to do keyword research, then come back here.)

But you’re finding it hard to crack the top 30, much less ranking on the first page of Google, and you’re getting frustrated. Believe me, I’ve been there. Sometimes the phrase you want is highly competitive. Maybe too competitive to be a realistic goal.

How do you identify highly competitive keywords?

Well, the easiest way to tell is if you search for the phrase in Google and there are not only a ton companies flooding the results, but there are also a lot of paid search ads (i.e. AdWords) 1-3 pages in. Folks are literally fighting over it like moms at Walmart on Black Friday.

Another way to spot highly competitive keywords is if you’ve created some really great, well-optimized pages targeting the keyword phrase and you can’t get any of them to rank, or they are pushed way down on page 5 or below, which is search oblivion.

A third way, if you have a Google AdWords account, is to use the Keyword Planner tool, which will give you an idea of how competitive a particular phrase is, and show you suggested bid prices for ads. If you don’t use AdWords, there are a number of alternatives to the Google Keyword Planner tool.

Well, don’t despair. SEO is a long game, and can take time to show results, especially in competitive spaces. Here are some things you can do to change up your search traffic strategy.

Target Long Tail Keywords

Most people think of broad keywords when they start their SEO. Long tail SEO strategy involves targeting extended keyword phrases which are more specific. The idea is to connect with keyword phrases that are more obscure, but also represent what actual humans type into the search box. For example:

Broad phrase: search ranking

Long tail examples:

  • local search ranking
  • local search ranking methods
  • local search ranking methods for restaurants

Long tail keyword strategy includes targeting variations on these keywords, such as:

  • search ranking for local restaurants
  • local restaurant search ranking factors
  • improving local restaurant search ranking
  • how do I improve my restaurant’s search ranking
  • ways to improve restaurant search rankings

…and so on.

This is a good place where Google’s Keyword Planner tool really comes in handy. It will provide you with lots of alternatives and expansions based on a starting phrase.

But even if you don’t have access to that, you can use Google’s search box to get ideas. How? Autosuggest.

Google Autosuggest

As you can see, Google will present you with some long-tail alternatives to expand your search query. These can give you an idea what people are typing into the search bar.

Sometimes in the middle of a list of search results, Google will throw in a “People also ask” box with some suggested alternatives to your search query that can prove insightful. Furthermore, if you perform a search, at the bottom of page one you’ll see more suggestions under “Searches related to…”. How many of you never noticed that before?

One problem with Google’s suggestions is that if you’re seeing them, so are your competitors, so they may become highly competitive keywords themselves.

The idea here is to target these long-tail keyword phrases to improve your chances of ranking well for them, and thus increasing your search visibility. In general, long-tail search terms are less competitive but can still drive traffic.

Go with what’s already working

Another approach is to take a look at your site traffic in Google Analytics and see what keyword phrases are already drawing traffic and try to improve those numbers. You can do this a number of ways, but mainly you want to identify which pages are attracting the traffic for that phrase and optimize it further to a) be more relevant and b) to convert more customers. This means improving existing content, writing new optimized content, and building backlinks to your pages from other sites.

A word of warning about optimization: It is possible to over-optimize a page, and it can hurt your rankings. Don’t try to stuff keywords in your content to raise their relevance. Google may penalize you for it. Instead, improve the quality of the content while keeping an eye on your keyword density. There are tools that can help you assess this on the page, and it’s also very helpful to utilize an SEO plugin on your website. If you use WordPress, I recommend Yoast SEO.

Paid Search Advertising

Of course, if you have a very specific term, such as a product name or an event or service (especially if you’re trying to rank for your location), you may need to bite the bullet and invest in Paid Search Advertising.

This means AdWords.

AdWords can be very effective if used correctly, and unless you’re experienced, it’s probably worth it to hire a professional to manage your AdWords account. The goal is to create ads and landing pages which will get the highest number of impressions and click-throughs for the lowest bid price. It takes some practice to get right, but it’s not hard to learn.

Did I mention landing pages? Perhaps this is the most important part of all of this. No matter what methods you’re using — free search, paid search, social — you need to have an effective, well-optimized landing page that acts as a conversion tool to turn your traffic into action and sales.

Other ways to drive traffic

But you need traffic now! Well, while you wait for search traffic to flow, try these:

  • Step up your social media efforts. Post regularly with good, optimized content. Depending on the activity on your Facebook page, you should be prepared to run paid ads on Facebook (boosted posts, etc). The good thing is, Facebook ads are less expensive to run than AdWords, and the targeting tools are pretty impressive. Plus, you can learn a lot about your audience and your content via the Insights they provide.
  • Work your mailing list. Hopefully, you’ve been collecting email addresses of potential customers via your website or other marketing. Tap them on the inbox and let them know about your new product or service. Better yet, create a free offer (like an e-book, video or other informative content) that gives them a reason to visit your site. Then be sure to send them to that all-important landing page.

Keep your cool when it comes to keywords

Search results can be frustrating, and it’s easy to get caught up in rankings and keywords, but keep the goal in focus – traffic. Ultimately, you want good, targeted traffic coming to your site, and it doesn’t really matter where it comes from as long as they want what you’re offering.

For best results, you should never rely on just one channel or set of keywords. Always use several approaches simultaneously. This will help you beat the odds, especially when they aren’t in your favor.

Goog luck!