[Case Study] How I Ranked For 30,911 Keywords In The Competitive Fitness Industry (Keyword Research Guide)
In today’s case study, I’ll show you the keyword research strategy I used when building ManVsWeight.com (my site in the fitness niche), which now ranks for over 30,000 keywords according to Ahrefs:
This case study consists of two parts:
- How to find new profitable keyword ideas?
- How to conduct keyword competition analysis?
Let’s get started!
“Yet another boring keyword research strategy guide?! Why should I care?”
Before I developed my own keyword research strategy, I would rank on the first page only about 2 keywords out of every 5 keywords I targeted. In other words, my success rate was about 40%.
However, since I developed my own keyword research system, my success rate climbed to about 4 out of 5. That means nowadays I rank on the first page for about ~80% of the keywords I target.
Disclaimer – Am I A Liar?
Before we get started with the step by step instructions, let me tell you that ManVsWeight.com does NOT rank on the first page for most of those 30,000 keywords reported in Ahrefs. This may seem contradictory after the intro, but I can explain it.
There are three main reasons why Man Vs Weight does not rank in the top 10 for most of its keywords.
Reason #1: I did NOT start doing keyword research for Man Vs Weight using the strategy I reveal in this post. Instead, I used the strategies touted by most SEO gurus, only to realize that most of the time those strategies wouldn’t help me rank even in the top 30. (I witnessed hundreds of times that what works for gurus does NOT work for average people like me, and this was no different with keyword research. In fact, my dismal results were the reason why I decided to develop my very own strategy.)
Reason #2: Many times I create content for a topic simply because I believe an authority site must cover that topic, even if it’s impossible to rank for its keywords. For example, manvsweight.com has a post titled “How to Do Mountain Climbers”. Since "mountain climbers" are a very popular and well-known exercise, I don’t expect to rank well for this keyword. However, since I have a hub dedicated to body weight exercises (that don't require any equipment) on the site, I felt like I must include a post about mountain climbers, too, in order to provide thorough information.
Reason #3: Due to the way I do link building, I create a lot of content for very competitive keywords that I simply can’t and don’t even want to rank for. I’ll explain why I do this in my link building case study.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s see how I used to do keyword research in the past, and what I changed now to have a far better success rate!
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How To Find New and Profitable Keyword Ideas
Step 1 - Steal Your Competitors’ Keywords
The ONLY way I find new keyword ideas is by stealing my competitors’ keywords using Ahrefs’ “Organic Keywords” feature. I don’t bother with Google AdWords, Ubersuggest, Google Suggest, brainstorming or any other BS.
I know I’m not the first one to talk about this strategy, so I won’t go into a lot of details about how to do this. If you’re not yet familiar with the concept, I suggest you check out this guide about competitor keyword research.
The reason I use only this method to find new keyword ideas is that this way I leave the heavy lifting to my competitors: I let them sweat and worry about standing on top of their heads and meditating at full moon to come up with untapped keyword gems. Once they’re done, I just steal it from them and go on my way. 😀
I recommend you do the same, otherwise it’s very easy to waste hours and hours on trying to think up new keyword ideas, without anything to show for it.
What Is Competitor Keyword Research And How to Do It?
Here’s the process in a nutshell:
Let’s say you have a site in the fitness niche, and it happens to be focusing on "at-home training" in general (sounds familiar?). How do you find keywords to target? How do you know what topics you should create content about?
Step #1: Collect a list of your competitors
Find other sites and blogs that talk about “at-home training” and make a list of them. For example the following sites should be added to your list:
Step #2: See what keywords these competing sites are ranking for
Go to Ahrefs (register if you don’t have an account yet) and type your first competitor into the search bar. Then click “Organic Keywords” and…
...there you have it. A list of all the keywords this competitor is ranking for. You can even filter the results based on search volume, the position the competitor is ranking at, keyword difficulty and more.
This way you’re bound to come up with faaaaar more keyword ideas than you would if you were to sit down and think about new topics yourself. Not only will you have more keyword ideas this way, you’ll also immediately have all the necessary data at your disposal to be able to determine whether a keyword is worth to target or not. For example just have to look at the “Volume” and if it’s below a certain number, then you can decide not to create a post about it, because not enough people search for it.
Step #3: Repeat
Once you saved all the keywords from your first competitor, repeat the process with all the other sites in your competitor list.
This is the process in a nutshell, but if you’d like a more detailed tutorial then check out the guides I mentioned above or let me know in the comments below if you'd like me to create a more detailed tutorial about "keyword reverse engineering" with some real life examples using my own site.
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Ok, so now you have a huge list of potential keyword ideas, but you still have to pay attention to the following:
#1: Make sure that the keywords you choose have enough profit potential
It makes no sense to create content for a keyword that won’t make you any money (unless you feel it’s necessary for an authority website to cover that topic anyway). So before you decide whether to create content for a keyword, you have to carefully examine whether it has enough profit potential.
#2: Make sure that the keywords you choose aren’t too competitive for your site to rank on the first page of Google’s search results
This goes without saying: if you don’t have a chance to rank at the top of the search results (i.e.: on the first page), then it doesn’t matter if you create content for a profitable keyword, because no one will find it. This is why it’s very important to do keyword competition analysis very carefully.
This step is crucial, because if you choose the wrong keywords, you will waste a lot of time, money and energy on writing posts that will never get any traffic and/or never rank in Google and/or never make any money.
Let me show you how I tackle these two issues:
Step 2 - Choose Profitable Keywords That Will Make You Money
There are mainly two ways to make money from a website:
- you can either sell stuff
- or you can make money with ads.
Think about Amazon and Facebook. Amazon makes money by selling stuff, while Facebook makes money by displaying ads.
As I explained in my previous case study, I didn’t like the way my site looked with ads all over the place, so I decided NOT to display ads. So the only way I make money from manvsweight.com is by selling stuff. This is why it's important for me to find keywords with high buyer intent.
How to Choose Keywords With High "Buyer Intent"?
If you want to make money by selling stuff to your visitors, then you must create content for keywords with high buyer intent.
“Buyer intent” means that people who are searching for a keyword most likely want to buy something. For example, let’s look at the following keywords:
- Bodyweight Burn review
- Bar Brothers review
- calisthenics exercises
- best pullup station
- bodyweight biceps exercises.
Can you guess which of these keywords have high buyer intent?
If you guessed #1, #2 and #4 then you’re right! Those keywords imply that people searching for them want to buy something (either a digital product or a pullup station). Whereas if someone searches for #3 and 5, they’re just looking for information.
It takes a bit of practice to see if a keyword has high buyer intent or not, but your goal should be to find as many keywords with high buyer intent as possible. Believe me, these keywords will make the vast majority of your income.
Here are a few examples for high buyer intent keywords that manvsweight.com ranks for:
Who searches for it
How I make money
"Bodyweight Burn review"
People who are on the fence about buying a fitness course called "Bodyweight Burn".
I review the course and link to it with my affiliate links: if someone buys, I get a commission.
"Bar Brothers review"
Same as above.
Same as above.
"best pullup station"
People who are interested in buying an at-home pullup station.
I review different pullup stations and link with my affiliate link to the best ones from Amazon. If someone buys something, Amazon gives me a commission.
If you want to learn more about buyer intent, I suggest you read this post.
Should You Care About Traffic Volume?
Traffic volume means how many people search for a keyword in a given month. As you can see, Ahrefs reports this data too:
This begs the question: what is the right amount of monthly searches you should aim for?
My answer is: it depends. I know you don’t like this answer, but hear me out.
As we discussed, the most important feature of a keyword is buyer intent (if you want to make money by selling stuff). So choosing keywords is not as simple as comparing search volume data and picking keywords with the higher number. After all, how will you make money from a keyword that gets thousands of searches per month, if it has zero buyer intent (for example consider the keyword “romantic ideas”)?
Yes, you can always make money by displaying ads even on keywords with zero buyer intent, but the RPM (revenue per thousand visitors) is much lower for display ads than for sales-based monetization methods.
You see where I’m going with this?
If you want to make money by displaying ads, then search volume is really important: you need to target keywords with a lot of search volume in order to make enough money.
However, if you make money by selling stuff, then “buyer intent” and “revenue per sale” are far more important than search volume. For example, “best CrossFit supplements” get 390 searches per month while “best pullup station” get only 110 searches per month.
Does this mean that ranking for “best CrossFit supplements” will make you more money? Not necessarily, in fact, probably the opposite!
Why? Because CrossFit supplements usually cost around $20, while a pullup station costs over $100. Based on search volume only, “best CrossFit supplements” seem like the more profitable keyword, but in reality, “best pullup station” makes me more money thanks to the higher “revenue per sale”.
So unfortunately, there are no concrete numbers and guidelines I could give you. You have to make your own analysis for every keyword, while taking into account:
1, What is your monetization method? Do you want to make money by displaying ads, selling stuff, or both?
2, What is the buyer intent of the keyword? Are people who are searching for the term looking to buy something, or are they just looking for information / entertainment/etc?
3, What is the average “revenue per sale” for the keyword? Are you selling high-ticket items, so you don’t have to worry too much about search volume? Or are you selling such cheap stuff that you need a lot of traffic to make money?
Fortunately, when you’re building an authority site, you don’t have to stick with one monetization method. You can – in fact, you should – diversify your income streams.
- you can choose keywords with high buyer intent and monetize those with affiliate links
- you can choose keywords with high search volume and monetize those with display ads
- and so on…
See, it isn’t so difficult! In fact, choosing keywords is the fun part. But once you have a list of profitable keywords, you have to examine their competitiveness to determine whether you can rank for them.
Because choosing profitable keywords is easy... but choosing keywords that are both profitable AND low-competition is where the real key to success lies.
Master this ONE key competency and you’ll make more money from your websites than you ever thought possible.
So let’s see how to conduct keyword competition analysis the right way!
How To Analyze Keyword Difficulty
How I USED TO DO Keyword Competition Analysis (~40% Success Rate)
In the past, I tried two main methods that most SEO gurus use for analyzing keyword competition.
Method #1: Use keyword difficulty metrics
Many of these tools have the ability to rate keywords according to a keyword difficulty metric. For example LongTail Pro uses their “Keyword Competitiveness” (KC for short) metric to rate keywords. In this post, they explain how their KC rating works.
Basically, they give every keyword a KC rating from 0 to 100, and say the following:
- 0 to 10 – No competition
- 10 to 20 – Extremely low competition
- 20 to 30 – Low competition
- 30 to 40 – Moderate Competition
- 40 to 50 – Somewhat High Competition
- 50 to 60 – Very High Competition
- 60 to 70 – Extremely High Competition
- 70 to 100 – Don’t even think about it!
Ahrefs uses a similar approach, too. They developed their own metric, called Keyword Difficulty. According to them:
“Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty evaluates the chances of getting into Top10 of search results (not Top3 or Top1)”.
They measure Keyword Difficulty on a scale from 0 to 100, and say the following:
- 0-10: Easy
- 11-30: Medium
- 31-70: Hard
- 71-100: Super Hard
In an ideal world, you could rely on these tools’ keyword difficulty metrics to determine how hard it would be to rank for a keyword.
For example, if you used LongTail Pro and wanted to see how difficult it would be to rank for “CrossFit for beginners”, you would just enter it into LongTail Pro and see what KC metric it spits out. If its KC was under 30, you could assume that you’ll rank for this keyword with relatively little effort.
If you used Ahrefs’ Keyword Tool, you’d enter “CrossFit for beginners”, and see its Keyword Difficulty metric. If the KD was between 0-10, you could assume that you’ll rank for this keyword fairly easily.
However, and this is a big however, in my experience
most tools’ all tools’ keyword difficulty metrics are totally useless. I can’t count how many times I relied on a keyword difficulty metric, only to realize months later that what they reported as “easy” was impossible to rank for.
For example, I based my failed jewelry site, OneCaratDiamondRing.com entirely on the KC metrics provided by LongTail Pro Platinum. It reported most keywords with a KC of 20 or below, so I thought the niche was a winner. I imagined myself as a jewelry affiliate, making tens of thousands of dollars every month by ranking for keywords such as “blue diamond engagement rings”, “rose gold engagement rings” and so on…
However, months (and a ton of work) later I had to realize that I’d never rank for any of these terms, despite their low KC. In hindsight, it seems obvious that I should have avoided this niche (as almost all the sites ranking were eCommerce sites, so that’s what Google wanted to rank, not niche sites or affiliate sites), but since I relied on Long Tail Pro’s KC metric, I failed hard.
And even today I see how inaccurate these metrics are. They mark impossible to rank for keywords as easy, and - vice versa - mark fairly easy to rank for keywords as super difficult. And while I mentioned only Long Tail Pro in my jewelry site’s example, I have the same experience with all keyword tools.
So long story short: do NOT rely on keyword difficulty metrics for keyword competition analysis.
Note: the guys over at Authority Hacker conducted their own experiments to determine which keyword tool has the most accurate difficulty metric, and they came to a similar conclusion: although some tools are more accurate than others, you still can NOT SOLELY rely on any tool for keyword difficulty analysis.
Method #2: Search for weak sites in the top 10 results
Another way that SEO gurus teach to determine the competitiveness of a keyword is to examine the websites that currently rank for it in the top 10. So instead of analyzing the keyword itself, you’ll analyze the sites that already rank for the keyword.
And if you see that only strong, authoritative websites rank in the top 10, then you’ll mark the keyword as "difficult", ditch the keyword and move on.
However, if you see weaker, less authoritative websites ranking for it, then you’ll mark the keyword as "easy".
For example, if you want to analyze the difficulty of “CrossFit workouts”, enter it into Google and see what sites rank for it.
Currently, I see these websites in the top 10:
Now go through each of these websites, and note down the following:
- Domain Authority (Moz metric) or Domain Rating (Ahrefs metric)
- Page Authority (Moz metric) or URL Rating (Ahrefs metric)
What Are These Metrics: Domain Authority (DA), Domain Rating (DR), Page Authority (PA) and URL Rating (UR)?
Many SEO tools rate websites based on their “SEO power”: meaning how powerful these sites are when it comes to ranking in Google. To oversimplify things, sites with high SEO power tend to rank for even competitive keywords easily, while sites with low SEO power don’t rank well.
How are these metrics calculated?
The exact formulas are usually well kept secrets of the SEO tools, but the most important thing when it comes to the SEO power of a domain or URL is the number of backlinks pointing to it from other websites with high SEO power.
In other words: more backlinks = more SEO power.
However, not all links are created equal: link #1 may come from site #1, which has 100x the SEO power of site #2. So link #1 will be worth 100x more than link #2.
So simply looking at the number of backlinks is not enough: we have to look at the quality of those backlinks, too. That's why -to make our job easier - Moz and Ahrefs rate domains and URLs with their metrics that take all these things (and more) into account. The end result is a number from 0 to 100, where 0 means “weak” and 100 means “super strong”.
Fortunately, these “SEO power” metrics are far more accurate than keyword difficulty metrics, so you can rely on them to gauge the SEO power of a website or specific URL. Personally, I prefer to work with Ahrefs as I feel it’s more accurate and more reliable, so I’ll use Domain Rating and URL rating in this case study.
To stick with our “CrossFit workouts” keyword example, here’s the data for the top 10 websites that rank for this keyword:
(The data is from Ahrefs.com, here’s a tutorial about how you can check the DR and UR of any website.)
The point of this method of keyword difficulty analysis is to look for keywords that have at least 2 weak websites ranking in the top 10. The more weak sites, the better, but if a keyword doesn’t have a single weak result, then we mark it as "difficult".
Makes sense, right?
That’s great, but… what counts as a weak website?
If you’re starting a new site, your DR and UR will start from 0, and depending on how good you are at link building, your DR and UR may climb to 30-40 within a year.
So I suggest you don’t consider any result as "weak" that has a DR or UR above 40. Ideally, you should consider a result "weak" if it has both DR and UR below 30.
Based on the data for “CrossFit workouts”, we don’t see a single result that meets the criteria of a weak result, so we mark this keyword as "difficult".
Now let’s look at another example: “best CrossFit headbands”.
(Note: I removed all CrossFit related posts from my site since then)
Here, we CAN see results with both DR and UR below 30.
Heck, https://top10buddy.com/best-sports-headbands-reviews/ and https://garagegympower.com/best-workout-headbands/ have both DR and UR below 12(!), and even the very first result https://www.junkbrands.com/ has DR and UR below 35.
So if anything, we can say that this keyword is far less competitive than “CrossFit workouts”, so we can mark it as “easy” and create a post around this keyword, because there’s a higher chance that our site will rank for it, bring in traffic and make money.
So that’s Method #2 in a nutshell.
Based on my experiences, this strategy is faaar more reliable than Method #1 (relying on unreliable keyword difficulty metrics), but it still only works about 40% of the time.
What I mean by this is that I noticed that for every 10 keywords that I mark as “easy” with this strategy, only about 4 end up actually ranking in the top 10. While it’s not a terrible success rate, it still means that 6 out of 10 articles I write (or order from a freelance writer) are basically a waste of money.
So what did I do to increase my success rate to about 80%? Read the next section to find out!
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How I Do Keyword Competition Analysis Today (~80% Success Rate)
I hope you read the above section about how I used to do keyword competition analysis, because a lot of what I do today still builds on the foundations of Method #2. In fact, my new strategy is merely a more strict implementation of Method #2.
Using Method #2, we only set the following criteria:
“If you type the keyword into Google, you should see at least two weak results in the top 10, where a weak result is defined as a site with both Domain Rating and URL Rating of less than 40 (preferably 30). If there are at least 2 weak results, the keyword is ‘’easy”, otherwise it’s "difficult".”
There are a few problems with this approach in my experience:
I noticed that looking at DR and UR alone is not sufficient. Sure, DR gives a good estimate about how powerful a website is, but UR only gives a rough estimate about how powerful the concrete URL is.
So we need to drill deeper...
We need to find a more accurate way to determine the ranking power of the specific URL that’s ranking; after all, it’s this URL that we have to “overpower”.
This is why I started looking at another metric: the number of backlinks to the specific URL. All SEOs agree that backlinks are the single most important factor when it comes to ranking in Google. So it makes sense to use this metric to gauge the power of a competing URL.
So here’s the first modification I made (Less Than 10 Backlinks):
As a rule, I only consider a result “weak” if its DR is below 30 AND the number of backlinks pointing to it is less than 10. (Now I don't really care about UR to be honest.)
So whereas with the previous method I would have considered a “DR 12, UR 23, # of Backlinks 12” result to be weak, with this new method I wouldn’t.
My reasoning behind this is simple: why would Google rank a URL on my website above a similarly powerful website (with similar DR to my site) that has more links to the specific URL than I do?
If backlinks are the #1 factor when it comes to rankings, then why would I ever expect Google to make my page outrank another page that has more links on a similarly powerful domain?
It makes no sense…
And sure, you could argue that if my Domain Rating is higher and/or if I build backlinks to my own URL then I could still outrank them…
But when I do keyword research I’m looking for keywords that I can rank for without building a single backlink! Period.
Here’s the second modification (Weak In Top 5!):
I noticed many times that having weak results in the top 10 is not enough. I have dozens of posts on manvsweight.com that all target keywords with 3 or more “weak results” in the top 10… yet only rank on page 3 and lower.
What I realized, however, is that having weak results in the top 5 (!) is a far better sign of an “easy” keyword!
So at the end of the day, my new keyword research strategy all boils down to this: if a keyword has 3 or more "weak results"*** in the top 5 (!), then it’s a real winner.
This is the situation where you have an 80% chance of ranking on the first page in my experience. If there aren’t at least 3 weak results in the top 5, then I move on.
***A weak result is a URL that has less than 10 backlinks according to Ahrefs AND has a Domain Rating (also by Ahrefs) that is less than your own domain's Domain Rating.
Sure, I know this approach filters out a ton of potential keywords. However, I think it’s worth investing more time into keyword research than wasting a lot of time and money on writing content for keywords that are never going to rank.
Trust me, I’ve been there, done that and have quite a few “dead weight” pages on Man Vs Weight that get almost zero traffic even though I thought I’d rank for them.
Go only for the super low hanging fruits!
Having a “plenty of fish in the sea” mentality is much more rewarding than trying to rank for medium difficulty keywords as well.
So I suggest you collect a TON OF new keyword ideas, and only go for the suuuuper low hanging fruits. Don’t be afraid to ditch 90% or more of your keyword ideas if that’s what it takes.
Hire Me To Analyze Keyword Competition For You!
I admit, analyzing keyword difficulty can seem like a daunting task as a beginner. Even for advanced SEOs, it takes a lot of time to manually check the DR, UR and number of backlinks for every top 10 or top 5 result of every keyword idea you have.
Even if you have only 50 keyword ideas, that’s still 500 URLs you have to check manually for 3 different metrics. Not to mention that you need to have a costly Ahrefs subscription (starting at $99 per month).
But don’t worry, I’m happy to help you!
If you’d like me to check the difficulty of your keywords, you can hire me!
All you have to do is provide me with a list of keywords. I’ll go through your list and analyze every keyword based on the meticulous process I described in this post.
You can even tell me what metrics you want me to use to mark a keyword “easy” or “difficult”.
For example, if you want me to be more strict because you have a brand new site with zero SEO power, I can mark a result weak only if it has less than 5 backlinks, or a DR of 20 or lower etc…
Or on the contrary, if you want me to be less strict because you already have a pretty strong website, I can mark a result weak even if it has 20 backlinks or a DR of 50 etc.
I understand that your situation may be different, so I’m totally flexible when it comes to analyzing the difficulty of your keywords. That’s something you can’t find anywhere else!
Note: you have to provide your own list of keywords, because I don’t offer finding new keyword ideas as a service, I just check keyword difficulty.
I hope you liked this case study. If you’d like me to notify you whenever I release a new post, subscribe to my newsletter!
And if you have any questions, remarks or comments, fire away!