The Simple SEO Strategy You Can Build an Empire Around (Part 2)

  • July 1, 2010 by Corbett Barr

Search engine optimization is often unnecessarily complicated.

Sure, to compete for the most competitive keywords, you might need to know all the tricks and nuances, but for most of us, simple strategies work very well.

In part 1 of this series, we covered an entire introduction to SEO for beginners. Check that out if you’re not already familiar with SEO basics.

Beyond the theory, we also started to dive into a simple SEO strategy you can use to build an online empire around. We’ll continue now where we left off.

The Simple SEO Strategy in 6 Steps

Here is the strategy we’re going to cover today boiled down into 6 easy steps.

  1. Start with a broad keyword or phrase and narrow it down to a keyword that is 3 or more words long and is related to your website or blog.
  2. Select a keyword phrase with about 500 to 2000 exact global searches per month (according to the Google Keyword tool).
  3. Research the competition for that keyword. I’ll show you how to do it manually first, but there are tools you can use to automate the process greatly.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have a keyword with low competition (more on the details of low competition later).
  5. Write an article that uses the exact keyword phrase in the title, meta description, URL and throughout the article.
  6. Make sure the article is linked to from your home page and then build links to the page from other sites by using social media, article marketing, blog guest posts, and other techniques.

The magic of this strategy comes together when you can profit from it directly. More on that towards the end of this article.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go.

Hunting for Long-tail Keywords

We were talking before about our example keyword “pie recipes” (let’s say you have a site about making pies). As of this month, 22,000 global searches were performed for that exact keyword phrase.

For our purposes, that keyword is too popular and competitive. How do I know it’s too competitive? There are ways to check (which we’ll get into shortly), but generally keywords that have some commercial appeal and volume over 5,000 searches will be very competitive. By that I mean, those keywords would be difficult for us to achieve rankings for (not impossible, just difficult).

We need to dig deeper. As we narrow down to longer-tail keywords, we’ll start to find some that aren’t very competitive at all.

Think of ways you could narrow down a search even further by adding modifiers to the original phrase.

“Christmas pie recipes,” “pecan pie recipes,” “no-bake pie recipes” or “meat pie recipes” all might be good options, we’ll have to evaluate the competition to know for sure. Even narrower keyword phrases like “easy pecan pie recipes” should be even less competitive.

As you add more words, you’ll find that keyword phrases start to have lower search volume. As you get below a couple-thousand searches or so, it’s time to start evaluating the competition.

Scoping Out the Competition

There are tools you can use to make this process easier, but in this lesson I’m going to show you the free, manual way of looking this up.

Remember the fundamental aspects of SEO from before? There are on-page factors and off-page factors that determine how a page will rank for a given keyword.

When looking at competition for a particular keyword, we’ll want to know how well each competitor has covered the on-page factors. We will also want to know how many inbound links from other sites are pointed at each competing search result.

Our goal should be to achieve first page rankings for any keywords we target. Especially when dealing with lower-volume keywords, appearing in results after the first page won’t send us much traffic.

First, a couple of competition-checking shortcuts. In Google’s keyword tool, you might have noticed there’s a column called “competition.” That column actually represents how many advertisers are paying to appear in search results for that keyword. It’s not a perfect measure of competition for appearing in natural (free) results, but it does give us some idea of which keywords to dig deeper into.

Another way to quickly (but not completely accurately) judge how competitive a keyword might be is to Google for that keyword in quotes (like “pecan pie recipes”). Then, note how many search results are returned by Google (that number appears right below the search input box).

The lower the number, the less competitive a search phrase is. Look for results with 20,000 or fewer exact search results. Check out the money word matrix as a guideline for evaluating keywords using this method.

Once you’ve narrowed down some candidate keyword phrases using these two quick techniques, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

To identify who our competitors are, first we just need to Google our keyword phrase. Go to and search for the keyword you had in mind.

First, Google for “pecan pie recipes” (without the quotes) and you’ll see who you would be competing against in the rankings for that keyword. Now, click on the first listing to visit that page. Copy the URL for that page from your browser’s address bar.

Scoping out the competition

Now head over to Yahoo’s site explorer. Type in the following into the search box:

link:[page URL] -site:[domain]

For example, to investigate the first page in my results for “pecan pie recipes,” I entered:


Press enter and notice the number of results listed in the left-hand sidebar. For this particular result, Yahoo tells me there are 231 results. That means there are roughly 231 links from other sites pointed at that page.

Finding out how many links each competitor has

To appear in the first place in the results, we will likely have to attract more (or higher quality) links to our page on pecan pie recipes. 231 links is a lot of links. Not impossibly by any means, but maybe more than we would want to tackle.

This is just the first result. We will want to continue down the list of results and see how competitive each of the first 5 or 10 results are. In this case, the next four results each have between 3 and 29 links.

The real wildcard in this process is link quality. The number of links is important, but so is the quality of links. 1 really high-value link could be more important than 100 low-value links. This investigation of competition isn’t perfect, but it will point us in the right direction.

We also need to be aware of on-page factors for our competition. The most important factors here are the html title, URL and meta description.

If few of the top results have the keyword “pecan pie recipes” exactly within each of those three places, they will be easier to beat. That is, assuming we put the keywords exactly in those places. If you aren’t sure what I mean by html title, URL and meta description, make sure you get a better understanding before employing this strategy fully.

Tools to Speed Up Your Process

There are several tools that can automate some or all of this process. The two that I use are (not affiliate links) Traffic Travis (free) and Micro Niche Finder (not free). Both of those will do all of this research at the click of a button, and return a graphic or number that represents how competitive a keyword will be. They can save you TONS of time.

What to Do With Your Competitive Knowledge

The goal of this research is to find keywords that you can rank for with relatively little work. Ideally, you would find keywords relevant to your site that have lots of searches per month with no competition.

In that case, you would just have to write an article that includes your keywords in the html title, URL, meta description and throughout your content, and you might even appear on page 1 of the search results with no extra backlinks.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find such keywords, so you’ll probably find keywords with either moderate search volume and moderate competition or low search volume and low competition.

What defines “low” or “moderate” competition? That really depends on your specific topic. In our “pecan pie recipes,” example, I would say that keyword had moderate competition. If you narrowed things down instead to “easy pecan pie recipes,” you would find that keyword had very low competition.

Sorry for all the technique so far, but this is essential to the strategy.

Writing an Article

To rank in search results for a particular keyword phrase, you’re going to want to create a page or article dedicated to that keyword.

The article or page should be relevant to the keyword being searched on. A visitor who comes to this page from a search listing should feel like they found what they were looking for. This is important because the search engines will penalize you if visitors don’t spend much time on your site.

Beyond relevance, we also want to be sure to include our keywords in a few specific places when writing this article. Ideally, you would want your exact keyword phrase to be included in the title of the page, the URL (web address), the meta description, meta keywords and throughout the body of the article in a natural way.

That basically covers the most important on-page factors. Sure, there are other things you could tweak, but this should get you started.

Building Links

With your article published, it’s time to move on to off-page factors. Again, the most important determinant of where your site or page ranks for a particular keyword is the quantity and quality of links from other sites pointed back at your page.

Link building is the most difficult and time-consuming part of SEO. In our case, since we’ve specifically chosen a low-competition keyword, it shouldn’t be too hard though. Basically, our goal is to get as many links as it takes to land us on page 1 of Google’s search results for our keyword.

How many links will it take? That depends on how relevant our page is, how relevant our site is, how important Google thinks our site is, and how relevant and popular our competitors are.

Since there’s no way to know specifically, our approach should be to start building links to our page over time, and then monitor the search results. When we end up on page 1, we can stop manually building links.

To get links to your site, you can choose to employ lots of different techniques. You can submit your page to directories, you can use article marketing, social media, write guest posts for other blogs or make your content so good that people will naturally want to link to it.

The possibilities are endless, and I’ll let you research link-building techniques for more ideas.

What to Do With Your Competitive Knowledge

Here’s where the real value of this simple SEO strategy comes in.

There are virtually limitless keywords out there that have low competition. There are probably plenty of them related to your topic.

The question is, how much does it cost you to rank for one of those keywords? Once you’ve answered that, then ask yourself, how much money could I earn with the traffic that comes from those keywords?

Once you’ve found a combination of ranking cost and search traffic revenue that yields a profit for your site, you can start building an empire based on this simple SEO strategy.

The specifics really depend on you, your site, your topic, the competition and your revenue model.

In any case, try going through the process I’ve outlined at least once to get a feel for how you can attract visitors using SEO. Then decide if you can monetize those visitors effectively enough to employ this strategy on a bigger scale.

Questions? I’m sure you have some. This isn’t the easiest thing to explain, so I’m happy to discuss in the comments. Thanks for reading and waiting patiently for Part 2.

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Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.

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David July 1, 2010 at 12:12 am

Another golden gem. Entire businesses can be started by owning a small niche. Or being super competitive. Thanks for reminding me of the fundamentals. Even though I’ve been doing SEO for 10 years a refresher is a good kick in the pants to keep doing things the right way.

Corbett Barr July 1, 2010 at 9:13 am

Cool, David. It’s good to hear from a 10-year veteran of SEO that this was a useful refresher.

Mars Dorian July 1, 2010 at 12:26 am

Wow, Corbett.

Talking about evergreen articles – this is definitely one. It’s both massive and concise, and I’m going to re-read it over again. And again.

But the process takes a lot of effort, and I wonder if a blog post is really worth the trouble. I will definitely use this strategy for a kick-ass cornerstone article, because I want to rank for those.

David Krug July 1, 2010 at 12:29 am

Dude I agree this is by far one of my favorites on this site. A great reminder to the essentials of SEO.

Corbett Barr July 1, 2010 at 9:14 am

Hey Mars, the process does take a lot of effort the first few times, but you can get really fast at doing it eventually. Also, I mentioned that there are tools out there that can speed things up dramatically.

TimB July 1, 2010 at 1:27 am

Awesome article. Really breaks down the dark arts of SEO into simple and easily understood steps. I’ve just read this in tandem with some posts on other sites regarding article writing and can’t wait to set aside some time to really get stuck in and see whta the results are. Ace stuff!

Corbett Barr July 1, 2010 at 9:15 am

Hey Tim, any time a post can break down some “dark arts,” I call that a success. Thanks.

Rob July 1, 2010 at 5:06 am

Well done, the care and attention you gave this post is appreciated. It’s a solid foundation to the myriad of murky SEO content out there. Not too much, not too little a well portioned SEO strategy.

Corbett Barr July 1, 2010 at 9:16 am

Ah, I should have called it the goldilocks guide to SEO, darn.

Nate July 1, 2010 at 8:07 am

What a great post. One of the most useful ones I’ve ever come across as far as helping with SEO. Keep up the great work, Corbett!

Corbett Barr July 1, 2010 at 9:16 am

Awesome Nate, let me know if you yield any real-world results from it. July 1, 2010 at 8:36 am

SEO is unnecessarily difficult, which is why this article is so useful. Too many sites are writing articles and not spending the time to fully explain concepts and provide examples. This is a series that is worth bookmarking.

Corbett Barr July 1, 2010 at 9:17 am

I think it’s easy for experts to forget how important and useful the fundamentals really are.

Rob July 2, 2010 at 10:05 am

Thanks for part 2, fulfilled on all the suspense from part 1! My thoughts are the same, solid foundation to build from. Well written, top quality content.

I’ve sat re-thinking how to approach this for my own re-focusing. The thing I need extrapolation on is how to come up with trial and error long tale keywords. Sure “pie recipes” has numerous expansions and variations, but not everyones niche content matter has such an easily expanded word box….or at least that’s my feeling hunting for plays and variations on “entrepreneur tech support” at least….to the lab again.

Corbett Barr July 3, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Sorry to leave you hanging for a week, but I’m glad part 2 lived up to your expectations.

I agree, each niche will be different, and some will be much more difficult than “pie recipes” for finding long-tail keywords. To find keywords that will convert for your niche, put yourself in the shoes of your potential customer/reader. What types of problems are they searching for answers to? They might not look directly for “entrepreneur tech support.” Instead, they’ll be looking for “how to send RSS updates from MailChimp” or “accepting credit cards though FreshBooks invoices” and things like that. Think in terms of problems you can solve instead of simply what you are. Does that help?

Shae December 19, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Hi Rob

I have also found that the Google Wonderwheel is good in helping to identify long tail search terms/phrases that can be researched and investigated further.


Jodi Kaplan July 3, 2010 at 6:16 am

Great post!

That traffic travis looked good, but it won’t work on Macs (boo!).

@Rob, I took a quick look at your site and it looks Mac-focused (yay!). I wonder if “mac tech support” or “parallels mac tech support” or “apple mail tech support” might work as keywords. Note, I didn’t check these to see how many results there are.

Corbett Barr July 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Ugh, I know, there aren’t many good SEO tools for the Mac. I run Parallels so I can use Windows programs. Also, you can look for web-based tools like WordTracker.

Tony Ruiz July 3, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Awesome reference for anybody looking to dive in simple SEO strategy.

SEO is one of those topics where there are so much juicy details. The deeper you dive the more technical SEO gets.

Corbett Barr July 3, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Thanks, Tony. Yeah, there are a lot of juicy details in SEO, but the basics are actually pretty simple.

Pawel @ Self Employed Cafe July 4, 2010 at 11:36 am

I noticed recently that my blog (just over 1 month old) was getting some google traffic that I would never expect from such a young site.

I reverse engineered your system and turned out I was spot on of few keyphrases and they triggered the traffic. Cool.

Thanks for writing this article Corbett, now I can do all this consciously and hopefully improve my results.

Corbett Barr July 5, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Nice, now that you have reverse-engineered it, you can use the system to proactively build more search traffic. Let me know how it goes for you.

Marcin July 4, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Hey Corbett,

Great introduction post! I’m sure it will inspire many fellow bloggers to experiment with SEO. I think writing the relevant content is one of the most important points you’ve mentioned – your readers will take care of linking by themselves ;)

Corbett Barr July 5, 2010 at 6:04 pm

It doesn’t hurt to ask once in a while either ;)

Trever Clark July 12, 2010 at 7:50 am

Hey Corbett – I’ve been digging the “Beginner’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing Course”. I’ve heard that if you overdo it with the keyword phrases on your website or in your articles, that Google will punish you for “keyword stuffing”. Do you have any info on what will cause a Google “slapdown” or punishment?

Amy Andrews July 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm

THANK YOU for this post. This is seriously the first one I’ve found (and I’ve been looking for a while) that actually fleshes out the “use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to find the best keywords” tip in an easy-to-understand, step-by-step format.

One question…

How important is the “Estimated Avg. CPC” column when looking for keywords? For example, if I find a keyword that’s got between 500-2000 exact global monthly searches with relatively low competition, but its Estimated Avg. CPC is only $.05, is it worth it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Again, thanks!

Corbett Barr July 21, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Awesome, Amy. Glad you got some value from the post.

The estimated average CPC just indicates how much advertisers are paying to advertise. That could indicate a certain keyword does or doesn’t have commercial appeal to other people. Honestly, it depends on why you’re trying to rank for it. If you hope to make sales directly from that keyword, maybe you know something that other advertisers don’t, or maybe you’re overestimating the value of the keyword. It depends on your specific circumstance. If you don’t care about making direct sales from this keyword, then you can ignore the avg. CPC (except that the avg. CPC correlates with competition usually).

Hope that helps!

Adam Beckett August 2, 2010 at 4:08 am

Corbett this is hands-down the best simple seo guide I’ve ever read

To be honest I’ve researched this topic a lot lately and was getting increasingly frustrated with either overlong articles or not enough info; this nails it for me and kills the “Analysis Paralysis”.

Two questions;

Would you experiment with subdomains or keyword phrase tagged articles first to see what interest the subject attracts, then go buy the domain name based on reader response, or just trust your keyword research enough and grab the domain name right away to build your site/blog/squeeze page around?

Second question; there’s only one main niche I want to (hopefully) dominate right now, so how useful is something like Micro Niche Finder? I know it shows you the competition, but beyond that I don’t grasp the further benefits, plus it’s not like I’m promoting in lots of different niches with different products and marketplaces I’m not familiar with.

Tonight I’m doing my keyword research exactly how you’ve advised and really setting the wheels in motion after what feels like years of delay!

Thanks again, you keep coming up with the right answers!

Adam :)

Corbett Barr August 2, 2010 at 8:08 am

Cool, Adam, glad you liked it. Great questions, by the way.

So, regarding the first question, normally, all the work involved in setting up a sub-domain to me would be better spent just trying out an actual domain (assuming you’re only paying registration fees for it). Sometimes I do try out writing an article on an existing domain to see how people respond, but if there is search volume, you know people are interested in it.

Second, the MNF and other tools can be very useful within a single niche to help you decide which keyword phrases to go after. MNF will quickly list the competition levels for each search term, and help save you a lot of time. It depends on how many different keywords you’re going after, I suppose.

Good luck with the research. Let me know how your little experiment pans out. Don’t forget that ranking can take weeks or months, so you need to be patient.

Shae December 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Hi Corbett,

With regards to what you said, is is possible for you to answer exactly how to find out what is will cost to rank for a keyword and how to determine how much money could be earned with the traffic that comes from those keywords?

Also how do you determined when you have found a combination of ranking cost and search traffic revenue that yields a profit for your site??

This is the part I am confused about. Love to hear your thoughts/comments.

Perhaps this could be answered in blog post.


Sherry January 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

Thanks for the article!

A quick question for you. I’ve noticed that, in a post’s comments, people will include a link to a post on their own website. This isn’t the link from their name that’s generated when you put your website name in, but a link they have actually pasted into the text of the comment. Do these links count whenever you’re trying to build links to your site?


Tessa March 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Hi Corbett,
Amazing article! Straight to the point SEO! I am using Traffic Travis as adviced, but I am having trouble figuring out which are the longtail keywords, as you explained. In Google Keyword Tool you see the competitiveness of a keyword based on “Global Searches” (as u explained, one should consider those between 500 & 2K), however since TT is based on “Daily Searches”, what should the count be to be considered a “longtail” keyword”?

Thanks for your help!

londonpreprep August 31, 2011 at 11:44 am

this is such an awesome article! i read this yesterday and implemented a few of the things here on my new blog last night, and it went from average of 5 views per day to 25 today, highest ever. on some related search terms I am on page 1 in google now, whereas before I wouldn’t even show up if I googled my own URL!!! so great. thanks.

Avadhut November 26, 2011 at 3:41 am

Hi Corbett,

That’s an awesome post. You’ve written it in detail that I think it’s not a strategy but a guide :)

Jane M November 27, 2011 at 11:28 am

I’m trying to put some of these tips into play right now, but I’ve run into some speedbumps.

The first is Yahoo Site Explorer is now closed down. It looks like Blekko is the only realistic alternative, but Blekko does not include nearly as many sites / results as Yahoo did.

Any suggestions of where else we can go to get this info?

Also, I wanted to use Traffic Travis, but there’s no Mac version. I searched for an alternative but couldn’t find one that was free.

Ideas & suggestions welcome!

Mia March 15, 2012 at 5:53 am

You know that Yahoo’s site explorer is no longer available, so part of this article is no longer useful.

Caleb Wojcik March 15, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Hey Mia,

Thanks for the heads-up. You’ll need to use Bing’s webmaster tool instead it looks like.

Laura June 24, 2012 at 10:21 am

So do we google bing webmaster and put in the same thing in the search??
I can’t get it to work.

Thanks for your help.

Carlos September 11, 2013 at 1:51 am

Hi Corbett,
thanks for the detailed post. I already put into action one of the tips and got a list of blogs relevant to my topic that I want to start a relationship with.

I wanted to point 2 things to you:
1. You could mention that Traffic Travis is for Windows only (I signed up and downloaded the software just to realize that I cannot use it with Mac)
2. Your Facebook “Like” button appears cut to me (it doesn’t show how many Likes the post has. Not that I care about it, just wanted to let you know)

All the best

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