Keyword Research: How to Manually Look Up Keyword Competition

Using the Google Search Phrase Match Command to find Exact Match Search Results

A large part of what we teach in our keyword research process is how to look up keyword competition. Sure, if you have a website about gardening, you’d love to rank number one on the term “gardening”, or more likely, “gardening tips”, but how many other websites are competing for that phrase? And what are your website’s chances of beating your competitors to the top spot in Google?

We currently look up keyword competition manually, although we are looking into several programs that will automate the process.

Back to the basics

The very first step in the keyword research process is to brainstorm with your editors the primary keyword phrases that you’d like your site to be ranked on. These are usually two-word phrases. You then take those primary keyword phrases and expand them into a group of secondary keyword phrases, which are usually three and four-word phrases.

The next step is to figure out how popular those keyword phrases are, or how many people are searching for each of your keyword phrases each month, using the Google Keyword Tool.

Now that you know the demand, or popularity of each keyword phrase, it’s time to determine the competition. How many other websites are competing for that top spot in Google on any of your given keyword phrases? As I mentioned, this is a manual process (at least for now) and goes as follows:

– We enter each and every keyword phrase into with “quotes” around the term. This shows us, in the bar on the upper right corner of the Google results page, the number of websites that are using that phrase in an exact order (e.g. Results 1 – 10 of about 1,100,000).

Now, most users, when searching casually, will enter what’s called a broad match, not using “quotes” around their search query. This leads them to results where they could find the keyword phrase in any order on any given page. For example, if you Google the term good cooking, without quotes around the term, you would get results where the words good and cooking were on the same page but may not appear side-by-side, in that exact order. So the word good may appear in a completely separate paragraph from the word cooking.


Why exact match is more precise

The variation on this is called an exact match, and if you instead Google a term with “quotes” around the phrase, Google will display only the pages that have the phrase exactly as it was entered, so that good cooking appears together, side-by-side as a two-word phrase. And in most cases, the number of competitive pages on an exact match phrase will go way down. For example, the number of competing pages could go from 1,000,000 down to 100,000 or even 50,000. Or in the case of good cooking, it goes from 228,000,000 to 496,000.

Now, the reason we care about this is not because users are ever going search in Google with “quotes” around their query. But through research and repetition, we have discovered that roughly 90 percent of the websites that are going to appear on pages one, two, or three in Google for a broad match search will be exact match websites. Or, put another way, Google favors exact match; it very much tries to give page one, two, and three rankings to those webpages that have exactly the phrase the user is looking for, in the exact order they entered the phrase.

Now get moving!

So if you haven’t already, get started on your keyword research. Determine the keyword phrases you’d like your site to be found on, extract the demand, or popularity of each phrase from the Google Keyword Tool, look up the competition for each phrase so you know which terms are worth targeting (high volume and low competition is usually a good indicator!), and start targeting those phrases with disciplined SEO campaigns.

Are you more of an audio or visual learner?

Did we describe the process in a clear and concise fashion? Please share your thoughts with us on the blog. It’s often hard to describe our keyword research process via the written word, which is why we created Mequoda Pro, an online video training library where you can hear this process explained verbally, as well as get a visual representation of the process. We’ve also provided a sample Google Visibility Report (GVR) in the Keyword Strategy section of Mequoda Pro, which is the excel-based document that tracks the volume and competition of each keyword phrase. The GVR also monitors your website’s rank on each phrase, helping you determine the success of your SEO campaigns.

    ashley n.

    Thanks for clearing up the confusion about the quotation marks. I’ve also used parenthesis and this works the same.


    Hi Johnny, We haven’t heard of it but thanks for asking. Please do let us know if you buy a copy and what you think of it.


    This might be a little off subject, but have you looked at seoclientprospectingrobot dot com? Just wondering if you have any reviews of it, I’m thinking of buying a copy, and wanted to see if anyone had bought a copy yet.


    Hi Russ:

    Thanks for asking. Let me be more specific…

    When I say use quotes around a search phrase to get an exact match results competitive count, I could have said:

    To discover the number of exact match webpages (webpages that contain the exact words in that exact order without any changes) that Google Search has indexed for a given search phrase, use the phrase search command (“”) to get an exact match results count in the upper right hand corner of the SERP (search engine results page).

    Here’s how Google describes the Phrase Search Command:

    Phrase search (“”)
    By putting double quotes around a set of words, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change. Google already uses the order and the fact that the words are together as a very strong signal and will stray from it only for a good reason, so quotes are usually unnecessary. By insisting on phrase search you might be missing good results accidentally. For example, a search for[ “Alexander Bell” ] (with quotes) will miss the pages that refer to Alexander G.Bell.

    For more information about basic search commands and results go to:

    Note: Don’t confuse Google Search Commands (which output SERPs) with Google Adwords Keyword Matching Options that are used to buy Google Adwords and to generate Google Keyword Tool Phrase Reports. The terms are similar but in Google Adwords an Exact Match and Phrase March are different settings that will generate different counts for the number of monthly searches done by users related to a given keyword phrase.

    For for information about Google Adwords Keyword Matching Options check out:

    Hope that helps clarify the process. 🙂



    I understood “quotes” around a keyword phrase was called a “Phrase match”, not an [Exact match]. Is it possible you have your terminology mixed up?


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