The 3/30 principle of search engine marketing

Not that I deserve to be grouped in the same league as Pareto or Chris Anderson, but I’ve developed a new ‘rule of thumb’ to help microbusinesses grow online, called the 3/30 rule of search engine marketing, which states:

In a market with less than 30000 competitors and approximately 3000 customers, there is potential for a Google number 1 ranking.

Let me explain. Suppose you sell cashmere scarves on your website, as one of my new clients does. A quick search on Google tells me that if my you also sell a ‘plaid cashmere scarf’ you will be competing against just 4930 companies for a Google number 1 ranking. And if your website is optimized efficiently, you can expect a large chunk of the 3600 people who search for and want to buy a ‘plaid cashmere scarf’ each month to at least visit your website. That’s not bad for just one product.

Now imagine you could optimize each page of your website for a specific long-tail, or niche keyword like ‘cashmere sweater v-neck’ (6600 searches a month with only 2650 competitors) or ‘black cashmere sweater’ (3600 searches a month with 21100 competitors). With 20 different product pages on your website all optimized effectively and ranking in Google’s top 3 results, you could expect to receive around 48000 visitors to your site each month.  Impressive!

How to research 3/30 niche markets

As with so many things in life, Google makes it easy to research 3/30 opportunities for niche markets.

Step 1 – Find your markets

Open a browser window and go to Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool. It looks like this:

In the ‘Enter one keyword or phrase per line’ box, enter the search term ‘plaid cashmere scarf’ (without the quotes). You may also be asked to complete a captcha box to verfiy you are a human visitor. Then click the ‘Get keyword ideas’ button.

The tool will spend a few seconds processing your request, after which you should see something like the screenshot below:

As you can see, the approximate search volume for the phrase ‘plaid cashmere scarf’ in September 2008 was 3600 searches – a figure which is within the 3/30 principle’s parameters.

Step 2 – Check your competitors

You next step is to visit and type your search term into the search box as follows “plaid cashmere scarf”. Be sure to include the double-quotes around your search term. This tells Google to only search for the exact search phrase. Then click the Search button.

On the results page you’ll see a message on the top right saying: Results 1 – 10 of about 4,930 for “plaid cashmere scarf”. (0.18 seconds) – or something similar depending on which Google Data Centre your results are served up by.

So this means you effectively have 4930 people to compete against for a top 3 spot on Google. This may sound daunting, but compared to a broad search term like ‘cashmere scarf’ (324 000 competing pages) it’s a breeze.

Now all you have to do is repeat this process for each of your products, but remember to focus on finding niche markets rather than generic ones.

In conclusion

The 3/30 principle of search engine marketing isn’t flawless, but it can be used to determine whether your online business stands a chance of success. There are a few instances where the 3/30 principle won’t work and I’ll cover those in a follow-up article next week.

On the whole though, careful consideration of your company’s website search terms and a rough indication of your competition can drive traffic to your microbusiness website, and should result in a healthy number of leads and/or sales.

  • Kim Woodbridge

    Dave – I have kind of a dumb question. What do I then do with those long-tail keywords? Use them as tags, put them in the meta description, add them to the title or something else? I don’t sell a product exactly but I guess this could also be used for selling services…?

  • Dave

    @Kim firstly it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. If people are likely to buy online it’s worth doing.

    Your keywords need to be used for both on-page optimization and off-page strategies. So yes, you do need to use your keywords in your page titles and meta descriptions (and meta keywords if you’re feeling enthusiastic). But you also need to work them into your page content.

    For off-page SEO you’d need to build links, preferably from authority sites, using your keyword as the link text where possible.

    SEO is another topic all by itself and usually needs the help of a professional.

  • Kim Woodbridge

    Ok – thanks.

    I think I’m doing ok with the first part. If you search on ‘WordPress 2.6.3 upgrade’ in google, I’m on the first page of results.

    I’m working on the second part … But what is an authority site – one with a lot of incoming links? Or with a high page rank?