If you are involved in SEO and make your living ranking websites for competitive keywords, you have to know which of these three aspects (SEO, Competition or Authority) you are up against. Particularly when you’re challenging another contender for their coveted search engine position.
One element should not be confused with another unless you are a glutton for punishment or adamant about embracing futility in lieu of simply using a different tact.
Search engine ranking factors are transient and a moving target segmented by (1) relevance and the congruence between fractions of the least common algorithmic denominator (2) the tipping point of popularity and (3) the element of trust.
For example, if you have crossed the tipping point for a specific keyword or key phrase’s topical relevance within your website (i.e. 100 pages on a topic or whatever that threshold is) something unique occurs over time, your site devours related keywords with ease.
Ranking by Default
Essentially, search engines deem your website (as a result of the continuity between the pages) as an authority on the topic. As an authority (or authority site) you will find that the range of keywords stems (like a snowball rolling down hill) until eventually, you have pages being returned as a relevant hit for 2 out of 3 keywords in a query (despite their level of competition online).
Then as if by some unknown variant, when you have ranked in a static position for a sustained period of time, it is almost as if a switch is flipped and you become the candidate to represent the helm of a keyword or key phrase.
Devouring Your Competitors by Accident
Just like the food chain, a website that gains momentum also has a healthy appetite for devouring additional related keywords and phrases by default. If you can control the hunger and keep your website from cannibalizing itself from being overzealous or over optimizing a small node of keywords, it will naturally spread out on its own accord.
This is also the hallmark of moving up the food chain for competitors who may be envious of your coveted spot and mistake the effect with temporal shifts in the algorithm. On the contrary, this is the element of trust manifesting as buoyancy for competitive or highly sought popular keywords.
Often, to many websites set their sights too low or give up too soon when targeting competitive organic keywords with high conversion. It takes a great deal of patience and persistence, months and sometime years to finally reach the cherished top 3 results. I can assure you, the journey for some keywords is well worth it, while others fall flat when expectation exceeds demand.
Competition is Relative to Authority and Trust
One thing to remember, compare a like to a like. For example, to a new site, targeting a keyword with 1 million competing pages is considered competitive (since it does not have the strength to overcome the other websites that have gained traction for that keyword); however, to an authority site you can rank for a keyword with 1 million competing pages from a simple blog post in a matter of a couple of hours after publishing it (without backlinks from other sites).
So, the real distinction in method is do you chase after keywords (like a dog chasing its tail), or do you build an immovable object with the capability of becoming a keyword juggernaut?, that occupies all appendages related to the topic and ranks by default?. I think the answer is self evident, which method yields the highest ROI based on time/ traffic and conversion.
The more topically aligned your site becomes; the easier it is for it to stem into other topics. It is merely a matter of balancing growth and gestation with new seeds nurtured over time that flourish into a self reciprocating internal link / ecosystem that produces its own ranking factor (in addition to attracting its own links) capable of toppling competitive keywords on a whim as a result of the proper cultivation. That is true domain authority.