Why the heck should you care about including keyword research in your content strategy in the age after Google’s Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird updates? You may be of the school of thought that the old days of SEO are long gone, and your content strategy can work without it.
To be clear, I don’t want you to stuff your blog posts with a bunch of keywords to the point that no human will be able to read them. That’s definitely not my point here. Keyword stuffing doesn’t work, but Google still needs to associate your website with certain keywords and phrases to send you relevant traffic.
And who doesn’t want relevant traffic?
SEO may have changed, but thorough keyword research is still the foundation for an awesome content strategy.
Investing in research in the beginning will give you a solid foundation for the long run. This foundation will serve as a basis for creating high-quality, shareable content for your audience, which will in turn lead to high search rankings and a steady stream of organic traffic.
Let’s get started here.
First, you want to establish two factors:
- Find a gap in your industry’s content, so that you can stand out and differentiate yourself
- Understand what keywords you want to target, and be prepared to capture low-hanging fruit.
One of the most important things you need to spend your time on when you’re just starting out with keyword research is industry research. Look up your competitor’s websites and analyze what they’ve been posting. This will allow you to identify opportunities for growth, and develop a niche content strategy that’s primed for success.
Here are the questions you want to ask yourself:
- Is there a gap in their content? What could be better?
- How is the content presented visually? Could you improve on their presentation?
- Is your competitors’ content well-researched, insightful and authoritative, or is it just a bad rehearsal of what’s already been said before?
It's easy to do competitive analysis using Feed.ly. This aggregation tool keeps me informed on the content published on my competitors’ websites in real-time. Feedly’s biggest benefit is undoubtedly the fact it allows you to understand what actually works with your target audience.
Feedly shows how many social reactions a piece of content received, which makes it easy to understand how well content performs for your competition, and what topics are hot in your industry. It’s easy to sort by top stories and highest-rated pieces. You can also quickly get an idea of the structure behind other companies’ content strategies, based on the frequency of their publishing and the quality of their headlines.
One more way to understand what's hot and and trending in right now is by visiting Alltop.com. You won't see any metrics on content performance, but you can quickly get a grasp on the most-discussed topics of the moment.
Now that you've researched your competition, looked into their content and noticed things you could do better than them, it's time to do keyword research.
Based on my recent market analysis for Writtent, we'll be placing our focus on:
Actionable, data-driven content creation and content marketing tips backed up by real case studies with a lot of visual how-to's.
From using the basic research methods I’ve outlined above, I see this is what my industry lacks. Actionable content that’s filled with examples and case studies is a gap. Once you’ve identified your focus, it's time to move on to the actual keyword research.
Doing Keyword Research
Semrush.com is a fantastic tool to get an idea of what keywords your competitors are going after, as well as their overall strategy. Are they optimizing their websites? Do they get any traffic at all?
The primary benefit of Semrush is being able to almost instantly access your competitors’ top keywords, so you can enrich your own marketing strategy in a matter of minutes.
So, it's a great tool for ideation.
From analyzing your competitors keywords, you should end up with a comprehensive list of keywords you can go after. Check out this guide on how to do organic research using SEMrush.
Did Semrush not give you quite enough? That’s no big deal; just add a couple more competitors' websites to your analysis.
Keep in mind, your results will vary in both competitiveness and potential. This step in your keyword research process is where Wordtracker comes in.
I love Wordtracker for one main reason, their keyword effectiveness index (KEI).
This measure will instantly show you how competitive a keyword is, and it helps you make smart decisions faster.
Other Keyword Research Tools
- Keywordspy is another popular option for content marketers, though I personally prefer Semrush and Wordtracker because they show data on how competitive a keyword is, and allow you to export data from your competititors’ websites.
- I’d be remiss to ignore Google Keyword Tool, which offers the awesome benefit of being free.
In the end, you'll end up with a great list of keywords you can brainstorm specific topics around, that will all allow you to capture organic traffic from long-tail search queries. For more competitive queries, it's in your best interest to develop in-depth guides that offer a significant amount of value on the topic.
What I usually do at this point is group keywords into thematically-related groups. For Writtent, this may include the following categories:
- content marketing
- inbound marketing
- freelance writers
The next step would be to look up Google Trends around those keywords.
You know why?
Because going with the wind is much easier than going against it.
It’s quick and easy, and you might as well give it a shot because it’s free.
Here is a Trends graph I was able to create in just minutes around several of the keywords I’m currently targeting:
- inbound marketing
- content marketing
- freelance writing
- blog writing
This simple analysis alone revealed one interesting fact. “Copywriting”, a term that was exceptionally popular in 2006, has actually dropped way below “content marketing” (it’s 2x times less popular, to be exact). And “content marketing trends” is definitely on the rise, so it’s probably wise to ride that trend.
Do the same trend analysis for your industry. I’m sure you'll make quite a few discoveries that become great food for thought and experiments.
Check Conversion with PPC
Now, if you have a budget, time, and skills, it can be a sharp idea to test your keywords with PPC. It's fairly easy to set up test campaigns and actually see the number of daily searches these terms are driving for yourself. Even better, you should set up landing pages and check if those keywords will actually convert leads for your business. This method is absolutely the way to go if you are into exact data and measurements.
Now, once you’ve gone through all the steps we’ve outlined so far:
- looked up what your competitors are publishing online
- exported data from your competitors using Semrush
- brainstormed on your own
- done additional research with Wordtracker
- grouped the keywords into primary categories
- checked Google trends to see where the wind is blowing
- and backed up your theories with real data from PPC
you should have a great list with the main keywords you want to rank for.
Brainstorm Topics for Your Content
The next step is to brainstorm topics around your hot keywords, and come with the actual pieces of content you’ll need to write to cover them. The days when all it took to rank for an highly-competitive term was building a website structure around that phrase are long gone.
Today is the the age of long tail queries, which makes our lives as content creators, much easier.
Recent changes to major search algorithms have changed the climate so you don’t need to be quite as technical and SEO-minded. Success today is more about caring about the actual needs, pains, and wants of your customers and readers. The Hummingbird, Panda, and Penguin updates that Google rolled out recently confirm this.
So, relax, and take your time to think about the pain points your customers have, and the questions they usually ask. The best ideas will be at the intersection of your main keywords and keyword groups, and the actual questions and pains your customers have.
Here is an example:
Main keyword: content strategy
Customer pains/questions: What is a content strategy? How do I come up with a content strategy? What are the steps to develop a content strategy? How do I use an editorial calendar when coming up with my content strategy?
This is a basic example of the thought process you should go through when finding topics for your audience. You certainly won't leave the topics like that. You'll need to come up with catchy headlines. To learn more about how to infuse your titles with magnetism, check out this post on headline hacks.
A Few Bonus Content Hacks
With content , there are quite a few guaranteed-to-work tricks you might want to use. For instance, there are pieces of content that will ALWAYS work in every industry. One of these types are large list posts.
Think TOP 30, TOP 20, TOP 50 and so on...
By doing this type of content you achieve two goals at a time:
- come up with useful posts for your audience, and save them time by doing the actual research for them
- build virality mechanics directly into your posts
What you want to do once the post is on your website is reach out to websites mentioned on the post with a simple message saying:
Hi, great news! We've just included your website on our TOP … list. Thank you for the awesome content and feel free to share the post in your networks.
Some companies will share. These posts at Writtent usually get triple the traffic and social shares as our non-list articles. Here is one of them:
The list post got 250 + social reactions.
The good thing about these posts is that they can be easily repurposed as part of an eBook or into bigger lists that cover a wider topic area and solve a bigger problem.
If you’re wondering just how long of a time frame your editorial calendar should cover, it really depends on how agile you want to be. I tend to review results on a weekly basis, see what works and what can be improved, and come up with more ideas. I change topics based on feedback I get, either directly from our readers or from our KPI's such as social shares.
Track Your Performance
What you want to do once your post is published online is track rankings, and continue to optimize for the specific keywords that the page ranks for well in search.
The logic behind optimizing an existing page for certain queries is simple. Whatever worked well should be improved on, so you can get the most mileage possible. For instance, if your post ranks well for the term “strategic content marketing” but it’s still the 12th link from the top in search results, what you want to do is tweak your synonyms around that term and watch your positions change.
Another important metric to measure and optimize using MOZ is your click-through rate (CTR) for your title. A low CTR probably means you may want to edit your headline. We’re planning experiments with that at Writtent, too.
A Case for an Integrated Content Strategy
As you can see, keyword research should be integrated into your content marketing strategy as a whole. It starts as your foundation to formally identify opportunities, and trickles down to how you approach publication, analysis, and optimization.
In fact, if one of the goals for your online marketing strategy is relevant organic traffic from Google, keyword research should be a consideration from day one. It works best when it's integrated with other things like content creation, ideation for your topics, and affects the actual pieces of content your create.
What are your thoughts on doing keyword research? Do you rely on it when coming up with your content strategy?