In this guide, we'll cover:
- Keyword research, SEO and content
- The process: gathering keyword intelligence
- Working your keyword research into your content planning
Tom and Jerry, gin and tonic, cinemas and popcorn. Some things work so well together that you can’t imagine one without the other.
At first sight, content strategy and keyword research might not seem like perfect partners. One’s about shaping your brand, the other’s about improving your SEO and PPC campaigns, right?
In fact, keyword research is the perfect complement to your content strategy and in this guide we’ll show you why, and how you can use keyword insight to supercharge your content.
Keyword research, SEO and content
In a perfect trio, keyword research boosts your SEO, great content bolsters your SEO and SEO helps your content get found. All three elements are intertwined and crucial to any marketing strategy.
Strong content that demonstrates expertise, authority and trust (E-A-T) will engage your target audience, drive higher time on site, higher engagement and more backlinks. This is great for your SEO, as Google will recognise you as a trusted and authoritative source of information.
Understanding the keywords, questions and topics that people search for when looking for information relevant to your sector can provide focus to your content. It enables you to create content that is topical and useful to your audience whilst helping maximise brand awareness, conversions and organic visibility.
Here’s why keyword research is so important for content.
Staying ahead of your competition
The number one consideration for any piece of content that you produce should always be:
” Will my target audience find this valuable, engaging and authentic? “
But once that box is ticked, and it should always be ticked, you need to turn your attention to doing what you can to make your content stand out. That means making sure it ranks well on search engines, can be found easily on your website, and captures the attention of your target customer. Because your competitors are likely to be thinking along the same lines, you need a trick up your sleeve to stay ahead of them.
Feeding keyword research into your content strategy can be that trick.
By understanding the words, phrases and questions that your target audience is searching for means you can craft content that delivers exactly what they want, in a language they will relate to.
The copywriter’s secret weapon: VOC
VOC, or voice of customer, is your copywriter’s secret weapon. The most powerful copy, the stuff that really gets your customers interested and drives them to act, is copy that comes straight from customers themselves.
If you can describe how your business can solve a problem or help realise an aspiration using the exact same words that customers themselves use, then you’re on to a winner. It’s by far the most effective way to connect and resonate with your audience.
Copywriters get this information by running focus groups and interviewing clients. You can do that too, but you can also get a lot of insight from keyword research. Using various research tools (we’ll go into those later), you can work out the words and phrases your customers put into Google when they’re looking for answers.
For example, a chiropractor clinic might describe themselves as “a clinic that helps with the alignment of the body’s musculoskeletal structure.” Their customers, on the other hand, might be Googling “how can I fix my bad back?” That exact phrase would be a great title for a piece of content.
Content that uses the same keywords that potential customers are using will help that content rank higher in search results, and once it’s found, it will grab their attention far more than anything else. Your content will address the exact question they have in their head.
Intent and context in keywords
It’s important that you understand the context in which your prospects are searching for, and what their intent is with those searches. Look beyond the keywords and try and understand the context and intent that your audience might have when searching.
Content that addresses the context as well as the general topic will have more success.
You can drill deeper into keyword research and context to understand the types of searches people make at different points in the conversion funnel. What are they searching for when they’re higher up the funnel, in the research phase? What are people searching for when they’re ready to convert? This insight should inform your content so that you can effectively engage with both groups.
An insight-driven editorial calendar
The keywords that are used by your target customers should be one of the foundations for your content calendar.
Why not plan a series of ‘how-to’ blog posts based around the top ten search queries of your target customers? If your posts are good quality and the content is optimised for the keywords, they’ll likely start to rank well for those searches.
If your business cycles are impacted by external factors, such as seasonal or major events, then work your content calendar so it’s in tune with the different contexts that people are searching in.
When you’re plotting your content calendar, list your target keywords and make sure that you’re addressing all of them in an even spread.
The process: gathering keyword intelligence
So, how do you go about finding keywords that can inform your content?
You need to do some keyword research, so that you’re confident the list you compile relates to your audience and the interests they have on topics that relate to your business.
Keyword research tool types
There are plenty of tools out there to help with your research, and they can be broken down into the following types:
Your Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts are a great starting place to understand how the people who find you organically get to you and what existing pages are performing well.
General tools such as Google Keyword Planner are great for working out what keywords can work for you. You can expand your keyword ideas and review search volumes and competitiveness of each term. In addition, Google SERPs can themselves be very useful when looking to broaden your list.
These are tools that help you understand what the current trends are, so that you can capitalise on them in your content, and jump on the bandwagon of increased traffic for a period of time. Examples include Google Trends and Google Insights for Search.
If you run PPC campaigns, then you’ll be able to review them to understand what words and phrases perform best. If they are performing well in PPC, then they’re likely to perform well in organic search too, and therefore make good content themes.
Social platforms such as Twitter can be goldmines of information on what people are searching for around certain topics, the problems they need solving, and how they phrase their desires.
1. Review you existing content
Start off by reviewing your existing content. Mine Google Analytics for all it’s worth, and get as much data as you can.
Review your top organic landing pages to see what is currently ranking and driving a high number of organic sessions. (In the left-hand menu in Analytics, go to Acquisition, Overview, then click in Organic Search.)
Look at pages based on their total number of pageviews. (In the left-hand menu, go to Behaviour, Site Content, then All Pages.) Content that is popular and is being regularly viewed shows what is popular and useful.
You can also review content based on engagement metrics. Content that has a high time on page, low bounce rate or higher conversion rates are those to take note of.
Google Search Console can be used to review the search terms people use to find you organically, under the Performance report. Review which content is performing well for those keywords, what type of content it is and other key characteristics, such as length and format.
Note your findings.
2. Carry out a competitor review
Competitor analysis is a crucial step. It will give you ideas to borrow, identify where your comparative strengths and weaknesses are, highlight gaps that you could exploit, and show you areas you’ll need to be good in if you’re to compete.
Invest in a tool, such as Searchmetrics or SpyFu, to get an idea of the keywords that your competitors are using and performing well with. These tools provide you with an analysis of what keywords are on your competitor’s sites, and can provide a list of keywords to export. The results aren’t always exact, but they do give you a good starting point.
Do this for a few of your competitors.
Alongside tools, look at your competitor websites and social media channels, analysing the content that they’re putting out. Look at how different content performs for them on different channels. And look at the keywords they are targeting. Pay attention to the keywords in their page titles (meta titles) as this is one of the most important places to optimise for SEO.
Makes notes about the different types of content you find on your competitors’ channels, including:
- What topics they cover
- The keywords they use
- How frequently they publish content
- The best and worst performing content on their social channels.
This can be time consuming, but it’s very important to garner insight and help you create a strategic plan.
3. Look at SERPS, and get the most out of the data they give you
Amidst the array of complex analytical tools, the humble SERP can give you some great keyword insight.
First of all, type into the search bar a common keyword or phrase that your customers might be searching. Now make a note of the suggested auto-fill options Google offers. These are great for giving you insight into what other people are searching for, as well as the keywords that Google deems similar.
Look at the “People Also Ask” questions. This is a great source of intent focused keyword insight because it tells you the kind of questions people are asking around a given topic.
A quick search for “shoe inserts” provides the following questions:
- What are the best shoe inserts?
- Do I need shoe inserts?
- What are shoe inserts called?
- How do shoe inserts work?
If you’re a company selling orthotic shoe insoles, you’ve got one month’s worth of blog headings right there, in just a few seconds.
Finally, look at the bottom of the SERP and there’s a section titled “Searches related to…”. Again, this gives you suggestions of what others have been searching around your chosen topic.
Note down the keywords and phrases you’ve unearthed doing your SERP analysis.
4. Look on your social channels
Next, mine your social channels. Your customers will be doing what people do on social media: talking. They’ll be expressing opinions, frustrations, problems and desires, all in a language that resonates with them. Add what you find to your growing keywords list.
5. Go offline
You’re looking for the words and phrases your customers use when they’re expressing their needs and desires, so speak to the people in your business that have face-to-face contact with your customers.
This could be your salespeople, your customer service team or your receptionist. Ask if there are recurring phrases, questions or themes that crop up, and note them down.
6. Look at search volume
Having done all of this, you should now have a good list of keywords that you know will resonate with your prospects and customers.
Run these keywords through a keyword tool to get a feel for their popularity and average monthly search volume. This will help you prioritise keywords.
Whether you go for higher volume or lower volume will depend on your strategy. Higher volume keywords get more traffic, but they will be much more competitive. It can pay to focus on longer-tail keywords with lower search volume as you may have a better chance of ranking for these in the short-term.
7. Group your keywords into themes
To start bringing the keyword list together into something that informs your content plan, group your keywords into themes. It’s likely that you’ll have a variety, and in planning content you’ll want to ensure that you maintain a good spread of themes.
For example, if you’ve identified five different themes, you don’t want to find yourself publishing content on just one theme for ten weeks in a row.
Working your keyword research into your content planning
Now that you have insight into what people are searching for and the words they are using, you need to put it into practice. Here’s some guidance in creating content that makes the most of your research.
Focus on your audience and what they want
Your research will have shown you what your prospects’ curiosities, needs, problems and desires are; address all of these in your content spread.
Use the exact phrases that your audience use when searching. You’re trying to pre-empt their questions and provide answers. This will help you establish a relationship with your audience as you demonstrate that you understand them.
This also positions you as an expert during the research phase of the buying process. You’ll be seen as someone generous with knowledge and advice, and someone good and trustworthy to make a purchase from.
Consider content type
It’s taken a lot of work to get here, so you should aim to make the most of your newfound insight. If you’re used to just posting articles or blogs, why not broaden your horizons?
By all means, carry on with a blog. But why not expand on it and create a downloadable guide, an infographic or an article to submit to your industry press? If it’s a broad topic, you might also be able to collaborate with another organisation, and benefit from their network and authority, creating an even better quality piece that naturally attracts links. Alternatively, you could write a piece for a partner’s site and gain a backlink that way.
Different types of content out there will encourage more backlinks, shares and interaction which in turn can aid SEO visibility and drive you up higher in the SERPs.
Where to include keywords?
The most important thing is to ensure that your content sounds natural, and not like it’s been written by a robot. Think ‘users first, search engines second’.
When adding keywords, the most important locations are:
- The URL
- The page title (meta title) and meta description }
- The main heading (H1 tag)
- The first sentence or paragraph
- Sub headings (H2s, H3s, etc.)
- Image filename and alt text.
Focus your most important keywords in these areas and litter remaining keywords throughout the main body of the piece, where it makes sense.
A word on keyword density
There is no hard and fast rule on how many times you should mention a particular keyword in a single article or post.
It obviously needs to be in there enough so that Google recognises it, and your reader picks up on it. The longer the word count, the more you can get away with it before it becomes obvious, but the last thing you want is for over-use of a keyword to affect the readability and authenticity of the content. Keyword-stuffing can harm your SEO efforts and users may be immediately turned off. Your content will have lost its impact, you’ll have wasted your time, and your brand will suffer.
Finally, always make sure you read and re-read your content to make sure it flows naturally. It’s really useful to read it aloud to yourself. You’ll pick up on any sentences that sound unnatural or forced.
If you want to craft a content strategy that supports SEO, creates a connection with your customer, drives visitors to your site, helps generate brand awareness and conversions, then you need to know what your target audience is searching for.
Keyword research is crucial to getting this insight. The findings you unearth might not be what you expect. It’s likely that people aren’t searching directly for your product; rather, they’re searching around the topic, looking for solutions to their problems or answers to their questions.
If you create content that meets these peoples’ needs, then your brand will be at the forefront of their minds when they’re ready to buy.