Keyword research is extremely important to content marketers, but not exactly for the reasons you may be thinking. Most content marketers think keyword research will help unearth what potential customers are looking for so that we can fill their requirements with our content and blog posts. This is partially correct, but it’s not the whole story. While this method shows you a glimmer of how keyword research could be done, it doesn’t help you strategize your keyword research to meet your own business goals better. The part that’s missing is what you should be looking at as the “best keywords” for your brand to target its specific audiences with – and at the same time deliver unique content value to those customers.
As experts will tell you, there are many more moving parts to Content SEO Factors. The ideal way to go about keyword research is to follow four steps: one, decide what your site’s branding and positioning dictate, as the ideal content for your niche, and look for your seed keywords; two, generate a lot of long-tail keywords for these seed keywords; three, analyze these long-tail keywords by searcher groups and searcher intent; four, construct your site structure as “pillars-and-clusters”, separated first as customer groups, and then as their buying journey stages. Sounds confusing? Not to worry, the details are below …
Your site’s competitive positioning dictates the ideal content for your niche – and your seed keywords!
Well before you do keyword research on a niche you have selected, you have to be extremely clear on what the scope of your site will be. Who are you specifically targeting as your potential readers and customers? What have you discovered about your competitors, and the USPs they have chosen for themselves? What will be your site’s uniqueness, and how will you offer content on your site to show people that you have a different slant and value from what competitors offer?
If you don’t start with a very clear competitive strategy, you will only choose the same keywords that others, nearly-similar to you, would choose for their sites. So, be sure to get very clear on your overall brand strategy, your brand differential, and the content value-difference you want to make.
One good way to see what your difference could be, is to imagine you were writing a book in your niche. Wouldn’t you see other books by other authors, to see what they have covered already, and see if you can be different?
After you have seen at least ten or twenty other books in your niche, as well as online courses, forums and the social media, you may get an idea of where the brand positioning gaps are available, for you to grab for yourself.
You would also get a reasonable idea of the way experts and lay people use words, concepts and lingo to describe various topics of importance in the niche. (For example, I was always thinking that people would be interested in the idea of “locating their niche” till I found that more people were using the words “finding your niche”.)
You would also get an idea about the relative importance of various sub-topics in your niche. Some topics may raise more concern among people than some other topics.
With all this in mind, you would then set out an outline of chapters for your book, right?
Planning your website is the exact same process. Look at various competitive sites, target audience forums, social media hashtags and every other nook and cranny where potential target audiences may lurk online … see also the Google search patterns around topics in your niche, and the Amazon books and Udemy courses available.
See where you have an opportunity gap to be differentiated from the crowd of other marketers. Then plan the key topics of your site, exactly as you would plan the chapters a very unique book you could write.
Why does this have to be the first step in keyword research? It’s because most content-marketers get so customer-centric straight off the bat, that they forget to take stock of how they can be differentiated in the first place. They forget to be strategic about their keyword research. To be strategic means to see where your business has its best opportunities for competitive advantage, and to be firm on that position, before you look at working the customers on their needs.
When you’ve got the list of prioritized topics your site will cover (in customer and niche lingo) you have your first set of “seed keywords”.
Generate a lot of long-tail keywords for these seed keywords – why reinvent the wheel when you can spy on competition?
Once you’ve got your list of seed keywords, put them one by one into a free but outstandingly great tool like Ubersuggest, and generate a lot of long-tail keywords dealing with your niche topic.
Let’s say one of your important your seed keywords is “healthy foods”. You’ll likely get a list somewhat like this (only much longer), with all the volume and competition data along with every long-tail keyword. Ubersuggest also gives you an estimation of the SEO difficulty of each long-tail keyword, so that can help you decide if you’d like to add it to your final list of long-tail keywords.
In addition, though, to mining your own long-tail keywords by using your seed keyword, there’s a far easier way to get loads of more long-tail keywords by doing a short-cut on your keyword research. Into the same Ubersuggest tool, just enter the domain URLs of your competitors. You’ll get a long list of their top performing articles, as well as their goldmine of important keywords. If we took the same example of our seed keyword being “healthy foods”, one of the specialist competitors in that space could be Eatthis.com. So we enter that URL into Ubersuggest. See how we can get the competitor’s top performing articles as well as his top performing keywords like this:
Remember this technique works best if you pick the right competitor for each of your seedwords and look for the competitor who is an absolute niche-specialist in that particular seed word.
For example, I write about “content marketing” where my seed words or blog topics cover, among others, may include “writing content” and “SEO backlinks”. Now the best and most specialist competitor for me for “writing content” may be Copyblogger.com … but the top competitor for “SEO Backlinks” could be Backlinko.com.
So make sure you don’t pick generalists as competitors to analyze, but pick the absolute specialist competitors for each of your seed keywords. The specialists would have completely scoured their topic areas and found keyword gems. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
A good question you may ask here is: “But how can I score over these specialists if I use the same keywords they have mined and already written articles for?” Good question.
You don’t use the same keywords or article ideas. You put the keywords of these specialist-competitor into Ubersuggest for one more round of even longer-tail keywords, and you thus get into spaces that that specialist competitors did not go far enough into!
In the example below I have taken a keyword the specialist competitor used i.e. “egg-protein” to do one more wash through Ubersuggest. I got another list of really good derivative keywords from egg-protein that don’t quite get covered by the competitor in any articles … for example “egg white protein”.
Analyze your long-tail keywords list by searcher groups and searcher intent – remember to check against your brand positioning!
When you’ve got your whole list of long-tail keywords for any seed keyword, what you need to do next is to sort these keywords out first by category of users.
For instance, when you look at your list you may find keyword long-tails like “healthy foods for kids” and “junk foods vs healthy foods”, doesn’t that sound like it could be mothers looking for healthy foods for their children? Similarly you may find some people looking for “healthy foods for slimming” versus others looking for “healthy foods for weight gain”.
You may also find yet another group, for example, searching for “healthy non-sugar foods” or “sugar free health foods” that suggests it could be a group looking for relief from diabetes. So you see how within the long-tail keywords you have come across, you may see some clear sub-groups of target audiences emerge.
After you have thus identified sub-groups of target audiences, you may even be able to separate these sub-groups of people into their buying stages.
For instance, if you see a keyword like “healthy slimming foods calorie chart” you may know that it’s someone wanting to obtain “information” (i.e. not quite ready to buy, and still exploring). On the other hand if you see “healthy slimming foods available near me” it suggests someone looking for a shop or outlet to actually buy from (i.e. a buying-ready customer).
To sum up: what you need to do when you get all your keywords in one place, is to first segregate them into groups of people with similar concerns – and then categorize them further by the buying stages they could be in. The buying stages of people can be broadly categorized as Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action. So if you have a grid like the one below for all your final keywords, you would have a very clear plan on what sort of content to write to match those keywords you’ve found.
One important tip: Always double check to see if the keywords you’ve finalized, and want to write about, are still on-brand for your site. Keyword research is so mind-consuming sometimes, that we can easily get lost in its labyrinths, and pick words that look and sound great on volume and ideas and competition, without double-checking if some of those chosen groups of people, or their search queries, are really what we want our brand to be about!
Array your site content into a structure that includes pillars-and-clusters – people groups and their buying stages!
SEO experts now believe that your site structure is very important for Google. The “pillar-and-clusters model” is the one most astute content-marketers have begun to follow. What does this mean? Look at the diagram below …
Ideally, your site should have a hierarchical structure, where the main topics or seed words of your content form the top level of your site. Then come the sub-topics, created for the groups of readers with common interests (i.e. pillars). Around these pillars you can add all the articles you write to help the groups of users during their the Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action buying stages (i.e. clusters).
Remember that Google loves fresh content, so make sure you keep adding a good number of fresh articles to the clusters around each pillar. It’s easy for you to find more and more on-brand and on-target topics, because by now your site will have clear focused target audience groups and clear focused stages of their buying journey to address. You will also know where you have content gaps that your site can address, to help target audiences complete their buying journeys with you – rather than with competition!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content SEO Factors”:
- What Is A Good Bounce Rate? Steady Targets For Wobbly Solopreneurs!
- Is SEO Dead? If You Think So, You’ll Have To Believe In Reincarnation!
- Latent Semantic Indexing Explained For Puzzled Content Marketers!
- 4 Tricks That Don’t Work In SEO Anymore, So Steer Clear Of These!