But you needn’t worry. Even if you don’t have any idea how you should start content development, by the end of this guide you will have definite ideas.
We are going to tell you how you should define your goals, get to know your audience better, plan your content creation and how to do the research to rank in the top of Google result pages.
We are even going to give you a complete step-by-step guide on how to start your first keyword research.
Shall we get started?
Content research and planning
Even before we dive into creating an inventory of your and your competitors’ content and methods, we need to know where to focus. And for that, you have to create…
Buyer personas and intent-based segmentation
If you want to create content that is useful and valuable, the very first step is defining who are you going to address with it. You have to know what their problems are, what they desire, how they communicate, in short: who they are.
There are three steps with which you can do this on deeper and deeper levels:
We are going to take a look at all three stages now. If you complete this process, at the end you will have clearly defined personas for whom you can customize your entire communication and maximize engagement. If you do it right, members of your audience will feel as if you are talking to them one-on-one and know them as well as their friends.
Defining your target audience
First, you need to define the absolute basics: find a list of properties your prospective clients or customers fit. This should be a fairly simple task even if you don’t have previous clients, because you at least have your product and know what kind of problems it can solve. What you have to do is imagine the people who might have those problems.
For example, if you are selling whiteboard markers, you have to look at who is using them generally. Your widest target audience will certainly include teachers and businessman, so you already have two different target audiences.
Based on the properties of your products, the focus of your company and communication you can either choose one or set up different channels and content for them.
You have a product, but the may mean you have multiple solutions to multiple problems, and that has to influence the very core of your communication and content strategy.
When defining a target audience you should include these details:
- Basic demographic description (gender, age, location, education, salary etc.),
- Their goals and expectations,
- The problems that keep them from achieving these goals,
- Persons who can influence their decision,
- How they communicate, what language and difficulty level are they comfortable with,
- Their hobbies, social status, the way they spend their free time,
- How they consume content, their presumed activity on social media and also how they communicate in everyday life.
…and so on.
That might seem a lot of data, but we are still only at the beginning. You now have a group or multiple groups, but you are not ready to personally address them.
In order to do that, you must give them a personality.
Setting up buyer personas
A buyer persona is a fictive person that you create based on the data you gathered about your target audience. You should aim for having at least one profile of this person that you can directly talk to like you know them.
The goal is to make your whole communication more personal. If I receive an email from your company it should feel like if we already know each other in person, not like you are talking to a large group that you think I may be a part of.
I would also advise you to not only create one persona but at least four. You should have more than enough data to do that, to differentiate your audience that much.
A complete buyer persona should include:
- Basic information: name, age, marital status, number of children, salary, position, location, social status.
- Basic personality traits.
- Goals in life: what are they hoping to achieve and when?
- Problems they have (even ones they might not know about).
- Obstacles they face in everyday life.
- Their hobbies and interests.
- How they consume content.
- How they communicate with their friends, family, colleagues.
- What language they use.
- Who are influencing their decisions.
- Common objections to changing things (including buying something).
- Their biggest fears and what motivates them.
Creating intent-based clusters
Now that you know who are you talking to, you have to make sure you do it at exactly the right time. And for that, you have to know their intentions.
With intent-based segmentation, we define 4 distinct phases. These clusters of potential and existing customers will define the way you build your content marketing and sales funnel.
These are people, who
- have a problem you can solve,
- but they are not aware of it or not looking for a solution,
- you can address through at least one channel.
In other words: they have the problem, but you can’t sell them anything yet, because they simply have no purchase intent. So what can you do?
‘See’ refers to your goal: your goal is to be visible to these people, to position your brand in a way that when they develop a purchase intent you are going to be at least one of the options they think about.
You have to target their hobbies, interests in a way that is still relevant for your brand, and create content that can be used to reach a wide audience and may even reach virality. The most effective types of content to engage the SEE cluster usually are infographics, videos, press releases, PR articles, quizzes, games, challenges.
People in this cluster have a weak purchase intent.
- They are aware of their problem.
- But they are not actively looking for a solution or
- are still in the research phase.
People checking out shopwindows, reading best-of lists about products or casually browsing certain categories in online stores and marketplaces are good examples.
As they know about the problem and are thinking about solving it, you should target this intention: create case studies, step-by-step guides, educational videos, white papers, listicles. The content you create for them should describe how they can solve their problem, provide possible solutions.
Your intention, other than positioning your brand as one who knows their problem and the solution too (and still not trying to sell, just help) should be cleverly pressuring their pain points to move them towards developing a strong purchase intent.
Describing the problem in detail, showing them that right there is a solution for it, describing the desired after-state and also implying the consequences of not acting can be effective.
This is the cluster 98% of all sales and marketing currently focuses on. It includes people, who are
- Perfectly aware of their problem and want a solution.
- Not certain about the exact solution: they are still looking for or comparing products, services or brands.
So they have a strong purchase intention, but they can still be influenced.
Here you have the greatest chance of engaging them with content like price comparisons, product tests and reviews, excellenty written product pages and tools like calculators.
This cluster is already yours: it consist of people who already purchased something from you. This means that they know you, trust you and are more likely to buy from you a second time.
Existing customers are your most valuable ones, so you must be working on staying in their heads, keeping them active, showing them that even after you got them to purchase, you still care about them.
You can do this in a number of ways like creating loyalty programs (preferably based on gamification), creating posts and articles about their other problems or interest, building knowledge bases (wikis, for example, can be useful here and in the THINK and DO clusters alike), sending them tips&tricks to use the product or service they bought from you more efficiently and so on.
Setting your goals & KPIs
After defining exactly for whom are you going to create content you are ready to define the goals you want to achieve with it.
Let’s be clear, ‘make more money’ is not a viable strategic goal. Neither is ‘more profit’. As an overall goal for your content strategy, you might set some key performance indicators (KPIs) like X% increase in profit in Y months or Z% increase in organic traffic. (Learn more about What is organic traffic? in our in-depth guide!)
And these are still too generic.
These can serve as your overall goals for the long- or mid-term. But you have to break anything down to the base level. You should have
- Long-term goals.
- Clearly defined KPIs for each campaign.
- Defined and measurable conversion points for all customer journeys.
- Defined micro-conversions for each step along the journey.
- A long-term goal can be improving your overall sales by a certain percentage.
- KPIs for a campaign can be how sales of a certain product change, how much your organic traffic directed at your sales pages change, if there is a return on the investment and so on.
- KPIs for a certain customer journey can be the activity generated in social media, how effectively do you guide potential customers through the funnel, the cart abandonment rate (read all about abandoned carts it in our in-depth article), the performance of ads if they are included and so on.
- And finally: micro-conversions can be the CTR of an email or an email subscription from a skyscraper article.
Without clearly defining all of these on all levels you will not be able to track the performance of your marketing and sales.
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Finding your niche & topics
If you know what you want to achieve, time to define how you are going to do it. By now you know your audience and have a solid idea about what you want them to do.
So have a look at how are you going to get their attention and engage them.
If you went all the way and have intent based segments than you have different types of content assigned to the clusters. But you still have to figure out what that content is going to be about.
Finding your first few dozen topics won’t be hard, especially if you have detailed buyer personas: you can find topics that your audience probably cares about, like their problems and the solutions for them.
But those will run out fast, and you can’t be always writing about your product or yourself. (Actually, try actively avoiding that. Always write about your audience and about what they care about.)
(Also, it might make sense to get to know the basic statistics about your niche. We have some in our eCommerce Strategies guide that might come in handy.)
Ask the proper questions
First, start asking questions about what you do – not just the product or service, but in general. For example, as a content copywriter, a lot of people ask me: ‘how can you write about my product/niche/industry when I am the expert and not you?’
Starting from that question I have written probably at least a dozen different articles on the research phase, copywriting techniques, about the whole work process and so on.
These types of content are good for introducing yourself and how you work: they can build trust, establish you as an expert and answer questions your clients may have before they think about asking them. (They work best in the THINK and DO clusters.)
When you run out of questions, start brainstorming with your colleagues, gather ideas from all people in your company. And when even they can’t figure out more topics, head to where your customers are.
Quora and other Q&A sites for example are extremely valuable resources: you can find dozens of questions. Usually, there will be some useful answers, but as the expert, you can likely explain things better and in more detail – for example in skyscraper articles or infographics.
What’s even better, these are validated questions, meaning you already know your audience is looking for the answers.
Groups in social media are also a great resource. And I guarantee you that you will find dozens of related groups for anything. Do you sell dog food? Let’s narrow down the niche, and start looking for species-specific groups.
In 10 second you can find more than 30 Facebook groups with more than 10 thousand members dedicated to pugs for example (I just tried it).
Here you will not only find questions, but you can also find out what type of content your target audience is sharing, what are their discussions about, what kind of language are they using, so you can fine-tune your focus niches and personas as well.
Feedback, customer support and social
Another great way to find questions that your audience cares about and you can answer is the simplest of them all: just listen to them.
Just by taking these questions and regularly creating lists from them you will have a great many topics to create content about.
Research popular content & shoulder niches
Watching groups on social platforms is a great way to find out what your audience likes to read about, but there are also more scientific ways to figure it out.
This way you can find topics to write about, but you can also find shoulder niches, not directly connected to your product, but still relevant to what you do and what your audience cares about.
I will show you how your process should look like. For example, let’s say you are targeting startups with a service. Open up BuzzSumo and type in startups. I set the date filter to 6 months so I get more relevant results – there are many more filters you can use, even search for specific types of content (like how-to articles or listicles).
Right away I got articles with very high engagement, and I also get a few ideas what might be interesting for them:
- ‘Startups Growth Boom a ‘Ponzi Scheme’ Chamath Palihapitiya Says’ (ideas: trust issues, sustainable growth, business planning)
- ‘Research: The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder Is 45’ (ideas: self-confidence, leadership skills, is there an age cap on starting a successful business)
- ‘Female-Founded Startups Make More Revenue, Do It with Less Funding’ (gender issues, funding)
- ‘LinkedIn Top Startups 2018: The 50 most sought-after startups in the U.S.’ (best practices, examples, case studies, tales of success)
That itself would be enough for weeks if you can find ways to make these topics truly relevant to your audience. (And you can, because you have detailed profiles and know what they truly care about, right?)
The next step: create simple expressions and keywords about those ideas and repeat the process. (If you want to start with something more basic, first read our guide about What is SEO!
Don’t just look at the headlines: do read the articles and also browse the sites they are published on, and start taking notes.
You can repeat this process as many times as you want, but do know when to stop: after a few cycles, the ideas you get will likely be ones that are no longer relevant enough either your audience or your business.
From here on it is simple: you just need to research content about these topics and find out if there is existing content about it, what quality it is, where are the content gaps that you can fill and how to put it in a way so it will be interesting enough for your audience. In other words: find out how you can create content with added value in these niches.
But now we are talking about something else: how to do a content audit.
So, what is a content audit? Simply put, a process that will help you with content research by cataloging and organizing content on your site and on others’.
As we have mentioned in the previous section:
- You have to find the content gaps you can fill with your own content.
- You have to be deeply familiar with your own existing content.
Otherwise, you may just create content that has no added value because either someone else or even you have something that makes it redundant.
So now I will guide you through the process, and we will start with an internal content audit: cataloging your own existing content.
1. Acquiring the data
If your business is not entirely new I am sure that you have existing content – blog posts, social shares, F.A.Q. pages, manuals, how-tos, product descriptions and so on. But you may not know about them.
You could go through your site and catalog the content by hand, by you should never do that. Instead, use a tool that will do it for you. I recommend these:
First you will probably get a list of content (for example your previous posts on a blog) with some data, but that is not enough. You need more data, so use another tool and analyze the list of URLs you have further.
URL profiler should give you what you need. You can also use BuzzSumo for analyzing engagement of the content on your site as you can filter by domain and Ahrefs for organic search traffic.
This is the kind of information you are looking for:
- Engagement in social media.
- Content with the most organic traffic.
- The most successful types and formats.
- The length of the most successful content.
And of course, the inverse of all of these, to find the least successful ones.
I recommend gathering as much information as you can and generating a list that you can easily filter and search. Best case scenario you can get information on each piece of content about:
- Meta title
- Meta description
- Content type
- Primary and secondary keywords
- Date of publishing
- Date of the last update
- Length and reading time
- Attached multimedia and files
- Social interactions and engagement
- Data from Analytics (volume of traffic, average time spent on page, source of traffic, bounce rate etc.)
And of course any micro-conversions you may have defined previously set.
2. Assigning values
Now that you have the dataset you can assign certain values to the content. For example:
- Keep-as-is: content that is evergreen, brings in organic traffic and stays relevant with time.
- Update: valuable, but outdated content.
- Merge: pieces of content that can be more valuable if you merge them and create for example a skyscraper article.
- Remove: content that is outdated, not relevant, doesn’t bring in traffic – basically only worsens the stats of your site and probably consequently your rankings.
This is just an example, you can create your own system, even assign number values based on several factors. The point is to have an idea about what you have (and what you don’t), so you can start the content planning phase.
3. Planning the tasks
Now you can start thinking about your basic content strategy. You have almost everything for it: personas, niches, topics, data.
Start by setting the tasks for reorganizing and improving your existing content. Keyword research will play a huge part here and later on, so we dedicated the second part of this article entirely to it.
Start trimming the hedges: remove content that only hurts your site, improve and update everything you need to. Set deadlines, gather resources and pay attention to how your audience reacts.
Keep an eye on the little things like removing broken links from your older articles (SEMRush can help you with finding them) or using 301 redirects for pieces you remove or merge.
Before you start creating new content, however, there is another thing you must do, and that is a…
You probably know how your greatest competitors are, so check their sites (with SEMRush and Ahrefs for example). Do content audits on them: find out what their most successful pieces of content are, how are they publishing and promoting them, what keywords they use.
This way you can find best practices that might be useful to follow and practices you should avoid. And this is how you can also identify the content gap: take your list of topics that you created earlier and search for similar content at your competitors.
Find out what their best is and do it better! Use the skyscraper method, and you will not only gain attention and sympathy from the target audience but likely also better rankings.
Creating a content calendar
Now you are ready, you only need one last thing: a plan.
A content calendar will help you keep your strategy focused. It is going to help your team organize the work so valuable content actually gets created and published regularly and you also stay inside the budget.
You don’t need anything fancy: a shared Google Sheets document will serve your purposes perfectly.
Before you start filling it up, try to determine how much content can you actually create in a given time frame based on the capacity of your team and your budget, so you can set realistic goals for your content marketing strategy.
Create sheets of each month (or week) and start creating your timetable.
Include the following columns:
- Working title/headline
- Content type
- Primary and secondary keywords
- Conversion target, CTA
- Draft deadline
- Date to be published
- Current status
- URL of published content
You can also expand the sheet by adding data on when and how you are going to promote your content (including the platforms, dates, post types for example).
You should also make it easier for yourself to plan ahead, so in your calendar include holidays and relevant events.
Holidays are not just important because they can disrupt your content creation process, but also because you should always be looking for opportunities for creating hyper-relevant and timely content – and these are those opportunities.
Based on a holiday relevant to your audience you can even start experimenting with other types like challenges or contests.
In the previous chapters, we have told you everything you need to know about content research, planning and scheduling – except one. We only mentioned keyword research although it is probably the most important thing if you don’t want to just steer blindly with content creation. So the next few chapters are going to be about that entirely.
Keyword research: a guide to the basics
Now we are going to help you with all that. We are not only going to tell you everything about search volume, what are LSI keywords and also give you a step-by-step guide on how to run your very first keyword research.
Let’s start with the basics…
Keyword research should be the foundation of your online marketing. Without it, there cannot be efficient optimization, content or distribution. You have to know your target audience like the back of your hand – and also yourself.
Now we are going to help you with all that. We are not only going to tell you everything about search volume, what are LSI keywords and also give you a step-by-step guide on how to run your very first keyword research.
Let’s start with the basics…
The definition of keyword
In simple terms, a keyword is something a user types in the search box of any search engine.
Based on their length, we can define three kinds of keywords:
Experience shows that while you are doing keyword research you should be looking for long-tail expressions because they indicate the strongest intent. Search for those that have a significant search volume.
This way you can target the audience that has the largest potential to become your customers by converting on your site.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process with which you can determine the keywords that you should be optimizing to get the best results. Usually, these are the factors you should consider:
- Low difficulty, indicating that there is low competition for the given keyword – so it will be easier for you to get a good ranking.
- Relatively high search volume, so it can potentially bring in traffic that will be worth your time and effort.
- Relevant to your niche, products or services.
In order to find the optimal keywords, you should get to know the intentions and habits of your target audience. You should know what products, services or information they are searching for, how exactly they do that, what words and expressions they use if they are looking for specific products or brands or broader categories and so on.
If you start creating content without a keyword research, your efforts will likely remain fruitless. You won’t know what topics you should be covering, what are the questions your target audience is really searching answers for and what expressions to use so they can find your site with a search engine.
But if you do find the right keywords you can bring a high volume of organic traffic to your site, which is the best investment.
It also helps you to bring in not only traffic but the right kind of traffic. For example, you can bring people to your product page who have a strong purchase intent for exactly the kind of product you offer.
Or you can bring users to your blog who are looking for a comprehensive guide covering a given topic, with the most information available, but without an intent to purchase.
And if you don’t have a defined target audience, it will help you define it.
Keyword research steps
First: Find the right niche
This won’t be a particularly hard choice if you already have a website or a company. But you could always use some fine-tuning.
This is important because content marketing, content creation will play a huge role in your search engine optimization. (Basically, it will be its foundation.) On the long term, you can only be effective if you choose a niche that you or at least your team genuinely care about, that you are enthusiastic about.
This way you will be able to think of and create content that is not only high-quality but also has added value that your target audience cannot find elsewhere.
Second: Enhance your basic SEO skills
Get familiar with how search engines exactly work, why algorithm updates are important and what factors do they base their rankings on.
If you have don’t really have the basic information, you needn’t worry: we have prepared a comprehensive guide for you about everything you need to know about search engine optimization. I advise you to read it before you start searching for keywords.
Third: Use your common sense
There is no tool or software that can help you with exactly how a given audience will search for products you may provide. You can get suggestions, related searches and sort them according to the metrics we cover in this article – but you have to be the one to properly interpret the data and choose the keywords your audience naturally uses and you can include in your content, on your pages.
Creating your content on your site will not be about throwing in the best keywords: you have to craft copy that is comprehensible, useful, relevant and natural. And also optimize different pages for different intentions of your target audience.
A guide to niche keyword research
If you have your niche and you can define your target audience better, the next step is researching topics for your content. Of course the keyword research itself can help you greatly with this, but not all the way – so here you can find a few tips from us about how you can fill up your content calendar for months in advance.
In the first few weeks coming up with topics is easy, but I can guarantee you that this feeling will go away more sooner than later, even if you have a niche you know very well.
Ask your colleagues, read niche sites, ask your audience (on social media or on your site, or even in the email with some incentive in exchange for their insight), and also pay attention to the questions your customer support receives.
If these channels are depleted, it’s time to dive in with the following methods:
- Check Quora and other Q&A sites: look for questions relevant to your niche, find out what your target audience is interested in. And pay attention to what kinds of answers they receive. Most likely you can answer most of these questions in a more detailed, comprehensive way, by creating skyscraper articles, guides, listicles or infographics. Let’s do that.
- Go to Reddit and search for your relevant topics. Check out how the conversation goes, what other topics pop up, what people seem interested about, and how they talk about it. Also, pay attention to their opinions, their style.
- Use BuzzSumo: search for the most popular topics in your niche and have a look at the most popular related content. This way you can find dozens of shoulder niches before you get too far from the core topic. For example: if you are an SEO expert, you will likely find that your audience is interested in other related subjects like web development, content marketing, consumer psychology and so on.
- Have a look at what Google autocomplete has in store for you. Type in different versions of the most common subjects – the suggestions you get will be the most popular long-tail topics users search for. These might not be all relevant (keyword research will reveal more about this), but you can get a great list of very specific questions you can answer.
- Keep an eye out for comments, emails and all kinds of feedback you receive your customers: random questions you get asked may provide the best topics you can write about. What is even better: they are already validated topics, you know for certain that your audience is curious about them.
Write down all the topics you find and create a list – but at first, not a content calendar. When you have done a comprehensive search for topics and you have dozens (or even hundreds), then you are ready to start the keyword research to narrow the list down based on difficulty, opportunity and search volume and optimize what remains.
What you have to know about keyword research
Keyword value metrics
There are a number of metrics that can determine the value of a certain keyword – and probably they won’t be all relevant for you. Let’s have a look at the most important ones.
If there is not enough people searching for a given keyword, it can be as easy to rank for it as you want, it can be hyper-relevant – but it is still going to be worthless.
Of course defining ‘enough’ here can be tricky. Budget, the type of product or service, pricing, intent, CTR and conversion rate can all be important factors.
For example, imagine that you are selling mugs as an eCommerce retailer. If only 20-30 people search for a relevant keyword in a month, it’s hardly worth for you to optimize for that as a primary or even secondary keyword.
Considering CTR and average conversion rate you will only be able to realize a handful of sales, and with a low-cost product like a mug, your investment will not return.
But if you are selling a high-value, expensive luxury product and find a hyper-relevant long-tail keyword, then even a low search volume might that may suit your needs.
If you can optimize perfectly for ‘where to buy luxury yacht San Francisco’, well, even one closed deal per quarter may worth the effort you put in raking first, as your profit will be significantly higher.
Keywords by intent
We can categorize keywords based on the (supposed) intent of the user. Below are the most important ones that can tell you if it’s worth for you to even start to work with them.
- Purchase intent (transactional)
These are clearly signaling that the user is a potential customer: they want to spend money in exchange for some kind of solution, and from the long-tail keywords you can probably learn what that is and even where they would like to buy it.
A typical example may be ‘buy used car’ (which by the way has a monthly search volume of ~4,900 in the US). These can be accompanied by keywords indicating the location, so it looks like this: ‘buy used car in san antonio’. Only 100 people search for this exact expression in a month – but it has a difficulty of only 5 out of 100, indicating it is very easy to get to the top.
A used car dealership in San Antonio should definitely start optimizing for it because it indicates a very strong buying intent with a very specific location focus…
Other expressions indicating a buying intent could be ‘coupon’, ‘cheap’, ‘purchase’ and so on.
Of course you will find searches mentioning specific brands or products – if you have that kind of product these can be super-useful combined with other keywords that narrow down the focus.
- Product-related intent
Searches indicating a weaker purchase intent: this is when you are still thinking about what to buy.
You have a need, you have a solution in mind, but you are not really sure, so you are looking for price comparisons, product reviews, tests and so on.
Paying attention to these keywords will give you great content ideas: by using them you can create content that will help your potential customer to get more valuable and reliable information on the products, brands and alternative solutions.
- Informational intent
We use these when we are aware that we have a problem, but we have no purchase intent (yet, at least) and we are searching for a solution. The problem can be anything from a clogged drain to not being able to remember the name of an actor.
Guides, walkthroughs, wikis, skyscraper articles are all types of content that can be used perfectly to answer these questions.
- Navigational intent
We use these when we are trying to find something – the website of a brand we have never visited for example, or a site we don’t remember the URL for.
Here you can’t do much apart from optimizing your site in a way that you rank first for your own brand, which should be the easiest task.
CPC tells you how much do you have to pay if you want to bring in paid traffic from certain SERPs. As the name suggests, you pay for the clicks, not the appearances of your ad. It can be a great indicator of how popular a certain keyword is among your competitors and thus how valuable are certain keywords.
Google Ads Competition
IF you are using the Google Keyword Planner, you can see that for every keyword there is an indicator telling you how high the competition is for a certain keyword. However, it won’t tell you much as it has only three values:
High competition means there are a lot of advertisers who would like to display their ads for that keyword. These are likely keywords that bring high conversion rates for advertisers (otherwise they wouldn’t pay the higher price for the ads). Still, the question is how relevant they are for you.
You can also get a picture about competition if you simply run a few searches in Google and have a look at what kind of ads appear and what companies are behind them.
You should also get a clue about the context of your keywords’ popularity. Google Trends can show you not only the current search volume for keywords but also how these volumes changed over time, all the way back to 2004. You can figure out if there are seasonal peaks or if current trends indicate you will get high or low search volumes in the near future.
So you will be able to see if a keyword with high volume has been becoming less and less popular for month or years – and it may not be profitable to optimize for it on the long run. And you can also identify keywords that are not so popular currently, but they are gaining attention and by optimizing for them you can secure your position before anyone else.
Latent Semantic Indexing keywords help Google to better understand what your pages are about. The best example may be ‘apple’: if you optimize for it, Google should know if you are offering iPhones or the fruit.
By including LSI, or in other words: contextually relevant keywords on your pages like ‘Steve Jobs’, ‘smartphone’, ‘technology’, Google will understand that you are not trying to sell food. This way it can provide more relevant results for users and improve their own service.
If you want to find LSI keywords, first you should feed your primary and secondary keywords into the free tool LSIGraph, and you will instantly get a nice list.
You can also simply use Google: have a look at what the autocomplete offers for your keywords and what relevant searches appear on SERPs.
A search engine result page is the page you get if you run a search for a keyword in a search engine – this is self-explanatory.
A SERP analysis will show you data about the results currently displayed for the keywords that are relevant and valuable for your long-term strategy. If you have a look at the current results you could determine if they are really relevant for your business as SERPs are created mostly based on user habits and intents as the algorithm sees them.
You can also have a pretty good idea about how hard it would be to rank in the top.
You should have a look at how stable are rankings are in the case of the given keywords: if the top rankings are constantly changing that likely means that even the best results are not that strong and you have a chance to jump at the top.
You should do a thorough analysis of these sites to identify any content gaps and SEO deficiencies that you may be able to leverage.
Analyze what types of content they use and how efficiently, how they promote them and what target audience are they trying to reach and engage.
We have already mentioned this type before: these are expressions with multiple words or even whole sentences, so they can by hyper-relevant if you can pinpoint the exact intentions of the users. Of course, it is likely that the longer the keyword the lower the search volume is going to be.
But it is still much more profitable for you to aim at these than generic ‘body’ type keywords where CPC and competition are probably very high while relevancy for you is low.
Long-tail keywords provide a great opportunity for you not only because the competition is low. Search volume may be lower, but those fewer users are searching for products, services or answers in a much more targeted way. So if you have what they need and optimize right you can maximize your CTR and conversion rate relatively easily.
If someone runs a search for ‘buy used car’ there may be hundreds or thousands of dealerships with offers that may be relevant. But if a user types in ‘buy used car in brooklyn ny’ the competition is down to a handful.
As these more relevant searches tend to have higher CTR and conversion rate it may be financially rational to optimize for them depending on the volume even if you sell lower value products. But you should target more than one – actually, dozens at a time while always looking at how rankings and trends change by time.
Usually, a value between 0 and 100 that can be determined by using search optimization tools.
If difficulty is high that means that it would be very hard to get ahead of the sites that rank best for them. That might be because those sites are very well optimized, with a high-performing technical background and hundreds of valuable backlinks. (We have a SEO case study where you can learn about really effective backlink building.)
To get ahead a site like this it may take years of dedicated work and with no guarantee that it is even possible. Only the largest companies can count on high-budget strategies like that to return the investment in a reasonable amount of time.
The value you get for difficulty may change by up to 10-20 points based on what tool you are using, so you should always be a bit skeptical and run your own SERP analysis, and determine difficulty with more than one tool.
As a rule of thumb, you should be looking for keywords that have a difficulty value of 20 or lower. These are the ones you can conquer even with a smaller budget.
How not to do keyword research
As you can see there are many steps where you can make mistakes. There are two typical mistakes almost everyone new to keyword research makes.
The first is if they simply identify some keywords with high search volume (maybe even check them out in Google Trends) and they start optimizing for them right away. They start to use them in their content, meta descriptions, headlines and subheadlines and so on.
And that is how they burn through their budget, because not only they are actively targeting keywords that are less relevant for them, but as they didn’t do a SEPR analysis they probably don’t even know that they are trying to compete with sites and companies that have million dollar budgets for optimization.
Judging difficulty based on ‘competition’ for example: these two values are not tied to each other, they are based on entirely different sets of data. Targeting keywords with low competition doesn’t mean that you can rank better for them organically with ease.
Free keyword research tools
If you know what you are looking for in terms of keywords and data, finding it won’t be a problem as there are a great number of freely available tools that you can use online.
One of your greatest mistakes would be not using these to their full potential and only using the tools Google provides you.
But in order to build a strategy based on these, you must be able to understand everything we have told you before in the section about the most important keyword metrics. Usually, these values are not set in stone, they are approximations and not all of them will be relevant for your strategy.
Tools from Google
As Google is the largest search engine and they are the only ones with direct access to their data, their tools are the most important even if they are the most basic on this list.
This is what you can get using their tools:
- Keyword suggestions.
- Relevant searches.
- Results of difficulty analysis.
- User intents.
If you want to use Google to its best, you should also learn some of the functions. For example one of the most commonly used by SEO experts is the site:search function that filters search results for a certain domain.
Trends is a great tool that can tell you:
- The approximate current search volume for given keywords.
- How they performed in the past (back to 2004).
- How they perform in different geographical regions.
And you can also compare these metrics with multiple keywords.
In order to use the Keyword Planner you are going to need an Ads (formerly AdWords) account. It can show you what Google thinks are the most relevant keywords for you, what kind of competition they have (in the case of paid ads) and you will also get suggestions about related keywords you should have a look at.
It is not a tool, at least not one we can use, but it can still be important as a signal. Let me elaborate.
Compared to earlier versions of the algorithm, RankBrain can also interpret two very important things:
- How users interact with organic results.
- What is their intent when they run searches.
It is the second thing that is currently relevant to us. When doing SERP analysis you may find that for different long-tail keywords the result pages look very similar, with the same sites ranking at top positions.
As RankBrain is one of the three most important ranking factors currently, from results like that you can conclude that the machine-learning based algorithm thinks that the search intent in similar or the same in these cases.
Based on this you can create more complex lists of primary and secondary keywords and optimize better.
The MOZ Keyword Explorer can be a very useful tool as you can get a lot of data using it, including:
- Search volume
- Keyword difficulty
- Keyword opportunity
- Keyword potential
- Related keywords
Keyword opportunity shows you how many clicks actually happen on result pages compared to the search volume of the keyword. From this you can draw conclusions: if the SERP analysis tells you for example that top ranking sites change positions frequently and there are much more clicks than actual searches, you can theorize they are not finding that they are looking for.
Keyword potential, on the other hand, shows you how difficult it would be for you to actually rank in a top position based on the current sites on the SERP, which indicates if a certain keyword is worth even dealing with.
It is no coincidence that SEMRush is one of the favorite tools of SEO experts: you can access a great many features that will help you not only in keyword research but also optimization, gaining backlinks and improving the technical aspects of your site.
It can show you a detailed keyword profile for given sites, so you can perform competitor and SERP analysis better.
You can also start your research by simply feeding it one keyword. Based on this the tool will provide a list of long-tail keywords for you that you can have a more detailed look at – if you would like to know how, stick around, because we included a step-by-step guide for that in the next chapter.
When you start typing something in the search box of Google, the algorithm tries to help you with it via autocomplete based on earlier searches. This can help you in researching keyword as you get long-tail and LSI keywords, but there is one downside: you only get a handful of suggestions at a time.
This is where Ubersuggest comes in: it’s basically an extension of the Google autocomplete feature, so if you feed it a keyword, it will extract the suggestions and give you a long list that you can use.
Another tool that will help you with finding long-tail keywords with which you can start the thorough research phase (see the next chapter).
It is very easy and simple to use: you provide a primary keyword and you get a list of relevant long-tail results that contain it.
Tutorial: Keyword research step-by-step
You can find many tools for keywords research, free and paid both. This time we used one of our favorites that can provide comprehensive data about your site, backlinks and keywords.
The keyword research tool
For this tutorial, we are going to use a tool we did not mention on our previous list: Ahrefs.
It’s one of the best SEO tools out there that can provide a very large amount of useful data – in the following chapter we are going to show you the most important ones and how you should interpret them regarding keyword research.
So, the first step is…
1. Finding your niche and relevant keywords
As we have talked about it in the article, if you want to start optimizing first you should find a long-tail keyword that is highly relevant to your business. Also, it should have a decent search volume so in the long term we can bring in significant organic traffic by ranking in the top for it.
Also, you should find one that is not targeted by high-quality content as it will make your work much harder (see the section about SERP analysis).
Let’s say you sell running shoes. You will most likely start by looking at a term like ‘best running shoes’, given that this indicates at least a weak intent on the part of the users to purchase what you have.
You are wrong about that by the way, but we will get back to this.
First, we type in that keyword and set the location to the United States (as you can see on the bottom right corner of the box).
This is going to give you comprehensive data about the keyword.
The metric that first draws your attention is the estimated difficulty of the keyword, which here is very low.
As you can see it is estimated that if you create a page with content that gets 17 backlinks (from different domains) you can rank in the top 10 results for this keyword. This value, however, is solely based on the number of backlinks that the current top 10 pages have, so there can be a number of other factors in play.
You can also see that there is a seasonal trend: it is no surprise that people tend to search more for the best running shoes in the spring and beginning of summer.
Then there you can see the estimated number of clicks this SERP produces in a month. If you compare the numbers you can actually reach some interesting conclusions. For example, this keyword has a 50K volume a month with 55K clicks. But as only about 35K of the searches ran results in a click the 1.1 clicks per search ratio translates to ~1.57 clicks per user.
Meaning that most people who do click do so on multiple results – and by looking at the phrase we started with, probably because they are comparing the results, want to get more information.
So should you start optimizing for this keyword?
Actually, you could stand a pretty good chance of ranking good with a top list for the given year if you gain backlinks for it. But should you do it?
Take a look at how the SERP currently looks:
As you can see there is a ton of content that appears before the organic results – a snippet, 5 shopping results, 4 related questions, and the first organic result even has 3 more site links displayed.
While we can see from the data above that 92% of the click got to organic results, they are pushed down by all the stuff appearing at the beginning of the page – which means it may not be enough to get in the top 10, if you want to direct a significant amount of the traffic to your site you should rank much higher.
At the ‘Keyword ideas’ section, you can see a lot of suggestions in different categories. Let’s have a look at those that contain the same terms that we first tried.
We get a list like this:
Let’s have a look at the metrics you can see on this screen and exactly what they mean:
- KD (Keyword Difficulty): the estimated difficulty of ranking in the top 10 for the given keyword. Its value can be 0 to 100.
- CPC (Cost-per-Click): Estimated value of a given keyword in US dollars.
- Volume: Estimated monthly search volume in a given country. The volume is an average of the last 12 months, so if you have a keyword with high seasonality (e.g. ‘Christmas’) be sure to check the trends.
- Clicks: The total number of clicks on the search results on the result page for the given keyword. Some searches can result in multiple clicks if you are looking to compare sources, for example, others may result in none if a user doesn’t find what they are looking for.
- CPS (click-per-Search): The estimated average number of clicks a user performs during a search.
- RR (Return Rate): a relative value indicating how many times users on average tend to search for the same keyword again.
- Parent topic: a more general keyword that you could target on your site while still ranking for the more specific one.
You can see here that there are much better long-tail options to optimize for.
If your goal would be to sell shoes and not provide valuable content, ‘best cheap running shoes’ would be a very good choice: it has a decent volume, very low (8) difficulty, a good number of clicks and it is clearly a transactional type instead of an informational.
You also have great product-related options like ‘best nike running shoes’ or ‘best adidas running shoes’ that would be easy to rank for.
This can either be a transactional or informational keyword: some of the users are probably looking for a shoe they should buy, some of them want to learn about what a running shoe should be like if it’s for flat feet.
There you have a great niche topic, and the SERP also looks better: there are no shopping results and ranking high on this page would be much easier. As you can see there are only two results with a significant amount of backlinks and linking domains here.
There also seems to be an anomaly: there in the second organic position there is a page with almost no referring domains or backlinks, with a low Domain Rating and URL Rating. How can it rank better than the third which has dozens of linking domains and much better rating?
Well, the organic traffic might give us a clue: as it ranks for a lot of other keywords too, it generates the most organic traffic on this list and as it is quality content users probably spend more time on the page – which is just as important a metric for Google as the backlink profile.
So, you have yourself a nice long-tail keyword that is specific and you can create great content for. Are you done? Not by a long shot.
2. Finding more niches and variations
It’s time to find some secondary keywords that the content should include.
First, have a look at the ‘Also rank for’ section. Here you can find the keywords that the sites ranking for your primary keyword also rank for. As you can see there are a number of keywords that are similar in nature as they refer to medical conditions – including ‘pronated’ and ‘pronation’, ‘overpronation shoes’, ‘shoes with good arch support’, ‘best running shoes for plantar fasciitis’ and so on.
These are good for two things:
They widen the niche a bit and your future content starts to take shape. Here, for example, you can write an article about running shoes that are specifically created for certain medical conditions, with ‘flat feet’ in your focus.
You can include a list of different conditions, a description of the different types of shoes and even a list about specific shoes that are the best in each category – here you can include product-related keywords that, as you have seen, are also pretty easy to rank for.
Second: these can be the secondary keywords that you can include in the meta, subheadlines and in the body copy itself. They are also very good LSI keywords.
You can also filter your search: for example, you can tell Ahrefs to only show you keywords that have a relatively high search volume but low difficulty.
Select the ones that you find relevant and create a new list of keywords!
3. Finding more LSI keywords
You can find even more LSI keywords if you go back to the analysis of the keyword and click on the Search suggestions section. But as we already have a long-tail keyword this may not be practical. Instead, try going back to a parent topic.
If you run ‘flat feet’ in keyword explorer, you get a list of Search suggestions like this:
Here you can see there are a number of relevant keywords that you can use in your content like ‘flat feet shoes’, ‘flat feet pain’, ‘flat feet exercises’. Select these and add them to your list!
After creating a list, you can get an overview of the keywords you gathered that will look something like this:
4. Prioritizing your keywords
If on the list you click on the Metrics tab, you will get a keyword list just like earlier, but compiled from those you have selected based on data and your common sense. Here you can also use the filters so when creating your list (steps 1-3.) you don’t have to really worry about adding very high-difficulty or low-volume keywords.
And after setting the filters, you are basically ready: you have a list of possibly hundreds of relevant keywords with the right metrics. You can use the list here in Ahrefs when creating your content, but you can also export the list with the Export button in the top right corner of the list:
This way you can further customize it, upload data to other tools, provide a list that is easier to handle for you copywriters and so on.
Let’s have a look at the process once more:
- Find your niche.
- Find a generic keyword in it.
- Run it in a keyword analyzer.
- Analyze the results, look at the metrics.
- Find a long-tail keyword with the right opportunity.
- Start creating a list of related keywords.
- Add long-tail and LSI keywords to your list.
- Analyze your competitors.
- Start creating content based on your lists of keywords and start ranking better while keeping an eye on all important aspect of SEO.
You have nothing left to learn about the basics: now you know how you can segment your audience, find content ideas, organize and schedule content creation and hot to create a basic list of keywords for your first highly optimized piece of content. You know the metrics and how to define and interpret them.
You have the knowledge to gain organic traffic on any market, in any niche, using the freely available online tools. Let’s get started!