We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: although it might be popular to call keywords “irrelevant”, they’re really anything but… it’s just that now, to really make them work effectively, you’ve got to be smarter about it.
This is an issue that a lot of content marketers run into—and one, it seems, with a thousand different solutions. Fortunately, there are a few key strategies that can help you build your keyword list not just efficiently, but intelligently.
Here are 9 of our top tips to help you make sense of your keyword strategy, and help make sure your content is optimized to hit the right users, with the right message, at the right time.
Check Your Existing Google Ads Data
If you’re already running paid ads on Google, the most effective keyword research tool might already be right there in front of you.
By taking a look through your recent PPC performance, you should get a clear picture of which keywords your PPC efforts are already performing well on... and give you a heads-up to where organic opportunity exists for your brand.
By looking closely at your Google Ads performance, you’ll get a clear idea of how much you’re spending per keyword. You’ll also be able to see which keywords you’re struggling with, and where building your base of organic content can help drive down your paid CPC.
Use These Keyword Research Tools To Jump On Opportunities
Fortunately for marketers everywhere, there are more than a few really high-quality keyword research tools out there for you to use—most of them free (at least for a while).
As you get to building your keyword list for your content strategy, think about taking a look at some (or, better yet, all) of these tools for helpful direction:
This is definitely one of our favorites, mainly because it’s a little like getting the answers to the test right from the teacher’s desk.
Google Trends is Google’s way of letting users know which searches are the most popular on Google right now. You can filter by date range, the geographical location of searchers, and search type to see where new trends are emerging and where they’re taking hold.
Take, for example, this look at searches all throughout the United States for “coffee subscriptions” over the last year. Notice anything… out of the ordinary?
Yeah, there’s a nice spike around the holidays each year—but look at March 2020. Clearly, as everybody started to hunker down for quarantine, thoughts turned to keeping the flow of coffee coming.
Whether you’re a large-scale coffee subscription company or a small coffee roaster looking for new business opportunities, having insights on these sudden trends can be a huge boon to your content efforts, and could seriously move the needle for your business.
Google Suggest (Autofill)
When we talk about “keywords,” it’s actually pretty rare that we’re actually referring to single words—and, in fact, even “long-tail” keywords don’t even really do justice to how Google works. These days, we’re really talking about natural language.
Google is now better than ever at thinking, writing, and reading like a real human being. That means your content needs to be written for human beings too—no more keyword stuffing, no more ghost text.
And although it might seem simple, that’s where a tool like Google’s autofill feature can actually make a huge difference. It may be one of the best tools out there to tell you not only how searchers are phrasing their queries, but also how else they might betraying to communicate their particular problems.
Let’s stick with the coffee subscription: say you’ve started with the basic concept, but you’re looking for new ways to expand your thinking. Just type in your term in the Google search bar and see what comes up:
Some good suggestions! Clearly, there’s traffic around “coffee subscription gifts,” “coffee subscription boxes,” and even “coffee subscription free trial.” If you can create content to speak to any of these expanded terms, you’ll gain some serious keyword traction.
Best of all, you can even take the search further by adding just a letter or two:
See? This opens up a whole new range of keywords to explore - “fair trade,” “free shipping,” and some much more specific searches. Target these niche searches, and you may just earn yourself a new, dedicated audience.
AnswerThePublic is one of the most well-known keyword exploration tools, and gives really easy-to-understand visualizations of keyword searches for each 1-2 word term you search—sometimes, providing hundreds of useful related terms.
The best part: the tool is free (although there is a daily limit on searches, so use yours wisely).
Moz Keyword Explorer
Another free(ish) keyword research tool with a ton of name recognition is the Moz Keyword Explorer. Built and bettered by the experts at Moz, this is easily one of the most popular (and easy-to-use) keyword research tools on the web today, and one of our regular standbys for keyword finding.
It pretty much works like any other keyword research tool: enter your term, check the results… the, get writing. Moz only gives you 10 queries per month on the free plan, but it’s a great addition to your keyword toolbox:
RankTracker is part of Microsoft’s SEO Powersuite, a powerful combo of tools that has become something of a must-have for our SEO efforts. Ranktracker specifically is a super beneficial keyword tool that, although not free, allows for a direct connection between your Google Ads account for some pretty in-depth keyword research.
RankTracker has a ton of unique and cool features that really let you dive deep into content opportunities based on your current keyword performance. It also makes it easy to conduct Competitor Research, which lets you compare your site against your top competition to make sure you’re beating them where it counts most.
Check Your Own FAQs
The whole point of targeting keywords is to try and meet your customers—both existing and potential—where they already are.
But in most cases, they might already be telling you where they are, and in their own words no less.
The best keywords for your audience may be hidden in the most frequent questions you’re already being asked by your customers. Your FAQs can pretty quickly clue you in to what questions your audience has for your brand (or your industry in general), and where you’re not already providing those answers.
Analyze your recent comments & questions from your website visitors and social media fans to see if there are any immediate opportunities for content creation.
After all, if they’re asking your business, they’re probably asking the competition too. Why not provide that answer first?
On that note...
Watch The Competition… Then Strike
One of our favorite pieces of creative advice: steal like an artist (thanks, Austin Kleon).
Now, don’t literally steal anything… after all, it’s your original content that’s always going to provide the most value. But it’s also always a good idea to keep an eye on what your competition is doing now, and finding your own way to do it even better.
Tools like SpyFu can help you do this efficiently by filtering through your competitor’s domain, or you can simply take some time to see what kind of keywords your competition is focused on through manual searching right on Google.
If you can provide better content, more content, and more keyword-specific content, you’ll be able to blow their efforts out of the water.
Keep It Local, Keep It Seasonal
In the world of blogging and other content creation, everyone’s always thinking evergreen: hat’s going to have the most value, over the longest period of time. This is a solid strategy... but if you’re not also taking advantage of seasonal trends, you may be missing out on an easy way top make an impact on an attentive audience.
A seasonal keyword strategy may be as simple as creating content specifically for the time of year—say, “Tips on Grilling Your Burger Buns” before Fourth of July, or “Best Coffee Subscriptions for College Students” just before college move-in. Or, you may be able to simply adjust your existing content plan to maximize impact when search trends are high, repositioning content to take advantage of seasonal searches.
Similarly, don’t miss out on the power of keeping things local. A lot of online searchers are still looking for local solutions most of all, and by getting out in front of local keywords you could be positioning yourself on a wide-open avenue with minimal competition—if you catch it at the right time.
Here’s a tip: try sprinkling in the name of your hometown in your content for a while, and you might just see more of your neighbors knocking on your door.
Plant Your (Verbal) Flag Early And Start Searching From There
One good way to know where to stake your claim on keywords is to build your brand vocabulary naturally and see which phrases make their presence known the most. That means deciding where you’ll focus your organic content energy, and what you’ll hope to get from targeting those avenues.
As you build your content strategy, start a list of those relevant keywords most applicable to your offerings, and build content around those keywords. This is crucial to not only making yourself known to relevant audiences but also to give Google clues to those keywords where your site most deserves visibility.
In some instances, these keywords may make themselves known early and often. The more existing content you have on a keyword, the more opportunity to branch out & find relevant or related avenues.
Look For Places To Make Your Mark On An Active Community…
As you start to take action on your keyword strategy, don’t neglect the power of existing keyword traffic already driving your industry. Find an existing keyword or hashtag community on social media where there’s already a lot of traffic, and edge your way in.
You can accomplish this by providing good, relevant content anchored on an existing keyword. By doing so, you may just grab on to the attention of an already engaged audience.
...And Start Carving Out Your Own Space With Unique, Branded Keywords
While it’s always a good idea to target popular keywords and start carving out your own space in a crowded market, don’t neglect the value of building authority around your own branded keywords. Not only will these help closely associate you with your targeted generic keywords, but it will also serve as handy protection against competitors trying to snipe your space.
Start working on your own branded keywords in combination with your more generic, traffic-guided keywords. This is usually more simple thank you might think, especially if you’re sprinkling in your name or brand alongside your most valuable SEO-focused keywords, or
We’ve discussed previously how the flatbread pizza oven company Ooni put their unique hashtag #oonified to good use building their bank of User-Generated Content, and they’ve done a great job with pairing that (and their brand name) alongside their target keyword of “portable pizza ovens.” As a result, they’re now one of the first results to pop up organically when you search that more generic term.
But beyond the positive traction you’ll gain from your branded keywords, there’s another added benefit to this strategy: protection from the competition. As any good Google Ads expert will tell you, bidding on competitor branded keywords is just part of how the game is played. That means if you’re not actively trying to defend your territory, someone else might just be outbidding you—and stealing some of that valuable search traffic along the way.
Sprinkle In Keywords To Match User Intent
We all know how important it is to adjust your marketing efforts to match your users’ intent: when they’re close to conversion, it’s critical to hit them with the hard sell; if they’re still considering options, keep things a little softer and more informative.
You can use this same strategy when building your keyword strategy. Consider which keywords and what kind of search language your audience is using at various points along their journey, and work toward targeting them each step of the way.
Let’s go back to our example of the “coffee subscription” query:
- If your audience is just starting to consider looking for that, you may want to focus on more high-level, informative content: “coffee subscription sourcing,” “coffee subscription fair trade,” “coffee subscription comparisons,” etc. These require minimal buy-in from the consumer, but still provide plenty of important info to help with consideration.
- Once your audience has filtered down to users most likely to make a purchase, think about more action-oriented keywords: “coffee subscription free shipping,” “coffee subscription near me,” “coffee subscription free trial,” etc. These keywords are much more focused on urging quick action and driving toward the goal.
- Don’t forget to keep them coming back for more! Even after purchase, your audience may still want to stay engaged with your brand. Try keywords like “coffee subscription gifts,” “coffee subscription renewal,” “coffee subscription for office”, etc. These keywords are still closely related to the topic, but less focused on the initial hard sell. They may just help pick up some of that repeat business, and help boost your customers’ lifetime values.
Go Ahead, Say You Have “The Best Words”
We all know there’s value in a strong content marketing strategy, but getting there can be tough if you don’t have the right keywords keeping your content focused. That’s why, now more than ever, it’s critical to understand exactly how keywords play a role in your content planning, and how you can identify those terms most likely to make an impact on your brand.
If you’ve given these a try and you still feel like you’re struggling, don’t give up—we’ve been through it too, and we’ve come out the other side successfully. Don’t be afraid to drop a line if you need some encouraging words to help keep your strategy moving smoothly.
- Conor Snell
- Social Media & Content Strategist