Search engine optimization (SEO) can sometimes be treated as an afterthought, but columnist Nate Dame outlines how keyword research can be instrumental in planning and developing an effective content calendar.
Too many marketers still bring SEO in at the end of a content marketing project. They finish a blog post or finalize a new marketing campaign, and at the end of the line, SEO comes in to find related keywords and plug them into content.
Unfortunately, this approach is outdated and completely ineffective.
Robust, modern SEO research can decipher who your real audience is online, where visitors are in the buyer’s journey, what information they’re looking for, and what content format they prefer. These insights lead to more effective content strategies.
But if SEO is only given a voice at the end of the line, it’s too late to utilize the insights it provides. To fully enjoy the benefits — and optimize every piece of content — SEO must be a foundational part of every project from the beginning.
1. Keywords should help determine content, not decorate it
Most online experiences start with keywords — so marketers should, too.
There are a lot of ways to source ideas and inspiration for a content calendar, but questions that come in to customer service and comments overheard in the office aren’t necessarily what digital users are looking for. Content with SEO value needs to be inspired by the questions and needs that are being asked online.
And the best source for that information is Google.
Effective content strategies start with keyword research, because modern keyword research provides significant insight into what audiences want and need. The process enables marketers to identify user needs, brainstorm content ideas that satisfy those needs, and create the right content the first time. It also helps generate ample content ideas for filling editorial calendars.
2. Keyword research should define content
When expanded to discover user intent, keyword research tells marketers how to create content: what type of information is needed, who needs the information, and where searchers are in the buying journey.
Marketers can conduct searches for keywords and use search results to gather important content insights:
What type of information is needed? If search results for your target keyword offer beginner-level information, how-to guides or basic definitions, then the goal behind the keyword is general knowledge acquisition, or learn intent. If results include product feature or pricing comparisons, user reviews and brand landing pages, then the goal behind the keyword is to make a purchasing decision, or purchase intent.
Who needs the information? If search results are highly technical or provide very detailed information, the audience is likely individual contributors. If search results are high-level thought leadership pieces, the audience is more likely executives. User intent research provides insight into the persona who’s searching for a specific keyword, which allows marketers to personalize content for the appropriate audience.
Where are searchers in the buying journey? Keywords that result in introductory-level content are commonly used by searchers who are still in the “building awareness” stage — they may not even know they have a problem that needs to be solved. On the other hand, keywords that produce product comparison content suggest that users are aware they have a problem and have decided to make a purchase to solve it.
This type of keyword research enables the ideas captured in editorial calendars to be expanded with incredible detail. When content is written, it will include the right information, be addressed to the right audience and cater to the appropriate journey position, eradicating the waste caused by discovering these details after content is completed.
3. SERP analysis reveals Google’s ranking priorities
SERP analysis helps marketers decipher Google’s algorithmic preferences. In order to earn high rankings, marketers have to know which factors are priorities for their industry, content, niche, etc. Otherwise, they may waste time and effort pursuing things — such as certain keywords — that might not be important to their business.
Marketers can analyze page-one search results to develop a personalized list of ranking factors for their niche or industry. By comparing consistencies in top results — such as publication date, page load speeds, use of visual media, and related topics covered — the most pertinent ranking factors can be identified and addressed:
If most results point to video content, it’s because users who search for that keyword prefer videos.
If most results point to text content that exceeds 3,000 words, users are looking for comprehensive, long-form content.
If results are a blend of tables, infographics, videos, and slideshows, users searching for that keyword likely prefer visual content.
Identifying your top ranking factors allows marketers to anticipate user preferences and create the right content, in the right format, the first time.
Using SEO research to improve existing content
Don’t worry if your content has already been developed and published — it’s never too late to get started. Auditing existing content using SEO research insights is an extremely effective way to boost engagement and rankings without starting from scratch. Identify underperforming content, extract targeted keywords, and conduct user intent research.
Start by determining if existing content satisfies user intent. If search results for your target keyword are mostly defining the term and teaching about the concept, but your website is only offering a product page, you’re missing the mark on user intent. That page needs to either be updated to target the correct intent, or new content should be created to target the right intent.
Next, check content against buying journeys and personas. New insights might show that you have an excess of early-stage content, but nothing that really speaks to the decision-maker who’s ready to purchase. Make sure you have content that caters to every stage of the journey — and calls-to-action that help guide the user on your site — so you’re equipped to take leads all of the way through the funnel.
Finally, compare content as a whole to what you gathered in your research. Determine if content is in the best possible format for engaging users, take time to understand if it’s written for the right audience, and consider if calls-to-action and other navigational elements are appropriate for the stage of the buying journey that content caters to. Revise any elements that aren’t aligned with user intent insights.
This exercise allows marketers to derive more value from existing content, as well as expand the editorial calendar even further by identifying content gaps that need to be filled.
Modern SEO keyword research creates effective content strategies
Conducting keyword research at the end of a project, or after content is written, is little more than a shot in the dark for effective SEO. It’s user intent research that forms the groundwork for increased engagement and rankings by illuminating detailed information about who’s searching for specific keywords, what information they’re looking for, and what type of content they prefer.
Google — the master of connecting keywords to user goals — has all of the information needed to create effective content strategies, if we’re willing to read between the lines.
It’s never too late to change your approach to SEO. If your SEO efforts aren’t “working,” and your content isn’t increasing conversions, it’s time to shift. If you’re not convinced, or need to start slowly, begin with under-performing content. Look at search results for target keywords and see what insights you’ve missed.