Topic, audience, and competitive research are incredibly valuable exercises to ideate, plan, and execute a content calendar. They're also at the core of any successful SEO strategy.
From that research, you'll build content on URLs, linked together in a way that help Google and users understand what the content on your website is about and what its purpose is. Using a targeted content strategy like this will drive qualified organic traffic to your website. But without the proper research into topics and supporting subtopics, you won’t know what your target audience is looking for or what your competitors are doing on their websites. Most importantly, you likely won’t rank well in Google search results for the most relevant terms that you should. This leaves opportunity on the table for your top competition.
Your assumptions about the best topics and keywords to target within your website’s content may not exactly match what your target audience is actually searching for. This is why solid research is a crucial starting point when you’re optimizing existing content or planning for new content.
While there’s no way to predict target audience searches with 100% accuracy, there are ways to maximize the data available.
- Ahrefs, Surfer SEO, Semrush - discovery of new content topics and quick analysis of search intent
- Google Analytics - learn what content on your website appeals to target audience and converts
- Google Search Console - see what non-branded keywords and queries people are searching to currently find your website
- Google AdWords - see what keywords you’re already prioritizing; test out landing pages
- Bing Webmaster Tools - see what keywords and queries people are searching to currently find your website
- Thruuu - Quickly analyze search results to see what Google prioritizes a search term
Use the Pareto Principle!
Long-tail, semantic keywords are where you’ll see the most opportunity and success in gaining organic visibility and traffic.
- Short-tail search terms (i.e. “blue hat”) comprise only 30% of overall searches
- The opportunity lies in 70% of searches, which are long tail (i.e. adjustable blue canvas hat)
Since it’s never feasible to strategize 100% of the content that should exist on a website, we recommend approaching keyword research and content planning based on the 80/20 Pareto principle - the 20% that’s going to make 80% of the difference.
Set up a framework to define content goals
Understand your audience
The following questions are very important and should be the focus of any audience / topic / keyword research report:
- Who are they?
- What are they searching for?
- Why are they searching for it?
- How can we deliver the information they need better than anyone else? (content + UX)
Understand your competitors
Understanding competitors and their content strategy is essential to staying competitive in organic search. Ensure the following questions are answered:
- What are competitors doing right?
- How do we take what they’re doing right and do it better? (content + UX)
Some notes about competitors:
- Competitors are anyone who is publishing similar content - might not always be real world competitors.
- Engagement does influence SEO
- It’s essential to look at on-page content, structure of content/website and off-site signals.
Understand keywords and topics and how to use them
Thorough content that discusses topics in-depth is incredibly important. However, keywords still play a role in SEO, but at this point, they are only a piece of the puzzle.
Keyword research should aim to answer the following questions:
- What are the most popular topics?
- How and why to choose keywords and topics by search volume
- What are the most relevant topics?
- How and why to choose keywords and topics by search intent
- What should pieces of content speak to?
- How to use keywords and topics to inform the structure of content
- Where should content be placed on the website?
- How to use high-level research data to inform where content should live
Since this research has a tendency to contain a significant amount of data, it’s essential to take time to manually clean up exported data from tools. The final product is typically a Google Sheet that displays data in the following ways:
- Keywords grouped by topic / category
- Keyword search volume
- Keywords grouped by intent
- Keywords and topics grouped by what webpage they’ll likely exist on
- Keyword / topic priority
Simple SEO research process to build a content calendar
Step 1: Brainstorm & document seed keywords
Seed keyword ideas typically come from reading competitive content, looking at market trends or Google Trends, talking with customers, or in your mind.
Below are some quick exercises to get you started:
1. Start by brainstorming keywords that are relevant to your industry and website
2. Look up & document synonyms
3. Determine areas of focus in industry:
- People, places, companies, projects, ideas
- Also look at websites of industry leaders
4. Broaden list by thinking of higher-level terms
5. Review existing site for key phrases
6. Review industry association and/or media sites
7. List out brand terms
8. List out all sections and content of your website
9. Imagine being a customer searching
10. Ask people outside business what they would search for
11. See what terms people are currently using to find your site (Google Search Console)
Step 2: Find more keywords
Using a keyword discovery tool, use the seed keywords to identify additional keywords & topics. Semrush is the tool we recommend using for this, as it automates the discovery of keywords and measurement of search volume (how many times people search for the keyword every month).
Step 3: Remove and consolidate duplicates and near-duplicates
This will help you focus on keeping the final list digestible and actionable. Microsoft Excel / Google Sheets is a good tool for this.
Step 4: Remove irrelevant keywords
These will appear no matter how you approach step #2 above. Microsoft Excel / Google Sheets is a good tool for this.
Step 5: Bucket-ize & categorize keywords by theme
The goal of this step is to be able to summarize and prioritize keywords and topics by common themes. Microsoft Excel / Google Sheets is a good tool for this.
Step 6: Bucket-ize and categorize keywords by search intent
This manual step can take a lot of time, but it will help you weed out keywords that will ultimately provide little-to-no value to your content efforts.
Google tries to understand what a user is looking for based on the words they type, and previous users patterns. Google categorizes most searches into the following categories:
- Navigational - Looking for a specific brand or product
- Informational - Looking for information, not necessarily purchase-related
- Transactional - Ready to buy, knows what they need
- Commercial - Needs help making a purchase decision
Learn more about search intent and how Google works here.
Step 7: Prioritize keywords to inform content
By filtering your keyword list by theme, search intent, and search volume, you’ll be able to start to visualize how keywords fit into a page’s content. If the steps above were successful, the highest volume keywords within each themed category will end up being the primary keyword/topic for a piece of content. To best inform what the content should look like in the end, you’ll find value in searching those terms on Google and performing SERP Analysis on the top-ranking content (usually the top-5 results)
SERP = Search Engine Results Page
SERP analysis is the process of analyzing real-world competitors based on specific queries/keywords.
The goal of SERP analysis is to create a final plan for:
- A single piece of content;
- A section of content;
- Structure of the website; or
- Other UX and technical improvements
SERP analysis helps you understand:
- How Google interprets a search / what they think the right content is
- What ranking content is doing well, and how you can improve functionality, content, and other elements of your website
- A SERP analysis also gives you insight into the intent behind a search and what information is needed to see (or not needed to see) on a webpage.
Documentation of the results is completely up to you. Typically, we like to compile these into the same Google Sheet we use for keyword research. Thruuu is a tool we use to help automate some of this work.
Step 8: Create the content calendar
Translate your findings to a new document to create a plan to fill the gaps you identified on your website.