As was clearly demonstrated in my interview with Marcus Sheridan, proper keyword selection is critical to the success of your content marketing strategy.
The ability to properly select keywords is also a huge part of how any firm can create a sustainable competitive advantage for themselves. How, you ask?
Think about this for a moment…your products and services can be copied by other firms. However, SEO is not easy to copy and keyword research is the the second step to SEO and content marketing success. (The first step is picking your target market.)
The problem for many entrepreneurs who are new to content marketing is that they don’t have a methodology for proper keyword research. Not having a system in place either leads to a flawed strategy, or, even worse, no strategy at all.
In this post, I’m going to provide you with an overview of the keyword research process, and then I’m going to dive deep into exactly how I do my own keyword research, so grab a cup of java and get ready to see an approach that differs from many that are published on other sites.
Ready? Good, let’s get on with it!
Understanding the Long Tail
Proper keyword research begins with an understanding of the different types of keywords. To help illustrate that, I’ve included a chart from SEOmoz that visually explains the difference between what is called a head keyword and a long tail keyword.
As this illustration shows, the 70% of searches are for long tail keywords, and, unlike the Fat Head keywords that are virtually impossible to rank for, these long tail keywords are much easier to get traffic from, so long as your on page optimization is done correctly.
Another reason to target long tail keywords is because they are likely to convert better. For example, if someone is searching for “conference”, they are not nearly as likely to buy a ticket as someone searching for “marketing conference in San Diego”.
Creating a Competitive Advantage with SEO
While each long tail keyword doesn’t have a huge search volume, in aggregate, the search volume can really add up over time. To illustrate the importance of this consider the following two firms:
The first firm is an avid blogger and they target a long tail keyword with every post they write. Over a 2 year period of time, they write 300 blog posts, each targeting a keyword with just 300 exact searches per month. In aggregate, the total search volume that they are ranking for is 90,000 exact searches a month! Even better is the fact that they are highly likely to rank on the first page of Google for a good number of these keywords (assuming proper selection, which I’ll cover down below, and on-page optimization, which I’ll cover in a later post). From purely an SEO perspective, this first firm has created a very strong and highly defensible competitive advantage.
The second firm wrote the same number of posts and each post is just as high quality as the first firm, except the second firm didn’t bother to target a long tail keyword with every post they wrote. This will still receive some SEO benefit from having all this content on their blog, however, the benefit won’t be nearly as good as what it could have been, plus the traffic they receive won’t likely convert nearly as well because their content will be less likely to be relevant to the keywords it ranked for.
The steady accumulation of SEO traffic from long tail keywords is the primary reason why your content marketing strategy should be focused on long tail keywords.
Now let’s take a look at the actual process by way of a real example.
Step 1: Start with a Head Keyword
For this example, let’s assume that we want to find a keyword that is related to LinkedIn. To do that, I’m going to show you two tools: the free Google Keyword Tool and the tool I use, SECockpit (affiliate link).
First let’s start with Google’s tool. When you look at the image below (click to enlarge), pay close attention to the areas the I have highlighted in red.
When you are doing keyword research you should always choose the [Exact] match type because it it the most accurate measurement you are going to get for your phrase.
For example, Broad need only contain the words you are searching for, and they can be in any order. So, if I was searching for LinkedIn for Business, Broad would include all searches that contained any of those words, in any order. This is hardly an accurate measurement for the word I’m researching.
Phrase is much closer in that LinkedIn for Business would have to be included in the search string somewhere and the words would have to be in the correct order. For example, searches that contained LinkedIn for Business today would be included in the total search count. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s still not as accurate as I’d like.
Exact includes ONLY the exact phrase that I’m researching, and that is why I suggest you use it.
Next, make sure you have Keyword Ideas selected.
The reason Google’s tool is free is because it really doesn’t tell us very much. In the example above, we can see there there are (supposedly) 16,600,000 exact global monthly searches for LinkedIn. However, what this does not tell us is anything about how hard it would be to rank on the first page of Google for that keyword or any of the other related keywords that are shown down below.
This lack of SEO competition analysis is a massive limitation of this tool. Please note, the word low under the competition heading does not relate to SEO competition. Instead, it is only a measure of the amount of advertiser competition to bid for that keyword – which would only be useful if you were setting up an Adwords paid traffic campaign, hence why it is included in this tool.
Now let’s look at SECockpit and I’ll walk you though why I feel it is by far the most effective keyword research tool available on the market, and how using it is going to save you a huge amount of time.
In the image below, notice the areas that I have highlighted in red.
First, across the top, notice that I can have more than one tab open. This means that I can analyze multiple keywords simultaneously. Obviously, this is a big time saver, but it’s not the best part of this tool.
Next, notice all the orange bars on the right half of the image. These bars are a measure of the strength of the SEO competition on the first page of the Google results. Having this data at your fingertips is hugely valuable because without it, how would you know which of all the keywords would be the easiest to rank for? SECockpit makes this easy by allowing you to just click on the column header to instantly sort all the related (long tail) keywords so that the ones that are easiest to rank for are at the top.
All I have to do now is to scroll down until I find the keyword that is related to my content and has a monthly exact search volume that meets my minimum acceptable amount.
Let me explain this another way so you really get the point. With every other keyword tool I’ve ever used (and that is most of them), you have to analyze the strength of SEO competition for just one keyword at a time. That means that, in the case of this particular search example, I would have to spend approximately 1 minute to analyze each of the 170 keywords on this list. That’s almost three hours of work to get the same data that SECockpit gave me in about 60 seconds.
Hopefully the significance of this has just registered with you. Without SECockpit, you are going to have to invest exponentially more time to get the same result. Boo.
Step 2: Find Related Keywords
Once you have completed your first round of research, you may or may not find a suitable long tail keyword to use. In all likelihood, you will, but if you don’t, expanding your search to include other phrases may also be quite helpful.
If you are using SECockpit, here’s just one way you could do that. You click the expand button and then begin typing another phrase. In the screenshot below, I started to type LinkedIn training and as I was typing, the other phrases appeared. I decided to choose LinkedIn training courses to expand my search and 30 seconds later, I now have 331 keywords that have all had their strength of SEO competition analysis all done for me.
Now that I have 331 words, I want to narrow my list back down to only words that included LinkedIn so I can make a selection of which keyword I wish to make the focus of the post that I intend to write. (As a side note, this process is also a very good method for figuring out what to write about!)
To narrow down the list, I simply typed LinkedIn into the search bar at the bottom and my 331 words was reduced to 2400 words – all with the strength of SEO competition nicely represented by the orange bars so I can easily sort them from easiest to hardest. Gotta love that!
At this point, the phrase linkedin recommendation examples has caught my attention. It stood out for me because:
- it has a relatively short orange bar, so I know SEO competition is not too hard
- it has 2400 local exact searches per month, which for a long tail keyword is plenty
- there is a youtube video ranked on the first page of Google
Now that we have a potential keyword (after investing only about 2 minutes), we need to do a bit of a deeper dive to check on the trend and exactly the nature of the competition that we’ll face if we try to rank for this phrase.
Step 3: Determine the Trend
To determine the trend of a keyword, you can use Google Trends, or if you are using SECockpit, this functionality is built right in and you will save some more time. To get the report in SECockpit, you just click on the keyword you are interested in.
Regardless of how you get the report, you can see in the image below that the trend in search volume for this keyword is steady, and more recently, has increased quite a bit. This is the type of trend you are looking for.
Having invested another 5 seconds to determine that the keyword has a positive trend, it’s not time for the last step – determining the strength of the competition we’ll face.
Step 4: Determine the Strength of the Competition
This is a part of the process where inexperienced folks make some pretty big mistakes, thereby negating all the work that preceded this step. The biggest mistake is thinking that the strength of SEO competition is low because they were using the Google Adwords keyword tool and saw the word low under the competition column. As I pointed out earlier in this post, that is NOT a measure of SEO competition.
The fact that SECockpit automatically calculates this for me is the primary reason why I like the tool so much. After all, what good is it if you pick a low volume keyword that happens to have really strong competition on the first page of the Google results? Targeting a keyword like that is a total waste. Plus, if you are only using the Google Adwords keyword tool, you are never going to stumble across a higher volume keyword that happens to be new to the scene and not yet have a ton of competition. We LOVE finding nuggets like that, right?!
To see the data above, all I had to do was to click the keyword I was interested in. Once I did, I was presented with this screen and I can right away see a lot of green. Green is what you are looking for because it is an indicator of weakness.
In looking at these results, I can quickly draw some important conclusions.
First, not all the sites in the results are actually targeting the exact phrase we’re looking at. I can see this by looking in the title column. Page title is extremely important for SEO.
Next, only about 1/2 of the top 10 results have mid to high domain authority. This means I have I chance to rank, and as my domain’s authority increases, my chances will get better over time.
Next, I can see that the link count for most of the sites in the top 10 is pretty low. This is also quite encouraging because if I create a really killer piece of content and then share it on my social networks, other people are quite likely to link to it for me. As time goes by, I will get more and more links, and my ranking will improve. (Hence why creating epic content is so important!)
And finally, I can see that none of my competition, with the exception of #4 (which isn’t even targeting my exact phrase) has much in the way of social sharing. If I’ve done a good job of building my LinkedIn network and am an active participant in a number of LinkedIn groups, I’ll bet I can get a lot of social shares right away just by asking people (or my list) to do it for me.
If you want to create a sustainable competitive advantage for your company, as well as to turn lead generation into a systematized process, you need to invest in content marketing.
A huge part of your content marketing strategy should be to create content that targets long tail keywords. Doing so will, over time, provide you with an ever increasing source of free traffic from search engines.
The key to getting keyword research right is to use tools that allow you to quickly and easily find high value keywords that have SEO competition low enough to make it probable that you will rank for them. SECockpit is by far the bets tool that I have ever used for this. Using it will save you hours upon hours of boring research.
Once you find your potential keyword, check to ensure that the trend for the search volume is steady or increasing, and finally, have a close look at the strength of the competition for those coveted first 10 slots in the Google search results.
When you find a keyword that passes all these tests, you have just taken a step towards more traffic, more subscribers and more revenue!
It all starts with keyword research.
What Do You Think?
Was this article helpful? If so, please share it by clicking one of the social sharing buttons on the left. If you have questions or comments, please leave them below. Thanks very much!
Want to write for Bright Ideas? Click here.