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Something I have really gone into the weeds on over the years is how to use keyword research for content marketing, along with the keyword research process itself. I wrote a book on it back in 2012-2013 and since then things have not really changed that much in my opinion.
I have made many mistakes, followed too many guides and listened to too many gurus. The main thing I have learned is to keep it simple! Simple doesn’t necessarily equate to quick and/or easy however as you will see.
Although Google may be amazingly advanced, it doesn’t mean you need amazingly advanced keyword research and analysis tools to start getting traffic to your site. In fact, this might be doing you more harm than good!
I’m going to tell you how to find profitable keywords for your website shortly, but first I want to give you some warnings and info that I didn’t have when I first started doing this.
Even the Best Tools for Researching Keywords are Broken
Why are you using these tools in the first place?
You want to find out:
- What people are searching for
- How many people are searching for these terms
Here’s the problem…
They are often wrong!
So why is it that everywhere you look people are recommending these tools left, right and center? Well, there are two reasons I can think of.
- They do have their use, they ARE FANTASTIC for getting ideas on what to write about if you are in an existing niche.
- Most of them have an affiliate program which pays out a tidy sum to those who recommend them. This is sometimes a monthly commission so it is in the best interests of the person sending you over to make the purchase, to really sell you on the tool
If you keep this knowledge in mind, the next time you are hovering over a nice juicy buy button for these products you’ll really start asking yourself the question: “Do I actually need this tool?”
Your answer in the majority of cases should be “no” if you are just writing the occasional blog post here and there. Most high-end tools are probably a good choice for agencies with a lot of customers, but you don’t need them. Especially if they are a monthly subscription, it’s an expense I bet you could do without right?
Look, I’m not hating on these tools here just in case you are wondering. They do have their place in my opinion but the idea that you absolutely must use them to see any measure of success is complete nonsense.
I own and use several tools myself, yes I even recommend a few on my author and internet marketing resources page, but I learned long ago that spending days researching keywords for content is not the best way to spend your time.
Although you should do a little bit of research on keywords, your time is much better spent writing new, helpful content and building links to it than doing days of research.
Which brings me to an important point…
Make Writing Content for Search Engine Optimization Secondary
The single most important thing in SEO is to first write for the reader and secondly for SEO!
What does this mean?
Write something that will actually help the person who visits your site, and be thorough about it.
Google knows if people are reading and enjoying your content. There is no way around this that I can think of so you might as well be using this fact to your advantage! By giving site visitors what they need (and then some) you are by default giving Google what they want.
To make this perfectly clear: Google (and all the other search engines for that matter) want to be the best in the business. This means ranking great content that answers the query of the searcher at the top of search results. If they show a spammy, shitty page at position 1, just because it checks all the most important on-page SEO elements, then they have failed!
Can You Cheat Google?
Of course! There are entire courses dedicated to using tips and tricks of this sort, but if you want long-term search traffic you should avoid that stuff at all costs.
Trust me, I would love it if I could use a bunch of tricks and get to the top of search and stay there, but the truth is, in the end, you’ll likely get busted. And in the meantime, you can’t rely on the traffic you do have to keep your business going so you’ll be in a state of constant paranoia about when (yes, when) your organic Google traffic vanishes.
I have built sites using these methods and seen them crash and burn, don’t do it! It’s extremely demoralizing to see this happen, and I quit writing anything of substance on websites for years because I couldn’t be bothered starting all over again. Do it right the first time.
Does it take extra work?
If you take into account that you only have to build a site once rather than having to start all over again in a constant race against Google slapping you, then no it doesn’t take more work.
Ignore The Google Estimated Results
I don’t know where, why or how this started, but ignore the estimation below a keyword after you type it into Google. I won’t go into a rant over it here, but I wrote another post which basically calls out all the gurus who say “Look I ranked first above several million other sites for my keyword!”
If you want to know why that’s bullshit just designed to make you trust them read this short post.
If you’re not sure what I was referring to, the image above shows what I mean.
How Long Should a Blog Post Be?
The quick answer… loooong!
This is nothing new. Ever since I first got involved in learning about building websites around 2007, long articles have always been reported as the ones that are more likely to rank well and bring in traffic. This could be for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, there are more longtail keywords in longer articles, whether by design or because they crop up naturally. And also long-form articles also seem to have a better chance of ranking on the top of Google for the following reasons given by a very interesting article on BackLinko.com about search engine ranking.
- This correlation could be due to the fact that longer content generates significantly more social shares. Or it could be an inherent preference in Google for longer articles.
- Another theory is that longer content boosts your page’s topical relevancy, which gives Google a deeper understanding of your content’s topic.
- Also, long-form content’s ranking advantage could simply reflect site owners that care about publishing excellent content. This being a correlation study, it’s impossible for us to pinpoint why longer content performs so well in terms of search engine rankings.
Need more convincing? Watch the video below which was part of the inspiration for this post. (I would strongly suggest you subscribe to these guys on YouTube btw, one of the few legit sources of good info out there for those who are new to building profitable niche websites imho.)
Long-form content marketing just works better.
Aim to hit around 2000 word articles for maximum chances of ranking.
According to BackLinko.com the average word count of a Google first position result was 1890 words. As with most things in life, shoot higher than “average” for best results, but this will be different for each keyword. If you are not examining the top-ranking results in Google to find an average (and you should), then 2000 words is a good ballpark figure.
Now then, before we get into exactly how to find these keywords let’s make sure you have a good understanding of what exactly you are looking for.
What Are Long Tail Keywords?
To be able to effectively describe a long tail keyword you first need to understand what a “head keyword” or (used interchangeably) “seed keyword” is.
I like to think of it like this:
With few exceptions, a seed keyword is a phrase that is typed into a search engine condensed down to the shortest possible number of words.
A good example of a head keyword would be the word “furniture.”
From here we can dig down into the furniture niche with ideas on what type of furniture people want.
- Bedroom furniture
- Cheap furniture
- Wooden furniture
- Orange furniture
These are longer tail versions of the head keyword “furniture.” Although not strictly considered long tail as they are still only 2 word phrases.
Things obviously don’t stop here, what happens if we start combining the stuff listed above…
- Cheap wooden furniture
- Wooden bedroom furniture
- Bedroom furniture orange
- Orange furniture cheap
They are longer tail keywords again, 3 word long tails. Keep going…
- Orange wooden bedroom furniture
- Orange wooden furniture cheap
These are 4 word long tails.
- Orange wooden bedroom furniture cheap
There’s a 5 word long tail keyword.
Now, as you can imagine, the possibilities just for the furniture niche are endless. What happens if we…
- Change the color?
- Use a different material other than wood?
- Choose a different room in the house, outside the house, in the office?
- Change the price range from “cheap” to “expensive” or “high-end?”
- Add a brand name?
- Change the seed keyword completely to “furnishing?”
These are examples of course which I have just thought of off the top of my head, but hopefully you get the idea?
Anybody with half a brain can find long tail keywords, you can think of a phrase right now off the top of your head if you wish and if you think it will hold interest for people it is quite likely they will be typing this phrase into the search engines.
Remember I said, “With few exceptions, a head keyword is a phrase that is typed into a search engine condensed down to the shortest possible number of words?”
The main exceptions you should be aware of are abbreviations and acronyms for things in your industry. This could be specialized language that experts use and it may give you good openings for your keyword search efforts.
How Do I Find Keywords For My Website?
So, we get to the golden question, where do we actually get the keywords?
As stated in the video above, Google is your friend. just start typing stuff about your niche into the search box on Google.com and you will start seeing suggestions pop up below the search box like so:
As you can see, I opted for the third item in the suggestions area which was “how to use keyword research for content marketing.” Does it have huge amounts of traffic? I don’t know, but what I do know is that it also includes the keyword directly above it (how to use keyword research) so I am hitting at least 2 keywords with my title for starters.
A further check reveals that we are hitting another 2 keywords…
And that’s how to target multiple keywords just with your title!
You might think that was a lot of trouble to go to, but it was literally a minutes work to find those keywords.
Incidentally, most of them didn’t show up when I used the seed term “keyword research” on a couple of keyword tools. One of which (Long Tail Platinum) is a monthly subscription. Great tool, but as with all tools, don’t rely on it to do your thinking!
One of the most recommended ways I see to find these longer tails is to type your keyword idea and then follow it with a space and then “a, ” to see what comes up. Then delete the “a” and add a “b” etc. You can see this in action in the image above. Try this out for yourself.
Here’s what I don’t see people talking about, however…
You can also repeat the same research at the start of your phrase. not only that…
You can do it in the middle of a phrase.
Most people are not doing this, and I only know of one tool that can do it. So use that to your benefit, the fewer people that are finding these words, the easier they will be to rank.
Anyway, speaking of keyword tools, here are a few to help you with research ideas. This list isn’t here to overwhelm you with lots of stuff to do btw. Don’t feel you have to use every single one to drain every possible idea, choose a couple that work for you and stick with them.
List Of Free Keyword Research Tools
Here I’ll tell you what I think is useful, and those that I don’t like so much. In the end, it is up to you to go with what you prefer. Obviously, I don’t use all of these, I have preferences. The thing to remember is that most of them pull their data from the same source so whatever works for you… Go with it.
However shit you think the name is, the Keyword Shitter tool is a great place to start looking for ideas surrounding your chosen niche. If there is a downfall to this tool it’s that it goes so deep sometimes that many results will be irrelevant to you.
Very basic, but very fast and pretty thorough.
This looks a lot like some of the desktop keyword tools you might be familiar with. This is only available as a Chrome extension at time of writing, which suits me fine as it is just a button press away on my extensions bar.
It’s base function just takes your keyword queries and does the a, b, c addition trick automatically, saving you the work. If one of the keywords in the list it returns looks attractive, then you can click an arrow next to it and it will repeat the process with that keyword too.
Good for when you want quick ideas without navigating to another tool or booting up a desktop keyword tool.
The Keywords Everywhere Chrome and Firefox plugin is probably one of the most useful in this entire list. It will actually allow you to add keywords to a favorites list as you are going about your business on loads of different websites. At the time of writing these sites are catered to with this tool:
- Google Search
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Google Trends
- Google Keyword Planner
- Bing Search
- Answer The Public
- Keyword Shitter
This might not sound groundbreaking, but when you are researching keywords or even just browsing a subject you are very interested in, it is easy to come across great keyword and article title ideas and then forget about them because you are running down multiple rabbit holes. The Keywords Everywhere extension makes sure you don’t lose these great ideas.
As you can see, it works with most of the keyword tools mentioned on this page so no matter which one of them you work with, these content marketing research tools will be better with this extension installed.
Shout out to Quinton Hamp of CubicleHoudini.com for turning me on to the Keywords Everywhere app.
This is an old favorite for many SEO’s and for good reason. It’s quick, easy and free. I’ll give you a rest from reading, the 54-second video below demonstrates it.
Another good place to find some basic ideas, Soovle uses autocomplete on a variety of different sites and search engines.
Not brilliant, but worth a look if you want some new sources for keywords aside from Google.
This is an absolutely amazing idea generator for your content. It breaks down the results it brings into the following categories:
When you first see the results they will be in a strange visual format. Don’t let this put you off, just hit the “data” button on each section to get an easy to read list.
I definitely recommend this for idea generation, especially the questions section which is great for article ideas.
This tool give you a list of LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords. Without going into LSI massively, if you feel you are overusing the same phrases in your articles over, and over again, then think about using this tool to add some replacements.
The main use for me, help stop keyword stuffing that can sometimes happen naturally when talking about a subject. If you change things up with your keywords you also have a better chance of showing up for different searches.
This is designed for those who want to actually advertise on Googles ad network “AdWords.” Because of this, you might imagine it would be incredibly accurate at predicting search traffic. Think again, it is no more accurate than most paid tools, and it seems Google simply doesn’t want people to have access to their data as they give you a ridiculous ballpark figure.
The Google Keyword Planner is also (for me) the least intuitive research tool available. It seems like you need a degree to get anything out of it.
It does bear mentioning that the vast majority of keyword tools you will come across actually draw their data from Google Keyword Planner so it is no better or worse with regards to the information it produces mostly. The deciding factor for me is that other tools do a better job of either presenting, sorting or ranking the data to make your life a lot easier. Paid tools, of course, can do a better job in these areas than free tools. But paid tools are by no means essential, with few exceptions they are mainly time savers.
If you hadn’t guessed, I don’t like it and I think it will be the biggest time suck of any keyword tool you use. I did mention it however as many will wonder why if I omitted this tool.
Although it’s a little hit or miss, this Google tool I do like. If you are stuck for ideas for a site, this will give you some food for thought. Just type in a phrase and it will come back with other phrases that searchers, using the initial phrase, also look for.
Recommended on quite a few big name sites for some strange reason.
You add words related to your niche idea into three columns and the tool comes back with (often useless) long tail keyword ideas.
While you are brainstorming what might be useful in this tool, you could have instead spent your time actually on Google, finding stuff that people actually do type in.
Forget it is my advice unless I have overlooked something it can do that I haven’t thought of.
If you are searching for available domain names on the other hand, this might be gold for you.
Although this isn’t strictly a research tool for gathering keywords it is handy, especially if you are building niche sites you don’t yet know a lot about.
The main purposes I would use it for is making sure niches are not “going out of fashion.”
It’s a shame to get excited about a subject and start building a site about something only to find out that you are late to the party. Is there a new fad replacing what you are spending time blogging about?
How to Use Keyword Research for Content Marketing Final Checklist
- Write for humans first, search engines second.
- Research keywords, but don’t agonize over it!
- Use Google auto suggest to ensure keywords are actively being searched.
- Don’t keyword stuff, even accidentally.
- Write long, helpful articles.
In a follow up to this article I’ll go into what to do with your keywords. Stay tuned, the link will be here once it is ready. In the meantime, here’s a great video on the mistakes people make with content marketing.