In today’s Google, the most effective way to see consistent organic traffic growth across your site is by publishing SEO content: ie content that’s designed to rank well and produce traffic from organic search.
The reason SEO content is so effective at building your traffic is because it’s strategic, and targets keyword-driven content topics that have proven search demand, are relevant to your product or your services, and that align with your target audience’s interests.
The most important part of any SEO content strategy is targeting the right content topics, and those topics should be fueled by relevant, intent-driven keywords with proven search demand.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the process of finding the right keywords and how to turn them into can’t miss SEO content that serve as the engine for growth for any website, and produce qualified organic search traffic on a consistent and sustained basis.
Table of Contents
- Find Your Target Keywords
- Building and Organizing Keyword Lists
- Turning Keywords into Content
The first step in any SEO content strategy is to find the right keywords to target. I’ve read countless articles over the last few years claiming “keywords are dead!”
The doomsayers cite semantic search and Google’s improved understanding of natural language for their demise (learn more about Hummingbird and RankBrain), and that keywords are no longer important to SEO.
While it’s true Google is better at understanding “things not strings,” that doesn’t mean keywords are dead. Keywords are still much alive, and are the critical first step in any SEO content strategy.
Keywords are essential because they:
- Inform topics: Keywords are the seeds for topic development. They influence content topic ideas. Keyword research is still one of the most effective methods for uncovering new SEO opportunities and an important first step in developing topic ideas.
- Guage demand: One of the primary objectives of SEO is to grow qualified traffic. So finding keywords that have proven search demand is pretty important and how you determine if there’s a market for your keyword-driven topics.
- Understand intent: Keywords help you understand the intent of the searcher and what their goals are. Are they gathering information, trying to solve a problem, searching for a product? Understanding the intent of searches is how you decide which types of content to create.
- Measure difficulty: Generally, the greater the monthly search volume, the harder it is to rank for a keyword. So you need to know if you can outrank competitors before you target a particular keyword topic.
- Prioritize: Keyword popularity is one KPI you can use to prioritize content topics.
- Track performance: Tracking and monitoring rankings for you target keywords a means to evaluate how your content is performing in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Knowing that, the following can’t be overstated:
|Finding the right keywords to target is the single most important first step in your SEO content strategy. If you don’t have a list of relevant, traffic-driving keywords, you don’t have an SEO content strategy.|
There are a range of great free and paid tools you can use for researching keywords. These are some of my favorites:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Search Console
- Google Trends
- Google Auto Suggest
- Moz Keyword Explorer (paid)
- Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool (paid)
- Ahrefs Keywords Explorer (paid)
- SEMrush Keyword Research (see our in-depth review of SEMrush)
- KeywordTool.io (free)
- GrepWords (paid)
- Ubersuggest (free)
- Term Explorer (paid)
- Bing Webmaster (free)
I’ve used each one of these tools over the years, but I generally start with the Google Keyword Planner. It’s still my go-to tool because it’s free and provides a lot of keyword ideas.
If I want to vary things up or see if there are any gaps in my content strategy, I’ll switch to another tool on the list to see if I can find any ideas I may have missed with the Keyword Planner. But I generally use only the Google tool and maybe one other. There’s no reason to use them all because they draw from similar data sources.
Your primary objective as this stage is to find keywords that are relevant to your product, your service or your industry to target. These are the keywords you’ll use to inform your content topic ideas.
Finally, if you need more info or a tutorial on performing fundamental keyword research, check out these great posts:
- Keyword Research – The Advanced Guide to SEO
- Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide
- How To Do Keyword Research – The Beginners Guide to SEO
- Google Didn’t Intend For SEO’s To Use The Keyword Planner This Way
- 12 Keyword Research Tools and Creative Ways to Use Them
Another excellent way to find keyword opportunities is analyzing competitor sites so you can find out:
- Which keywords your competitors are targeting, and
- Which of those keywords are the top performers and drive the most SEO traffic
I won’t go into great detail on the competitor analysis process, since this post is more a broader look at how to develop your SEO content strategy. However, if you want further information on competitor analysis, check out these in-depth articles:
- SEO Competitor Analysis: Discover Your Competitor’s Keywords
- Keyword Competition Analysis (Chapter 5)
- How to Carry Out Detailed Competitor Keyword Analysis
Finally, besides being an effective way to prospect for keyword ideas, competitor analysis is also a fertile way to find topic ideas, something I’ll go into greater detail on in the section about Topic Ideation and Brainstorming.
When doing keyword research, you should always cast a wide net and try to gather as many relevant keywords as possible. The more keywords you have, the more topic opportunities you have. The other benefit of having lots of topic opportunities at this stage is it saves you time down the road. Keyword research can be time-consuming and laborious, so it’s not a process you want to repeat regularly.
But casting a wide net has it’s share of challenges. One of the biggest is staying organized. If you’re not organized at this stage, it’s easy to drown in a sea of keywords.
So you need to have a system in place to manage these lists of keywords and to actively group, refine and iterate as you go in order to narrow big lists down to core groups of your strongest keyword topic ideas.
That’s a pretty vague explanation, so let’s walk through the process of how to build lists, categorize them, and the developing killer topic ideas.
I like real-world scenarios, so here’s one we can use for the rest of this article. Imagine we’re developing an SEO content strategy for a B2B SaaS company that sells sales management tools. They’ve identified C-level sales executives, sales directors and managers as their target audience and the key decision makers they want to get in front of.
Some relevant, core keywords or head terms this company may want to pursue are:
- Sales software
- Enterprise sales
- Sales management
- Sales strategy
- Sales effectiveness
- Sales performance
- Sales pitch(es)
Now, there are dozens if not hundreds more opportunities, but we’ll use this set of core terms to focus on for the rest of this section.
Next steps are to run these core terms through a keyword tool. Here’s are the results we from the Keyword Planner for “sales management.”
We’d then export these results and drop this into a Google doc or Excel sheet into a dedicated tab labeled “sales management.”
All these keywords are closely-related to our core term. They’re phrase match variations that range from mid to long-tail keywords. I’ve also included Google’s estimated monthly search volume and sorted from highest to lowest demand.
Search volume is the primary KPI we’re focusing on at this stage, and it’s one of the single most important KPIs we’ll use throughout the SEO content strategy process. It tells us how popular and how competitive a keyword is.
In addition to monthly search demand, if I’m working with an established website that already gets organic search traffic, I’d also include:
- Keyword Rankings – If the domain already ranks for a particular keyword(s) on the list, I’ll include a column for where it currently ranks.
- Ranking Page URL – I’ll also include the page that ranks for that keyword in Google in another column.
Why look at Google rankings? It’s all about finding opportunities and knowing where to focus my efforts. Rankings reveal a lot about a site, like in the following scenarios:
- The site ranks well for a keyword(s): Say the site is already ranking page one for a term. To me, this isn’t a high-reward opportunity. So it doesn’t make much sense to create another piece of content targeting a keyword topic you’re already ranking really well for. There are better opportunities.
- The site ranks for the keyword, but could rank better: This depends on where the site ranks. If it ranks page two or better, reworking the page to try and improve rankings might be your best approach. If it ranks page three or lower, then maybe it’s time to create new content. Subpar rankings are generally a sign of flawed content, or a page with no authority signals or low user engagement scores. Or could be it’s just not informative enough and doesn’t deserve to outrank competitors. Either way, you should review the content and see if it’s salvageable or if you should start from scratch.
- The site doesn’t rank at all: This is generally where you’ll find the best SEO content opportunities.
Keyword rankings also provide a baseline measurement, so you can track and assess your progress as you go.
There are other important KPIs to pay attention to as well, like organic traffic and conversions. But those come into play after you hit the publish button on your content.
Another KPI you can measure is keyword difficulty. You can use Ahrefs Keyword Explorer or the Moz Keyword Difficulty to get that data. Assigning each keyword a difficulty score can be another factor to guide your efforts.
|When it comes to keyword difficulty, one prime area to focus on are terms in the “Goldilocks Zone:” keywords with not-too-much competition, and not-too-little search demand. This is a real sweet spot because the conditions are “just right.” You can often create content that that has the chance do well right of the gate for those target “sweet spot” keywords, particularly if the site has decent domain authority.|
Finally, there are other metrics you can include too (like cost-per-click or trend data), but for me too many data points just muddies the water and complicates the process. More KPIs don’t always give you more actionable information when building out your keyword lists for your SEO content strategy. There comes a tipping point where you’re weighing too many factors.
So for me, I like to keep it simple: search demand and rankings to start.
Let’s jump back to the example of a sales software company we’ve been using. After doing extensive keyword research and casting a wide net, you’ll end of up with a ton of potential keyword topic opportunities you can target across a range of different verticals, at every stage of the funnel.
But not all these keywords will be a fit. So now it’s time to review the lists of sales-focused keywords and purge anything that:
- Isn’t relevant – If it’s not somehow relevant to the site, our services, our products, our industry, or our audience, remove it from the list.
- Is too broad or too general – In my experience keywords that are too broad are not only hyper-competitive but they don’t yield qualified traffic.
- Is too competitive – The general rule of thumb is the higher the search demand, the harder a term is to rank for. Authoritative domains have a better chance to compete. Lower authority domains have a harder time ranking well. I generally set a threshold pitting search demand against Moz domain authority.
Let’s apply these guidelines to our list of sales management keywords that we created earlier.
I’ve highlighted keywords in red that we should pull from our list for the following reasons:
- Job-hunting keywords – These keywords have little relevance. If we were a job marketplace, then “job” and “recruiting” keywords would be aligned with what we do. But they aren’t, and that’s not the audience we’re targeting. You could argue that once job seekers find jobs, they might land C-level executive positions (our target) and need our software. But that probability is low and too long a lead time to invest in SEO content at this stage. There are better opportunities to pursue.
- Salary-focused keywords – You could argue that C-level execs search for salary information online, which is true. We could even qualify for that audience, creating content around “sales director salary” (720 monthly searches). But like the job hunting keywords, there are better, more relevant opportunities on our list. So while this is intriguing from a traffic perspective and may get us in front of our target audience, it’s too early stage, top of the funnel, low ROI.
- Branded or organizational keywords – The terms “sales force management,” “ignite sales management” and “sales management association” are all branded keywords tied to specific companies: Salesforce and Ignite (a sales consultancy) and The Sales Management Association (organization for sales professionals). None of these keywords make any sense to pursue because they’re not relevant to our brand or product offering.
After removing the keywords that aren’t a fit at this stage, here’s our updated list:
You may wonder why I’d pull the job and salary-focused keywords from the list but not the professional-development terms. I argued that earlier that we don’t run a job marketplace, so we should pull job hunting keywords. But we don’t run a sales training workshop either. So what’s the logic behind keeping those terms?
My thought process here is that someone trying to advance their career or improve their management skills is someone who is likely employed already (unlike the job seekers), so the odds are higher they’d need our software in their current role.
But it’s also a judgement call, which is true for a lot keyword targeting and decision making with SEO content strategy. That’s where prioritization plays a role (more on that later).
You see, even though we’re keeping “sales management training,” a keyword like “sales management strategies,” is more interesting from a user intent perspective (more on user intent later). So we’d prioritize any process-driven sales strategy keywords over keywords around continuing education topics.
“What is sales management?” is similar. It’s very rudimentary and top of the funnel so we probably wouldn’t prioritize it out of the gate. But it’s interesting because you’d be surprised how many of these basic keywords are searched by people looking to define their roles in organizations.
Once you have a final set of keywords, you can start to work down the lists and brainstorm topic ideas. There are a range of different content types you can leverage for your SEO content strategy that are effective for searchers at every stage of the funnel.
Top of the Funnel: Content designed to inform and educate your audience
Mid-Funnel: Content designed to provide a solution and turn visitors into prospects
- Landing pages
- Buyer guides
- White papers
- Product demos
- Case studies
Bottom of the Funnel: Content designed to turn prospects into customers
- Free trials
- Free consultations
- Shopping carts
- Special offers/coupons/discounts
SEO content is generally most effective at those first two stages of the funnel. Reason being, 80% of search queries are informational, where the users are looking for facts or answers to a question. So those content types for the first two funnel stages are the ones Google shows majority of the time in search results. Creating those types assets gives you the best opportunities for visibility and to drive as much traffic as possible.
Even though we’re mainly concentrating on the first two stages of the funnel, there still a lot of different content types to choose from, which can be confusing.
So how do you know which content type will work best for a specific keyword?
It’s time to discuss search intent and the important role it plays in your SEO content strategy. Each of the remaining keywords from the sales management list fall into one of two search intent categories: transactional and informational.
Commercial/transactional keywords: These are the keywords with a higher level of commercial intent. Anyone searching these keywords needs a product (either paid or free solution) or they want to evaluate a potential solution, which means they’re further along in the buying cycle.
For our software provider, these commercial keywords are software-focused, which means the queries could deliver highly-qualified traffic from potential customers to their site, ones that have a better chance of converting.
Those commercial terms are:
- sales management software
- sales management tools
Informational keywords: As mentioned earlier, the majority of searches run in Google are informational, where the user’s objective is to find information on a particular topic, get answers to a question or get advice on how to solve a problem.
Users may not need a product at this stage, but based on the informational keywords on our list above, our sales tool IS a potential solution. So anyone looking for “strategies to improve their sales process” or “ways to manage their sales pipeline,” for example, is someone we want coming to our website.
Those informational terms for the list are:
- sales performance management
- sales lead management
- sales pipeline management
- sales management system
- sales management process
- sales funnel management
- sales team management
- sales management strategies
- sales management
- sales management training
- what is sales management
- sales management courses
The main takeaway here is search intent plays a major a role in topic development and in mapping keywords to content topics.
In many cases, the same keyword can be a good fit for multiple content types. For example, “sales management strategies” from our list could easily be turned into a “how to do X” tips style article, an infographic, an expert guide or a even roundup-style group interview. But not each one of those approaches is the ideal partner for that keyword topic, one that will help us achieve our goal of generating maximum SERP visibility and traffic opportunities for our site.
To determine which content type is going to be the best fit, you need to look at the two most important factors:
- SERP Results: which types of content Google is showing in the SERPs for a specific keyword
- User Intent: The intent behind the keyword being searched (or more accurately how Google interprets the searcher’s intent)
Let’s see how this applies to our content topic targeting, using keywords from our list: “sales management” and “sales pitch.”
I’ve partnered each keyword variant with a specific content type and a possible topic. I keep monthly searches as my main KPI here to help guide prioritization, unless there are other factors we’re considering that might trump demand (like buying stage, topic variety, or keyword difficulty, etc).
Let’s walk through how to develop a similar list, with steps and tips and what to keep in mind as you’re working through the process.
The basic rule of thumb is:
|When mapping keywords to content types and topics: map informational keywords to information seeking topics, and map transactional keywords to transactional content topics.|
To determine what the user’s intent is (is it information-seeking or is it transactional), you need to look at the SERPs.
Plug your keywords into Google and see what the results are. See exactly which types of content Google is returning for specific keyword search queries helps you understand exactly how Google interprets the searcher’s intent. This takes the guess work out of choosing the right content approach.
For example, if we plug “sales management” into Google, we see the results are mainly informational listings, along with a featured snippet that gives a basic definition of “sales management.”
Even the related questions (“People also ask”) are all basic and exploratory in nature.
Looking at this SERP, it’s clear Google thinks that anyone searching for this type of information with a basic, uncomplicated query, you’re probably unfamiliar with the topic and just want a simple explanation. The user doesn’t want sales tools, or articles about expert sales strategies or listings for online courses. Those search results would miss the mark.
So if you want to crack the SERP for “sales management,” you want have much luck with a product-focused landing page. Instead, you’d create a basic, glossary style article.
Bottom line, intent is a critical factor in mapping keywords to content topics. Understanding user intent is the secret to selecting the right content type and topic.
People wonder if you can target multiple keywords in the same piece of content. The answer is yes, but only a few and only if the keywords are tightly aligned. If they’re not closely related, you risk chasing too many keywords and having a document that’s not highly relevant for any single keyword or topic. It’s the old adage “a jack of all trades, master of none.”
For example, you wouldn’t want to try and target “sales management software” and “sales management training” in the same piece of content. Sure, those keywords may appeal to the same audience, but the search intent and user objective isn’t aligned.
A piece of content trying to target both keywords wouldn’t be as effective at helping a user quickly accomplish either objective (to find sales management software OR get information on training options) as a high quality piece on either separate subject.
But what you can do is the following: rolled up under the seed term “sales management training” are a group of semantically related variations and keyword modifiers, like:
- Sales management training program – 50 searches per month
- Sales management training courses – 30 searches per month
- Sales management training seminars – 10 searches per month
You can definitely target each of those modifiers in the same piece of content and still stay tightly aligned. In fact, you’d want to target each of those keyword variations in the same piece of content because it wouldn’t make much sense to create an article for each. Multiple articles would be redundant and not the best use of your time and capital.
So a good general rule of thumb here is:
|You should really only target one core keyword or concept and two or three closely related variations of that keyword per piece of content. Anything more and you risk diluting the effectiveness of that content to perform well in the SERPs.|
When it comes to developing content topics, I often need some creative inspiration. The keyword research process alone can spark a lot of ideas. Also, many of the tools I shared earlier are great because the suggestions on similar terms you can target are great fodder for content topics and can help get your creative juices flowing.
Analyzing competitors sites is another excellent source of ideas. It’s not only effective for keyword discovery, but it’s also a powerful way to uncover new content topic ideas. Competitor analysis is great for:
- Inspiration – seeing what your competitors are doing sparks your own creativity
- Proven wins – replicating content topics that are already proven to perform well is always a smart strategy
With all of these different resources, the basic process is to plug your SEO keywords into one or more and generate lists of topic ideas.
Here’s a list of tools and resources I use on a regular basis for topic ideation.
SEO Content Idea Tools:
- BuzzSumo – This is a great tool to not only get topic ideas but to also look at which content assets are working well for your competitors.
- For tactics, read: How to Generate Content Ideas with Buzzsumo
- Answer the Public – One of the most powerful tools to discover which questions people are actively searching.
- For tactics, read: How to Create Better Content with Answer the Public
- BloomBerry – Helps you unearth the most asked questions by your target audience, sourcing a range of different platforms.
- For tactics, read: How to Generate Content Ideas with These 3 Awesome Tools
- FAQ Fox – Quickly scrape Reddit, Quora, Yahoo! Answers for questions based on your target keyword.
- For tactics, read: FAQFox Content Generation Idea Stimulating Tool
- Autosuggest Keyword Tool – get autosuggest results at once from Google, YouTube, Amazon and Bing.
- For tactics, read: ‘Suggest’ Your Way to Better Content Ideas
More Content Ideation Sources:
- Site operators: are a really effective way to discover content ideas (site:examplesite.com + “target keyword”). Some of the tools above automate the process for your, but you can also use old fashioned advanced site operators to dig deeper into individual sites, like Quora for instance to get commonly asked questions: site:quora.com “sales pitches”
- Popular topics: Looking at which content topics are the most popular on a specific site or sites (pages with the most links, shares or visits from organic search) is a great way to get ideas for your own content that have proven to perform well with a similar audience. You can use Ahrefs Content Explorer or .
- Industry events: Nearly every industry, no matter how niche or esoteric, has a series of conferences or seminars or conventions tied to it. These events a fertile opportunity for finding content ideas, that are in demand, current and also highly aligned with your target audience’s interests. You can use simple Google searches to find these industry events. Focus on specific tracks, lectures or keynote topics for ideas.
- Courses and classes: In a similar manner, the subjects for courses and classes are great for ideation. These are effective because they’re relevant to your audience and are generally on popular subjects. Udemy is a great resource and you can use the search function to prospect for tons of courses in specific niches.
Content Ideation Articles
Finally, there are some fantastic articles you should check out with tips on content ideation steps and techniques:
- Finding Content Ideas for SEO
- How to Come Up with 50 Content Ideas in 30 Minutes or Less
- Beginners Guide to Content Marketing Ideation
The examples I shared previously are only handful of topic ideas for our fictional sales software company. But in reality if this was an actual client and I needed to do extensive keyword research and develop a long term, content marketing plan, I’d have dozens or even hundreds of of potential topic ideas.
Which begs the question, with that many content topics to choose from, how do you prioritize? Which should go into production first?
Here are the different factors to consider with prioritization.
- Audience Interests: You can determine which topics you know will have the greatest appeal to and best engage your target audience and prioritize those and work down the list.
- Search Demand: You can prioritize by traffic acquisition as well. It’s only logical to prioritize keyword topics with the highest, demonstrated search volume first. Which is fine if you’re working with an aged, authoritative domain. If not, you should consider the lever of difficulty, which brings us to:
- Competition/Level of Difficulty: I’ve talked about assessing competition a number of times in this article and it also applies to how you prioritize. Typically, the higher the search demand the harder it is to rank. If you’ve got a new site with no domain authority, it doesn’t make sense to make the most competitive keyword topics your priorities. It’s better to start out targeting terms with lower competition. For example, here’s our list of terms re-ranked by difficulty scores from Ahrefs. KD score is based on # of referring domains of the top ranking pages for a keyword.
- Objectives and Goals: Your can let your primary objectives guide prioritization as well. For example, a site need links first and foremost to compete in our target SERPs. Then, maybe you start out by prioritizing resource lists or in-depth guides, which are excellent for link acquisition. If lead generation is your primary goal, then maybe you prioritize topics that are lower in the funnel.
In short, there are a host of factors you can and should consider when trying to prioritize your content topics. You can use one or each of the above and weight them according to your own individual approach.
You know have the blueprint to building out your own SEO content strategy, with a focus on the key linchpins of any content game plan: finding the best keyword-driven content topics to target. When you concentrate your efforts on can’t-miss content topics, you’ll not only grow to your site on a consistent and sustained basis, you’ll drive the right traffic to your website because you’re tuned into user intent, the competitive landscape and prioritizing based on your end goals.
If you follow the process above and create quality, value-add, SEO content on a regular basis, I guarantee you’ll see results. It’s almost impossible not to.