Dead Simple SEO Keyword Research for a New Blog

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Simple Steps to Conduct SEO Keyword Research for your Blog
(Last Updated On: January 14, 2019)

A Step-By-Step Keyword Research Process You Can Execute in Half a Day

Keyword research is hard. It’s really a slog to do right. For example, when we onboard a new project, we spend several hours on it. Conceptually, keyword research appears pretty easy. I want to start a blog and write about XYZ topics. However, effective content marketing and blogging takes more energy. Like many things (and particularly in digital marketing), there’s no magical shortcut. If you build it, then won’t necessarily come!

That said, one of the best ways to get traction with a blog and to grow traffic is to start blogging. While many companies and individuals make the mistake of not understanding how they’ll drive traffic to their blog (and just start cranking out 200 word self-promotional posts with random topics), many also find themselves in a state of analysis paralysis and spend too much time planning and not enough time executing.

This process won’t be something you can whirl through in a matter of minutes, but it’s also something you can spend half a day on and come away with some content topics that you can work on creating right away.

Then you have to go and actually execute on creating and promoting your content.

Like many things in life: simple, but not easy.

Step 1: Identify Your Competitors & Publishers in Your Niche

Knowing your competitors and publishers in your niche should be fairly straightforward for most businesses, but the one caveat here is that you want to make sure you’re including smart competitors and/or successful publishing sites (often times publishers in your niche are better bets here than competitors). For example, frequently, the 800 pound gorilla in a space build their reputation and business before current SEO standards. As a result, these sites may lack influential and informative blogs. Therefore, although these companies remain fierce competition, they do not provide a source of smart competitors. Look for the companies with a recently re-designed site or remains active on social media or build a large content library.

Why?

We want to leverage the work of existing websites to find content topics we can create that will drive traffic. If the sites in question haven’t done much work to create content and don’t have any traffic themselves, there’s not much intelligence we can glean. Therefore, focus on the competitors that generally maintain strong marketing efforts. Plus, look at the industry publications in your niche that are well read and likely to have lots of traffic.

To start, take some time and list your known competitors. Depending on your market, not only list your local competition, but also, well known firms in other geographies. In fact, if you don’t compete locally, these competitor sites potentially yield some great benefits.

Step 2: Check the Site (& Blog) Authority

Each and every web site maintains a ranking. Typically, site authority corresponds to the size and strength of an organization. For example, Google.com, maintain a 94 domain authority. As expected, a large company with a powerful site should maintain a very high domain authority.

checking site rankings is important for keyword research

However, most companies operate in niches with various power players. The next step in your keyword research is identifying the site strength and ultimately, blog authority of your competitor list. Additionally, as part of your keyword research, it helps to understand how many keywords your competitor ranks for. In this example, Google ranks for 24.9 million keywords.

To start, head to Moz (which offers a limited free searches) and enter the URL of your competitor into the Link Explorer tool.

Ultimately, your goal is to find the sites and blogs with the highest domain and page authority. Although content marketing and blogging provides a handful of benefits, the main objective is to increase the power of your site and drive more traffic to your site. In turn, more relevant traffic means more customers.

“In content marketing, businesses provide information geared towards their target audience. For example, new businesses need to build a brand. Content marketing helps with this mission because we can gear our message towards influencers in our industry. Think about the purpose of networking? Targeting and connecting with specific people that help your business develop their name. In content marketing, the same underlying principles apply. Companies build a digital following and offer content that establish their mission. They answer that age old question of why they are in business!”

How to check site and page authority

Therefore, as you conduct your keyword research, jot down the domain authority of your competitors (as a benchmark) and their blog, along with the number of ranking keywords under their blog. In our Google example, the blog maintains a domain authority of 80 and ranks for 85.7 thousand keywords (vs 94 and 24.9M for the home page).

keyword research includes checking competitor blog rankings

Finally, during your keyword research, jot down some of the more recent and popular posts from your competitors. During your research, run the post through the Link Explorer as well. In our example, we tested the Year in Search post, which has limited SEO value. Although the page value ranks well (44 remains pretty good), the post itself does not rank for any keywords.

keyword research includes checking the ranking of specific blog posts

As part of any content marketing strategy, not every post requires a high keyword ranking. For example, year end posts or announcements of new initiatives provide interesting and unique content. In particular, many people are interested in the most searched topics, so the posts supports Google’s brand and overall strategy. During your content marketing strategy, remember to offer readers a range of topics and types of posts. In the end, the variety helps propel more traffic and visitors to your site.

Step 3: Identify Relevant (& Related) Topics

Previously, we reviewed and detailed the steps to creating SEO content strategy. And at the core of any content strategy is keyword research.

“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.”

As a result, keyword research remains one of the most effective methods for identifying and developing blog topics.

Why?

If you don’t have a list of relevant, traffic-driving keywords, you don’t have a blog foundation that will deliver on your overall marketing goals. Therefore, while conducting your keyword research and noted topics on competitor sites (along with your own ideas), note some of the following:

  • Gauging Demand – look for keywords with significant and proven search demand.
  • Understanding Intent – reviewing search queries provide insights into whether searchers are gathering information, trying to solve a problem or looking for a product.
  • Measuring Difficulty – each search query has different search volume, so measuring the difficulty of terms helps understand if you can outrank competitors.

Ultimately, outlining certain metrics, helps determine create a priority of potential blog topics. Additionally, over time, these metrics help track the performance of your blogging.

How to identify relevant keywords

In order to gather the relevant metrics, we recommend starting with Google Keyword Planner. This tool helps provide the fundamental metrics described and remains a free tool.

keyword research starts with a keyword planner

To start, take your list of potential blog topics and create a handful of themes. For example, continuing our Google example, their blog strategy relates to search. So, potential blog topics could be things such as:

  • how to conduct a search?
  • what do search results mean?
  • what is a serp?
  • how to understand serps for beginners?
  • how does google make money?
  • what is AdWords?

In our high level list of potential topics, the main themes relate to search and online advertising. So, our next step is to generate some metrics around a theme. Let’s take a look at AdWords and online advertising.

keyword research includes search demand and competition

The screenshot outlines the search volume and competition for the terms entered (adwords and online advertising), along with suggested ideas. During your keyword research, these potential ideas provide some golden nuggets.

For example, if we wanted to provide a primer on how online advertising works, then we’d suggest using “internet advertising” as the focus keyword. Why? The term maintains the same range of volume, but the competition level ranks as medium (vs. high for online advertising). As a result, your blog article leveraging the term internet advertising has a better opportunity to rank. And since the terms are similar, the term remains within a relevant strategy.

Additionally, the tool provides some other insights, such as unattractive terms. In our results, the terms AdWords and Google AdWords appear like nice targets, but in reality are difficult. The terms are large and vague, while there are plenty of volume, the low competition means they are too broad.

Step 4: Find Search Terms Sweet Spots

What are the search term sweet spots?

Essentially, terms with significant search volume and limited competition (or difficulty). Generally, we recommend terms with at least 1K monthly search terms and low to medium competition. Additionally, more advanced keyword research takes a step further and determines the keyword difficulty.

“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.”

Although the Google Keyword Planner offers a competition level, this mainly relates to the PPC competition and not necessarily the difficulty. However, other tools on the market (see below for examples), such as Ahrefs and Moz provide difficulty metrics (although not many free tools provide unlimited difficulty rankings). However, depending on your keyword research commitment and resources, adding difficulty rankings does help find sweet spots that lead to driving traffic to your blog.

Generally, as the search volume increases, the corresponding difficulty that makes a term attractive increases as well. For example, a term with 1K – 10K search volume with a 40 difficulty is attractive because there is significant volume and limited difficulty. It is worth the effort to produce the content with these general metrics. However, a term with 100 – 1K search volume with a 40 difficulty is not attractive because there is not enough volume at that difficulty level. However, if a term with that search volume had a 20 difficulty, then it would offer a nice long-tail topic to target.

How to determine the sweet spot

Back to our example, as we continue our keyword research, we discovered the following difficulty rankings for our potential topics.

  • Internet advertising – 51
  • Online advertising – 48
  • Pay per click – 55
  • Ad network – 40

As a result, although we thought internet advertising provided a better option vs online advertising, we now know that online advertising yields a lower difficulty.

Also, please note that every niche contains different relative search volumes. In our examples, search and online ads are a huge market. As a result, the basic terms yield large volumes. However, your company may work in a small niche that simply does not return 1,000s or 10,000s searches every month. But, the analysis remains the same. The core terms will provide a certain number of results. This likely won’t change, but it does provide a benchmark to review long-tail terms.

Ultimately, finding the sweet spot balances art and science. Developing potential topics based on competitors results, along with your ideas remains formulaic. Keyword research tools provide rankings, search volumes and related terms that provide a foundation for potential topics. For example, if your competitor ranks well for XYZ, but the Keyword Planner tool shows a related ABC topic, then add it to your list. If you develop an equally informative piece of content on the related term, then it will help drive traffic to your site and take traffic away from your competitor.

For example, in our example, if Google ranked #1 for online advertising, then your upstart search engine can target internet advertising. As a new blog, it will be difficult to outrank your competitor with a higher domain authority on the same term. Therefore, creating similar content that your competitor does not rank for provides an opening.

This is how you find the sweet spot!

Step 5: Match Keyword Research to Blog Topics

As your day moves along, you’ll be ready to finally create a content calendar and list some actual blog topics. Interestingly, people conduct searches for two main reasons:

  • To find information.
  • To make transactions.

Yes, people search to buy something or find something out. In fact, about 80% of search queries are informational, where the users are looking for facts or answers to a question. Therefore, high ranking blogs help people find answers. As a result, during the final phase of your keyword research, match your terms to relevant blog topics using a variety of content types.

Fortunately, marketers possess a range of different content types that provide effective blogs for searchers interested in learning different things about your industry, products or service. To help, please find some of the most noteworthy types of blogs that help drive traffic.

Best of Lists

Best of Lists offer a unique way to rank for a variety of terms, along with provide an opening to drive influences to your site. We have all seen best of lists when researching a product. As a result, there are plenty of potential topics in any niche. To start, find a Best Of topic that relates to your core business. Why? Remember 80% of searches are informational, so you want to provide an overview and educational piece of content. Therefore, take a generic search term that maps to a best of topic, which includes things, such as:

  • Comprehensive List of Resources – Aim to create a “one-stop-shop” list for those looking for information about the topic, which ideally includes at least 50 resources and offers more useful resources and better tools than any other similar resource.
  • Unbiased & Neutral Position – Providing a neutral voice and not offering a biased perspective creates the most traction, so stick to the facts (and this includes your product or service if applicable to the list).
  • Highly Valuable Content – Again, most searchers want to learn, so Best Of lists must solve a problem or answer a question, which also builds trust with potential customers.

Finally, Best Of lists aim to drive search traffic, but also work to boost social influence as well. How? After publishing your list, then contact those named or tag them on social. Many will reciprocate with at least a social thanks, which drives more eyeballs your company and/or post.

For more information, here is our primer on executing a best of list post.

Expert Roundup Posts

Another iteration of the Best Of list is the Expert Roundup (or group interview) post. For example, these posts help drive social shares (and ideally reciprocal links) by thanking your experts named in the post. However, expert posts help answer questions as well!

Additionally, Expert Roundup posts provide an opportunity to rank for product-related terms. Why? The typical product or sales page contains company specific information. Generally, this information lacks a ton of SEO value because the intent of the page is sales. Therefore, Expert Roundups provide the potential to yield some really specific, valuable, and continuous SEO traffic. For example, our in-depth piece on Expert Roundup posts shares some insight.

“[The] salesy product page isn’t likely to rank well, but a strong group interview question with a lot of great responses could rank well for [a product] term. As a result, consider including some core keywords in a solid group interview question formula. The good news is that most of the questions will probably be really relevant for my prospects.”

First, avoid these types of group interview questions:

  • questions easily answered with a yes or no.
  • sufficiently broad topics without a single repeatable answer.
  • anything with a limited range of answers.

To help, please find some examples of good questions/formulas:

  • Biggest Mistake: “What is the Biggest Mistake {Job Title or Persona or Company Type} Makes with {Concept or Process}?”
  • Best Tips/Hacks: “What is Your {Best / Most Actionable} {Tips / Hacks} for {Concept or Process}?”
  • Favorite Tools: “What’s your {Favorite / Most Used} tool for {Concept or Process}”
  • Success Stories: “Can You Share One Great {Example / Story} of a {Concept or Process} Success?”
  • General Creativity: “What’s the Most Creative {Concept or Process} {Tip / Example} You’ve Ever {Seen / Heard}”
  • Top Traits: “What are the Top Traits of Highly Successful {Business Type}”

Glossary Posts

Glossary posts differ from Best Of and Expert Roundup posts. During your keyword research, you likely found a bunch of technical terms. Although these likely do not map to lists or questions, they make great glossary style posts.

But what is a glossary style post?

Glossary style posts offer informative resources, but also potentially generate leads because they create a library of useful and education content. For example, these posts:

  • Educate and inform your audience.
  • Position your company as an industry knowledge base.
  • Build awareness for your brand, your product or your services.
  • Drive relevant and qualified traffic to your site.
  • Get early-stage prospects into your sales funnel.

As noted in our glossary explainer:

“Glossary content should be simply written and in basic terms. The goal is that pretty much anyone reading these pages will come away with a very clear, general understanding of the topic. Resist the urge to get too technical or academic with the subject matter because you risk confusing and losing your audience.”

These posts help mix up the overall content portfolio and should be relatively straightforward to create. In many niches, these posts provide tremendous long-tail keyword content, which drive lots of traffic to your site over time. Plus, as technical topics, they tend not to change over time as well.

For more on executing a glossary post, then read our Glossary Explainer.

Keyword Research Tools

Ready to get started and create your new blogging strategy? The following tools help conduct your keyword research that provides the foundation for a blog that will drive traffic to your site.