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6 Step Guide to Keyword Research that Turns Your Content into a Lead Machine

A whopping 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. Making sure your business ranks well is imperative to being found online. 

Keyword research is the first critical step in developing your SEO strategy. But the way that you undertake keyword research for your homepage will be different from how you settle on the right search terms for your content like blog posts and podcasts. Plus, keyword research and content creation should have a symbiotic relationship. 

As you research your keywords and begin to understand how prospects are searching, you can plan and create content that speaks directly to searchers’ intent and needs. 

Here’s a quick, 6-step guide to help you get your content research off the ground and drive the right kind of traffic — traffic that is more likely to convert.

We’ll start by talking about what keyword research is.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing popular search terms that people enter into search engines like Google, and include them strategically in your content so that your content appears higher on a search engine results page. 

Keyword research can help you find ideas for your next blog post, learn more about the needs of your audience, and keep up to date with the lingo of the ever-changing search landscape. Researching what people type into search engines and using this data to create targeted content will ultimately help you drive the right traffic to your site.

Here are 6 quick, easy steps to help you get started. 

Step 1: Start with Your Own List of Keywords

Start by brainstorming on your own. You know your business and what you offer to your customers, so you probably have a solid sense of the terms they’re searching for to find you.

It’s important to note that in recent years there’s been a shift in the way that Google handles search queries. Google is now more invested in ranking results based on intent. The person who searches for “home remodeling ideas” is probably looking for something different than the person who searches for “best home remodeler in Kansas City,” right? The latter searcher is probably ready to start knocking down walls and ripping out tile, whereas the former might be daydreaming about redoing their kitchen someday in the next couple of years. Therefore, the results are going to vary.

Google acknowledges that the intent behind those searches is radically different, and so they’re now displaying results differently for those search queries. Because of this trend towards semantic search, it’s now important for businesses to consider long-tail keywords.

While your homepage might have keywords that are broader and more likely to cast a wider net, snatching up searchers at various stages of the customer journey, you want the keywords associated with your individual product pages and informative content to be more targeted.

If a home remodeler has various pages for the types of services they offer—kitchen, bathroom, home additions, basement finishing, and so on—they should have long-tail keywords for each of those pages that speak to that subset of the broader audience.

Step 2: Turn to Auto-Suggest

Another great starting point for your content keyword research is to start searching in Google yourself. Autocomplete is a great to use early and often when developing content calendars and general organic search strategies. You can uncover quality long-tail phrases that are commonly searched across the web by your audience.

Take some of the broader keywords you’ve identified for your business and see what comes up in auto-suggest.

Let’s return to the home remodeling example. When you type in home remodel, you get some auto-suggestions that indicate a few trends. One is about technology; the fifth and sixth suggestion have to do with apps and software. The other is about financing; people often search about loans or government incentives associated with remodeling.

This tells you something important about what prospects are thinking about when considering remodeling for themselves. They’re worried about the financial aspect (we all know renovations aren’t cheap!), and they like the idea of being able to have a hand in the design process, accessing technology that can help them plan out and visualize their dream kitchen or bathroom.

If you don’t already have content on your website that speaks to those major areas of interest or concern, maybe it’s time to consider adding some! It’s also helpful to go through and click on those auto-suggestions to see what content does appear when you Google “home remodel incentive,” for example. Who is already ranking in those results? Are they direct competitors? Is there a gap in the type of information you can find in that search—one that you could fill with original content on your site?

Step 3: Check out the Competition and See How They’re Ranking For Your Keywords

While it’s important to think about your own strategy, it’s also a smart idea to consider what your competitors are up to. There are plenty of tools out there that can help you do some opposition research into the keywords your competitors are using.

A site like SEMrush can help you see your known competitor’s keywords, identify other potential competitors that you hadn’t previously considered, and monitor shifts in where your domain is ranking (you can access a free 14-day trial of SEMrush Pro using this link).

You can also spend some time on your competitors’ website. Take a look at how they organize their content. Is there a way for you to differentiate your site and content from theirs—a unique approach that you can take to sharing what you do?

Step 4: Ask Your Customers

By this point, you’ve done a lot of digging into keyword research on your own. Now it’s time to ask your customers what they think. Sometimes the people who know and love your business will have a unique take on what’s so special about you, and it will help you to hit on a vein of content to mine that you wouldn’t have found on your own.

Don’t think of this as a daunting task. Asking for feedback can be as simple as sending a quick survey or simply asking people as part of your conversation with them while you’re on the phone.

There are a few helpful questions to ask, like:

“What search terms did you use when you were researching how to fix your problem?”
“What search terms ultimately led you to our business?”

Plus, it’s helpful to ask what it is that they think sets you apart from the competition; writing about what makes you different is a way to help your content stand out.

Step 5: Look at Google’s Keyword Planner (and Google Trends)

Once you’ve gathered up this bundle of keyword suggestions, it’s time to head to Google’s Keyword Planner tool. While it’s designed to work with paid search, it can also help direct your organic search efforts. Keyword Planner can help you get an idea of the right keywords you want to target by considering monthly search frequency, competition, and even cost-per-click (CPC) pricing.

 You do need a Google Ads account to access it, but once you’re in, you can begin to get information about the size of the audience you’ll be able to reach with each keyword, and more. 

Google Trends can help you determine which terms are trending upward, and are thus worth more of your focus. (This can be accessed without an ads account.)

For local businesses, it’s best to hone in on keywords that are not overly competitive and have a manageable reach. If you go for broad keywords that are highly competitive and can reach millions of people, it doesn’t do you much good. You’ll then find yourself coming up against giant brands, and you’ll never be able to rank well in that arena. Plus, you don’t need to reach tens of millions of people; you’re serving your specific community, so those are the people you want to see your name in SERPs.

Step 6: Create Hub Pages

Once you’ve settled on the keywords for your content, it’s important to mold the content itself to speak to the intent behind these keywords. You understand now what your audience wants, it’s time to create content that gives them just that.

I’ve talked a lot about building hub pages recently, and that’s because they’re an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to establishing trust and authority plus dominating in search results. Hub pages allow you to build what’s essentially a mini-Wikipedia for your area of expertise. You put all of your content related to a given topic on a hub page and tie it together in a way that addresses the questions a prospect might have.

Let’s return to the home remodeler example. One of their hub pages could be “The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Remodeling.” On that page, they’ll link out to content (blog posts, video, podcasts) that cover all the ins and outs of a kitchen remodel, from initial research to picking finishes to project management once the renovation is underway.

Through keyword research, you learned that financing the project and using tech in the design stages were important issues for a lot of homeowners, so you want to include content that addresses those issues.

With this hub page, you become the comprehensive source of information on the entire kitchen renovation process. Not only does this allow you to become an authority early on in prospects’ research (making them all the more likely to turn to you when they’re ready to hire someone!), it also does great things for your SEO. Prospects stay on this hub page for a while—there’s a lot of information to soak in! They click on a couple of articles, navigating back to the hub page in between. They may even share an article with their spouse about the renovation process, or send a video to their friend who’s helping them pick new appliances.

When visitors spend a lot of time on one page, search engines get the message that it’s a well of great content. They want to provide their searchers with the best results, so they bump your hub page up in SERPs to ensure that it gets found by a broader audience.

Great keyword research for content is about using that research to guide your content creation process. You can learn a lot about search intent and what prospects are looking for by undertaking effective keyword research. Armed with that knowledge, you can then create content that speaks to those prospects’ wants and needs, ensuring that you stand out from the competition.

5 How to Systematically Create an Annual Editorial Calendar

I talk about content, well, all of the  time. I know many of you are sick of reading about it, but I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. In fact, high-quality content that addresses the needs, concerns and questions of your ideal clients is pretty much the price of admission these days.

It’s not enough to create and optimize web pages and call that content either. You must commit to producing content much like a publisher of a magazine and you must do it strategically.

Content is Strategy

Waking up on Monday and deciding what to write about on your blog is not a content strategy. Content is such an essential element in the marketing puzzle you must plan your content like you might your promotional calendar or budget for the year.

Taking a strategic view of content means you must understand the body of work you need to create over time to turn your content efforts into an asset that will serve your business long-term.

In my view, this means applying the same kind of keyword, competitive and linking research that most associate with SEO to your editorial approach. And that’s the point really – in order for your content to pay dividends it must help drive traffic, shares, influence and conversion.

Finding Your Themes

The first step is to start making a list of your most important themes. I generally try to find three core themes and about nine supplemental themes. (Nice tidy 12 monthly themes.) Your core themes are the kinds of things that might be found on your homepage or even in the title attribute of your home page. Or, perhaps the main navigational elements of your site.

Your supplemental themes round out the list and while not as important, certainly make fodder for your ongoing blogging efforts.

Start with brainstorming. Lock yourself away and start thinking about the kinds of things people ask about the most, where you make your most money, or where you see the greatest opportunities in your industry. This is often enough to create a good start to your list. Obviously, if you have a team, get them involved – they may actually know better than you. (Industry jargon that means nothing to the prospect must be left out here.)

Now take that list to the Google Keyword Planner and see if you can find themes that have significant volume. You must balance key terms with being too generic though. A term like “marketing” wouldn’t make sense as a theme, even for a marketing consultant, but a term like “referral marketing tactics” might.

From this work, you should have developed a pretty solid dozen or so candidates for your monthly themes. I also like to take the terms to the Google search page and see what they suggest as related searches and who shows up on page one for these terms now.

BuzzSumo

Researching Topics

Now that I have my terms I want to get more specific ideas for actual topics I might map to each month.

For this task, I lean pretty heavily on a tool called BuzzSumo. There are other tools that can be useful, such as Topsy, but BuzzSumo does so many things I find myself sticking to it.

The basic thing BuzzSumo does is show you the most shared content for any term you put into its search box. (Note this can be a URL as well if, for example, you want to see most shared content on a competitors site.)

I use it to uncover actual highly shared blog posts around each of my themes so I can get some solid ideas for my own content and see what types of things get shared the most by others. You do have to use a little creativity here – for example a plumber that does bathroom plumbing might also search some common problems related to bathroom plumbing to find good ideas.

I might also employ a site like Quora to see the kinds of questions people are asking about my themes. Answering questions is always a good idea for a blog post.

Going Beyond

Now that I have a good start to the actual topics related to my themes, I want to start figuring out who else writes about my themes, who else like to share this kind of content and what sites are seen as influential in the space.

Again, BuzzSumo is a pretty great power tool. With the higher paid plans, you can discover a list of influential bloggers related to the topics you are interested in. I generally follow and list these folks on Twitter and even subscribe to some of their blogs in Feedly so I can start sharing their content. Eventually, I may try to develop the kind of relationship where I could ask one or more of these folks if I could submit guest content or if they would like to do so for my site.

You can also narrow your topic search to include only guest posts. It’s pretty good bet that a person likes to write guest posts or a site likes to take guest posts if they show up on this search.

This is indeed a way to get more content to fill your plan but it’s also the strategic part of building links to your site and gaining exposure for your content outside of your own efforts.

I further use BuzzSumo’s info to show me who is linking to and sharing content related to my topics and often create more lists to look for more strategic relationships beyond what people might call the “usual suspects in thought leadership land.”

Editorial Calendar

Now Document

By this point, I have a pretty good amount of content identified to fill in my plan so it’s time to turn to a tool to document a plan and calendar. You can use any spreadsheet really (Smartsheet, Google Sheets, Excel) to document your themes across twelve months and then simply add the elements of your platform – blog, podcast, guest posts, eBooks, etc. Then you set your goals for how much content you want in each element each month. (I wrote a post a while back called 10 Ways to Use One Piece of Content – you should read this post as well if today’s idea appeals to you.)

For a specific view of each month, you might want to add an editorial calendar as a spreadsheet or by using a WordPress plugin. It’s pretty amazing how simply documenting a plan seems to help get more done by keeping the focus on the future rather than scrambling to create the present. (I realize that’s not a very Zen idea, but it’s the reality of business.)

You know you need content, so stop fighting it and start making a plan that allows you to better delegate, build and amplify your content asset.

 

4 9 Reasons to Take Keyword Research Beyond SEO

keyword research
When the marriage of Content + SEO + Social became official back in about 2009 (although some states still don’t recognize it) the act of keyword research became a vastly different animal.

While SEO pros still use keyword research today as a means of identifying terms and phrases to use to optimize pages on a website, the act of keyword research implies so much more in the modern marketing world.

Today, I use the art of keyword research to:

Optimize existing content – relying heavily on the Google Keyword Planner tool and the paid ad sets function in particular I try to determine key foundational phrases to build our entire online presence around. Obviously this is work is informed by our marketing strategy and some understanding of who we are trying attract and what we want them to do.

Conduct on page optimization – Again, relying pretty heavily on data from the Google Keyword Planner and competitive research using tools like MOZ, keyword research is used to work on under the hood things like title tags, alt image attributes and page descriptions.

Spot opportunities for new content – Most of the folks I’ve worked with over the years don’t have nearly enough content or in some cases any content focused on some of the most important and most profitable aspects of their business. I use keyword research to help build a content strategy.

Create content themes – I’ve long promoted the use of an editorial calendar as a tool to help properly build out your content and publishing routine. After brainstorming with a client’s team, I turn to keyword research to start building editorial themes. I then take my proposed theme list to BuzzSumo and start looking for the most shared content around these themes. I might also create content alerts for my themes in BuzzSumo so I can start passively monitoring when my themes are written about.

Build influencer lists – Once I know what my themes are going to be for the year I know that I want to start building lists of individuals who can support those themes. I believe that building industry influencer lists based on content and keyword themes allows you to create a more focused list than one that relies simply on large followings as a metric. My go-to tools for this step are BuzzSumo and Inkybee. I might also employ the MOZ Followerwonk tool to help segment Twitter lists and followers.

Build journalist lists – Just like the step above I always want to use my keyword themes to help identify a small list of journalists that might be influential in spreading the word. Once I create the list I generally create a Twitter list and employ BuzzSumo alerts to get notification when one of my journalists puts something out. I might also employ a tool like Toucan that sends me alerts when any journalist puts a query out matching my keyword phrases.

Build blog lists – Oftentimes the best way to learn about an industry or keep tabs on what my clients, competitors, influencers and journalists are doing on a day to day basis is to create lists of blogs for each and add my keyword research to help identify new voices writing about my terms. I use BuzzSumo and Inkybee to help turn up these new blogs and then employ Feedly to easily group and scan these blogs.

Build guest lists – Another tactic that bubbles to the surface during this expanded view of keyword research is that of building lists of potential guest bloggers and potential blogs where I might try to place my content. Again, my key themes are at play here once you have a good idea of your themes you can start to unearth people who like to write guest posts and places that accept guest posts. One trick is to simply use your keyword phrases with the added term “guest post” into BuzzSumo or KeyHole and see what turns up.

Build link lists – I’ll end up with a core SEO tactic that I believe is so much better informed by keyword research coupled with many of the elements above. Using tools like the MOZ Open Site Explorer you can easily build a list of backlinks to your competitors, but by thinking in terms of content themes and all of the list building and networking involved in previous steps you start to build a much more organic and potentially more useful list of backlink opportunities.

 

3 Weekend Favs February Twenty Two

My weekend blog post routine includes posting links to a handful of tools or great content I ran across during the week.

I don’t go into depth about the finds, but encourage you check them out if they sound interesting. The photo in the post is a favorite for the week from Flickr or one that I took out there on the road.

Noche FlamencaI was in New York City this week and caught this show by Noche Flamenca.

Good stuff I found this week:

Easy Tweet Embed – WordPress plugin that makes it easier to embed tweet call to action in your blog posts

Hatchbuck – Low cost, simply sales and marketing CRM tool

Google Keyword Planner Hacks – Great article explores ways to use this Google tool that Google didn’t intend