Keyword research: Is it dead, or is it still a helpful strategy when developing your content?
The answer is that it’s still a vital part of many marketers’ strategies! If you know how to use keyword research and SEO properly, you know they’re not going anywhere!
Today’s guest is Ann Smarty, the brand and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. She is also the founder of MyBlogU.com. She’ll be sharing advice on finding core terms, find good keywords, structure your content, and a whole lot more. This episode is jam-packed with valuable information, so take the time to listen.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- A bit about Ann and what she does at Internet Marketing Ninjas and with her other projects.
- What Ann thinks about the misnomer that keyword research is dead and why she believes keyword research is so beneficial for content marketing.
- Where to start if you are new to keyword research: finding the right core terms and focusing on keywords that have high demand and low competition.
- What keyword intent is and why it’s important for a marketer to understand it. Ann talks about the difference between informational intent, transactional intent, commercial intent, and navigational intent.
- Where to put keywords within the content: Does keyword frequency and specific placement matter? Ann shares her best recommendation.
- An explanation of keyword strings and how they play a role in search engine optimization.
- Ann’s best piece of advice for someone brand new to keyword research.
Quotes by Ann:
- “Keyword research is evolving and it will be there for many years to come.”
- “Brainstorm with your team and write down which terms describe your business best.”
- “Don’t try to optimize everything. Focus on creating in-depth content.”
Nathan: Keyword research is dead, right? Or not. It turns out some marketers just misunderstand how to use keywords effectively within their content. At least that’s what you’ll learn from Ann Smarty. She’s the Community and Brand Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas and the founder of MyBlogU.com. And as Ann knows, neither keyword research nor SEO are going anywhere. What should you do now? You can listen to Ann share some super practical advice on this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast.
You’re about to learn how to find your core terms, research valuable keywords, estimate your competition, understand your searcher’s intent, structure your content, organize everything and a whole lot more.
I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and I am super pumped about this jam packed episode. Let’s hear what Ann has to share. Hey Ann, thanks a lot for being on the podcast today.
Ann: Thanks for having me.
Nathan: I’m super glad to be having you. I know that we’ve been following a lot of the content that you’re creating, so you are a great mind to be talking to about SEO in general. With that, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about yourself and what you do.
Ann: Absolutely. Right now, I’m Brand and Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninja, that’s the company based in New York, United States. I’ve been into search marketing for probably 10 years now. I’ve lost count and I came from Ukraine, which is where I started, which is where I got known and which is where I got invited to the United States to pursue my career here.
I have a few side personal projects as well. My oldest project is MyBlogGuest, I guess many people know that one. I also have my Viral Content B and MyBlogU right now, those are platforms for bloggers to promote their content, to come up with content ideas, to help each other, that kind of stuff. I specialize in marketing tools, I know lots of them, I do a lot of blogging. I’m pretty well versed with keyword research, content brainstorming and stuff like that.
Nathan: I think that’s a great transition to what we want to talk about today with the topic of keyword research and especially for content marketing. To begin this conversation, sometimes I hear that folks say keyword research is dead. I’d really love to hear your perspective on this. What’s your take on keyword research being dead or dying?
Ann: The short answer, it’s not. I know where this rumor is coming from because search engines got so much advanced, they do not need so much mathematics right now to understand what people are searching, so that’s why people think that they do not rely on keywords as much as they used to. Which is partially true but keyword research is more evolving than dying.
It’s much less about exact keyword strings and much more about in depth content, concepts mentioning all those entities and stuff. It’s evolving, becoming more natural because it’s adapting to mobile searching where people just say what they to find instead of typing those keywords. It’s evolving but it’s still there and it probably will be there for a lot of years to come because it helps people to understand demand, they help people, they help us to understand what people are interested in, they help in brainstorming, they help structure your content. It’s definitely alive and thriving.
Nathan: Maybe just to dig a little bit deeper into some of those benefits, I was wondering if you could explain why keyword research is so important for content marketing?
Ann: First of all, keywords are words, terms that people type or say into the search engine to find whatever they are looking for. That means the more popular their keyword is, the more we know about the demand of that particular audience. If they tend to type ‘Vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta,’ that tells us that probably there are many vegetarians that cannot find a good restaurant in that particular area. That shows the demand and that shows how we can cater to that demand. That’s the first step for us to analyze what people are interested in in your industry.
Secondly, keyword research helps in brainstorming content. If you want to dig deeper into what people are looking for, you can write content about that type of thing, answering those questions, so people can search and find your article. It’s very useful analytics and competitive advantage too.
Nathan: Ann, we know that keyword research is not dead, it’s really important to connect with your audience searching for stuff that you’re writing about. I was wondering if you could explain where should someone start who’s new to keyword research?
Ann: The first step is to understand what is your core terms. That’s where we start any keyword research that we use. The core term is probably what you yourself should definitely find yourself because you’re in that industry, you know what you’re doing, you know what type of business you’re owning. It’s the word that we are going to expand with all those other little words to go with. For example, if I’m in the restaurant business again, my keyword is not the restaurant because I don’t want to rank for restaurant in the Google Search, first it’s impossible. Secondly, it’s probably useless because people are not looking for just restaurant. They are looking for restaurant in your area, they’re looking for vegetarian restaurants, they are looking for more specific things. That core term is really your first thing you want to rank in Google.
Again, if I’m in the restaurant business, I want to rank to for restaurants in Atlanta because that’s where I want people to find me. Or if I’m creating a content course, I want to rank for content marketing course in Google for people to find me, that’s my core term I want to rank in. That’s up to you which your core term is.
Nathan: It makes a lot of sense. Ranking for something like restaurant doesn’t really help you out. People could be searching for a definition or something like that. I want to explore the idea of core terms just a little bit more. How can a marketer find those core terms?
Ann: First just regular brainstorming probably with your team, you sit down, you just write down which terms describe your business best. If you are really new to the industry, which is of course also an option, you go to things like glossaries, you just search those words on Google and find thesaurus or other generic things that you don’t know about the industry and you find those terms that describe whatever you’re doing.
You find maybe synonyms to your obvious terms that you know, there is also a good tool that Google provides, it’s changing all the time. I’m still using it but it’s not that as easy as it used to be, but still it’s a good one, Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool. You type your word there, it will show you not just that word but also related terms, terms that people tend to be interested in when they are searching for your words. You create a list. Don’t do too many, 10 core terms is a great list to start with.
Nathan: Another thing about keyword planning and keyword research is valuable keywords, this is something you’ve written about. I was wondering if you could define what you mean by valuable keywords. How can a marketer find those valuable keywords?
Ann: Let’s go back to that restaurant example of ours. It’s an easy example that’s why I keep going back to it. Restaurant is not your term, it’s a generic term that people could type but you will not really benefit from ranking there. Let’s say your core term is restaurant in Atlanta. That’s the word you ideally want to rank for in top five, probably top three in Google. But it’s an obvious one and probably it’s very tough to rank for because it has that huge competition that will be very hard to beat and it will take years to get there. It’s a good word but it’s probably not that valuable for you.
The idea of keyword research is find those terms that not only have high demand but they also have low competition, those gold things that you want to be on top of Google and it will not take you as much time to rank for your really obvious core term.
Nathan: Something there you just mentioned was competition. I was wondering if you could explain for me how you estimate competition for keywords?
Ann: First of all using the tools. The tool that I just mentioned, Google Keyword Planner has that built in, they would show you the competition, it’s either low, medium or high. Beware that it’s the competition in Google AdWords. Those are probably not necessarily the competition in Google search that will be the same.
For example, again, if you want to check restaurant, it might not have a huge competition Google AdWords because no one want to pay money to rank there but it’s really huge competition in generic Google search. Take that in mind but do use the data.
Another tool that I’m using is Serpstat, they also show the completion and the tool lets you filter or sort results by competition. For example you can check the filters and only see low competitive results. But again, it’s also based on commercial data. Those advertises that pay money to rank in Google. Once you have your list of core terms and other terms that you want to rank for, make sure to search them in Google and see some signs of lower competitive terms.
I’ll first describe the signs of high competitive terms. If you see many homepages ranking on top 10 in Google, that’s probably a competitive term because homepages are the most powerful pages of websites. If they dominate top 10 in Google, that means a lot of websites want to be there, it’s probably not that easy to be among them. Look for terms that have the variety of searchers out, sometimes it’s the homepage, sometimes you see a nautical ranking there. Those are terms that will not be that hard to beat.
Another thing to check is huge sites. If you see huge players ranking on top 10, like Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, all those searches are really, really hard to outrank because those are very powerful domains. They can be different in different industries, you probably know the biggest corporate players in your industry so look out for them. If they dominate top 10, it will be hard to be among them if you’re a small business for example. My biggest and most useful advice is just search Google for those terms you want to rank for and look for those signs, see how difficult it might be to be there on top with them.
Nathan: I want to explore just another facet. I think another really big part of keywords research is understanding intent. I was wondering if you could explain just a little bit about what is keyword intent and why it might be important for a marketer to understand?
Ann: Keyword intent represents what a person who types those words in Google is willing to do, the action, the action they are going to take. Some people search Google to find information. This is informational intent, they really want to find articles to understand more about the concept. They are not really going to go any further and buy or spend money at this point of time. This is informational intent.
There is another type of keyword intent, it’s called transactional. That’s really when a person wants to buy something. That’s a very commercial intent and that’s when you will see a lot of Google Ads on top because advertisers are ready to pay money to be there.
And there is also the third type of keyword intent that’s called navigational. That’s when a searcher wants to find a company, they know which brand they’re searching for. For example if I type Valentine’s Day gift Amazon, I probably want to find those valentines gift ideas on Amazon. I’m not really much interested in any other domains that can be there. That’s called navigational keyword intent.
Some people also distinguish the fourth type of keyword intent that’s called commercial. That’s something in the middle between information and transactional. Some people search for valentine gift ideas, that means they want to read more about that, get inspired, brainstorm. When they find something really worthy, when they feel inspired, they’re also willing to buy. That’s both informational and transactional intent. If you are lucky or if you do a good job at creating content and inspire people, you may end up with a sale as well.
Nathan: Another part of this is just making sure that everything’s organized behind the scenes with all of the different sorts of keywords intents and different core terms that we have. I was wondering if you could explain for us how do you organize your keywords.
Ann: Keywords can be overwhelming when you start researching or looking using all those tools I mentioned. You will see that you have list and list, dozens of keywords. If you export to Excel, you will end up with hundreds of them. Without proper organization, you will probably be lost and the keyword research process will not be useful for you as much.
Start organizing those keywords with the very first tool you’re using. It is the first step, not just collecting list by list and then doing something with it, no. Start right now and start with the first type. The most obvious one, organize by intent.
If you see some keywords that you think are informational, put them in a different spreadsheet or different column and assign a content team to take care of those. If you see keywords with transactional intent, that’s something to probably give to your sales people or whoever is managing your product listings for them to understand which products to put on top, which products needs to have some more content descriptions, maybe reviews, how to put those products that people are mostly interested in on them, on top, give them some priority.
If that’s commercial intent, keywords with commercial intent can be both sold great content but make sure to mention those products in that content as well.
The navigational intent is for your reputation management team probably. Make sure from reading those keywords lists, you already know what to do, which action and which team is going to take care of those. From there you can go to organize by action, some keywords can become new content so you assign action, create new content, the other keywords maybe better for your already existing content so you will reoptimize your old content and URL, what you’re doing.
There is also another way to organize those keywords is by content tab. You are going to create frequently asked question section or there could be a blog post or that could be an in depth guide on ebook, for example or it could be glossaries, product reviews, all those types of content that you are going to create, put those ideas next to those keywords right when you’re going through them. That’s a good start for organizing those keyword research ideas that you have.
Nathan: I was wondering, let’s just say we have a bunch of ideas, we know what we’re going to execute, let’s say we’re actually creating the content, I’m wondering if you could share where we put keywords within our content?
Ann: It’s a funny question it used to be different in the past when people had those notion of keyword frequency within the article. You knew that you had to mention this keyword x amount of times and Google will understand this article is about this keyword. It’s the oldest SEO tactic under the sun and people still get confused because they still think it’s a valid one.
These days, we don’t recommend doing any keyword frequency or percentage in text, it just makes the content sound funny. What I prefer is putting those keywords in important parts of the article. It could be the title, the actual main name of the article and the page that you have. Make sure that you mention your keyword there. The most prominent part of the article of any web page is its title.
First, it’s what people see in search results when they search. If you’re doing a good job, people search for Atlanta restaurant, you will see those keywords bold in search results there in title and that’s why people click. It’s the most important part of the page to put your keyword into. Probably mention that somewhere on top of the article so that people will see that that’s what they want to see, understand that, hey, this keyword is mentioned so I’m staying on this page and then I’m reading through the site, it’s a good way to decrease the bounce rate of the page and get people through into that content is to mention those keywords in the first two paragraphs, I would say.
Another good place is the top headings, those sub sections of the webpage. For example if I was writing about, I don’t know, again, if I have a list of Atlanta restaurants, I have subheadings about vegetarian restaurants, steak restaurants, Indian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, all those top headings make sure not just say vegetarian restaurants but use your main keyword, vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta. Don’t forget to use the whole keyword on those top headings where you list those restaurants further. Those top headings is really important.
Also, the URL of the page. The actual URL is also a good place to put those keywords into. Make sure your content does sound natural, so don’t go all crazy about putting those keywords as often as possible. Find those prominent places that search engines and your readers will see on the spot, so they will understand, hey this is the page I was looking for.
Nathan: I think that’s a really great breakdown Ann. Thank you for that. One other part that’s really important for keyword is understanding keyword strings and I was wondering if you could explain what keyword strings are and how they might play a role with search engine optimization?
Ann: Keyword string is the exact way a keyword is placed in search. It’s the exact query. It also causes lots of confusion. For example, what should I rank for, Atlanta restaurant or restaurant in Atlanta? Those are two different keyword strings and we want to make sure that both of them make it to your page. It’s not as important as it used to be, and the past Google relied very heavily on those keyword strings. If you rank for Atlanta restaurant, you were nowhere to be found for the restaurants in Atlanta.
These days, Google understand that much better. If you’re on top on Google for one phrase, you will be somewhere in the same position for another things as well because Google knows that’s the same way people just put in the search box. Make sure you understand those related keyword strings and you mention them somewhere in the article but don’t create different pages for each of them. That was a very popular tactic back in the days, creating separate page for Atlanta restaurant in the singular, separate page for Atlanta restaurants, plural, separate page for restaurants in Atlanta, we had all those different pages targeting each keyword string.
These days it’s not about that. Create one in depth page targeting all of them and mentioning all the related concepts, entities, synonyms, everything that make the article rich and the content of the page rich. That’s why I mentioned that in the article don’t try to optimize for everything but focus on creating in depth and right content that includes all the concepts, all of the entities, all the synonyms and that’s how Google understands that this is a content worth of ranking high.
Nathan: I think all of this has been really great advice. I have just one more piece to ask you about this. Let’s say that someone is brand new to this, what would be your best advice for someone new to keyword research? Where do they even begin?
Ann: Begin with your head, first of all. No one will be as good as you in telling what your site is about. I mean it. You somehow ended up in that industry, you somehow ended up in that Niche, you somehow found it. Start with how you would be looking for what you’re doing, how you would search for that.
Create the list of three or five words that you yourself are using to find something and then just branch out, find synonyms, related terms using tools like Serpstat, Hrap, STM Rush, again Google Keyword Planner. Play with those tools for a week before you understand what are your valuable terms and search for everything that you find on Google. One more thing here, make sure that you disable those personalized results because you would see your own private results and they will mess up with what you’re searching, so disable that. Search for every, every keyword that you are looking to include in your website and optimize full.
Nathan: Ann, I think that’s really great advice, I want to say thanks a lot for being on the podcast, for sharing your advice on keyword research even optimizing our content using keyword strings. This was great. Thank you so much!
Ann: Thank you for having me. Thanks a lot.
Nathan: A little over a year ago, our blog manager Ben joined the team here at CoSchedule. Ben came to CoSchedule with a ton of SEO knowledge and when he implemented the best practices Ann covered in this episode, we grew our organic search traffic by literally hundreds of thousands of views that helped us boost our traffic dramatically which in turn helped us generate bigger results.
Thanks Ann for sharing all of your advice on keyword research and thanks to you too for checking out this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast.