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As content marketers, we’ve all been there. You’ve discovered a great keyword idea, one that is sure to convince your audience of the value of your product. You create a piece of content for it, and… it falls flat.
Nicole Kohler, Content Strategist at Animalz, recently sat down with us to discuss how she and her team combat this all-to-common problem by helping clients choose the right keywords to address their audience at different stages of the content marketing funnel, and how they evaluate those keywords—before the content gets created—to maximize impact.
Watch the video now, and check out our transcription of the top points below.
When I start doing keyword research, I find it helpful to ask myself some questions to determine impact, and how that impact is going to affect the marketing funnel.
1. Who are we trying to attract?
Is it someone who has just started their journey? Are they doing research on something? Do they already have something in their cart?
There’s a big difference to me between someone who is thinking “I might want to start drinking smoothies” and someone who has a blender in their shopping cart. Those are very different people, those are very different stages of the funnel, and they need very different pieces of content to be attracted to your site.
2. What do they need (or think they need)?
Are they looking for information? Do they need help making a decision? Are they looking for ideas?
3. How is your content going to solve their problem?
Nobody likes the experience of seeing the first result for a search, clicking on it, and it doesn’t actually deliver anything. We’ve all been there.
Your content should be intimately tied to the target keyword. How is that keyword going to relate to the content that you’re going to produce?
I almost always recommend starting with a keyword and trying to develop content around that rather than trying to shove keywords into existing content. That’s typically where you see misalignment.
I almost always recommend starting with a keyword and trying to develop content around that rather than trying to shove keywords into existing content. That’s typically where you see misalignment @nicoleckohler Click To Tweet
4. What are they going to do next?
After reading your content, do you want this person to think, “yes a blender would help me start drinking smoothies!” or do you want them to be confident in their decision to buy the blender that they already have in their shopping cart?
Case Study #1: Focusing on top-of-funnel (TOF) keywords
Focus on top-of-funnel keywords when your goal is to drive more traffic, visibility, and authority for your brand.
One example for the case of using TOF keywords I have is a leading applicant tracking system (ATS) that brought Animalz on with the goal of driving traffic from an audience of recruiters and HR professionals. Because their biggest need was traffic and visibility, we started by focusing on top-of-funnel keywords. We may not do this for an ATS that had significant market share or name brand awareness, but what they needed most was people to be aware of them.
Relevant, TOF keywords could address a recruiter who was looking for information—for example, how do I do my job better, how do I find candidates, how do I recruit more candidates, what kind of outreach email should I be sending. Things along those lines.
Recruiters looking for this information might not yet be looking for an applicant tracking system, but over the course of reading this really helpful content, they would be introduced to the product.
So when we look for TOF keywords, we might use Alexa to put in a keyword that has high relevance to the customer. “Job posting sites” was an example. Using Alexa, we can see suggestions for other relevant terms, and how popular and competitive they are.
One example we found was “free job posting sites” which is actually the variant that we ended up going with because it was slightly less competitive and slightly more popular. By targeting this keyword we were able to strike this balance between being able to get our foot in the door competition-wise and still rank for a popular term.
Something else that we’re looking at when we do keyword research is who is already ranking for this keyword? It’s helpful to see who is getting traffic and use that as a starting point to figure out why they’re getting so much traffic.
Case study #2: Focusing on middle-of-funnel (MOF) keywords
Focus on middle-of-funnel keywords when you’ve already built a lot of brand awareness, however potential customers aren’t necessarily aware of you as a solution to your needs, or aren’t aware of new features, products, or services that you offer.
One example where we determined MOF keywords were the best route for our customer was with a leading live chat platform. They hired Animalz specifically to beef up their SEO performance. Their blog is really well liked, but they wanted to find new customers who weren’t aware of their most recent features and their most recent product improvements.
So the solution for them is middle-of-funnel keywords. In this case, we are targeting keywords that are a little bit less broad than TOF keywords.
For example, we might be targeting an audience that is thinking: “I think I might need live chat, but do I need livechat or chatbot?” These potential customers are already thinking about specific solutions.
Again, it’s useful here to look at the share of voice for specific keywords that you’re considering. Let’s take the keyword “customer service chatbot” as an example. We want to find out what people are looking for when they search this term, what are people saying about it, and what sites are capturing traffic for the term.
In this example, we found that the traffic for this specific keyword was mainly going to expert publishers. For example, ChatInc and Chatbots Magazine, these are expert sites. But what was also interesting to see was that an individual writer on Medium and someone who made a Youtube video were also capturing traffic for the term.
So when we were evaluating this as a keyword to produce content around, we knew we’d have to establish that we are experts in this space.
That’s a challenge that goes beyond a single piece of content and a single keyword, but it’s something to think about when you’re creating content for a competitive keyword.
Case study #3: Focusing on branded keywords
Focus on branded keywords when there’s already brand awareness and/or search volume around the brand. Sometimes brands do this simply when they want to own the space, other times it’s to make sure people are getting information right from the source.
One example from our work that involves focusing on branded keywords is KaiOS, a customer of Animalz.
KaiOS is the 3rd most widely used operating system worldwide, and they’ve experienced extremely fast growth, going from 0 to 100M devices in less than a three year period.
That kind of fast growth was something they weren’t necessarily prepared for, so in their minds, they began content marketing late. They’d been doing some PR, but their online presence wasn’t really there. News websites, Medium articles, YouTube videos, etc. were outranking KaiOS on any given keyword surrounding their brand.
What we wanted to do with them was focus on branded keywords. You could call this a bottom-of-funnel strategy, and in some ways it is. Developers searching for the KaiOS brand already know what KaiOS is, they’re invested in it, and they’re trying to take the next step.
One of the first few articles that we produced for them was “Learn to for develop KaiOS with these resources.”
This article targeted the keyword “develop for KaiOS” along with a couple of other longer tail keywords, like “KaiOS development resources” and “learn to develop for KaiOS.”
The traffic for this term was scattered across so many different sites, and there wasn’t just one big resource for this. But if people want to learn about our customers’ operating system, they should go to our customers’ site. It’s still very early on, but we are seeing increased keyword rankings for these types of branded keywords, and we’ve also seen sessions up 27% month over month.
Wrapping all this up, here are a couple tips for impactful keyword research:
1. Define your target audience before choosing keywords
This ties back to the questions we ask before choosing SEO keywords: What are they looking for? What phase of the purchase process are they in? Do they think they need to purchase something, or is purchasing not even on their minds yet?
You might consider doing a buyer persona exercise if you have to in order to figure out who the audience is before you choose keywords, because the stage that they’re at in the marketing funnel really ties into your keyword choice.
2. Study who’s already ranking to understand why
You can use Alexa’s keyword share of voice tool to easily get started with this.
As I said in my example of the applicant tracking system where we were looking at the keyword “free job posting sites” as a top-of-funnel keyword, it’s really helpful to know exactly what searchers want from that keyword. Are they looking for the biggest, most complete list of free job posting sites, or do they want six really-well vetted, deep reviews of free job posting sites?
If we know who’s already ranking and why they’re ranking, we have a much better chance of writing content that matches the search intent and gives searchers what they want.
3. Use more keywords with lower volume
A lot of marketers shy away from lower volume terms, but—especially when you get farther down the funnel—a lower volume, longer-tail keyword signals that a user knows exactly what they are much closer to making a decision.
I’m not saying use 5 searches per month terms necessarily, but if you’re looking at a keyword like “Vitamix blender vs. other brands,” a person searching that term is that much closer to making a decision than someone searching for “blenders.”
In the case of someone searching for “blenders,” it’s hard to understand the search intent. Do they know what a blender is? Do they want recipes? Do they want to buy a blender?
4. Track and report on your results frequently
We do this at Animalz monthly or quarterly for our clients, depending on how much content we’re producing. You can do this for individual keywords, backlinks, shares, etc.
Tracking and reporting on your results is the only way to know if you picked the right keywords. If you determine the content you created for the keyword wasn’t right, you can do a refresh or take a step back to see if there’s something in your strategy that needs to be revisited, and think about what you can do to improve performance.
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