BLACKSHIP ONE PRESENTS…
Swipe our Keyword Research Strategy That we used to scale to 160,000 page views in 6 Months
In this post we’re going to show you the keyword research strategy that we use at our content marketing agency to scale websites.
Behind the Scenes Peek At a Content Marketing Agency’s Keyword Research Strategy (PLUS: Free template)
At our content marketing agency (Blackship.One), we use a very simple simple keyword research strategy and we’ve used it for over 20 years to scale web properties into websites that receive millions of yearly views.
The strategy not only works in the long term, but it also has proven itself to be a great short term strategy as well.
Using this exact keyword research strategy, we scaled a website from just over 6000 page views / month to over 168,000 organic page views / month in only 6 months.
Let me show you how we approach keyword planning.
Keyword research is easier than you think
First, we don’t overcomplicate the process. We’re big picture thinkers and we look at content as a long term investment that will create real value for your business for many years to come.
Therefore, we don’t look at keyword research as a strategy to secure quick one-off wins. Although we do grow way faster than the vast majority of websites, speed isn’t actually our main priority.
Our goal is to build a strong business foundation. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive content library of the best content online for a given subject. Therefore our goal at the start of any content marketing campaign is to plan out what we want that library to look like.
We’re not in this to write blog posts, we’re in this to write books.
Knowing our end goal allows us not to overcomplicate the process because we’re not overly concerned about winning the battle. Instead we’re entirely focus is on winning the war.
That said, of course we don’t march onto the battlefield without a solid plan.
Keyword planning and brainstorming
Keyword research can be a rabbit hole. Therefore, when we start a new content marketing campaign, we block out three days where the team comes together for an intense brainstorming and planning session (watch the video on our homepage if you want to see this process in action).
We use a modified version of the design sprint, a structured design process developed by Jake Knapp when he worked at Google ventures, that is used to prototype product ideas quickly.
However, we’ve modified the process to be a 2-3 day virtual meeting where creative people, designers, content strategists and often even programmers come together to hash out content ideas for the coming months.
The process is heavily influenced by design thinking and the agile processes, so although you need to lock content decisions in for the coming 30 days, the framework provides the flexibility to make adjustments, and even pivot if necessary, in order to optimize your content marketing campaign on a month to month basis.
Plan the entire book
As I’ve already touched on, we think of content planning the same way an author would think about writing their book.
This is essentially how we look at content planning. We see the big picture, me map the main plot points and we more or less know the ending we’re trying to get to before we even start.
We think about all of the chapters that need to be written (content clusters) as well as all of the content that will fill up our chapters (topics). At this point, we also often jot down rough ideas for chapter titles, or sketch notes in the margin about interesting, case studies, stories or stats we could provide to help excite our readers or provide additional value.
Early stage content planning is always a bit of a mess. However, at the same time it’s exciting. As we begin mapping out the entire book, we start to see all of the exciting possibilities. We know the only thing that stands between us and our goal of creating 300 pieces of content is perseverance. We cover the importance of perseverance in our blog post entitled “content marketing and the art of money getting“.
However, at this point, we’re not diving into technical details such as keyword volume, LSI keywords, organic competitiveness or content gaps. We’re just thinking about how we can provide as much value to our audience as possible.
Early on in the process, we don’t want to get bogged down by the mathematics of winning in organic search. Instead, we naively focus on what the best book on our topic would look like. We have many months to be intimidated by high domain authority (DA) competitors, pages that have been marinating in organic search for many years with thousands of backlinks and high ranking competitor content that has 5000 + words which includes original research that would have taken months to put together.
No, we don’t worry ourselves with any of that right now. Those details have the opportunity to be the bane of our existence for the next year or so, so we allow ourselves a moment of ignorant bliss during the early stages of content planning, to map out WHAT we want our book to look like, not HOW we will make it a best-seller.
Only after we finish this human-only brainstorm session do we allow machines to support our thinking and shatter our dreams of how quickly we can accomplish our goal.
At this point, we enlist the help of a suite of tools to help us validate our content marketing ideas. These tools will not only help us confirm (or deny) our gut feelings, but they will also give us many other granular insights that we can’t find on our own. Some of the tools we use include:
We cover what these content marketing tools are capable of doing over in another post, so I won’t get into that now.
But essentially, at this steps, all we’re doing is finding keyword ideas that we didn’t think about on our own. Most of the SEO tools in this list allow you to type in a keyword or keyphrase and then the tool will search for close match keywords, LSI keywords, related searches and much more.
In a nutshell, they help you expand on your own database of keyword ideas by offering keyword suggestions you haven’t yet thought about.
You can take this a step further as well by using various keyword ideation tools that exist on the market. Let’s look at that process now.
Keyword expansion: the keyword ideation stage
While you’re still in the keyword ideation stage, there are other tools you can use to help you come up with new keyword ideas.
One thing we always do for our content marketing clients, is we use Google’s predictive search feature to show us similar keywords that people are searching for. This is a great tool and it’s free so let’s see how it works.
If we head over to Google and type in “content marketing” + “a” we’ll see the list of topics that people search for this keyword and letter combination. We can simply add the terms that are most relevant to us into our spreadsheet. Once we have added the relevant “a” terms we move to “b”, then “c” and so on until we’ve finished the entire alphabet for each keyword we want to target.
We then go through the exact same process using YouTube’s predictive search feature. If you can up with dozens, if not hundreds of new keyword ideas this way.
We can then take this a level further by using a keyword suggestion tool like answer the public.
You can type in a keyword and it will help you visualize the questions, prepositions, and comparisons. This tool can also do the alphabeticals for you, that we did manually in the last step.
Now at this point we could have hundreds or even thousands of ideas that we might want to rank for. So we need a way to filter and prioritize.
Keyword filtering and prioritization.
This is where things start to get a little more technical because we need to start ranking each keyword. However, in order to judge a keyword we need to know a little bit more about each keyword.
Therefore, we need to begin by studying the keyword’s volume and competitiveness. Virtually all SEO tools will tell you the keyword volume of any given search term. Most also give you some competitiveness metric. Sometimes keyword competitiveness is explicitly stated, like in the case of Moz’s keyword difficulty score. However, other SEO tools, like Raven, give you organic competitiveness signals and allow you to make your own mind up about how competitive the keyword is. The biggest issue I have with these difficulty scores, is that they all use their own keyword difficulty calculation and often come to widely different conclusions about how competitive a keyword is.
Therefore, I think you need to do two things. First, before picking a tool, learn how that tool calculates keyword difficulty and make sure that the equation makes sense to you and is in line with your ranking objectives.
For example, if a keyword difficulty tool weighs the top 10 organic rankings equally, it might send you a false positive by telling you the keyword is “easy to moderate” in terms of competitiveness because organic results 7 to 10 seem wide open. However, if positions 1 – 4 are taken up by industry powerhouses with massive DA and PA scores then this keyword will actually be quite difficult to rank for.
I personally like Ahrefs and Moz’s keyword difficulty score. However, both of these tools use totally different keyword difficulty calculations.
Moz states that their equation works like this:
“Moz’s Difficulty score takes into account the Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) scores of the results ranking on the first page of Google’s search engine for the given query. It also intelligently modifies for projected click-through-rate (CTR) of a given page (putting more weight on high-ranking, more visible pages and less on low-ranking, less visible pages). The algorithm also accounts for newer pages on powerful domains that may have DA scores but not yet assigned PA values.”
Ahrefs difficulty score is calculated entirely differently.
Ahrefs states the following about their difficulty calculation:
“That is why, to calculate Keyword Difficulty, we analyze the search results for a keyword and look at the number of referring domains the top 10 ranking pages have. In simple terms, the more referring domains across the top ranking pages, the higher the Keyword Difficulty. Keyword Difficulty doesn’t take into account any on-page factors. Keyword Difficulty evaluates the chances of getting into top 10 of search results (not top 3 or top 1).”
Ahrefs goes onto say:
“The [keyword difficulty] scale is not linear. Each value on it corresponds to the estimated number of referring domains (RDs) a page needs in order to get to the first page of search results. Here’s the relation between the Keyword Difficulty and the number of RDs needed:”
As you can see, their keyword difficulty equations will result in entirely different outputs. Moz focuses more on the challenge of ranking in the top three positions on the main page, while Ahrefs looks at the top 10 results equally.
What we do at Blackship.One is we actually use both difficulty scores. Because we know how each tool is rating the difficulty, we know how to read the numbers. If Moz is showing a high score, but Ahrefs is showing a low score, that probably means there is room on the main page for us, but getting in the top three results will be hard.
Also, it’s important to mention that no keyword difficulty tool will give you the full picture, because as Ahrefs pointed out, they don’t look at on-page SEO or content details. They also don’t look at more subjective details like specifically who is ranking and what content types they are using to rank. For this reason, you can’t rely on these difficulty scores alone. You need to take a manual pass at each keyword in order to examine the results.
Also, I want to mention that if you don’t have access to these keyword difficulty tools, it’s not a problem. You can come up with your competitiveness score manually by installing Moz’s free SEO toolbar.
When this toolbar is activated you’ll be able to see the PA (page authority), DA (domain authority) as well as the number of backlinks each result in organic search has.
In our spreadsheet, notice that we can give DA and PA a color code based on their difficulty. We can make easy to beat numbers green and harder to beat numbers red. We can also add the number of links that each of the top three results have for any given keyword.
Now notice that our spreadsheet is giving us a much more well rounded picture of how easy a keyword will be to rank for.
Also, notice that by color coding our keyword volume and competitiveness metrics that we can get a quick visual indication of which keywords are starting to shape up to be the low hanging fruit.
However, at this point, we still don’t have enough data regarding which keywords to target first. Before we start writing we need to know what the buying intent behind each keyword is.
Keyword buying intent
Within our keyword research spreadsheet, we can tag the buying intent behind each keyword. We can tag each keyword with as a BOFU, MOFU or TOFU keyword. These tags simply stand for bottom of the funnel, middle of the funnel and top of the funnel content.
I’ve covered the importance of creating BOFU content in another post over on our blog, so I won’t get into that again now, but for anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time studying attribution models, you’ll know that BOFU content drives the majority of online sales. For this reason, we engage early in we call a BOFU content multiplication campaign, where we double down on that content type.
Essentially, BOFU content is content aimed at a person who is much more likely to make a purchase and that’s why we focus on this content type first.
In the spreadsheet notice that we have a column that allows us to tag each keyword as BOFU, MOFU or TOFU content.
Again, notice that BOFU content is color coded green. At this point, if we start seeing a keyword that has a row of green, we might be onto something.
Another thing that we do at this point is we check out total addressable market for each funnel layer. For example, we can filter the keyword results to only show BOFU content. If you’re using our free keyword research spreadsheet, you’ll see that you’re able to see the total search volume of each funnel layer. It’s particularly important to check the total addressable market of your BOFU content. Generally speaking, for most industries you’re going to want to see a total BOFU keyword volume of over 1000 searches / month. At our content marketing agency, we strongly prefer to see total BOFU volume exceed 5000 searches / month.
However, at this point we still haven’t considered any metrics beyond off-page metrics and buying intent.
In order to properly identify quick wins, we need to look at on-page details as well.
Up until point we’ve mostly been looking at off-page SEO factors to help us determine the competitiveness of a keyword. However, in order to get a more well rounded picture, we need to consider on-page elements again. Tools such as Surfer SEO, MarketMuse and Clearscope help us drill deeper and deconstruct the top ranking pages in organic search.
Most of these tools will give you a content score, that will compare your own content to the content that’s ranking well in organic search. In most cases, this score will either be a score out of 100, or a letter grade (like B-, A+ etc). These content AI tools can get quite granular in their analysis of top ranking pages. They will scan H1 and H2 tags, internal links, the keyword density of close match keywords, your writing grade level and even the structure of page titles to help you better understand what type of content Google is giving preferential treatment too.
These tools often gamify the process of content improvement by grading your content against the top three competitors in organic search.
Again, we can place the content score of the top 3 competitors into our spreadsheet in order to see if there are any content quality gaps we can exploit.
Again, we color code everything, so we can quickly see any content quality gaps. Low content scores will be highlighted in green, while high ranking pages with exceptional content scores will be tagged with red.
In my experience, this is where you can find the quickest wins. Over the years, Google and YouTube have been placing an increasing important on engagement metrics (bounce rate, scroll depth etc). Therefore, once Google begins to audition your content, if you can prove that you can satisfy a search query better than your competitors, Google will be much more likely to overlook your low DA and rank your site favorably.
Most content marketing tools will also show you the word count of the top 3 – 10 competitors in organic search. While content length is not always a pre-condition to a top ranking, we see in many cases it helps greatly. Therefore, if we see that the top three positions all have a word count of 4000 words or more, we’ll benchmark our own content to reach a similar (or better) content depth.
Again, we can add all of this information into our spreadsheet and color code the data to correspond to a difficulty rating. For example, high ranking pages with a low word count will be tagged in green, while pages with large word counts will be tagged in red.
Another thing we do early in the process is plan our titles. The reason we do this before we write our content, is because we can research the top ranking titles in organic search for any keyword. You need to remember, that Google shows the best and most relevant content for any search query. Part of the algorithm that helps Google determine which content is the ‘best” or “most relevant” is the Click Through Rate (CTR) of a page title the corresponding user engagement on that page.
Therefore, we can study the existing results in organic to get an idea for what types of titles people like to click on. I suggest you look EVERYWHERE for keyword title ideas. Don’t copy your competition. Study what’s working for them, but then beat them by coming up with something better.
What we do at Blackship.One, is we look for title inspiration in unrelated niches. For example, if we’re writing a blog post on the best content marketing tools, we might search for things like
“best VOIP tools”
“best sales automation tools
“best sports cars”
“best coffee makers”
“best dad jokes”
By getting far outside your industry you’ll find the creative inspiration that nobody else in your industry has thought of yet.
On page SEO
In the next section of our spreadsheet, we include a checklist of various on-page optimization considerations that need to be taken into account before we publish a page. Here you’ll notice we have a checkbox for everything from the inclusion of the keyword in H1 and H2 tags, the inclusion of outlier keywords, proper internal link structure and much more.
Next, we plan each piece of content around its primary goal. Different content types will have different goals (i.e. earn links, make sales, newsletter sign up, build trust etc.), but for each piece of content you create, you need to ensure that you’re optimizing that piece of content to achieve its specific goal.
When creating any piece of content, of course you need to focus on providing value to the readers you’re server. However, you also have to ask “what’s in it for me”. Once you’ve answered that question, you need to ensure you’ve optimized the content to achieve that goal.
Now that we have a sufficient amount of decision making data in front of us, we can start deciding which content needs to be produced first.
At our content marketing agency, we have a strong bias towards the production of BOFU content first. After BOFU content, we create link bait content. Only after we’ve finished creating those two content types do we start creating MOFU or TOFU content. I cover the subject of content prioritizing in much more detail in this post here.
In a nutshell, we look at the development of content, much like we look at the development of a game of chess. We don’t start attacking on our first moves. We begin by controlling the center of the board, developing our minor pieces (which are our rooks and knights) setting up the proper defenses and then castling our king. Only after we complete a proper setup, do we begin pushing forward.
Don’t overcomplicate it
There are a lot of steps involved in the process and there are thousands of little details that need to be taken into consideration. However, you can build processes around most of these tasks.
All of our writers follow a very linear process when it comes to content production. We’ve developed a checklist that we follow that each piece of content needs to follow. We’ve spent years perfecting our content production system. Today, we almost never have fires that need put out or major issues that require our attention. Once you have strong systems in place, things run smoothly!
The more you can systematize your content processes (everything from idea conceptualization, to prioritizing, writing, publishing an promotion), the faster you can produce content and the quicker you can expect to see growth from your content marketing efforts.
Play the long game
As your build out your company’s content library, keep in mind that there will be many obstacles in your way. Some months will be better than others. Writing a book is not easy or fast.
The biggest mistake I see companies make is that they give up before they finish writing their book. The get excited during the first month once they see all of the keyword opportunities and the size of their total addressable market. But with content marketing, there is a delay between input and output. Therefore, it’s not a marketing channel well suited for companies looking for explosive growth tomorrow. That said…
For us content marketing is the single biggest driver of growth for all of the projects we own. Content marketing produces the highest ROI out of all of our growth channels combined. That said, it’s a channel that can take time to bear fruit.
In short, content marketing is not for people who have the patience of a gnat.
Keyword research conclusion
If you’ve enjoyed this article and you’d like to work with the best organic growth team on the internet, then reach out to us today and schedule a free no-pressure 45 minute consultation to see if we’d be the right growth team to help you scale your website’s organic traffic.
Thanks for stopping by today!
We Help You Grow Through Content
Blackship.one is a content marketing agency that helps hi-tech brands grow through the use of our organic growth playbook. We help with content planning, strategy, writing, publishing and SEO optimization. If you want to learn more about how we scaled a recent project to over 160,000 organic page views / month in 6 months, watch the video to the right. 🤝