This is a guest contribution from Tim Soulo.
First of all, don’t panic.
I’m not going to overwhelm you with time-consuming, overly complicated keyword research strategies. As a blogger myself, I appreciate actionable, no-nonsense techniques that help me start driving traffic, fast.
This post will outline one such technique.
I’m going to walk you through the keyword research formula I personally use to find relevant, highly targeted keywords – keywords that I know will actually send me a decent amount of search traffic.
So without further ado, here are three simple steps you can follow to choose the most effective keywords for your articles!
Step #1: Brainstorm ideas
If you already have an idea burning a hole in your brain, you can just skip to step #2.
But if you’re experiencing “writer’s block”, you’ll likely appreciate a little bit of inspiration.
There are many ways to brainstorm ideas for future articles. My favorite strategy, however, is simply monitoring what people in my niche are talking about.
Some of the best places to do this are Reddit (search for relevant subreddits), Quora (they talk about many things, not just business and marketing), and of course industry forums.
Quora can help you find hot topics in just about any niche.
These sites can paint a clear picture of what people in your niche care about the most or struggle with. You’re likely to find tons of ‘hot’ topics and breaking industry news there.
Spend 20 minutes a day browsing these sites and taking notes of what catches your eye and you’ll never run out of great ideas for articles.
Step #2: Go from raw ideas to specific keywords
Step #1 only helped us to find some raw ideas to write about.
But if we’re looking to get traffic from search engines, we need to know the exact search phrases that people use to find these things that you’re going to write about.
Keyword tools are irreplaceable in this respect. Based on your “raw ideas” they will give you numerous related search terms that you can target with your articles.
There are many different tools to pick from, but I suggest going with Google’s native (and free) tool called Keyword Planner.
1. Plug your “seed keywords” into Keyword Planner
Start by selecting ‘Find new keywords and get search volume data’, and then ‘Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’.
Next, plug in a few general phrases that you came up with in step #1. Click on the ‘Keyword ideas’ tab to get a list of related search terms.
Keyword Planner results for ‘roast turkey’
Look through the keyword suggestions to see if any jump out at you. If you like, you can always revise your original search based on any new keywords you’ve found.
2. Find keywords with good search volume
Your next step will be figuring out which phrases receive a decent number of monthly searches to guarantee you some traffic from Google once you rank for them.
If your blog is fairly new, I would recommend sticking to longer-tail keywords with a maximum of 500 monthly searches.
After you notice that you’re consistently ranking in the top 5 for these phrases, you can start to target more popular/competitive ones.
3. Calculate how much traffic you’ll receive if you rank on page 1
While the Keyword Planner shows you a number of monthly searches, keep in mind that this is total searches – not the number of visitors you’ll get if you rank for this keyword.
The amount of visitors you will actually receive depends heavily on which spot you hold in the SERP. For instance, if you rank #1, you can expect more clicks than if you rank #3.
Fortunately, the folks at Advanced Web Ranking have figured out the estimated CTR for each of these positions (see the research here):
Image courtesy of Moz
In order to calculate how much traffic we’ll receive, we’ll use this simple formula:
(Search volume) x (click-through rate) = expected traffic
This means that if you manage to rank #1 for a keyword with 1600 searches per month, you can expect to get approximately 500 visitors coming to your site every month for that particular phrase:
1,600 x 31.24 /100 = 499.84
Note: If you successfully rank for a keyword phrase with reasonable search volume, the content will tend to rank naturally for some longer-tail, similar keywords, so actual search traffic to the article may be higher than the figure you have calculated above. Indeed, according to a 2013 study, 15 percent of the search queries entered into Google each day, are completely unique (i.e. searched for the first time).
4. Never discount user intent
Our final step in picking the best keyword for your future article will be to make sure the content you’re about to write actually matches the intent of the people who are searching for that keyword.
Let’s take the search term “hamburger with cheese” for example.
What are people looking for when they put these words into Google?
- How to cook a hamburger with cheese?
- A picture of a hamburger with cheese?
- The nearest hamburger joint?
- How many calories are in it?
Fortunately, Google has gotten pretty good at predicting searcher’s intent….and lucky for us, there’s a simple hack that we can use to “read Google’s mind”.
Here’s what you do: simply search for that keyword and examine the search results.
Using the example above, searching for hamburger with cheese reveals that most searchers will probably be looking for pictures and recipes:
Now we can go ahead and write our article knowing exactly what people are looking for.
Step #3: Analyze your chances to rank
Wait, don’t settle with that keyword just yet.
Picking a decent keyword and matching search intent doesn’t guarantee you a top spot in Google.
You also need to check what sites/pages are competing for this keyword in Google search results and if you will be able to outrank them with an article on your site.
You can investigate this by comparing their SEO metrics with those of your own site.
There are a handful of tools that will show you these metrics. But according to a study completed by Moz, the most reliable SEO metrics can be found at Ahrefs.
The specific SEO metrics I’m talking about are:
- URL and Domain Rank
- Number of backlinks
- Number of referring domains
The Ahrefs SEO Toolbar (which is free) can give you instant access to all of them.
After searching for your keyword in Google, just turn on the toolbar and take a look at how strong are these pages/sites.
If their Ahrefs metrics are consistently higher than those of your own site, you’ll likely want to focus on some other keywords.
And if your own metrics are higher?
Then you’ve chosen the perfect keyword to target!
The whole process is pretty straightforward as you can see, but the chances are you’re not going to rank for the very first keyword that you pick this way.
It will take you quite some time to nurture your “sixth sense” and get better at cherry-picking those keywords where you can rank seamlessly.
But please don’t forget that the quality of your content and the amount of effort you put into promoting it matters just as much (if not more) than choosing the right keyword to target.
Tim Soulo is the head of marketing at Ahrefs and he also runs a little personal blog called BloggerJet.
Great tips! I’ll be sure to use these in my blog.
Your article has been really helpful, I’m creating a blog focused on my passion, wich is my current job, I’m an interior designer but my services are focused in transform a simple room or bathrooom into a place where you can relax, similar to a spa. I have my personal blog already but I want to do things different with this one I’m creating, my personal one I just do it because I like to write I didn’t create it with anything like a SEO in mind, but the tips that you posted have been such a relief, I’ve being looking for some advise on the internet and all of them give a lot of information that’s repeated over and over again, so I do really appreciate the article. Now I have another question, do you know wich is the best way to build good quality backlinks? If you have an article related to this please let meknow and again thank you for the article!!
This is some good basic information for people who are looking for a long term strategy to get search engine traffic online. It does however take some time, meaning it can take between 3-6 months to see good results, and even then it is not guaranteed.
I recommend treating search engine traffic as “bonus” traffic. Focus on getting social media traffic first and foremost and let Google traffic come naturally over time.
Thanks for sharing the right way to approach keyword research strategy. It is surprising how much CTR rate decreases as position drops from 2-3
Thank you for sharing this blueprint. Most people highly underestimate the poper of proper keyword research! When I started targeting long-tail keywords on my own blog my my traffic incresead from a few hundred visitors a day to several thousands
This post is giving me major anxiety. Which means I will need to save it and read again a few times. Thanks for the tips!
Excellent tips that I will use as I plan my content. It helps me to know what readers are looking for. I was using keyword planner but not like this. You filled in some of the gaps I had. Thanks!
Sometimes i wonder where THE HELL i would be if you didnt exist. The usefulness of your articles is 2nd to none. Seriously! I click through on more of your stuff than anything anywhere. THANK YOU.
I have been doing keyword research for a few years now, so I have been exposed to some of the things that were brought up in this post. However, I did not know about Ahrefs. Wow! This is a crazy awesome tool. Thanks for putting this post together, I definitely found applicable value here. I believe my business will be much better off with this new knowledge in hand and my blog will be getting more search traffic for sure!
I hope so! Good luck!
Great formula to drive traffic!
Now we must remember that once the traffic gets to our home page we can capture their email and email them when we have a new article out!
Instead of searching for new traffic, you can just send an email to your list with a short version .bullet points of the main idea of the blog post.
If they want to learn more, give them a link so they can go visit the post!
That’s instant traffic!
There are several tools to capture emails, such as mail chimp, lead pages or instapages.
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