Often, the first step one takes to optimize one’s website for the search engines involves keyword research.
To be honest, though, you should perform that keyword research BEFORE you do SEO – in fact, you should probably do it before you even build your website! Keep reading to find out why.
Keywords as Seeds
Think about keywords as you would think about the seeds you use to grow your garden. You may start by thinking about what you’d like to grow, but before you even buy the seeds, you’d research what kinds of plants grow well in your area.
For example, I like certain homegrown tomatoes, but if I lived further south I wouldn’t dream of growing them except under specifically controlled conditions; South Florida suffers from a serious nematode problem. Which is a pity, because you’d figure the climate is perfect otherwise…well, as long as you keep in mind that the growing season is different because it gets too hot in the summer for tomatoes to do well. (Big surprise to those of you further north, yes?). And don’t even get me started on the soil consistency…
Now before I take this metaphor too much further, let me explain what I’m trying to point out: if you don’t do your research, you could end up with some really unpleasant surprises. You might want to use a keyword that gets a lot of traffic, but also has a lot of competition. You might want to use one particular keyword for your product, but find that your customers use a totally different word for the same thing.
Or you could get some pleasant surprises… like the time I grew a tomato plant and had it last for more than two years, when I’d heard that one usually must replant every year. Not in Florida, apparently, or at least not with that particular plant! But you’re not going to know unless you do the research.
Research is Everything
You wouldn’t even begin to create a full-scale garden without researching your plants, and you shouldn’t even begin to create a full-scale website without doing your keyword research. Just like the plants, keywords are the key elements to your website; it’s what the site is all about. Yes, I know, it’s all about content and giving a good experience to the user (and helping you conduct your business, of course), but your content grows from the categories you choose, and those categories are your keywords.
Keywords are like tomatoes; raw or cooked, you can use them in everything. And plenty of people do. This luscious red fruit happily goes into salads, pizza, stews, soups, chili, on burgers (as both tomato slices and ketchup), pasta sauce, and so much more. If you do keyword research right, think about intent, how you can organize and cluster them, keywords can help you build navigation, titles, descriptions, content and blog posts.
But of course, you still need tools for your garden to grow. And depending on your area (or platform), you should pick appropriate tools, be it WordPress plugins or standalone web based apps. Your best bet is to go for a robust all-in-one solution that could tackle a lot of aspects of research and marketing your keywords. Cyfe is one example because, with its multiple widgets, it handle research, tracking, organizing, and expanding your keyword lists:
Your keywords help you market your website; they tell everyone what your website is all about. And by "everyone," I mean the search engines, your visitors, your writers, your suppliers, those who create your product or service, and even you. And that’s why you should get that research done BEFORE you build your website. Because if you don’t, you might find yourself fighting to grow tomatoes in July in South Florida in soil that’s full of nematodes. Good luck!
No business owner has the time to do a lot of SEO, but you can delegate the SEO basics to an employee or freelancer. Even doing basic SEO tasks can make a difference to what page of Google’s results you appear on. Take control and prioritize.
Your Top Priorities
- SEO Basics
DIY SEO comes down to proper site management, fresh content and making your site attractive to users.
SEO is too important to leave to chance. Neil Patel puts it very clearly in his SEO guide,
“If you ever need to hide a dead body, you should place it on the second page of Google search results.”
You MUST do everything in your power to improve your search engine results pages (SERPS) ranking, or no-one is going to find you.
Good site management is a part of SEO that can be outsourced, or delegated to a trusted employee. This SEO Chat article runs you through the basics of SEO and can form the basis of your employees’ training.
The most time-consuming aspect is keyword research using the free Google Adwords tool, but even this is not a task you need to do yourself. With basic training and the right tools, your content team can identify keyword phrases to target.
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Installing the free Yoast SEO plugin on your blog will ensure writers’ awareness of the importance of correct keyword density.
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Yoast also checks for paragraph length, sentence length and other readability factors that will affect your user time-on-page and bounce rate statistics.
Yeah, yeah. We all know content is king, but it takes time!
There is no way to avoid it. Regular fresh and insightful content is part of what will rank your site higher in search engine results pages (SERPS). There will be nobody else who understands your business as well as you, but you need to change that. If you don’t educate writers into how your business works, you will be stuck writing everything yourself, other important tasks will crop up, and the writing won’t happen.
Even the best writer works better with input from you regarding your services and clients.
Take the time to explain your business and how it works to your content production team. Educate your writers about your customer persona, his needs and how your company solves them. Make your business values clear, have a content production plan and feed your writers plenty of ideas for articles.
User Experience (UX)
The most important person in your organization is imaginary. Your customer persona should be writ large in every office, and room in your premises. Use an image of this imaginary persona as a screensaver on all your computers, put posters featuring his image on the backs of all the doors ion the washrooms and in the staff canteen.
If your users dislike your website, you are doomed.
Your site has to look good, use colors users like and that will elicit the emotions related to your business objectives. Minimize clutter, maximize contrast and ensure everything shown on a page is the optimum size, color, and shape. Negative space is every bit as valuable as page components, so avoid trying to do too much on any one web page.
Each page should have one purpose and one purpose only. The rationale behind a web page’s existence should be obvious. Navigation through your site should be simple and easy to use, regardless of the screen size someone is using.
Building links to your website is essential, but if you build them in the wrong way, Google will bury you on page 200 of its SERPS.
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Safe link-building activities:
- Learn what links point to you by installing the free Incoming Links plugin
- Provide high-quality and insightful resources people in your niche value and will link to without any prompting
- Build your reputation by sharing everything you know without asking for payment
- Design infographics that link back to you when others install them on their sites
It is well-nigh impossible to do even basic promotion without a large team.
If you only focus on one promotion channel, let it be YouTube.
Forget videos about your business; they won’t show in Google and no-one is interested. But, videos that show how to solve problems are another matter.
Ryan Stuart from Webris says Youtube video promotion is vital as part of your top-of-funnel marketing and engaging customers.
Much SEO can be done in-house using basic training and free WordPress plugins to help inform decisions. You must delegate content production, but feed writers with ideas and company information frequently. Concentrate your social media presence on producing How-To videos on YouTube.
A wealth of information lurks in the success (or failures) of the Other Guy.
Here are some ways you can improve your own content marketing results using competitor research tools and tips:
See What’s Popular
Your competitors are working in the same industry as you are, or so I assume. So they have the same audience that you do. This gives you an immediate view on what your audience is looking to read about, watch, view, or listen to.
It doesn’t take a lot to figure out what’s popular with your target demographic. Peek at what is trending on their site(s) and social media profile(s). Make a list of content that has gotten a lot of traffic, views, social media shares, and comments.
From there, you can develop a content strategy that follows the same general idea. Take a note of:
- Why your competitor has started a blog
- How they are using influencer outreach
- If they are doing any contests or digital assets, etc.
Discover Where Competitors Are Lacking
In addition to seeing what they are doing right, you can see what they are doing wrong. I distinctly remember this competing podcast of a client I was working for. They released this video series connected to their show, but not really a part of it. The first couple got a decent number of hits, but then they got next to no views.
Wondering what the issue was, I did a quick viewing of all of their videos (which they continued to release in spite of the lack of interest from their user base). They were cheesy, badly written, and not close enough to their podcast format to brand it properly. It was a trainwreck, basically.
In addition to this travesty of video, the podcasts were suffering because too much effort was being put into a new form of content that didn’t work.
Guess what the client did? Avoided videos, stuck with the podcast, upped their promotion, and ended up poaching a lot of listeners.
We all know that reputation management is an important part of overall branding. But tracking mentions of your competitors really work wonders, as well. You can keep track of announcements both major and minor, and also see what people are saying about the competition.
I worked for a startup once that setup mention tracking for three other platforms in the same industry, with a similar pat structure to their own. When the founder discovered a blog doing a review for a competitor, they asked them to do one for their own.
In the end, the review compared them to the last review and the startup I worked for came out on top.
Tools For Competitive Research
I mentioned before that you will have better tools at your disposal than asking Rebecca’s teenage sister the secret to her cookie selling success. These are some of those tools, though there is an endless supply of competitor research apps and dashboards out there to choose from.
- Google Alerts – The free option, and my personal favorite. You can create alerts that monitor any mention of your competitors across the web. It includes both social and web page results. I use it to monitor my competitors, my brand, and my industry. You can set your alerts to give you a digest of daily results, or to immediately let you know
- Spyfu – Don’t just monitor your competitors, flat out spy on them! Spyfu is a fun and informative dashboard that uses keyword research, mentions and more to keep track of your competitors. It is a combination of SEO and PPC research, so it applies to content and advertising.
- Compete – I don’t always recommend this tool because it is pretty pricey. But if you are a business with a decent budget, you can seriously improve results using this tool. You will learn a strategy to compete with competition on every level, including your social marketing. It is a very in depth tool full of data, and acts almost like a consulting service with a self service bent. It is an investment, but worth it if you have the cash on hand. Some businesses have reported a conversion improvement of 42% or more… seriously.
Do you have a tip for competitor research to improve content marketing? Know a tool that belongs on the list? Let us know in the comments!