There’s no content without keywords – unless you’re building a website out of nothing but images and video, which, frankly, we don’t recommend. So if you’re trying to get on board the content marketing train, you’ll need to be thinking about keywords. How do keywords fit into your content marketing strategy? Where do you start with keyword research for content marketing?
Start here! These are the top 10 most frequently asked questions I hear about using keywords in marketing content.
Table of Contents
- What’s the best keyword tool to use for content marketing?
- Should I target head terms or long-tail keywords in my content?
- How many times should we use the keyword on the page?
- Where on the page should the keyword appear?
- Is it OK to target multiple keywords on the same page?
- I published this great content last week. Why am I not ranking for my targeted keyword yet?
- How can I rank for a really competitive keyword?
- Should I target different kinds of keywords on my blog and my main website?
- Should I target timely, trending keywords or evergreen keywords?
- Do B2B keywords differ from B2C keywords?
The best keyword tool is whichever one you’ll use regularly. But ideally, you’ll have a handful of keyword tools in the rotation to consult for different purposes. Some good options include:
- An all-purpose keyword tool: Such as the Google Keyword Tool or our own Free Keyword Tool. These are your basic, everyday keyword tools, great for prospecting and figuring out which keyword variations hit your sweet spot (significant volume, but not too competitive).
- Keyword grouping tools: Our Keyword Niche Finder and Keyword Grouper tools are also free and will automatically sort keywords into related groupings for you.
- Trend-based tools: Google Insights for Search and Google Trends (now merged into one tool) will help you out when you’re looking for timely topics that are currently experiencing a spike in search volume, or when you want to research how keyword volume for a term or a set of terms has changed over time.
- Competitive keyword research tools: Compete, Alexa, and SpyFu can show you what keywords your competitors are targeting. (But remember, just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean you have to.)
- Social media tools: Try YouTube’s Keyword Tool or Twitter Search when you’re doing keyword research specifically for social media.
We also recommend that you step outside the keyword tool box and use these other sources for finding SEO keywords for your content:
- Your site’s analytics: Your keyword referrals from Google Analytics or your web analytics app of choice are a great source of keyword data – one that’s personalized, private, and renewable. Unfortunately, a lot of those keywords are hidden behind the “not provided” curtain now; further, you won’t find (many) keywords that don’t appear anywhere on your site, so it may not be helpful if you’re looking to branch into totally new areas, content-wise.
- Your PPC account: PPC and SEO should work together! If your business uses paid search, scan those search query reports for keywords you can incorporate in your content strategy. (Google gives you full access to your AdWords search queries, no longer true for organic search.) You can also use PPC to test out new keywords and see if they perform well with your audience. If a term converts through PPC, it’s probably worth targeting via SEO too.
- The world around you: Keywords are everywhere! Pay attention when you’re using Google or Bing – Google Suggest is a great source of keyword ideas and keyword modifiers. What terms do your peers and competitors use to describe the types of products or services you sell? What about your customers? They’re not always the same vocabulary.
Both! A well-rounded website should target multiple keyword types and lengths. When strategizing content for your website, think in terms of a keyword taxonomy. A taxonomy is a tree-shaped structure that gets more and more specific as you move to the ends of the branches. For example, if you run an e-commerce site that sells shoes, one branch of this taxonomy might look like this:
Shoes > Women’s Shoes > High Heels > Open-Toe High Heels > Open-Toe High-Heel Slingbacks
Your site should have content targeting all of these terms, from the head (“Shoes”) down to the long tail.
Remember, the type of content you focus on will depend on your business goals and what type of website you operate. To use an example for a non-e-commerce site, let’s say you run a catering business. You might want to start writing a food blog to help build out your catering site and drive relevant traffic and links. You can plan out content for your food blog based on a similar taxonomical structure, e.g.:
Baking > Cakes > Cupcakes > Chocolate Cupcakes > Cream-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes
But instead of creating conversion-optimized product pages, you’ll be sharing recipes, posting how-to videos (“how to frost a cupcake”), and so on. In this case you’re building your business and brand by exhibiting expertise, rather than trying to sell product directly through your content.
Thinking in terms of taxonomies will help you plan and create content in a logical way. Need ideas for new content? Look for holes in your taxonomy. (Have you written lots of posts about chocolate cupcakes but very few about fruit-flavored cupcakes?)
There is no ideal number of times to use a keyword on a web page. How many times the keyword appears on the page will vary depending on the type of content you have created, how long it is, and other factors. Instead of worrying about a number or an ideal rate of keyword density, focus on relevance, uniqueness and value. Ask yourself these three questions:
- Would someone using this keyword find my content relevant to their search?
- Would someone using this keyword be able to find this same content somewhere else?
- Would someone using this keyword be satisfied with the content I’m providing?
If your content is truly relevant to the keyword, it should naturally appear in the content at a reasonable rate, so that both readers and search engine spiders can tell what your content is about. Still confused? Move on to the next question to learn where your keyword should appear on the page.
Try to use your main keyword, or a variation of it, in all of these key places on the page:
- The URL
- The title and H1 tags
- The first sentence or at least the first paragraph
- Subheads (consider using a table of contents with jump links, as I did in this post, if your content is long)
- Image file names and alt text
- The meta description
- In links to related content
Read over your content from a keyword perspective before you publish. If there are long sections of text (several paragraphs in a row) where your keyword or a variation of it doesn’t appear, ask yourself if that content is really relevant to the keyword at hand. On the other hand, make sure you aren’t using the keyword so often that it sounds like a robot wrote it. Read your text out loud to a friend or in an empty room to see if it sounds natural. When you’re talking about how to clean a litter box, you’ll naturally use the term “litter box” every few minutes or so, but you won’t use it in every single sentence.
In short, be relevant, but be human.
Here’s a secret: Every piece of content you create, whether you intend it to or not, includes multiple keywords. Any combination of words on the page might end up being a “keyword.” Let me illustrate this with an example. Take our PPC bid management guide. The primary keyword I was trying to target was “PPC bid management,” but both the title and URL also include a longer keyword (“PPC bid management guide”) and a shorter keyword (“bid management”). Other SEO keywords driving traffic to the page include “bid management process,” “ppc bid management software,” “typical ppc bid,” and “adwords automated bid management benefits,” among others. So even though the page is “optimized” for “PPC bid management,” it’s ranking on a number of other related keywords.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose a primary keyword to target in each piece of content. You should! Use that keyword in your title and URL. However, variations on your main keyword will naturally be peppered throughout your content. When you’re targeting a keyword, you might want to have a handful of “sub-targets” in mind. Also, if you find that your content is getting traffic from a related keyword that doesn’t actually appear on the page, go back and add it in. For example, let’s say you have a few visits for the term “best time to exercise,” landing on a page that has all those words on the page but not in that order. You could add in a subhead like “What’s the best time to exercise?” – better optimizing the page for that sub-target keyword.
First of all, it takes a while for new content to rank; most of the time (if you're not talking about a time-sensitive news search), it can take several months to rank for a new keyword. If a number of months have gone by and you're still not ranking, it could be for any number of reasons:
- Your page isn’t fully optimized for your target keyword.
- Your page needs more time to accrue link juice and authority.
- Your domain/website doesn’t have enough authority to compete.
- You haven’t promoted your content.
- Your content doesn’t add real value.
- Your content is not unique.
Keep trying and consider targeting less competitive keywords in the meantime.
If your website is relatively new or low on authority, you may be out of luck – it’s very hard to rank for a popular keyword with a new website. Here are some things to try:
- Create a truly unique, authoritative resource based on that keyword. If you can provide rich content that addresses a competitive keyword better than anyone else, you stand a good chance of rising through the ranks.
- Go big with a major linkbait effort. Links still count for a lot with Google. You can accrue a large number of links in a small amount of time with a concentrated outreach effort and a compelling piece of content.
- Target the keyword with video. Fewer sites are using video for marketing than regular text, so it’s often easier to rank on the first page with a targeted video.
- Target lots of long-tail variations of the keyword first. Then create an index page, optimized for the main keyword, to house all that related content.
If this competitive keyword is what your business is all about, consider buying an exact-match domain name. This has traditionally held a lot of weight with the search engines, but note that Google is taking action to reduce rankings for low-quality sites with exact-match domains. If you’re going to shell out for a pricy domain, make sure your site is worth the cost.
As usual, it depends on your business model, your business goals, and what kind of site you have. One approach is to align keyword and content types with your marketing funnel. You might choose to focus blog content on visitors at the top of the funnel – people using informational keywords to explore the area you do business in. These top-of-funnel keywords might include how-to keywords (people looking for help with a process), question keywords or other kinds of terms that you can address with a quick guide, list, or video. In general, blogs are more successful if they use a “soft sell” approach, offering expertise and/or entertainment rather than obvious product marketing.
You could then focus your main website content on branding and product keywords – keywords that are further down the marketing funnel and show more intent to purchase. These keywords might include long-tail brand names (“dell inspiron laptop docking station”) or other clearly transactional keywords (“buy blank video tapes”).
This image illustrates how keyword intent relates to the buying cycle. Consider focusing blog content on the “interested” and “evaluating” stages rather than “ready to buy”:
However, this is only one possible approach! Our website, for example, targets evergreen keywords on both our blog and in our main website pages.
Say it with me now: It depends on your business model and business goals. Almost every type of website should be targeting evergreen keywords (keywords that sustain healthy volume over time), but some websites should target timely trending keywords as well. In particular, if your business model is such that you need to drive large numbers of traffic because your site is supported by ad revenue, chasing high-volume search terms that are trending in the news could be very beneficial for you.
However, if it’s more important that your SEO traffic be targeted and qualified so that a healthy portion of it converts into leads or sales, most of your focus should be on evergreen keywords. Creating content that is optimized for evergreen keywords will drive the right kind of traffic to your site for months or even years to come.
If you’re a business-to-business (B2B) company rather than business-to-consumer (B2C), should you be targeting different kinds of keywords? Probably slightly different, yes. Here are four kinds of keywords that specifically speak to B2B audiences:
- Reviews, Comparisons, and Testimonials – Feedback from past or current customers is an important part of almost any buying decision, but it can be especially important for big-ticket items like corporate software or solutions. Prospects may be looking for more information before they sign the check, so to speak, so consider using modifiers like "reviews," "testimonials," and "feedback" in your copy. Also consider "X vs. Y" keywords (e.g., "Microsoft Office vs. Google Docs" or "Oracle vs. MySQL") – clients may be looking for comparisons between your offering and that of your competitors. Other terms to consider are "proof of concept," "business case," and "return on investment" (or "ROI").
- Jargon – It's generally a mistake to use jargon when you're targeting consumers – a first-time furnace buyer isn't going to use the same fancy terminology as an HVAC industry veteran. With corporate customers, however, you often can use jargon – as long as you don't overdo it. Business customers use the language of their business every day, so those insider terms won't be jarring or unfamiliar to them. Of course, you need to remember to use the jargon of their world, not necessarily yours.
- Services Terms – B2B clients are often looking for specific business services, such as consulting, web design, event catering, third-party health care management, job placement services and so on. These service names also work as keywords. When possible, choose keywords that distinguish between B2B and B2C services – for example, "corporate catering," "office catering," or "business catering" versus "wedding catering" or "private catering."
- Career Development Terms – Business clients are more likely to be looking for white papers, webinars, online certification courses, conferences and other learning opportunities to stay on top of their field. Accordingly, these types of educational content and events are great lead generation opportunities. Keyword modifiers like "learn" and "guide" can help you attract people looking to grow their industry knowledge.
What Else Do You Want to Know?
Do you have other questions about using keywords in your marketing content? Let us know in the comments!