What comes to mind when you think of SEO (search engine optimization)?
Is it something like you wanting to scream into the abyss?
I don’t blame you.
People love to make SEO seem really complex and tricky. For a lot of it, that’s true. Real SEO masters know all sorts of amazing things that can help you get your site ranked for specific keywords.
But guess what?
That doesn’t mean that having a little of your own SEO magic up your sleeve isn’t going to help you.
The first place that starts is with your website.
Now, before your eyes glaze over, hear me out…
Picking the right keywords for your overall content strategy is actually a pretty big key to success.
After all, you want your potential customers to find your site and think you know what you’re talking about, that you’re an expert, and you can help them, right?
So how do you start doing that?
By tightening up and getting focused.
Finding Focus in Your Keywords
Here’s what I mean by locking in your keywords…
When you know the exact topics you want to cover, it’s much easier to create a content plan. You don’t have to guess what you should be writing about. And you don’t have to bang your head against the wall trying to come up with new ideas constantly.
The first step to all of this is knowing who your target customers are. When you know who you are writing for and the topics they care about, this becomes a lot easier.
I covered this topic more in depth in a post you can read here.
Let’s cover this with an example.
Imagine your brand is all about selling HVAC systems in Phoenix, Arizona. (I picked this very sexy topic on purpose).
Since you’ve created your customer persona, you know that there are a number of important topics people who buy HVAC systems care about. :
Here are a few of them:
- The cost of the system
- Maintenance around the system
- Environmental concerns
It might not feel like it, but these three bullet points can tell us a lot about not only the keywords we want to target but also what kind of content we want to write and start making a strategy around it.
Before we get to that, let’s start with the basics.
Today, many brands can live or die by the secret algorithms that Google has tucked away in some vault in Silicon Valley. Being able to rank at the top of Google for a keyword is like having a parade of people coming to you every day. If you don’t think about your keywords, you’re losing out on business.
That’s just a fact. Sorry.
So, while playing to Google isn’t the most important part of creating content, let’s be honest, it plays a factor. What you want to do is get right in that sweet spot of picking good keywords and then creating a library of awesome content around those keywords that your readers will love.
One of the biggest problems that the inexperienced face today when picking keywords is they go too broad.
Let’s go back to our Phoenix based HVAC company.
The owner fires up her SEO keyword tool (I recommend Mangools – I use it and love it) and types in the most obvious keyword — or so she thinks — HVAC.
Let’s look at the result:
Ok, so you see HVAC gets 201,000 searches every month.
This keyword is way too broad and is going to have massive amounts of competition. Just take a look at the first few results:
This HVAC company is now trying to compete with some real deal companies and sites like Home Depot, Wikipedia, and HGTV.
See the numbers under ‘rank’ those indicate how difficult it is to rank for that term. The higher the number the more difficult.
Now, what if we narrowed this down a bit, let’s try this keyword:
That’s more like it.
390 monthly visitors aren’t exactly something you want to throw a party about, but it’s very targeted and local. This would be a great keyword to target for your home page, for example.
Someone who lives in Phoenix is probably going to type ‘phoenix hvac’ or ‘hvac phoenix’ into Google when they start their search. After all who wants to spend their time scrolling through endless pages on Google trying to find what we really want?
No one. That’s why more often than not we type in longer keywords, using 3-5+ words. These are known as long tail keywords.
Long tail keywords are great for helping you come up with a content strategy.
Building a Content Strategy with Keywords
Let’s go back to our target persona research. Here’s what we came up with as three important concerns for potential customers:
- The cost of the system
- Maintenance around the system
- Environmental concerns
So the first thing you want to do is start with your pillar content. This is going to be the ‘hub’ of your content library. You want these posts to be the foundation of your content strategy. Then, from there, you will use ‘spoke’ content to build off those hubs.
This helps to build a content library that is all related. At the end of the day, your reader is going to come to your site and see tons of content that is all related to their exact interests and needs. Do it right, and they won’t have to g
Do it right, and they won’t have to go anywhere else to find information. You’ve given them what they want while build trust and the foundations of a solid future relationship.
Creating a Content Hub
Pillar content (also called evergreen content) is the big ‘wow’ content on your site. It’s what you want to use to really attract people with more broad keywords. Depending on your niche, this can be long-form written content, but it can also include data, infographics, videos, you name it.
Here’s how this can work with the HVAC example.
One of the ‘pillar’ posts we want to really rank well for is going to be around maintenance and servicing.
You can look at this keyword:
This gets some good traffic and isn’t impossibly hard to rank for if you create some good content. You can see the competition here:
So, you’ve got a couple of those big national brands at the top, but check out the bottom of the list. The URLs that rank #5-7 are relatively easy to beat.
Let’s see what kind of content they have.
Trane (the #1 and #3 site) has a pretty in depth HVAC maintenance checklist. You can check it out here.
Houselogic (the #2 site) also has a checklist but it’s more of an infographic with 10 simple steps underneath it. Take a look here.
These are both ok, neither blew my hair back and made me psyched about HVAC maintenance. Mostly, they are resting on their laurels of being nationally known sites which helps with their ranking.
What you want to do is look at sites #6 and #7. These are both local independent HVAC companies, one is out of Las Vegas and the other Chicago. They are using the pillar content concept to get rankings.
Black Diamond (the #6 site) follows the more traditional long-form content format.
This is a good post. It’s got an intriguing headline (as seen below): On top of that, it answers a lot of common questions, highlights benefits, and differentiates maintenance that you can do on your own versus what you should leave to an expert (hint: them).
Do you get what I mean about pillar content now?
If I were advising the Phoenix HVAC company, I’d start with the pillar content. I’d focus on a keyword like “hvac maintenance’ and go all in on the ‘Skyscraper Technique.’
The Skyscraper Technique means you find the top ranked content for a keyword, make it better, and then use it to get better links. While I won’t go too deep into the links part here, this is a quick example on how it could work.
Step 1: Find content for the keyword
We’ve done that already (see above). We saw that the first three posts were checklists without a ton of information. And while numbers 6 and 7 were pretty good, we can make them even better.
Step 2: Make it better
Here’s what I’d do… take the checklists you see in results #1, 2, 3, and 5 and improve on them. Have a good graphic that shows the checklist, or even better, an interactive checklist. Under each section of the checklist, I’d also go a bit more depth into explanations.
Also, I’d use some of the styling and approaches from #6 and 7. The Black Diamond site is from 2014, so that represents an easy opportunity to update the content. If I ended up with a solid well designed post that combined a checklist with the info that Black Diamond has into one monster post, it would be pretty epic.
Step 3: Reach out to the right people
Once I have my post up and running, then I’d reach out to complementary local companies who also have sites and ask them to link. So these could be contractors, real estate agents, insurance companies, cleaning companies, etc., anything along that line.
I could go even further and contact those national sites like HGTV or Home Depot and ask them for links too. That’s basically how to start.
All of this stuff is going to combine to drive more traffic to your site which is going to help you get noticed by Google.
Now that we’ve got the hub content down, let’s take a look at how to get the spoke content going.
Building Out Spoke Content
So the spoke content is going to be the majority of your blog and the real basis of your content strategy. In an ideal world, your spoke content is going to cover everything someone is going to need to know around your main hub.
Let’s stick with what we’ve already got here with the hub content, the post about HVAC maintenance. That’s our hub, that’s what we use for the ‘HVAC maintenance’ keyword. But there’re all sorts of stuff we should be able to come up with that’s related to this main post and can tie back to it.
A good place to start with spoke content is to think about typical questions your customers might have. You can also type your keyword into Google and scroll to the bottom of the page. You’ll see something like this:
These are known as LSI keywords. Essentially, they are just one of over 200 ranking signals Google uses to determine good content. When you use these in your content it tells Google that your post is legit and about a specific topic.
You can also use these to help you come up with good ideas for topics.
Now we can start looking for good long tail keywords that are going to tie in with our spoke content. For example, long tail keywords you might be able to get good spoke content out of would include:
- hvac maintenance checklist
- air conditioner maintenance
- Arizona winter
Brainstorming a few examples based on the keywords I come up with titles like:
- 10 Things You Must Have on Your HVAC Maintenance Checklist
- How to Know When You Need Air Conditioner Maintenance
- How to Prepare Your Home for an Arizona Winter
And so on…
While most, if not all, of these brainstorms, are going to be touched upon in the big hub post, they probably aren’t going to be covered in depth. That’s what your spoke content is for.
But you can see how I’m getting content that relates to the hub content and is still on topic and useful.
A Final Note on Keywords
The main 4-5 keywords you pick for your hub content matters. You want to be able to rank highly for these so choose carefully. The point of the hub is to hit that combo of being found online and being great for your target audience too. So don’t skimp on that part of things!
For spoke content, I don’t think the keyword matters as much as it does for the hub content. If you luck out and have an industry where there’s lots of good traffic you can grab with long tail keywords than all the better.
But don’t get discouraged if you come up with lots of long tail keywords that see limited traffic. The fact of the matter is these do add up over time. If you’re getting 10-20 people a day each from a bunch of your spoke posts as a small business that depends on local customers then you’re going to be in pretty good place.
Putting It All Together
I hope through this post you’ve been able to get a good overall idea of how you can use smart keyword research to begin building a content strategy.
This can help you start building a solid strategy that will help better serve your readers and showcase your expertise to potential customers.