There's no denying that content marketing has become a top priority for many businesses these days. Yet despite the value quality content can bring to areas like demand and lead generation, a recent study by Content Marketing Institute reports that web traffic is still the most common criteria used to measure content marketing success.
Of course, generating more inbound traffic requires businesses to -- in part -- implement a strong SEO strategy. By adhering to the basic principles of search engine optimization, marketers can use content to open their businesses up to previously untapped audiences of potential customers.
While the world of SEO has certainly evolved over the years, keyword research remains the cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy. It's true, Google algorithm updates are designed to place more emphasis on content quality, but at the end of the day, people still have to type something into the search field to get results.
Fortunately, any marketer can improve his or her SEO strategy by following a few simple best practices. Here are seven tips to consider for more effective keyword selection.
#1. Know your audience. This may be the most overlooked (and more important) part of keyword research. Before marketers can choose the best keywords for their websites, they first need to understand who they are optimizing for.
Market research should be applied to help marketers get into the heads of their target audiences. Understanding the topics that are important to customers is the first step to narrowing down the keywords that are most likely to draw them to your site.
#2. Target longtail phrases. It's also important that marketers choose keywords that are specific to their particular markets, also known as "longtail" keyword phrases. For instance, the term "training" alone could refer to anything from sports training to dog training -- not exactly a niche audience.
To optimize content for the right people, it's important to be specific. "Sales training" is good, but "B2B sales training" is better, and "books on B2B sales training" beats them all. Longtail phrases also tend to have lower competition, increasing the odds of higher page ranks in Google.
#3. Use different variations. There are lots of tools out there designed to help marketers select effective keywords, and many of them are 100% free. For example, Ubersuggest is a great keyword suggestion tool and an excellent asset for any SEO strategy. Marketers can simply type in a generic keyword ("sales training"), and the tool will return a vast list of potential phrase variations to consider ("sales training tips", "sales training certifications", etc.).
Utilizing relevant phrase variations will help marketers expand their keyword portfolios, which online marketing consultant Aaron Aders lists as his number one rule for SEO success in 2013.
#4. Identify areas of opportunity. Another great free resource is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. While officially used for AdWords pay-per-click campaigns, it can also be an excellent asset for organic search. By plugging in various phrases in the search field, marketers can analyze search volumes and identify which keywords represent the best opportunities.
(Keep in mind that data under "Competition" in the AdWords tool is related only to paid search campaigns, though it can still give marketers an idea of how popular certain phrases are among competitive websites.)
#5. Let keywords drive the content process. Many SEO strategies involve optimizing content after the fact (i.e. writing something, then going back to find relevant keywords to plug in). The inverse of this process works as well.
Once a keyword list has been created, marketers can review it to identify opportunities for fresh content ideas. With this approach, everything that is created will have a target phrase from the beginning, removing the need to scramble for keywords later on.
#6. Use different keywords to say the same thing. Renowned content marketing guru Marcus Sheridan advises marketers that when it comes to an SEO strategy, there's more than one way to get a singular point across. For example, while working on his swimming pool company's blog, Sheridan decided to create a post about how much certain types of pools cost. After that, he created a post covering the price of those same types of pools.
While these two topics may appear to be the same, Sheridan realized that search engines would recognize "how much does it cost" and "what is the price" as different keyword phrases. By creating posts optimized for both, he was able to increase the odds that customers would find his content, no matter how they searched for it.
#7. Leverage traffic analytics. Believe it or not, reporting tools like Google Analytics can also help with the keyword selection process. By analyzing traffic trends, marketers can identify which types of keywords are driving visitors to their site, and build on those trends with future content.
While search engine optimization has changed quite a bit over the years, keyword selection is still a critical part of any successful SEO strategy. By targeting the right keywords at the very beginning, online marketers can put their content -- and brands -- in the best position to increase search engine visibility and get a leg up on the competition.
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