The right content can draw highly qualified traffic to your site. When done well, it delivers strong bang for your buck and builds on itself over time. To get there, you need to know what’s already working well and what your audience is still clamoring for.
In this webinar, Mike Roberts helps you plow past the biggest challenges in starting a content strategy. He always shares clever tips for learning insights straight from your competition, including:
- How to conduct smart competitive research — what’s bringing them traffic?
- How to identify what kind of content your audience craves
- How to tap into questions people are dying to know
- How to find gaps in your content you might have missed
Watch the webinar in this recap, and check below for the slides and all slide notes so you can follow along.
Slides below with notes below, broken out by slide.
Alright, let’s get started.
First, we’re going to talk about the goals of the content. What are we trying to accomplish with the content in general, and each piece of content in particular
Then, I’ll talk about what a core keyword should be and various ways to find them.
Then, I’ll talk about how much content, what kind, etc.
Then, we’ll talk about how to divine topics
And finally, how to create it at scale and how to build upon it
The first step is to literally ask the question
“What is the goal of all this content”
Like “what’s the purpose of the content marketing we are planning?”
You have to ask the question OUT LOUD.
and it seems like an awkwardly dumb question to ask. So, nobody says it out loud.
But, there’s some complexity to this. There’s more than one *right* answer.
Because the thing is – pretty often not everybody on the team has the same perspective
Another way of asking that if you want to sound smarter, but really still be asking the same thing is
“How will we measure the success of this content? Which metrics will we use?”
Now you’re asking the same thing, but you won’t feel dumb asking.
The goal of your content marketing isn’t to generate traffic.
It’s not to create shares.
It’s not to get links.
It’s not to retarget.
It’s not to inform people.
I mean, it might BE those things, but at best those are your micro goals – at worst they could be vanity metrics.
You have to have this conversation (even if it’s with yourself) to know the difference.
Ultimately your macro goal is to get more people to BUY… or sign up… or see ads – it’s about MONEY.
Everything else could be a distraction.
Just because the *overall* goal of your content marketing NEEDS to have to do with money – doesn’t mean that every piece of content needs to be like optimized for conversion.
In fact, it SHOULDN’T.
And that’s why it’s really important to ground yourself in that overall goal before you start planning.
Just build GREAT CONTENT – that’s what everybody says. Sometimes they add in the word “really” to drive that point home.
Create REALLY Great Content.
Cool. But, no.
Great content has to do three things:
Get lots of traffic
Be super authoritative and thought-leader-ish
And efficiently convert readers into buyers.
You can TRY to build every piece of content so it does all those things well.
But, I think when you optimize for ONE, you sacrifice the others and vice versa. I mean, you MIGHT be able to spend a ton of time building the perfect SUPER CONTENT – and there are times when you’ll want to do that, when it’s a really good fit. But, that’s rare.
In general building SUPER CONTENT doesn’t scale, and by and large it can be really frustrating.
DON’T try to make each piece of content do *all* the things.
Make each piece of content do one of those things really well.
Put each piece of content into a bucket.
Some of it needs to get traffic. You metrics will be visitors and shares. You can leverage that traffic to build retargeting audiences and email lists. But, your goal with this content ISN'T to convert, or to get backlinks. You will DEFINITELY want to use that content to feed into your converting and authoritative content, but those AREN'T it’s goals.
Your authoritative, thought leader-ish content might be some of the best stuff you’ve ever written. But, guess what? It’s probably not going to get a ton of traffic.
But, that’s okay. It’s goal is to drive links and mentions. You’re influencing the influencers with this stuff.
The goal is to improve the overall authority of your site, which will drive up the ranks of all the rest of your content. Your primary metrics for this are backlinks and mentions.
Finally, your converting content is designed to convert browsers into buyers. I’m not necessarily talking about your product pages here, really. I assume that you’ve already created marketing pages.
These would be for keywords that are a ways down the funnel – targeting searchers that are ready to buy.
So, those are the three buckets I recommend you put each piece of content into.
But, remember – the whole thing: the CONTENT as a plural. As a plan. As CONTENT MARKETING.
The overall goal is to create money.
As SYSTEM of content it does all the things. As a SYSTEM, you have authoritative content that gets a lot of traffic that converts.
The SYSTEM accomplishes all the goals, but each *piece* of content has it’s own goal and it’s own metrics.
Okay. So, now let’s look at some tricks to find your core keywords.
When I’m talking about CORE KEYWORDS, what I mean are the relatively broad topics that you want to rank on.
I’ll go in to how broad they should be in a minute. There’s a sweet spot that varies a bit based on how authoritative you website is.
But, right now, I’m just going to talk about how you come up with them.
I mean, the slide kind of says it here – but you DON’T need to worry about the long-tail yet. We’re just looking at the top-level topics.
Okay – so, the first way you get core keywords is what I call Divine Edict.
They may come from your client. They might say: “I want to rank on ‘wicker patio furniture”. Okay. Boom. Add it to your list.
You might be the business owner, or in charge of in-house marketing.
IN any case – these are the keywords you can kind of just write down off the top of your head.
They just ARE.
Okay. Put those in your spreadsheet.
The next place you can look is keywords where you already have traction.
Which keywords do you already rank on? These are GREAT momentum builders. Sometimes you can just improve the existing content, or add some supporting content and knock out some early wins.
Momentum is awesome. It’s motivating.
Good places to find this stuff is in Google Search Console. You can also use SpyFu or our competitors. Whatever.
Another great place is to look at your PPC campaign.
Your PPC campaign is awesome because those are keywords you are *already* paying for. The messaging is already tested, and they convert for you.
If you could rank on them – not only could you SAVE money, but more importantly the organic result gets more clicks than the ads.
So, you can justify your content marketing – maybe steal some budget.
All those other three are looking at opportunities inside your business. Stuff that’s already in your campaigns.
But, what about stuff that your company hasn’t already thought of?
What’s working for your competitors that you might not even know about?
Let’s talk about competitors for a second.
I have lots of entrepreneur friends, and when I talk to them about their competitors – especially like the lawyer guys – there’s always someone that really annoys them.
It’s like – that guy’s got his name plastered on a billboard, and he’s got his own racing team. He’s a huge dick. What’s he doing that I’m not?
These are the competitors you want to CRUSH.
Honestly, that sort of visceral impulse is probably what drives a lot of SpyFu’s acquisition. It’s cool. Crush that guy.
But, the truth is, that billboard guy probably isn’t doing anything all that impressive.
The better competitors to look at are the ones that you admire. The ones that are doing content marketing *really* well. And they are probably not who you initially think of as your direct competitor.
Of course, y’know they could be. The competitor you want to crush might also be one that you admire –
and if so, that’s adorable.
So, as an example.
Moz and SearchEngineJournal and Wordstream AREN’T SpyFu’s direct competitors.
But, they all do a really good job at content marketing. I ADMIRE their content marketing. I don’t want to CRUSH them.
What we can do is look at the entire keyword universe of these competitors and group those keywords into topics.
And we can quantify each of those groups.
To do that, we’re basically taking the sum of all the long tail variations.
…and see how many searches the overall topic represents.
Just to be clear – the “overall topic” I’m talking about is a potential “core keyword”.
On SpyFu, we’ve built this automatic grouping functionality into every tool – and if you don’t see it yet, it’ll be there soon.
But, if you’ve got an external list ---
And, btw, it’s a good thing we’re all working remotely because my Ops team would probably physically murder me for bringing attention to this.
Because, I know that this isn’t a particularly easy thing for the system to do.
But, we have a new tool where you can paste in a list of keywords from anywhere,
And we’ll group them and do all the rollups all apparently for free.
It also appends data columns – search volume, CTR, mobile vs desktop, clicked vs not clicked, etc – and that you have to sign up to see.
But, as you can see here – all the groups and rollups you need are here, and you don’t even need login.
I was actually pretty surprised by that – I felt like I discovered a secret hack – and it’s my own site.
Anyway, so that’s there for you.
But, how big should a core keyword be?
Usually, nobody commits to answers on this type of thing. And everything definitely depends.
But, I’m going to give you a bunch of rules of thumb.
A core keywords should support 3-10 pieces of content.
Or maybe about 10,000 words of written content.
And each piece of content should target about 300-3000 searches per month.
By the way, it might make sense eventually to combine content into Mega Pieces – but, that’s kind of an editing and optimization step.
You don’t need to think about that now.
Anyway, so 3-10 pieces of content targeting 300-3000 searches per month each.
So, it’s a pretty broad range – 900 searches to 30,000 searches – but kind of the area you’re targeting is about 5000 searches per month for a core keyword.
If you’re just starting out, and have a low authority site, or if you’re in a highly competitive niche, you want to go a bit lower
And if you’ve built up some authority and your competition and keyword difficulty is a bit lower, you can target higher traffic core keywords.
So, how much content do you need?
Add up the search volume for all your core keywords and divide by 1000. That’s roughly amount of articles you need.
I’ve got about 20 slides I cut out here that explains a whole lot more about how much content you need and how and when you get ROI
And whether you should create evergreen or timely content – the answer is a mix of both – in about a 4:1 ratio … about 3 or 4 times as much evergreen as timely.
Anyway – I added those after the last slide so you can see it in the PDF.
But, I really wanted to make sure I spent enough time on creating topics from keywords.
I’ve got some pretty good shortcuts.
So, here we go.
Here’s one of the keywords I want to rank on: “Grants for Single Mothers”
It’s got the right number of searches and a medium keyword difficulty.
Actually – there’s a lot more going on here – keyword research has advanced quite a bit recently.
The last presentation that I gave to this audience was all about Advanced Keyword Research – so, I’ll refer you to that webinar for a complete in-depth look, but I’ll just give you a quick refresh of what you’re looking at.
So, Here are two keywords - both related to airpods - both get about the same number of clicks
But, in every other way, they’re polar opposites.
[TALK ABOUT DIFFERENCES]
So, then, I’m going to look at the SERP.
You could certainly look directly at the SERP in Google. I’m using SpyFu because it shows me the Domain strength of each site.
I want to avoid the really strong domains – y’know like Wikipedia or Amazon or something.
Generally I want to get an understanding of what *kind* of content is ranking. Is it a list of Grants or a Guide for getting them? Is it video content? Are there product pages? Government websites.
Once I get the feel for it, I’m going to pick the ones that are ranked best that aren’t super strong domains, and that match the type of content Google thinks matches the searcher’s intent.
Then, I’m going to quickly look at what other keywords that content ranks on.
Then, I’d look at the content itself.
How good is it? How long is it.
Can it be beaten.
In this case, yeah. This is kind of trash. I actually feel bad for single mothers that have to look at this crap.
My eyes are sore.
So, that’s kind of the best practice Skyscraper way of doing things.
But, in a lot of cases this is kind of maybe daunting or for a variety of reasons, hard to start.
So, here’s that same starting keyword – but broken down by all the questions people ask related to it.
Prioritized by search volume.
“Are there grants for single mothers to buy a house?’
“What kind of grants can a single mother get?”
“How to apply for pell grants for single mothers”
So, the idea is – you just start answering each of these questions. The article doesn’t need to be FAQ style – these are just kind of built in writing prompts.
It’s also kind of a way to approach a big authoritative piece of content in bite sized chunks.
Answer one question a day until you’ve answered them all, and publish continuously.
To me, this is a much more approachable way to create content – and it can even help you scale your content production by tapping into internal expertise.
Imagine you’re actually doing this campaign and you know you have an internal subject matter expert on grants.
But – that person doesn’t write content. They don’t like writing content. It’s not their thing.
If you asked them to write 1500 words on “Grants for Single Mothers”, like I mean, it depends on your relationship with this person.
But, it’d certainly be fighting against their nature.
But, if you were to ask them “Hey, are there grants for single mothers to buy a house? – asking for a friend”
there’s a pretty good chance you’d get a detailed response.
See what I mean?
Not only is this approach more digestible as *you’re* approaching it –
it’s a complete game changer for scaling your content production to unlock the hidden expertise inside your organization.
Everything in my presentation is sort of predicated on this sort of keyword-research first approach.
And, yeah. That’s definitely the best practice – but, doing all that research and organizing the keywords is a meaningful amount of work.
Work that you have to do **Before** you create content.
And, I mean – I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life making that process easier and more productive – and at this point it’s pretty streamlined.
But – I’m a big fan of this new technique we’ve developed.
It’s like looking at your competitors’ Google Search Console.
You can see exactly which content is getting the most SEO traction, how much, and from which keywords.
So, it’s basically a prioritized list of content for you to build – and to build a better version.
And you don’t necessarily need to do keyword research up front – you can kind of just start right here – and start building. Then, the improvement cycle I’ll talk to you about later will take care of the rest.
So – in this case, I’ve filtered this down so I’m only looking a blog articles – and you can do that sort of url-level filtering to any level.
And btw, just like everything on SpyFu – the top 5 results are free. But, you can do a lot of research with that.
For example – even if you’ve already got a topic area, you can filter your competitors’ content for the best articles related to that topic.
So, this is a useful shortcut even if you’ve got your core keyword research done too.
Let me show you what this did.
So, we were looking at wordstream’s blog. And now I’ve filtered for their best content related to LinkedIn.
So, we’ve got a few articles here.
“The complete LinkedIN Advertising Cheatsheet”
“How to write the Perfect LinkedIN connection request”
“How to improve your LinkedIn Profile as a Recent college graduate”.
But, the way that filter worked – is it filtered the content based on the keyword it ranks on. Then, it ordered them by the number of SEO clicks --- on those keywords.
Let me drill in here.
When we click on the View Keywords, it shows us all the keywords that have the word “LinkedIn” in it that this article ranks on .
And it orders it by the number of clicks we’d expect the page to get based on it’s position in the SERP.
So, when you see the Estimated SEO Clicks up here – it’s not the total amount of traffic the page gets – it’s the total amount relevant to the keyword filter.
Of course, if you clear the “LinkedIn” filter, it’d show you the total for the page.
But, you see how this can work.
It’s actually a *really* actionable tool. We’re gonna use it again later when I show you how to improve your own existing content.
But, just to recap here:
You can largely skip or certainly shortcut the crap out of your keyword research and organization using this trick.
Just find a good competitor you sort of grudgingly admire and find their best content and do it better.
Or if you’ve got an idea of where you want to start use a quick filter.
Then, build the content, measure, and improve.
So, this is the outline of the whole process.
Create the topics, write the articles, track the results, improve and repeat.
So, now let’s talk about writing the articles. Now we’re going to “write the articles’.
Obviously, one way to produce you content is to write it all yourself.
And, I mean, we’re in Covid-land right now.
You might have time on your hands – or more time than money – or… I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why you might be the best person to write a lot of your content.
A friend of mine – Larry Kim – he built that company Wordstream I used as an example, and sold it for like $150M a couple years ago. His new company is Mobile Monkey, btw.
Anyway, I’ve always been impressed by the quality of content Wordstream produced and the depth of stuff Larry presented.
So, I asked him one time – “Dude, how do you scale your content creation – it’s so good?”
And he was like “Mike, I spend 40 hours a week on it. It’s the engine that drives all of our growth. It’s not 100% of what I do as a Founder, but it’s like 80%.
So, being a though leader can be a full time thing for you, and that’s okay. It very well might be the best thing you can do with your time.
But, if it’s not for you there’s plenty of options.
Obviously, you can hire a writer. Or you can hire an agency – honestly, for a narrow task like content production, I don’t think you’ll find better bang for the buck than hiring an agency. Particularly right now – agencies have been pretty hard hit by Covid cutbacks; it’s going to be a win for you.
And don’t forget about my previous hack to unlock internal sources of expertise by building articles out of questions.
But, if you don’t need the service layer in there and you want to really hit the scale of near-automation you can crowd source it.
Here are the steps
The company I’m going to use here is called WriterAccess.
The founder of the company is friend of mine – and so, I’m biased. I’ve never used another service, but I know there are competitors. Textbroker is one.
But, these guys do a pretty good job – they’re based in Boston.
So, you go in here and you select the job and the writer (or writer rating). The length of the content – I set it to 1500 words.
But, importantly, I *always* make sure that I’ve got more words that whatever I’m trying to outrank.
And then I write this Spec.
Actually, I literally just copy and paste the spec and swap in the urls.
On these services, you’re going to pay about 7 cents per word.
The a 1500 word article is about $100.
And by the way – they don’t need to write the entire article.
This will certainly come into play when we start our improvement loop – but you could just have them answer a single question.
And that single question *could* be the whole article, or it could just be part of it.
The spec can be as simple as “Answer the question in 600 words: How do you apply for a pell grant for single mothers?”
You can even ask for screenshots in the specs.
This can become a ridiculously streamlined – almost fully automated - part of your workflow.
Anyway, now it’s time to track your results.
But, remember when I said you don’t need to worry about the long tail keywords?
Well, now is when you do.
Because, you see the needle moving on those long tail variations waaay before you see your core keywords move.
So, SpyFu has weekly keyword rank tracking – and there’s a bunch of rank tracking tools out there.
We do a really good job of rolling keywords up and showing you what’s happening at the keyword group level –or the long tail of your core keywords.
But, I personally for this workflow, I prefer to track things at the content level.
Like, which piece of content is doing well? What’s it ranking on, etc.
And the reason is – MOST of your content is going to suck.
It’s like some kind of law of nature.
If you publish 100 articles, you’re not going to wind up with 50 that get like 500 – 1000 views, 20 that get 200 ish clicks and 20 that get 2000 ish clicks.
You’ll probably get 5 that get 5-10 thousand and 80 that get 10 and about 15 that are somewhere in the middle.
It’s a power curve distribution – like income distribution or city populations as opposed to a bell curve like height or foot speed.
Larry Kim calls these Unicorns and Donkeys.
My favorite place to look – especially like the day after I publish something new is Google Search Console.
I actually really like this tool. I use it a lot.
But, it’s missing a few things I want to use in my improvement loop.
Mostly I use this as an early indicator of whether I’ve got a blockbuster unicorn piece of content or just yet another normal one.
But, if nothing else, it validates that what I’m seeing in SpyFu – and gives me additional confidence in my next steps.
And, when you put them side by side, they match up pretty close. I just grabbed these really fast – the dates here might probably not quite the same. But, you see it doesn’t matter much – the order of priority is about right. Remember, there’s lots of content on our blog, and this is just showing the top 7-8 results and the overlap is very good.
But, that’s just convenient validation that we can just use SpyFu to manage this next improvement cycle without worrying about missing something in the details.
Okay. So the first step is to go through your top content – from top to bottom.
Because, who really cares about the stuff at the bottom. Just focus on the stuff at the top and work your way down.
And what you do is make sure that the keyword you are targeting --- and in a lot of cases the keyword you *were* targeting isn’t the keyword that Google *thinks* is the most important for this page.
So, the question is whether you think it’s worth fighting what Google thinks, or whether you want to just roll with the flow.
Basically, I’m going to recommend that 95% of the time, you roll with the flow.
So – that’s why the title here is to make sure that the TOP keyword in this list is in your Title and H1.
So here – we’ve got one of Wordstream’s top articles is getting a lot of traffic from “twitter advanced search”, and moving up a few spots has the potential to really drive a ton of traffic.
So, they should include that in the title. The title should become something like “Find Your Old Tweets: Twitter Advanced Search to see your first tweet”
This is something that I’ve done repeatedly – and it typically gets about 1 position.
-- and 1 position doesn’t sound like a ton, but remember: 1 position adds 20-50% of the number of clicks you’ll get on that search.
So, quickly go in and make those changes – right now for all your content where your title doesn’t match what Google thinks it should be.
You should see results pretty quickly in Google search console – likely within a couple days. Keep track of the changes you make, and when you made them so you can roll them back if you necessary.
It’s a pretty low risk operation actually. If you roll back, Google rolls back pretty quick too.
The next thing to do – and this is regardless of whether the proper keyword was in the Title and H1 or not
You can see here that this article on SEJ actually does have the top keyword “reverse image search” in the title.
But, no matter what, the next step is to take that top keyword and plug it into the “Filter by Keyword” box at the top.
If you remember – these are the articles that rank on variants of “reverse image search”.
In addition to the main one – there are 7 more.
So… arguably to some degree these other articles are probably cannibalizing your main content.
And because of the power curve effect – we’re much better off leveraging that blockbuster unicorn article.
Combining content deserves a strong first look these days. Google really likes super-exhaustive mega authority content.
But, you’ve got quite a few options.
You could just remove old crappy content that’s stealing some of your unicorn’s thunder.
You could canonicalize an older version to the newer one.
You could de-optimize. In this case, it’d probably be a good idea to de-optimize the other big piece of content for “Reverse Image Search”. But, it can be a little bit scary to mess with a real winner – and that “10 Best Image Search Engines” is a pretty big winner.
No matter what, though – you should cross link. The smaller articles must absolutely link to the larger one. You can do bidirectional – but you MUST link that smaller one to the bigger one.
Do it today. These are dead simple easy wins.
The next step is to expand.
And the easiest way to do that is to ensure that you’ve answered all the questions you can about the topic.
Take that top keyword – in our last example: “Reverse image search” and plug it into the keyword tool.
(READ THOSE QUESTIONS)
Does the article answer all of these?
If not – add them. Make the article exhaustive.
Other ways that you can expand.
Just improve the article – either go deeper or execute better.
Which areas can you add more detail, answer more questions?
Add some rich content. Google really likes videos inside the articles. Add a video, or multiple videos. One for each section.
Add some infographics.
This is the outline of the whole process.
Create the topics, write the articles, track the results, improve and repeat.
That’s the process.
And I think this is an important slide to remember. Because creating the content really is just the first step – and typically doesn’t capture anywhere near the potential.
There’s a LOT to be gained in the improvement loop. Don’t overlook it.
Every place you move up gets you about 20-50% more traffic. So, obsess over those incremental improvements.