You may have heard this before: SEO is clearly here for the long haul, yada yada yada. But surprisingly, many people and businesses, from small companies to corporations, have not yet completely embraced SEO. Some are simply unaware of its potential, while others are unsure what SEO is at all.
Worse still, SEO is rarely taught in marketing classes at colleges and universities across the country. I know from personal experience. I was a marketing and management double major in college and only had one class focusing on digital marketing and ONE section within that class focusing on SEO.
This is not enough to even scratch the surface when it comes to SEO.
How can self-starters, marketers and students learn how to do SEO and write SEO-friendly content? What tools can beginners use to get into SEO?
As an SEO novice, figuring out where to start can be intimidating. There are a plethora of SEO tools available online, from free Google Chrome extensions to paid enterprise platforms and everything in between.
Although each tool can offer value and many have similar capabilities, using them together is the best way to create a well-rounded piece of content.
Although I am now a Managed Services Strategist in Conductor’s Professional Services team, I was only recently new to the world of SEO, content and digital marketing. So, as an exercise while writing this article and optimizing it for search engines, I went back and used the same simple and efficient tools that I relied on while learning SEO myself. In this article, I will guide you through these tools and the process of writing articles and content with SEO in mind.
How to conduct keyword research for SEO
Before we start, I have to make a confession: I am a keyword junkie. Keyword research is my roots, my bread and butter, so to speak, and I really believe that the first step when writing an article or developing a landing page with SEO in mind should always be keyword research.
Without a deep understanding of the questions and problems your audience is searching for answers to – a deep understanding that you can only get from keyword research – we won’t know what topics and search terms to target with our content, its organic visibility will be diminished, and it will likely not be found.
So how do we find the right keywords? The most important criteria are relevance to product/offering and user intent. MSV (monthly search volume) and stiffness of competition are useful benchmarks to prioritize which keywords to target, but we should primarily ensure that the keywords we select and the intent behind those keywords naturally match the theme of our content.
By “user intent behind the keywords,” I mean the stage of the customer or educational journey that a keyword falls into. For instance, a person looking for the keyword “sports cars” is likely only seeking to learn more about sports cars in general, while a consumer looking for the keyword “Ford Mustang vs. Dodge Challenger” is likely approaching a purchase decision.)
KEYWORD RESEARCH TOOLS
Explorer: One of the benefits of working at Conductor is that I have access to our powerful keyword research tool Explorer. Explorer makes it easy for me to research new content ideas and understand how customers search for these topics. I can also look at everything from head term to long tail keywords, and I can see what keywords our content and the content of our organic competitors’ content is ranking for.
In the screenshots below, we see keyword research around the term “SEO tools,” sorted by MSV and filtered by Early Stage customer intent and Low Competition. I filter by Early Stage because I want to connect with searchers early on in their educational journeys. MSV and competition filters allow me to target high-volume searches with little competition, which gives me greater potential of quickly ranking high on the Google SERP search engine results page.
Each page / article / blog entry should target at least three keywords, a primary keyword target, and multiple secondary and tertiary keyword targets. We need to make sure that these targeted keywords are included in the appropriate parts of the page, such as the URL, title tag, header tags, and meta description, so that searchers and Google itself know what the page is about.
We can use LSI keywords – keywords that are semantically related to your target keywords – to make it even easier for Google to understand what our page is about. Inserting LSI keywords into our header tags and other key parts of the structure of the page help build a content theme that Google can understand.
LSI Graph: This is the best free LSI keyword generator I have found. Be aware that you can only search three keywords per day for free.
Once we have selected our keywords and implemented them into our content, we need to ensure that we target different, unique keywords for each piece of content on our site, maximizing their impact.
Answer the Public: This is a very cool way to visualize keyword research by customer intent and more. These visualizations can also help you identify potential content topic clusters that you have not yet addressed on your website.
How to perform competitive analysis for SEO
One of the biggest things we say in SEO is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This definitely applies to competitive research. If your competitor is ranked # 1, why not find out what they’re doing and try to emulate their strategy?
By understanding what our competitors do well, we can learn how to structure our content, what keywords to target, and discover ways to differentiate our site from theirs.
If neither we nor our competitors have content around a particular topic, this is an opportunity for us to create content to capture searchers looking for help on the topic.
Where do we start with competitive research? By using SEO tools to answer these three questions:
- What are our competitors doing?
- What do they do well?
- Where are their opportunities?
COMPETITIVE RESEARCH TOOLS
SEO Meta in one click: This free extension from Google Chrome shows you the metadata keyword targets of any content – ideal for identifying your competitors “keyword strategies” and building your own.
SEOQuake: This free Google Chrome extension lets you analyze SERPs and track your competitors “keyword rankings so you understand their market share.
Word Count: This free Google Chrome extension makes it easy to see how many words are on your competitors “pages, and helps you understand how in-depth your content should be.
LinkResearchTools: This paid Chrome extension shows you the authority that a page is receiving from links – great for identifying your competitors “link strategies and building your own.
Conductor Explorer / Rank Comparisons / Market Share: These powerful tools from Conductor show you which keywords and topics our competitors target and even give recommendations on which topics you should focus on in your own content.
Remember that competitive research is not the “be all and end all” of Google’s ranking. Google does not reward websites for good SEO per se, but rather rewards websites for high quality, unique and relevant content that provides value to the searcher. As long as we create this type of content, we will be competitive in terms of space and authoritative to Google.
How to perform SERP analysis for SEO
The Google SERP no longer consists of just 10 blue links. It has evolved from a search engine into an experience engine where users can learn more about their search queries using new result types like answer boxes without leaving the SERP.
We need to know what content and features actually appear on SERPs to understand whether certain keywords are really important enough to be targeted, and how we should structure our content to meet the searcher’s intent.
Analyzing the type of content that appears on the SERP for a keyword helps you understand at what stage of the buyer’s journey the keyword fits. For example, if educational content appears mainly on an SERP, the searcher looking for information around the keyword is likely to be in an early educational stage; but if product pages appear on the SERP, the searcher is likely to be in a middle stage where they’re comparing products or a late transactional stage.
We also have to be realistic about whether our content and our website have a chance of ranking for the keyword in light of the other publishers on the page. If we’re a manufacturer of basketballs, and we see that the SERP for the keyword “basketball” is dominated by news publishers and statistics websites, we know that our product pages have little chance of breaking onto page 1.
Then we want to look at what kind of universal results (like answer boxes, knowledge graphs, videos, Twitter, news, images, local packs, etc.) are appearing on the SERP. By knowing what universal results appear in the SERPs, we are able to understand how we should structure and optimize our content to target certain universal result types that can help to rank higher on the page.
SERP ANALYSIS TOOLS
Google Incognito: You can use Google Incognito to see the SERP firsthand in real time for a specific search query, without influence from your own search history and data.
Conductor Explorer / Result Types / Keyword Performance: These powerful tools from Conductor quickly and easily break down everything on the SERP, including insights on the universal results for specific keywords.