How to find the right keywords for your content strategy: Lessons from a B2B SEO consultant
In search engine optimization, you get out what you put in. Real rises in search traffic and higher positions in organic the SERP require dedication to a strategy.
According to Bernard Huang, founder of Mushi Labs, where he's been an SEO consultant for dozens of high-growth companies, a lot of teams are skeptical about SEO. They've dabbled, but they haven't committed to a plan or seen real results.
Bernard developed a playbook specifically for this reason—to help companies get the full value out of SEO. He's broken it down into a step-by-step, repeatable process complete with keyword research tools that will help any company build content from scratch to drive high-quality, organic traffic from interested potential buyers.
In order for SEO to drive these traffic gains and lay the foundation for future growth, it's important that you:
- understand what terms potential customers are searching for, and
- understand what they're hoping to find with those search queries
Then you can build content around the best keywords for your business that deliver what the searcher was looking for. This is how you get content in front of high-quality potential leads, and give them a reason to consider learning more about your product.
We've summarized Bernard's extensive guide to keyword research and pulled out the most important points below. Its broken into four steps that anyone can get started with right away.
1. Coming up with keyword ideas
To create content that drives traffic, you need keywords to give you direction. Bernard says that “creating content without proper direction is like randomly throwing darts on the wall just to see what sticks.” It wastes time and effort. By shaping content around keywords, you're much more likely to hit a bullseye and create something that a lot of people will see and want to read.
Here's how you'll create this preliminary list:
Think of as many potential words and phrases that you can that are relevant to your company and website. You can set up a keyword spreadsheet like this one that Bernard created and fill in your initial brainstorm ideas in the first column.
We've filled in his spreadsheet with example keyword research for a B2B SaaS company that sells productivity software.
1.2 Use Google Search Console
Search Console is Google's free search analytics tool that you can use to find keywords that are already driving traffic to your site. If you haven't already set up GSC for at least 3 months, skip this step for now.
Within GSC, you can “Search Analytics” for your domain to find the keywords that your site is currently ranking for.
1.3 Gather data on competitors' keywords
Next, use a competitive analysis tool to gather data on high-volume head terms that competitors rank for. In his own work, Bernard uses SEMrush. Another good keyword research tool for B2B companies is Ahrefs.
In SEMrush, enter your competitor's domain into their search bar and look at the “Organic Research.”
This returns a list of keywords that the competing site ranks for, which you can export as .csv and copy paste into the “competitive analysis” column of your keyword spreadsheet.
1.4 Find keyword modifiers with Google's autosuggest
As a final layer in building your preliminary keyword list, check out the terms and phrases that Google autosuggests.
When you type a keyword into Google, a list of related terms automatically pops up. This tool is particularly good for researching long-tail keywords as it will build upon short-tail keywords.
You can also use Keyword Tool to get a full list of Google's autocomplete data for any search term, sorted by monthly search volume. Export that list and copy and paste into your spreadsheet.
2. Choosing the high opportunity keywords
Not all of the keywords in this preliminary list are going to be valuable, and you don't want to waste time creating content around words that no one is searching for. You also want to be sure that the people searching for those keywords have the potential to turn into high-quality customers.
So the next step is to determine which keywords have high opportunity to generate valuable traffic and hopefully turn into qualified leads. These keywords will be the foundations of your content.
To continue keeping track in the keyword sheet, make sure all of the keywords you just generated are in one column and transfer them from the first tab (“Keyword generation”) to the “keyword” column in the second tab (“Prioritized keywords.”)
Then you can begin to whittle down the list.
2.1 Determine monthly search volume
Monthly search volume, or m/s, shows you how many people are searching for a given keyword in a month on average. High monthly search volume indicates an opportunity for highly visible content. Most B2B keywords have a monthly search volume between 10 and 250 searches per month.
Using Google Keyword Planner, copy and paste your long list of keywords into the tool. The tool automatically sorts your keywords by monthly search volume. Download, and copy and past the keyword column and the monthly search volume (“Avg.monthly”) into your keyword spreadsheet. Make sure they're sorted from highest monthly search volume to lowest.
2.2 Categorize keywords by searcher intent
This next step is a qualitative exercise: imagine what each searcher is intending to find when they search for a particular keyword. In the “intent” column of your spreadsheet, categorize each keyword as one of the following five:
- valuable (transactional, meaning the searcher wants to buy something)
- informational (the searcher wants to learn something)
- maybe (edge cases)
- too broad (single-search queries and other general terms)
- not relevant (unrelated or branded to competitors)
If you don't have time to manually categorize all 500-1,000 keywords at one time, just go through 50-100 at a time.
2.3 Narrow your list
Your highest-opportunity keywords are the “valuable” and “informational” keywords with the highest monthly search volume.
Move your valuable, informational, and maybe keywords to the top of your list. Within each group, sort by monthly search volume from highest to lowest.
Pull out your top 20-30 keywords to start building content.
3. Shaping the most helpful content around keywords
Current search engines prioritize visitor engagement. They determine rankings in part by how visitors interact with the site.
This means creating content that matches the searcher's intent so they stay on the page and engage. This is important to finding and converting high-quality traffic. It's a wasted opportunity if a searcher clicks your link, glazes over it, and bounces without a second thought.
Though you already summarized searcher intent while prioritizing your keywords, you should take a deeper look at intent once you've chosen the keywords you're going to turn into content. A fine-grained understanding of what the searcher wants will help you write content that searchers will take the time to read and learn from.
3.1 Determine what searchers are looking for with each keyword
The current top ranking content for keywords are good indicators of what those searchers are looking for.
For each of your chosen keywords, type the term into Google and pull up the search engine results page. Look at the top ten results.
Look at the type of pages that are ranking on the first page. Those are the results that searchers want to see. For example, for the keyword [how to be productive at work], the first search results are educational material and how-to lists.
3.2 Categorize each keyword by type of content
The three most valuable types of content for readers are product pages, blog posts/educational materials, and product reviews.
Based on the top ten search results for a given keyword, determine what kind of content that keyword warrants and mark it in your spreadsheet in the “ideal content type” column.
As you go, you can weed out irrelevant keywords as you learn more about their search results and searcher intent.
4. Using data as the backbone for content
Finally, after identifying the most useful keywords with clearly defined content opportunities, you'll start drafting.
You can pull useful information from the top ten results in the SERP to serve as the backbone for this content. By finding the repeated terms and themes in these top searches, you can understand what about these results are truly helpful to customers. Then you can structure your content to include and build upon these ideas.
This helps you create the most helpful and highest quality content available on the topic, which in turn improves rankings and drives traffic.
Here's how to break that down.
4.1 Pull out repeated terms
Look through the top ten search results for patterns or sections that appear repeatedly. You can manually record these in a word processing document, or use a keyword tool like Clearscope to automatically identify the repeated terms in the top ten search results.
4.2 Create an outline
The terms in your document will help you create an outline for your draft. Group related keywords and organize them into sections that make sense with one another.
In addition to the sections around the terms you've culled, be sure to include original sections and ideas. This helps your content stand above and beyond what is already available to searchers.
At this point, determine if you need photos or videos to be competitive by checking to see whether the first few search results have them.
4.3 Write the piece
Create a draft for your piece.
If you're writing an educational page, you can draft directly from your outline. If you're creating a product page, pay special attention to structural elements like:
- the above-the-fold experience
- section headers
- calls to action
Make sure to spell check and copyedit the final version of the content.
SEO strategy as a foundation for growth
You can continue to search for new keywords and create new optimized content at little to no cost and watch the visibility of your company and the incoming high-quality traffic rise.
The next steps in a SEO strategy are to optimize content you already have and track your content's performance. Your toolkit will grow, your process will expand, your pipeline will get more intricate, and your content will get more targeted.
But first, create that initial piece of optimized content. Bernard's full walkthrough in the Data-Driven-Marketing book will help you to lay a solid foundation for future growth.