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Picking SEO Keywords: An Expert’s Guide

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Picking SEO Keywords: An Expert’s Guide


Without SEO, publishing content online is like sending a rocket to space without a destination.

If you don’t tell that rocket which direction to head (the moon or Mars?), you’re stuck crossing your fingers and hoping things work out. That’s not good marketing. Good marketing comes with predictability, data, and then some crossed fingers.

And that’s the perfect way to describe search engine optimization, SEO, in 2022. 

SEO is part of the search engine algorithm: 

Input = Keywords

Output = Content

For every keyword, there are thousands of pages of search results and plenty of content to choose from (outputs). But, page 1,000 isn’t nearly as useful as page 1. Even page 2 of search results can feel like no man’s land. 

That’s why marketers care about SEO. Because all search engine pages are not equal. The power of ranking top 3 on page 1 of a search engine beats out ranking first on page 2 by 100x (honestly, maybe even 1,000x). 

How do you land a coveted spot on page 1 of the search results?

By picking the right SEO keywords through these three steps.

3 Steps SEO Experts Use to Pick Keywords

SEO has been around long enough that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A new, innovative, never-before-seen SEO strategy that takes you months to implement and even longer to see results is the opposite of what SEO experts are doing.

The SEO experts writing high-quality content, landing on page 1 for relevant searches, and seeing results from their content are the ones following this tried-and-true SEO strategy.

#1: Ideate Keywords

There are two types of advertising: interruption-based and intent-based. Interruption-based advertising is an ad on your social media newsfeed. It’s the ads between paragraphs on the news article you’re trying to read. It’s a search engine ad strategically placed before the organic results. This isn’t your focus in organic SEO marketing, but this IS your focus in paid SEO advertising.

In SEO marketing, you’re focused on intent-based advertising. When somebody chooses to search for an answer to their question—that’s intent-based advertising. A search for “olive green cotton blanket” is an example of intent-based advertising. 

And the search engine results are a mix of interruption (paid ads) and intent-based advertising (organic results).

When you’re ideating keywords for your products and brand, you’re looking at intent-based words. These are the words somebody needs to use to find your products or brand. For DigitalMarketer, these are words like:

  • Digital marketing training
  • Digital marketing help
  • Content marketing training
  • Copywriting training

These keywords correlate directly to our products. They teach people how to be great digital marketers, either for their own company, their full-time marketing role, marketing consultancy, or their agency clients.

Your customer avatar asks specific questions and uses certain words to describe to search engines what content they want output. Use these questions to make a list of 20+ keywords you could rank for:

  1. What questions do your customers ask surrounding your products or brand?
  2. What single words would your customers use to describe your product or brand?
  3. What phrases would your customers use to describe your product or brand?

These questions will give you a page full of keywords and keyword phrases (several words used in a search query) that you want to rank for.

Once you have those keywords, go to AnswerThePublic.com and automatically generate a list of questions people have asked search engines related to those keywords. See if there are any other keywords or keyword phrases you missed—and take notes of the questions people are asking. Those questions will be the topics of your content.

For example, if we see people asking “how to pick SEO keywords,” our team knows that content on picking SEO keywords is a great addition to our online library. You don’t want to chase every keyword that looks like a great piece of content, though. 

First, you need to research the best keywords to see which are worth spending your time on.

#2: Research the Best Keywords

With your list of keywords and keyword phrases (which should be looooooooong by now), you’re set up to figure out which keywords to put your focus on. Unlike your pets, you’re allowed to play favorites here. You don’t want to choose keywords that are highly saturated and difficult to rank for. You also want to avoid the keywords that will only capture a minuscule part of your audience (at least, at first). 

Time to bring in more help from our robot friends. Research the best keywords with tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Ahrefs, and seriously, there are so many other awesome SEO tools out there.

Here’s what keyword research for “running shoes” looks like in SEMRush:

A few things to take note of to compare your keywords/phrases and see which are the best option:

  • Volume is key to understanding if this keyword is worth creating content on or if it’s better to choose something with a higher search volume.
  • The keyword difficulty score shows you how hard it will be to organically rank for that keyword (good luck on getting on page 1 for running shoes!).
  • Use Keyword Variations to figure out if there are other keywords you can try to rank for that are similar but less competitive.

You can also use tools like Google Trends to see which times of the year certain searches spike. For example, the keyword phrase “plants for desk” had its highest search volume between July 27th and July 3rd. From October to the end of November, it has the lowest search volume.

This data can tell you what time is the best to push interruption-based search paid ads—and if there’s specific content you can create around the seasons or months where you see these spikes.

Once you know which keywords you’re going all-in on, it’s time for a quick chat with your finance team.

#3: Check Bid Estimates (For Paid Advertising)

If you’re not putting money behind your SEO strategy and aiming to get organic traffic through high-ranking content, skip to the next section. If you’re looking to put your ad budget towards SEO, keep reading. 

Once you’ve narrowed down the keywords to prioritize based on factors like search volume and difficulty score, it’s time to run your keywords through their last filter: cost. Every keyword comes at a different cost to win the ad auction. The ad auction is how Google determines which ad trying to rank for the same keyword wins an ad placement depending on the user. 

It’s based on 3 factors:

  1. Your Bid: This is your maximum budget for an ad click. 
  2. Ad Quality: Google won’t show your ad to everybody searching for your keyword—they’ll show it to the people most likely to click based on past behavior and data they have on the user.
  3. Extensions and Ad Formats: Google likes when you use extensions, like phone number and other links, as well as the other ad formats you’ve chosen and can boost you in the auction for a lower price.

Understanding how the auction works is necessary to figuring out how much you can afford to spend on ads and what your expected ROI should be. For example, in the SEMRush example for the search “running shoes” the cost-per-click is estimated to be $0.84. This tells you that if you want 10 clicks on your ad per day, you need a minimum $8.40 budget. Of course these numbers are a lot smaller than what you’ll really be working with, but this gives you an idea of how to figure out your SEO budget. 

This is why Step 3 is so important. If your SEO budget is $100 per day, you don’t want to splurge on keywords with a cost-per-click of $10 each (unless you’re certain they’ll lead to conversions!). Instead, you want to create a broader strategy that encompasses several keywords and keyword phrases that make up your $100 per day budget. 

You can use Google Keyword Planner to get suggested bid amounts per keyword: 

You have your keywords, researched and ready to go. There’s only one more thing left to do.

What Do You Do After Picking SEO Keywords?

After you’ve chosen your SEO keywords, it’s time to create the content and ads. There are 3 types of content and ads to create:

  1. Top-of-funnel content
  2. Middle-of-funnel content
  3. Bottom-of-funnel content

Top-of-Funnel Content and Ads

When your customer avatar is first introduced to your brand, show them top-of-funnel content (TOFU). Think of this content as the getting to know you phase relationships (professional, family, friends, or even with your pets!). Every relationship goes through a stage of learning more about someone’s goals, values, and challenges. Your customer avatar wants to know who your brand is, what your goals are, and if your values align with theirs. They’re also looking to see if you understand their challenges.

Here’s an example of TOFU at DigitalMarketer: What is Digital Marketing? In this article, we’re introducing the reader to digital marketing which means we’re not trying to turn them into a customer just yet. It’s not the right time. 

And the same applies to paid ads. You’re looking to educate at the top-of-the-funnel. Check out how these productivity apps use the limited amount of space on their ad to educate Google users about their productivity app.

Middle-of-funnel content and ads take things a step further.

Middle-of-Funnel Content and Ads

Middle-of-funnel content (MOFU) and ads are still educating the reader, but they’re *really* hinting at the product. The productivity apps above had to talk about their product in their TOFU content (they didn’t have another choice), but there’s a difference between their TOFU content and their MOFU content.

At the MOFU level, they’re flaunting their features and actively talking about why the competition isn’t the best option. An example of our MOFU content is this Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing. This guide is LONG, and anybody reading it clearly trusts us as their teacher. This content is designed to build a stronger relationship with this lead and get them to give us their email address (so we can send them even more valuable content). 

Notice the “Download as PDF” button? If you click that, a pop-up form appears asking for your First name, last name, email address AND two questions:

  1. Are you an agency or marketing consultant?
  2. Do you manage a sales and/or marketing team?

These two questions help us tag our email subscribers so we know which content, products, and offers are best suited for them. We can build out specific funnels based on their responses and get first-party data that we can continue using in the future (take that iOS 14!).

Bottom-of-Funnel Content and Ads

Bottom-of-funnel content (BOFU) and ads have a direct call-to-action to join, buy, or sign-up. There isn’t any fluff. Think of this as a sales page—there’s only one action to take on that page and it involves contact information or a credit card.

For the search, “mailchimp vs. constant contact vs. sendinblue,” Constant Contact created a BOFU ad. How can you tell?

  • They’re giving you a special offer to sign up now
  • They’re promoting their 60-day full access, free trial
  • Their link extensions are promoting product features

BOFU content cuts straight to the chase. 

Every great SEO strategy involves these 3 types of content. 

You’re Ready to Pick Your SEO Keywords

You don’t have to classify yourself as an expert before you choose your keywords. You finished this article which means—you’re ready. You have the 3 steps to follow:

  1. Ideate Keywords
  2. Research the Best Keywords
  3. Check Bid Estimates (For Paid Advertising)

And you know what to do after you’ve chosen them (create TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content and ads). The only thing left to do is put what you’ve learned into practice. Remember that every SEO marketer started where you were, unsure how to use the Google ads platform and scared they’ll run through their marketing budget without an ROI.

Just like we’re not telling you to put your entire life savings into Gamestop stock, putting your entire ad budget into your first SEO strategy is the wrong move. Take a percentage of that budget and start testing out ads, seeing their CTR, and how much each keyword or keyword phrase costs.

Build up from there. If you take this route, you’ll feel comfortable enough with your SEO strategy to add another story on top of it, and another in the future, and eventually you’ll have a solid building on your hands. That’s when you’ll look back at yourself reading this article and think—wow, that was just the beginning.



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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

Who doesn’t like to have a good experience consuming content?

I know I do. And isn’t that what we – as both a consumer of content and a marketer of content – all want?

What if you create such a good experience that your audience doesn’t even realize it’s an “experience?” Here’s a helpful mish-mash of easy-to-do things to make that possible.

1. Write with an inclusive heart

There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation with someone who constantly talks about themselves. Check your text to see how often you write the words – I, me, we, and us. Now, count how often the word “you” is used. If the first-person uses are disproportionate to the second-person uses, edit to delete many first-person references and add more “you” to the text.

You want to let your audience know they are included in the conversation. I like this tip shared in Take Binary Bias Out of Your Content Conversations by Content Marketing World speaker Ruth Carter: Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns.

Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns, says @rbcarter via @Brandlovellc @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

2. Make your content shine brighter with an AI assist

Content published online should look different than the research papers and essays you wrote in school. While you should adhere to grammar rules and follow a style guide as best as possible, you also should prioritize readability. That requires scannable and easily digestible text – headings, bulleted text, short sentences, brief paragraphs, etc.

Use a text-polishing aid such as Hemingway Editor (free and paid versions) to cut the dead weight from your writing. Here’s how its color-coded review system works and the improvements to make:

  • Yellow – lengthy, complex sentences, and common errors
    • Fix: Shorten or split sentences.
  • Red – dense and complicated text
    • Fix: Remove hurdles and keep your readers on a simpler path.
  • Pink – lengthy words that could be shortened
    • Fix: Scroll the mouse over the problematic word to identify potential substitutes.
  • Blue – adverbs and weakening phrases
    • Fix: Delete them or find a better way to convey the thought.
  • Green – passive voice
    • Fix: Rewrite for active voice.

Grammarly’s paid version works well, too. The premium version includes an AI-powered writing assistant, readability reports, a plagiarism checker, citation suggestions, and more than 400 additional grammar checks.

In the image below, Grammarly suggests a way to rephrase the sentence from:

“It is not good enough any longer to simply produce content “like a media company would”.

To:

“It is no longer good enough to produce content “as a media company would”.

Much cleaner, right?

3. Ask questions

See what I did with the intro (and here)? I posed questions to try to engage with you. When someone asks a question – even in writing – the person hearing (or reading) it is likely to pause for a split second to consider their answer. The reader’s role changes from a passive participant to an active one. Using this technique also can encourage your readers to interact with the author, maybe in the form of an answer in the comments.

4. Include links

Many content marketers include internal and external links in their text for their SEO value. But you also should add links to help your readers. Consider including links to help a reader who wants to learn more about the topic. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • You can link the descriptive text in the article to content relevant to those words (as I did in this bullet point)
  • You can list the headlines of related articles as a standalone feature (see the gray box labeled Handpicked Related Content at the end of this article).

Add links to guide readers to more information on a topic – not just for SEO purposes says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

You also can include on-page links or bookmarks in the beginning (a table of contents, of sorts) in longer pieces to help the reader more quickly access the content they seek to help you learn more about a topic. This helps the reader and keeps visitors on your website longer.

5. Don’t forget the ‘invisible’ text

Alt text is often an afterthought – if you think about it all. Yet, it’s essential to have a great content experience for people who use text-to-speech readers. Though it doesn’t take too much time, I find that customizing the image description content instead of relying on the default technology works better for audience understanding.

First, ask if a listener would miss something if they didn’t have the image explained. If they wouldn’t, the image is decorative and probably doesn’t need alt text. You publish it for aesthetic reasons, such as to break up a text-heavy page. Or it may repeat information already appearing in the text (like I did in the Hemingway and Grammarly examples above).

If the listener would miss out if the image weren’t explained well, it is informative and requires alt text. General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text. That’s a short sentence or two to convey the image’s message. Don’t forget to include punctuation.

General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text, says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For both decorative and informative images, include the photo credits, permissions, and copyright information, in the caption section.

For example, if I were writing an article about Best Dogs for Families, I would include an image of a mini Bernedoodle as an example because they make great family pets. Let’s use this image of my adorable puppy, Henri, and I’ll show you both a good and bad example of alt text.

An almost useless alt-text version: “An image showing a dog.”

Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.

It wastes valuable characters with the phrase “an image showing.”

Use the available characters for a more descriptive alt text: “Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.”

It’s more descriptive, and I only used 112 characters, including spaces.

Want to learn more? Alexa Heinrich, an award-winning social media strategist, has a helpful article on writing effective image descriptions called The Art of Alt Text. @A11yAwareness on Twitter is also a great resource for accessibility tips.

Improve your content and better the experience

Do any of these suggestions feel too hard to execute? I hope not. They don’t need a bigger budget to execute. They don’t need a lengthy approval process to implement. And they don’t demand much more time in production.

They just need you to remember to execute them the next time you write (and the time after that, and the time after that, and the … well, you get the idea.)

If you have an easy-to-implement tip to improve the content experience, please leave it in the comments. I may include it in a future update.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

If you have an idea for an original article you’d like to share with the CMI audience, you could get it published on the site. First, read our blogging guidelines and write or adjust your draft accordingly. Then submit the post for consideration following the process outlined in the guidelines.

In appreciation for guest contributors’ work, we’re offering free registration to one paid event or free enrollment in Content Marketing University to anyone who gets two new posts accepted and published on the CMI site in 2023.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

Whew! We made it to 2023! As we closed in on the end of the year in December, the finish line seemed awfully far away. Many marketers told me they were busier than ever. 

I myself was fielding calls for strategy help, working on business deals and managing the chaos all the way to the eve of Christmas Eve, something that rarely happens in my 20-plus-year career. 

Look back and celebrate, then move on

The first business for 2023 will be to step back, clear your head and take stock of all the great things you accomplished in 2022 despite the odds (i.e., coming out of COVID, going into a rebound and COVID round 2, moving into supply-chain shortages and other hiccups, facing down a potential recession) and how they affected the work you did to succeed.

And now it’s 2023. I hope you got your budget request approved and you’re ready to move ahead with a clean slate and new KPIs to hit. You’re probably wondering, “What can I do now to grow my program?

3 directional changes to grow your email program

Naturally, every marketer’s goals will be unique. We have different audiences, challenges, resources and goals. But I’m focusing on three major directional changes with my clients this year. Which of these could help you succeed this year?

1. Stop sending so many emails

Yeah, I know. That sounds strange coming from somebody who believes wholeheartedly in email and its power to build your business. But even I have my limits!

Email during this last holiday shopping season was insane. In my 20+ years in the email industry, I cannot remember a time, even during the lockdown days of COVID-19, when my inbox was so full. 

I’m not the only one who noticed. Your customers also perceived that their inboxes were getting blasted to the North Pole. And they complained about it, as the Washington Post reported (“Retailers fire off more emails than ever trying to get you to shop“).

I didn’t run any numbers to measure volume, isolate cadences or track frequency curves. But every time I turned around, I saw emails pouring into my inbox. 

My advice for everyone on frequency: If you throttled up during the holiday, now it’s time to throttle back.

This should be a regularly scheduled move. But it’s important to make sure your executives understand that higher email frequency, volume and cadence aren’t the new email norm. 

If you commit to this heavier schedule, you’ll drive yourself crazy and push your audience away, to other brands or social media.

If you did increase cadence, what did it do for you? You might have hit your numbers, but consider the long-term costs: 

  • More unsubscribes.
  • More spam complaints.
  • Deliverability problems.
  • Lower revenue per email. 

Take what you learned from your holiday cadence as an opportunity to discover whether it’s a workable strategy or only as a “break glass in case of emergency” move.

My advice? Slow down. Return to your regular volume, frequency and cadence. Think of your customers and their reactions to being inundated with emails over 60 days.

2. Stop spamming

In that Washington Post article I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged that it cited one of my email gripes — visiting websites and then getting emails without granting permission first. 

I could have given the Post a salty quote about my experiences with SafeOpt and predatory email experiences (“Business stress is no excuse to spam“) for visitors to its clients’ websites. 

Successful email marketers believe in the sanctity of permission. That permission-based practice is what you want to be involved in. Buying a list means you don’t hire a company to sell you one, whether it’s a data broker or a tech provider like SafeOpt. 

Spamming people doesn’t work in the long term. Sure, I’ve heard stories from people who say they use purchased lists or companies like SafeOpt and it makes them money. But that’s a singular view of the impact. 

Email is the only marketing channel where you can do it wrong but still make money. But does that make it right? 

The problem with the “it made us money” argument is that there’s nowhere to go after that. Are you measuring how many customers you lost because you spammed them or the hits your sender reputation took? 

You might hit a short-term goal but lose the long-term battle. When you become known as an unreliable sender, you risk losing access to your customers’ inboxes.

Aside from the permission violation, emailing visitors after they leave your site is a wasted effort for three reasons:

  • A visit is not the same as intent. You don’t know why they landed on your site. Maybe they typed your URL as a mistake or discovered immediately that your brand wasn’t what they wanted. Chasing them with emails won’t bring them back.
  • You aren’t measuring interest. Did they visit multiple pages or check out your “About” or FAQ pages? As with intent, just landing on a page doesn’t signal interest.
  • They didn’t give you their email address. If they had interest or intent, they would want to connect with your brand. No email address, no permission.

Good email practice holds that email performs best when it’s permission-based. Most ESPs and ISPs operate on that principle, as do many email laws and regulations.

But even in the U.S., where opt-out email is still legal, that doesn’t mean you should send an email without permission just because somebody landed on your website.

3. Do one new thing

Many email marketers will start the year with a list of 15 things they want to do over the next two months. I try to temper those exuberant visions by focusing on achievable goals with this question: 

“What one thing could you do this year that could make a great difference in your email program’s success?”

When I started a job as head of strategy for Acxiom, I wanted to come up with a long list of goals to impress my new boss. I showed it to my mentor, the great David Baker and he said, “Can you guarantee that you can do all of these things and not just do them but hit them out of the park?”

Hmmmm…

“That’s why you don’t put down that many goals,” he said. “Go in with just one. When that one is done, come up with the next one. Then do another. If you propose five projects, your boss will assume you will do five projects. If you don’t, it just means you didn’t get it done.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I pass it on to you. 

Come up with one goal, project or change that will drive your program forward. Take it to your boss and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do this year.”

To find that one project, look at your martech and then review MarTech’s six most popular articles from 2022 for expert advice.

You’ll find plenty of ideas and tips to help you nail down your one big idea to drive growth and bring success. But be realistic. You don’t know what events could affect your operations. 

Drive your email program forward in 2023

The new year has barely begun, but I had a little trouble getting motivated to take on what’s shaping up to be a beast of a year. You, too?

I enjoyed my time off over the holidays. Got in some golf with my dad and his buddies, ate great food and took time to step back and appreciate the phenomenal people I work with and our amazing industry. 

What gets me going at last? Reaching out to my team, friends and you. Much of my motivation comes from fellow marketers — what you need, what you worry about and what I can do to help you succeed. 

If you’re on the struggle bus with me, borrow some motivation from your coworkers and teammates, so we can gather together 12 months from now and toast each other for making it through another year. 

It’s time to strap on your marketer helmet and hit the starter. Here’s to another great year together. Let’s get the job done!


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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About the author

Ryan Phelan

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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