What is a keyword strategy?

October 3, 2021
📓 Article

A keyword strategy is a prioritized list of which specific keywords you’re aiming to rank for in search.

Generally a keyword strategy is built by researching possible topics, researching which related keywords people search for on Google, and then balancing factors like search volume, competition, and relevance to your business.

A keyword strategy often takes the form of a spreadsheet, or a list, saying what you want to rank for, and why. An effective keyword strategy can then help you make a lot of other decisions, including:

  • What content to produce
  • How to edit, optimize, or re-position existing content
  • What pillars to organize your blog around
  • Where to spend money in paid search

Taking your keyword strategy a step further, it can also be an important factor in figuring out what topics you want your brand to be known for generally, what topics to follow, and contribute to, on social, what communities to join, and so on.

Often, “keyword strategy” refers specifically to organic search strategy, but it can refer to paid search strategy, too.

Why do you need a keyword strategy?

You can’t pursue every possible keyword. But everybody has different opinions of what should happen, in what order, when, and why.

These opinions can vary across the company, and not only that, they can vary across time. What, off the cuff, seems strategically important today might not have seemed that way a month or two ago.

Having a documented strategy ensures that you’re focusing on a limited number of goals, at least for a while. And the process of putting that strategy together helps you decide what your goals are in the first place – including getting input and agreement from other stakeholders in your organization.

Once you’ve completed your strategy, you’ll have a condensed version of a priority list that everyone has agreed on. And you’ll have a guide to help you decide the right actions for pursuing these goals. That, in turn, can help you:

  • Produce the right content. Do you need to produce lots of in-depth content, or lots of shorter content? Which subject areas are most important? How often do you need to create new content, as opposed to optimizing what you already have?
  • Prioritize some tactics over others, and explain why. If we’ve decided to rank for “accounting software”, that will mean that we should produce certain content and pursue certain technical improvements, for example, related to that topic. Or maybe we’ve come up with a product-led SEO motion, or programmatic content, that will help us rank for that term. But if we’ve chosen “small business accounting”, we’ll have to do different things.
  • Give others in the organization information about what you’re planning to do, when, and what they should expect. Collaboration between marketing – and other departments – is critical for success with content. Measure correctly. If your goals were to pursue more brand reach, you’ll want to focus on traffic and make sure you’re instrumented correctly for that. If you want to pursue lead generation, that’s a different set of instrumentation.

How to build a keyword strategy

Building a keyword strategy has several discrete steps. We cover these in more detail in our guide to building a keyword strategy, but in short:

  • Gathering seed keywords. First, you’ll need to generate good keyword ideas – there are lots of places to get these. Our end goal is somewhere between 30 - 70 high-quality terms.
  • Determining keyword relevance. Relevance simply means: How likely is someone to convert if they land on your site after searching for that keyword? Relevance looks different for every company, but some of the ways to approach relevance include figuring out how much your company wants to be known for a keyword, how much your CEO or board would want to rank for a term, and how easily you can align your existing or planned content with a term.
  • Pulling volume and competition data. You can think of volume as the demand for information on a topic (and later we’ll look at competition, which is supply). And competition is the existing supply. You’ll need to pull this data one of the many available tools out there to include it in your strategy.

We’ve built a simple spreadsheet that will help you work with this model.

  • On the first tab, “Keyword Data”, we’ll gather all of the information we have about what your seed keywords are, including relevance, volume, and competition. There’s also a formula that combines these different parameters to tell you in what order you should pursue your keywords.
  • On the second tab, “Strategy Output”, we have a formula that gives you an ordered list. It’s the same data from the first tab, just put into something that’s a little easier to read.

Learn more in our guide to building a keyword strategy.

Organic vs. paid keyword strategy

Organic and paid search activities both happen on search engines, and they both take investment in order to see results. Organic search doesn’t have any upfront cost, and tends to take a more sustained investment over time, but also continue to show results for a long time. Paid search works more quickly, but requires a constant investment of both time and money in order to continue to generate leads and revenue.

We’ve focused on organic search strategy in this guide, but the truth is that getting a keyword strategy in place can help you structure your paid account as well. There are a few different ways to pursue this, including:

  • Starting with paid keywords to build initial traction in certain areas, and then replacing those efforts with organic keywords
  • Owning keywords from both a paid and organic search perspective

The quality of your content will be extremely important to success in paid search, just as it is in organic search. Paid search is organic search plus one additional ranking factor: money. The ranking algorithm for ads takes into account very similar factors to those used for organic rankings, like readability, relevance, and landing page UX, plus how much you’re willing to bid for a certain keyword.

Getting started with your keyword strategy

With your keyword strategy in hand, the next step is to convert your strategy into action – creating content.

As you decide where to start, some general rules:

  • If you already have a page on your site that’s ranking for a term – especially just outside of the first page of results, let’s say ranks 11 - 30 – and you haven’t revisited it in the last several months, your first priority should be tweaking or updating the relevant page.
  • Otherwise, we recommend creating new content. Blog posts are generally fine. If the content is very high-volume or top-of-funnel, we often recommend making explainer pages.
  • Overall, we don’t recommend making more than 1 - 2 pieces of content for any specific keyword, because generally, you will only have 1 page rank for any given keyword. Especially for companies with less ability to produce content, it’s better to create content horizontally.

You also want to make sure you revisit your keyword strategy regularly. Most companies build a keyword strategy once, then forget about it and don’t touch it again for years.

This is bad, especially at fast-growing companies that need to be responsive to changing conditions around the strategy they’ve built. You need to revisit your keyword strategy consistently, around every 6 to 12 months, and make sure everyone’s still on board.

Google is changing your page titles on SERPs

September 22, 2021
📗 Field Note

Does your page title look different in search results than it used to? You’re not imagining it. Google has started amending HTML titles as it sees fit, the same way it started amending meta descriptions a while back.

Google released this statement about its new policy and this gist is this: if your title tag isn’t optimized, Google’s going to take a crack at it.

“HTML title tags don’t always describe a page well,” according to Google’s statement. Specifically, they’re altering title tags that are:

  • Too long
  • Lacking descriptive language
  • Keyword-stuffed
  • Empty (no title tag used)

🏄 What you can do

While they claim that the title change isn’t going to affect ranking, it might affect conversion – Google’s improvised titles are a bit clunky.

In order to stay in control over how your page is presented in search, try this:

  • Search a few of your pages right now. How are your titles looking?
  • Inventory your site – is every page using a title tag?
  • Revise: short, concise, specific, direct
  • Consult Google’s best practices for titles

Goodbye backlinks, hello inferred links

September 22, 2021
📗 Field Note

Most people in our marketing community have probably, at one time or another, deliberately pursued backlinks – usually by emailing other sites and asking for them. Google says it doesn’t like this, but it’s probably fine, unless you’re pursuing a link scheme. (Cue the dramatic hamster.)

For certain sites, backlinks still have a place. Probably. We would never tell you not to pursue backlinking.

But we will tell you not to prioritize backlinking. There are so many reasons, including the huge amount of time it takes to get even a small number of relevant, high-quality links – time you could be spending creating excellent content. And another argument is becoming increasingly strong for deprioritizing backlink strategy – inferred links.

Inferred links are, basically, mentions of a brand or page in the text of other sites – no hyperlink required. The hope is that this is a more accurate measurement of a page’s usefulness. Google is placing more and more emphasis on these, as the eminent Rand Fishkin noted earlier this year.

🏄 What you can do

There’s no hack for inferred links (yet). The way to start building inferred links is by investing in a useful, authentic, content program:

  • Focus on PR, not backlink acquisition
  • Be generous, not transactional (i.e. be part of a community)
  • Create more truly useful content, not clickbait
  • Distribute your own content, don’t guest post

You can keep spending time on backlinks, but it’s going to be diminishing returns. An investment that results in inferred links is really just an investment in better marketing.

A lot of your customers might be blocking Google Analytics

September 1, 2021
📗 Field Note

We use Google Analytics all the time to help content teams perform their best. The Ercule team has spent huge amounts of time learning the ins and outs of Google Analytics. But we’re not big fans.

For a while now, we’ve been telling marketers to prepare (gradually) for a future without Google Analytics.

This recent study suggests that in some cases, especially at developer-oriented companies, many or most users are blocking Google Analytics Javascript. Which means GA gives no data on those users.

Google Analytics will be replaced by other technologies, most of which don’t rely on JavaScript but instead measure traffic directly from the web server. (And to be fair, the study linked above was produced by one of those companies, so you can take it with a grain of salt.)

🏄 What you can do

You don’t have to do anything quite yet. In fact, you shouldn’t.

For starters, keep these Google Analytics mantras in mind:

  • Google Analytics is estimates, not gospel
  • Google isn’t your friend

And be strategic: base your content strategy on the unique goals and values of your business – then refine it with data. (Not the other way around.)

That’s how we do it for clients: by first focusing on the relevance of keywords to a business. After that’s decided, we start consulting the GA data.

Content velocity, and why it’s critical for content marketing performance

September 1, 2021
📗 Field Note

Putting words on a page is hard and, as hard as it is, it’s just one piece of making content marketing work.

Before you write, you have to have a strategy in place, and an outline, and clear goals for what you’re writing, and the reasons why.

And then after you write, you still need to:

  • Get approvals and reviews
  • Add metadata (descriptions, titles, tags, etc.)
  • Include additional elements like images
  • Add the finished piece to your CMS

On top of that, you’ve also got to maintain, optimize, and revise the existing content on your site. The time it takes to complete this process – from assigning content, to publication, to distribution – is what we call “content velocity”.

The teams that get the best results from their content are also (usually) able to move fast. They can come up with a new idea and publish it within a few weeks – and their old stuff gets updated regularly, too.

🏄 What you can do

If you’re feeling frustrated with your current content velocity, do a quick inventory:

  • Content strategy – Is everyone aligned on the program and intent? (Poor alignment leads to lots of disagreements and extra communication.)
  • Production – Is communication with your writers as smooth as possible? (Clunky communication slows down production.)
  • Editorial – Could the the review and approval process be streamlined? Can you remove some reviewers, or change them into contributors whose input is helpful, but not required? (A glutted review process takes up hours that could be better allocated to production.)
  • Technology – Does the idea of putting new content up on the site create dread? Does your team understand all the switches they have to flip to make that happen? (People can waste an astounding amount of time with a CMS they don’t understand.)

And if any of those ring alarm bells, drill down further. What are the things in your process that take the most time, and add the least value – and can they be removed?

Google updates the About This Result feature

August 20, 2021
🕵🏻‍♂️ Journal

Up until now, the little “About This Result” link on Google Search has given quick insights into any page that appears in search results, gauging things like:

  • Basic context (via Wikipedia snippet)
  • Security
  • Whether a listing is organic or paid

It provides a little more context and assurance (or warning) before you click on a link.

But Google’s adding more. New, updated “About This Result” links are providing more and more insights into why Google selected a given link, including factors such as:

  • Keywords
  • Related terms
  • Backlink strength
  • Local relevance

Try searching Google for terms you care about, and see what About This Result says about the people who are ranking at the top. (Hopefully that’s you!)

Make friends with branded traffic

August 20, 2021
📗 Field Note

Branded traffic can feel like the enemy sometimes.(Speaking from experience here.)

After all, content marketers are trying to boost non-branded traffic – traffic from people who don’t know about us already.

But branded traffic is great! It speaks to your brand’s offline activities. If someone searches your name, they’ve already heard about you elsewhere: news, word of mouth, social platforms and the like.

Plus, it directs people to your homepage or product pages. And this can be an opportunity for content marketers.

🏄 What you can do

The next time you’re pulling the usual data, spend a little longer with the branded search numbers.

  • Identify the pages that branded visitors are landing on. You can optimize them for content and lead capture forms.

  • If branded traffic is on the upswing, go congratulate your peers in the PR and social media departments. They’re the ones making this happen!

These are both opportunities to place better content, and get yourself in on more marketing conversations.

You belong in more conversations!

Paid search from scratch

August 20, 2021
📗 Field Note

We write this blog for content people. But some of you – especially if you’re at a smaller company – may end up contributing to paid campaigns, too.

And so Vincent Barr, the mastermind behind Operator, stopped by Ercule office hours to talk about the relationship between paid and organic search.

He provided us with tips for small startups who feel ready to try a paid search campaign.

🏄 What you can do

First off: Pick one platform to start.

When choosing it, make sure of a few factors:

  • The initial costs aren’t too high – aim to start with a few thousand dollars a month
  • You can actually find your audience
  • There isn’t too much expertise required to manage a campaign there

Once you choose the platforms you want for search, begin educating yourself. Google and Facebook, for example, have really substantial documentation.