Mike Connell

The Big Question: The Struggle(s) with Keyword Research

By: Mike Connell | September 1, 2017 | 
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The Big Question: The Struggle(s) with Keyword ResearchWe’re constantly searching for…things.

Services. Tools. Answers.

As an organization with expertise on these very issues, our visibility is in the results Google serves up.

But the rules seem to constantly change when it comes to keyword research.

Finding keywords, creating content based on them, ranking for them, and optimizing them isn’t always an easy exercise.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this week’s Big Question yielded the most responses to date.

Some provided tips and lessons they’ve gathered over time.

Others indicated frustration and confusion.

Most expressed a simple need to know more.

Perhaps more importantly—and herein lies the frustration — all of this week’s responses varied widely in their assertions of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to keyword research.

No one claimed to have one way, or the best way.

Not even us, because keyword research, SEO, and what helps us rank on the first page of search results is an ever-evolving process. 

We strive to stay at the forefront so we can provide our students and community members with the training, tools, network and, ultimately, the skills and confidence they need to excel in their career.

We have our proven strategies, and we watch and learn as the rules that govern our industry evolve.

Through our own learnings, we create courses and training, such as the Modern Blogging Masterclass, the Content Secret To Closing More Clients Masterclass (and Bootcamp), and the PR Dream Team.

Keyword research presents problems for most organizations.

Asking the question, and reviewing the answers, helps us better understand what marketing and PR professionals are doing right, what they are doing wrong, and how we can further develop our training to help you stay on top of trends and easily implement tactics.

What’s the Big Question Again?

Wow. That was a very, very long introduction to this week’s Big Question.

So, without further ado, let’s get started…

What is your number one struggle when finding keywords to rank for?

New Kids On the Block

New businesses are always popping up, new services, products, and tools. They’re everywhere.

So, if you’re a startup building a solution to a new problem, how do you even know what your target market is searching for, and how?

Have you even fully identified who your audience is?

This frustrates Ben Glassman:

When your industry is extremely nascent, as is the case for a lot of startups, marketers are forced to at once learn and actually create the language of the industry and the language of the consumer.

In a more traditional industry, let’s say small business financing, there is an abundance of widely accepted jargon and keywords that marketers know they need to include in their content.

Operating in a new, emerging industry or technology, however, means that terminology is less established, and customer search habits are even less so.

Thus, it’s not so much a question of which keywords do we want to prioritize and compete for, but what are the chief keywords in the first place?

Brooke Smith agrees, and boils her keyword research struggles down very succinctly:

Determining my target audiences.

From Chris Hornyak:

When you’re just starting out with a new company or website, it can be a struggle to gain a foothold.

After all, with no domain authority, no backlinks, and no traffic whatsoever, it can be hard to gauge what you even should be ranking for.

This is an especially painful experience when you’re jumping into a crowded market.

When it seems like every keyword you can find is being explicitly targeted, it can be difficult to know where to
spend your time.

To get around this, I like to cast a wide net, trying as many ideas at once as I possibly can.

Often, this means coming at whatever product my client is trying to sell in as many ways as possible.

What questions are potential customers asking about it? Who else is selling it?

What might they want to know about the industry? What topics are similar (but still very clearly on the periphery)?

Typically, after a month or two of writing content in this style, something will start to stick.

As soon as it does, I’ll check to see what keywords it’s ranking for, and then I’ll optimize it for those particular keywords.

Maris Callahan struggles with…

Knowing where to focus when there is so much we want to rank for.

And also figuring out what people are searching for anyway.

Hang tough, everyone.

Hang(in’) tough.

(Get it? Hangin’ tough? NKOTB? A joke is always better when you explain it, right?)

Not New, Niche

Maybe you’ve been a round the block.

You’re not new, but you are so niche that you have difficulty determining how people search for your products or services.

Ryan Foster sees this as a double-edged sword:

As an in-house marketer at a smaller company. Our audience is limited to a niche group.

Some might see that as a blessing for SEO strategy, giving us originality in the marketplace.

The problem with originality on Google is there is extremely low search volume on our specific set of keywords we’re praying users will type in.

The payoff comes when a user DOES make their way to our content via search engine, since they searched our specific keywords/phrases they’re more likely to be a more qualified lead, and our CTR conversion is much higher than a bigger company might experience.

From Christine Kilbride:

When working with niche companies or small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), ranking for a general category keyword such as software is supremely difficult.

The ideal approach is to determine an appropriate version of a popular keyword that is more specific.

These more precise keywords are referred to as long-tail keywords.

Using software as an example, a long-tail version would be: Educational software for schools.

In order to truly advance a client’s SEO in an impactful way, it’s important to do a preliminary assessment of a client’s rank potential and choose keyword goals accordingly.

But that raises more questions for Aimee West:

Are they too generic?

If I use specific words or places will that not be broad enough?

Keyword Research: It’s About Balance

What’s the mix we should strive for?

High volume vs. low volume keywords? Long-tail vs. short-tail?

Rachel Anderson struggles with the balance:

My number one struggle when choosing keywords for content is finding high-volume keywords that are low enough difficulty for my content to rank.

There are a lot of tools to help you gauge difficulty, but a lot of the time I find that these aren’t very accurate.

Instead, I take a more manual approach when finalizing my keywords for a content piece.

Once I have a list of possible keywords with high search volume, I switch to a manual approach: I search each keyword in an incognito window.

By using an extension like MozBar, I can determine what domain authority is necessary to be on page one or two for that search.

If the only websites showing up are aggregators, government, university, or well-known non-profits, I usually will cross that keyword off my list.

This manual search also gives me opportunity to glean ideas from current high-ranking sites for the keywords that I’m planning to target.

Jitesh Keswani agrees, although for him it’s more about how it all fits together, than the balance of each component:

When it comes to keyword selection for content creation, I would say that each niche presents a unique and new challenge.

But the most important thing to remember is that keyword research and selection must work in tandem with overall content strategy.

Just selecting a huge number of keywords and cramming a blog post with all of them would not help you find success.

Every time when it comes to selecting the right keywords for content for a new campaign, the challenge is in terms of relevancy, scope and size.

Often times, the keywords that companies select don’t ideally match up with the keywords their customers are searching for.

At the same time, keyword selection poses another challenge in the form of correctly sizing up the competition and their ranking strategies.

And lastly, how long should be a long-tail keyword has always been a challenge in general, regardless of the niche.

The idea is to find a true win-win situation with all of these three.

Marrying Keyword Research with Content

Stuffing keywords into your content has never been advisable.

Keyword research is meant to help craft content that is in line with what your target market is looking for online, not bloat your page.

The content still needs to be written well.

For Louise Procter, choosing keywords that work well within content is probably her biggest hurdle.

Most readers can tell the difference between thoughtful content and keyword loaded nonsense.

The keywords have to flow nicely or they just sound like garbage.

Sure, some keywords are important, but tricky to incorporate into content.

For example, an important keyword for a window company might be “windows Sydney”.

Not the easiest keyword to fit smoothly into a sentence.

Choosing keywords that fit easily within content isn’t always achievable.

That’s where choosing writers who are experienced in SEO optimization is important.

When I’m creating an editorial calendar, I make sure the keyword I am trying to in cooperate matches the topic of the article I am writing about.

This takes time but is usually achieved with a little creativity and thinking outside the box.

Taral Patel is on the same page:

The biggest struggle is to choose the keywords that can be naturally used in the content without degrading its quality.

If it Were Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing it

It’s true.

Keyword research is a fundamental activity to develop content that will help your business rank where you need it to, but it also ensures you create value for your audience.

Those are lofty goals, and the effort involved shouldn’t be underestimated.

Don’t put it off, Kimberly Crossland!

For me, it’s narrowing down what my audience will search for, PLUS finding keywords that will allow me to compete for a spot on page one.

It’s time consuming and a bit daunting, which means I oftentimes put it off.

There are a number of reasons the latest Job Stress Report from CareerCast listed “PR executive” as one of the most stressful careers.

Keyword research may not be at the top of the list, but one thing is clear: Content may be king, but it’s hard.

It’s hard to develop effective, targeted content that delivers on your goals.

If Only…

Clearly, there are a lot of questions and struggles around tasks like keyword research.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were templates and roadmaps that could make this easier and more time efficient?

Step-by-step instructions to help people integrate the art and science of what we do into their own process?

Oh, wait…

[Queue shameless self-promotion]

This is how the PR Dream Team community came to fruition.

We designed it to become the difference maker for so many marketing and PR professionals, especially those who work for themselves, lead teams, or who don’t have a marketing department to collaborate with.

This stuff takes time, it constantly changes, and it can be intimidating.

Having a ready resource, and team (a dream team, that is) to work through it is invaluable.

Up Next: SEO Tools

We’ve discussed how important keyword research is and how difficult it can be.

There are a ton of tools out there that can help, but that’s a problem in and of itself: There are too many to choose from.

There are free SEO tools, and pay-for-play options.

If you’re a larger agency, there are enterprise tools that do “everything”, and others designed to do one thing and one thing only.

If you are a solopreneur, freelancer, or you run a small(er) agency, finding the right mix of tools is very difficult.

So, next time we are asking:

What are the tools (software or otherwise) you use for SEO and Keyword Research?

A tool can come in many forms.

There are software tools that analyze, crawl, optimize, and measure.

There are resources, like courses and content (we are huge fans of the Moz blog), and there are people who can help mentor and advise us.

All can be considered a part of your SEO toolkit.

You can answer here, in our Slack community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative .

  • Hangin’ tough, hangin’ tough…

  • Liz Reusswig

    You Got It (The Right Stuff)…LOL

    I hope everyone comments with NKOTB songs/lyrics! 😉

  • Jess

    As someone who’s just starting out in the PR industry this was very insightful and helpful to read

  • Great post, Mike.

    The Content Secret Masterclass can solve all the problems mentioned above. It’s easy to take, you can do it over and over again, and we help with homework.

  • Aimee West

    You got the right stuff baby!

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