Over the past few years, there has been notable market leaders in the SEO tools game.
Moz might be one of the most memorable because of their full suite of tools and SEMrush has been a favourite for many and continues to be. But the most recent advances have been from Ahrefs.
Ahref's started as a database for backlinks, like Moz's Open Site Explorer, but they've definitely taken the lead in that department and now have their eye on the prize. With recent additions to their platform, you now probably have the most comprehensive SEO tool set around. We used the crap out of it in our guide to getting your first 50 backlinks – so you might say we like it a lot.
Today's post is from Eugene Mekeda of Ahrefs and he's going to go through some keyword research tricks that are going to be super-relevant for us in 2017.
For most of us keyword research still is one of the first things on the to-do list, no matter what kind of content we’re creating. No wonder – we want our content to be found.
But times change and Google is now a lot smarter. It doesn’t need us to spoonfeed information. In 2017, Google can understand text depending less on individual keywords and more on topical relevance.
Yet it doesn’t mean that you can forget about keyword research altogether. As long as words are used for communicating with search engines, keyword research won’t die off. So your process just needs to get smarter.
What You'll Learn Today
How is Keyword Research in 2017 Different?
Ahrefs recently analysed 2 millions keywords to get a real picture of on-page ranking factors influence. The study confirmed that Google now is a lot less interested in the separate words and keywords you’re using in copy. For that matter, it doesn’t care that much for any of the conventional on-page optimization metrics.
The rules of on-page have changed. Now Google tries to associate groups of words with meanings behind them and goes from there to tailor SERP with content most relevant to user intent.
Just to make sure we’re on the same page: there’s no need in repeating your high volume keywords in copy to rank higher. It’s all about semantic topical relevance now.
So to nail rankings in 2017 you need three things:
- Right topic and long tail keywords;
- In-depth natural content;
- Links to get it going.
Keyword research and usage are still important, but they serve a slightly different goal now. They let Google know that your content answers more questions at the same time and better than other similar pages.
Your keywords should be carefully selected to logically connect separate subjects of one topic.
Therein, providing a better experience for the searcher.
Why Concentrate on Long Tail?
The content standards have changed for the best. Now to rank high you generally need to have purer backlink profile, awesome engaging content, background of covering related topics, etc.
Sites with higher domain rating and better content seem to rank for more keywords without putting additional work in. And the small websites wind up with fewer opportunities left day by day.
It may sound like the iconic phrase by William Henry Harrison: “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
And that is partly true. But doesn’t Google’s perspective make sense? In-depth content is more likely to answer the question and a more authoritative website is more likely to publish something worthy or recommend a good product.
But that’s no reason to despair. On the contrary, it’s a challenge and a chance. You need to live up to the higher standards now. Do more keyword research, write better natural copy, build better links. In the long run it makes your own website better.
You must have noticed yourself that there’s a lot less of over optimized content on SERPs now. That’s because there’s no need to put a high volume keyword in every element of your page’s layout. You just need to do a better job covering the topic.
The high quality of copy will also help you increase affiliate sales in long term, because your posts won’t look needy and extensively optimized. It’ll look like you actually provide value.
So no need to stuff your post with keywords for search engines to understand how awesome you are.
But we still need keywords to:
- Get an idea of what people are looking for;
- Understand what kind of queries get clicks and what gets answered in the SERP;
- Figure out what our competitors are best at in search;
- Find untapped content opportunities;
- Improve rankings for keywords you already rank for;
How to Find Topics and Keywords to Write About?
The days of Keyword Planner being the go-to tool for keyword research are far gone. We live in the happy times where perfect topics and content opportunities are all around us.
Here are some examples.
Use Quora and Reddit
Let’s say you’re putting together a content plan in the niche of affiliate marketing.
The first thing I’d do is head over to Reddit.com and study relevant subreddits.
Look at this beauty! All of these awesome topics are just sitting there, waiting to be covered in your ultimate affiliate marketing guide.
And it’s the same for pretty much any niche. So no matter what you’re selling, chances are you’ll find some great topic ideas and long tail keywords on Reddit.
Those topics won’t have big volumes in keyword research tools. But they are easy to rank for, and each of them has a parent keyword. So if you do a good enough job covering the topic, you’ll rank for it as well.
Choose discussions with most comments, because it shows how engaging that topic can be for your audience.
Writing a post using these topics will be the easiest piece of content you’ve ever created. Because you’ll just need to re-write answers you agree with and add some of your own insights rather than thinking of it all yourself.
Now let’s check what Quora has to offer on the same topic.
What a time to be alive, right? Thousands of questions that you need to filter, analyse and answer in your copy. Enough ideas to keep your content plan packed for years.
Once you’ve collected enough topics, you can put them into Ahrefs Keywords Explorer.
Click “All” to get thousands of keyword ideas based on what people search and what top pages on SERP rank for.
Filter keywords by difficulty, return rate and number of words to make sure you squeeze all of the potential from the topic.
All that’s left is to write content that would cover topics from A to Z and rank high for hundreds of long tail keywords.
Once you’ve written your monster post covering all ins and outs of the topic, you can go ahead and post your answer in Reddit or Quora threads you got your inspiration from to get some traffic your way.
But be careful with the way you present it, cause these communities are very aware about tricks marketers use. So make sure to give them some value.
So with Reddit and Quora you’re getting topics, keywords, content ideas, and a platform to promote your content for free.
If you're a bit scared on how to approach Reddit the right way, we wrote a guide on hacking Reddit for 2,200 page views in 2 days.
Use Your Competitors Top Pages
Need even more topic, keyword, and content ideas? I know the struggle.
Here’s how to piggyback ride your competition to the first page of Google for numerous long tail keywords.
Login to your Ahrefs dashboard and open the Site Explorer. Put in a competitor that most matches your domain rating or domain authority (Moz) and go to Organic search > Top pages.
Take any top performing page and check it’s keywords.
Base your content plan on your competitor’s top pages. But don’t try to outrank them for a high volume keywords at first. Concentrate on the lower difficulty ones and get some quick wins right away.
Put selected content ideas and keywords into your content plan and work on killer content week by week. You should never run out of ideas for new studies, posts, and research with this approach.
For each post you need to find 5-10-15-20 long tail keywords that sound like something you'd like to rank for and are related to one matter.
Use these keywords as H2 headings in your post outline. Now what you need to do is write a great piece of natural content that thoroughly covers the topic.
To get your new posts to rank for the wished keywords you need to do some promotion.
So depending on how saturated your niche is, you’ll need to do more or less of link building.
To figure out how many links you’ll need in order to rank in top 10, the Keywords Explorer will help you with an idea of how difficult it would be to crack the first page.
Keyword difficulty scores mean the following numbers of referring domains:
- KD 0 = 0 Ref. Domains
- KD 10 = 10 Ref. Domains
- KD 20 = 22 Ref. Domains
- KD 30 = 36 Ref. Domains
- KD 40 = 56 Ref. Domains
- KD 50 = 84 Ref. Domains
- KD 60 = 129 Ref. Domains
- KD 70 = 202 Ref. Domains
- KD 80 = 353 Ref. Domains
- KD 90 = 756 Ref. Domains
But keep in mind that whoever tells you they know exactly what you’ll need to do to rank #1 is suspicious. The reason being that Google has over 200 ranking factors which all influence rankings in some way.
At Ahrefs we believe that Google strongly relies on referring domains to decide which content deserve to rank on the first page. But from there, other important factors take the lead, like CTR and user behavior.
So Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty score won’t predict the exact number of referring domains you’ll need to rank #1, #3, or #10. But it will show you how many you need to show up on the first page, based on backlink profiles of pages that are already there.
Tips and Tricks
No way around it, Google is smart enough to tell when you’re providing value. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with the sweet-sweet rankings. As I said before, backlinks will get you to the first page, and quality content will get you to #1.
Think of voice search
With audio search rising, people ask search engines more real questions rather than dry keywords. So don’t hesitate to make your copy more conversational and natural.
Voice search is all about specific long tail queries as well, but it deals with how people ask each other questions more.
You can check out Answer The Public – a neat free tool that might inspire you for some great conversational keywords.
You can read more about optimizing for voice search in this post on Search Engine Journal.
No matter how advanced search engines are, in most cases they still won’t rank you if no one links to you.
In-depth content still needs link building in order to reach its full potential. Of course, if your piece is good enough, people will link to it voluntarily. But at first you need to put it in front of the right influencers in your field to get some traction.
So once you’ve used all of the topic, keyword, and content creation ideas described above and created an awesome post, plug the pages of your competitors to Ahrefs Site Explorer and analyze all of the backlinks that they have.
Make a list of link building prospects, reach out to them and let them know about the content you’ve just published and how it’s better than other pieces.
The page that ranks 1st isn’t always the one that gets more traffic. Because the page that ranks 5th or 10th might be ranking for a ton of long tail keywords just because its content is better.
So before you start writing, make sure to check all of the top pages on SERP and analyze their organic traffic sources.
Topical relevance will beat single keyword optimization any day, because ranking for 800 different long tail keywords beats ranking for 1. Won’t you agree?
So to make your SERP analysis more efficient, put your keyword ideas into Ahrefs Keywords Explorer and analyze SERP traffic in the keywords. Don’t forget to include the actual parent topics SERPs too. This way you’ll see the overall traffic potential of the topic rather than just the volume of the one keyword you’re analyzing.
Fill content gaps
For Google to think your website is relevant to your niche, you need to have thoroughly covered the important topics in the field.
I see how it might be hard to prioritise the content on the content plan. So to get an idea of what might bring in better ROI, check what topics your competition covers and you miss out on.
To find topics your competitors have written about and you haven’t just put your website into Ahrefs Content gap and your competitors URLs next to it.
This report will show all the you keywords your competitors rank for and you don’t.
You know the drill.
Find the ones that aren’t too hard to rank for and improve on your competitor's’ content to outrank them.
Locate keywords you already rank for and do some internal linking with some closely matched anchor text. If that boosts rankings a little, you can go ahead and do some outreach with link building in mind.
But, please, don’t feel that it’s necessary or appropriate to ask for a link upfront. If your content is good enough, website owner will link to it.
Your outreach needs to be more about raising awareness. Just make sure the right people read your content and let its quality do the link building for you.
Alternatively, write guest posts and make sure to use the right anchor texts on links to your pages.
In 2017 search engines are way smarter than we think of them. It has gotten a lot harder to rank and predict what will work and what won’t. But there’s one thing that is permanent in this wild west of SEO world – it’s awesome content.
There are no shortcuts, and it makes results a whole lot more rewarding.
Do you have any insights about keyword research in 2017? Let me know in the comments below!