I don’t like the word “content”. It’s one of those awful words used by people that think they’re living inside a stock photograph before they smugly shake hands with each other in front of a clean, white background while wearing crisp, well laundered suits. If you’re not doing keyword research for content and are just writing ‘content' for the sake of having ‘content’ then there’s a reasonable chance you’re just polluting the internet with meaningless drivel.
The person reading your content didn’t decide “I’m going to treat myself to some content”. They wanted something. It might have been a specific question like, “where should I put a parametric EQ in my FX chain?” or “what is the difference between lsl and asl opcodes m68k?” or “was Crispin Glover in Back To The Future 2?” (No, he wasn't. It was a lookalike -Ed). It might be as simple as having an hour to kill at the train station and a sudden desperation to point their face at literally any content to avoid engaging with the itchy looking man prowling the platform in pursuit of a conversation partner. “Back To The Future facts” it is then.
This is the key thing about making content valuable: answering questions. But crucially, answering questions that people are actually asking. That’s where the research comes in. What are people asking?
Search term research, keyword research, whatever you want to call it – we live in a privileged world where we can see the sum of human inquisition writ large in the data of search engines. Sometimes depraved, sometimes insensitive, it’s all there to see.
Tricks of the Trade.
Down to business then – you’ve got a general subject that you’d like to write about (probably your product/service/industry area). You might even have a couple of different topics. You’ve got a few personas that you’re using as shorthand for the people that you’d like to read it. Next, fire up a research tool – here are some nice ones:
Feed the tool a couple of general, unspecific words that pertain to your subject, then start combing through the results.
So, if you’re putting together a campaign about, I don’t know, people buying your digital marketing services, then that’s where you’ll start – “digital marketing”.
Hopefully, you’ll start to see some real specific, deep-dive questions about the target subject thrown back at you right away. That’s great, but it also means there are probably lots of answers already out there too. Either way, pull out the terms that are close to the subject you’re looking for and feed those back in. You should start closing in on phrases that are getting more and more focused around the subject you’re looking for.
Whittle these down to the questions that look like the sort of questions that your target personas might be asking when looking for, in this example, ‘digital marketing services’.
Do this with as many different variations of your “seed keywords” as you can, and with as many tools as you can. So, if there are a whole bunch of phrases that people use interchangeably to describe your target subject, make sure you explore them all.
There are far more tools than those I’ve suggested here, but experiment until you find one that you like and gives you the amount of detail you’re looking for. Answer the Public is useful for getting those questions ready-made but can deliver limited results in niche areas, whereas the Adwords Keyword Planner will routinely give you reams and reams of search terms to comb through but at least you won’t miss any gems.
With a bit of effort, you should be able to whittle down this deluge of information into a list of questions and search queries that your target personas are actually typing into Google in an attempt to solve their pain points…
Be wary at this point – are these searches actually from your target personas or could they mean something else? Is there a band called ‘digital marketing services’ or something weird like that? Can you infer the intent behind the search? At this point, why not actually repeat the search and see what kind of answers they are getting.
Are they getting the answers they want? Are they getting answers to similar questions but not quite getting there? Are they getting answers that are too sophisticated for the level of understanding implied by the question? If there isn't a satisfactory answer, or you simply think you can do better, this is a perfect opportunity for you to create a piece of content that directly addresses and answers your persona’s question.
The nice thing is, knowing what you do about your personas, you can tell whereabouts your persona is in your sales funnel based on the question they’ve asked. Once you've got your target audience reading your content, make sure that you capitalise on this opportunity by using a suitably appropriate CTA to close. And if you aren't sure about your personas, it's worth downloading our free Buyer Persona template by clicking just down there.
What if it’s not so easy?
Sometimes things aren’t so easy – the subject you’re searching around might not be coughing up any appropriate or relevant questions. Or, you might find questions that are spot on, but you’re late to the party and 10 globe-straddling conglomerates have pipped you to the altruistic post.
In the former case, my instinct is usually to interrogate the sales team, reception staff, anyone customer facing, hell, interview the customers themselves and try and identify the recurring lines of questioning that come up – the ones that come up over and over again, or even the really weird memorable ones - even if these aren’t being represented in search data, these questions are being asked.
If you have the latter problem, I’d suggest getting off the beaten track and getting more adventurous in your subject matter – look for more niche or obscure gripes, problems with the specifics of a certain aspect of your product, service, industry or topic. You should find this more fertile ground and use it to grow a beautiful, beautiful tree of knowledge, lush and bountiful with sweet informational fruits.