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Don’t Write for SEO… Leverage It with These Great Tools

Given that I eat, sleep, and breathe SEO, I deal with content regularly. Good content, bad content, and just plain ugly content. If there’s one thing that’s worse than bad content for content marketing purposes, it’s bad content for SEO.

With that said, the last thing a copywriter wants to hear is SEO ideas for content. They’re not focused on keywords and search volume. They’re interested in the content itself.

And we agree.

The creative process should be left largely unadulterated. We -- SEOs, creatives, content marketers -- should be creating content for our readers, not search engines. We should be writing content to educate and inspire audiences.

Which is where competitive research comes in. Doing competitive research for content ideas does entail looking into search trends. But it’s more than that. It’s using tools to see what the market is hungry for. It’s seeing what competitors are doing and making that a baseline for what content and creative can achieve. It’s finding what’s out there, what consumers want, and seeing how we can better serve those wants.

It’s about giving customers more.

The process of competitive content research gives us ideas on how to produce better content that’s relevant to what the audience is searching for. The content from this research can be used for on-page content to reinforce keyword themes on priority pages throughout the website, content creation for blog posts and article ideas, or off-page outreach strategies to gain quality inbound links.

And of course it isn’t always long-form content we’re brainstorming ideas for. We’re also looking for ideas for visual content, videos, images, infographics, and more.

Our SEO team wants to be sure our clients (and our copywriters!) are in a great position when we begin SEO and content initiatives for them. To do so, we need to figure out what the audience wants to hear, what the competition is writing about, and, ultimately, how that content is performing. How is it getting linked to and shared? How is it gaining traffic? What really matters to readers?

Luckily, there are a few tools we like to use to give us these answers.

Ahrefs: Positions Explorer & Content Explorer

The very first step in competitive research is to identify the competition. Ahrefs Positions Explorer can be used to identify a website’s top 10 search competitors. It’s important to note that these are search competitors, which may look different from business competitors.

Typically, business competition differs from search competition. It’s important to keep both types of competitors in mind when conducting our competitive research. Search competition can also vary based on the query type. For informational queries, competitors could be sites like Wikipedia, while transactional queries may be more in line with who we expect our business competitors to be.

Once the top competitors have been identified, we can then plug a competitor’s domain into the Positions Explorer and go to the Top Pages report to see the top pages on their site that are driving traffic. By clicking the down arrow on a specific page, we can see all the keywords driving traffic to that page, the position the website is ranking, the search volume of each keyword, and more.

This gives us a multitude of keyword ideas so we can begin compiling a keyword list. Keywords that are most useful are ones that are relevant to the content we’re brainstorming or are high in search volume and competitor rankings, but ones we aren’t actively targeting within our content yet.

Once we have a keyword list compiled, we can plug specific keywords into the Content Explorer and sift through lists of different articles about these keyword themes. Content Explorer allows us to see how many times these articles have been shared on different social platforms, which gives us an idea of what popular topics are being discussed about these keywords, and what information the audience is craving. We’re also able to create an alert to notify us when a new article is published about a certain keyword.

SEMRush: Positions Tool, Domain vs. Domain, & Indexed Pages

The Positions tool in SEMRush gives us a ton of data about our competition. We can see how many keywords they’re ranking for, how much traffic their website is receiving, and how much they’re spending to get that traffic.

We’re also able to see where they’re ranking for their keywords, what search volume those keywords have, what percentage of traffic those keywords are bringing to the site, as well as how those words have trended over time. This gives great insight into what the competition is ranking for and if those topics are trending topics.

With the Domain vs. Domain tool, we can compare our competition side by side to see which keywords they’re outranking us for. This gives us an idea of opportunities where we can grow and elevate our content. We can also use these rankings to compile a keyword list to later test in Ahrefs to see what type of content is being produced for these search terms. This way, we can see what topics are covered well and where the areas for improvement are.

We’ll also want to look at inbound links to tell us what types of content people are talking about and are most likely to link to. To do this, we use SEMRush Indexed Pages report to see which pages are generating the most inbound links. This tools is great for generating off-page content ideas and for discovering what type of content users enjoy the most. If the competition is getting referral traffic to these types of pages and content themes, we have a good chance of creating linkable content for these themes as well.

Google Trends

Google Trends isn’t necessarily used for competitor research, but it’s great to use once we have a keyword list compiled. Google Trends allows us to search for particular terms or compare terms to see how people’s interest in them has trended over time.

If a keyword is trending upward, it’s a huge opportunity for us to produce content that our readers are interested for and have unanswered questions about. If we see a term or topic is trending, we want to make sure we immediately create something relevant, keyword-focused, and informative so we can capture our audience’s interest, answer their questions, and gain valuable traffic while that term is trending.

We’re also able to see related searches, top and rising topics, and top and rising queries. This is highly valuable information, because we can see what queries are related to the term we searched for, and we can see what’s becoming a rising trending search term. When we see a certain query is a rising trending topic, we know we should produce some type of content to speak to those topics.

Google Search Console – Search Analytics Report

The Search Analytics Report also isn’t used for competitor research, but is a great way to uncover content gaps that exist within our own website. By looking at our website’s queries report in the Search Analytics Report and viewing all the data for clicks, impressions, click-through-rate, and average position, we can begin formulating different plans of action for content creation.

By looking for keywords that have a higher-than-average click-through rate, but are ranking toward the bottom of the first page or even into the second page, we can identify pages where the content is deemed to be relevant by searchers because they will dig deeper to find it. The goal is to uncover keyword themes that can be incorporated into new posts or articles, or to target more actively within content on relevant pages.

We can also look for keywords where the website ranks well and impressions are significant, but click-through rates aren’t high. This could be an opportunity to create better content, or it could mean the keyword isn’t relevant to the result.

Analyzing these keywords can provide insight to whether we need to redefine our content marketing efforts by narrowing our focus or creating content that is more suited to the intent of users search for this keyword.

A third tactic is to look at keywords that are already performing well and come up with more tactical plans for article and content creation. This would involve creating content that can complement and improve the performance of these already successful themes. It’s important to maintain our current successes and nurture what’s working so we can continue to serve our audience with the types of content they’re looking for and enjoying.

In Closing

Although the SEO team doesn’t create or write content for clients, we do conduct comprehensive research to identify trending topics and keywords for content creation.

While great copywriters can create amazing content for clients, if the content is targeting keywords that aren’t being searched or aren’t relevant to the audience, then it isn’t as valuable. Utilizing this research results in a compiled list of useful content ideas.

Moreover, these tools allow us to discover trending topics for content opportunities within our client’s industry, and we’re also able uncover gaps in our own content marketing strategy that our competitors may already be creating content for. It’s up to us to fill these gaps and provide users with content that is better, more useful, and inspiring.

Written by Michelle Jernigan on February 10, 2016

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Written by
Michelle Jernigan