Updated: Jun 20

3 Keyword Research Trends to Get Your Content Seen

Editor’s note: Given the continued importance of keyword research, we updated this post from 2018.

No matter what your content marketing strategy is, keyword research is the fuel.

Keywords inform marketers as to what their audience strives to know, let them monitor their competition, and offer a constant source of content ideas.

Now, the approach to keyword research is different from what it was even a couple of years ago. Search engines are becoming smarter and keyword research tools are getting more advanced. The web is getting to be a better place after all.

Just as the SEO world is changing, so should we. Here are three SEO trends reshaping the keyword research concept and with it the way we brainstorm, create, and optimize content.

1. Being in first place is no longer enough

This is the trickiest and one of the most frequent questions when it comes to keyword research. How much traffic is that top Google position going to bring? Is it worth the trouble?

The short answer: It’s more complicated than it ever was. Search engine results pages provide less visibility than they once did and that should factor in to your keyword optimization process.

If you want to invest the time and effort into ranking first, here are resources to help you understand how to evaluate your traffic:

General click-through rate for Google’s top position

Through the years, a few studies have shown the breakdown of clicks generated by the top five positions. My company did one a few years ago, 2017 Google Search Click-Through Rate Study, which found the top position attracts 21% of clicks, while the second and third positions generate 10% and 7.5% of clicks, respectively.

These share-of-click numbers are lower today presumably due to multiple changes Google has introduced to its search results page.

The top position is not always the best

Things have gotten even more complicated ever since Google’s featured snippets got de-duplicated last year.

Previously, the URL in the featured snippet would have shown up again in the organic Google SERPs exactly where it belonged (be it No. 1 or No. 5). With the de-duplication update, the organic listing is removed for any featured URL.

It may not sound like a big deal: It still appears on the very top of Google, right?

Well, not exactly. While organic listings are (mosty) created equal, featured snippets all look different, hence there’s no way to tell if the featured snippet format will trigger any clicks at all.

In fact, featured snippets may have a much lower click-through rate than top organic positions (as old studies confirm) :

Once your page gets featured, you may notice fewer clicks from search results and wish you were ranking inside the organic section even if it is now considered the No. 2 position, below the featured (i.e., No. 1) box.

Google’s search elements

Google long ago moved away from its clear 10 blue links results page. The SERP now incorporates local packs, shopping results, featured snippets, and so much more that distracts users’ attention and clicks.

Here’s one example:

Notice how hidden organic listings are.

These rich, interactive search results produce fewer clicks to publishers (hence the zero-click SERP phenomenon) and devalue top Google positions even further. What’s the point of ranking No. 1 if people would have a hard time seeing your listing anyway?

Consequently, marketers are moving away from only pursuing top Google positions. Instead a new keyword optimization concept is making its way into our industry: on-SERP marketing – working to rank your brand in more than organic positions.

On-SERP marketing is about ranking your content in as many search elements as possible, including images, videos, top stories, “people also ask” results.

Keyword optimization in today’s search

To sum up: Instead of focusing on the top results position, set goals based on the overall opportunities available on each SERP for your prime keywords:

  • If it uses a featured snippet, evaluate your odds on whether you would like your content to be featured (e.g., Is search intent informational? Then you may want to get featured.)

  • If it includes a local pack, make sure your business is verified in Google and can be listed in local maps on top.

  • If a section highlights Google images, focus on visual content.

  • If it shows video results, create a better video to grab that opportunity.

Creating a single content asset to achieve search visibility is no longer enough because even the top position may not offer the level of visibility you need. You now must approach each search result page differently and come up with more tactics to rank in more sections within one set of search results.

2. Researching (and optimizing) for things, not strings

A few years ago, search marketers needed a landing page for each variation of the keyword because search engines focused on exact keyword matching. If a keyword string didn’t appear exactly in a page title, the URL would have had no chance to appear in search results.

Well, it’s different these days.

Google is smarter in interpreting user queries. What has changed? Google no longer focuses on so-called keyword strings. It now understands better what a user is searching and gives a variety of more relevant results.

As an example, do a search for “good hiking spots” and see related terms in the results, like “good hiking places” and “good hiking trails” – many of which are in bold showing that Google clearly knows those words match the search query well.

Note: In the image above, I cut off local-pack search results to make it more readable.

This trend started many years ago with Google’s update called Hummingbird and was reinforced in 2019 with the well-publicized BERT update, which can interpret a user’s query without relying much on keywords:

Instead of optimizing your site for all kinds of keyword phrases, you need to optimize for concepts.

To identify relevant concepts, use Serpstat’s clustering feature. Instead of grouping your keywords by a common word like “spots” (as in the “good hiking spots” example) and losing important keywords like other clustering would, Serpstat analyzes Google’s search results to find overlapping URLs.

With the hiking example in mind, here’s how Serpstat grouped all the related phrases, allowing us to clearly see synonymous phrases to include in the new content:

Clustering helps make sense of huge keyword lists by grouping them into topics and subtopics. These groups can help you structure your content, turning many of the subtopics into subheads.

Another tool to help you include related terms more than exact-match keywords is Text Optimizer, which also uses semantic analysis to extract related and synonymous concepts to cover in your content:

Conducting Google searches is another way to better understand how the search engine interprets concepts and identify what your content may be missing. Pay attention to as-you-type search suggestions because they offer clues to related and synonymous concepts hidden behind each query.

3. Taking advantage of the most SEO insight ever available

Content marketers never have had as much insight into audiences’ interests, struggles, and intents as they do now. The variety and depth of tools is unprecedented.

All you really need to do is test them and pick those that suit your needs. Some considerations:

  • Three major SEO intelligence platforms – SEMrushAhrefs, and Serpstat – help identify keywords with less competition by including a keyword difficulty metric. They also help in identifying keyword intent.

  • A few text-analysis and natural-language-processing tools like Watson™ Natural Language Understanding can extract entities, categories, and concepts from any piece of content.

  • Social media networks and tools provide keyword analytics opportunities to research natural language, trends, real-time keyword context, and more. A variety of non-SEO tools still give you a good insight into keywords. For example, Hashtagify helps you discover related hashtags, i.e., related concepts to cover in your content. It also provides trend analysis showing the popularity of your core topic.

What’s in your keyword research toolkit this year? Please share in the comments.

Please note: All tools are suggested by author. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used). 

25 Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions in Content Marketing

Editor’s note: Hearing the same questions from multiple stakeholders about content marketing can get frustrating. We updated this post to provide you with go-to answers for 25 of them.

Do you frequently hear tough (or even easy) questions about content marketing from your executives or clients?

Want a handy dandy cheat sheet for those questions? We are here to help.

We culled the questions and answers from past presenters at Content Marketing World and the larger CMI community.

Now, here are 25 questions you’re likely to be asked and how to answer them.

1. Should we do this?

Too often clients say, “Can we do this?” They are so enamored by what’s new and possible that they don’t stop to ask whether it’s right for the audience, right for the message, and whether it could work. Bethany Chambers, North Coast Media

We wrote about 99 benefits of content marketing. Among the benefits – shorter sales cycle (No. 4), complement to paid advertising (No. 10), and measurable custom conversion tracking (No. 25). Jeff Baker and Tom Agnew, Brafton 

2. What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. Content Marketing Institute

When I am asked by companies, I show them the website I worked on regarding content marketing and then search on Google for the keywords they rank for to show the value of content marketing. This helps them to know the actual benefit of content marketing. Prasun Shakya, The Prasun Shakya Company 

3. Does content marketing work?

What does it mean that your content marketing is “working?” In general, this means it’s supporting your marketing and business goals. Here’s a simple way to track your content marketing program and, more importantly, how to communicate this to your team and management. Cathy McPhillips, Content Marketing Institute 

4. How does marketing without talking about or promoting our product/service help us create leads and sales?

Your current or future customer is not interested in your product, they are interested in solving a problem or challenge, usually both organizational and personal. By leveraging inbound marketing tactics companies can share content with the intention of inspiring their audiences. Instead of pushing out product information, content is intended to stand out based on elements such as authenticitythought leadership, experience in solving those problems, etc. Carola van der Linden, The Social Selling Company

5. Why would I want to educate my customers and help my competition?

Loyalty, building a long-term relationship, and customer retention are three key components … Consumers today are oversaturated with many businesses providing the same product or service. By educating customers, they will make informed decisions and look to you as the subject matter expert. Kyle Tavares, NEPS

6. How can content marketing help address our target audiences throughout the customer purchase journey?

That question gets at the heart of how content should be used. Content should address the motivations and needs of the customer at various points of their process, so that it strengthens their positive feelings about the brand, heightens their likelihood to convert, and increases their customer lifetime value.

7. How can I use content marketing to increase brand presence in the most efficient way?

First, make sure you’re inserting your brand into a conversation that’s relevant to both your offering and your audience. Missing that foundational mark is the content equivalent of getting on the wrong flight.

Secondly, once you’ve identified your broad opportunity, do your homework – find the optimal intersection between conversation volume and conversation saturation. The goal is to tackle the topic(s) that are unexplored enough for you to own that still attract enough eyeballs to drive your bottom line. That calculus varies based on your product sale point, obviously, but the base principle is still the same. Travis Stewart, Johnnie Studio

8. How does content marketing drive revenue?

It starts by building a strong business case that doesn’t just directly attack people, their teams, or their budgets. I point out that content marketing ROI is higher than the average marketing ROI in every place I’ve looked. (He details how in the original article.) Michael Brenner, Marketing Insiders

9. How do we measure content’s influence on sales and revenue?

That one question drives the best decisions, the best priorities, and the best subsequent questions that drive impact. Matt Heinz, Heinz Marketing

To connect content to revenue, your marketing and sales teams need to be tightly aligned to the same business objectives, company messaging, and agreed-upon processes. (She goes into detail in her article.) Erica Lindberg, Kapost

10. How much is it going to cost?

Marketers who have limited experience with content marketing often worry that the cost of creating content is just too expensive for their company. The reality is that marketers often expect to pay way more than creators charge for various content assets. (The article covers content creation, promotion, and distribution costs.) IZEA (Content Marketing Costs: What You Need to Know)

11. What’s our goal? Why are we doing this?

We were initially more focused on the what and the how questions. When the CEO asked the why question, it forced us to take a step back and get our short- and long-term goals down on paper. We referred to those goals for five years. They served as a great guiding star for the content program. J.P. Medved, Consultant 

The goals of content marketing are simple: you build your brand awareness by personalizing your brand; you establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry; and you increase traffic to your website with each post by using SEO friendly keywords. Mariya Bentz, The Marketing Mindset Podcast

12. What are we missing?

It’s almost always that the content isn’t focused on creating a permanent change in how people see a situation, the brand, or the world. Tamsen Webster, Find the Red Thread

13. What should we stop doing?

I wish people asked this question. Marketing continues to be additive. Yet, to be truly creative – and offer something different and worthwhile – we need to deliberately do activities that make the greatest difference. Michele Linn, Mantis Research 

14. Where do you get your inspiration?

We got an opportunity to ask this very question to marketing veteran Tom Fishburne on how he creates these amazing “marketoons” week after week. He shares that what appears to be magic is actually ”stacks and stacks of paper and a lot of false turns and playing with ideas that never quite pan out.” In his view, it is ultimately about having faith in and following a consistent process. Neema Kapoor, Relevance

15. Is our point of view unique so we don’t sound like every other agency or company?

Many content marketers and content creators stress out about trying to come up with unique content that no one has ever seen. It’s important to have original ideas, so do your best to come up with as original ones as you can think of. But it’s also important to realize that HOW you craft and present your ideas is what really matters when it comes to originality. Why? Because it’s the only real way for you to create anything that is new. As King Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the new!”

That means that your focus and concern should be more on your HOW than on your WHAT.

What I am saying is this … Originality is more likely to be found in HOW you present your ideas than in WHAT ideas you present.

You shouldn’t be tortured by the idea of having 100%, original content/ideas. Instead, you should be focused on the most original presentation of your ideas possible.

I am talking about things like:

  • Personality – style used to present your ideas

  • Stories

  • Examples

  • Structure – order and way you present your ideas

  • Attitude – tone

  • Perspective – viewpoint you take or the angle

These six areas are the real ways to create content that will be perceived as original and that will make your content stand out from your competition. Scott Aughtmon, Intuit and Direct Response Content Marketing

16. What are the editorial and commercial benefits of creating interactive content?

The way society consumes content has changed. We can no longer expect users to simply scroll and consume text-heavy, dull, static content placed in front of them. Neuroscience points to a solution: interactive content is shown to awaken the brain and result in increased content memorability. It will power the future of storytelling. Shachar Orren, EX.CO 

17. What are we doing about voice search?

Keyword research is more important now than ever. Specifically, in regard to capturing Google Home answers. Google provides most of its voice answers from the featured snippet (i.e., answer box) at the top of search results. Britney Muller, Moz, Voice Search: Is Your Content Prepared for the Verbal Revolution?

18. How can we get executives to create and share content for the company?

Getting executives to buy into content marketing is an important step. And getting them to actively participate in your content as your company’s thought leaders is another. You need to put the leadership into thought leadership content and look for those leaders wherever possible. Mat Zucker, Prophet

19. How do we use content marketing to help other people in the organization?

The beauty of content marketing is in how valuable it can be across the company and not just marketing. Your head of recruiting can use it to attract the right talent, your communication people can use it to communicate to investors, your head of training can use it to educate current employees. Too many executives are so concerned about themselves and their own teams that they don’t give an olive branch to others. This question shows me somebody who can really help others accomplish bigger things for the company. John Hall, Calendar and Influence & Co.

20. How can we make something go viral?

There’s no guaranteed formula. But no matter the industry, you can increase your chances if your content (1) presents a unique story, idea, or dataset (2) in a way that directly addresses a pain point or creates an emotional response in your core audience and (3) in an engaging format. And that’s not enough. You have to promote the heck out of it. Leslie Carruthers, The Search Guru Inc. 

“I can make this go viral for you.” This one has caused many a PR pro to smack his or her forehead in frustration.

Going viral became a thing back in the 2000s. Quora says the term to “describe rapid and widespread social proliferation of a meme or product” started picking up steam in 2008. I imagine it’s been causing public relations folks headaches ever since.

Truth is, it rarely happens. “If you are a client and a PR firm guarantees they can create a viral video or post for you, end the meeting immediately. This is a promise they cannot make,” says Rob Wynne of Wynne Communications.

The only way to earn media coverage is to work hard at it by honing your message, choosing the right media targets, and being persistent. Michelle Garrett, Garrett Public Relations

21. Can we get beyond thinking we are the best answer and bring in others from our community?

The reason I love this question is that someone recognized the importance of inclusivity. Being smart by having voices from outside the company could bring others closer to them. It also meant that people outside their immediate network would hopefully share with others and draw people closer in.

As part of this client who asked this question, its editorial calendar now actively incorporates input related to their monthly topics from beyond their industry. Mark Masters, The ID Group

22. What’s the difference between audience and traffic?

The question hints at where marketing is heading overall. A synonym for traffic is “visitors,” which by definition are people who leave. Today’s best content marketers develop audiences. They focus on subscribers, not visitors; time spent, not views; holding attention, not merely acquiring it. Jay Acunzo, Marketing Showrunners

Traffic = People who visit your website Audience = People who regularly look forward to consuming your content

Your goal should always be to drive traffic to your content, so you can build an audience.

The only purpose of content creation is to gather a specific audience … Rodale Inc. never creates content for the sake of creating content. It always has a specific audience in mind. All of the content is designed to appeal, attract, and help that audience. Successful content creators understand that great content is only part of the equation for what it takes to build a successful business using content. The reality is that the content creators who are the most successful are not just great at creating content. They are great at building an audience.

Scott Aughtmon, Intuit and Direct Response Content Marketing

23. How many buyer personas do we need? 

Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as 10 or 20. But if you’re new to personas, start small! You can always develop more personas later if needed.

Pamela Vaughn, HubSpot

24. How do we manage all the different audiences? 

For example, instead of producing three original versions of an email, include the same offers and calls to action in all, but change the openings to address each audience’s unique pain points.

Dianna Huff, Huff Industrial Marketing

25. Why won’t people come to our content?

The short answer is that people in charge lacked a basic understanding of SEO. A slightly longer answer is they didn’t do link building and outreach, or perhaps they didn’t produce content that was “linkworthy” in the first place. Stephan Spencer, strategist and consultant

Imagine a store would open in the middle of the desert. Would you go? Even if you knew it existed, you would probably not go – unless that store had unique value to offer you. If you want people to come to your content, you need to:

  • Create unique content that they can’t get anywhere else. If you’re just getting started, make sure you start with a WOW factor – for example, invite an influencer to write a guest post or interview a key figure in your industry. That will help you get initial traction.

  • Invite them to come – Make sure you target the right audience that needs/wants your content and let them know the content is there, be it through social media, newsletters, SEM, or any other relevant channel. Don’t be spammy or salesy, just conversational and friendly.

  • Be consistent with your content – Make sure to always have fresh content delivered so that your readers have a reason to come back.

  • Encourage them to share your content so that others can learn about it and to help your content earn organic reach.

Yael Kochman, Re: Tech

Updated: Jun 19

As advisors for caterers and small business owners, we’re often asked how to create the right marketing budget.

As marketers, we’re frequently asked exactly where to invest that budget.

Here’s what we say:

The 5% Rule

To understand the recommendation, first, let’s define ‘marketing budget.’ Your marketing budget refers to all costs for marketing, advertising, public relations, promotions and anything else you might blanket under that very wide-cast net called ‘marketing’ on a day-to-day basis: for example, Google AdWords, social media, print ads, sponsorships, collateral and even tastings.

As you’ll see below, the ideal budget depends on your current marketing foundations. BUT, as a general rule based on the latest research, expert opinions and years of marketing experience, we say:

You should spend 2–5% of your sales revenue on marketing.

The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7 to 8 percent of your gross revenue for marketing and advertising if you’re doing less than $5 million a year in sales and your net profit margin—after all expenses—is in the 10 percent to 12 percent range.

Compared with those findings and the findings of many similar studies, 5% doesn’t seem that large of a number. In fact, it seems pretty reasonable.

But we should clarify that our 5% rule applies to most years, not all, and covers most of your marketing, but not all.

There will be times when you have to spend more to get what you want and need, but those are special projects. Let us explain!

Building Your Foundation

Years that require more spending will arise whenever you need to invest in the foundation for all of your day-to-day marketing activities.

For example, an up-to-date, performance-based website is key—perhaps the key—to a solid marketing foundation. Why? Your website is available for both showcasing and selling your marketing services 24/7.

You will likely have to exceed your 5% marketing budget to update your website once every three to five years. Thus, the marketing foundation costs are not typically included in your 5%.

In general, your marketing foundation includes:

  • Brand

  • Marketing strategy

  • Website design and development

  • Other things of this nature

Without a solid marketing foundation, your day-to-day marketing activities will range anywhere from “not very effective” to “a waste of money.”

Again, let’s use websites as an example.

We speak with many caterers and entrepreneurs who have websites generating less than 5,000 visitors per month—a perfectly respectable amount of traffic for many small businesses.

Scenario 1

Consider, though, if one of these websites was underperforming and converting only 1 in every 10,000 visitors into a customer (the conversion rate).

With 5,000 monthly visitors (which is on the high side for many caterers), a 1 in 10,000 conversion rate would translate to only one new online customer every two months.

If the owner of this website was investing $1,000 a month in online advertising, their cost to acquire each customer would be $2,000.

Scenario 2

Now consider an updated and conversion rate-optimized website—a website that converts every 1 in 500 visitors into a customer.

With a 1 in 500 conversion rate, we’re talking about 10 new customers per month, with the same amount of traffic.

If the owner of this website was investing $1,000 a month in online advertising, their cost to acquire each customer would be $100.

That’s spending 95% less to acquire each new customer.

It’s not always that cut and dry, but we simplified this example to demonstrate why it’s almost always beneficial to exceed your 5% marketing budget for infrastructure investments.

How to Spend Your Marketing Budget

If you are marketing from a fairly static annual budget, you’re viewing marketing as an expense. Good marketers realize that it is an investment. – Seth Godin

Now that you understand the 5% rule and the importance of your marketing foundation, it’s time to talk about where to spend your budget.

1) Set Marketing Goals

The first step toward marketing budget allocation is determining your marketing goals for the year. We recommend at least three S.M.A.R.T. goals with predefined success measures tied to each.

Here are some common ones:

  • Increase website traffic—measured by unique visitors per month

  • Increase targeted leads to the website—measured by web visits from our geographic service area

  • Grow new business or develop new division—measured by total leads and sales revenue

2) Check Your Marketing Foundation

Next, examine your marketing foundation. Do you have the foundation in place to reach your goals?

Check your brand, website, communication pieces and reporting systems. Questions to answer:

  1. Do you have a clear, up-to-date brand that properly identifies your company and consistently generates the same brand image for consumers?

  2. Does your brand have a consistent look and feel across all media?

  3. How does your website compare to the competition? Tip: Google “catering [your primary region/city]” e.g., “Catering Las Vegas,” and compare.

  4. Are there any barriers in your prospects’ path toward becoming customers?

  5. Do you have the tools and systems in place to measure the success of your marketing investment?

  6. Do you have a solid and solidified strategy for business development and marketing related to it?

3) Spend

With goals set and success measures in place, it’s time to allocate your marketing budget.

Your first priority is to remedy any weaknesses found in step two. Addressing weaknesses found in step two, more often than not, will be done with extra funding—marketing and/or business development funding—so you still have the full 5% of sales revenue to devote to day-to-day marketing activities.

Remember, both are necessary to launch your growth (with no traffic, even the best website in the world is worth very little).

Note: depending on the foundational weaknesses you identified, it may be best to limit day-to-day marketing activities until improvements are complete.

With goals set and a strong marketing foundation (including a marketing strategy), you’re ready to select marketing activities.

The figure below should be enough to get you started! It’s a sample marketing budget for a catering company. And while this example is catering-specific, the categories and activities themselves are adaptable to many industries.

Now it’s your turn. How much do you spend on marketing?

A social media management company with a concentration on lead generation and sales. We position our clients for success through email marketing services, search engine optimization services, social media advertising services, and social media management services.



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