How to Do Keyword Research for Content Marketing in 2016

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks


keyword research for marketers

If you were to ask me what I view as the most overlooked opportunity in content marketing right now, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer:

Keyword research.

Selecting and incorporating the right keywords into every landing page and post you publish can open the floodgates to more prospects, possibilities, and sales for your business.

Yet many marketers are beginning to overlook this step. At some companies, it’s because it’s “too much work”. (Yes, those are verbatim words from a real conversation.) Among others, there’s a belief that Hummingbird and other updates have rendered keyword research obsolete.

Neither is true. Strategically incorporating keywords into content still has the power to turn a report like this:

Top channels with poor keyword research


Into something more like this:

Top channels with good keyword research

But to get there, you can’t do keyword research like it’s 1999 — or 2005, or even 2013. Algorithms have changed. People have changed. Needs have changed. If you want to stay relevant, you’ll need to refresh your approach.

In this post, we’ll show you how to do keyword research for content marketing in 2016. While the following steps certainly aren’t the only approach you could use, they’re good ones to follow if you want to optimize a content hub for a targeted audience.

Let’s get to it.

Step 1: Pick audience-driven topics

The first step to effective keyword research should be an ongoing part of any marketer’s day-to-day workflow: become familiar with the specific challenges your audience is facing. As you interact on social media, interview your sales team, and field questions in webinars, keep tabs on recurring topics your company has the expertise to address.

This part of the process doesn’t need to be elaborate or time-consuming. You could keep running lists of themes and notes in Trello, Evernote, Google Docs, or even a team channel in Slack. Viewing common conversations in one central location will help you identify particular keywords and phrases your target audience is actually using.

Step 2: Get a behind-the-scenes look

Next, find out what specific keywords people are using to find your content. Ideally, you’ll want to view search query reports for your content hub’s internal search engine. The next best option is to review recent queries in the Google Search Console or Google Analytics (once you’ve synced the two):

Keyword queries list

These terms represent the vocabulary of real people who want to find your stuff. Pay special attention to any terms that didn’t result in clickthroughs. They represent answers searchers were seeking but either couldn’t find or weren’t compelled to click.

At this stage, don’t worry too much about impressions, clicks or other numbers. Right now the primary goal is to build a targeted list of highly relevant keywords that will fit seamlessly into your content:

Keyword brainstorm example

Step 3: Dig a little deeper with autosuggest

This step doesn’t need a lot of explanation but is worth calling out. As soon as someone starts typing a keyword into Google, the search engine begins suggesting ways to complete it. And that’s not all. As users interact with these autocompletions, search results are instantly altered as well:

Google auto suggest

Take the keywords you’ve come up with so far and simply type them into Google. These are the same suggestions your audience will see, so anything relevant should be added to your list.

Step 4: Run the (right) numbers

In this Moz whiteboard, Rand Fishkin recommends entering your own keyword ideas — all those gems you found in steps one, two, and three — directly into Google’s Keyword Planner. Why? Because if you rely on AdWords to suggest terms, you can miss out on a lot of targeted keywords that have the potential to bring in highly qualified, ready-to-convert traffic.

“They were just hiding [your keyword] in the suggestions,” Rand explains. “Because they thought, ‘Hey, you probably don’t want to bid on that. That won’t bring you a good ROI.’”   

When in fact, it can.

After you cut and paste your list into the Keyword Planner, you’ll get the same chart many marketers have seen hundreds of times:

Google keyword planner

Only this time, you’re going to look at the numbers a little differently.

Don’t jump straight to the average monthly searches. Don’t reorganize by competition. The column you want to look at is this one:

Adwords suggested bid

AdWords’ Suggested Bid represents the fee a company would pay to have an ad show up in search results for a particular keyword. When an advertiser is paying $8.20 per click, you can bet that keyword holds a lot of opportunity. If you can rank for it in organic search, you’ll have a much easier time converting traffic into content downloads, email opt-ins, trial signups, and purchases.

By now, you will have identified a targeted list specific to your audience and content hub. As you select keywords to weave into your content, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Personalized search results are your friend. This standard search engine setting—which tracks a user’s behavior and delivers results according to previous searches and clicks—can help get your optimized content in front of people who have already interacted with your brand online. Even if a particular keyword is wildly popular and highly competitive, there’s still a chance it’ll show up in your target audiences’ search results with the right content.

  • Just because a keyword is popular, that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) use it. If you know people are seeking answers you can provide, you want them to find you — not the competition. Find a new angle, offer a unique solution and make your optimized content better than what’s already out there.

  • It’s not just the keywords that matter, but how you use them. Incorporate your chosen terms into copy where they fit naturally and look for creative ways to use them in calls to action that help turn keywords into conversions.

In Conclusion:

Keyword research has the capacity to help get your content in front of more marketing leads than you may have ever thought possible. Find out what your audience wants and which words they use. Then use this information to select the keywords that hold the most value for your content marketing strategy.

What about you? What other tactics will you use to select keywords for your content hub in 2016? There are far more strategies than we could possibly cover in a single blog post and we’d love to hear your tips!

Watch our webinar to learn more about improving your SEO on your content Hub.


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