In this article, you’re going to get an insider look at how to effectively research and analyze keywords for print and online publishing SEO. The data that you have at your disposal is incredible, and it’s vital that a publisher extract all the knowledge it can from understanding how its target audience seeks out topics of interest and products to purchase.
I’m going to provide real keyword data around topics both related and unrelated to the publishing industry. While focusing on the publishing industry is probably most relevant to you, your company likely touches upon many other industries, as well. Furthermore, branching out into other industries can help us widen our mindset to think differently and dig deeper to discover topics that our audiences are interested in. Discovery, after all, is what keyword research is all about!
Keyword Research Is Market Research
For years, publishers have used surveys to better understand their readers’ interests. While surveys will always serve their purpose, keyword data offers a quantifiable resource that will put editorial research on the fast track. This data is available to all of us, via free or paid tools, to better align content efforts (both online and print) with the topics that our audiences are hungry to learn about.
Nowadays, the trend in SEO is to think of keyword research as “topic research.” Given that I worked in the publishing industry for five years, I’ve always thought this way and personally find it strange that SEOs were so hung up on individual keywords (except for the obvious differences in search volume). I suggest that you think of individual keywords as “spokes” of a core topic.
Types of Keywords and Understanding Intent
When I was training editors on keyword research during my career in publishing, the initial challenge was to help editors learn how to choose keywords. Putting myself in their shoes, I could understand their confusion. Choosing a “head term” (i.e. – acrylic paint) makes logical sense at first glance, if you don’t understand the competitive landscape and hierarchical relationship of words and phrases as “entities” as they relate to the ways that people are seeking information in search results from Google and other search engines. Once editors understand which keywords are best for which types of content, the SEO strategy side of content marketing becomes much clearer to them, and everything just starts making sense.
Read my article on the Importance of SEO Training for Editorial Teams for a more in-depth review of the three types of keywords: informational, navigational and transactional. This article from Wordstream offers more insight, as well. Below is a refresher of these types of keywords, with some specific keyword examples that I pulled from mining keywords that Scholastic.com ranks for, according to SEMRush. Here’s how I pulled them (as a paying subscriber of the tool).
First, insert the domain of the site (that you want to mine keywords from) into the search bar atop SEMRush. Navigate to Domain Analytics > Organic Search > Positions in the left sidebar (if it doesn’t do so by default).
Next, use the “Advanced Filters” functionality to search for keywords with certain words or phrases. In the screenshot below, I’m searching for all keyword phrases with “how to” within them, but I filtered for other words in order to provide the keyword examples further below.
Here is what I found with this approach. Note: You can export all the results into a spreadsheet and use Excel formulas/filtering to categorize larger quantities of keywords into topical, intent and keyword type designations, but this simple approach works for one-off research.
- Informational Keywords – The user intent behind informational keywords is to learn something, solve a problem, etc. Types of content that serve the intent of these keywords include articles and blog posts, infographics and educational videos,. It’s effective to focus on “question” keywords that include how, where, why, what, when, etc. Here are some examples:
- how to improve reading comprehension (1,900 monthly searches)
- why is it important to read (320 monthly searches)
- best children’s books (1,900 monthly searches)
- Navigational Keywords – The user intent behind navigational keywords is to find the most relevant page related to a brand, product name or some other entity-based query that signifies the user already knows what he or she is looking for. Types of content that serve the intent of these keywords include homepages, product pages, brand pages, etc. Here are some examples:
- scholastic (246,000 monthly searches)
- harry potter (673,000 monthly searches)
- jk rowling (165,000 monthly searches)
- Transactional Keywords – The user intent behind transactional queries is to conduct an action such as making a purchase, subscribing to a service, etc. Types of content that serve the intent of these keywords include category pages, sale pages and landing pages. Here are some examples:
- children’s books for sale (40 monthly searches)
- buy scholastic books (90 monthly searches)
- subscribe new york times (110 monthly searches)
Measuring Trends and Competitiveness of Keywords
It can also be helpful to identify the trends of keyword topics, over a period of time, and Google offers some excellent free tools to help with this. Having this data will help editors make more informed decisions about whether the topics of book ideas are growing or declining in interest, whether certain months of the year offer more search volume to help boost a product launch, etc.
Google Trends: Identify Long Term Trends
The Google Trends tool can be very helpful for print editorial teams who are conducting market research on new book topics and other new product ideas. Let’s say an editorial team was considering publishing a book related to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. That might have been a good idea 5-10 years ago, but as we can see below, interest has really died down due to the lack of new books and movies. It might be best to table the idea until a new book or movie comes out.
Keyword Planner: Identify Annual Trends
If you seek a closer look at a 12-month trend for a topic, Google’s Keyword Planner tool offers a monthly snapshot of search volume, which can be helpful. Here’s an example for the keyword “cookbooks.” Clearly there’s no bad time to create cookbooks, and create online content about cookbooks. However, extra attention might be given to the months of November through January for new cookbook releases, online articles curating cookbooks (topically), etc.
High-volume search topics may appear enticing, but it’s critical that you’re realistic about your site’s ability to rank for such keyword topics. Your ability to rank is determined by your competitors, and largely, their link profiles.
Going up against sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and big online retailers and content sites is going to make it quite difficult to rank for high-volume “head terms,” such as “children’s books” and the like. Unless your brand is highly authoritative (and your link profile suggests the same to search engines), you will likely need to compete for less competitive, longer-tail keyword topics (such as “funny kids books for adults”).
Here are a few suggested approaches to determining competition of keywords:
- Moz “Keyword Difficulty” Score – The Moz Keyword Explorer tool (paid) offers a scoring system to suggest how difficult it will be to rank on page 1 of Google for a particular keyword. This is a unique feature and might make becoming a Pro Subscriber worth the price of admission itself.
- The “Allintitle:” Query – I’ve used this particular Google query for years to quickly gauge the competitiveness of a query. It will tell you how many pages Google has indexed with your exact keyword phrase in the meta title. Simply put your keyword in quotes after allintitle:, like this query for determining the competition of the keyword “childrens books”—119,000 competing pages is quite a bit of competition, and competition on page 1 of Google looks a bit stiff when giving it a human review.
- Note: This method has become a bit less effective over the years, as Google has improved its algorithm and reduced its reliance on exact match queries to determine relevancy of search results. However, it’s certainly still useful for spot-checking competition.
- Human Review – Sometimes it’s easy to determine competition by simply looking at who you’re up against on page 1 of Google. Don’t forget to use your eyes and your own judgment!
Unless you’re using a tool like Moz Keyword Explorer, which allows you to create topical keyword lists, you’ll likely need to organize keywords in a spreadsheet (or multiple spreadsheets for a blog editorial calendar, category taxonomy, etc.). In some cases, a spreadsheet might be the best solution.
Whatever your chosen method of organizing your keywords, focus on “topics” and choose a primary keyword to serve as the top target keyword for that particular topic. It should have the best combination of relevancy, search volume and competition. List the overarching “topic,” the primary keyword and its search volume in separate columns. Add another column for additional keywords that have been researched. They should be closely related to the primary keyword, and mostly alternate ways of searching for the same topic (synonyms, alternate phrasing, etc.).
Determine if each “topic” is informational, transactional or navigational. Designate a column for that in your spreadsheet, as well. Also consider categorizing keywords into topical buckets, where you’ll have multiple “sub-topics” in each topical bucket.
Re-Optimizing Existing Pages with Keywords from Google Search Console
One of the most under-utilized tools when optimizing website content (and ideating new topic ideas) is pulling keyword data from your site’s own Google Search Console account. As of May, 2015, Google provides keyword data for individual pages to webmasters via the “Search Analytics” tool in Google Search Console. Prior to this time, keywords (called “Queries” in Google Search Console) and pages were separated, and keywords per page could not be viewed.
Using this tool is easy. Simply navigate to Search Traffic > Search Analytics in the left sidebar of your Google Search Console account. Select all four metric checkboxes: Clicks, Impressions, CTR, Average Position. Here’s what it looks like on my site. Metrics are blurred for confidentiality.
Then, click the “Pages” radio button and choose a page from the list at the bottom. Lastly, click the “Queries” radio button (which is the default view when you first navigate to Search Analytics). The keywords are listed on the left and the metrics off to the right. The default sorting is by the “Clicks” metric. However, you can re-sort by “Impressions” to review what are most likely the most searched keywords that Google thinks your page is about. Below is a screenshot of what this looks like for my keyword research page. This keyword data can be used to re-optimize my page. Metrics are blurred for confidentiality.
Identifying Deep Topics with the “Search Analytics” Tool
This tool is also excellent for identifying content on your site that can offer clues to deeper topics for further, more “niche” content creation. This tactic was used to identify the need for building individual pages for each month of the year stemming from a landing page offering Costa Rica family vacation itineraries on a travel agency client’s website. We discovered that a lot of user queries involved the word “adventure,” so we realized that we needed a dedicated page for a suggested family adventure itinerary. Metrics are blurred for confidentiality.
For a more detailed guide, read this article about re-optimizing your site using Google’s “Search Analytics” tool.
Using Internal Site Searches for Topic Ideas
If your site has an internal site search functionality, ensure that you track internal searches in Google Analytics. Read this article from Google that offers instructions on how to set this up. Here is what it looks like for a guitar blog website that I run. Metrics are blurred for confidentiality.
Keyword Research Tools
By now you may be wondering how to find keywords. I’m saving this section for last since it’s most important to first understand how to analyze keywords. This will better inform you have what tools serve your particular needs.
Below are some keyword research tools that I actually use, or used at one point in my career. Find more tools here if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Free Keyword Research Tools:
- Keyword Planner – get search volume estimates, but difficult to find long-tail keywords (Note: Google changed Keyword Planner to show a range of keyword search volume unless you have an AdWords campaign with enough spend)
- Google Search Console – identify keywords your site pages are already ranking for
- Google Trends – identify the trends of keywords over a 10-year span
- AnswerThePublic – discover question-based queries related to a topic that are great for blog post topics.
- Paid Keyword Research Tools:
- SEMRush – mine competitor keywords and so much more
- Moz Keyword Explorer – determine keyword difficulty and many other helpful metrics
- Wordtracker – conduct keyword research for free with paid options for more keywords
- Noble Samurai – determine keyword competition in addition to other helpful metrics
The Bottom Line
Keyword research is simply market research, and the data is at your editors’ fingertips. Using real-world keyword data will help your editorial team discover topics that your target audience is actually searching for, and aligning appropriate keywords to the most relevant type of page will help ensure that your keyword-targeting strategy and traffic growth efforts are effective when implemented.