Researching the right keyword for a blog post is often the first step taken when writing.
We’ve been told for years that we need to find the right keywords if we want any shot at ranking high in the SERPs.
We need to get the right keywords if we want our content to be relevant.
But that’s simply not true anymore. On top of that, you don’t have the time that it takes to scout long-tail keywords all day.
There are actually much more important things to focus on when it comes to blog posts.
Now don’t get me wrong, keyword research isn’t dead.
It’s still a very important aspect of search engine optimization and bringing in new organic, inbound traffic.
But for blogging, it shouldn’t be your main focus anymore.
There are more important things at stake that will truly separate your content from the rest.
The disadvantages of focusing your blogging strategy on keyword research far outweigh the advantages.
Unless your website has a domain authority of 90, you can’t target the best keywords.
But thankfully, you don’t have to.
Keyword research isn’t the gold standard for blog post traffic anymore.
Here’s why you shouldn’t do keyword research for your blog posts and what you should be doing instead.
Why you should skip keyword research for blogging
There are a few major reasons as to why blogging based on keyword research shouldn’t be the main focus of your time and efforts.
The first is simply because almost every keyword is too competitive. It can take hours upon hours to find a non-competitive one — if those even exist anymore.
Let me give you an example.
If you head to a keyword research tool like Moz’s Keyword Explorer, start by searching for a term that you want to target.
For instance, I searched for “content marketing” to get relevant suggestions to topics that I want to rank for.
But quickly you will notice a disappointing trend.
One keyword dominates the volume spectrum and the rest are mediocre at best.
You’ve got no shot at ranking for this. There isn’t even a point in trying. The difficulty is way too high, and the organic CTR potential isn’t great either.
So you scroll down the list to find a more long-tail version. But all the mediocre ones aren’t natural.
Meaning those long-tail keywords that you need to target read like “guide content marketing” or “seo tip guide.”
And even those low-volume ones are nearly impossible to rank for:
There are ten searches a month for this term and it has a 72 difficulty.
Just look at the SERP analysis for this search term, too:
And when you expand it, there’s even more bad news:
There is no shot at ranking for this.
Keyword research is often a waste of time when it comes to blogging.
So why does this happen? Clearly, these top-ranking posts aren’t targeting the “quality content marketing” keyword.
It’s a sign that Google doesn’t work that way anymore.
Stuffing keywords in your HTML tags and within your content isn’t what ranks you.
It’s about producing the best content with a dynamic range of terms and context on the topic.
Context > keywords.
Google scans your page and understands if your topic is relevant to a search rather than looking for keywords to determine it.
Don’t waste your time searching for keywords when most are already crowded with top-ranking sites.
The second reason is that keywords for blog posts force you to write outside of your comfort zone.
And when it comes to SEO and content marketing, better content trumps keywords every single time.
No matter how great of a keyword you find, if you don’t have the best content on the Internet, you won’t get the most traffic.
People who know their stuff write the most revolutionary content on the Internet.
They have a specific niche.
For example, Jon Loomer is an expert when it comes to Facebook Ads.
He has crafted a specific niche within the digital marketing world because he knows it.
All of his content is geared towards it.
He doesn’t branch out and write about topics just because the keywords are appealing.
Why? Because the content wouldn’t be up to par with his standards.
He writes what he knows about. What he has direct experience with.
That’s the kind of content that performs best online, and that’s why keywords fall short.
They force you to branch out past your knowledge base and produce content that misses the mark.
So, what do you focus on instead? What do you replace keyword research with?
Here are a few things to focus on.
Focus on searcher intent instead
Searcher intent is everything when it comes to content for SEO and PPC.
In everything we do online, we should always be focused on fulfilling the needs, wants, and desires of the customer.
The customer is the lifeblood of our business and it’s what keeps us functioning.
But lots of posts lack searcher intent and therefore get lackluster results.
You can see this almost instantly in both PPC advertising and organic listings.
In PPC, for example, conduct a basic search for something like “best crm” and see what turns up:
The results are specific CRM companies calling themselves the best.
Rated best. Best for small business.
But take a moment right now to dig deeper into that keyword “best crm.”
What do you think the searcher is looking for? What signals can you derive from it?
Well, usually when someone is searching for the term “best,” they are looking for comparisons, right?
They want to know what the best product is. What’s the top-rated one? Which one should they choose?
“Best” signifies a desire to compare and review, not to instantly purchase a CRM claiming to be #1.
Scroll down to the organic results for this listing,= and you can see that Google has correctly intuited searcher intent:
We also see this often in SEO.
For example, when you search for “how to do seo for small business,” you find a mixed bag of results all catering towards different intent:
Almost all of these cater to the intent differently.
That shows me that marketers struggle to understand user intent, but that it’s also more important than ever.
It also shows me that there can be multiple forms of intent within a single keyword, which is why long-form content tends to dominate the competition.
Why? It includes everything, from start to finish.
So, how do you start to focus more on searcher intent?
Well, a strategy that works for me is to think about your topic first and then conduct a basic Google search.
Let’s say you want to write about “PPC vs SEO.” Start by using a Google search to see what other companies have determined the intent to be:
This is pretty solid. But the intent of this keyword is also easy to understand.
Someone simply wants to discover what is worth their time and money, and likely, what produces the best return on their investment.
But what about a difficult long-tail keyword like “is seo good for my website:”
Now you’ve got another mixed bag of results where it’s nearly impossible to determine intent instantly based on previous posts.
But this is also a good thing!
If you find this, you potentially have a huge win in the making.
What I mean by this is the fact that people haven’t tapped into the intent yet. They aren’t sure yet what works best.
This gives you a huge opportunity.
To decipher the intent, I like to find specific words that stand out.
Here are a few to be aware of and the common intent behind them:
- Best: Comparison or reviews-based results are best
- Proven: Data-backed studies
- Easy: Fast but in-depth step-by-step guides
These are some of the most common words you’ll find in long-tail search terms and the typical intent behind them.
Try putting this into practice the next time you target topics to understand how your positioning will impact CTR and traffic.
The better you line up with searcher intent, the more click-throughs you will get.
Write the best content that you can write
Blogging used to work like this:
You’d fire up the Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner tool and find a new term that was relevant to your business.
For example, maybe you run a search engine optimization agency and you want to rank for “long-tail keywords.”
You see that it has 4,000 monthly searches for volume and a moderate difficulty score.
You repeat this process until you’ve got a list of 50 target keywords.
Next, you write 50 blog posts at 500 words each and stuff the keyword in the title, description, headers and anywhere else possible.
Sit back and watch the traffic roll on in, right?
Wrong. In a world where there are millions of blog posts published daily, you shouldn’t be focusing on keywords.
When you do so, you pigeonhole yourself into a box that becomes inescapable.
You don’t need keywords. You need to pump out valuable content.
Keywords force you to conform to a search in a way that becomes detrimental to your blog post.
Instead, try to focus on writing about topics that you know and love. Writing pieces that fundamentally change the way someone looks at a topic.
For example, this is exactly what Brian Dean of Backlinko does.
He posts irregularly on his blog because all of his posts are monumental and focused on a single topic: traffic.
He only writes what he knows most about rather than conforming to keyword data to get extra traffic.
His skyscraper post on SEO revolutionized how we think about content marketing and link building.
He wasn’t focused on nailing the right term as much as he was on producing content that would cause a shift in the digital marketing world.
Always stay true to yourself — don’t let keywords control your content strategy.
Get real topic suggestions from Google
Keyword research takes up way too much time.
Finding the right terms with the right volume in your niche is futile.
Want an easier way to find fast topics that real people are searching for?
Let Google do the work for you.
Google currently compiles frequently asked questions on topics as well as other searches conducted by users around specific topics:
This data is invaluable and I am still shocked that Google shows it to us.
It blows keyword research out of the water because it gives you ideas for semantic keywords.
Semantic keywords are those that give your content some context, allowing you to possibly show up for multiple terms with a single post.
Head to Google and search for a topic that you want to write about.
For example, I recently wanted to write about artificial intelligence and how it impacts marketing.
So I went to Google and searched for it to see other industry perspectives and gather some keyword data.
To find ideas and instant contextual keyword data, scroll to the bottom of the search results page.
Now I’ve got a complete list of searches related to my original query.
This is how you add context to your content. How you tell Google that you are providing the right information.
My usual next step is to use these to form a basic outline for a new post.
For example, I could structure it like this:
Header: Original keyword query of “artificial intelligence marketing.”
Intro: How will AI impact marketing?
Body 1: Application of artificial intelligence in marketing
Body 2: Content marketing and artificial intelligence
Body 3: Software trends
Notice how I used those directly-related queries to structure my content?
Now I have the opportunity to show up for multiple relevant search terms and I am providing a user with the perfect overall experience.
Those related searches represent what someone searched after they searched for your original term.
Meaning they are also interested in those, so it’s crucial to touch on them in your article if you want them to stay.
Google offers you free data. You just have to use it.
Plus, it’s much faster than digging around for keywords in a keyword tool.
Write real content for real searches and for real people.
Repeat this process for any term and you will turn up great results that you can use to form long, guided content that keeps the user coming back for more.
Steal ideas from on-site search data
When all else fails, and you still feel the need to have some keyword relevance in your blog posts, the best place to turn is on-site search data.
If you don’t have on-site search, you should consider using it.
It’s a great way to help users find content faster and it has no downsides.
If you run on WordPress, try adding it fast with a plugin:
On-site search can give you direct data on why people landed on your site.
What content are they looking for from you? Do you currently know?
If you don’t, you could be missing out on a big opportunity to fulfill the needs of current customers and drive new visits, too.
When you log in to Google Analytics, you can easily pull up data from your on-site search.
Head to the behavior report section under site search and locate the search terms report:
Now you can see all of the common terms that people are searching for on your own site.
If you start to notice trends and topics that you haven’t covered, that is a perfect opportunity for new content.
Even if you have written about that topic, can you add to it?
Are there related searches where you can combine content into a long-form guide?
The options are limitless here, and the data is critical.
Try utilizing this feature to instantly add valuable keywords to your content or even to expand on existing posts.
Keyword research was once the gold standard of blog post writing.
Before doing anything, you needed to find the right keyword, right?
Once you’d done that, you could then write the content.
We’ve been told for years by the top industry experts that finding the right long-tail keyword is the key to blogging success.
Want to remain relevant? To drive more traffic? Keywords are your savior.
Except that they aren’t anymore.
Simply adding a keyword to your title tag and H1 and H2 tags won’t double your growth.
We need to start focusing less on keywords and more on writing real content for real users.
Writing content that inspires people on topics that you know rather than trying to get the #1 spot for a crazy keyword.
Start focusing on searcher intent to understand what the searcher wants. Do they want a comparison? A review?
You can even steal topic ideas from your own on-site search functionality and Google.
Try focusing on writing the best content you can and the results will come over time.
A keyword isn’t going to make or break your traffic, but your dedication to writing better content will.
What role do you think keywords play in the blogging process?