Do you know which brand is now considered the most powerful in the world? What’s your best guess? Apple? Google? Those are strong brands — but no.
Ferrari, maybe? Well, actually, it was ranked the “World’s Most Powerful Brand” for several years in a row, according to Brand Finance, so good guess. But in 2015, Ferrari lost the title to a family-controlled Danish brand that you know and probably admire: the LEGO Group. Yep, toys are the new sports cars; everybody loves them.
It’s even more surprising because as recently as 2003, the LEGO Group was $800 million in debt. It was burning through cash fast. Then, the company reinvented itself. It did so by stripping out everything not essential to its core brand and doubling down on the things people actually care about.
Here’s the thing: Keyword research in 2017 works like that, too. You don’t stuff your article with random keywords. Instead, you focus on optimizing your content for a topic that your audience cares about.
These days, researching keywords means discovering relevant topics and then breaking them down into more specific parts, each of them contributing to the whole. This way, you’ll be able to rank for hundreds of long-tail keywords at once.
To show you how this works, let’s take the keyword “LEGO” — I’m living through an extended childhood, don’t judge me — and do some proper five-step keyword research. Brick by brick, if you will.
Step 1: Start with one basic keyword.
Imagine you want to start a blog about LEGO — toys, superhero T-shirts, video games, branded mugs, anything you have in mind.
As you may have guessed, “LEGO” is our seed keyword; it’s the foundation upon which we’ll build our keyword research. What we want to know right from the beginning is how many people are interested in the topic we’ve chosen. Is it even worth writing about?
After a quick check, we see that half a million people in the U.S. alone search for “LEGO” every month. (In comparison, the keyword “Ferrari” gets less than half that.)
Half a million! OK, this topic may be worth your attention. But seriously, in the real world, even a volume of 10,000 monthly searches would be more than worth your time.
We’ve laid the first stone in the foundation — figuring out our seed keyword. Let’s do some real rock ’n’ roll SEO stuff now.
Step 2: Discover related keywords, and generate thousands of keyword ideas.
The second step is fun; you’re going to compile a list comprising thousands of unique keywords. And yes, I do mean thousands.
There are various ways to discover keywords related to the seed one. Google’s autocomplete, similar searches, and Keyword Planner tools are accessible. But if you want to go deep into the rabbit hole, you’ll need a proper keyword tool.
Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, and Übersuggest are the most actionable ways to compile huge lists of ideas. I’ll explain the process on Ahrefs, though it’s more or less the same among most SEO toolsets.
If you put the keyword “LEGO” into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, the tool will generate 781,966 related keywords: everything from “The LEGO Batman Movie” to “what happens if a grown man swallows a LEGO.”
(After a quick online detour, I learned that this happens a lot more often than you might think. Most times, your digestive system takes care of the LEGO piece by itself, but taking the time to teach your loved ones some basic first aid might be a good idea if you’re planning a full-scale LEGO weekend.)
Of course, almost a million keywords are too many to work with. We’ll filter out the ones we don’t need and find the pearls of great worth during the third step of our keyword research. So as the saying goes, “Now I’m free, now I’m movin’; come on, Batman, let’s get groovin’!”
Step 3: Choose a few hundred of the most promising keywords.
There’s absolutely no need to look through all 781,966 keywords on your own to distill your list. The aforementioned tools have different metrics that you can apply to filter out “white elephants” automatically.
For instance, you can select only the most popular keywords or only those that consist of five words. There’s plenty of room for creativity.
However, there are three essential markers that I recommend checking out first:
The first thing you want to know is how many people are interested in this keyword in the first place. Their interest is easily measurable using the search volume metric, which shows how often a target keyword is being searched per month.
Let’s say we only want to work with keywords with a search volume between 100 and 10,000. This means that we’re filtering out the keywords that are too popular or not popular at all.
By the way, don’t confuse long-tail keywords with keywords that consist of a lot of words. Even a one- or two-word keyword could be long-tail if its search volume is low. That’s the defining quality of a long-tail keyword; the word count is less important.
The problem with the search volume metric is that it doesn’t show you the real traffic numbers you can get from each particular keyword. There are plenty of popular searches that won’t result in any clicks, as Google will answer them beforehand.
For instance, if you search for the “LEGO logo” (a popular keyword with 9,900 monthly searches), Google will show you the pack of logo images at the top of the results. Why would you need to click anything?
That’s why we have the clicks metric. It shows how many people are actually willing to click on a page (come to your website, become your loyal fan, stay with you forever) when searching for a particular keyword.
As we can see, the number of clicks is even more important than the search volume. Although almost 10,000 people search for “LEGO logo” every month, fewer than half end up clicking on search results.
Chances are you’re not the first person who’s thought to go after the topic you’ve chosen. For instance, if you search “LEGO,” you’ll see an article or two on that topic. Or maybe 477 million of them.
That’s why it’s important to know how tough the competition for your topic is. The keyword difficulty metric will help you with that. It shows how difficult it will be to rank in the top 10 search results for a particular keyword.
The higher the keyword difficulty, the tougher it’s going to be for your content. LEGO is quite difficult (across all metrics).
Step 4: Group the chosen keywords by subtopics.
By now, the keyword research process is 95 percent done. Aren’t you proud of yourself?
You’ve filtered out the junk keywords you have no use for, and what you’re left with is a clean, usable list of no more than a hundred or so keywords. It’s time for the fourth step. With a hundred or so keywords, you can finally start creating your content.
You should begin by grouping your keywords into several subtopics, which will constitute your post’s outline. If there are 100 to 200 keywords in your list, you can easily sort them manually. The most convenient way to do that is to export a spreadsheet of your keywords right from the tool you’ve been using for the previous steps.
As a result, you’ll have 10 or 20 keyword groups that together will provide the foundation for your future article. What’s the only thing left to do? Write the hell out of that post.
Step 5: Write an epic blog post that covers all of the subtopics.
We’ll now create a Google Doc and use those grouped keywords we were bunching together in the previous step as headers (H2) and subheaders (H3).
This is an ingenious way to fully cover the topic you’ve chosen because after all these steps, you have a list of keywords that are popular, useful, and manageable. An epic post written on the basis of such an outline will rank for all those keywords at once.
Here’s how I would do it if I wanted to create the ultimate LEGO guide:
These days, a topics-oriented approach is replacing what we used to call keyword stuffing. And it’s about time — with each passing day, Google is giving more weight to proper, high-quality content.
With careful keyword research, thorough writing, and effective content distribution, you can rank for thousands of long-tail keywords without having to target them one by one. And even more importantly, you’ll create content that will answer people’s questions, earn their trust, and win their hearts.
And that’s what we’re here for, anyway, isn’t it? So to paraphrase Batman — the LEGO one — never skip the keywords day!