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  1. Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide for SEO and Content Marketing


    keyword research the ultimate guide to seo

    Table of Contents

    + Introduction to Keyword Research
    + Keyword Research for SEO
    + Topic Research for Content Marketing
    + Other Keyword Considerations
    + Tools for Keyword Research

    When you search for information, you enter specific words and phrases into a search bar. Google (or a similar search engine) then fetches results based in part on site authority, but mostly based on the relevance to that given query.

    If you want to be successful in SEO, you need to understand what people are searching for, how often they’re searching for it, and why they’re searching for it.

    So how can you find this information? It all starts with keyword research, the process of uncovering keyword opportunities for your brand to rank higher in search engines.

    Introduction to Keyword Research

    Let’s start by covering the basics of keyword research. The concept, as usual in the online marketing world, is simple, but the execution is more complex; essentially, you’ll be discovering what types of queries online users are using in search, then using that information to optimize your pages in a way that makes them more likely to rank for those queries. But it’s not as simple as you might think, as keywords no longer work the way they used to.

    The Old Model of Keyword Research

    The old model of keyword research was quite simple, as Google’s search algorithm was relatively simple. It functioned on a one-to-one basis, separating a user’s query into its base components and finding where those components were featured most throughout the web.

    For example, let’s say you searched for the phrase “burger restaurant Denver.” Google would separate this query into keywords and keyword phrases, then look for pages throughout the web that featured these specific words and phrases. It wasn’t quite as simple as finding out which website used these words the most, because authority was also taken into some consideration, but it was close to that.

    Google might have taken a look at a page that features the phrase “burger restaurant” multiple times, as well as “Denver” a few times, and might have prioritized a site that featured the exact phrase “burger restaurant Denver,” in the text of the page, even though that phrase never naturally comes up in actual human conversation. Google did rely on synonyms, but again, only in a one-to-one relationship.

    The Old Model of Keyword Research

    Because of how Google worked, the old model of keyword research was based on finding these common keyword phrases, even if they were semantically nonsensical, and sprinkling them throughout a site. For example, you might create a page on your site titled “Burger Restaurant Denver” specifically to rank for these types of queries, along with variations of that phrase, like “best burger joint Denver” or “good burgers Denver.”

    The Hummingbird Update and Golden Age of Content

    Google fought back against such unnatural-looking attempts at ranking higher in search engines for these types of search queries with various algorithm updates, including the monumental content-focused Panda update in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the fundamental keyword basis of Google search was overhauled with the Hummingbird update.

    Hummingbird introduced the concept of “semantic search,” which looks at the context of a user’s search query rather than its exact keyword composition. Hummingbird sees a query like “burger restaurant Denver,” and is able to infer that a user is looking for a burger restaurant in Denver, Colorado. It then scours the Internet for websites of actual burger restaurants in Denver that have a high enough authority to rank for the query.

    That authority is calculated based on literally hundreds of factors, but in this case one of the highest factors for a local restaurant would likely be its reviews and ratings on review sites like Yelp.

    hummingbird update

    Notice how, in the screenshot above, that none of the results have the keyword “burger restaurant denver” anywhere in them.

    This difference may seem small, but it’s made the entire concept of keyword density –once an essential component of keyword optimization – practically obsolete. You don’t necessarily have to include the phrase “burger restaurant Denver” in your website at all to rank for that query, as long as Google understands that you’re a burger restaurant in its semantic deciphering of your content.

    This, along with Panda’s (another Google algorithm) favoritism for high-quality content, has helped to spawn our modern “golden age” of content.

    Well-written, quality, valuable on-site content gives you more opportunities to establish relevance for topics related to your brand, and cover a wide range of different potential searches.

    Okay, So Are Keywords Still Relevant?

    After reading this, you might think that keywords are no longer relevant. After all, Google no longer takes them into consideration when trying to match a query to a selection of pages. However, this isn’t quite true; keywords are still important for consideration, just in a different way than they used to be.

    Google still relies on keywords to help it understand the subject matter of various pages and websites. As a simple example, it might see the words “burger” and “restaurant” several times on a page and understand that this is probably a website for a burger restaurant.

    But this is even more important in more complex cases, such as when a user searches for something conversationally, like “what’s the difference between general relativity and Newtonian gravity?” Google can’t easily reduce this query to a single concept, but it can scout for articles that seem to use the phrases “general relativity” and “Newtonian gravity” in a comparative context, and will probably even favor a site that happens to use the exact extended phrase entered.

    Because of this, it’s still important to pay attention to your phrasing, but the majority of your keyword “matches” will arise naturally as long-tail phrases—as long as you have a solid content strategy. This has led to a differentiation between bona fide “keyword research” and “topic research” for content—two of the main sections of this article—but I’ll dig into those in a bit.

    Benefits of Keyword Research

    With an understanding of the function of keywords in a modern SEO campaign, let’s take a look at some of the tangible benefits you can get by conducting keyword research:

    • Search volume analysis. First, you’ll gain insights into what keywords are more popular than others. This can help you find more popular topics to optimize for, which will eventually lead you to higher traffic and a higher ROI. For example, take a look at the difference in search volume (the number of times a user has searched for a given query) between “how to bake a cake” and “how to build a particle accelerator.” The clear winner is “how to bake a cake” (and let’s be thankful for that), making it far more favorable to optimize for.

    google trends

    (Image source: Google Trends)

    • Competitive research. Competitive research can help you determine which keywords and phrases your direct competitors are already ranking for. From there, you can decide which ones are worth fighting for and which ones are worth leaving. For the most part, you’ll want to shoot for target keywords that none of your competitors are currently ranking for, as they’ll be easier to establish rankings for, but they aren’t always easy to find. Competitive research can also help you understand the general course of your opponents’ SEO strategies, so you can adjust your own to more appropriately combat them.
    • Content ideas and SEO direction. Next, keyword research will give you ideas for your content marketing campaign, and help you set the direction for your SEO campaign. With a solid “group” of target keywords in mind, you’ll be able to establish the meta data and body copy for the main pages of your site, and come up with an editorial calendar full of topics that are actually relevant to your audience. Keyword research not only helps you pinpoint competitive opportunities and popular topics, but also helps you expand your conceptions through a brainstorming process. You’ll see how this works in greater detail later.
    • Market research. Doing keyword research also helps you understand your key demographics better, giving you information you can use in other areas of your business, including other areas of your marketing campaign. For example, you may find that search patterns for a specific product tend to escalate in winter, giving you a critical marketing opportunity to push that product more during winter months. You may also be able to learn more about the average buying cycle, including what types of questions consumers tend to ask as they get closer and closer to making a final decision.
    • Ranking measurement. Finally, doing keyword research in advance gives you a concrete way to measure the progress of your SEO campaign. Personally, I’m a fan of using factors like overall organic traffic and conversion rates to measure SEO campaign progress, but being able to definitively chart your rankings for a handful of target keywords also lends accuracy and thoroughness to your campaign. For example, it’s helpful to know that ranks #1 for the keyword phrase “link building seattle.” We started off completely unranked, and could watch as we gradually made our way to the top, with that growth being a signal that our overall SEO strategy was succeeding. In theory, your efforts will raise your rankings for thousands of potential queries, including ones you’ve never thought of, but pinpointing specific phrases gives you a window into this overall growth.

    google search results

    How to Use Keyword Research

    It’s important to know how you’ll be using keywords if you want to choose them appropriately.

    • The dangers of keyword stuffing. First, you need to understand the inherent dangers of keyword stuffing. It’s tempting to include your target keywords as frequently as possible throughout your site, but remember—Google doesn’t work based on one-to-one correlations anymore. Increasing your frequency of placed keywords isn’t going to help your rankings; in fact, it might earn you a Google penalty. Focus on including your keywords naturally, wherever you include them, and try to utilize synonyms. If you’re ever in doubt, read a selection out loud and see if it sounds funny to you—if it does, you can consider the usage of the keyword “unnatural.”
    • Title tags and meta descriptions. Your page titles and descriptions are some of the most important areas to include keywords for your campaign. These are considered highly important elements by Google, mostly because they’re the first things a search user sees when scrolling through the results. Including a head keyword prominently, early on in your titles and descriptions, helps Google categorize your site—just make sure that your keywords are relevant for the content of your pages. Take AudienceBloom’s title and descriptions as examples; “link building” and “content marketing agency” are two of the keywords we’re targeting, and both are appropriate to our brand. We don’t stuff in any more keywords than we need to.

    meta tags optimization

    • Dedicated pages. Because page titles are so powerful when it comes to evaluating relevance, and because each page is indexed separately in Google, it’s sometimes a good idea to create dedicated pages for each of your head keywords. For example, if one of your target keywords is “emergency plumbing repair,” you may wish to create a new page of your site specifically called “Emergency Plumbing Repair” in your main navigation. However, you’ll want to be careful here. If your page appears unnatural, or if its body copy is spammed with keywords, you could earn a ranking penalty rather than a boost.
    • Header tags and body content. Aside from the titles and descriptions, you’ll want to include keywords throughout the body of your pages. There used to be a rule that keywords should make up about 2 to 3 percent of the total volume of words on a given page (this was referred to as “keyword density,” but forget about that. Just include keywords occasionally where they naturally fit in, especially long-tail keywords, and especially in your header tags (h1, h2, etc.).
    • Ongoing content. Your ongoing content is your best place for the ongoing support of your target keyword phrases. If you’re developing multiple new posts for your blog a week, you’ll have multiple opportunities to optimize for new keywords, new pages with new title tag and meta description opportunities, and of course, plenty of body copy where you can include your keywords at a natural pace. I’ll dig deeper into the content side of things when we cover topic research later on.

    Keyword Research vs Topic Research

    Some SEOs have declared topic research as the “new” keyword research, while others have decried keyword research as an SEO strategy in general. I believe that keyword research and topic research for content are two distinct, yet highly related strategies that are both necessary if you want to be successful in SEO.

    Keyword research helps you find keywords and phrases to target in the technical infrastructure of your website and give you solid targets to rank for, while topic research is more about finding a strong foothold for your content marketing campaign (and appealing to your users as much as possible).

    I’ll delve into each of these topics individually, breaking down the research and execution process step by step.

    Keyword Research for SEO

    Let’s take a look at “standard” keyword research for SEO. The goals here are to find a selection of target keywords you can use to optimize the various pages of your site for specific user queries, then use your rankings for those keywords as a relative gauge of success.

    For the majority of this article, I’ll be calling upon Moz’s Keyword Explorer, one of the best all-around tools for keyword research. At the end of this article, I’ll be listing it along with other tools mentioned in this guide as a reference index for your future use. If you’re interested in fuller descriptions of these tools as we go along, be sure to reference it. Before we jump into the step-by-step guide, you need to understand some keyword research lingo: head, and long-tail keywords.

    Head Keywords and Long-Tail Keywords

    You’ll often hear about “long-tail” keywords in contrast with “head” keywords. Essentially, long-tail keywords are extended phrase search queries, such as “what is the best roofing company in Wyoming?” Compare that to a traditional “head” keyword or keyword phrase like “roofing company” or “roofing company Wyoming.” There’s no strict line to draw here, though generally, if a query is in sentence format, it can be considered as a long-tail phrase.

    Long-tail keywords are advantageous because they tend to have a much lower competition rating than head keywords; the catch is they also have much lower search volume. It’s great to use long-tail keywords to rank quickly for niche positions, but if you’re looking for some heavy-hitting rankings to build over the long-term, head keywords are better.

    Typically, SEOs use head keywords for title tags of the most prominent pages of their site, like Home, About, and Contact pages (as well as body copy), while long-tail keywords are reserved for blog article titles.

    Because each type of keyword has advantages over the other, I highly recommend pursuing both over the course of your campaign, balancing the two based on your current goals.

    Next, let’s dive into the step-by-step breakdown of exactly how to conduct keyword research for SEO.

    Step 1. Determine your goals and budget

    Generally, if you’re looking for fast results, you’ll want to choose long-tail keywords with a low competition rating; these are going to be your fastest road to rankings, but keep in mind high rankings here won’t always send much traffic your way; it depends on search volume for each keyword.

    Head keywords and higher-competition keywords are better for long-term results, assuming you’re also picking higher-relevance keywords with a high search volume. A bigger marketing budget would allow you to theoretically invest more effort in either side of the equation, allowing you to cover more ground and rank faster for your target terms.

    For example, take a look at the major difference even a single variant can have on a target keyword, between “content marketing” and “content marketing for law firms”, dropping the competition score from 91 to 42, and the search volume to “no data” (though Google’s Keyword Planner suggests it to be between 10-100):

    content marketing keyword research

    content marketing for law firms

    It’s hard to estimate exactly how much time or money you’ll need to rank for a given keyword, but these metrics should help you understand your biggest opportunities, and estimate the relative degree of effort you’ll need to invest in each to see results. In turn, this should guide the development of your keyword research.

    Step 2. Brainstorm your “seed” keywords

    You’ll start your keyword research by selecting what I call “seed” keywords. Seed keywords are those that you either already know your target audience is using to search for your services, or that you would use if you were a member of your target audience.

    For example, since AudienceBloom is a content marketing agency, I can easily guess that my target audience might search for “content marketing agency,” or perhaps one or more of the following variations of that keyword:

    • Content marketing services
    • Content marketing company
    • Content marketing firm
    • Content marketing provider

    Of course, AudienceBloom offers more than just “content marketing services.” We also offer link building services, social media marketing services, and blog writing services.

    If your company offers multiple types of products or services, then you’ll need to create a separate topical relevance group and brainstorm seed keywords for each of them. For example, here are the seed keywords I would use for the other services AudienceBloom provides:

    Link building:

    • Link building services
    • Link building service
    • Link building company
    • Link building agency
    • Link building provider

    Social media marketing services:

    • Social media marketing services
    • Social media services
    • Social media service
    • Social media management services
    • Social media marketing management

    Blog writing services:

    • Blog writing services
    • Blog creation services
    • Blogging services
    • Blog post services
    • Blog post writing service

    It took me a couple minutes to come up with the keywords above, and they were all off the top of my head. Write down these seed keywords, as we’ll conduct specific research on them in the next step.

    Step 3. Plug your seed keywords into Moz Keyword Explorer

    Now that you’ve got your seed keywords, it’s time to start gathering data on them. Start by plugging at least one from each group into Moz’s Keyword Explorer. Below is a screenshot of the results for my keyword, “content marketing services.”

    moz keyword explorer

    (Image source: Moz Keyword Explorer)

    Step 4. Download suggested keywords

    You’ll see a link that says “See all [X] suggestions.”

    keyword suggestions

    Click that link to be taken to a page that lists similar keywords to your seed, as well as relevance, and volume.

    keyword suggestions content marketing services


    Next, download the list of keywords into an Excel spreadsheet using the “Export CSV” link.

    export csv

    Use different tabs/sheets in your Excel spreadsheet to separate your keywords for each topical relevancy group.

    Ubersuggest is another fantastic tool for generating keyword ideas based on a single seed keyword. Enter one seed keyword, and it will automatically generate a list of potential keyword opportunities. Try it out with at least one of your seed keywords from each group, and add its suggestions to your keyword spreadsheet.


    (Image source: UberSuggest)

    Step 5. Add keywords that the tools may have missed

    As we all know, software tools don’t always cover all the bases. Use the following strategies to think of more keywords that you can add to your spreadsheet that the tools may have missed:

    • Competition and environment. What do you imagine your average customer searching for when they look for a company like yours? What kinds of phrases are your competitors using throughout their websites?
    • Free association. Once you’ve run out of ideas in this first stage, you can move on to free association. For this, I find it’s best to use a pencil and paper. Instead of deliberately aiming to develop keywords, you’ll write down a basic topic, like “sales,” and you’ll write down the first thing that pops into your mind. Then, write down whatever you associate that next term with. Keep going until you build a chain of terms outward, and if you like, return to the center to build another branch of the web. This will help you break your linear thinking and come up with some novel topics.
    • Forums and blogs. You can also cruise existing blogs and forums that your target audience might frequent, in or out of your industry, to see what types of topics are popular. Are there any words or phrases that seem to be frequently visited or discussed? What kind of focus do these blogs and forums have? You can also crawl these areas to see if there are any topics your audience is curious about, but haven’t been sufficiently covered by any authors.
    • Interviews. It’s easy for an individual to get tunnel vision in keyword research, so start talking to the people around you for newer, fresher ideas. Ask your coworkers what keywords and phrases they’d associate with your business, and ask your clients and past clients directly what they would search for if they were looking for a business like yours. These are valuable insights, and you should keep track of them.

    Step 6. Evaluate your keywords

    You should now be looking at a spreadsheet that contains a bunch of keywords – possibly thousands or even tens of thousands.

    Now, it’s time to pick which ones you’re going to use for your campaign. There are three main factors you’ll want to bear in mind for each keyword you select:

    1. Relevance. The relevance of a given keyword is a subjective measure of how useful the keyword is to your brand. Obviously, you’ll want to include keywords that are more or less in line with your brand. But even within your niche, some keywords and phrases will be more valuable than others. For example, if you sell bookshelves, the keyword “where to buy bookshelves online” will tend to attract customers interested in buying bookshelves, while “how to build a bookshelf” would attract DIYers who probably aren’t interested in making a purchase from you. Unfortunately, my experience with Moz’s Keyword Explorer for measuring this has not been very reliable, since it’s almost entirely subjective, so you’ll probably need to rely on your own intuition and experience to determine relevance for each keyword in your list.

    2. Volume. The search volume for a given keyword is a rough estimate of the number of times that keyword has been searched for, within a given population, over a certain period of time (usually a month). You can use this as a relative gauge of the keyword’s popularity, though it doesn’t specifically tell you about the keyword’s click-through rate or user intent. Still, it’s a valuable at-a-glance metric that can help you determine which keyword rankings will bring you more traffic than others.

    If you plug a keyword into Keyword Explorer, you’ll see a volume measurement for it and a number of other related terms:

    keyword explorer

    (Image source: Keyword Explorer)

    There’s variation because keyword searches fluctuate from month to month. For example, taking a look at the screenshot above, you can count on the keyword “content marketing” to earn between 11,500 and 30,300 searches each month.

    There’s no rule for what search volume you should target; obviously, higher is better, but it usually comes with the tradeoff of higher competition, which makes it more difficult to rank for.

    If you’re looking for keyword ideas with at least a certain search volume, you can bring up the     suggestions menu and filter by volume:

    search volume filter

    You could also use Google’s Keyword Planner to perform this search, but since Moz’s Keyword Explorer pulls much of this data, you run the risk of redundancy. Also notice that Google’s Keyword Planner offers much less specific ranges of search volume:

    search volume google keyword planner

    (Image source: Google Keyword Planner)

    SEMRush offers similar features, but strives for a volume count with pinpoint accuracy. This may be useful in the short term, but if you want better long-term projections, it’s better to rely on a range.


    (Image source: SEMRush)

    3. Competition. Finally, you’ll want to take a look at the competition rating for each keyword. Again, Google’s Keyword Planner will be able to tell you this, but unfortunately, this data is less objective (giving you only “Low”, “Medium” or “High”) and much less precise than search volume.

    Reference the screenshots above, and you’ll see each of these tools offers a different evaluation of the level of competition of our keyword, “content marketing.” Google, for example, lists content marketing as “medium” competition, while Moz Keyword Explorer attempts to offer a more precise score—in this case, 91 out of 100, which most would consider “high.”

    SEMRush offers 0.81, at least in the context of paid search, which you could roughly translate to 81 out of 100. Confused yet? Competition is hard to precisely calculate, so take an average, qualitative value here. Based on these competition evaluations, I’d consider “content marketing” to have high competition, and thus, be a very difficult keyword to rank for.

    You should eliminate the high-competition keywords from your list unless you’re ready to fight tooth and nail, or you have a massive budget that can help you blow through almost any competitive obstacle. It would take you months of consistent effort to earn rankings for these, and even after all that effort, it’s unlikely that the traffic payoff would be worth it. If you must, include only a couple.

    Relevance is up to you to figure out without the help of tools, but volume and competition are objective factors that you can gather with the help of tools.

    Once you’ve grouped your keywords into the spreadsheet, remove all the ones that aren’t relevant. Again, this will be a subjective determination that you need to make, based solely on your knowledge of your industry, so just do your best here. This step can take a long time, as you’ll need to manually go over each keyword and determine whether it’s relevant or not.

    After you finish removing all the irrelevant keywords, you’ll be left with a list of keywords that are relevant and have some measurable amount of search volume and competition.

    Step 7. Conduct competitor research

    Next, you’ll want to take a closer look at the competition, and what types of strategies they’re using in their search campaigns.

    There are a few reasons you need to learn about your competitors:

    • Inspiration. If you can understand how they’ve optimized their websites, where they currently rank, and how they’re getting more relevant customers to their sites, you can adopt some of these techniques for yourself.
    • Understanding competition levels. Second, you’ll be able to gauge what level of competition you’re in for. Are your competitors all fighting viciously for web real estate, or is it an open field?
    • Discover weaknesses and opportunities. Are there certain niches that your competitors haven’t been able to touch? Are there opportunities for development they’ve missed?

    SEMRush is a fantastic tool for conducting competitor research, automatically listing some of your “main organic competitors” once you enter your website domain name:

    organic competitors semrush

    (Image source: SEMRush)

    You’ll get to see their names listed, as well as their relative competition “level,” and what keywords they’re competing with you on.

    You can use a tool to help you understand where and how your competition is ranking for various keywords—and I’ll be getting into those at the end of this guide—but for now, you can get an “at a glance” look by searching, in Google, for some keywords you think an average prospect in your target market might use.

    As an example, I performed a search for “online time tracking software,” a typical keyword phrase that might be used by someone looking for such a product. You can see a number of time tracking tools ranking for this, many of them using that exact phrase.

    But you’ll also find inspiration for tangential keyword phrases, like “employee timesheet,” which seems popular. Look at the titles (in blue), and descriptions (in black), to get a feel for what kinds of keywords they’re using.

    keyword research result

    You can also use Keyword Explorer to project how the search engine results pages (SERPs) look (found in the “SERP Analysis”  tab), which will even rate page authority, domain authority, shares, and links for you:

    SERP analysis

    Step 8. Choose your keepers

    After adding new keywords you got from your competitor research, it’s time to choose your keepers.

    The ideal keyword is one with high relevance, high search volume, and low competition, but these are hard to find, so you’ll have to make some strategic choices and balance your keyword selections.

    The number of keywords you select should depend on the size of your business, your budget, and your goals. Most small- to mid-sized businesses do well with a list of 20-30 keywords. Any more than 30, and you’ll either need a full management team, or you won’t be able to gain much meaningful momentum for any of them.

    You don’t have to limit the number of keywords you choose as your “winners” – in fact, the more relevant keywords you track in your keyword rankings, the better accuracy with which you’ll be able to gauge the progress of your content marketing or SEO campaign. Just be sure to only focus on building up a few keywords at a time, as anything more ambitious will likely dilute your efforts too much to be effective.

    Step 9. Input your winners into rank tracking software

    There are many important metrics to monitor in a full-fledged SEO campaign, including your organic traffic, social traffic, referral traffic, and conversion rates, but when it comes to evaluating your keyword progress specifically, there’s no better metric than your actual keyword rankings. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t explicitly publish this information, so your best bet is to use a tool to help you—AgencyAnalytics is what I personally use, but there are a ton of software options that do this, such as AuthorityLabs, RankWatch, and more.


    (Image source: AgencyAnalytics)

    There you have it. This is the long and short of how to perform “modern” keyword research for SEO—and some tips on what to do with that information once you have it.

    Now, let’s turn our attention to the close cousin of keyword research and how it relates to your overall campaign—topic research.

    Topic Research for Content Marketing

    Though similar to keyword research, topic research has its own process, its own benefits, and its own best practices.

    Distinction From Pure SEO Keywords

    Topic research follows similar lines as keyword research, but it demands a closer focus on user behavior and content trends than search trends, specifically. For this reason alone, topic research should be treated as a separate entity.

    So far, keyword research has been executable and valuable for a standalone SEO campaign, but topic research can benefit you in far more areas; your content campaign, social media marketing campaign, and customer retention strategies can all benefit more from topic research.

    There’s some overlap, because both keyword and topic research are designed to bring people to your site, but topic research has a greater likelihood of keeping people on your site.

    From a pure customer acquisition perspective, topic research can help you take advantage of the semantic search that Google has been using since it launched its Hummingbird algorithm. Because one-to-one keyword matching can’t guarantee that keyword inclusion will help you rise for specific keyword queries, topic research helps you understand—and meet—user needs, essentially getting in front of more people out of necessity.

    As an illustrative example, take the search phrase “garbage disposal is broken.” Google interprets this phrase semantically, understanding that your garbage disposal is not working, and provides content that doesn’t contain these exact keywords (i.e., “How to Fix a Garbage Disposal”), but does interpret and address your need. Topic research helps you find and solve these user needs.

    topic research

    Factors for Success

    The factors for success in a topic are slightly different than the success factors for keyword research, because you’re after a qualitative user experience rather than quantitative benefits.

    • Interest. The first major factor is interest. Your users need to have a vested interest in the topics you produce. What does that mean for your brand? There are a few fundamentals, but ultimately every brand and every audience will have a different answer. For example, one of the most important qualities of “interesting” content is that it’s unique. Your topics can’t be ones that competitors have already covered. You can publish new versions, or different angles, or follow-ups, but it needs to be original. Beyond that, you’ll have to rely on what you know about your demographics, including their wants or needs.
    • Value. Another important factor is value, and oftentimes this translates to practicality. Your topics should serve some kind of function for your users, giving them instructions they need in a certain situation, or information they need to consider some broader ideas. How-to articles and tutorials are exceptionally popular, but remember, these need to be unique. Also keep in mind that your topics don’t have to be practical to be valuable—the best example of non-practical, valuable content is entertaining content, though obviously this won’t work for just any brand.
    • Timeliness. Unlike the interest and value factors, timeliness isn’t an absolute necessity, but it can be helpful. New topics, such as those covering a recent event or update in your industry, tend to be highly popular in the first few days and weeks after their release. Trending topics can also be taken advantage of for additional search visibility. However, “new” topics and appropriately timed topics shouldn’t make up the entirety of your focus; you’ll also need “evergreen” topics that will presumably stay relevant indefinitely. Balancing your topic spread between these two types of content timeliness will give you the widest possible spread, helping you take advantage of news topics without sacrificing the longevity of your campaign.
    • Catchiness. Again, this isn’t a necessity, but it helps if you find topics that are “catchy”—that is to say, topics that have a high likelihood of getting shared or going viral. Content pieces that are shared virally tend to attract far more backlinks, helping them earn more authority and rank even higher for your SEO campaign. A major factor for catchiness is uniqueness, which you’ve hopefully already covered in the “interest” category. Beyond that, you need some kind of emotional “hook,” such as something surprising, or something otherwise emotionally charged.

    Phase I: Market research

    When you first start the topic research process, you’ll need to dig deep to gain a thorough understanding of the types of people who will be viewing your content. Remember, keyword research allows you to be more quantitative in your approach, calculating things like competition and search volume, but topic research demands a more qualitative approach, forcing you to understand the hows and whys of customer interaction with your material.

    • Buyer personas. One of the best ways to start is by developing specific “buyer personas” that represent the main demographics you intend to target with your content. Rather than making assumptions or guesses about your audience’s needs, this method will force you to sketch out a portrait of your “average” customer, including their basic information, disposition, interests, family life, professional life, wants and needs. Treat it like you’re developing a fictional character, and interview some of your existing customers to get a better feel for who you’re working with. If you need a good template to build your buyer personas, Hubspot has a great one.

    buyer persona hubspot

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    • Buying cycle. In addition to buyer personas, you’ll need to get a better understanding for the buying cycle of your average customer. What are your customers thinking when they first start the research process? Where do their interests turn as they become more familiar with your brand? You can use this information in several ways in the course of your topic research. For example, if you want to specialize in one area—such as finalizing potential customers already familiar with your brand, or merely increasing brand familiarity among people unfamiliar with your brand—you can do so by favoring those topics. You can also opt for a more homogenous blend of different target topics.
    • Social listening. Social listening will help you kill multiple birds with one stone. The basic idea is to “plug in” to social media channels to find out what your key demographics are talking about—what topics they seem to be sharing, what keywords they seem to be including in their posts, and what hashtags are trending. On one level, you’ll be able to learn more about your target demographics—how they behave, what’s important to them, and what they’re interested in. You’ll also get a peek at what types of topics might be good to start producing.


    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    • Blogs and forums. Similar to social listening, you can browse blogs and forums to get a feel for what your target market is talking about and interested, and milk them for topics directly. You can use a blog reader for this, but it’s easier to run a quick search for blogs and forums in your industry and go through them manually—you’ll comb through the topics in finer detail that way. BuzzSumo is one of the best tools to use here. With it, you’ll be able to find some of the most shared and linked-to articles in the central topic of your choice. All you have to do is enter a topic and hit search:

    buzzsumo results

    You can then use the “sort by” function in the upper-right corner to filter by total shares, or          specific types of shares. You can also use advanced search functions (under the search bar) to       rule out certain phrase, narrow down your domain criteria, or filter by domains, and use the    “content type” filter on the left-hand side to look for specific types of content:

    content types

    Phase II: Competitive research

    Next up, you’ll need to perform some competitive research. When you performed competitive research for keywords, you took a look at the titles and descriptions of their main pages (and possibly used a third party tool to spy on their current rankings).

    Here, you can rely on similar tactics to identify your competitors in the first place. For example, you can run a domain search for your own domain in SEMRush and get a list of some of your fiercest organic search competitors.

    competitive research


    (Image source: SEMRush)

    Then, you can drill into individual domains to see what they’re ranking for, and what keywords they’re targeting.

    competition research keywords

    (Image source: SEMRush)

    You could also use Moz Keyword Explorer to generate a list of people ranking above you in the SERPs for a given topic query:

    moz keyword explorer results

    (Image source: Moz Keyword Explorer)

    Take a look at your competitors’ content marketing strategies and see what’s working and what’s not.

    You can use BuzzSumo for this. Just enter your domain to see what content is performing the best on your website, and enter your competitors’ domains to see their top-performing content:

    competitor content marketing

    (Image source: BuzzSumo)

    BuzzSumo also allows you to see the most popular content that links back to your site as well as your competitors’. This can be useful for assessing the value of your competition’s off-site content marketing efforts. Just use the “Backlinks” tab in Buzzsumo, then type in the domain/URL of your site or a competitor site.

    most popular content buzzsumo

    (Image source: BuzzSumo)

    Use these tools to identify competitors and find out some of their biggest strengths and weaknesses, then rely on your qualitative analysis to make further conclusions.

    Browse through your competitors’ blog content, and see how many comments and shares each of their articles are getting. Take note of their most popular content topics, as well as any topics they have that seem to generate no momentum.

    Don’t copy these topics directly; instead, use them as jumping-off points to guide your own work. For example, if a competitor seems to get lots of popularity with “how to” articles, consider creating some of your own.

    You can also look for topics that seem to be underexplored or underutilized, such as exploratory topics that don’t tell the full story, or articles with inaccuracies or those that lack substance. These are key opportunities for you to create your own versions, hopefully generating more attention and more links, and giving you the opportunity to outrank your competitor for those related inbound queries.

    Phase III: Establish regular and evergreen features

    At this point, you’ll have insights into the behavioral patterns of your average customer, social media, blog, and forum trends, and a glimpse into your competitors’ strategies.

    Combined with some of the long-tail keyword research you performed in the last section, you should be able to compile a list of popular, interesting, valuable topics that you can introduce to your blog. One of the best strategies to do this is to establish a regular pattern of features.

    You don’t want to repeat yourself, but you can leverage certain frameworks multiple times for different facets of your brand. For example, in the online marketing industry, if you find that “top 10” lists are popular and underutilized (this isn’t the best example because top 10 lists are overused, but it works), you could write up a series like “the top 10 benefits of content marketing,” “the top 10 benefits of seo,” and so on.

    The key here is to find some frameworks that are repeatable as evergreen content. When your topics are semi-repeatable, you’ll be able to produce a greater volume of content to increase your relevance for those terms, and when they’re evergreen, you know they’ll stay relevant indefinitely, rising in rank as your overall domain authority grows.

    Phase IV: Set up news monitoring

    With some threads of evergreen content in place, your next step is to set up some kind of news monitoring program. Your goal here is to receive regular updates about what’s happening in your industry or geographic area.

    When you see a topic trending, or a new topic emerging that’s relevant for your brand, you can jump on it.

    There are three great ways to monitor news developments in your industry.

    • News subscriptions. First, there’s straightforward content subscriptions. You can use an RSS feed, or subscribe to each brand’s content newsletter, but for me, the best thing to do is head to a blog reader site like Feedly and browse through sources related to your industry. You can go as broad or as specific as you’d like here, and segment your sources however you’d like. Then, whenever you want to look for news, you can head to this singular source and pull from major topics that seem to be trending.


    (Image Source: Feedly)

    • Social media lists. Next, you can create lists of major brands and influencers on your social media platform of choice. For example, on Twitter, you can create custom lists of certain types of accounts and access them to see what they’re talking about. This is a great way to collect your news sources in one area. In combination with your social listening practices, it’s highly effective for cultivating new potential topics from the news. Twitter offers one of the best ways to do this; click on “Lists” in the settings menu, and you’ll be able to create a new list in a few clicks.

    social media lists

    • Competitive monitoring. You’ll also want to bookmark the blogs of your main competitors, and check back occasionally to see what types of new content they’re developing. Again, this isn’t so you can copy their strategy—instead, scout it for inspiration and for weaknesses that you can exploit in your own topic collection.

    Phase V: Execution

    By now, you’ve noticed that topic generation isn’t as precise as keyword generation. You won’t have as much quantitative data to work with, and you won’t be generating a list of exactly repeatable phrases.

    So from here, it’s best to move straight to execution.

    • Build an editorial calendar. One of the best ways to keep your topics fresh, organized, and visible to your entire team is to keep them confined to an editorial calendar. This doesn’t have to be a fancy or formal document; in fact, a simple spreadsheet works fine. If you’re looking for a template, I recommend the one that the Content Marketing Institute offers. It gives you enough space to list your headline, author, status, call to action, category, and any other notes you might have—and that’s really all you need to get started. Keep a close eye on your headlinese as you develop this calendar, both to draw inspiration from past posts and make sure you don’t ever repeat yourself.

    CMI editorial calendar template

    (Image Source: Content Marketing Institute)

    • Leaving space for news. Don’t schedule your content so far in advance that you can’t do anything when a news topic starts trending. Leave yourself some blank spaces, with the assumption that your near-constant news monitoring will allow you to fill in those gaps with timely posts. Remember that your timing is an important element in how your topics are received by a searching public.
    • Targeting the right audience. When you start drafting your content, don’t forget that you’re writing for a very specific audience. Keep your brand voice consistent and make sure your tone, vocabulary, and structure are all appealing to the type of searcher you intended to target with your content topic. For example, if you’re writing a basic instructional article like “how to clean an air filter in an air conditioner,” you’ll want to avoid getting too technically complex.
    • Content quality. You’ll also want to make sure that the content you create is “high quality,” which is a frustratingly vague term that refers to your level of depth, your style of writing, the types of media you include, and how much detail you bring your readers. The better your content, the more likely it’s going to be to rank for users’ queries, thanks to its propensity to earn more links and its adherence to Google’s content standards. I outlined 12 elements of high-quality content in my article at Forbes.

    Phase VI: Ongoing Adjustments

    Like with keyword research, it’s not enough to perform one round of topic research and be done with it. You’ll need to monitor your progress in your topics, and use that information to adjust your campaign in the future.

    • Traffic. Use Google Analytics to see how much traffic your blog posts are generating. Though here, topic research is used mainly as a way to facilitate an SEO campaign, you can actually measure your articles’ popularity in terms of organic (search) traffic, referral traffic, and social traffic. Take a look at your top performers and ask yourself—why are these bringing in more traffic than the others? Similarly, take a look at your worst performers, and avoid topics like those in the future.

    blog posts traffic

    • Links and shares. You can use a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, or URLProfiler to check and see how many inbound links each of your pieces of content has earned, and use your own website to check how many shares you’ve gotten. More links and shares will lead to higher organic search rankings for your individual content pieces and will boost the domain authority of your entire site, but more importantly, these are an indication of your topics’ popularity, effectiveness, and shareability.
    • Engagements. Finally, take a look at the engagements your topics generate. How many are people responding to them? What kinds of comments are you getting? Are you sparking discussions? Are you inspiring rebuttals or follow-up posts?

    Balancing Keywords and Topics

    Though SEO and content marketing are often considered separate strategies, the reality is they’re almost indistinguishable. In the words of Neil Patel, “They go together. They just fit. They work well together… SEO is actually all about content marketing, and vice versa.” Both keywords and topics will help you in both areas, so you’ll need both if you want to continue making progress.

    Other Keyword Considerations

    There are just a handful of additional considerations you should bear in mind when moving forward with your keyword and topic research strategy.

    Local Keywords

    Google’s local search functions on a separate algorithm from its national search. Currently, Google offers a “3 pack” of local results, above the fold of organic search results that features the three most relevant local business it can find for a query.

    local keywords

    There are many factors that go into these 3-pack rankings, including conventional SEO authority factors like your link profile, but also your presence in third-party directories and the number of positive reviews your business has received.

    If you’re interested in boosting your local relevance, it’s worth considering throwing some local keywords into your campaign – keywords that include a geographic indicator, such as your city name. This can help you expand your relevance for potential searches in your surrounding area, and create more targeted pages for your key demographics.

    You’ll want to avoid using clunky phrasing in your keywords, like the “burger restaurant Denver” example I used earlier, but you can still incorporate local keywords into your content more naturally.

    Try to use synonyms and alternative descriptions of your area if you do this; for example, a business outside of Cleveland could use terms like “Cleveland,” “Northeast Ohio,” “Greater Cleveland area,” or “Cuyahoga county” to describe its location.

    Note that local keywords aren’t necessary to rank; they’re merely an added bonus for local businesses that want the boost.

    Rich Answers and Structured Data

    Rich answers are becoming an increasingly present feature of Google search; these are informative boxes that pop up above organic search results in response to certain easily answerable queries. For example, the phrase “what is wave particle duality” returns a shockingly concise explanation in paragraph form, drawn from the Wikipedia article on the subject.

    rich answers

    There are some fears that these answers, as they become more popular, could wick away some of your organic traffic. However, in the meantime, you can exploit the fact that Google looks to external sources for this information.

    As a primary strategy, you can target “answerable” keywords and topics for your campaign, and use a structured markup to feed your information to Google, giving you a chance at being the featured brand in this box. As a secondary strategy, you can target highly niche, hard-to-answer keywords and topics that don’t have a good chance of yielding rich answers in the first place.

    Bing and Other Search Engines

    Most of this article, especially the “tools” section, is focused on Google search results or information drawn from Google. Google is still responsible for more than two-thirds of all searches, but there’s still a third of all searches floating away from Google.

    It’s a good idea to hedge some of your research by exploring keyword data on Bing and other search engines you encounter, and keep watch to see how they develop over time.

    Hashtags and Social Media

    Hashtags function similar to keywords on social media, and if you’re engaged in a social media marketing campaign, they’re well worth your notice.

    “Trending” lists on various social platforms will help you quickly identify new potential keywords and topics for your on-site content, but don’t forget to also use them in your social media posts (provided you know how to use them appropriately).

    twitter trending hashtags

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    Amazon, eBay, and Other eCommerce Search Functions

    Your website isn’t the only place where you can optimize pages. If you have a company presence on Amazon, eBay, or a similar service, for example, you can potentially use search data on these niche platforms to optimize your product pages for potential searchers.

    Here, you’ll need to optimize your pages both for traditional search engines (i.e., Google), and for in-app searches. Just bear in mind that in-app searches tend to function differently than Google search; they depend heavily on product ratings and reviews to determine authority and rankings.

    Tools for Keyword Research

    I’ve already listed and explored a number of tools to aid you in your keyword and topic research, but this section is meant to organize, detail, and evaluate them individually.

    Some of these tools are better for some functions than others; for example, Ubersuggest is only good for generating more keyword ideas early on in your research. Consult this section to find the tools you need for the various stages of your research, and don’t be afraid to try out multiple tools in multiple ways until you find out what works best for you.

    Moz’s Keyword Explorer

    If I had to recommend one tool to you, it would be Moz’s keyword research tool—its Keyword Explorer. Keyword Explorer pulls in data from a number of different sources, including Google’s Keyword Planner (more on that next), Google Suggest, and a number of other sources. It compiles this information into easy-to-understand (and visual) metrics, and can even give you keyword recommendations. There’s also a handy import/export function so you can use it in conjunction with your previous work and your ongoing work with other tools.

    moz keyword explorer tool

    (Image Source: Moz)

    This tool gives you a lot of information, so what should you really focus on for your keyword research? Well first, you’ll need to plug in some central information—a keyword or keyword phrase that you want to target. Choose what you believe to be one of the most relevant keywords for your brand—as relevance is the one thing Moz won’t be able to measure for you, due to its subjective nature.

    From there, take a look at these metrics:

    • Volume. Keyword Explorer purports to have 95 percent accuracy when it comes to the national search volume for your given term. This should help you almost pinpoint how much traffic each keyword’s going to get.
    • Difficulty. Rather than relying on vague generalizations, Moz will give you a numerical score for the competition volume of a given word, helping you determine exactly what is and what isn’t too hard to rank for.
    • Opportunity. The opportunity measure is a subjective score based on the relative power of a given keyword, based in part on click-through rates. Some keywords may have a high volume, but a low opportunity due to significant searches but few engagements.
    • Potential. If you’re nervous about how to pull this information together into something meaningful, don’t worry—Moz has you covered. Its “potential” score combines the other three factors into a single value on a numerical scale. If you’re looking for one score to tell you whether a keyword’s worth going after, this is the one to view.

    In another section, you can use your base input as a way to generate new keyword suggestions.

    • Keyword Suggestions. This tool goes deeper than most of the others on this list. You’ll be able to select the type of keyword suggestions you receive, filtering by source, by proximity to your original keyword, or even choosing to get a mix between keywords and topics—which makes utilizing both sides of your research easily. You can also filter and sort them by factors like volume and “relevancy” to your original term.

    keyword suggestions moz

    (Image Source: Moz)

    • SERP Analysis. After that, you can use this tool for some competitive research (and to get a better feel for your actual ranking opportunity). This section of the tool breaks down what the SERP looks like for this given term, including any of your competitors who currently rank for it, whether there are rich answers present, and whether there’s a significant threat of visibility from existing paid advertisers.

    serp analysis moz

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Google’s Keyword Planner

    Google’s Keyword Planner is one of the most recommended and most talked-about keyword research tools available, but there are a few major downsides that you should keep in mind before using it. These aren’t deal-breakers, but they are considerations that can (and should affect) how you use and trust the tool. For example, Keyword Planner tends to round search volume data, and splits keywords into “buckets” of numerical data.

    google keyword planner

    (Image Source: Moz)

    You may also find that Keyword Planner gives you inconsistent, or “strange” recommendations that don’t seem to fall in line with your brand. This is subjective, but you’ll want to use a diverse selection of keyword idea generators if you’re looking for new recommendations anyway.

    There are four ways to use the Keyword Planner, but only three are going to matter for your organic SEO keyword research.

    keyword research google keyword planner tool

    (Image Source: Google)

    First, you can search for new keywords by using a phrase, website, or category. This function is relatively straightforward; you can enter any combination of different keyword phrases you’ve come up with, your own domain, a competitor’s domain, or a pre-existing category that Google has outlined for your industry. Google will then use this information to fetch new keyword suggestions that you can fold into the results of your own brainstorming sessions.

    keyword planner google

    (Image Source: Google)

    Second, you can dig into search volume and other types of data for a keyword list you’ve already generated. This is ideal if you’ve already got a spreadsheet full of keyword ideas and you’re just looking to fill in information like search volume and competition rating.

    search volume keyword planner

    (Image Source: Google)

    Finally, you can leverage one of the Keyword Planner’s most unique functions—keyword multiplication. Essentially, what you’ll do is provide two lists to Google, each of which represents one category of information. Google will cross reference these lists to generate a list of possible keywords and phrases for you to target. Check out the example they give below:

    keyword lists

    (Image Source: Google)

    Ultimately, Keyword Planner is best used for generating new keyword ideas and collecting consistent information on the keywords you already have, though Moz’s Keyword Explorer does seem to provide more accurate data.

    Google Correlate

    Google Correlate is an interesting niche tool; it won’t provide you with detailed numerical information on keywords, but it will help you uncover trends and patterns in search. For example, you can plug in some of your target keywords to see how their search volume changes with seasonal transitions, or how they compare in different states. There’s a lot to experiment with here, so reserve it for exploring your semi-finalized list of keywords in greater detail.

    google correlate

    (Image Source: Google)


    BuzzSumo is a tool best used for topic research, rather than keyword research. With it, you’ll be able to search for a range of different topics, and explore some of the most popular stories within that topic. You can filter by date, language, country, and content type, then explore to see how each of these top-performing topics are doing.


    (Image Source: BuzzSumo)

    For example, you can check out how many shares a topic has gotten on each major social media platform, or evaluate how many links it’s gotten. This is great for checking to see whether your topic ideas have already been explored, how they’ve been explored in the past, and how popular those topics were. If you’re still in the ideation phase, you can search for more general topics and keywords, and browse through these lists to find inspiration for your own topics.

    social sharing buzzsumo

    (Image Source: BuzzSumo)

    Be sure to check out the monitoring, area, where you’ll be able to keep an eye on what your competition is doing in terms of content and SEO on a regular basis.


    As you’ve already seen, SEMRush offers several different functions, including a keyword research and keyword ideation tool similar to the ones offered by Moz and Google that will break down things like search volume, cost-per-click (which can be used as an indirect way to measure competition), and SERP appearance.

    semrush keyword research

    (Image Source: SEMRush)

    However, where SEMRush really shines is its ability to help you monitor and analyze your performance. You can plug in your domain or URL and immediately see a plethora of information about your site, including your organic and paid search traffic, your inbound links, and your organic keyword rankings.

    Since Google doesn’t provide this information and manual hunting is a tedious pain, having all your major keyword rankings in one spot is incredibly beneficial—it can even help you discover keywords you didn’t know you were ranking for!

    In addition to this, you’ll be able to plug in a list of your own keywords and monitor your performance for those specifically.

    semrush dashboard

    (Image Source: SEMRush)

    SEMRush also gives you the ability to compare your domain to another domain, highlighting competitive opportunities and evaluating your relative performance.

    compare domains semrush

    (Image Source: SEMRush)


    Ubersuggest is one of the simpler tools on this list, but it’s highly valuable for generating new keyword ideas because of that simplicity. It uses Google’s suggest feature to come up with recommended variations of a target keyword or phrase that you enter—it’s a fantastic way to start general and work to more specific potential targets.

    ubersuggest tool

    (Image Source: Ubersuggest)

    All of these tools have strengths and weaknesses, and no single tool will provide you everything you need for a thorough bout of keyword and topic research. All of them are either free or offer free trials, so do yourself a favor and experiment with all of them.

    Regardless of what peripheral strategies you use for your campaign, keyword and topic research is essential if you want to employ your SEO and content strategy with any kind of direction. You can use it as intensively or as passively as you like, depending on your goals, as long as you keep in mind how Google functions with semantic search.

    Despite what you might hear, keywords are still very much a part of effective SEO—as long as you’re researching and implementing them properly.

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  2. How to Add Gamification to Your Website to Boost Engagement

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    GamificationGamification is becoming a significant trend that is destined to alter the way businesses interact with their customers. Are you ready to use games on your website to create breakthrough engagement with your readers? Read on, and we’ll explore what gamification is, and how to use it to amplify your online marketing efforts.

    What is Gamification?

    The marketing term “gamification” was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, but didn’t become popular until 2010. It describes marketing tactics which use game elements to drive user engagement with your website, application, or brand.

    According to Gartner, more than 70% of the top 2,000 companies are expected to have at least one gamified application by the end of 2014. Research by M2 Research shows that the gamification application, tools, and services market is projected to hit $5.5 billion by 2018.

    Gamification taps into the the human desire for rewards and competition. Users are motivated to compete against others to improve their status (ie, via a leaderboard) within a game. Gamification allows marketers to apply game mechanics to entice users to take action. These mechanics usually foster competition and reward users for reaching goals.

    Benefits of Gamification:

    Some of the benefits of gamification include:
    Education: Gamification can be an effective way to introduce your readers to a new product you are about to launch. You can use the game to teach your readers how to use a product before it is launched. Educational games can be an efficient way of collecting information for your business while educating people about your product.

    Engage with your customers: Gamification can help you engage with your customers and provide a frequent reason for them to return to your site. It will help your site to stay top of mind.

    Compelling data collection: Gamification platforms typically require a visitor to login with either social media credentials or an email address. After this information is freely given out, it will allow your company to gather data on the visitor as well as track where they go on your website. Gamification achievements can generate plenty of data associated with that account. This data can supply powerful customer information.
    Feedback can also be collected from games, which can help the company solve real business-related problems. If the feedback is utilized properly, it can also be used as a form of idea generation plucked from a massive number of users.

    How Gamification Works

    Most gamification uses certain tactics to get website visitors to participate:

    • Competition can be used to incite website visitors to achieve status and rewards. The status achieved in the games can be used to inspire people to purchase more products and services over time. In some cases, people are willing to spend money to achieve a higher status or additional tokens for gameplay.
    • Gaming elements can be used to make the marketing experience enjoyable to participants. This can provide better results than simply showing advertisements.
    • Gamification allows visitors to participate in the marketing process and keeps them engaged for longer periods of time.

    Gamification in the Real World

    Participation is what gamification is all about. Whenever you need to collect information from your clients with a survey, you can use gamification to improve results. By offering rewards such as a discount, coupon, or an offer to win a prize, you can increase the likelihood of participation. Another option is to require a survey question to be answered before proceeding to the next level of the game.

    Companies have used gamification to:

    • Entice travelers to use frequent flyer miles on a specific airline
    • Reward employees with the highest product knowledge
    • Encourage children to learn more about a given topic

    Adding Gamification to your Website

    Whether the goal is to track clicks, test sales, or collect data on surveys, make sure your game is an actionable step in your marketing objectives. Make the primary purpose of the game to collect this information for your marketing needs. In order for gamification to provide long-term user engagement, it needs to help your business.

    “Gamification is about better engagement with your audience and facilitating a more interactive experience with your company’s products and services,” said Ivo Lukas, CEO and founder of 24Notion.

    The underlying marketing objective of the game should be something such as encouraging visitors to use a new sales channel, obtaining feedback through surveys, driving new product or service adoption, or increasing frequency of purchases.

    Use gamification as a tactic to meet your measurable business goals. A good example of this would be increasing engagement with website visitors.

    “Gamification is far more than simply putting a branded game on your Web site. Track your progress toward achieving business goals in real-time. Don’t create a game for a game’s sake. If gamification is not providing measurable ROI, then you shouldn’t be doing it,” said Ryan Elkins, CEO and co-founder of IActionable.

    Crossing multiple marketing channels

    The best gamification platforms cross multiple marketing channels to include social media, online, off-line, and mobile devices. Make sure that the outcomes of the gameplay are available whenever and wherever your visitors want to share them. Allowing your visitors to play the game anytime they want across multiple channels will greatly increase participation.

    Test, test, and test some more

    Like any other web content, you should split test your game to see which version of content, videos, graphics, etc. provide greater participation. Split testing can also be a great way to see which awards provide the best engagement.

    Promote it

    Take every opportunity to talk about your new game on social media, your website, off-line, and more. Make sure that every visitor has the ability to play your incredible new game and is informed of the rewards that can be achieved.


    Gamification can improve engagement on your website while allowing you to collect more valuable data from your visitors. Whether it’s helpful information from surveys, increased engagement, or more, gamification can be an effective way to improve your website.

    Photo courtesy of rledda82

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  3. The 3 Core Elements of SEO in 2013: Content, Links, and Social Media


    SEO can be confusing. With dozens of acronyms, technical jargon, tools, programs, statistics, techniques, and all the talk about pandas and penguins, it’s pretty intimidating. Let alone the fact that SEO is a field that is in constant flux! In spite of the confusion, there’s a simple way to think about SEO campaigns today and beyond: as a set of three core elements which support each other to support an SEO campaign. Let’s take a look at each of these elements, as well as how to implement each of them to increase traffic, conversions, and ROI.

    What are the three core elements?

    Discussed in detail below, but provided here in survey form, the three core elements are as follows:

    1. Content – Create and Publish Great Content
    2. Inbound Links – Gain High-Quality Links
    3. Social Media – Be Active and Engage on Social Networks


    I call these the three core elements because they are necessary for any modern SEO campaign to succeed. Without each of these three core elements, your SEO campaign won’t be properly supported and will likely fail. Before launching into an explanation of the three core elements, there are a few things to understand about how they work together.

    • You must have all three core elements in order to have a successful SEO initiative. When performing SEO triage, you can’t simply decide to leave off one or more of these elements. Good SEO means being diligent in each of the three areas.
    • Each core element strengthens the others. When you build each of the SEO core elements in the right way, you are actively strengthening and supporting all of them. These SEO practices possess synergy. For example, when you create outstanding onsite content, you render it more likely that you’ll gain inbound links. More links usually mean additional social shares, which translates into more and stronger social signals. All three components are in play, and each is working to enhance the other two.
    • There are no shortcuts. You may finish reading this article with a sense of fatigue. Admittedly, doing SEO the right way is a ton of work. The hard-to-swallow truth of the matter is that you can’t take any shortcuts. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it all yourself. You can hire an in-house SEO specialist if your company is capable of it. Alternatively, you can contract an SEO firm to cover your needs.

    Core Element #1:  Content – Create and Publish Great Content

    The first core element comes first logically, because it involves your own website — the hub where everything happens. This element can also be called “onsite SEO” to distinguish from SEO practices that happen off your site, such as external content that garners inbound links (such as guest blog posts) and social media involvement. Here are the essentials:

        • Site Design. Good SEO can’t exist on a shoddy website. The design must be clean, simple, and intuitive.
        • User Experience. Hand-in-hand with a great site design is user experience or UI. Keep your user in mind with every action that you take on your website. If your site fails your user, you’ve failed with SEO. The whole point of SEO is to give the user what he or she is searching for. What’s more, if someone clicks through to your site and sees a load of ugliness, they’ll quickly close your website. This action is called a bounce. The search engines record every bounce, and a higher bounce rate can lead to decreased rankings.
        • Keyword Research. Many people are familiar with keyword research, or at least the idea of keywords. Keywords have been one of the few unchanging aspects of SEO. A site must regularly use, but not overuse, certain keywords that users are searching for. Be sure to use plenty of longtail keywords, those search strings that consist of three words or more. Additionally, you must never commit the cardinal SEO sin — keyword stuffing. Worrying about saturation rates and keyword frequency is a thing of the past. Use the keywords, yes, but don’t overuse them.
        • Content Optimization. Every website has content that only crawlers and browsers see. This is called the meta content, and it’s crucial for SEO. Even URLs are part of your content. Make sure you’re using best SEO practices in the following places:
          • URLs
          • Meta titles
          • Meta Description
          • Meta Keywords
          • Robots.txt
        • High-quality and frequently updated blog. Although you may have a spiffed-up website with all the right SEO meta data in place, you’re not done with SEO. A blog is a powerful weapon in the SEO arsenal. Without it, your SEO initiative will be severely hindered. Great content engages users; don’t neglect blogging. There are two important laws of blogs:
          • Update it frequently. The more frequently a blog is updated, the better it registers with the search engines. Keep your blog fresh.
          • Publish great content. A blog is only as good as the content on it. To put it bluntly, people don’t want to read crap. If you can’t write, hire someone who can. Content has to be so good that people are compelled to both read it and share it.

    Core Element #2: Inbound Links – Gain High-Quality Links

    Link building tactics include guest blogging, press release distribution, and other tactics as discussed in this post.

    How do search engines decide to bring your website up to the top of the search results? Top-notch onsite SEO is only the beginning. Search engines recognize that your site is important based on who is linking to it.

    Take this example. Let’s say you’re a yoga instructor. You have a website, and you start publishing some sweet articles about yoga. Somehow, Whole Living picks up on your content and asks you to do a guest post on yoga. You write a piece for Whole Living, and link back to your website.

    Whole Living has a domain authority of 80, which is way higher than your site. Bingo. As soon as they link to you, your website gains credibility and authority. Then, you interview a health instructor in a local private college and post the interview on your website. The yoga instructor, in turn, writes about the interview on her college blog and links to your site. Boom. You just got a link from an .edu website.

    Because you’re now a recognized authority on yoga, you publish an article in Lifehacker about the positive impact of yoga on work productivity. This article, of course, links back to your website. Another power move.

    All of these links to your site are driving up your authority. Your site has proven to the search engines its authority and recognition. Your rankings go up.

    No site will succeed in SEO unless other sites are linking to it. It’s just that simple.

    Here are the best ways to gain quality backlinks:

            • Guest blogging. Far and away, your best option for backlinks is guest blogging. Look for high-quality sites that allow you to submit your content including a link back to your site.
            • Press Releases. Creating a press release is a relatively simple way to create a link that possesses authority. The process is as simple as developing a well-written piece on something eventful in your company and submitting it to a press release distribution company such as PRWeb. The service comes at a cost, but it is well worth it.
            • Publish amazing content. All of the best websites have one thing in common:  They have rockstar content. Your site will succeed if you consistently publish outstanding material.
            • Get listed in local or industry directories and professional organizations. If your site isn’t yet listed in business directories, you may want to give it a try. Links from any reputable source will help to improve your site’s rankings. offers a fantastic service for building links from major local directories.

    Links are crucial. Ensure you have a solid strategy in place for building links.

    Core Element #3: Social Media – Be Active and Engage on Social Networks

    More than ever before, social media is an integral part of SEO. Search engines can quantify the amount of social clout that your site possesses. Merely getting a few dozen tweets can ramp up a page’s authority, and therefore its rankings, resulting in more traffic to it. The increasing market share of Google+ is a major factor in social ranking, including the power of Google authorship. Social signals matter for SEO.

    Keep these two points in mind.

            • It’s not enough to be present on social media. You must be active. If you want to succeed in the social arena, you need to monitor your social networks with vigilance. Twitter is a de facto complaint hotline in the minds of some users. Facebook serves as a place where customers ask questions. Neglecting these channels is like failing to respond to an important email from a customer.
            • Find the social niches that are right for your business. It’s obvious that you should be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. But these four sites are but a fraction of the social sites available to you. There are other social sites which serve niches of targeted customers. Find what niche sites best match your company profile, and jump in.

    The power of social for SEO can be subtle, but is nonetheless important. Provide sharing opportunities on every piece of content that you publish. The greater the social signals, the better your SEO.


    This is the state of SEO in 2013. SEO success is possible, but not without each of these core elements present and properly being engaged. It’s no longer easy to game the system and jump up the search engine rankings in Google with a few slick tricks. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

    But you do have a game plan — understand and design your strategy around the three core elements of SEO. As long as you 1) ensure that your onsite SEO is rolling smoothly, 2) you possess a robust and effective link building strategy, and 3) you’re staying active and engaging within social media channels, you’re going to succeed.

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  4. App Store Optimization – Is ASO the New SEO?

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    The mobile market has expanded to unforeseen dimensions in the past years. With the expansion of the mobile world, with the arrival of so many devices (tablets, smartphones of all sizes) it’s a different marketing environment – and very prolific if one truly evaluates its potential.

    App Store Optimization - ASO

    This might be one of the reasons why the term ASO – app store optimization – has become relevant for businesses looking to expand their reach. Studies have shown that many mobile users are more willing to click links and do their online shopping via their tablets or mobile phones, and they have a different attention span when interacting with those particular devices.

    Consider the following scenario – it’s one thing to work at the office and have all sorts of promotional links pop-up (most of which we all ignore) and another to have them while we’re already enjoying our leisure time, and we’re actually looking forward to finding out more about certain products.

    Mobile apps were seen at one point as a method to either increase productivity or challenge leisure time (games, media etc.) but on the other hand, why not use all those feats and integrate a bit of marketing within them?

    TechCrunch wrote an article a few months ago about the future of ASO and how it will demolish the concept of SEO as we know it. Nevertheless, let’s remain a little skeptical – is this truly the beginning of a new era?

    1.) App Optimization – Getting Started

    Creating an app for your company comes with many advantages. First, it creates visibility – consider that the mobile market is increasing quickly. 25 billion apps have been downloaded since Apple first launched their App Store – why shouldn’t your company be a part of that as well?

    Not to mention the fact that it’s a rather easy to manipulate market – building your own app isn’t difficult at all, they have a high degree of customizability and you can always push your competition aside by adding different features.

    And here comes the punch line – with so many apps out there, how will people know yours is available as well? Say hello to App Store Optimization! Essentially, all you used to know about SEO you will now start employing in your new ASO strategy.

    There are two important things you need to focus on with your new strategy:

    • Instead of being the first one on Google Search, you now need to be the first one in the Apple App search engine. Therefore, the first step would be figuring out how to get your app at the top of the app search page.
    • Instead of reacting to Google’s search algorithms, you will now have to start reacting to Apple’s search engine algorithms.

    So, if you’ve managed to get your SEO strategy in place, you should have a pretty awesome view of what to do with your ASO. The ASO process starts as soon as you’ve finished your app development state. Right before deployment and launch in the AppStore, you need to focus on the right strategy for your product.

    Let’s go over the numbers one more time – you have to beat about 600,000 apps on the AppStore and about 450,000 apps on Android’s Google Play. Of course, you can’t hope your app will succeed from the beginning without a little boost. Then, the popularity will kick in and push it over the top.

    2.) Optimizing Your App – Essential Concepts

    This might sound like a broken record, but ASO is a lot like SEO and whatever you used to do to optimize your business’ website for search engines will work for your app as well. In other words, focusing on concepts such as metadata, keywords, head titles and so on should still be part of your daily routine. Let’s go over some of these concepts and see if anything has changed.

    • Focusing on the right audience – Desktop visitors and mobile visitors are two separate entities; make sure you adjust accordingly. Google Analytics can help you with this task using the “Mobile Visitor” tab in your dashboard.
    • Keywords – Similar to website SEO, there are a few tools to figure out what the best keywords for your app might be in order to gather more users to download your product. There are other tools to measure how well your competition is doing, and what product volume they have.
    • Focusing on marketing – Of course, marketing has its own little branch and while it’s not as important as the previous points, it still has its highlights. Consider the fact that your business, your website and your app need to intertwine in terms of marketing – they all need to send out a cohesive message, so people will get the right interaction. Advertising your app on your website simply makes sense. If you want people to buy it or download it, make sure you post a link directly in Google Play’s dashboard or Apple’s AppStore for easier interaction. Using social media to promote your new app is essential as well.

    3.) Optimizing Your App – Essential Tools

    Apart from having the right strategy, you also need the right tools for the job. Here are some tools to make your job a little easier:

    • – Determining what keywords your competitors are using for their product is a great jumpstart for your strategy. While you won’t be focusing exactly on what they’re doing, you will have a general idea of how they reached those high App Store rankings. Not to mention that you can borrow some keyword info and maybe find a better strategy.
    • Flurry – This is one of the most popular analytics tools for mobile strategies and has been used by mobile developers for a long time to keep track of usage patterns. It’s not enough to have an incredible amount of users download the app, it has to also be useful to them because this supports and augments word-of-mouth advertising. Analyzing your audience and figuring out their usage patterns can help you figure what you should change in your next app version and how users see it from a usability point of view.

    Conclusion – ASO or SEO?

    Actually, both. SEO has been and will be around for a long time, and it’s not going away until search engines go away (read: not for a very long time).

    The truth is, they complement each other in a wonderful manner. After all, both help promote your business, and both help it stay first in line – whether it’s on the app store or on the Web.

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  5. “SEO Tips” You Should Ignore at All Costs

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    SEO is the process of increasing a site’s visibility during a search.

    Since its inception, Google, now indisputably the world’s largest search engine, has laid out most of the standards currently followed by webmasters and site owners to get their sites to the top of search results.

    Unfortunately, scheming individuals believed they could punk search engine systems. They manipulated their way up to the top of search results and pocketed huge amounts of profit … but their successes have been short-lived.

    In update after update, all the search engines, but especially Google, flexed their strength and affirmed a commitment to providing quality: they blasted spam and offensive sites in a sincere and usually successful effort to guarantee a user-friendly search experience.

    First in a series of major search algorithm overhauls was Panda, which penalized sites with low-quality content.

    Next came Google Penguin, an algorithmic update that swept search results of spammy sites. It cracked down on websites that feature questionable link profiles, and cleared others that betrayed an over-optimization of exact-match keywords.

    Most recently, Google rolled out the EMD (Exact-Match Domain) update, which sought to penalize sites that have exact-match domain names, but offer content of demonstrably little value.

    While effective, this series of updates risked wiping more legitimate websites from the map along with the ugly ones. Maybe this happened to a site you own. If this happened to you, resist the urge to panic and grasp at quick but counterproductive solutions.

    To help you avoid getting unnecessarily penalized by any of the recent stringent algorithmic updates rolled out by Google, below are some of the “SEO tips” floating around that you should firmly ignore. Treat them like diseases.

    Create doorway pages
    Doorway pages are heavily utilized by blackhat SEO practitioners. These feature very poor quality content, but have been created and optimized for a single keyword to point to a single page. Doorway pages are a direct violation of Google’s recently updated webmaster guidelines.

    Cloak links
    Another widely practiced spam technique is link cloaking. Link cloaking tries to deceive search engines and users by hiding URLs. This is done by disguising a link via a tinyurl service so that the displayed URL is transformed. The goal is to increase clickthrough rates (CTRs) by duping users into clicking on a friendly looking or pretty link.

    Use HTTP header cloaking
    One of the surest ways to get effectively banned from the search engines is by the use of HTTP header-cloaking schemes. This tactic sends HTTP headers to search engines that are different from the ones sent to users.

    An example of this is when good content on a high-ranking page is replaced with a sign-up form with the expires and cache control headers changed in an attempt to mislead search engines into retaining the page’s ranking.

    Apply javascript redirects
    Search engines crawl Javascript codes. However, search engine robots may not index the links that are hidden within the Javascript codes. Javascript redirects are not necessarily bad. They’re a coding scheme used to notify users when a page is moved, so that users get automatically forwarded to the site’s new location. However, blackhat SEOs have used them as a sneaky tactic to dupe both the search engines and the users.

    Hijack links
    Link hijacking yet another form of cloaking. This happens when the anchor text leads visitors to a different page. The goal is to hide the URL that contains specific keywords for which the page is optimizing, in a deceptive anchor text.

    Why would folks want to use these deceptive tactics? These have been practiced by blackhatters not just to deceive the search engines, but to make a quick buck.

    Fortunately for those of us who play by the rules and maintain legitimate online businesses, the search engines are getting smarter. It’s increasingly difficult to get around search engine algorithms, and we can only hope that eventually there will be no other way to play it than their way.

    If you still have questions about the proper search engine optimization techniques that won’t get you banned from the search engines, talk to us and we’ll show you great ways to push your site to the top of the search results.


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  6. 6 Reasons Why Startups Need SEO

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    The Internet has fueled an almost exponential growth in startups. Industries worldwide see a total of about 50 million new startups per year.

    From biotechnology to social media, each year sees a staggering number of new businesses. Each one struggles to get its operations off the ground to profitability. A few get lucky by landing a generous venture capitalist who is willing to shell out millions of dollars for their growth.

    Not all startups get lucky, obviously. Some fold after months of fighting to break even. Others pump thousands, even millions, of dollars of their own funds into the new venture.

    But a few startups quietly rake in profits from the get-go. Even without the help of angel investors, these winners often take advantage of a factor the others fail to fully utilize: Search Engine Optimization.

    Experts disagree about whether startups need SEO or not. Some contend that all a startup needs are brilliant ideas and access to VC funding, which is what happened in the case of Facebook and Twitter.

    But if luck isn’t on your side, and no investor is buying your story, SEO can be a solid bet, for several great reasons.

    #1: Most online experiences begin with a search
    About 93% of all online experiences start with a search. That’s an astounding figure, given the fact that, at any moment in time, hundreds of millions of people are online. Most rely on search engines more than social media recommendations when they look for products or services. The subjects of searches range from plumbing to roofing to health care and cosmetic surgery.

    If your startup isn’t optimized for search, chances are your customers will end up finding your competitors instead.

    #2 SEO provides proof of sustainability
    If you are running a startup and looking for a significant amount of funds to expand your business, it’s just not enough to have brilliant ideas on your side. One of the first things investors look for are proofs of sustainability.

    How visible is your site during searches? How much traffic does your business attract on a monthly basis? How many of your visitors convert into leads?

    While investors may not ask you these questions directly, when you can show them the numbers, you will start from a position of tremendous confidence and impress your audience.

    Proper SEO helps ensure that a significant number of highly targeted people will visit your site on a monthly basis and many of them will likely be converted into paying customers.

    #3 Marketing intelligence
    Marketing intelligence used to be a highly expensive proposition. Mega-corporations spend billions of dollars a year to find out what the market wants. With SEO, you will have an extremely affordable method of sussing out the market. You will gain access to what your target audience is specifically searching for, how many people are looking for the products you are offering, and what language they use to find your business.

    You may also gain information on factors driving people toward your business that you might not even have considered.

    #4 Cost-effective lead generation
    Developing leads to whom you can steadily market your products and services can also be extremely costly. With the advent of SEO, however, getting your products right into the faces of your target customers has become remarkably cheap. The rise of Social SEO has made it even easier to get the word out about your business, at an even faster rate.

    #5 SEO lets startups build a solid search engine reputation
    SEO can not only push startups to the top of searches; it also provides them with an effective way to build a solid reputation online. In the cut-throat world of Internet marketing, competitors sometimes generate damaging reviews about a business.

    With proper SEO strategies, you can dominate the search engines with your own content, and direct your target audience to favorable reviews when they search for you or your business.

    #6 SEO helps you expand your niches
    By properly researching your market using SEO tools and strategies, you could identify niches related to your business that no other companies have yet explored. You can also dominate your local market by identifying your business with local attributes.

    As they say, luck favors the prepared. In the world of online marketing, the best way to prepare a startup for success is by creating a solid presence in search.

    If you’ve got questions about how SEO can help your business improve or corner a market, let us know and we will gladly show you how we can help.


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  7. How to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities


    Guest blogging, as an SEO tactic, has long been considered an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. It’s also been considered one of the safest, most “white-hat” methods of link building in the SEO’s arsenal, but over the last several years, has largely been put on the backburner as most SEOs pursued more powerful (albeit, more risky) tactics.

    But with the rollout of Google Penguin, everything changed. Guest blogging services are cropping up everywhere (including here, at AudienceBloom) as the industry begins to realize that guest blogging, as a link building tactic, is one of the few safe havens left after Penguin demolished many of the lower-cost, higher quantity tactics that SEOs came to rely upon over the course of the past several years.

    As the new darling of the SEO industry, the popularity of guest blogging is growing exponentially. But while many SEOs are just now learning about the benefits of guest blogging, many are still in the dark about how, exactly, to do it.

    There are lots of great guides available on the Web that offer nuggets of information about guest blogging, but I haven’t been able to find any that really dig deep into the most difficult part of guest blogging: Actually finding the blogs to guest post on. This guide is meant to provide a thorough, step-by-step walk-through of exactly how to find guest blogging opportunities. And I’m going to show you how to do it by using one of my favorite internet marketing tools: Scrapebox.

    Saddled with an unfortunate reputation for being a tool useful only for propagating blog comment spam, Scrapebox is actually one of the few internet marketing tools I use on a daily basis—and for only ethical, white-hat purposes.

    What You’ll Need:

    • Scrapebox (download it here for a one-time fee of $57. TOTALLY worth it.)
    • Private proxies (Get them from Proxybonanza for a small monthly fee. I recommend going for the “Bonanza” package from the “Exclusive Proxies” section.) Note: That Proxybonanza link is an affiliate link. I’d really appreciate if you’d buy through my link!

    How are We Going to Use Scrapebox to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities?

    Scrapebox will execute multiple search queries simultaneously in Google and Bing, automatically harvest all the results, and allow us to manipulate, augment, and export the data.

    For example, let’s say you want to find good guest blogging opportunities for your website about canine epilepsy. To find other websites that rank well for the term (and similar terms) which might be good targets for a guest blog post, you’d want to examine the top 100 search results for the following search queries:

    • Dog seizures
    • Canine epilepsy
    • Canine seizures
    • Seizures in dogs

    Without Scrapebox, you’d have to perform each of those searches manually (via, manually click through each of the top 10 pages, and copy/paste each URL into a spreadsheet for future follow-up. This process would easily take you at least an hour.

    With Scrapebox, you supply the search queries, and it will perform the searches, collect the URLs of the top 100 results, and supply them to you in an Excel spreadsheet. Additionally, you can use Scrapebox to automatically find the PageRank of the domain of each search result, allowing you to filter out low-PR domains without having to manually visit them. Scrapebox also offers myriad other filtering options, such as the ability to ignore results from domains that would never accept a guest blog post, such as,, etc. All of the above processes can easily be completed in under 60 seconds.

    Ready to take your link prospecting capabilities to a whole new level? Let’s get started.

    Step 1: Load your proxies into Scrapebox

    After obtaining your proxies, load them into a .txt file on your desktop in the following format:


    Here’s an example:



    In Scrapebox, click “Load” under the “Select Engines & Proxies” area. Select the text file containing your proxies. Scrapebox should load them immediately, and look something like this:



    Click “Manage” and then “Test Proxies” to test your proxies and ensure Scrapebox can successfully activate and use them.

    test proxies


    Be sure that “Google” and “Use Proxies” are both checked.

    Step 2: Choose a keyword that best represents your niche or vertical

    For example, let’s say I’m trying to find guest blogging opportunities for my website about canine epilepsy. I would select “dogs” as my keyword. I could go for a more targeted approach and try “canine epilepsy” or “dog seizures” as my keyword, but I’m likely to find much less (albeit more targeted) prospects.

    Step 3: Define your search queries.

    Copy and paste the following search queries into a .txt document on your desktop, and replace each instance of [keyword] with your chosen keyword from Step 2.

    Note: The following is my personal list of search queries that I use to identify guest blogging opportunities. Google limits queries to 32 words, which is why these are broken down into many chunks rather than one long query. Enjoy!

    “submit blog post” OR “add blog post” OR “submit an article” OR “suggest a guest post” OR “send a guest post” “[keyword]”

    “guest bloggers wanted” OR “contribute to our site” OR “become a contributor” OR “become * guest writer” “[keyword]”

    “guest blogger” OR “blog for us” OR “write for us” OR “submit guest post” OR “submit a guest post” “[keyword]”

    “become a guest blogger” OR “become a guest writer” OR “become guest writer” OR “become a contributor” “[keyword]”

    “submit a guest post” OR “submit post” OR “write for us” OR “become an author” OR “guest column” OR “guest post” “[keyword]”

    inurl:”submit” OR inurl:”write” OR inurl:”guest” OR inurl:”blog” OR inurl:”suggest” OR inurl:”contribute” “[keyword]”

    inurl:”contributor” OR inurl:”writer” OR inurl:”become” OR inurl:”author” OR inurl:”post” “[keyword]” [keyword] “guest post” OR “guest blog” OR “guest author”

    Step 4: Load Search Queries into Scrapebox.

    In the “Harvester” section in Scrapebox, click “Import,” then “Import from file.” Select the file containing the search queries that you just created in Step 3. Scrapebox should then populate with the search queries, looking something like this:


    Step 5: Update your blacklist.

    Scrapebox has a “blacklist” which allows you to automatically filter out undesired search results. For example, I know that and will never accept a guest blog post, so I don’t want results from those domains appearing in my list.

    To edit your blacklist, click “Black List” from the top navigation, then click “Edit local black list.”

    edit blacklist

    After you start using Scrapebox and receiving output lists, you’ll begin to notice undesirable domains that often appear in search results. As you notice these, add them to your local blacklist so they never appear again. Here are a few good sites to add to begin with:

    Step 6: Set Search Depth in Scrapebox

    Next, define how many search results Scrapebox should harvest for each query. You can do this in the “Select Engines & Proxies” area, in the text field next to “Results.” I generally set it to 200 or 300.

    search depth



    Step 7: Start Harvesting

    We’re now ready to start harvesting search results for our queries. Click “Start Harvesting” in the “URL’s Harvested” section.

    start harvesting



    harvester in action

    Harvester in action



    Finished harvesting

    Finished harvesting


    Step 8: Filter results by PageRank


    You should now have a list of websites that Scrapebox harvested, which looks something like this:


    The next step is to filter these results by PageRank, since we don’t want to waste our time reaching out to websites with a low PR. Scrapebox makes this super easy. Click “Check PageRank” then select “Get Domain PageRank.”

    Check PageRank

    pagerank complete

    Next, click “Import/Export URL’s & PR.” Click “Export as Excel” and export the file to your desktop. Open the file on your desktop and re-save it if need be (sometimes the file is corrupt, but by re-saving it and deleting the older version, you can easily solve this).

    Column A should contain a list of all the harvested URLs. Column B will contain the PageRank of each domain. Add column headers to column A (URL) and column B (PR).

    Next, sort column B by PR, in order of largest to smallest. To do this, highlight column B by clicking on the column header, then click “Sort & Filter” in the “Home” tab in Excel. Then, click “Sort A to Z.”


    You’ll see a popup box asking if you’d like to expand the selection. Do so, and click “sort.”

    Expand selection

    Remove all the rows with a PR of 2 or lower. We only want to target PR 3 and above.

    Step 9: Manually Filter & Qualify the Remaining Websites.

    You should now have a list of hundreds or thousands of potential candidates for guest blog post outreach. Add two more columns to your spreadsheet:

    • Follow up?
    • Contact information

    Use the “Follow up?” column to note whether the website would make a good candidate for guest blog post outreach. If so, use the “Contact information” column to note the webmaster or author’s email address, or the URL where the contact form can be found.

    While reviewing each website, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether it’s worthy of outreach for a guest blog post:

    1. Is the website designed well?
    2. Does it have a social following? Are they active in social media? Do they have social media icons on their website? Do they have a Facebook fan count on their website?
    3. Do the other posts on the website look well-written and informative, or is this website full of spam or scraped content?

    Use your best judgment to decide whether the website is worthy of follow-up.

    You’ll also notice lots of results from Twitter (if you used my queries supplied above). Visit each tweet and try to figure out whether the author has a blog and accepts guest posts. If so, follow that author on Twitter, and then reach out politely to ask them about doing guest blogging for their website.

    Step 10: Finalize Your List for Follow-Up.

    After you’ve finished manually reviewing each website and deciding whether it’s worthy of asking for a guest blogging opportunity, save your Excel file and begin your outreach to the authors & webmasters.

    Scrapebox has several very useful “Addons” which you can access from the “Addons” menu. For link prospecting, I recommend installing the “WhoIs Scraper.” This handy tool will automatically crawl your list of links and perform a “WhoIs” lookup to tell you the following information about each domain:

    • Registration Date
    • Registration Expiration Date
    • Registered owner’s name
    • Registered owner’s email address

    You can use the name and email address information to aid in finding contact information for each of your prospects.

     WhoIs Scraper


    Establish and grow your relationships with each one, and you’ll be scoring guest blog posts in record time! So, are you going to try it? Leave a comment and tell us whether or not this method has saved you tons of time!

    Want more information on link building? Head over to our comprehensive guide on link building here: SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

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  8. 6 On-Page Optimization Best Practices For the Post-Penguin SEO World


    It’s still all about Penguin, isn’t it?

    Yes, but that’s because I’d like to arm you with as much information as possible, so instead of battling Pandas and Penguins, you can cuddle with these cute animals; after all, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make love than war.

    As you may already know, Google Penguin is just getting started. Additionally, we’re in the midst of a new era of SEO where traditional SEO is becoming more seamlessly intertwined with social media.

    And who knows how much more of Google Penguin we’ll see in coming days, weeks, or months.

    We’ve covered the basics as far as recovering from Google Penguin is concerned. We know that these days, more than ever, the only legitimate way to attain rankings is to provide quality and relevant content to users, in order to obtain links naturally.

    No more tricks, says the Penguin.

    In this post, I’ll share with you six on-page optimization best practices that conform to Google Penguin’s guidelines. I’ll focus on key optimization considerations that will help you create a more reputable image for your site both in the eyes of your audience and of the search engines. Let’s get started.

    Keyword density (keyword what?)

    Not long ago, SEOs were concerned about keyword density, or the number of keyword occurrences as a ratio of the overall number of words on the page. The acceptable keyword density used to be somewhere between 2% and 4%, which meant that for every 100 words, a specific keyword (note that I use “keyword” interchangeably with “keyphrase”) should occur two to four times.

    Today, however, keyword density is no longer a ranking factor (was it ever?). Search technology has tremendously evolved over the years to recognize the relevance of certain content to a topic.

    SEOs now advocate the use of Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI). Simply put, LSI refers to the use of relevant terms to the content’s target keywords. So if you’re gunning for the keyword “consumer electronics”, you can use that exact keyword within the first few sentences of the content and then use related terms such as “gadgets”, “electronics”, etc. throughout the rest of the content.

    Tip: You can find LSI terms for any given keyword by using Google’s Keyword Tool. Alternatively, you can perform a search for your keyword in Google and then scroll to the bottom of the first page, where you’ll see some other suggested search terms. These suggested search terms are LSI terms for the keyword you queried.

    While I still recommend using your target keywords exactly within the post title, meta description tags, and in the first and last paragraph of your text body copy, I highly recommend using as many varying LSI terms within the content’s body as you can muster.

    However, if your target keyword is tricky to use in a grammatically-correct way, such as “Roofing L.A.”, then don’t force the issue; just settle on using each word within the keyphrase as closely together as possible.

    Don’t forget internal linking

    Internal linking is still an important aspect of on-page optimization. There are several key benefits to internal linking:

    • Reduces bounce rate, as it promotes relevant internal content to your audience
    • Helps search engines determine the importance and relevance of your pages within your domain
    • Helps Google and other search engine spiders crawl and index your pages more easily and effectively
    • Helps users easily find their way around your site, lending to a more positive overall user experience, and time-on-site metrics
    • Allows you to control anchor text to each individual page, helping search engines understand what keywords you believe the destination page is relevant for

    Generally, websites with good internal linking strategies rank better in search results.

    Link to relevant information outside your site

    Whenever possible, link to sites that offer relevant information to your content. You may have already noticed that I’ve done so in this very post.

    This makes your link structure more natural and it provides value to your audience. Don’t worry about linking to your competitors occasionally, either. Linking to related websites helps Google understand what circle of relevance your website falls under. Plus, giving props to a competitor with a link shows a lot of confidence in your product, and can speak volumes about your business.

    Keep it fresh and useful

    Google Panda and Penguin take into account the freshness of content. That’s why setting up a blog for your site is so crucial these days. With a blog, you can post new and useful information as often as you want. This helps in many ways:

    • Supplies new content to your existing audience, keeping your brand top-of-mind (and thus, makes your audience more likely to convert)
    • Helps grow your audience by drawing in new readers
    • Establishes niche authority/credibility
    • Increases traffic via social channels (due to shares, mentions, tweets, etc.)
    • Increases organic search traffic because it adds more content that can be turned up in the search results
    • Gets you more opportunities to receive natural inbound links when other authors reference your existing content

    Ideally, you should update your blog at least once per business day.

    You also want to post information that is extremely useful and relevant to your audience. How-to posts and posts on trending topics are preferred by most readers. If you constantly post useful information you will give your audience plenty of reasons to visit your site regularly. Lame content that nobody cares about won’t help you at all; if it doesn’t provide some sort of value to your readers, don’t even bother posting it.

    Be original

    Remember how sites with duplicate content were killed early in 2011? Google’s stern stance against duplicate content still stands.

    Sites with internal duplicate content are also at risk. If you’re not sure if your site has internal duplicate content, you can use Google’s Sitemaps (Google Webmaster Tool) to check for duplicate content.

    Keep ads to a minimum

    For many users, ads are simply annoying. But from a search engine perspective, peppering a site with ads can actually hurt your rankings.

    But how much is too much?

    Avoid setting up more than two ads, especially above the fold. Ideally, keep ads to a maximum of two per page. And if you are going to serve ads within your pages, serve only those that are extremely relevant and valuable to your users.


    There you have it, quick and easy tips for proper on-page optimization. If you have questions or if you need help with your on-page optimization initiative, contact us and we’ll be happy to offer a free consultation.


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  9. How to Perform Keyword Research with Google AdWords Keyword Tool


    Google AdWords LogoKeyword research is crucial to online marketing success, because keywords still govern the way people find information online. Keywords help us accurately find the information that we are looking for among the flood of information on the Web.

    As such, proper keyword research with quality keyword research software allows you to understand what set of keywords consumers are using to find what they need. It also allows you to select proper keywords for an SEO campaign based off key metrics such as search volume, competition, and seasonal demand.

    But with all the research tools available out there, which one should you use?

    Here’s a hint: Marketers are vying for a prime spot on Google. Doesn’t it make sense to use a keyword tool owned by Google?

    Google’s own Google Adwords Keyword Tool is one of the best keyword research tools available. This is largely due to the fact that most other keyword research tools pull data directly from Google’s tool via API. While 3rd party tools often do a better job of displaying Google’s data and combining that data with other data to present proprietary or unique insights, they are broken as often as Google changes its keyword tool (which, lately, has been daily).

    Since most 3rd party tools draw on data from Google’s keyword tool, my experience with them has been one of unreliability. Furthermore, the proprietary data insights that are often provided by 3rd party keyword research tools are often misleading, inaccurate, or downright useless.

    Add in the fact that Google’s keyword tool is free, and you have a compelling case. Let’s take a close look at this awesome keyword research tool.

    The interface

    In recent years, Google Adwords Keyword Tool’s interface has gone through several transformations, but the latest has resulted in a cleaner and simpler-to-use interface.

    Google AdWords Keyword Tool

    On the main interface is the word or phrase box, where you type the keywords you’re researching. Right below it are Website and Category.

    Right below the main box on the interface is the Advanced Options and Filters feature, which lets you more specifically target your research to certain countries, languages, and devices from which traffic is coming.

    On the left are several features that let you customize your research further by selecting the match types of the keywords you’re looking for, whether broad or exact.

    Step by step: zeroing in on the right keywords

    For the sake of illustration, I’ll walk you through the steps on how to do research for keywords based on Exact Match, which I recommend using for SEO campaigns.

    Let’s say you’re gunning for “LinkedIn Marketing”.

    1. Type “LinkedIn Marketing” on the Word or phrase box.keyword
    2. You can leave out category for the keywords we’re using here, but for accuracy, I recommend you choose the most appropriate category for the keywords you’re researching.
    3. Click on the Advanced Options and Filters feature.AdWords Tool Advanced Options
    • Choose the country you’re targeting
    • Select the language
    • Select the device you wish to know where traffic is coming from
    • Be sure to include information such as Local Monthly Searches, Competition and Global Monthly SearchesAdWords Keyword Tool Advanced Options

    4. On the left hand side of the page you’ll see Match Types

    • Select “Broad” if you wish to see how “LinkedIn Marketing” is broadly used on searches
    • Select “Exact” if you wish to see the numbers for “LinkedIn Marketing” using exactly those termsAdWords Keyword Exact and Broad Match

    Now it’s time to move on to the next phase of the research – gleaning information from the results.

    The Keyword Ideas section shows the main keywords, i.e. “LinkedIn Marketing” and the list of variations for the keywords, the Competition and the numbers for Local and Global Monthly Searches.Keyword Results

    The list of Keywords column shows results for the main keywords and its variations. In the case of Exact Match, the column shows the exact set of words or phrases consumers use to learn about “LinkedIn Marketing”.

    The Competition column shows how competition looks whether it’s Low, Medium or High. Aim for keywords with Low competition. Keywords with low competition will have a better chance of hitting the first page of Google’s search results.

    But don’t discount keywords with Medium to High competition; you can target them for your long-term campaigns.

    The Local Monthly Searches column shows the average number of searches for the keywords in a specific country or region in a typical month. Global Monthly Searches, on the other hand, shows the average number of people worldwide looking for information on “LinkedIn Marketing”.

    For easy reference, you can download the results in spreadsheet format by hitting the Download button right above the Keyword Ideas section.

    Combine insights from Google’s Keyword Tool with data from an SEO competition comparison tool such as my personal favorite, Market Samurai (that’s an affiliate link – thank you for clicking, if you do!). If you or your clients’ website metrics stack up to the competition, then go for it.


    The Google Adwords Keyword Tool is an excellent keyword research tool. While it doesn’t give you exact numbers (not that any tool can), it’ll provide you with a good idea of which keywords to use as well as which ones to avoid. It’s clean, simple, and reliable, and when combined with insights from an SEO competition analysis tool, it gets the job done efficiently and effectively.

    To find out more about keyword research and how to select the right keywords for your business’ SEO campaign, contact us!

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  10. When Will I Recover My Rankings after Google Penguin?


    The dust has now settled after Google’s Penguin update, offering us a clearer view of the damage sustained by affected sites. We can now clearly see the multi-faceted effects of–and reasons for–the update.

    If your website was affected, the questions you’re probably asking are, “When will I recover my rankings?” and “What do I need to do to recover my rankings?”

    Algorithmic Penalties vs. Manual Penalties

    The good news is that Google Penguin is algorithmic, and algorithmic penalties are not permanent. Take a look at the video below, in which Matt Cutts discusses algorithmic penalties and how they work.

    At the 0:46 mark, Matt Cutts says:

    So, if your site is affected by an algorithm, for the most part, if you change your site, whatever the characteristics are that’s flagging, triggering, or causing us to think you might have keyword stuffing, or whatever, if you change your site, then after we’ve re-crawled and re-indexed the page, and some period after that when we’ve re-processed that in our algorithms, for the most part your site should be able to pop back up or increase in its rankings.

    Starting at the 1:10 mark, Matt Cutts discusses manual penalties:

    Now, on the manual side, as far as I can think of, the vast majority of the time, what we try to do is we try to have, essentially a time-out. So, if it’s hidden text, you might have a penalty for having hidden text, and then after, say, 30 days, that would expire. And then if you’re doing something more severe, if you’re doing some cloaking or some really malicious stuff, that will last for a longer period of time, but eventually that will also expire. So we try to write things such that if you improve your site, if it’s affected by an algorithm, or even if you’ve done something within your site, eventually that would normally time out.

    If you received an unnatural link warning from Google, you may have a manual penalty. Here’s an excerpt of Matt Cutts’ interview during SMX Advanced on June 5th, 2012, in which he discusses the unnatural link warnings that were sent out to webmasters:

    Danny Sullivan: If you submit a warning for unnatural links do you submit a reconsideration request?

    Matt Cutts: Yes, because it was a manual penalty

    Matt Cutts: we want to see a real effort in that you remove those links. We want to see effort. We look at a random sample to see if those links are removed or not. If you remove 90% or so, you are in better shape. We understand it is difficult and we are talking to the webmaster tools to add a disavow link feature.

    Danny Sullivan: If you were hit by Penguin and Panda, should I just give up?

    Matt Cutts: Sometimes, but both are algorithmic and if you change the site and your signals, then you can come back.

    The Road to Recovery

    If your site was hit, there are a number of activities you can engage in to help unwind the effects of Penguin. But before you can begin doing these, you first need to know the reason why you were hit by Google Penguin. The two core non-Google Penguin compliant activities include:

    • Unnatural linking (onsite and offsite)
    • Keyword stuffing (over-use of exact-match keywords in your onsite copy)

    Affected site owners who were quick to identify these problems and implemented Penguin compliant amendments have seen varying amounts of time it took to recover their sites’ rankings. Some recovered within a month, and others are still on the road to recovery, with no end in sight.

    The answer to our question on how long it will take to recover rankings post-Penguin depends on the following factors:

    • How frequently Google crawls your site
    • The level of access of you have to your site
    • How quickly you can identify and fix the problems

    Webmasters with sites that have years of manipulated linking relationships with other sites may find themselves entangled in an especially tricky mess. The only options are to either clean up or start over from scratch (ouch!). The problem is that on April 24th (the day Penguin was released), Google abruptly “changed its mind” on over a decade of previously established best practices. Literally overnight, anchor text became a dangerous weapon rather than a strategic tool for savvy SEOs. This midnight shift in policy left millions of webmasters in the dust; websites that had long held top rankings for competitive keywords saw their rankings fall into oblivion, wiping out website traffic and sales. The longer webmasters had been engaging in manipulated linking practices, the more severely their sites were hit; and the more difficult it is to undo the penalty.

    But if your site is relatively new and you got hit, you may be fortunate, depending on how far you are into your link building strategy.

    Let’s take a look at the factors I mentioned above that could determine how long before you see your site or pages return to their previous rankings.

    How frequently Google crawls your site

    Google’s crawl rate is an algorithmic process, meaning it’s not determined by any individual at Google. A lot of factors are at play to alert crawlers on how often they should visit a site. These factors include, but are not limited to:

    • Number of parameters in a URL
    • Number, source, and recency of links to a page
    • Site’s PageRank
    • Frequency of content updates
    • Date of last page update

    However, you can “train” crawlers on how often your site should be visited. Google crawlers frequent sites that are updated with fresh content. News sites, for example, get visited more often than other sites, while some sites that offer real-time information such as live-score sites (for sports broadcasts) are visited every second.

    If your site is set up for Google Webmaster tools, take a look at the Sitemaps section to give you a good picture of how often Google visits your site. If you’ve kept your site updated with fresh content daily for at least several months, there’s a good chance that Google visits your site on a daily basis.

    The level of access you have to your site

    Your role on your site plays a vital part in its road to recovery after Google Penguin. If your site is a blog and you personally take care of on-site optimization, you can easily clean things up. But then again, that depends on the number of pages and posts your blog has.

    For off-site linking activities, you may need to check your Google Analytics (if set up for your site), Google Webmaster Tools inbound links, or a 3rd party link data provider such as Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer to see which sites link to you.

    Identify websites linking to you with exact-match anchor text and reach out to the webmaster, asking to remove or change the link. Here’s the exact email template I have developed, which works well for this purpose:

    Subject line: Link Removal Request



    My name is Jayson, and I represent [your website URL]. I wanted to thank you for linking to our site from [linking page URL] However, it has come to our attention that this link may have been acquired against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It is important for us to bring our site into compliance. Additionally, the link points to a website which Google has penalized, which could cause harm to your website’s rankings. Could you please remove our link from this page and any other page on your site?

    Thank You,


    If you’re operating a large website with many pages, hire an SEO professional to do a total site audit for you. Also conduct a backlink profile audit to identify any external links that may be bringing you down.

    How quickly you can identify and fix the problems

    The sooner you can identify and fix problems that may be affecting your rankings, the sooner your recovery will be. It’s currently unknown whether websites affected by Google Penguin will need to wait until the next Penguin refresh in order to recover their rankings. Unfortunately, if that’s the case, then it may be a while until you recover, because Google has only pushed out two known Penguin updates: The original (on April 24th) and Penguin 1.1 (on May 25th).

    As soon as it becomes more clear whether Penguin recovery can happen between Penguin refreshes, I’ll update this blog post. My intuition says it can, but the jury’s still out for now.

    Obviously, the time it takes to recover from Google Penguin is not set in stone. Your rankings could be back in a matter of weeks or months, depending on the level of commitment and work you put in.


    I hope you find this post useful in understanding how long it should take for your site’s rankings to recover if you got hit by Penguin, as well as what steps you can do to speed up recovery.

    If you need help in making your site Google Penguin compliant, please leave a comment or contact us to set up a consultation.

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