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A step-by-step content optimization guide

Evgeniy Nosov
By: Evgeniy Nosov
May 7th, 2019

About the author

Evgeniy Nosov
Evgeniy Nosov is an SEO with 7+ years of experience. He has been responsible for SEO strategy and quality control in one of the largest agencies in the CIS. Now he is engaged in large international projects as an SEO consultant.

Preamble: To start with, I believe that any piece of content you create should bring value to users, be cool, informative, excellent in quality, and interesting to read. Thus, the universal principles of content creation are really well - known to everyone - apply common sense and think about your readers.

However, as we still want to rank for keywords, we shouldn’t forget about search engines. So in this case, content creation (and optimization) seems a bit like being a “servant of two masters” and finding good optimization balance to make both readers and search engines favor your creation.

As an SEO guy, I’d like to dwell on the SEO part of content creation and share my approach and some best practices I’ve elaborated during the years of my work. How to search for keywords and how to use them wisely on your page? How to understand what to write about by analyzing SERPs? How to ensure your copy is relevant enough?

Below, I’ll share my way to answer these questions in the form of a step-by-step guide. Mind that I don’t insist on it being a call to action, but rather food for thought. I hope both beginners and experienced specialists will find this guide useful.

First, we need to make a plan and divide a big task into smaller steps:

  1. Choosing a seed keyword
  2. Performing keyword research based on the seed keyword
  3. Finalizing a keyword list
  4. Checking SERPs for all the keywords
  5. Defining major competitors
  6. Defining competitors’ page types
  7. Grouping final keywords
  8. Working with keywords and analyzing competitors’ content
  9. Using keywords in your copy
  10. Creating the future text structure

Note. Why do we need to focus on thorough keyword research and analysis? Well, here I see two reasons:

  • To cover the topic to the fullest extent.
  • To realistically estimate our chances of ranking at the top of Google SERPs. As you know, there’re different intents behind search queries. Sometimes, you may realize that the intent behind the keywords you’d like to rank for and the intent your article aligns with are different (so, there’s a fat chance your copy will actually rank for them).

1. Choosing a seed keyword

You surely have an idea what your general topic is. So choosing a seed keyword won’t be difficult. I like explaining things by giving an example, so let's imagine we have a task to write something about, let’s say, keyword density and how to calculate it. In this case “keyword density/ keyword density checkers” will be our seed keyword(s).

2. Performing keyword research based on the seed keyword

Today, there’s no problem to find a keyword research tool. You may have your favorites. I’ll show how to search for keywords using Rank Tracker, as I generally use this tool in my work. Rank Tracker comprises a bunch of useful instruments for thorough keyword research gathered in one workspace, which is convenient. To start with, let’s turn to Google’s keyword tool.

Open or create your project in Rank Tracker. Go to Keyword Research> Keyword suggestions, choose Google Ads Keyword planner and enter the seed word.

Rank Tracker will gather all the keywords suggested by Google. Obviously, we don't need all of them. Let’s filter the results, leaving those containing the word “density”. (Just click on the funnel button in the upper-right corner of the workspace to set up filters.) Now we have something like 100+ “keyword density” related words. Not bad! But let’s try more options.

Go to Keyword Research> Autocomplete Tools, choose Google as the search engine, and run a new search based on your seed keyword.

There’ll be a bit of a mess in the results, as Google doesn’t always get exactly what you need. Still, you may find a couple of gems, so give it a try.

Let’s use one more tool.

Go to Keyword Research>Related Searches, choose Google as the search engine, enter the seed keyword, and run a search.

Once done with the search, we may set about analyzing the results and finalizing our keyword list.

3. Finalizing a keyword list

All keyword search results appear in the Keyword Sandbox module. Let’s go and see what we have there. Go to Keyword Research>Keyword Sandbox and look carefully through the list of your keyword search results.

Let’s clean up the mess and get rid of irrelevant keywords. To do this, select the unsuitable results and right-click them to delete.

Sometimes, keywords containing brand names may occur among your results. We can utilize such keywords, in case we are going to write a review, for example. They hint at what services are already known to the audience.

Now, with the keyword list finally created, let’s export it to a separate file (Rank Tracker creates a CSV file). To simplify the task and export only keywords, without additional info like search volumes, etc., delete all the unnecessary columns by right-clicking the header of any column and unchecking everything except Keyword. Now, click on the download button to export your results.

Note. Doesn’t matter how great your keywords are if you fail to use them right. Analyze the whole scope of your keywords to define the intent behind the majority of the search terms. This gives an idea of what kind of keyword-rich content can be created to cover the intent.

4. Checking SERPs for all the keywords

To start with, look at the websites occupying the top 10 of the SERPs for your target keywords. I prefer to use Key Collector to bulk download SERPs, while any similar tool will do.

In Key Collector, create a project, add all the keywords, and choose the search engine - google.com. You may also specify the region in the additional parameters (in this case, it’s New York). It looks like this:

“&uule=w+CAIQICIfTmV3IFlvcmssTmV3IFlvcmssVW5pdGVkIFN0YXRlcw==&hl=en-US&cl=US”

Then click on the SERP icon and choose Google as the search engine to get search data from.

All the results will be added to a file looking like this:

As you can see, It’s a simple xls file with six columns. The data each column contains include:

  • Keywords - definitely, the target keywords
  • Number of documents - the number of documents found in Google
  • Number of main pages - the number of homepages in the TOP-10 search results
  • Title [Google] - the website title in search results
  • [Google] URL - the ranked page
  • Description [Google] - the website description in the search results

5. Defining major competitors

Let’s find out what pages rank for the majority of your target keywords. This will help define your major competitors for the SERP results (and understand what pages to analyze, I’ll come to it a bit later). To do this, I use Excel - it offers plenty of great stuff for counting and arranging data.

First, copy the [Google] URL and Title [Google] columns to a new list and add one more column called Domain.

Second, extract domain names out of [Google] URL to the Domain column. To do this, use the next formula (write it in the first cell of the Domain column and simply drag it down to the bottom of the column):

=IF(ISNUMBER(FIND("www.",C2)),MID(C2,FIND("www.",C2)+4,IF(ISNUMBER(FIND("/",C2,9)), FIND("/",C2,9),LEN(C2)+1)-FIND("www.",C2)-4),MID(C2,FIND("//",C2)+2,IF(ISNUMBER(FIND("/",C2,9)), FIND("/",C2,9),LEN(C2)+1)-FIND("//",C2)-2))

Next, add two more columns, let’s say Count_URL and Count_Domain, as shown in the screenshot below:

Then in the Count_URL and Count_Domain columns, write the following formula: = COUNTIF (A: A, A2) and drag it down to the end of the columns.

As you can see, certain values appeared in the Count_URL and Count_Domain columns. Copy the values and paste them back as text (in order to prevent the formula from recalculating the values when removing duplicate URLs).

Remove duplicates (if there are any), sort the results and get the most common URLs in the SERP for your chosen keywords.

6. Defining competitors’ page types

With the list of competitors at hand, you can analyze them to define what pages typically rank for the target keywords. It’s time-consuming, as it means visiting each page from the list to see what it’s about, but necessary.

Recalling our task - to write an article - we need to make sure that there are pages of this kind in the top 10.

Let’s assume we have like 100+ relevant keywords to work with. Obviously, it’s not likely any single URL can occupy the top for all keywords. Focus on the top 10-20 pages that rank for the majority of your target keywords ( in my example, the most successful competitor ranks for 76). What those pages are about:

http://tools.seobook.com/general/keyword-density/ — tool
https://smallseotools.com/keyword-density-checker/ — tool
https://www.georanker.com/keywords-density — tool, again
https://www.internetmarketingninjas.com/seo-tools/keyword-density/ — tool
https://www.seoreviewtools.com/keyword-density-checker/ — tool
http://www.visiospark.com/keyword-density-checker/ — tool
https://www.prepostseo.com/keyword-density-checker — tool
https://www.webconfs.com/seo-tools/keyword-density-checker/ — tool
https://www.hobo-web.co.uk/keyword-density-seo-myth/ — article
https://www.shoutmeloud.com/keyword-density-seo.html — article
https://yoast.com/academy/seo-copywriting-training/keyphrase-density/ — article
https://www.wordstream.com/keyword-density — article
https://www.thehoth.com/keyword-density/ — tool
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyword_density  — article
https://www.shoutmeloud.com/7-online-tools-to-analyze-keyword-density-seo.html — a tools review article
https://www.seocentro.com/tools/seo/keyword-density.html — tool

It looks like the keywords we found serve best for product pages. Upon a closer view, all the software pages on the list above have a similar structure - the tool itself (i.e. the possibility to check keyword density right on the page) and an informational part (a piece of text describing the meaning of the term and its use). If we were about to create a product page - hurray, we’re on the right way.

But it becomes trickier in case we want to write an article. The good news is, there are still some articles that rank for our target keywords (and even outrank certain tools). So I think, we don’t need to give up on an article yet.

Let’s proceed to the next step and perform another type of analysis.

7. Grouping keywords

Summing up what we’ve already found out, with our target keywords we have three options for content creation;

Let’s split the target keywords into groups, depending on what content is created and optimized with them.

Create a new list and paste all the keywords in a column called Keywords. Check for duplicates and delete those found.

Next, copy the top 10, 15, or 20 websites from the [Google] URL column of the previous xls, one by one, and paste them into the newly created list so that each URL becomes the name of a column. Sounds tricky, but look at the picture below.

Count how often each URL is top-ranked for a certain keyword. To do this, use the COUNTIFS function (write it in any cell and drag to apply to all columns containing URLs). The result will look something like this:

I suggest coloring the cells for better visualization. To do this, use the Conditional Formatting function.

Insert one more column - Count - next to Keywords to sum up the values of all cells in each row. Thus, you’ll get the number of URLs that rank for each keyword.

Sort all the results by the Count values in descending order - and here’s the data you work with to group the keywords.

Group 1. Sticking to our imaginary task, let’s see what queries article pages rank for. Eliminate all the columns with tool pages URLs for convenience’ sake.

Look at the green zones and keywords that correspond to them. If I was going to write an informational article, I’d rather took these keywords to work with.

Group 2. Now, you may return to the initial file we created for this analysis and eliminate this time all the article pages.

But as there are like two types of pages in this very example, you may simply look at the red zones. As article pages return zero results, you can presume that software pages occupy top positions for the corresponding keywords:

Aha! There’s something in common for the queries from the red zone - they all contain words like “tool, checker, analyzer, software”, etc. The queries from the first group don’t. So, this type of keywords would better serve if I were to write a product page or a landing page for a density checking software, for example.

Group 3. Let’s take a closer look at one column in our xls. If we check the link in the header, we’ll see that it’s an article that, actually, ranks for queries containing “tools, checkers, etc.” What’s so peculiar about it? Well, it’s a tools review article. It has an informational part and a list of tools descriptions. I conclude, that if I want my future article to rank for both types of keywords, I’d think about writing something of the kind.

Done with the grouping. Did you get the principle? Analyze SERPs for your target keywords, define what pages typically rank for which group of words, and, depending on your aim, select the group of words to use for content creation and optimization.

8. Working with keywords and analyzing competitors’ content

Having defined what words to use, let’s proceed to how to use them to help our copy rank. To understand this, let's analyze the content of competitors’ pages.

Note. I use TextusPro at this step. This tool is in Russian, and there seems to be no English version for it. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any English-language free analog (or even paid) with the same functionality. However, I’d still want you to understand the principle, so I translated the interface for you in the picture below.

First, we need the tool to break apart all the keywords and save the result, as later we are going to analyze how often they occur on the competitors’ pages.

Insert your keywords into the text editor. Set up the tool to hide stop words (prepositions, etc.). In the right column, a list of separate words will appear with the use frequency and density percentage.

Select all the words in this column (simply use ctrl+a) and click on the Key button to save them as the keywords for analysis.

Now, it’s time to analyze competitors’ pages to see how the keywords are distributed across their content. Mind that we need to copy and analyze the entire page’s content (like search engines do), not just the text part.

Normally, it’s better to analyze 3-5 pages of the type you are going to create. But as we previously defined three groups of keywords, I’ll analyze the pages of three different types (a tools review, a software page, and an article) to show you different examples.

Let’s start with the tools review article - https://www.shoutmeloud.com/7-online-tools-to-analyze-keyword-density-seo.html

Copy the page’s content and paste it into the tool’s text editor. Select all the words in the right column to let the tool highlight them in the analyzed text.

Look at the highlighted parts and pick phrases that are used in the text multiple times. As a result, you’ll get a narrowed keyword list:

Perform the same check for a software page - http://tools.seobook.com/general/keyword-density/. Here comes another keyword list:

And one more page to analyze - an article - https://www.hobo-web.co.uk/keyword-density-seo-myth/. And the result:

9. How to use keywords in your copy

Now, let’s look at how to deal with the keywords we gathered and use them in the text wisely. In the course of my SEO career, I’ve figured out some tactics that seem to be working for me.

  • Use every keyword at least once in the text. But don’t forget about readers and use common sense. If a keyword seems too unnatural in the copy, don’t use it.
  • Use keywords as frequently as your competitors do. Not absolutely, but proportionally, depending on the overall text size.
  • The more important a keyword is, the closer to the beginning of the text it should be placed.
  • Apply what I call the phrases contrast rule. According to it, a keyword cannot be surrounded by the same words more than once. For example, we need to use keyword density checkers three times in the text. So if we write something like “...the best keyword density checker for article and blogs…”, then we won’t be able to use the best and for article and blogs together with keyword density checkers anymore.
  • Pay attention to the words that Google highlights in SERPs. Where to find them? Let’s get back to the file we got at step 4 and examine the Description [Google] column. Do you see the words wrapped in <b></b> tags? They are the highlights we need. Ideally, use these words in your text and in the meta description.

10. Creating the future copy structure

Now, it’s time to write your copy. Often, the keywords you gathered may hint at the future copy structure. Try asking questions using your keywords and see how they form a possible article plan. Here’s what my article plan may look like:

  • What is keyword density
  • What is a keyword density calculation formula
  • How important keyword density is for SEO and for ranking in Google
  • How to check the density of my keywords
  • What keyword density checking tools to choose:
    Free tools
    Paid tools
    Bulk keyword density check

That’s it. Start writing.

Conclusion

What inspired me to write this guide? I believe keyword research is just an initial step on the way to content creation and optimization. With no clear view on the search intent behind the keywords and what content may cover this intent, alongside the idea of how to use your great keywords, ranking for them may turn into a lottery.

I hope you’ll take this guide as food for thought, and if you find it useful, I’ll be really glad.