How to use keyword research for news publishers
In issue 02 of WTF is SEO, Shelby walks us through the best ways to use search and SEO for research, particularly for finding new story ideas.
Hey, hey – welcome back for week two of WTF is SEO.
This has been far more fun than either of us expected and we appreciate all of your support.
Last week, we talked about why SEO is a need-to-know for publishers. This week, Shelby’s taking the reins to walk us through the best ways to use search and SEO for research, particularly for content and story ideas.
Imagine this for a moment: you’re laying on the couch with your spouse, and they ask you if your toe, which is looking a little weird these days, is alright. You say, “yeah, babe, it’s fine.” But secretly, you’re consulting Dr. Google, wondering if you should maybe call the clinic tomorrow.
Everybody lies. It’s natural – we find ways to tell white lies every day. It’s called social desirability bias, a social science theory that says we tend to answer questions based on the chance they will be viewed favourably by others. We overreport “good behaviour” and underreport seemingly bad or undesirable behaviour – how many sexual partners, how much money we make, or how long it took our kids to use the potty.
But why would we lie to Google? Search engines can help us answer the questions we’re asking, but don’t want the world to know.
Google can tell us a lot more about what people really want to know than most crowdsourcing avenues.
🔗 Read more: Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a *must* read on this topic. Strongly recommend it.
Using search for research
When beginning your research, start with an idea. Is there a topic you want to explore a little more? Did an editor ask you to check if there’s any interest in a topic? Basic income was trending on Twitter – is there a broader interest in search? We can take that topic (basic income in Canada) and perform keyword research.
In marketing, keyword research is usually one of the first steps in a strategy – you want to find out:
What keywords do I rank for vs. my competitors?
What keywords will convert customers?
What do people search to find my product?
In a newsroom, keyword research answers a lot of these questions, but with a different lens:
What are other publications writing on this topic? Can we write a more engaging story?
What underreported story ideas could bring in a new audience? (New readers to add to the top of our audience funnel or becoming paying subscribers.)
What would I search to find my story?
What has my publication already written on this?
In order to effectively use search to help our content, we must first understand why people search.
Regardless of where they end up, people search based on a particular intent.
Transactional: The searcher is actively looking to spend money. This could be anything from buying a cheap camera to a New York Times subscription. They want a conversion (buy a camera) at the end of the search journey.
Local: The searcher wants to find something within the area - whether that’s a hip new coffee shop, somewhere to get their hair done or maybe that late-night burrito after one too many quarantine beers. “Near me” is a common phrase added to the query.
Navigational: These people are lazy and put “Facebook” into the search bar and then click the link in the search results. Don’t worry. I do it, too.
These intents, while useful to know, are not so relevant to journalism. The informational intent is the need most journalism falls into.
Informational. The user wants to fill in a knowledge gap about a topic. They often search with the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why and how.
Now that we know about search intent, we can use this to perform research that will inform our content strategy.
THE HOW TO
Four tools to build search strategy
Google Trends is an open-source tool that allows you to look at the relative popularity of a keyword and gives you the option to compare search terms. This is particularly useful for headlines or stories that may have multiple phrases that work interchangeably (i.e., COVID-19, coronavirus, covid).
Get an alert: Google Trends can also send an alert when a particular topic “spikes” (aka: is trending), meaning a large group of people searched the same thing (in Canada, that’s 5,000 searches in a certain time period. The United States is 20,000 searches).
These alert notifications can also be sent directly to your inbox if you want to know immediately when something is trending on the internet. This can be very useful for audience editors who want to inform other reporters or editors.
One of the best uses for Google Trends is for preparing for seasonality events, such as elections, budget lockups, sporting events and festivals. These will visualize common trends over time – and even provide other queries people looked at.
Reviewing search data for seasonal events can help inform content strategies for planned news events, based on what people searched in the past.
🔗 Read more: 10 tricks for content mining on Google Trends
✔️ Action item: Turn on a subscription to Google’s Daily Search Trends. You should start getting notifications this week.
Many people underestimate the power of Google as a tool on its own. You have a wealth of knowledge right in front of you every time you perform a search.
There are the obvious ways: Google provides directly on its search results page a “people also ask” rich snippet. At the bottom, there are alternative versions of your current search phrase.
And there are ways to manipulate your search in the search bar itself. For example, if you use an asterisk (*) between two keyphrases, you can see what other topics people search.
If you run your own publication, chances are you have access to the site’s analytics and therefore, the Google Search Console – what people search currently to get to your content.
✔️ Action item: If you have access to Google Search Console, look at a top-performing article. What are people currently searching to get to this story?
AnswerThePublic is incredibly useful, particularly for service journalism. This tool lets you explore all questions or queries around a particular topic – all of the who, what, when, where and why questions you may need.
✔️ Action item: What is your publication’s main niche? Pick a keyword related to that niche, and use AnswerThePublic to see questions people are asking in search.
Personally, this is one of my favourite tools. Keywords Everywhere was created originally as a free browser extension to look directly as keyword volume, cost-per-click and competition data, but has since become a freemium tool.
The Keywords Everywhere tool provides insight for free, but the juicy data such as actual numbers and search volume, costs money.
An account costs $10 for 100,000 “credits” (aka keywords) to get a wealth of information that can really inform your research.
✔️ Action item: Download the Chrome extension. Use Google to search for a key phrase related to your publication’s niche. What data is available from Keywords Everywhere?
Honourable mention: Moz’s Keyword Explorer can be very useful, but it is a paid tool.
The bottom line: Search data can tell truthfully what people won’t – but want to know – and can help inform your editorial strategy. Open-source tools are particularly useful for this work.
FUN + GAMES
What was the original name of Google?
It was always called Google
Resource of the week:
You want more?! We really just have to tip our hat to another search newsletter that we’re both obsessed with: SEO Notebook by Steve Toth. It’s an incredible resource for all things SEO and gives you some great clues to figure out an effective approach to your unique site.
NEXT WEEK: Creating a content strategy using search
Tell us: Are these tips useful for your current knowledge of SEO?
FUN + GAMES
The answer: Google was known as BackRub until it was registered as a domain in 1997. (Why did Google think this was ever a good name?)
Even more SEO tips
Have something you want us to explore? Email email@example.com.