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The Write Podcast, Episode 7: Best SEO Research Practices for Your Online Content with Michael Stricker from SEMrush

Have I ever mentioned that I love SEMrush? Seriously, it’s my favorite SEO and digital marketing software (and it’s a favorite among lots of other people); they have an amazing weekly Twitter chat, #semrushchat, that attracts hundreds of people discussing everything from content marketing to SEO; check out their software at SEMrush.com.

So, you can imagine how honored I was to have Michael, the US Marketing Director at SEMrush, join me for an episode of The Write Podcast. He’s amassed quite an expert background as a lead consultant on SEO, SMM, ORM, CRO, and inbound marketing for clients ranging from national brands to Fortune 500 companies. Michael has been an international expert speaker for PubCon, AdTech, SMX East and many other marketing events.

In today’s episode, Michael discusses overall strategies on SEO keyword research techniques, and here’s the cool part—he’s thinking of a busy person with not a lot of time on their hands to spend solely on keyword research. So, these tips are for just for you!

Michael is a savvy, well-versed SEO expert who’s fun to talk to and even more fun to listen to. You’ll enjoy this episode!

michael stricker best seo practices for online content

In Episode 7 of The Write Podcast, I’ve asked Michael’s insights on:

  • How would you invest just 10 minutes and do really effective SEO research?
  • How would you specifically suggest using SEMrush for SEO research?
  • How can businesses find real topics that their prospects might be searching right now?
  • How can businesses add SEO to their content marketing effectively?
  • Name a few trends for better content marketing and SEO in 2016

As always, the full transcription is provided below. Enjoy!

If you like what you hear, I’d love it if you would leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking here. It will help the show and it’s ranking in iTunes. I appreciate it—enjoy the show!

Episode 7 Best SEO Research Practices for Your Online Content with Michael Stricker from SEMrush

Julia: Welcome to episode 7 in The Write Podcast.

This is your host Julia McCoy. And I’m here today with Michael Stricker, the US Marketing Director at SEMrush, which is the leading tool for competitive intelligence online. Michael is an international speaker. He’s appeared in the LinkedIn Sophisticated Marketer Podcast, he’s spoken at Pubcon, AdTech, Hero Conference, and SMX East, just to name a few.

Michael, I’m really excited to have you on today.

Michael: Julie I’m thrilled to be here, thanks for inviting me.

Julia: Absolutely. So a good topic to pick your brain on would be SEO research techniques, content marketing for businesses. To start that off, give us some insights. How to invest a short amount of time and do really effective SEO research.

Michael: Sure. This thing about techniques that you can apply, that only take a few minutes because my impression is that, your listeners are largely gonna be content marketers, content writers?

Julia: Right. Right.

Michael: Copywriters, and so for that audience, correct me if I’m wrong, but these people don’t wanna spend all day swimming around in a data analysis tool such as SEMRush.

Julia: [LAUGH] Exactly. [LAUGH]

Michael: They got jobs to do, and maybe even some of them are piecework, and so they need to write, and the point is to get to that as rapidly as possible. But to be effective so that when you finish the job and a week or so goes by, and somebody sees that their traffic acquisition is going up, maybe their rank for particular keywords is going up, and especially if they’re delivering a good experience for users, and actually converting business, then they’re gonna call you back.

And they’re gonna say, hey, I want that copywriter again. So just to cut to the quick, I wanna talk about the way that a content writer should understand what stage of a path to purchase that they’re writing for. And it sounds maybe a little daunting to some people. But basically, you’re thinking about like four or you call them five stages.

One is an issue. You got a problem. You see the questions that people ask, and you can look this up in key word research, and people are asking questions literary like I have a stain in my clothes. Or I have ring in my sink, or whatever, and they’re looking for a possible set of solutions for that.

The next thing is they’re comparing solutions and it’s okay. Would I rather hire a plumber, or get some Ajax, or what would I do about this ring in my sink? And then if they get to the point where they’re actually thinking about replacing the sink and hiring a plumber, they are gonna want to qualify.

So they are gonna wanna qualify different kinds of plumbers, and are they in their area, and oh. Now the final stage. How much does it cost? And that’s the final transactional stage and if you can catch people at those four or five various points through their journey to buying, and aim your content at one of those four points or five points, then you’re gonna be that much more effective.

The thing is to have a sense for what’s called the funnel. Oh, there’s a word, there’s term. So probably know what the funnel is, but know what stage of the funnel you’re writing for. And so as a content writer you might have to talk to the website owner, you might have to talk to the client if you’re working with an agency, or something like that.

You wanna get as close to the final decision maker, the stakeholder if you will, get as close to that person as you can. And they may actually be impressed if you ask them, am I writing for top of funnel, people with issues, am I just trying to acquire traffic, or am I trying to help you close a deal with a particular product or service in mind? And that’s gonna affect what it is that you’re looking for when you do the keyword research.

Julia: I think that’s a great breakdown.

And going back to that first step addressing topics that people search for, I love that. That’s one of the ways that we create content that seems to really answer big questions out there. And going back to that finding those initial topics would you say that long tail keywords play into that? Which type of keywords?

Michael: Yeah.

So the keywords at the top of the funnel are the short keywords, the issues, oh, bathtub ring, or sunhat or something. By the time you get down to the bottom of the funnel you’re talking long tail because the searcher has a lot more information, and now they are actually maybe using a brand name, a product name, a size, accessories, colors they’re using all of this words, and it can be five or more words long.

And the longer the term, the longer the keyword, usually the closer somebody is to some form of transaction. So yes. If you’re at the bottom of the funnel you’re looking for longer keywords. And if all you wanna do is bring traffic in, you can think a little shorter. But I think that the lie, sort of, in SEO is that some day you’re gonna be ranking number one for a single keyword, like the word hat, and the chances of you ranking number one for hat against companies that have sold nothing but hats for 100 years, and have 55,000 of them in their catalog, it’s pretty slim.

Google has a sense for the riches of content that people have. So I will just say started at two, and work your way up.

Julia: That great advice, to add on to that how would location keywords plan? I know sometimes whenever we research that it’s challenging because there isn’t a law of data on how many people search inside a location.

But can it be as simple as adding a location on? What are you thoughts about that?

Michael: Yeah, sure, absolutely. So thinking about whether location plays into your keyword set and the kind of content that you gonna write is an enormous boom. And if you think about that, going in, and starting to write for a client, you’re gonna do so better for them.

And you wanna do this on your own maybe un-coached. So the kinds of businesses that are local, restaurants, and taverns, and contractors, and service area businesses, and professionals like doctors, dentists, lawyers. All these people serve a particular area. So as soon as you see that.

A natural starting point would be to start including city and state name pairs like citations in your content. It’s gonna make Google imagine that this may actually apply to the specific area that you’re naming. The searchers themselves may not enter the city name or the neighborhood name when they search, but Google has so much metadata about searches.

Based on your IP address they know where you are. Based on your smart phone, and your geo-location. They know where you are so, so much of it is aimed at local searchers anymore that you should make an effort to include that. And on the other side of the equation, when you’re thinking about local keywords, some tools excel at giving you some of this data.

So, you’re gonna have to let me say [LAUGH] a little bit about SEMrush.

Julia: Of course, please. [LAUGH]

Michael: Okay [LAUGH] good. So there is something called position tracker in SEMrush, and what it enables you to do is to go in, and set up your domain, and competitor domain. So you know whose coming up against your clients, say, in the market.

And to either enter keywords or let SEMrush suggest them for you. And then scope how you’re gonna track the rank or the position, in Google, by State level or right on down to the City level. When you do this, overtime, it’s going to surface better and better keywords for these particular Domains.

So like you said at first, you maybe a little slim on the kinds of local keywords that are really working. Overtime you’re gonna see better and better information about just what those keywords are used locally, and like a frequent example that I refer to is that, here I am in the Northeast of the US, and we call carbonated beverages, sodas.

Right?

Julia: [LAUGH] Right.

Michael: I go flying down to Florida, or Raleigh, or something like that, and they’re calling it coke.

Julia: Right.

Michael: And what do you mean, it’s like grape soda, and you’re calling it coke? Well, that’s just what they call it. And then out west, in California, they’ll call it pop.

Julia: Exactly I was going to say pop.

Michael: Yeah, so if I want to talk the language of my readers, I gotta be a little sensitive to that.

Julia: So that’s a part of using synonyms within keywords, like just branching out beyond one keyword instead of focusing on just one word. Adding in synonyms, what relates, and that is a natural process of creating SEO content. Which I think is great.

Michael: Yeah. Absolutely, a lot of people and I’ve spoken about this for several years now, are accustomed to using the auto suggest part of Google, and using various tools to get that information. But you know how it works. You go to Google, you start typing in a term, and Google makes helpful suggestions for you in a little list to choose from. Oh, did you mean, and it gives you alternative suggestions and tools like Ubersuggest. There are some that did a great job of putting this information out for you, as you say, to give you some variant of the original keyword, the original phrase.

Part of the problem now is that Google is shutting down their auto suggest API. So you’re not gonna be able to get at that information any longer, at least in a free way. Maybe somebody will start buying the API, and sort of reselling it to users, but some people have built a lot of SEO on that process. And what you need for now is you need an independent process that, for instance, SEMrush uses something called the phrase report and related terms to arrive at something very similar to the auto suggest.

But it doesn’t use auto suggest to get at this. It uses semantic relations between words. So Google, hey. Knock yourselves out. Go ahead. Close one door, one more door [LAUGH] in the faces of SEOs, and thank goodness that there is other ways, other workarounds that are out there available now.

Julia: So true. One thing to add to that, I’ve heard of using Quora as a way to find really good topics that your people are searching for, and we’ve done that too. So that’s a good resource.

Michael: Yeah, that awesome. I don’t know if I saw it on your site, but I may have seen it actually in a blog post of yours, how you were doing that and I’m accustomed to thinking of Quora, with its Q and As, and all of that as an awesome place to drive some traffic from offsite. But using it as a place to look up related topics is great, it’s wonderful.

Julia: Yes, it’s very similar to the Google suggest which as you said Google’s doing away with so it’s great to have that.

I also wanted to talk briefly about prepositions within keywords, just some of your keyword advice there. That’s a question I have seen, and I’ve seen it change through out the past few years. In 2011, people were like don’t use preposition, say words like a service, and then the location, and don’t put anything in between that, and it looked so unnatural.

And it was like “credit card company Los Angeles”. And it looked just so bad, [LAUGH] and that was being stuffed in the content. So prepositions, does that matter? How does that change keyword research if at all?

Michael: Well, you’re right. It has changed because in the past it wasn’t so much that you had an ideal technique when you left this stuff out, and actually, Google got to the point where it could easily eliminate articles, and prepositions, and things that it thought were not the main to defining the meaning of what you are typing in.

That the search terms, they would sometimes strip them down to their basics, and that’s why you get, unemployment lawyer, Arizona, or something like that. But recently, especially since Hummingbird, Google’s done a much, much better job of figuring out just what people are looking for, and some of this is definitely based on sentence structure.

And as soon as you start saying that, the prepositions come back. And there’s yet another development that encourages you, for instance to, use lot’s of the w words, the who, what, when, where, and why. We talked about Quora. We talked a little bit about questions, but if I go to Google, and I make a search for a question, or an object, or something, there’s a good chance that, I think it’s almost 80% of the time now based on certain kinds of searches, I’m gonna see an answer box.

And it’s gonna take up a good section of that search engine result page. And it’s gonna give me the answer there. Now If I can answer a question for people in what I write, I state the question, and I state the answer, and therefore, I could earn that space in that answer box for my client or for myself.

So I would say, don’t worry about the about the prepositions. Be as natural in your language as possible, include both the query and the answer, if you can, in your writing, without over-stuffing. The point of it is to be natural, readable, and realize that Google has, some time now, used human raters that they send to look at sites and judge quality, and you’ve probably seen where Google has finally released—

Julia: Oh yes. A 160 page doc. Yes we wrote a blog about that, and I tried to actually keep the blog short, but it turned out to be around 4,000 words [LAUGH]

Michael: [LAUGH]

Julia: So we really take a look at it. [LAUGH]

Michael: That’s awesome. What a great resource that it is.

Julia: Oh, thanks.

Michael: So yes, it’s nice to have it kind of boiled down for people.

Julia: Yes.

Michael: And it’s very, very interesting to see, and it is all about, speaking directly to people, providing something actionable, making what you say conclusive, avoiding being slim, shallow, and-

Julia: Right.

Michael: You know? Of those things that used to be more Panda problems, but just to be as genuinely helpful as possible.

Julia: Right, exactly, that kind of sums up that monster guidelines doc that was released. It’s all about being helpful, useful, and having expertise when you speak.

Michael: Yeah, yeah.

Julia: So I wanted to move on to talking about businesses, adding SEO into the content marketing mix, which can sometimes be challenging, just all the SEO tactics that they should be using.

And your tool, SEMrush is, it’s one of our favorites. We’ve tried different tools, and I think that everything is so comprehensively inside SEMrush, for so many different SEO needs. So, maybe talk a little bit about how to use SEMrush to bring in SEO into your content marketing.

Michael: Yeah. So content marketing, from my point of view and from the point of view of many, started when HubSpot started talking about inbound marketing, and how important it was to have content, and the importance of answering people’s questions.

And when you can dig into a keyword phrase report where related terms around a particular set of keywords you can start to see, literally, deep in this list of available keywords, long tail phrases that are the expression of questions as they were typed in by living, breathing, human beings. Doesn’t get anymore genuine than that. So you find these things, and you say I can imagine this person. And they’re interested in this particular thing. If I buy this will it fit me, thus, and so? Or whatever the question is. So digging deep into a phrase report that’s 1,500 keywords sounds like a lot of work.

However, if you dive in to the 5th page, 6th page, or something like that, and you start to see the questions, you can ignore, a lot of times, the shorter terms and phrases upfront to get at these longer tail phrases. And that’s gonna help a writer arrive at their topic more rapidly, and get a direct kind of question to answer. That’s one way of getting at it. Another thing is that a lot of websites, a lot of people who are stakeholders in their own websites, get all caught up in their own set of keywords, and where their traffic is coming from, and what have we been doing lately.

And you can get a lot of that information out of their analytics, and you’re gonna actually get some of their keywords, say out of their Google search console, which is all well and good. But when you compare keyword sets among the best competitor out there, and you see the phrases that they’re using, and that are driving them the most traffic, you have a leg up.

You have a way that you can avoid overworking yourself, you can avoid the risk of experimentation, you can meet the needs of your audience, and I’m not saying that you would write what they wrote, although you could click through and read it if you wanted to. But the point is that you know what is being searched frequently in Google, so there’s a good way of getting some traffic, and you can see what is actually delivering traffic to, say your competitors’ websites.

And when I say competitors I mean, you may be a more of a boutique outfit let’s say, and you’re selling particular items of clothing, yoga clothing or something like that, and you might be interested in what a Modell’s, or a Macy’s, or what other larger retailers are using to sell your kind of clothing.

So when you see their much larger keyword sets, might be a big eye opener, and so there you go. So SEMrush gives you a way of comparing keyword sets between your own sets, say, and those of a competitor. Let me see what’s unique to my competitor. Oh. That’s a good opportunity. If it’s working for them, there is a good chance it will work for me. Let me find the key words that are overlapping that we share. Could be a case where there’s lots of competition for these keywords, maybe I wanna double down on some of them, or maybe I’m looking for an alternate route. I wanna find other key words that I can do. If you find key words that are unique to you, and unused by a competitor there is your strength.

Work on those kinds of key words, and attract as much traffic as you can, while the sun shines, until somebody else discovers those particular key words.

Julia: That’s excellent. I think that competitive keyword research or competitor keyword research is something that not a lot of businesses are doing enough of. And it’s easy to skip over that part. But I call that inspiration. You look at what others are doing, what they’re doing successfully, and also maybe how you can do it a little better. How you can answer the question a little deeper. So I think that’s really good description of the process.

Michael: That’s awesome. I mean, the word inspiration that you said, to me that’s perfect because it really is not a matter that you’re going to copy it or anything, that’s the last thing that you wanna do. But I think without thinking of it the way that you did, and using the word inspiration, some people might get caught up in this thing like I’m gonna do what they do.

Do things that they do but do it better.

Julia: Exactly.

Michael: Do it with a tone that, now this goes for copywriters, if you know the personas, or the people, the audience that you’re writing to, you can be authentic and genuine in how you phrase things, and the tone that you take, and all of that.

And that can be often be overlooked. I mean given the opportunity to have a little sense of humor and lighten things up, I mean you’re gonna have a much more engaged audience for your writing if that goes with the brand zone like sort of self image or whatever. So, important to know that stuff going in, do you wanna be casual or maybe even a little irreverent, or you might have to keep it buttoned down pretty tight if you’re doing something technical.

But there’s always room for a little personality, I think.

Julia: I agree. [LAUGH] That’s something I try to keep within my blog, direct voice, that’s my favorite type of style. I just try to be really direct, and if that includes, hey let’s get our heads out of the sand, including something like that. That’s just part of our voice.

Michael: It’s good. I’m gonna be reading your blog more.

Julia: Oh good. [LAUGH]

So, to wrap this up Michael, I wanted to get your thoughts on just a few trends for where SEO and content marketing might be headed in 2016.

Michael: Okay. Well, thanks for asking. Nobody has a looking glass.

If I read a lot that’s going on, and you mentioned this yourself, live streaming video, it’s expected to be huge now. We’ve had false starts in the past, there have been some social video tools that were out there, tried to build an audience, and even Vine. You had the chance to do 6 seconds, and then somebody did 15 seconds, and then somebody did 30 seconds. And the idea that you can stream it live now, seems to lower a lot of the obstacles that get between you and actually getting started doing it. So think of your idea about small businesses, if they can just have the courage to do the first few. Start building a library of these things, they’re gonna be on the upper trend for producing that kind of media, and I’m not even sure.

I mean, it’s just gotten so casual. Not even sure that the word media might be a little too [LAUGH] fancy for it.

Julia: [LAUGH] That’s true. It really has gone casual. The direction of that is that could that be a good direction or could that be lowering quality sometimes? What do you think?

Michael: Yeah.

Well, some of my favorite content in say YouTube, has been content that it is kinda low brow, if you wanna think of it that way. So to explain that a little bit more, there was a company called, and this is a very, very common example so pardon me if you’ve heard it before but Blendtec. And Blendtec did videos of blend this, and they would do this really hokey read in, and will it blend? It’s an iPhone, and they throw an iPhone into one of their blenders, and they turn it on. As soon as they did that it’s like, I just wanna see this.

Julia: [LAUGH] Right.

Michael: Yeah. And they grind it into powder, and it’s amazing, and so you say well that’s one heck of a blender, but it’s just this funny thing to see what the heck are they gonna throw in there next? And genuine, interesting, yeah it gets at a strength of the product.

The blender can’t be stopped, all of that, but for its audience, largely men it turns out, just chopping crap up [LAUGH]. It turns out to be enormously popular, and they have billions of views as people shared that stuff. So, if you do something a little out of the ordinary, and you have a different take on things, don’t think it has to be complicated, and the production value was not good.

It wasn’t lovingly lit, or they didn’t have perfect lenses and stuff, but it’s just awesome stuff.

Julia: That’s a good point, yeah. It sounds like it’s more about appealing to your audience. If you can hit on what they would like to see, it doesn’t have to be top-notch quality.

Michael: Right.

I’m sitting in a studio here, and I have lights, and a green backdrop, and all of these things that you can do whatever you wanted in here. I could be sitting on the screen, and I could be looking like I’m skiing down a hill behind me or something, but is that gonna really help me deliver a more entertaining video, or does all of this, going for quality, actually just provide you an excuse not to get started?

Julia: Well, thank you so much for joining me today Michael, on The Write Podcast. I really appreciate it.

Michael: I really appreciate being here. You’re a lovely host, and I really appreciate being here, and I’m hopeful that you can join us on an SEMrush webinar perhaps podcast soon.

[MUSIC] For more online content, tips, and strategies visit expresswriters.com/blog. [MUSIC]

Julia: Michael is continually appearing in the SEO niche, and I think the advice he shares is excellent. You can go follow him on twitter at @RadioMS. Also, be sure to check out SEMrush. I love and use this tool daily for my SEO.

Also, Michael will be appearing as an upcoming guest host on our Twitter chat that happens every week. Join us at #ContentWritingChat. Follow the chat on twitter, @writingchat.

Be sure to keep an eye out for my book! I’m really excited about it. I’m publishing it by the end of this March. It’s called, So You Think You Can Write? The Definitive Guide To Successful Online Writing, and I’m sharing everything I’ve learned over the past five years as an online writer, marketer, and blogger. I’m putting this together as a guide for both writers and the business owner that wants to create great online content. It will be out on Amazon. You can search for it, So You Think You Can Write.

Thanks for joining today’s episode of the Write Podcast. For more episodes go to expresswriters.com/write-podcast.

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