A Challenge to the Status Quo of Content Strategy: Forget Keywords For A Moment

By gina.broom


The air is filled with the voices of unhappy affiliates: “Why isn’t my website getting much traffic? I targeted keywords in my content.” Or, “I’m getting traffic, but my site still isn’t doing very well. Why?”

When we go and have a look at these websites, there seems to be a common theme. There’s nothing particularly “WOW” about them. There’s nothing that makes me want to bookmark them. There’s nothing that makes me want to share them with my friends.

You might think, why!? I’ve done everything right! I found high search volume keywords. I paid $30 an article on Elance. My content is good quality.

It’s frustrating. Many begin to feel like characters in “The Sims,” swimming endlessly around the same pool because I took the ladder away and they don’t know how to get out. (It sounds awful, but many have done it, not just me!)

The real problem is that the average content strategy doesn’t offer originality or quality. The thought process for the average content strategy is missing something right from the beginning. I’ll show you what I mean…

The Average Content Strategy, As It Stands

It’s a map of marketer intent, not user intent. The focus is too often on numbers and metrics, rather than people and interest-driven information.

types of content

A typical affiliate website will have the following types of content:

  • “Find Me” Content: This is content with the sole purpose of getting visitors to your site via search engines. It’s made from a keyword with high search volumes, fleshed out into general information. When this is particularly bad, the content is honestly just a proxy article for the sake of propping up strategic keyword placement.
  • “Navigate Me” Content: This is content that is intended to send people down the rabbit-hole funnel towards signup pages and/or sales pages. It’s focus is enticing the reader to go where you want them to go. The worst of these are extremely transparent: “Go here,” or “Do this,” without first giving them anything of value.
  • “Buy Me” Content: Here are your product reviews, your discussion of a common problem with a conveniently suggested solution. Considering some of these that I’ve seen, it’s a wonder people trust any website reviews at all. You can see an example of hideously untruthful reviews in my last blog post, How to Avoid Product Refunds That Kill Our Commissions and Our Reputations. Compared to the opinions of real people on forums, the marketing motive sticks out like Ozzy Osbourne at a high-society luncheon.

You have to ask yourself, are those the main types of content on your website? Don’t get me wrong, all of these types of content have their place when executed with the user experience in mind.

However, the strategy is very limited, and makes it too easy to miss the real point: your audience.

The Problem with Keyword-Based “Find Me” Content

When it’s all about appealing to a search engine rather than an audience, content becomes drab and lifeless. This isn’t successful marketing. It’s likely to do more harm than good for your brand.

Trapped ThoughtsThe idea of keyword research is great. Find out what people are looking to know, and give it to them. The problem is when marketers regurgitate the same content that’s already out there, reworded, but essentially the same information.

1. You’ve limited your pool of potential topics to what’s already out there en masse.

Not only will you be writing the same content as everyone else doing keyword research, you’ll also be limiting yourself to topics that your audience is already aware of. That makes it very difficult for you to give them something that no one else can, something unique and of great quality. My colleague Aletta puts it bluntly:

The problem with keyword volumes is that you’re looking at the wit of the masses, and the masses don’t tend to be all that smart.

Imagine if university papers were taught on subjects that the masses wanted to know about. You’d have courses on how to take the perfect selfie, and things you can do with white vinegar.

When you want to deliver real value, you sometimes need to talk about things that people don’t realize they want to know about.”

2. You’ve made it hard to produce an overarching purpose or theme for your site, as your topics are simply a patchwork of search terms.

One of the best things you can do to build your brand is really hone in on the focus you want your website to have. When you select a variety of keywords based purely on search volumes and competition, you aren’t considering the relevance of those topics to an overall point.

What do you want people to experience when they come to your website? Does all your content help them with different aspects of that? Does it all tie together coherently into a bigger picture?

3. Where’s the creativity?

Do you even enjoy creating something stock standard? Are you passionate about your content? If the answer is no, then chances are you’ll be fighting an uphill battle in getting others to feel passionate about it.

Anyone can sing (at varying degrees of quality) a song that they’ve heard a million times but to be a real star you have to write original material. What can you give them that they haven’t already heard before? Developing that creative process is the key.

4. A lot of traffic doesn’t matter if they all leave again straight away.

A high bounce rate sucks for your SEO, but also for your brand image. If everyone who comes to your website doesn’t like what they see enough to stay, then what was the point?

You can retain a lot more site visitors if they discover content that is above and beyond what they were looking for. Basically, you need to become invested in the experience of your site visitors, not just the number of visitors you’re pulling through the door.

The Fear That Comes with Letting Go of the Keyword Handrail

It’s a natural instinct for marketers to feel like they’re going out on a limb if they aren’t gripping onto data like keyword volumes. But times have changed, as have algorithms!

Unicycle tightrope

The thought of creating content without gripping onto keyword research is enough to make the average marketer feel like they’re riding a unicycle on a tightrope without a safety net.

Content creation is usually a big investment of time and/or money, so without numbers such as keyword volumes to back up topics, it can feel like a waste from the beginning.

I’m telling you now, though: You can no longer think about SEO that way. Sure, once upon a time in the user-experience dark ages this may have been the best way to go about things, as the only way to get found.

But give the search engines some credit! How many people are employed by Google? Do you think they all sit around twiddling their thumbs? Every algorithm update that they do pushes search results to look for more and more indicators of quality for the user.

Nate Dame, writer for Search Engine Land and Propecta CEO, gave me a great way to sum it up:

User experience should always trump any kind of marketing trick, but search engine algorithms are so advanced now that good SEO doesn’t have to choose one or the other.

Google is really honing in on user intent, and learning to favor topically authoritative pages, so that optimizing content for search engines, more than ever, means optimizing for the user.

It’s not the end of your SEO strategy to shift your focus from keyword volumes to user experience, it’s the beginning of a better strategy that will stand the test of time and algorithm changes.

The Missing Element: User-Focused “Love Me” Content

Content that is targeted at a positive user experience can be the hardest thing to create. But if you want a site that people will bookmark to come back to, you need it.

Love me content

Considering the importance of user experience, you need to create content across your website that is extremely valuable to your target audience. You want the kind of website that makes someone bookmark the whole thing, rather than just a page or worse nothing at all.

I can imagine that many will be looking at this thinking, “That’s too hard. That will take more time than it’s worth. Where would I even start?” That’s the tricky part…

The biggest challenge of this strategy is coming up with content ideas that will be popular in your niche without relying on search volumes.

I will admit that creating content good enough to make you an authority in your niche is much easier said than done. In fact, I believe that it’s one of the hardest things any marketer will have to do in their marketing lifetime, like Neo fighting the Agents, or Frodo getting the ring to Mordor. It is extremely powerful, but boy is it intimidating.

neo and frodo

Unfortunately I can’t give you a simple solution, because there isn’t one. I will, however, share with you my own method for finding topics in the hopes that some of the processes might be useful to you, too.

Suggestions for “Love Me” Content Creation

Here are some ways that I find topics to write about. Think about how you could apply them to your own content strategy, or what else you could do instead. I’d love to hear any that you use below in the comments.

The key is to figure out what’s really interesting about your topic, especially recently emerging topics. The overall type of thinking you need to do can be tricky to get your head around. But when you get the hang of it, your content becomes more fun to create, not to mention more effective.

idea taking flight

1. Think about it. Really think about it.

It’s likely you’d have at least SOME interest in the topic you made your website about. So…

  • What do YOU want to know?
  • What would be an interesting or different thing to look into?
  • What would fire you up about it?
  • Do you chat about it with others who share the same interests? What do you talk about with them? (That’s how this post was made!)

The thinking that will help you to find good topics can change from niche to niche, but these should be a good starting point for you. Brainstorm. Scribble all over a piece of paper.

The first idea you have is often not the best idea you will have, so don’t worry about whether what you’re putting down is good enough. Just write it anyway and keep going. Jot down everything from your head, and see where it takes you.

You can even look at it with fresh eyes the next day. Are there any patterns? Could some of them be combined to make an even better idea? Explore your possibilities. It sounds super corny, but look for your own fun in the process. Allow yourself to find content that you can get excited about creating.

2. Look around. Be a good listener.

Keep an eye out as you explore the Internet for anything that stands out as interesting, and make notes for yourself to come back to later.

I find a lot of interesting stuff when I look around social media for articles. Some are full of information I see commonly, but every now and then someone will have tried something new and exciting.

social media

I’ll then mull that over, think, “Could that be explored even further? What would be an argument or different angle to take on it? Is there anything similar I haven’t considered before that I could look into?”

You can also look on popular forums and blogs. If you find a site that consistently has good information, or people asking good questions, record that somewhere so you can check regularly for new inspiration.

3. Supplement with traditional topic research methods.

I’m not saying that you can’t do keyword research, but you should do it with a different mindset. Find a keyword to match a great topic rather than the other way around.

Or if you really want to do keyword research to find a topic, be sure to keep your overall site objective in mind when choosing.

Then give a unique perspective on the topic, something different than what everyone else is saying. Something better. What have they missed? Is there any way you could respond to that topic with an approach that is more targeted to your specific audience?

Thinking like that makes sure that you’re thinking about your site visitor’s interests when you build your content.

4. Record as you go to build your own topic database. It’s much less overwhelming than trying to do it when you’re ready to write.

There are a lot of ways to do this. I simply jot down notes in a Google document, with lines made of hyphens separating them for easy reference.

Blog Notes

Sometimes the ideas I get for topics haven’t even been found in the likes of social media. An idea will just occur to me as I go about my own work, and I’ll jot that down too.

Then, when it comes time to write another post, I open my list and look at the top one that I haven’t written yet. If I’m still excited to write about that topic, I go and do a bit more research, and then I’m off!

Occasionally I’ll delete an idea, deciding that it’s not really as interesting as I thought at the time, but that’s all part of the process.

  • Find inspiration in bulk over time
  • Filter it down to the best ideas
  • Poke around for further information (like with this research method here)
  • Then get it flowing onto a page
  • It takes a little while to figure out where the best inspiration comes from for you personally, but it’s like anything else worth your time: The more you do it, the more awesome you’ll get.

    Don’t Forget Your Takeaways


    • Does your website have an overall purpose for your site visitors? What does it help them to do?
      • If not, think about how you could sculpt your content in a more focused direction from here on out.
    • Have you got a solid strategy for coming up with content topics that focus on people rather than search engines?
    • Start a document for recording topic ideas.
      • Brainstorm some topics with audience experience in mind.
      • Look around social media, blogs and forums to discover what people really want to know.
        • Keep an eye out for any questions that come up regularly but receive generic responses. Could you offer an alternative solution? (Think, “Is there an answer to this that would best suit the specific needs of my website’s audience?”).
      • If you do use keyword research as a topic generation method, think about your audience when you build your seed keyword list. Search volumes should be secondary to having a strong purpose for your content.
    • Return to this list when it comes to creating new content rather than trying to come up with something on the spot at the time; it’s much easier and more effective overall.

    Source:: Affiliate Marketing Blog

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