One of my absolute favorite lines from Pulp Fiction (pausing in acknowledgment of the fact that this movie is rife with legendary one-liners) comes from a deleted scene. Mia asks Vincent, “In a conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?” and Vincent replies with, “I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I’m trying harder to listen.” If ever there was an accurate representation of the struggle of creating relevant web content, I believe this is it.
In the perpetual quest to create “good” content, it has been my experience that many writers overlook the most important step of content creation: “listening” for demand. Instead of creating content that searchers are actively seeking out, site owners will produce articles that they, personally, think are relevant; essentially “waiting to talk.” Long term, this dynamic will, not surprisingly, become a pain point as you're left wondering where your organic traffic is.
When we provide content for our clients, we do extensive research into the types of subjects we will be pursuing (based upon the ultimate purpose of the content), the niches, audiences, and keywords we will be targeting, and the competitors we will be studying. If we think a topic might be worth writing about, we evaluate it using a variety of metrics before deciding to move forward.
Qualifying Topic Ideas
Though it is the most tempting, what we do not do is qualify a topic based on our own personal feelings. The truth is, search doesn’t care about our feelings one way or another on any particular subject. SERPs exist to serve searcher intent, and this is accomplished using a variety of data, metrics, and algorithms to serve up the most relevant response to queries. At no point are our personal feelings about what we think is relevant called upon to populate page one results. Actual site and user data is parsed and analyzed in order to determine what the “best” answers to any searched term are.
If you insist that you know a good topic when you see or hear one, I’d challenge you to show me your work. How do you know it’s good? What are you using to validate your inclinations? Like Alonzo Harris iconically noted in Training Day, “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.” If you can’t provide some sort of valid collateral to support your inclinations, then you should return back to square one.
It’s not uncommon for us, as writers within a niche, to think that we inherently know a winning topic when we ideate it. In at least a notable handful of instances where I’ve personally gone and checked metrics to validate my ideas, I have been wrong.
Maybe a justifiable search volume wasn’t there or the search didn’t translate the way I intended it to in the SERPs. Had I gone ahead and suggested the topic to a client, or written the piece, I would have been doing so feeling like I was answering what must be a killer query, when in reality, I was serving up a swing and a miss.
Always Check the Data
Fact checking your hunches and assumptions against data is the only real way to know if the content that you’re creating is worthwhile. How did you select this topic? Why do you think it’s qualified to be on your site, let alone competing for audience views within your niche? How do you plan to execute on the subject matter so that you are able to both meet searcher intent and hold your own among your competitors?
Since search engines function entirely off of data compilation and evaluation, to base content creation and organization on anything less than a variety of reputable data sources sells yourself (and your site) short. Here’s a tangible example:
Winter sports are at their peak in the U.S. during this time of year. If we’re responsible for content creation in a local doctor’s office, or perhaps a rehabilitation center, it would make logical sense to think that an article written about “winter sports injuries” would be relevant to a couple of your target audiences. The fact that it's winter would also make it seasonally relevant and could likely broaden that target audience, as well.
However, a quick look at projected search volumes in SEMRush shows us that this query is in very low demand.
Though it might still be worth pursuing topically for a variety of other reasons (perhaps to fill a competitive gap), a simple but deliberate shift in the topic to something akin to “skiing injuries” instead boosts the projected monthly search volume notably, and still allows you to reach your target audiences.
Occasionally, your assumptions about an audience or a subject may turn out to be valid and worth pursuing. For example, a plumber in Star, Idaho may assume that their target audience is a local one, particularly with a need for a plumber. In fact, an Idaho plumber will want to have some amount of content on their blog dedicated to location and business-specific queries.
However, this should not be the entirety of the content, nor should it necessarily be the majority. If your instincts are telling you that reaching a broader audience with your content is useless because you’re a locally-based business, you are fundamentally incorrect.
There are a multitude of benefits associated with a dedicated and robust content strategy, designed to meet specific goals or KPI’s over time. A single piece of content should not be designed to do all of the things; rather, content should be intentionally constructed with a primary goal, and any other goals that it accomplishes along the way are extra icing on the cake.
A comprehensive content strategy contains subject matter that touches all parts of the marketing funnel; from top to middle to bottom. If you’re operating as though your content should be designed explicitly to capture conversions, you’re missing the point. Search is designed to answer user queries. If you’re not doing this at a basic level, or if you’re only answering a very specific set of queries, you could be losing out in a big way.
Good data isn’t stagnant, so it’s important to make sure that you frequently return back to your sources and look over the new information available. A once obsolete topic may now be worth capturing, or a new search competitor may have crept onto the scene. Simply doing the work to map out a content plan once isn’t sufficient. It’s equally as relevant to constantly be evaluating the state of your existing content: Is there room for improvement or revision? Did your original piece miss the mark, or not quite properly reach the target audience?
If you’re here looking for the TL;DR, I’ve got you.
TL;DR: You can’t create content designed to meet a KPI based on what you blindly assume searchers, your target audience, or your competitors are pursuing. Strategic content, designed to meet specific goals, must be backed up by valid data compiled from authoritative sources. Taking the extra step of investigating your topics prior to execution isn’t wasted time; it’s arguably the most important time you’ll spend on any one piece.