If you’re just getting started with SEO, the entire process of researching and managing topics for your website can seem incredibly daunting.
And sometimes, even experienced SEO professionals often have the same experience.
From researching the right keywords to writing content that’s optimized for those terms, to deciding what your topics will be in the first place — there are a lot of moving parts involved.
But no worries, in this comprehensive guide to SEO topic research, you’ll learn all the basics and, more importantly, how to execute topic research for SEO.
Let’s dive in!
Baby steps: What is SEO topic research?
To put it simply, SEO topic research is the process of finding the keywords and phrases that people are searching for on search engines like Google or Bing, and using them to optimize your website or blog content.
The end goal is to make your website content appear on those search engines when your audience searches for the keywords and phrases you’ve optimized your content and site with.
It’s like being a detective, trying to figure out what your ideal audience is looking for and how they’re searching for it.
The end goal here is to make your content appear on those search engines when your audience is searching for resources relating to the keywords and phrases you’ve optimized your content with.
But let’s dig a bit deeper into the benefits of topic research for SEO purposes.
5 critical benefits of SEO topic research
There are many advantages of conducting keyword research, but here are five of the most critical benefits that make SEO keyword research an invaluable asset for any marketer.
1. Identify topics your audience cares about
There’s hardly anything more frustrating than spending time, energy, and resources to create content only to find out your audience isn’t interested.
For instance, if you’re selling retail store management software, you can plug the phrase “retail management” into a keyword research tool like Semrush and it’ll show all the topics related to retail management that your target audience is searching for.
It’ll also include search volumes for each of those topics so you can get a better idea of how many times they’re being searched for.
You can then use this data to create content that resonates with your target audience and focus on the topics they care about.
2. Organic traffic for years to come
It’s entirely possible to create content without doing SEO keyword research and publishing it.
But that content wouldn’t be optimized to appear on search engines and thus would be much less likely to generate organic traffic.
For instance, let’s say you’ve realized that saving money is an important topic for your audience and have written a post about ways to save money.
But before publishing, you didn’t do any research to find the phrases or keywords that people are searching for when looking for content on that topic. They’re probably using phrases like “money-saving tips,” “budgeting tips,” or “how to save money.” But you’ve used none of these keywords in your post.
Even if you’ve got a great post, it’s not likely to show up on search engine results pages (SERPs).
But if you did keyword research and optimized the article for a keyword like “budgeting tips,” you could be getting over 1,700 organic visitors per month to that article alone.
Case in point: that’s actually the number of visitors the #1 ranking piece for the keyword “budgeting tips” gets per month according to Semrush data.
So, doing SEO topic research gives you the data to optimize your content for the exact phrases and keywords that people are searching for on search engines, so your post can show up on SERPs and generate organic traffic for years to come.
3. Establish your site as an authority on a topic
While ranking for certain keywords is great for your business or project, becoming an authority on a specific topic is even better.
And being an authority means that when people search for content related to a certain topic, your website or blog is one of the first Bing or Google search results that come up.
For instance, when you search for anything related to marketing, HubSpot is often one of the first websites that come up. That’s because, over time, the brand has published lots of content that are optimized for the topic of marketing. And search engines have recognized this fact and given them higher rankings on SERPs.
So by conducting SEO topic research, and regularly publishing content on topics your audience is actively searching for, you can establish your site as an authority on certain topics and get higher rankings on SERPs.
4. Drive demand for your product or service
Eventually, you may want to drive more leads and sales for your product or service (if that’s part of your business model). And SEO topic research can help you do just that.
By identifying topics related to your product or service, you can create content that educates your audience on how they can use it and what value it provides.
For instance, if you’re selling a product that helps HR managers streamline their recruitment process, you could create content that explains how to optimize the hiring process, the benefits of automation and AI in HR, or tips for improving employee onboarding.
This type of content will help to drive demand for your product or service and can help to convert more leads into paying customers.
5. Level the competitive playing field
Finally, SEO topic research can help to level the competitive playing field.
If you’re a small business or startup competing with larger competitors who have bigger budgets and resources for content creation, it can be hard to stand out. But with SEO topic research, you can identify gaps in the market where your competitors aren’t actively producing content.
For instance, you could use the Keyword Gap tool in Semrush to identify relevant industry-related topics you aren’t producing content about, but your competitors are.
The content gap tool can also show topics that are relevant to your business, but your competitors aren’t producing content on. So you can quickly jump on those topics and possibly rank higher on SERPs than your competitors.
6 steps to do SEO topic research
There are six critical steps involved in doing topic research for SEO:
1. Identify your target audience
This step is easy (probably the easiest) but very important.
You need to identify who you’re targeting with your content and what problems they have that you can help solve. This will help you to come up with the most relevant topics for your audience and drive the best results.
So how do you identify your target audience?
I like to simply ask myself, “Who are the people I want to find my content?” It’s a really simple question, but it can help you zoom in on the demographics, interests, and needs of your target audience.
Then move on to what topics can help them, which leads to my next point.
2. Identify topics relevant to your goal using Semrush
Your goal might be to drive sales, increase traffic & page views, or increase brand awareness.
Whatever it is, you need keywords that’ll help to hit those goals.
But the challenge here is, during your keyword research process, you’ll often come across thousands of keywords that are related to your main topic, but aren’t necessarily important to your goal.
For instance, if I was doing topic research for a business in the email marketing space, there are over 320,000 keywords related to that topic.
You’ll need to sort through those keywords and pick out the most “goal-relevant” ones.
For instance, if you’re trying to increase traffic for your blog, you’ll need to target high-search-volume keywords that are related to your industry. The higher the search volume, the better it is for your goal.
Or if your primary goal is to drive sales, you’ll need to target any keywords that suggest a purchase search intent. For example, a business in the “CRM” industry would need to target keywords like: “Best CRM software” or “how to choose the right CRM”.
If you’re using Semrush, you can set it to filter out keywords based on search intent that aligns with your goal.
So for instance, if it’s to drive sales, you can filter out keywords with commercial search intent.
Once you’ve done this, the tool will generate a list of relevant keywords you can use to create content that aligns with that search intent.
3. Pick out keywords with “moderate” difficult scores
(Note: Keyword difficulty scores are an indication of how hard it’ll be to rank for any particular keyword — with zero being the easiest and 100 being the hardest).
Some guides online might advise you to target keywords with super low difficulty (KD) scores.
But that’s not always the best approach.
You’ll want to target keywords with what I like to call “moderate” difficulty scores. These are keywords that aren’t too high for your website’s domain rating (DR) or authority score to rank for but are still competitive enough to drive good traffic.
For instance, if your website has a 50 DR, you can very well target keywords with up to 70 KD scores. And if it’s a 20 to 40-DR website, you can target keywords with up to 55 KD scores.
The goal isn’t always to rank for the least difficult keywords — because they’re easy to rank for, but to drive the most amount of traffic and clicks from a mix of both high and low-difficulty keywords.
So how do you know if a keyword is too hard or easy?
Most keyword research or SEO tools provide a keyword difficulty score with every given keyword. Here’s what it looks like in Semrush, for instance:
It looks almost the same for most other tools too.
So all you need to do is use this score as a reference guide to picking out the most relevant keywords with moderate difficulty scores.
4. Categorize keywords into pillars & clusters
Pillars and clusters are two organizational structures you can use to organize your content ideas and keywords.
A pillar is a single keyword that is relevant to a large, overarching topic. It is the “umbrella” keyword so to speak and all your other content topics (clusters) fall underneath it.
For instance, if I were writing a post on “email marketing,” my pillar keyword would be: “Email Marketing.”
And some of the clusters I could write about under “email marketing” include:
- Email marketing automation
- Email list building strategies
- Email copywriting, and so on.
But structure and organization aren’t the only benefits of using pillar and cluster keywords. Another major advantage you’ll find is that it allows you to create content that’s more comprehensive, interlinked, and organized.
This helps keep readers on your page longer and reduces bounce rate — both of which are signals that Google looks for when ranking content.
Plus, some SEOs or content marketers, like me, have found that internal links actually increase search rankings and organic traffic.
So how do you find pillar and cluster keywords?
Simply put your main keyword or pillar into a keyword research tool and see what other related search queries appear. See what that looks like in Semrush’s keyword research tool for a search term like “email marketing”:
So with this example, “email marketing” is the pillar keyword and all of the other search queries that appear are my cluster keywords.
5. Create content that matches search intent
Finally, we’re now at the point where you can start creating content. And this is where search intent is super important.
Search intent is basically what someone’s trying to accomplish when they type in a search query into Google or any other search engine.
So you want to make sure that the content you create on your website matches the intent behind a search query.
For instance, if someone types in “how to start an email list,” then they’re looking for a step-by-step guide. So you don’t want to create content that simply talks about the importance of email lists — you want to create something that actually guides them through the process.
Or if they search for “best email marketing software,” then they’re likely looking to compare different products and services. So you don’t want to create content that doesn’t match with their intent for search.
If search engine users feel your content doesn’t match their intent, they’re likely to leave your page and look for another one.
But if your content does match their search intent, here are some of the benefits you’ll enjoy:
- Higher search rankings — Google rewards content that its users find valuable.
- More website traffic — You’re likely to get more clicks, views, and conversions when you create content that people are actually looking for.
- Lower bounce rate — If users feel your content answers their questions, they’re more likely to stay longer on your page.
- More conversions — When people find the answers to their questions, they’re more likely to take action on your page.
Search intent is a critical part of SEO and content creation. The more you focus on creating content that matches what people are looking for, the better results you’ll get.
6. Staying on your goal and avoiding distracting keywords
As you journey through SEO and content marketing, you’ll often run into keywords that seem tempting to write about but won’t help you reach your goal.
But remember to stay on task—even if it’s hard—and focus on the keywords that’ll help hit those goals.
For instance, a list of “best tools for email marketing” might seem like a great topic to write about, but it isn’t likely to move the needle on your overall goal if you’re not selling email marketing tools.
So instead, focus on topics that are related to your industry and will help you reach your goals.
And it’s okay if you find yourself still distracted from time to time; just try to refocus by asking yourself questions like:
- Is this topic related to my overall goal?
- Will this help me reach my desired outcome?
- Is this something my target audience would want to read about?
Answering questions like these will help you stay on track and tackle topics that are beneficial to your overall goals.
FAQs on SEO topic research
Now let’s address some of the most common questions related to SEO topic or keyword research.
How do I find SEO topics?
A. I’ve shared quite a lot about this in this guide, but what’s really important is to do keyword research using a tool like Semrush (or any other alternative), understand search intent, and focus on keywords related to your industry or niche.
And remember to not get sidetracked or overly distracted by topics that don’t help you reach your goal.
What are some important things to consider when researching SEO topics?
A. First, think about what you’re trying to achieve with content. Is it to drive more sales, increase website traffic, or something else?
Then move on to keyword research and find keywords that best suit your goal — and I’ve shared what this means in detail in this article. Finally, consider search intent and make sure you create content that matches the query behind your target keyword.
What are topic clusters?
A. Topic clusters are related topics grouped together. They help you provide in-depth content for any subject and are great for SEO.
You can create topic clusters by starting with a broad topic, and then refining it further into more specific topics. This will help you create content that’s comprehensive and relates to your niche.
What are long tail keywords?
A. Long tail keywords are phrases that are more specific than the average keyword. They tend to be longer and consist of three or more words.
These keywords may have low search volume, but since they are more specific and less competitive than the average keyword, they are oftentimes easier to rank for and can help you attract qualified website visitors.
I hope this guide has given you a better understanding of SEO keyword or topic research and how to use it to create content that will help you reach your goals.
Remember, the best way to do research is to focus on search intent and create content that answers people’s questions. And also make sure to focus on keywords with search intent that support your goals, while staying away from topics that won’t help you achieve them.
Good luck! Now go out there and create amazing SEO content!