Keyword and Content Research for Small Business Blogging

To create successful blog posts that drive results, you’ll need to explore the content that’s already out there.

Millions of blog posts are published every day. According to WordPress, one of the top blogging platforms, nearly 80 million posts went live almost every month in 2019. That’s more than 2 million every day on WordPress-hosted blogs alone!

With so much content being produced every single day, how can you make yours stand out? The answer is simple: Be yourself. Even if other people in your field have already written extensively about a particular topic, you can still add something new to the conversation.

The businesses that see success approach blogging with real business goals in mind. To give yourself the best chance of achieving those goals, however, you need to learn more about the content landscape using keyword and content research.

Keyword research is the process of understanding what people are searching for online based on the search queries they use, and content research is the process of exploring what your competitors are publishing. Used together, this research can help you determine what content to write in order to achieve your business objectives.

Getting started

Of the millions of posts published every day, only a small proportion of them are likely to be targeted to your audience or niche. Depending on the sort of business you run, you may find that the landscape is even less crowded than you expect. Before you start your keyword and content research, you need to:

  • Understand your audience
  • Figure out what people want or need
  • Research published content

1. Understand your audience.

Before you leap in and write blog posts, it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of who is in your audience. As a small business, it’s likely that you’ve already identified different groups of people you’re looking to target.

Target: Current or potential new customers

If your goals include improving relationships with your customers or growing your business, then your audience will include current or potential customers.

For each of these customer types, you’ll want to be able to confidently answer these high-level questions:

  • What's their core focus? What do they really care about?
  • What problems are they looking to solve that you could help them with?
  • What are their biggest pain points with regard to the products or services you offer?
  • Whose opinions do they respect?
  • What else are they interested in?
  • What do they read?
  • Where do they spend their time online?

If you were to address the first bullet point, for example, a small business owner may need to buy things like accountancy software, but their core focus is making their business a success. Similarly, parents might consider buying educational toys or books for their children, but what they really care about is giving their children the very best start in life.

There are many ways you can find this information. If you already have good relationships with some of your customers, you can call them and ask these questions. Alternatively, if you’re seeking a more quantitative approach, you can run a survey to gain some insights.

If your target audience is active online, another option is to look at their social media profiles. Many people’s accounts are public, and if you spend a little time scrolling through a handful of your customers’ Twitter or LinkedIn feeds, you’ll get a sense of what they’re sharing—and what they really care about. It can also be worth investigating other online forums where you can see the questions that customers have asked and answered.

Target: Industry professionals

If your goals include driving awareness of your business, then your audience will include industry peers, academics, and journalists.

While your audience for this goal is different, you’ll still want to understand a lot of the same things:

  • What do they write or speak about?
  • What do they care about?
  • What problems are they looking to solve?
  • What are they working on right now?
  • Whose opinions do they appear to respect?
  • What else are they interested in?
  • What do they read?
  • Where do they spend their time online?

Though you might not be able to gain direct access to these people as easily as your existing customers, these professionals are likely to have strong online profiles.

For example, industry peers may already write or have videos of them speaking online. Similarly, academics may have published papers and write or speak regularly. Likewise, journalists tend to be active on social media, and you can read their articles to get a sense of what they write about.

2. Figure out what people want or need.

So how do you make the leap from collecting answers to your questions to knowing what your customers wish for or require?

Think about what your customers actually need help with and the problems they’re looking to solve. Speak to or email customers about their thoughts, what they’re confused about, and their concerns. Once you gather their questions, organize them into topics or themes.

3. Research published content.

Before you take your list of topics and themes and see what’s already been produced, remember that if you want your blog to succeed, you’ll need to have concrete business goals in mind.

Check that you’re still on track to reach your goals. Will writing about all of the topics help you reach your goals? Or has your list become too broad and unwieldy? If your list is too big, reduce the number of topics you’d like to write about. You can always go back and revisit the topics you cut at a later date.

Before you start writing, you’ll need a basic understanding of keyword and content research.

How does keyword research work?

Search engines like Google have evolved a lot. There was a time when in order to appear in organic search results, you needed to pay attention to precise search queries. For example, a search like “small business blogging tips” would show different results than “tips for small business bloggers.”

As technology has become more sophisticated, Google has made great strides in terms of understanding what people are searching for, regardless of how they word it. If you try those searches today, you’ll see that while the results do differ slightly, many of the articles appear for both search terms. This means you can just write 1 article about small business blogging.

But in this case, which term is searched more frequently: “small business blogging tips” or “tips for small business bloggers”? That’s where things get a little tricky, because it’s difficult to get accurate search volume data from Google.

Using Google’s Keyword Planner

You can use the Google Keyword Planner to gain ad impression data for search terms. It’s important to note, however, that this impression data is not the same as search volume: It’s the number of ad impressions that Google estimates you would receive if you were to advertise using these terms.

If you run “small business blogging tips” and “tips for small business bloggers,” you’ll find that the keyword planner returns zero impressions for both terms. That doesn’t mean that no one searches for these terms: It just means that Google don’t serve ads for these terms, so you can’t see the real search volume data.

Given that the data is so unreliable, is keyword research worth your time? Depending on your niche and the types of searches you’re looking to target, you may still be able to get some insight from impression data via the keyword planner. Even if you can’t get reliable search volume data, you can still learn more about people’s search behavior from Google in the form of keyword and content research.

Using Google to research

If you pop one of your topics into Google, you can get a wealth of information. If you search for something like “small business blogging strategy,” for example, you’ll also see this “People also ask” box that features related questions. These can be additional topics for you to research.

You might also see a list of related searches, which can help you think of more potential ideas.Plus, there are articles which actually rank for the search query, which can inspire even more ideas.

Try searches like these for each of your topic areas and read what’s already been published. That’ll help you understand what people are searching for, what’s already been produced, and whether or not these people’s questions are being answered well.

While you research, you’ll likely notice that many of the same sites appear again and again across the topics you’re researching. These are your content competitors. A company’s content competitors are often different from their commercial competitors. For example, Forbes isn’t a commercial competitor for Mailchimp, but it is a content competitor because many of the business topics the publication covers are also covered on Mailchimp.

If you want to better understand a competitor’s focus, what they regularly write about, and how you can offer something they don’t, you can dig a little deeper into their content. This can also help you identify which topics aren’t well covered—or people need more help with—and write about them.

Stand out from your competitors

By the end of this research process, you should have a better understanding of your audience as well as their wants and needs. You’ll also have a clearer view of the content landscape and thoughts on how you can add value to what’s already been published. Not only will this process support your business goals, it’ll provide a structure you can return to over and over when you need more ideas.

What if there are already resources on the topics you’ve identified?

It’s far better to learn what topics are already frequently written about before you’ve spent a lot of time and resources writing articles.

Even if a topic is popular online, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t add something of value. Think about how you could tackle the topic in a new way. What could you bring to conversation that’s different? What could you do to complement what’s already out there? To stand out from what’s already been written, you might just have to flex your creativity and offer a unique take.

If you’ve got a good idea for a topic to cover but find yourself struggling to think of ways to put your own unique spin on it, here are a few suggestions:

  • Interview an expert.
  • Ask for feedback from your customers or colleagues.
  • Speak to someone who is unfamiliar with the topic; it’s a good way to identify ideas or questions that you might not have otherwise considered.
  • Read a book or academic paper, then write a blog comparing the opinions of the authors to your own views or experiences.
  • Conduct a survey or poll and write about your findings.
  • Curate a list of other resources and articles on the topic so your audience can learn more and be exposed to other viewpoints.
  • Write about your own experiences.
  • Document your own process or way of working with regard to the topic at hand.
  • Address any myths or common misconceptions surrounding the topic.
  • Write about other experts you agree with, explaining why you agree with them and how their work relates to your own.
  • Have you recently changed your mind about the topic? Explain what changed and why.
  • Write about any mistakes you’ve made and outline what you’ll do differently in the future.
  • Think back to when you started exploring this particular topic. Write a letter to your past self, explaining all of the stuff you wish you’d known at the time.

Overcoming writer’s block

If you continue to feel stuck, consider moving onto a completely different topic. Or, better still, take a break from ideating altogether. Sometimes the best ideas show up when you’re least expecting them.

It might also be helpful to read about other people’s creative processes. If there’s a particular person or profession that interests you—whether that’s artists, writers, and musicians or scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs—do a bit of research into the ways they’re able to find inspiration. Try out some of the tactics they recommend and see what works for you.

So, what’s next?

Now that you’ve got some insight into how to plan, research, and come up with ideas for your small business blog, you can start thinking about the next step: writing. Remember: Be yourself. And when in doubt, just dip into the wealth of information that’s at your fingertips to get inspired.

Written by Hannah Smith for Mailchimp. Hannah is an expert in content marketing.