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How do you drive more organic traffic by efficiently enhancing your content strategy using only free tools?

Here's a 2,500 word how-to guide.

Why free Google tools?

The range of tools available to big agencies and brands can unearth a plethora of useful data to help understand SEO and content focuses. Tools like SEMrush, Searchmetrics, Brightedge and others can be massively insightful, but their cost can be preclusive to some.

In addition, they can require analytical, Excel-loving brains with many hours at hand to really drill down into the granular detail to extract benefits.

Many sole traders, small businesses and SMEs just don’t have the budget or resource to invest money and time into such data, so I wanted to help by talking through how it’s possible to be really targeted with your content work, using only free tools provided by our all-powerful overlord; Google.  

It’s never been easier to set your site up with Google Analytics and Search Console (nee Webmaster Tools). If you haven’t, do it. Now. Here and here

The content strategy process is a long one, driven by mounds of data from social and SEO sources, but underneath it all lies simple logic. It’s a linear process that starts with opportunity and results in what you can get from that opportunity, so you know what’s worth doing. Then it’s a case of doing it, measuring it, and learning from it. 

Simple, right? Honestly, it can be!

Trends analysis

So let’s start at the start. We’ll set out our stall by defining who we are for this example. In this instance, we are a sports retailer – clothing, equipment, etc. As a result, we want to populate our static content and blog content with material that is in demand and meets the needs of relevant searchers.

The first tip is to understand what has been popular in sport in the recent past. There are three Google tools that can help with this:

Google Trends

The Explore section of Google Trends can be massively useful in understanding previous search trends. If we are to look for a certain type of sport or sporting event, we can see relative search volumes and understand when people are searching for information on them. 

This is invaluable for insight on when to create and publish content. Remember, depending on the size and authority of your site, Google can take a while to crawl content, so be sure to publish in plenty of time for Google to crawl and index the content. 

Search trends for Wimbledon (2015), for example, clearly peak during the tournament (June 29th to July 12th). However, interest begins to rise more than a month before the start of the tournament.

This is interesting insight as it shows that demand for content is actually spread over a wider period than expected and therefore you may be able to cut through the noise by publishing unique content earlier.

google trends

Further down the results, we also see further information about related search queries, which can be additionally helpful.

For example, with Wimbledon in the UK, additional queries like Andy Murray, the BBC and Roger Federer are also popular, which can help inform the content you might create.  

google trends

Another really useful part of Google Trends is the Year In Search report, which looks back at the last calendar year and highlights the key events searched for during that 12 months. 

year in search

This report can be broken down into lists based on particular categories. Lists relevant to our sports brand might be People of Sport and Sports Events

google trends

This can be useful again to inform content subjects. A key question to ask is why these searches were so big. If it is because of a particular time-specific event, like Pedro’s transfer to Chelsea, then content around him perhaps won’t have legs in the future.

However, ‘evergreen’ high-demand sports stars like Ronda Rousey will provide much higher, more consistent, levels of demand over time.

The main Year In Search report lists the most popular search trends in the year, so leafing through this to identify search opportunities can unveil insight. The list for 2015, for example contains the Rugby World Cup, the Women’s Football World Cup and the Cricket World Cup, all of which are relevant to our sports brand.

We know that these events don’t happen every year, but it can direct us to look ahead at what sporting events are upcoming in the next 12 months, especially World Cups and Championships, and filter this into the future content strategy.

In 2016, for example, we know that Euro 2016 and the Rio Olympics are happening, and the Year In Search report indicates that these will drive high demand. 

YouTube Trends

Working in a very similar way to Google Trends, YouTube Trends gives insight into how people have searched YouTube over time. YouTube is, after all, the world’s second biggest search engine.

The most useful part of this tool is the Dashboard area. Many businesses (most, I hope!) will have an understanding of who their customers are, and this info can be used in Dashboard to drill down into YouTube behavioural trends.

Our sports retail brand is UK-only and most customers are 25-34-year-old males. We can input this data into Dashboard and see what videos are popular in that demographic. Straight away we can see that in the Top 10 results, there are two sports related videos.

This is useful stuff that helps to understand the content our target audience is consuming, and what we might create to target them.

youtube trends 

Google Correlate

Now this one is a little leftfield as it is more data heavy and requires some data formatting to work properly, but Google Correlate is a clever tool designed to show other search terms that have similar search trends to your target term.

You can upload search trend data from Google Trends and the tool will reveal other terms that follow similar search patterns. 

The Draw To Search function is especially clever. It allows you to draw a trend curve (for your chosen terms) and produces a list of other search terms that match a similar trend curve. 

draw to search

This can throw up some really random results - however, there is useful stuff in there too. 

The simple way to use it, however, is to just enter a relevant term in the search box and see what matches. A search in Correlate for ‘adidas trainers’ shows correlations with other search terms containing trainer brands like Nike, and Adidas trainer models like Superstar.

Really interestingly, however, there is also a correlation with searches for content about smartwatches. This implies there may be an audience link and smartwatch content could be of interest to our Adidas trainer customers. 

google correlate

So, after a bit of research across Trends and Correlate, we will hopefully have generated a list of appropriate subjects and terms that we want to take forward into the next part of the process.

The next step is to validate those opportunities by starting to understand what we might be able to generate for our business in traffic terms.

Targeting keywords

Google Keyword Planner

Earlier, Correlate told us that we had a potential opportunity to target our costumers with smartwatch content, so let’s see what opportunity there is around that subject.

Keyword planner tells us that in the UK, over the last 12 months, there are 242 related keywords we should consider looking at.

Now, let’s be honest, our humble sports brand is not Mashable, Wired or Techcrunch, so perhaps going for headline terms like ‘smartwatches’ is not sensible. Let’s look at long tail terms (low volume, high specificity) to see if there are ‘easier’ opportunities to go after. 

If we export the results, and remove keywords with 1,000+ searches per month (the headline terms) or less than 100 searches per month (not enough potential), we’re left with:

keyword planner

In order to get benefit in a realistic timeframe, we also need to consider the difficulty of competing for traffic on these terms.

Keyword Planner gives us this information in the Competition column. If we sort this column and remove those terms with the most difficulty (1 is the highest), we’re left with: 

keyword analysis

A bit of logic tells us that ‘smartwatch news’ isn’t relevant for us as that implies long term, regular content.

However, there are some clear winners here that we could create evergreen content around. ‘Top 10 smartwatches’ and ‘smartwatch apps’ are two in particular.

Of course, we can create relevant content around these subjects due to the link between smartwatches and sports-fitness apps, Strava, GPS tracking, pedometers, etc. An example post might be Top 10 smartwatch apps for running.

In 2014, Moz performed a study of organic search click through rates, and we can use this to calculate how many clicks we might expect to get from these two terms, based on the position our content ranks in and what the search volumes are.  

moz study

Applying this data shows us that if our content ranks in position 1 for these terms, which is viable if we have a healthy link profile and a well optimised site, then we can expect to see over 80 clicks per month for each of these terms. 

keyword analysis

While this may not seem much, these are just two terms in what should be a plethora of opportunities. If we’re publishing a targeted piece every couple of days, based on the right data, then this number will very quickly accelerate. 

Another way of calculating click through rates, rather than using a study, is to look in another of Google’s tools...

Google Search Console

The Search Analytics section of what was known as Webmaster Tools will show you how many impressions and clicks a term has generated over a given time frame, plus the resulting click through rate and the average ranking of the term.

Accordingly, you can start to build your own study based on your own organic performance data.

If we look at Zazzle’s data for a long tail term such as ‘types of digital media’ for which we rank in position 1, we can see that for the chosen timeframe, the site received 94 clicks from 201 impressions, a CTR of almost 47%. 

‘Digital content types’, using the same methodology, gave a click through rate of 39% from position 1. 

Already we can see that some of our click through rates are different to those outlined in the study. With a bit of work, a study of your own average click through rates by position can be a useful endeavour, as it will mean your projections are accurate and tailored to you. 

I have created a cheat sheet that will allow you to use the study CTRs to formulate traffic based on search volume. I have also extended it so that for commercial brands, AOV and conversion rate can be added to calculate potential revenue from each term. It also includes an area where you can enter your own CTRs if you choose to do the analysis I suggested above. 

cheat sheet

While you are in Search Console and looking at clicks/impressions by term, take a look at the same data by page rather than by query and try to understand any patterns with regards to which content types are working better than others.

Ultimately your current content performance is the best source of information on what your readers want to see and what will work best for you in the future.

Perhaps it is product reviews that work for you, or Top 10 lists? Perhaps it is more visual content… video perhaps? Understanding this and plugging it into the research data you’ve done in this process will only enhance your strategy.

Now we know what our opportunities are and what they could mean to our business in terms of traffic and revenue, we need to plan our content calendar.

Content planning

Google Drive

Another great tool from Googlem using Google Sheets as a home for a content calendar is great as it allows evolution over time via collaboration.

Multiple people working on the same document can be a nightmare, however Google Sheets mitigates that by constantly saving the document. It also gives you more control over who sees the calendar via sharing restrictions.

Here's the calendar template that Zazzle uses (or Econsultancy subscribers can download Econsultancy's Content Marketing template files, which feature a content calendar template).

Of course, when you’ve got all your data-led concepts in place and a template calendar in Drive, the next bit is quite important. Ideas…

Google Keep

Even if you already use an iterative, tried and tested ideation process, this still requires meetings of minds, imagination and creativity.

Google Keep is a great way of recording the output of brainstorming sessions, ensuring all of those creative juices are bottled and not lost post-meeting.

google keep

Measuring success

Google Analytics

Now that we’ve identified, planned and executed the content calendar, now it’s time for perhaps the most important part of all – measurement and iteration. 

Whilst Search Console is a great source of information, especially for search queries since the dawn of Not Provided, Google Analytics is the best way for you to understand the success of your content.

Below is a list of some really simple things to look at within GA, to give you a view of how successful your content is.

1. Acquisition > Organic Keywords > Select ‘Landing Page’ as primary dimension

This report shows you how much organic traffic has landed on each page during the chosen timeframe.

Ultimately, our aim with all of this is to improve organic rankings for relevant terms with targeted content, so the measure has to be how much traffic that content is driving to the site.

This report will also let us know how many of those visits are coming from new users (and therefore potential new customers) and how users are engaging with the content. If they are engaging well, we know what works. If they don’t then we need readdress the strategy. 

Finally, the report will also show any commercial impact from that traffic/content in the form of revenue, pending the setup of goal tracking, of course.

google analytics

2. Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages

As above but for all traffic, not just organic.

Ultimately, other channels may drive benefit to your new content, especially social and referral, so it’s important to understand that. 

google analytics

3. Behaviour > Site Content > All pages

Similar to the above but for all traffic, not just organic, and also gives extra information on engagement with the content.

Importantly, this report shows how many times the page is the last page a user sees before exiting the site. This can highlight issues or positives with the journey of the content and how engaging it is.

There is also another interesting metric in this report – Page Value – i.e. how much revenue each visit to each page is driving, based on transaction/goal tracking. 

google analytics

Whichever reports you choose to use in GA, ensure that you’re applying those learnings right back to the start of this process.

As I mentioned earlier, your experience of what works for your brand and audience is as valuable as any insight data, so make sure you incorporate it. 

For more guidance on content marketing and SEO, see the following resources:

Mark Leech

Published 22 March, 2016 by Mark Leech

Mark Leech is Operations Director at Zazzle Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Mark on Twitter

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