Most people doing SEO by now realize that you need content and lots of it for it to work.
Coming up with topics at the beginning is easy for some. But after you’ve been publishing for a few months, ideas start to run dry.
What if I told you that topic research didn't have to look like your content team sitting around a table asking, "what's relevant to publish next month?"
What if you could choose all your topics for the next quarter or even year in the next hour?
Today, I’m walking you through an SEO topic research framework to create content at scale.
What is SEO Topic Research?
SEO topic research is a method for identifying key topics to write about in a content-led, on-page SEO strategy. Having a set approach for topic research ensures you cover the whole breadth and angle of a specific topic. Additionally, a set topic research process allows you to quickly find a year's worth of content article ideas without relying solely on creative prowess.
Why is Topic Research Important for SEO?
Today, SEO is content-led.
You can’t rank without publishing content.
What's even more important is that your website publishes a lot of good, well-optimized content around the same topic. When you do this, Google identifies your site as being "topically relevant," thereby making the E-A-T (expertise, authority, trustworthiness) factor.
Topical relevance is even more important than domain authority or optimizing for keywords. So that means if you’re more topically relevant than a competitor with a better domain authority than you, you’re more likely to rank for the keywords you care about.
Instead of trying to cover every potential topic related to what you sell—you should be trying to go deep on a handful of categories.
Dissect the broad topic you're going for and find every possible angle, opinion, and approach about it that you can cover.
The more comprehensively you can cover a subject, the more secondary keywords you can cover, the more internal linking opportunities you'll create, and the more you'll SERP visibility and clicks you'll get.
You're better off doing this systematically (like I'm about to show you how to do). The alternative—coming up with it weekly or monthly—becomes too tolling and time-consuming at scale.
Having this topic research framework is an integral part of content operations.
If you’re growing fast and begin publishing at scale—topic research without a framework can become a significant bottleneck.
When you have a repeatable framework for research, the question will shift from “how to come up with SEO topics” to “how will I find the resources to write all of these topics?”.
How to do Topic Research at Scale
With a framework like this one, coming up with topics is easy and painless. Our goal here is to exhaust a subject as deeply as possible. The more angles we can develop, the more likely we are to rank for the broad keyword we're trying to hit.
We’re going to go through this process pretending that the topic we want to rank for is “email marketing."
You can follow along with this process mirror it for your business's content strategy. By the end of this article, you'll have at worst an entire topic cluster, and at best, a year's worth of content.
This isn’t just a blog post, so be sure to have another document open to take notes.
What to Know About SEO Topic Research
When you go through this article, you might feel like you'll be building a long list of overlapping topics.
You might be nervous that they're too similar. Too many companies write a handful of articles around relevant and essential issues and then move on.
They’re afraid to write too many articles around the same topic—fear of tiring their readers out or coming off as repetitive. The truth is that:
- Searchers generally don’t browse your blog like a publication. It works more like a library.
- The more specific angles you can cover a topic from, the better your content will perform.
- Most people won't detect that you're publishing over and over on the same topic. Your analytics certainly will notice.
In fact, instead of going broad in terms of the topics you publish, it's a better move to go deep: post a lot of content around fewer topics, and build topical authority.
Start with Google
Google and type in your main topic. For this article, we're going to use "email marketing."
You'll get a list of unpacked suggestions for what people are actively searching.
Click on each keyword individually and make sure there's no direct overlap in the SERP. You can tell there's overlap when the same page shows up on the first page for different keywords.
For example, if I take the first keyword and search for "email marketing tools," I see:
It looks like there's (unsurprisingly) some overlap between "email marketing tools" and "email marketing software," so I'll get rid of "tools" as a unique topic.
Then look at the top 5 SERP results, note their headlines (Google already finds them relevant), spin the titles, and repeat this process for each topic.
You can even dig deeper and look at the People Also Ask section on Google. Repeat the process and see how many more topics you can get from there.
You should get 4-6 topics from this step.
Add "for" to Your Keyword
Depending on how niche your product or service is, there may be various people searching for it. Instead of trying to rank for a broad keyword, this step targets people looking for something that serves them specifically.
Just go to https://growkeywords.com/, type in your keyword, and then "for *"
In our example, that's "email marketing for *."
I got a list of 240 keywords; here's an example:
Again, check if there’s any overlap to see if you need to merge any of them. If you only serve one industry or one ICP, then you might skip this one.
That said, it takes less than 1 minute to do, with a potential to get a bunch of topics, so it’s probably worth a shot anyway.
Take the "who" Filter Deeper
Now that you’ve looked at a “for” filter, we can look deeper at “who” might be interacting with your page.
Your long list of "email marketing for X" will get boring pretty quickly, and there are other, more exciting ways to look at "who" might be searching for what you offer.
“Who” can be a job title, an industry, or a company.
How can they be a part of the angle of your broader keyword? Let’s take a look:
Title: customer support, sales, marketers, etc.
- How Your Customer Support Team Is The Key To Nailing Email Marketing
Industry: healthcare, software, manufacturing, etc.
- 10 Email Marketing Tactics That Have Revolutionized Healthcare
Company: any company
- Case Study: How Harley Davidson is Killing It At Email Marketing
Try to develop 5-6 examples with this filter before you move onto the next one.
Add the "why"
Take your main broad keyword and add a reason or motivation for it.
This action will help expand our topic to address more angles: all different from the original while staying highly relevant to your main topic.
Here are some ideas:
- Using email marketing to improve customer retention
- Using email marketing to recruit top talent
- Using email marketing to retarget users who churn from your product
- Using email marketing to get more referrals
- Using email marketing to build a brand community
Focus on Search Intent
One of the main things in SEO topic research is identifying the search intent of a keyword. There are four widely recognized kinds of search intent:
You can also use search intent to guide your topic selection.
If you look at informational search intent, for example, there are other kinds of intent within that:
- Inspiration (I want to see what other people are doing)
- Education (I want to learn about something or how to do something)
Let’s take a look at some examples:
Inspire Your Readers
People always want to know how things have been done before or how people are doing them now.
Inspiration-seeking queries tend to have a higher volume than lower-funnel, purchase-intent keywords.
You can take the topics you found above and see how people would search if they were looking for inspiration.
- 10 Unforgettable Ideas for Customer Retention Emails
- 13 Examples of Welcome Emails For Healthcare Providers
- Best Break Up Email Examples That Got Fast Responses
Try creating inspirational content for each niche or vertical you serve rather than a generic one. The more specific it is, the more diverse content you can make.
Teach Your Readers
Another kind of information people seek online is educational information. This type of content will come in the form of "how-tos" or anything that helps them do their job better. Some examples of this include:
- How to Set Up Your First Drip Email Marketing Campaign
- Creating a Business Case For Email Marketing For Your CEO
- How to Use Active Campaign To Automate Email Marketing
Help Them Execute
This is when people are ready to take action on the topic. Most of the time, this is also when people will be most prepared to make a purchase.
Examples of execution-level content are:
- 12 Best Email Marketing Software For Healthcare Providers
- 10 Templates For A Sales Email Sequence
- Active Campaign Integrations
SEO Topic Research: Now You Have a Topic Cluster
Ideally, your website should stick to a handful of topics you continue to put through these frameworks.
While you may be tempted to focus more on the “execute” topics—after all, these people are more primed to purchase—don’t only do that.
First of all, you’ll run out of topics faster.
But also, you’ll miss the point.
SEO is about having a holistic coverage on a topic—not just trying to rank for a handful of keywords. SERP (search engine results page) dominance comes from consistently writing well-optimized pieces around a topic—not from writing a bunch of random, half-connected topics or putting all your resources into ranking for a handful of keywords.
Imagine it like you need a bunch of bricks to build an office. You know you need the office space for the salespeople to work in and bring in money—but you first need to develop the foundations, and you also need the extras: windows, great furniture, good lighting.
You can’t only build an office with a phone.
Look at SEO content the same way. Start building it all out to have a fully functioning, revenue-generating property.
You'll notice using this framework that you never run out of ideas of what to write about. When you do, run all your pieces through the framework again, or combine filters to get new articles.
Instead of sitting down every week or month wondering what you could write about, you’ll have a quarter or a year’s worth of content by doing this in one hour.
Have you done this before? Let me know your SEO topic research process in the comments.