Why the Worst Search Marketers Start Content Strategy with “SEO Keywords” — 5-Minute Whiteboard

I’m worried. Worried that thousands of agencies, in-house practitioners, and even marketing leaders who should know better are STILL prioritizing their content efforts based primarily or entirely on keywords for search.

I get it. 10 years ago, that practice worked. It still technically works in a number of fields. Prioritize keywords, create content, publish, get links and ranking signals, earn some Google traffic, get some leads and sales. It’s not dead, and it will probably never die entirely. The problem is that it biases marketers and their content to ignore channels of influence that reach and impact greater, more diverse swaths of their audience(s)—i.e. what content strategy is supposed to do.

So, on this week’s 5-Minute Whiteboard, I’m presenting the wrong way to start content strategy, and the right way:


Howdy SparkToro fans, and welcome to another edition of five minute whiteboard. This week, we’re chatting about why it is that many marketers, especially, you know, there’s there’s a bunch of digital marketing agencies (not to rain on those people particularly) and a bunch of in us teams who start all of their content strategy and content marketing with SEO keywords.

Which keywords should we rank for? Let let me walk you through the process quick. It it looks something like this:

The search centric content strategy begins with which keywords match these criteria:

  • They have high volume in Google, right? People are searching for them many times each month.
  • They are highly relevant to our business. We think people who have this search intent are likely to convert.
  • They have a measure of difficulty. We think we can actually rank for it.
  • They have some projected click through rate in Google. We think this many people who search for this term will actually click on some of the organic or paid listings depending on which one we’re focused on.
  • And then they build this prioritization chart based on metrics like, volume, difficulty, relevance, and clickthrough rate.

And then they create content specifically designed to rank in Google. Right? So if my my keyword, my top keyword is fishing poles because I’m selling fishing gear, then I create that content.

Well, we have to have a definition for fishing poles because Google really likes that and then we have describe different fishing poles and we’ve got to go through the the structure and how they’re built and materials and what they’re used for and which ones are best for which different and that’s gonna be our big fishing polls article that’s gonna rank well in Google and match the search intent.

And this, you know, you know who talked about this a lot? Who actually presented a whole whiteboard video about exactly how to do this? It’s that Rand Fishkin guy. Yes. Years ago, I was guilty of this. I was the person telling content marketers, search marketers: “This is how to build a great search marketing, and keyword marketing strategy.”

And now it’s become unfortunately a shorthand for how to do all content and that is just nuts. It’s not right that look, when I say the worst marketers start with these, almost no one starts with it, but gosh, too many of us are locked into this way of thinking.

Instead, let me encourage you to think about the way you do content marketing and content strategy in a different way, a broader way, a way like this:

It should be business-goal centric, not search centric because you don’t yet know–you don’t know that search is the best or only channel!

I have news for you, friends, ten years ago or fifteen years ago search was almost certainly the best channel for everyone and today… it is not. That has really changed and we need to update our way of thinking. I bet that ten years ago, ~70% of all journeys to find digital information on the web started with Google. And I would guess that <40% do today, possibly less than 30%.

We learn in different places. We have become accustomed to going to different communities and so you need a a strategy that instead asks:

  1. Who is our customer? Who are they? Are we targeting new fishermen? People who’ve never bought a fishing pole before? Or, are they very experienced? Are they casual fishing? Are they semi-pro? Are they doing competitions? Are they fly fishers? Are they fishing the ocean or going to rivers? Is it for vacation?
  2. Then we ask: where can we reach them? Where are these fishers right? Are they, paying attention to webinars? Probably not. Are they downloading research papers? I bet they are not. Are they going to Google and searching for best fishing poles? Some of them, yes, most of them, no. Because this is an established field where people have their habits, they have their sources of influence they already pay attention to. It’s things like pro shops where they go and shop and learn from salespeople. They go to trade shows. They go on YouTube. They they go to these trade publications.

    There’s probably like ten (publications) in the fishing universe that are very popular with a ton of people. And then there’s a bunch of niche publications that are also popular with a smaller group of folks. They go to Google Discover and Google News and they’re getting news about the fishing world, license information, what’s opening up, what’s available, and what are new technologies in the field. They’re probably learning on Reddit. They’re learning in communities that have forums. They’re following social influencers on places like YouTube, maybe even TikTok.
  3. And then, the question to ask (if we’re really being strategic) is not which keywords, or how do I prioritize them?

    It is: What am I gonna create or co-create with some of these folks that’s going to get me in front of them? That’s going to prioritize the channels where I know I can reach my audience. What’s the medium? Is it gonna be a blog post?

    Is it gonna be an article, a video, a webinar, an event? Is it gonna be a whitepaper? What’s the focus? Are we creating a top list here? Do I think that a co-production is what’s gonna work? What will these sources of influence actually amplify, and more importantly: Why will they amplify?

    Is it because it makes them look good? Is it ego-bait? Is it because it’s newsworthy and they’re a news publication or news centric? Is it because it’s a new technology and they cover those things? Is it because it’s controversial and I think they’re gonna write about it (pro or against).

These are the kinds of things that you do when you have a true content strategy. This is the type of process. You can get very involved. You can use metrics. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but this is for once you’ve figured out that this channel that one of these channels is search, not before.

Alright. See you again next week for another edition of five minute whiteboard.