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Build your topic strategy

🍒 Build your topic strategy

You’ve identified your audience. Now it’s time to figure out what they’re going to learn about when they’re in your content library.

In this section, we’ll take the very general set of topics you put in your template above, and figure out how those translate into more specific topics that you can start building content clusters around.

(For example, if you know that a Marketing Director is interested in “building an audience”, that might translate into “building an audience”, and also “getting social followers”, “reaching customers”, “writing effective newsletters”, and so on.)

Why topics?

When a content library is built around a topic strategy, it will contain numerous posts that investigate the same topics from multiple angles, rather than writing one-offs on lots of different subjects.

The point here is to establish your brand as an expert on a handful of pillar topics. This is good for branding, for user experience, and organic search performance. And it makes your job easier. Topical content is:

  • Easier to promote. For example, on your social channels, followers might better understand what your company is about, and be more likely to read what you’re writing, if they know they can go to you for expertise about “how to buy accounting software”.
  • Easier to tie together. When posts are clustered around a specific topic, it’s easy to see how a reader of one post might also want to read another, closely related one.
  • More search engine friendly. Google likes sites that are authoritative on specific topics.
  • Easier to repackage and republish. Your six posts about the ins-and-outs of software security can more easily be put into an e-book than six posts about unrelated topics.

In this lesson you’re going to:

  • Learn the basics of topic strategy
  • Assemble a big list of potential topics
  • Compile data about your topic list in our Topic Strategy template
  • Finalize a prioritized topic strategy

By the end of this lesson, you’ll have:

  • A framework for thinking through the tradeoffs of targeting different topics
  • A prioritized list telling you where to start

Topic Strategy Template

A topic for your content program is any subject that can inspire numerous different pieces of content. At the same time, it should be specific for your audience.

By identifying the topics that are most relevant to your audience and your brand, you’ll be able to focus your content production on material that’s likely to build up your domain authority and your fanbase.

Topic strategy sets the foundation for defining specific content pieces. Once you’ve finalized the strategy and selected a few topics, you can start assigning content on specific subjects within each topic.

Using the Topic Strategy template, we’ll walk you through the steps of building your own data-driven strategy for choosing and prioritizing topics. We’ll need 3 sets of data.

Your workbook contains a link to a template we’ve created for just this purpose. This template has 2 tabs.

  • On the first tab, “Topic Data”, we’ll gather all of the information we have about what your seed terms are, including relevance, volume, and competition. There’s also a formula that combines these different parameters to tell you in what order you should pursue your keywords.
  • On the second tab, “Topic Strategy Output”, we have a formula that gives you an ordered list. It’s the same data from the first tab, just put into something that’s a little easier to read.

Populating this template involves 3 steps:

  1. Gathering potential topics. Creating a list of phrases that will form the basis of your strategy. Then eliminating topic ideas that are too narrow or too broad.
  2. Determining and scoring relevance. Ranking your seed topics in terms of their relevance.
  3. Getting volume and competition data. Gathering volume and competition data from popular SEO tools.

We’ll follow the columns in the spreadsheet from left to right, starting with generating the seed keywords, then determining relevance, and finally pulling volume and competition data.

Populating The Template

Topic list

There are lots of good places to find topics.

The first place you should look is your audience personas you created in the first module:

  • What are the pain points?
  • What are the jobs-to-be-done?
  • What topics does the audience care about?

In addition to that, you could look at:

  • Your website. What are the key phrases that appear in your value proposition, in customer testimonials, on your homepage, and in your blog? What do sales, product marketing, and others in your company say are important phrases? What’s in your product documentation?
  • Competitor websites. What are the key phrases they use?
  • Comparison sites. Sites like G2 will often have blurbs or reviews of your software or competitors’ software. This can be a really good place to find language that can be used for seed keywords.
  • Product positioning and messaging materials. What phrases do you use to talk about your product? What category do you occupy? How do you want people to think about your product? What problems do you solve? And so on.

How do you know if your topic is good?

If you can think of lots of reasons why people would be searching for a topic, but they have nothing to do with what you sell, the topic is probably too broad.

For example, someone searching for a term like “customer satisfaction” is likely trying to understand the concept in general, and if you make software that helps people who are already familiar with the term assess customer satisfaction, you probably won’t be helpful to someone who doesn’t understand the more general term. And you won’t see them convert.

If you couldn’t have a pillar or hub page on your blog dedicated to the topic you choose, it might be too narrow.For example, someone searching for “how account managers should use customer satisfaction measurement software” may very well be interested in your software, and you’ll want to get them to visit your site. But this topic is probably a single blog post, rather than being part of your overall strategy. Add it to your list of blog posts to write—because targeting very specific, conversion-oriented keywords can be a highly successful strategy—and use it to support a more general topic.

Choose topics that are narrow enough to be relevant, but broad enough to support a little library of their own.

You’re aiming for about 50 of these.

Relevance

Next, you should determine how relevant each topic is. Relevance simply means: How likely is someone to convert if they land on your site after searching for that topic? Some other tests for relevance:

  • How much does your company want to be known for this topic?
  • How clearly does this align with your audience personas?
  • How much would your CEO or board want you to rank for this topic in Google?
  • How clearly can you align your existing content with the topic?

We suggest using a scale from 1 to 3, where 3 is the most relevant and 1 is the least. When you’re ready, you’ll input these scores into the relevant column in the spreadsheet.

“Least relevant”, by the way, should still be pretty relevant. You don’t want keywords on your list that aren’t relevant to your business at all. Ideally, the keywords on your list should lean toward higher relevance scores.

Volume and competition

You can think of volume as the demand for information on a topic.

There are lots of different ways to gather, or guess, at volume data. Just remember, no matter which tool you use to get your volume data, it’s going to be an estimate. That’s why volume data is most useful as a general, directional indicator rather than as a specific number.

For example, if you see a datapoint that reports 3,000 searches a month for “cloud computing”, the real number could actually be quite different—but you can assume there is significantly more volume for “cloud computing” than for a related term that only shows 300 searches a month.

If volume is the demand for information, competition is the supply. Are there already articles on this topic from reputable sources? Or is Google just waiting for somebody, anybody, to publish a high-quality article on the topic?

While volume is a very simple measurement of the number of searches conducted for a specific term, competition is a much more complex measurement that tries to estimate how hard it will be to rank for a certain keyword. Nobody can really predict this, but a good estimate can help you make informed decisions about which keywords you have a chance of ranking for.

You’ll probably need to pull these numbers from a tool like SEMrush or Moz, which will cost you ~$30-$50 for the month.

If you don’t have the time or resources for that, it’s OK. You can skip this step and move on to finalizing your Topic Strategy based on relevance data alone.

A little help finding volume and competition data

Here’s where to find this data in a few of these different tools.

SEMRush

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Moz

If you feel more comfortable with Moz, feel free to use their Keyword Explorer tool – though you may need to sign up for a paid plan (instead of a trial) in order to get data for more than one keyword at once.

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If a keyword shows no volume in a tool, it might be too narrow to target as part of your strategy. You can try the keyword in a different tool, or broaden it until you have some indication of monthly search volume. If all else fails, we usually put in “10” as a placeholder.

If a keyword shows no competition, you can make a rough estimate based on search results. This will be totally subjective, but a lot of competition data is fairly subjective in any case.

To collect competition data manually, Google each of your seed keywords, and for each one, look at the top 5 results and rank them each from 1 - 100, where 100 is something like Wikipedia, and 1 is someone’s personal blog. Don’t spend too much time deciding on an exact number – even consider just ranking each item as 100, 80, 60, or 0.

Take the average of these numbers and use this as your competition measurement.

🏄‍♀️ 2: Build Your Topic Strategy

We’ve created some fancy (but automatic) calculations to help you with your topic strategy, so this work for this assignment will happen in a Google Sheet.

When you’re finished, you’ll copy or screenshot your top ~10 results and paste them in the workbook for future reference.

1) Start with the Topic Strategy Template. Remember to File > Make a Copy.

2) When you’re finished, copy or screenshot your top results into the Topic Strategy Worksheet.

It might look a little confusing, but the template does a lot of the work for you!

When you’ve filled out topics, relevance, volume, and competition, your completed data sheet should look like this:

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And while you’re busy entering numbers, your spreadsheet is automatically weighting and ranking all of your data points for all of your keywords—according to the tried-and-true model we’ve honed over the years. You’ll find these recommendations in the “Strategy Output” tab.

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Congratulations, you now have a data-driven topic strategy! So…what does it mean?

In the example above, it means the top 3 most promising topics are:

  1. Content performance analysis
  2. How to promote content
  3. Content creation

These top ranking topics will guide our content creation plan. They’ll be the inspiration for the first content we start producing.

As you can see, building a topic strategy doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. You can build a reliable, defensible strategy in just a few hours if you limit your focus, incorporate relevance alongside volume and competition, and keep your strategy updated.

What’s next?

Time for a break? Go on ahead to . Or skip right to

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