Discovering Keyword Gaps for Small Business SEO – Dan Shure
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It can be difficult for small business to compete at Google against large corporations who have bottomless pockets and huge marketing teams. However, there are gaps—keyword gaps—that you can take advantage of to get found by your ideal customers when they search.
Find out how to discover these keyword gaps, take advantage of the “long tail” of search, and ensure that no technical problem is keeping you off the front page of Google.
Rich: He’s co-owner of Evolving SEOwith his wife Sarah, and is the host of, Experts on the Wire, an SEO podcast. He’s helped companies like WGBH, Ring Video Doorbell, Healthy Hearing, and even more solve challenging SEO problems since 2007. He’s a Moz associate who was recently given a prominent mention in Rand Fishkin’s new book, Lost and Founder, all about the advice he gave for Moz’s popular keyword explorer tool.
As a podcast host he’s interviewed over 90 marketing experts, including Brian Dean from Backlinko – who’s been on this show – John Mueller from Google, and Pamela Wilson from Copy Blogger. I’m very happy to introduce Dan Shure. Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan: Thank you so much for having me.
Rich: Alright, so you love SEO. How did you get into SEO and digital marketing?
Dan: I got into it out of necessity. I was running my own music lesson business and also helping my dad with his two sculpture businesses. And actually when you do that you want more customers, you want more sales, you want more revenue. And I in fact had just moved to a totally brand new area where I had no piano students at all, so I built my own website and had to learn it all for myself.
And I think that’s why I love it so much is because I saw how much it helped me and my dad with our businesses. When you really taste it firsthand like that I think it becomes a powerful thing for you.
Rich: I completely agree and it’s funny how many people have come on the show over the years who talk about SEO and it turns out that they actually started their own businesses and have to figure it out for themselves. That’s a story that I hear quite a bit.
Now what is it that you find so interesting about SEO? Because there’s definitely plenty of others way to market your business online or off.
Dan: I’ll do this more philosophically first, and then more actually. I’m a very creative, idea-driven person, and I love learning and I love communicating. So when you mix all those things together; keyword research, coming up with content ideas, SEO strategy, thinking about problem solving in a technical sense, I sort of love all that in a very holistic generic way.
And that flows very well into SEO because you get to do all of those things when you do search, you’re not just doing one little thing. Part of the fun is you get to experience so many different aspects of problem solving and creativity.
But specifically I love that feeling of just posting content online and getting traffic. And I know you’ll say, “Oh, it’s not, ‘post it and they will come’.” But actually if you do SEO right, in the right scenario, it is ‘post it and they will come”, it is “put up a blog article and get traffic from your relevant audience.” It can work that way. And I like that because I’m not by nature a salesperson. I’m not an outbound marketing type of personality. So I just loved the idea of really the internet where you can put things out there and people can find you.
Rich: That definitely makes a lot of sense. I love SEO, too, and as much as I play around with social media and everything, it’s that idea of that it’s very trackable, as well. You can really see the results that you’re getting out there.
Now when you and I were chatting beforehand, I had asked you what are some of the things you wanted to talk about. And one of the things which you mentioned was kind of this keyword gap. And I’m wondering if you can kind of explain what a keyword gap is, and then also how can you find one to determine if you can rank for a given topic?
Dan: A keyword gap is simply a keyword which really represents a topic in today’s modern SEO, where there’s a room for you to rank, with the variable of success of course being the quality of content that you publish. So very tangibly speaking what that means is there’s 3 basic ranking factors when I’m teaching people this stuff – and there’s of course a lot more to this – but on a very basic level you have; Authority, which can be measured in domain authority, which is Moz’s metric, Quality of content, and Relevance. And if you can find a gap in the search results in one or all of those three areas relative to your website.
So if you’re a branded website and you only have a domain authority of 10, well you need to find some search results where the domain’s ranking are not all 80, 90, and 100. There’s no way you’ll rank for that. But when you can find a gap in any one of those areas, that’s where you can publish content and rank.
Now, very tangibly speaking, here’s how you can find a gap for that. There’s all ways to find keywords doing research, but one of the most basic ways is actually just to take a topic that you know is core to your audience and your business. Let’s say it’s “bookkeeping software”. Maybe you sell software, or write content for beekeepers, whatever it is. That’s a topic you know is relevant for you. Just simply go to Google, start typing and look at all the long tail suggestions that pop up. And this is nothing totally new. I think a lot of o fail to really dig into the long tail when they’re setting their content and SEO strategy.
And then you can couple that with a great plugin called, Keywords Everywhere,that will show you the search volume of keywords in Google as you’re searching and typing for them, and it shows you search volume for the later keywords that show up after you hit ‘enter’.
So if you do this with a plugin and you have the Moz bar plugin – which shows you the domain authority for sites that are also ranking – you can get some great data just right in search results searching manually. So what you want to do is look for that long tail keyword suggestion that might show up after “bookkeeping software”. Maybe it’s “bookkeeping software reviews”, or “bookkeeping software 2018”, or whatever those additional words are that show up. Hit ‘enter’ on those and then look at the results, look at the domain authority, look at the quality of those search results, and look at the relevance of those results. And if there’s a gap in any one of those areas – you look at all the content and it really sucks, or none of the content really answers the question you searched for – those are all the types of gaps that you want to look for. And then the icing on the cake is to create the best piece of content to answer that searcher’s search query that you discovered.
Rich: Alright, so Dan, let me just make sure I understand this. So first of all can you define – a lot of people who are listening may not really understand – what a “long tail” keyword is? Can you just define quickly what that is?
Dan: Yes. And a lot of people define this incorrectly. It does not mean a lot of words in the key phrase. What it means is low search volume. So if you picture a graph, the head tail is high volume keywords, and then the mid tail is medium volume keywords, maybe keywords that get 500-10,000 searches a month. It’s all relative. And then long tail is just the really low volume stuff, 10 searches a month, 50 searches a month, 100 searches a month. Again, relative to your business and your space.
But the long tail is very powerful because a lot of people don’t realize that if you rank for a long tail keyword you’re probably ranking for dozens of other long tail keywords for that same piece of content. And in fact there’s a study that says that the average piece of content ranks for 1,000 keywords.
So when you add all that together, I have clients that have targeted a long tail keyword – 10-50 searches a month – but they get hundreds of visits a month. Because you add together all the other long tail stuff that you end of ranking for. So that’s the big mistake people make is they ignore the long tail and they pass it off because they don’t think they’re going to get enough traffic. But you can get a ton of traffic off the long tail, and it’s much less competitive.
Rich: So the head of the search might be something like “bookkeeping”, and then if you go to “bookkeeping software”, now you’re kind of getting somewhere in the middle of the search engine. Maybe that’s still somewhere in the head. But then when you say look for those long tail search terms. Because that happened while you were talking, I pulled up Google and typed in “bookkeeping software”. Are you talking about the site search suggestions before I finish my search? So if I’m typing in “bookkeeping software”, and below that I see “free”, I see a list of accounting software, I see “best accounting software for small business”, “free accounting software download”. Are those the log tail, or should I look somewhere else?
Dan: Yeah, that’s certainly starting to get into the long tail. And I’m glad you told me you were typing that because I was wondering if you were answering an email during the podcast, because I heard the typing.
To dig in further, if you have the Keywords Everywhere plugin installed, you might even see that the stuff showing up in auto suggest still might have 10,000 searches a month and that’s not the long tail yet. So then if you’re seeing a lot of volume still, take that keyword and go to a tool called Keywordtool.io, or keywordkeg.com, or answerthepublic.com.
Rich: Oh, I love answerthepublic.com.
Dan: Yeah, it’s a tool that just gives you – from Google’s API – it gives you what all of the auto suggest keywords would be if you were looking for all of them in Google. And so with those tools, you’ll often get hundreds of keywords back. And then couple that by adding in search volume from the Keywords Everywhere plugin. The beauty of that plugin is it will actually show you search volume in Answer the Public, which is really cool. Because now you get search volume on 5 different keywords all at once.
So yeah, take your head term, throw it in Answer the Public or Keyword Keg and get search volume on that, and then dig down into the stuff that’s getting 100 searches a month. Look for a topic that looks relevant for you, and that’s a good place to start.
Rich: Alright, so we find these ones that are out there. And you mentioned Keywords Everywhere -, you mentioned a couple that were plugins – is this primarily on Chrome and Firefox? Those tend to be the browsers that accept plugins most easily.
Dan: Yeah, I believe Keywords Everywhere is for Chrome and maybe Firefox. And the Moz bar is a great plugin for Chrome as well as Firefox. With the Moz plugin, for free you, you get Domain Authority. And that’s really all I use it for anyways, so you can get that for free.
Rich: Awesome. Alright, soonce we get there we start finding these long tail search terms, what is our next step? What are we going to do, whether we’re looking to create content around “bookkeeping software” or “piano lessons”?
Dan: Your next step is, once you decide on thekeyword, then you shouldanalyze the search results to figure out what the user wants.And this gets into determining the searcher intent, and really what you should deliver in your content. So one aspect of this is review the search results and look for what mediums are showing up.
If Google is ranking images, or videos, or maps, or answer boxes, those are all clues to tell you that if Google is showing images mixed in, then you should include images in your piece of content, because that’s what the user wants. Oh, Google is ranking videos from YouTube, I should try to include a piece of video in my content. So that’s one way to start to think about in part what the searcher wants by looking at the medium of content.
Then the trickier part is to figure out what the content should actually be. One thing I recommend for everyone doing this is to first create an outline, and this is going to be very, very keyword specific. But what I’ll usually do is I’ll click on the first Top 5 results or all 11 results and I’ll look at all the headings and how they’re breaking up their content.
I’ll give you another example, let’s say it’s “marketing automation”. What you’re often going to see people do for headings is they’re going to put, “What is marketing automation?”, “How to use marketing automation”, “Why to use marketing automation?”. Just think of all your question words, “who, what, where, when, why, etc”. That’s often how content is structured. So you should try to figure out what does the user most want when they’re searching for marketing automation, for example. And oftentimes when – this is a little side tip for anyone listening – when a keyword is just a search for a topic or a term, most people are saying, “what is…”, so that’s what you want to pick apart by reading the other search results, looking at the suggested searches that Google puts at the bottom, and looking at the answer boxes. Use all of these elements to figure out how should you structure your content, and come up with an outline that you think will satisfy the person searching.
And again, it’s really thinking deeply through, is this a ‘how” question, a “why” question, a “what is” question. That’s kind of like a good starting point is to figure out what is that question the user is asking, and the problem they’re trying to solve. And that’s one aspect of creating the content.
And then finally I would just add to think of the emotional aspect of the searcher as well. A searcher searching “student loans” or “student loan forgiveness”, they’re in an emotional state where maybe they’re worried about money, they don’t want to be messed around with their content. They don’t want to land on an article that is all happy and jolly and telling stories and tries to be fun. They’re not in the mood for that, they want to pay off their student loans or try to figure out how to get student loan forgiveness. So you need to be aware of the psychology of the person searching.
Whereas someone sitting at home that works from home searching for “how to be more productive at home”, they’re in a different mindset, they’re in a different emotional state when they’re searching, and they might be looking more for a piece of content that might feel like a friend to them that might get what they’re going through that can help them understand.
So these are all things to think through, but to step back and just sort of summarize the three elements; the content medium, the actual structure or what questions you’re answering, and the emotional state that you should be speaking to. All of that needs to go into your content.
Rich: Now you mentioned ‘intent’ earlier on and marketing automation, that definitely feels like very top of the funnel versus something that might be “best prices on marketing animation”, or perhaps one product versus another type reviews. Should we be creating content for both the top and the bottom funnels, or are some of those just too competitive?
Dan: Absolutely. You’re not going to rank the same piece of content for both, in most cases, so that’s the first thing. If you want to rank for both, you need to have separate pieces of content. And then I think this just ties into what you as a business owner want to do strategically. I always recommend top of funnel content, it can often be a little easier to rank it, it can send conversions if you actually look at Google analytics. So a lot of people write off top of funnel content as “not converting”, but it actually can convert and do other things for you.
But yeah, I think creating bottom funnel content, that’s your product page, or your service page, your lead form page, that’s the thing that hopefully converts on first touch. You definitely need to create both. I will say that ranking for products or services or lead generation, that can be quite different than ranking for a blog article. That’s going to be a lot more about task completion and is the user satisfactory in completing the action that they’re looking to do. So that’s where you really want to look at things like CRO, UX, maybe use a plugin like Hot Jarto find out if users are happy with the page. That’s sort of the diagnostics and approach I would take for a bottom of funnel page.
Rich: Ok. Now you may have answered this, but as a small business owner I’m often going up against much bigger adversaries on the pages of Google, and it seems like – and it’s been written – that Google tends to favor big brands over small businesses. So outside of just going for the long tail stuff that maybe some big corporations aren’t paying attention to, are there other ways that a small business can succeed and get onto that first page of Google?
Dan: Yeah. I think it starts with actually dispelling that myth that is out there. A lot of people will say that Google prefers brands. I’ve seen even more recently actually Google ranking lower on authority sites that are core to a certain audience or niche. So I actually think that if you are a smaller company you have an opportunity that I haven’t seen as much on Google. Now does that mean you’re going to magically rank for stuff? No, it doesn’t.
But it’s not so black and white, actually, of Google ranking brands versus non-brands. I think what Google wants to rank is the content and the website that will solve the searcher’s problem and their search query. So you should aim to do that, and you might not ever rank above Forbes or Zappos, but a prime spot on page 1 can do things for you.
So the reason I do say “long tail” is because that’s literally the answer that Google will rank the more relevant, specific, long tail niche page any day over big brands.
So I think that’s part of it. I think also that you have the advantage of a small business owner that big brands don’t by being a little more nimble. And what I mean by that is if you think about a big brand tapping into a promotion or link opportunity in the local area, that’s just not going to happen. Zappo’s isn’t going to try to network with the local businesses here where I am in Worcester, MA. But if you’re Sneakerama in Shrewsbury, MA, guess what? You can get all kinds of links and press coverage from all the local papers that the big brands aren’t going to even care about.
So I think it’s just thinking about what are your strengths as a small company versus the big brands. So I hope that helps. I think Google, I do see them ranking a mix of results these days so I would really just try to focus on your strengths and win where you can.
Rich: Alright. And Dan, I had no idea that you were living in my birth city, beautiful Worcester, MA.
Dan: Oh, no kidding!
Rich: So a lot of people have been creating content for a long time. And talking about either dispelling myths, or perhaps reinforcing truths, I’m curious to know what your take on this is. If you have a lot of articles and blog posts out there that cover the same topic, are we competing against ourselves in Google?
Dan: Yeah. I thinkit’s the term, “content cannibalization”. It’s the idea of you have multiple pieces of content that really answer this search query, the same question. And you’re going to confuse Google and users and not send all the authority to a single piece of content. So this is a bit of an art as much as a science. But knowing when to have separate pages versus having one page is something that takes a bit of practice, and studying search results, and really just being a little intuitive about it.
So what you really want to do if you’re an older site that has a lot of content, you can run a tool called, Screaming FrogSEO Spider. You can get this tool for free to crawl up to 500 pages. If that’s not enough, this tool is a steal for $150 for a whole year. It’s like the best deal in SEO. I’ve been saying that for years and crossing my fingers that they don’t raise their prices and they haven’t yet. But seriously, you should just get Screaming Frog if SEO is something that you are very concerned with, and run it on your site and then you can export all your pages and run a simple filter and look for similar terms appearing.
I’ll tell you what, you can even do a site search on your domain in Google. So you can do “site;evolvingseo.com” (use your own domain name) and put whatever keyword you want to look for similar articles on. But the point is to find ways to unearth content that maybe some content personnel was at this company 5 years ago or logged in on your website 5 years ago, they wrote this article that you happened to write about the same topic 6 months ago. Now you’ve got 2 articles talking about the same thing. You should really have one article to cover the same topic, that way you get all the links to that one article, Google knows what article they should rank, and so that one is going to rank better.
Because it’s really all about just cleaning up and consolidating and unifying content, especially if it’s old and things have gone a little out of hand.
Rich: So how do we get rid of these old, underperforming articles? How do you just decide what stays and what goes and what gets 301’d to another page?
Dan: You can use some metrics. So this is going to get slightly advanced but for anyone that wants to follow along you can search your resource. I believe Seer Interactivehas some great resources on how to use Screaming Frog. You can basically crawl your website and then plug in the API from Google Search Console to Google Analytics. I know that sounds fancy, I’m not super technical and I’m able to do it.
So you just basically plug in to your Google Analytics and you crawl your website. It’s going to mash together all your traffic data along with your crawl data. So you’re going to get all this stuff in a big spreadsheet, and basically what you’re going to look for is, where I start is the bottom of the barrel, you’re going to run a filter for posts that have had no visits, no impressions, no clicks, maybe they’re 10 clicks below the homepage, maybe you can even get word count search consoles in Screaming Frog.
I had a client that has blog posts that are 300 words, and you know that’s not going to be a good piece of content. So if you just dig way at the bottom of the barrel to find the stuff that’s got no action and low quality, and you can simply just delete that if it’s not getting any traffic and it probably has no backlinks either. So that’s the place to being.
Rich: So just delete them, don’t even bother 301-ing them?
Dan: Yeah. Google only counts a 301 and they only prefer 301s if it’s a content match. So one thing people will do quite often that’s a mistake is to 301 old blog posts to their homepage or their blog homepage. That’s a big no-no because if you think about it, that’s a weird user experience. They expect to land on the blog about “how to fix your dryer”, and it takes them to the homepage of the blog and they have no idea why they ended up there. So that’s a bad user experience and Google has said they actually don’t pass any value through a redirect where the content is not a match. So yeah, you can just straight up delete stuff.
Then where it gets trickier is maybe you’ve got some low quality stuff or semi low quality stuff that’s gotten maybe a few visits here and there, it’s not that great. Then what you can do is you can try and maybe find posts that are similar and just roll that content into other posts that address the same topic. So now you’re eliminating that issue of having overlapping content or content cannibalization.
That’s a little bit of an art and also an editorial call when it’s sort of that gray area. But just cleaning up the stuff that’s getting no visibility at all is a really good place to begin.
Rich: Alright. So just to kind of wrap up here, Google just had a major change back in the beginning of August. What are some of the changes that you’ve seen coming from this so far?
Dan: This is a huge update. I think my reaction comes from a lot of SEOs very quickly drawing conclusions about what this update is or meant. Very concretely, a lot of people are saying this is the EAT update, that’s Google’s acronym for “Expertise Authority Trust”, that comes from their quality guidelines.
I think Barry Schwartz from Rusty Brick called it the “MEDIC” update, because most of the sites that got hit were in the medical and health space. I think it’s much broader than that. I think this update is really just any aspect of quality. And I know that sounds very vague – and I don’t mean to be vague – but if your site has low quality in a technical sense, then it got hit, potentially. If it’s low quality in the sense where it’s not showing expertise or authority, then yeah, maybe it got hit. But saying this is the “Expertise Authority Trust Update”, like it’s that one thing, I think that’s a mistake because it gets a lot of people tunnel vision into only looking for that stuff. And in fact, if you had a lot of technical issues, you might have gotten this update.
So really what I’m seeing is sites that just have some sort of low quality thing. Bad design, bad UX, bad URL. Anything, any area of weakness. And here’s the key, compared to the competitors for that keyword.
I had a client that is in the health space and they lost a lot of traffic, along with their competitors, by the way. So some people tweeted Dr. Axe lost 40% of their traffic. My client is in that similar space ad they lost 25% of their traffic. Me saying that sounds bad, but it’s just like that’s actually good for them because most people around them lost 45%-50% of their traffic.
But the point being is actually 20% of their keywords they gained traffic. So this was an adjustment to de-ranked sites for quality relative to the keyword that represented their content. So all that means is if your site is a lower quality compared to the competition, that’s where I saw de-ranking happen.
So it’s a little bit of a rant, I guess. But I think what people really just need to think about if people want tangible advice; One, absolutely read the quality guidelines, that certainly has a lot do to with this upgrade. It’s not everything – in my opinion – like a lot of other SEOs are talking about, but read it and get familiar with it. And you should also get familiar with and understand your technical issues potentially of your site as well.
Simple things like accessibility, technical, lots of pages that are being crawled but don’t need to exist, such as subpages in WordPress or tag archives, or with an ecommerce website you might have a lot of filtering and sorting parameters. And then design and UX. You should really understand that a lot of the updates Google’s made it he last year or two have been if you have images or ads pushing your content below the fold. Or if you have distracting supplementary content.
Have you seen Mashable’s website recently?
Rich: No, because I stopped going to Mashable when they stopped focusing on social media. So it’s been about 4 years since I’ve visited their site. Knowingly, I should say.
Dan: They got hit with a Google update. I went to their website and within 2 seconds I was like, ok, I can see why they got hit with an update. Because I counted 26 blocks of external links in their sidebar that were visually bigger than their main content. And yet the owners of Mashable were writing in the newspapers and stuff that they were going to do SEO to fix their problems by publishing quality content. And it was like, I don’t think you’re going to find the quality content you want, it’s not going to do anything until you fix your UX.
I hope a number of sites recover from those issues in 2017. So anyways, the point is, don’t get tunnel vision on one thing. This was a core update, and Google literally means it’s a core algorithm update. So it’s not any one thing. In past updates we’ve known, Penguin it was links. It was over optimization, it was anchor text. Panda we knew it was content only. But a core update could be across a variety of things. So I just want people to keep their eyes open.
Rich: Good advice. Dan, this has been great. I really learned a lot and I appreciate it and I know you’ve got a lot of great content, I know you’ve got a great podcast out there. Where can people find you online?
Dan: I’m most interactive and easy to get ahold of on Twitter, it’s @dan_shure. And then my podcast is called Experts on the Wire, we’re about to hit 100 episodes. You can obviously find that in iTunes and other places. And I guess finally if people wait they can check out Evolving SEO on YouTube as well. I don’t get to post a lot of videos but occasionally I’ll post tutorials, screencasts, and the occasional vlog-style SEO video as well.
Rich: Great. Dan, thanks so much for coming by today and sharing your expertise.
Dan: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
Dan Shure helps bring clarity to the confusing world of SEO, so your site ranks higher and your business is more successful as a result. Be sure to follow him on Twitter , and absolutely check out his informative podcastso you can be an SEO rockstar.
SEO tools mentioned in this episode:
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conferenceto inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitterto check him out, and he has added “author” to his resume with his book!