Stories about Software


Keyword Research Case Studies: Tool-User Campaigns

Hola amigos.  It’s been a long time since I last rapped at ya‘.  (If you know what that’s from, we’re buddies for life)

Today I’ve got another installment of the addendum to my “SEO for Non-Scumbags” series.  In this series-within-a-series, I’m walking in detail through applied keyword research tactics.  This may pickup steam, too, because we’re starting to teach clients to do this, instead of just our staff.

At any rate, today I’m going to talk about tool-user campaigns.  Like the last type of campaign, “ownership,” tool-user campaigns are pretty straightforward to execute.

Tool-User Campaigns: A Quick Definition

In a sense, this content ideation tactic is as simple as “if it’s about {tool}, let’s create a post about it.”  You’re essentially looking for winnable keywords with volume that contain a specific term, where that term is a tool.

From a segmentation perspective, you’re reasoning that there’s a pretty good chance anyone googling that tool would make a good user or customer.  Or, at the very least, someone you want to reach.

For instance, Architect makes a continuous delivery platform, aimed to make life easier for developers doing devops-y things.  So if they create a piece of content about using the Terraform K8s provider, they’re basically saying “we’re assuming that if someone is using and Googling Terraform (or K8s), it’s probably someone we want on our site.”

A tool-user campaign is when a site works a steady diet of content like that (targeting users of a tool, generally with tutorials).

The Broader Goal of Tool-User Campaigns

There aren’t quite as many wheels within wheels with a tools campaign as there are with ownership campaigns, where you have the brand impression consideration in SERPs as well as the traffic consideration.  A tools campaign is just “get {tool} users onto the site.”

The nuance here tends to occur a little further down the marketing funnel.

Creating terraform tutorials that answer searcher questions will bring aspiring and current terraform users to a site.  But do those users stick around and continue interacting with your brand?  Do they eventually convert or recommend you to their friends?

At some point you need to close the loop and confirm your hypothesis that the set intersection between users of that tool and your customers is not depressingly empty.  You need to confirm eventual conversions from this content.

If you do that successfully and you have the budget, it’s now time to put on your best poker face as you gleefully slam as many chips as possible into the metaphorical middle.

How To Do the Keyword Research

I’m going to use the same scenario as I did in the last post, which is to pretend I was interested in attracting search engine traffic for lead generation with Hit Subscribe.  However, this time, we need to think a little about segmentation up-front.

1. Identify a Tool Your Target Persona Probably Uses

The first step is to think of who you want to attract, and to brainstorm what kind of tools they would use.  But you need to avoid going too broad or risk bad segmentation.  For instance, keyboards and mice are tools that your target market probably uses, but they’re also tools that every target market uses.

For Hit Subscribe, what would potential leads be likely to use that also segments decently?  We mostly deal with early-stage founders or people in the marketing org chat that interact with blog posts.

So let’s go with WordPress as a tool.

Not all WordPress users would ever be Hit Subscribe customers by a long shot.  But a good cross section of the kinds of leads we want are likely to use WordPress and possibly even google things related to it.  And we can further tighten segmentation at the individual keyword level by looking at the implied question.

2. Do a Broad Search for Winnable Keywords

Now let’s go out and track down some WordPress keywords.

There’s just so many of them that I set an upper bound difficulty of 10 in ahrefs.  This ensures that Hit Subscribe’s site can win any SERP I’ll be looking at.

Right from the jump, these keywords are trash for our purposes.  I’m not interested in creating content that answers whether “WordPress” is down, nor am I interested in local Canadian or Australian searches about hosting.

But there’s no reason to get discouraged.  It’s just a question of combing through, looking for things that people responsible for nascent programs might want to know.  After all, we have a ton of keywords to pick from.

3. Filter by Segmentation, Asking Whether These are Questions Your Target Persona Would Ask

I gathered data on 9 keywords, shown in the screenshot below.  In doing that, I filtered out a whole lot of keywords, for a variety of reasons.

  1. A lot of the keywords had to do with hosting decisions, and the marketer probably isn’t the one making the hosting decision.
  2. Many of the keywords were too technical in nature (questions about APIs, PHP code, etc), meaning it’s more likely a WordPress developer asking the question.
  3. Some were too beginner for a marketer.  The marketer is going to know what a CMS is and the very basics of how to use it.

There were other, more granular reasons besides, but hopefully that communicates the gist.  You need to ask yourself, “is there any chance that my experienced marketer or marketing-newbie-technical-founder would ask this question?”

Here’s what I’ve got:

Look at these, and observe that they at least plausibly segment the audience based on the question they person is asking:

  1. How do I update a WordPress theme?
  2. How do I (via a tool) add marketing automation to a WordPress site?
  3. How do I embed videos in WordPress?
  4. How do I change the domain with a WordPress site?
  5. How do I get Google reviews going on my WordPress site?
  6. How do I remove a WordPress theme?
  7. How do I “unpublish” a WordPress site?
  8. How do I edit the header of a WordPress site?  (The fuzzy nomenclature here indicates they might not be familiar with marketing jargon — i.e. could be a founder)
  9. How do I change my site title in WordPress?

Notice that these are all things that you squint and probably imagine someone responsible for content marketing doing in the early stages.

4. Do a Sanity Pass for Gotchas and SERP Features

Once you have the keywords, you’re going to want to do a sanity pass to make sure you haven’t miscalculated.

The first thing that can commonly happen with tool-based keywords is you accidentally log navigational keywords.  For instance, imagine that I’d logged the keyword “wordpress support” in my list.

Even if volume and difficulty look good, the click through rate is going to be nonexistent.  Those searchers are all looking for the contact info on WordPress.com, not a blog post entitled “What Is WordPress Support, Anyway?”

Another more subtle thing to look for is when the tool itself absolutely dominates the SERP.  One of the downsides of tool ideation is that you are almost always, almost by definition, teeing up an upper bound of second place.  All else being equal, if the tool vendor itself targets any given SERP mentioning their tool, they will win it in first place.

That can be fine in most circumstances, especially if they’re winning it with some deeply half-assed documentation.  But if they’re targeting it from a lot of angles, with genuine intent, they can rank multiple times, often with sub-entries and schema, all of which serve to drive your article way down below the fold.

5. Think of What To Do with the Traffic

If you look at the aggregates in section (3), I’ve just sketched out 9 posts and about 3K visitors per month to Hit Subscribe’s site.  (It would actually be WAY more, since most of these keywords have rich synonym traffic potential).  That’s not too bad, especially compared with the ownership campaign from the last post, which is always a case of playing on hard mode.

But there’s one current major issue with this plan.

What on Earth do I do with this traffic?

I mean, I’m not going to say, “hope you enjoyed that tutorial on embedding videos in blog posts, wanna buy $50K worth of content?”  When you target someone who might be your persona, based on their use of a tool incidentally related to your offering, you don’t have a strong call to action right out of the gate.

This is why ownership campaigns are so popular.  The next step is dead simple: “hey, you’re googling the thing I do, wanna pay me to do that thing!?”

Here we need more creativity.  We could do any number of things:

  • Invite them to subscribe to our newsletter of tips for newbie WordPress site owners.
  • See if they’ll sign up for a webinar about how to avoid SEO mistakes with new WordPress sites.
  • Pixel them and remarket to them through social media about blog posts or whatever.
  • Start a line of business offering WordPress administrative help.

It can feel a bit ocean-boily.  And when you add to the mix that Hit Subscribe only has the current means for one of those options, it can feel even more discouraging.

5. Recognize that a Plan Doesn’t Mean Current Capability and Proceed Anyway

But don’t let it discourage you.  It would probably take these articles 4 months to rank on Hit Subscribe’s site, and more than that to drive meaningful traffic.

So in the first place, we have time to build out supporting funnel assets.  And, even if we don’t, having a steady stream of decently qualified traffic to the site is one of them good problems.  We can always figure out how to appeal further to the traffic at some later point.

But what we can’t do is go back in time in 6 months and write a blog post today.

Recap and Summary

Tool campaigns are among the easiest, from an ideation perspective.  I think that’s because it tends to be more a matter of narrowing down than of having ex nihlo inspiration.

  1. Identify a tool or tools that there’s a chance your target persona would use.
  2. Start out with a broad list of keywords, filtered lightly by volume and winnability.
  3. Cull that list heavily based on segmentation by asking whether each term is something your target person would ask.
  4. Delete or deprioritize any remaining keywords if they’re navigational or dominated by the tool itself.
  5. Start thinking about what kind of call to action would appeal to this searcher, in parallel with planning and executing the content.

Tool campaigns are great.  They’re easy to ideate about and have much more traffic potential than ownership campaigns, letting you really drive a lot of traffic.  You’ll also build topical authority through the ol’ knowledge graph, making your articles even more likely to rank, and these tend towards the easy side for fulfillment of the content.

But you can run into the competition with the tool itself, and there’s a less obvious conversion path for the target persona.

For my money, though, pros dramatically outweight the cons.  I’m a tool campaign fan.