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Building a content plan using keyword research

7 January 2020

Most charities invest a significant amount of time and resources developing content for their website, but a surprising number do so without having a detailed content plan in place to maximise the Return on Investment (ROI) of their efforts.

Key to developing this plan is developing a comprehensive keyword research strategy to develop a range of relevant topics that you can target on your website.

The difference between a keyword and a topic

Keyword research tools can give users an excellent overview of individual search terms that people use in Google, however they don’t accurately reflect the topics themselves.

  • A keyword – equals an individual search term (pinpointed from using a keywords research tool)
  • A topic – equals a group of keywords with similar searcher intent and search results (identified from a manual process)

But remember like most things with SEO, tools only take you part of the way. You need to manually understand and group the data to use it effectively.

“An article should not just rank for one keyword – it should rank for several keywords.”

What questions do you need to answer?

When you invest in creating content for your website there are a few questions you need to answer:

  •  What topics your audience is searching for in your niche
  • How each topic relates to your charity’s strategy
  • Which other websites are competing for topic rankings (and how can you beat them)

The reason these questions are so important is that they help you assess your potential ROI, because:

  • It takes just as long to write an article about something your audience is interested in and searching for, than writing one that isn’t
  • If the topic you want to write about is highly competitive and you don’t stand a chance of ranking for it, it may not be worth writing the article

Key to answering these questions is using keyword research to find out what your audience is searching for, and an indication of how strong the competition is for each keyword.

First things first, your keyword research should seek to answer the following questions:

  • What keywords are people using that relate to my business or organisation?
  • What categories and topics do these keywords fall into?
  • Where do these keywords belong in your user journeys?
  • How strong are websites ranking for each keyword?
  • What are our competitors ranking for?

What information do keyword research tools give us?

Each keyword tool gives us a similar range of metrics which can include keyword volume, estimated ranking difficulty and the number of search results. For the purposes of keyword research the keyword volume is the most important metric, followed by keyword difficulty. Most of the other metrics aren’t particularly useful for content planning.

In fact, even the keyword difficulty metric is not particularly useful – it is much better to eyeball the search results to see what websites are ranking for that keyword.

Keyword research tools

As with most online tools, there are free tools such as Google Keyword Planner (although you need to have a paid Google Ads campaign running to use it these days) that will help you out when you are starting out with content planning, but if you want to take the task seriously, you really have to invest in a paid tool.

The good news is that there are three clear leaders in the field, SEMRush, Ahrefs and Moz. All of these are SEO tools that have a large user base and will handle most keyword research tasks.

These tools range from £80 to £200 a month so they aren’t cheap, but there is usually a free trial and you can usually buy them on a monthly basis so you don’t have to sign up for a long contract.

Where to start? Categorising keywords into topics

By putting a seed keyword in, say cancer, you will get a list of all the keywords that include the word “cancer”.

Using keywords

Once you have downloaded the keywords into Excel you can manually categorise each keyword by cancer type (i.e. prostate, breast, lung) and then use specific modifiers (i.e. symptoms, causes, treatments) to further identify page topics.

Keyword research

Once this work is complete you can then create a pivot table to identify search volumes for individual topics (note: this subset of information is from a larger dataset than the previous example):

Keyword research should not be overlooked

Once you have finished this process you will have a comprehensive dataset of the topics that your target audience is searching for, and you will be able to build out your content plan knowing that the topics you choose to write about are the ones that people are searching for.

Content planning

Taking this information and building it into a content plan is the crucial next step – each example from the pivot table is a potential stand alone article. First up, create a new spreadsheet tab by copying and pasting the pivot table to find out whether you need to write a dedicated article to the topic or sub-topic.

Next, to further prioritise your content planning you need to look at the search engine results and ask yourself three questions.

  1. Do we need to create a dedicated page?
  2. Can our website outrank the websites currently ranking for this topic?
  3. Can we create a better page than the pages currently ranking for this topic?

In the example below, you can see that the top results for “bone cancer signs and symptoms” are pages that are dedicated to this subject, they are not generic “bone cancer” pages. This suggests that you need to create your own dedicated page for this topic if you want to rank.

An example of utilising search

The next question you will want to ask is whether your website is capable of outranking and If your website already outranks these websites for similar topics, chances are you’ll have a good chance of ranking highly for this topic.

If the answer to the second question is yes, we have outranked these websites for other search queries, you then need to look at the top pages to see if you are able to create a better, more comprehensive page. You’ll be looking at both the words and any graphics used.

If you answer yes to question three, you’re ready to go.


Keyword research is the crucial first step to developing a successful content plan. It enables you to identify and prioritise topics that are both important to you and your organisation, and important to your target audience.

Always remember that it is just a first step – you need to consider your competition for each topic, and whether you are able to compete in search results.

By following this process you can be sure that you are using your content writing resource as effectively as possible by giving yourself the best possible chance to create content that ranks in Google and gains you significant amounts of traffic.

Photo: Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

Damon Rutherford

SEO, PPC, UX Lead, freelance

Damon Rutherford is the search engine optimisation strategist for Digitator, a digital marketing agency who work with some of the biggest charities in the UK, including the British Heart Foundation, Marie Curie and Reach Volunteering.