There is a lot of guesswork in SEO. To avoid revealing too much information, Google tends to keep pretty hush hush when it comes to smaller algorithm updates, the weight of certain ranking factors, and any other insights that could help people game the system. As a result, to get the most out of your SEO, you have to keep your ear to the ground to consistently refine your strategy.
That said, for all the information that may be hard to find, some of the most valuable information to inform your SEO content strategy is readily available, including what people are searching for on Google. With the foundational role content plays in SEO, making sure your content fulfills its full potential can have a significant impact on how you and your business rank in search results, and a key factor is knowing what people are searching for.
In this article, we’ll touch on the importance of keyword research to your SEO strategy, and then dive into what’s trending on Google, and why you should be paying attention.
How does keyword research influence content strategy?
You’ve heard it here over and over: content is king in SEO. If you’ve looked into making the best content for your SEO efforts, you’ve probably heard about E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. These are (some of) the primary factors that influence whether or not content will rank well in search results.
Obviously, you should produce content that you are confident can meet these criteria:
- Expertise: how much you know about the topic. Do you have the experience, background, and knowledge to create high-quality, informative content?
- Authoritativeness: credibility of not only you as the content creator, but of the content and your website as well.
- Trustworthiness: legitimacy of you and your content. Are you reliable? Is the information you’re providing useful, relevant, and true?
The content you create should be content that is relevant to your business and industry, that provides value to your target audience, that is unique, and that fulfills these three criteria.
But that’s not all you need to keep in mind when it comes to your SEO content strategy. When we talk about ranking in results, there isn’t one search engine results page (SERP) that ranks the best content on the web. Another major ranking factor is relevance which, in the world of SEO, means relevance to the search query (or, the word, question, or phrase that is being searched).
To rank well in search results relevant to your business, it’s important to identify the queries you want to rank for. These queries will be your target keywords.
This is where keyword research comes in. In order to give your content the best possible shot at ranking, you will need to have a sense of what keywords you’d like your content to rank for to optimize your content for those keywords. These are not only the terms that are most relevant or obvious for your content, but also the words, questions, and phrases that users search that will lead them to click on your content.
Thus, keyword research consists of finding keywords relevant to your content topics and your business, and then finding the related terms and search queries that people would search for that would lead them to your content.
A little confused? Here’s an example: let’s say you are a business owner hoping to promote a new line of high heels that are both fashionable and functional. You may not want to target “fashionable and functional shoes,” as, while that is relevant to your product, that search term doesn’t get much play.
But you also don’t want to target “high heels,” since that keyword receives thousands of searches per month (approximately 92,000). Not all keywords are created equal. While it may seem like it makes the most sense to target “high heels” – after all, that’s what you’re selling, right? – that keyword could be incredibly difficult to rank for in results, even with strong content.
Instead, you may benefit from targeting phrases such as “high heels comfortable” or “wearable high heels” – phrases that people will search for that are relevant to your product, and that you will have real potential to rank for.
The Evolution of Google Search and Intent
Google may not be the only search engine, but with over 90% of the market share, we feel good about focusing on Google.
Prior to 2015, when you searched for something in Google, the results that came back to you were results that more or less matched your query exactly, regardless of whether or not that was really what you were looking for.
In 2015, Google released the Hummingbird update, which revolutionized how the search engine interpreted queries. Search was no longer about keyword matching, but about the intention behind people’s search (or, as you will be hearing a lot, search intent). In subsequent years, Google has continued to refine its algorithm to give people the most relevant, high-quality results for their search.
RankBrain was released the same year as Hummingbird, growing the focus on search intent. In 2019, BERT was released, which aimed to better interpret language nuances and incorporate context to further improve the relevance and helpfulness of results for queries.
The most recent update, MUM, released in May 2021, unseated BERT and expanded Google’s ability to return results that take into account the context and intention of user search queries.
Why does this matter?
As Google has refined the way its search engine interprets queries, how we interpret queries and create content also has to change. Keyword matching isn’t enough – it’s important to understand the “why” behind user search queries, and not just what they searched, to provide them with the best value content, and to improve your ranking in search results.
What are Google search trends?
Google search trends are pretty self-explanatory: they are the trending searches on Google.
But Google Trends is also a tool released by Google to show you real-time search trends.
This tool doesn’t only have real-time data (a key feature that sets it apart from other non-Google-affiliated search insights tools) but has various sections and highlights, such as Rising Queries or Top Trends, that can give you insight into growing and dying trends, what remains popular, and seasonal Google searches – all of which can inform your online content strategy.
As we dive into Google Trends, we’ll be referencing a recent episode of Search Engine Journal’s podcast, where host Loren Baker spoke with Google Trends Curator Louisa Frahm.
Google Trends Features
While Google Trends is a vital tool to help inform your keyword and content strategy, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it may not be of much use.
Here is a quick rundown of what you’ll see when you use Google Trends:
On the front page, you’ll have suggested topics based on what’s trending in the US (or wherever you are located), as well as worldwide. Some of these are in the form of modules, which will contain several searches related to one topic, generally seasonal.
Google’s Year in Search will also be featured on the front page, giving you a rundown of what search topics trended last year.
For each trending query, you will see a search interest score between 0 and 100. This score indicates the general interest surrounding that topic, with a higher score indicating higher interest, and a lower score indicating less interest. You may also be able to see how many news articles there are related to that query, both overall and those that have been posted recently.
For every term you want to find more information on, there is the option to compare that term with another.
As well as the term you’re searching for, you have the ability to select the region, category, and time frame you’d like to focus on.
How to use Google Trends to Inform Your Content Strategy
Each feature of Google Trends can inform a different aspect of your content strategy.
Inform Your Content That’s Already in the Pipeline
If you are already creating and posting content online, Google Trends can help you narrow down which specific keywords to target, and what keywords related to your topic are trending now.
To use Google Trends for content planning, look up the topic you’re planning to write about (or have already created content around), and take note of what you see. How popular is the exact phrase you’re targeting? Are there related phrases that are more popular, or more immediately relevant? Does this topic tend to stay in the same range, or does the popularity of this topic ebb and flow? Can you infer why this topic is (or isn’t) trending?
One piece of advice from Frahm when it comes to finding the best terms to target is to type your content topic into the search bar with “what,” “why,” or “how” to see what questions users have about your topic.
Although you may feel you know generally what people are searching for, the real-time aspect of Google trends can surprise you, and can show you an opportunity to hone the focus of your content to give it the best chance to rank.
Find New Angles with Rising Queries
Rising queries, the related queries that appear when you search for a particular term, can help you take advantage of a popular or emerging angle related to your topic. If you’re writing yet another blog post about your functional and fashionable heels, take advantage of the rising query “comfortable high heels for wedding” and write a wedding-related post.
To make the most of these rising queries, Frahm recommends keeping your titles as “simple and straightforward as possible,” particularly if the rising query related to your topic has any urgency. No need to overcomplicate: address the question directly to make the most of a rising query with
Plan Seasonal Content with Modules
According to Frahm, the featured modules on Google Trends are “made with love,” and can give you valuable insight on seasonal or highly popular trending topics. While the general keywords highlighted by these modules may be a bit too competitive to warrant targeting, these modules are full of context and keyword breakdowns otherwise not featured on Google Trends. If your content is relevant to current or seasonal events, these modules can help you hone in on what topics to target.
Target Local Users with Regional Content
Although the default setting of Google Trends will highlight the region you’re searching from, you can widen or narrow your search to specific regions, countries, and states. As local search grows in importance for businesses, particularly those that serve specific communities or regions, understanding localized search trends is key to creating valuable regional content.
You can make your search as general as worldwide, or get specific enough to include only the search trends for a specific city. Google search results can be extremely different from one search location to another, so considering local search trends is not a step to ignore, even if you operate in multiple locations.
Stay Informed with a Google Trends Subscription
Perhaps only necessary for those who are “kind of nerds for this stuff,” as Frahm put it, the Year in Search and Google Trends subscription can give you a big picture view of how search is changing (and it is, all the time).
While this is less likely to inform a specific piece of content, getting familiar with Google search trends can give you a greater perspective on search in general, and the longer term trends that appear (such as the rise of long-tail keywords, correlated with the rise of voice search). What’s more, staying on top of Google search trends can help you “blast through your assumptions,” as Frahm said. While SEO requires some assuming, why guess if you don’t have to?
At the very least, if you’re anything like me, these bigger picture features of Google Trends are a great tool to satisfy your curiosity about what everyone else is searching.