Best Free and Paid Tools for Building a Solid Online Content Strategy

Aug 15, 2017 // Philip Westfall

Building a content strategy is not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process that requires time and effort, and will be evolving with your business, your audience, your industry, and even the Internet itself!

If you’re looking for a “Ronco Rotisserie” approach to SEO ("Set it and forget it!"), then you probably won’t get the results you’re hoping for. 

Before you start dumping a ton of time and energy into your content strategy, you should be doing a little bit of research on what keywords you should be using to attract visitors and hook them. 

How do you determine keyword opportunities for your business?

Keyword opportunities are defined by high volumes (the number of users searching for a given keyword) and a low difficulty score (meaning there is a lower level of competition to rank for that word).

If your target keyword doesn’t have both these variables checked off, you will run into some challenges. An easy to rank keyword is worthless if nobody is searching for it. The same can be said for a high difficulty keyword - if you can’t rank for it, you won’t get any traffic from it.

So how can you determine keyword opportunities?

There are several tools available that you can use to determine search volumes as well as the difficulty score for any given keyword. Everyone has their own personal favorites, but whether you choose a free or paid tool, you DO NEED a tool.

Unless of course, you have some sort of psychic powers, in which case this article is probably not for you.

Free tool: Google AdWords Keyword Planner

To use the Keyword Planner tool, you will need a Google AdWords account. In the example below, we are looking at the search volume and difficulty for dress shirts in the United States of America. Although this is showing data for Paid Keywords, they are usually very close to organic search.

google adwords keyword planner

Also, we selected a location (USA) because search volumes, ranks and difficulty scores change based on geography. If your keywords are location-based (like a restaurant), this is even more important to consider. 

As you can see, there is a very large search volume, but the competition is high (competition can be either low, medium or high). Unless you are a large online retailer of dress shirts, this keyword might be a little too ambitious or broad for now.

Broad keywords are general terms that have lots of search volume and usually high competitiveness. If you want to reduce the competition (and search volume) you can get more specific, like: short sleeve dress shirts.

[Paid tool] SEMrush (About $99/month)

If you’re looking to get serious about your SEO and content marketing, you will need a pro tool for your keyword research. Our favorite at PageCloud is SEMrush

Their SEO Keyword Magic feature allows you to search for broad keywords (1-3 words in length) and get recommendations on long tail keywords (3+ words in length) that you should target first.

Here is a quick example:


*KD represents Keyword Difficulty on scale of 0 (very easy) to 100 (extremely difficult).

In this example, you can see how the keyword “men’s dress shirts” is very difficult to rank for, but “custom dress shirts” is much easier. 

The key here is to figure out which keywords align with your business and strategy. If you don’t make custom shirts, you probably won’t have much success ranking for that keyword.

Select Target Keywords

Before you start selecting your target keywords, you must do some research and create a list of relevant keywords!

This doesn’t mean throwing random keywords into a tool. You need to align with your business and customers. 

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What are they looking for? How do they search for your business? What challenges do they have that you could resolve with a piece of content? What questions are they asking?

To perform proper keyword research, I’d suggest creating “personas” for your target audience and spend some time reflecting on what they are searching for. If you’re new to personas, HubSpot does a great job detailing what they are.

“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”

Once you have a long list of keywords that relate to your business and personas, start selecting the ones that make the most sense to rank for. The length of your keyword list will vary depending on your business, but rule of thumb is the more, the better. 100+ keywords is very common. 

How do you pick keywords to target?

Well, keep in mind that perfect keywords (also called unicorn keywords) do not exist. They are defined by extremely high volumes, low difficulty and are relevant to your business.


We want to pick keywords that are as close to this fairytale situation as possible. If your list was created properly, all keywords should be somewhat relevant to your business, so all you have to do is determine the best combination between volume and difficulty score. The graph below allows you to visualize the relationship:

unicorn keywords seo

If you are just getting started, you'll want to focus on the easiest and most relevant keywords first, like your brand name.

After, when you start getting some momentum online and improve your domain authority, you can start going after slightly harder keywords with more volume. Always keep in mind that you must answer the search query better than what is currently ranking. Doing some competitive analysis is required.

You can experiment with easier and harder keywords, but try to stay focused on a small number of keywords if you are just starting out. Combining related keywords into topics can make the list seem less overwhelming.

It’s also important to note that Google is moving more and more towards topics and the overall intent of a search, and is becoming less sensitive to subtle variations in keyword structure. For example: best resorts for families’ vs best family resorts.

Although the keywords are different, the topic and intent are the same, so they should display the same results.

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PUBLISHED:Aug 15, 2017

Content Marketing, SEO, Creators, Website Creator, Analytics, Online Tips, Trending


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