Three scrabble tiles on a wood table spelling SEO

Keyword research is an essential part of building an SEO strategy, but if you’re a small business, you may not be able to pay for popular industry tools like SEMrush, or have the time to learn how to use them. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t do keyword research. Here’s a list of tools and techniques for finding keywords that will help you get seen on the web.

A note about keywords; most keywords are actually going to be phrases. In fact, most search queries on Google use between 3 and 4 words. Google is also moving more and more toward prioritizing natural language search, so use keywords that people will actually type into Google when searching for products that you offer or topics related to that product.

1. Rank Tracker

Rank Tracker is a free SEO tool (with additional paid features) that’s kind of like SEMrush light. It’s going to have fewer features than the big paid tools, and the information it provides is going to be less specific. Still, it’s a great place to get started.

For a quick audit of your current rankings, it offers a ranking summary and a rank tracking tool. The ranking summary gives you information about how your page is ranking, and the rank tracking shows you what your site is ranking for.

Under keyword research, it has a variety of tools, including evaluating your main SEO competitors (these are people or businesses who are competing for the same keywords), searches related to your target keyword, questions related to your target keyword and so on. It’s very useful to have these lists; they’ll tell you what people are actually searching for regarding your product or service.

It also offers a search engine results page analysis tool, a domain strength tool, and competitive research. This tool may take a few minutes to learn, but I found the interface simple and intuitive.

2. Answer the Public

Answer the Public is a free search listening tool. It won’t give you search volume or difficulty, but it will give you a wealth of information about searches related to your seed keyword. I use Answer the Public every single time I do keyword research.

Type a relevant keyword into Answer The Public, and it will give you questions, prepositions, comparisons, and alphabeticals related to your keywords. These are essentially keyword phrases that are actually used in search and are related to your seed keyword.

It also gives you the option to download a spreadsheet of these suggestions for your reference. This will help you build a keyword strategy and a list of keywords to track.

There are limitations. Answer the Public restricts you to a certain number of searches per day, and this limit changes based on their traffic.

There are also a host of search listening features that you need to pay for. The cheapest option for a paid account is $79,99 per month, so it’s a considerable investment.

3. Google

Who better to give you information on keywords than Google? There are a couple of ways to use Google products to perform keyword research. One, you can use the search engine itself. Just search for a seed keyword. 

The search results will give you some insight. Check out the People Also Ask section on the results page. This will give you some information about what people are searching regarding your keyword.

Then scroll down and look thoughtfully at what’s ranking on the first page. A search for “SEO” brings up “ultimate guide” posts and “for beginners” posts. Since the Google algorithm is designed to give the user the pages that they are most likely to need, it’s likely that a lot of searches are looking for SEO guides and SEO guides for beginners.

Beware, though. These keywords might be very popular, but they’re also probably very competitive and difficult to rank for. In this case, you might use other tools to look for relevant but more specific keywords.

4. Twitter

Twitter is especially useful for identifying trends. There are a couple of ways to use Twitter:

The first is to check out the Trending section on Twitter. This will give you topics and tweets that are currently trending. This is a way to gauge interest on certain topics. The main limitation to this method is that trending topics may not be (probably aren’t, statistically speaking) relevant to your product or service.

This is where the search box comes in. Search Twitter for topics related to your business. You might get a lot of results that aren’t really relevant. If that’s the case, you can search Twitter for hashtags. For example, a search for #SEO revealed much more relevant results than a search for SEO, which brought up tweets about Seoul, Korea as well.

You can do similar research on Instagram.

5. Google Trends

Google Trends is a wonderful tool for researching specific keywords in depth. You enter a keyword and it will provide you with a graph showing its popularity over time, a map showing which regions the keyword is most popular in, and a list of related keywords.

This is a great way to understand the behavior of users looking for your product or service, and it provides a wealth of information.

You can also go to Trending Searches to see what’s popular in search. These trending searches are arranged by day, and search changes a lot from day to day. This is the risk in chasing trends; by the time you know they’re trends, they’re often already about to decline in popularity. 

These are all great tools and techniques to find and analyze SEO keywords that you might use to optimize your own website. They cover a few different stages of the keyword research process, and in combination can give you a really good start on your keyword strategy. Just remember to use natural language keywords and keep user intent in mind, and you’ll be able to improve your website’s visibility on the web!

A man's arm, writing in a book

A former manager of mine once told me that writing is easy, and in a sense they were correct. Writing is easy. Writing well, however, is not. I have more than a decade of practice in writing, and have spent that time studying and honing my craft. I have received praise from managers and clients alike, and written countless blog posts, for both clients and for myself.

Not every business can afford to hire a content writer, especially one that is skilled and experienced. These firms may need to write their own content. This is a brief overview of how to do just that.

Plan and Outline

You probably already know what topic you’re writing about, but you don’t want to just start writing. You need to know how to approach a topic. Specific is better; posts that answer questions are great. 

Once you’ve got your plan of attack, do your research. This may mean researching a topic, or examining a client’s brand voice. If you’re using facts, statistics, or quotes from other websites (and you should be), save those URLs! You’ll want to link to them in your post.

Outlining is vital. Different writers outline in different ways. For example, my outlines are usually just a list of the subheadings I plan to use. Some people will want more detailed outlines. Whatever works best for you.

Use The Inverted Pyramid Structure

The inverted pyramid structure is a method of organizing your writing so that it best engages the reader. You might recognize this technique from news articles; it’s frequently used in journalistic writing.

You want to start at the broadest part of your topic. This allows readers to determine whether your article is going to contain the information they’re looking for. It also prepares the reader for what’s to come.

In the paragraphs that follow, you will delve into greater detail, explaining different aspects of the topic at hand. These paragraphs are where you will use data to back up your message, and give the information that differentiates your article from others on the same topic.

Use Everyday Language

There’s a lot of temptation to use industry jargon or academic language when writing about certain topics, but you should resist that urge whenever possible. Using plain, everyday languages makes engaging with your writing easier, includes a broader audience, and makes reading your article faster.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for an eighth grade reading level for your writing. This allows you to explain complicated topics while including and engaging a wider audience. 

If you find yourself in a situation that demands jargon, make sure that you explain to the reader what that jargon means.

Use Short Sentences and Short Paragraphs

It’s always best to use short sentences and short paragraphs. A long sentence is a red flag that you may be sacrificing readability. Use sentences that are to the point, as these sentences tend to be more powerful and more engaging. Don’t combine two topics in one sentence. Break it up into two.

Short paragraphs make your piece appear easier to read. Readers on the web don’t want to be confronted with a massive wall of text. Using many short paragraphs also makes your content easier to read.

Each broad topic in your article should be in its own short paragraph. This will avoid reader confusion.

White space is your friend. It opens up the page and reveals the structure of your content. It makes the page easier and more pleasant to read. This makes your reader more likely to stick around.

Eliminate Passive Voice

The passive voice is the bane of every beginning writer. We often use it without thinking about it. But passive voice leads to weaker statements and longer, more convoluted sentences.

The passive voice is when a verb acts on the subject of a sentence. In contrast, the active voice is when the subject performs a verb. Let’s look at an example:

  • Passive voice: The red bike was ridden by Jane.
  • Active voice: Jane rode the red bike.

Do you see how the active voice sentence is clearer, more powerful, and shorter than the passive voice sentence?

In combination with using the active voice, choose action verbs whenever possible. A sign that you’re not using action verbs is that you’re using forms of the verb “to be.” This is also a sign that you might be using the passive voice. Here’s an example:

  • Non-action verb: Jane was rowing the boat.
  • Action verb: Jane rowed the boat.

Both sentences are in the past tense, but one is more powerful and engaging.

Every Blog Post Must Have an Image

I cannot stress how important this is. Quality images on your blog posts invite your reader to continue. Also, images will appear on previews of your work when they’re shared on social media, and posts with images are more likely to be clicked on.

Using images also lends authority to your writing. It shows professionalism and that you’ve put thought into the piece that you’ve written.

But not all of us are graphic designers. There are plenty of websites out there that offer free stock photos. I recommend Pexels and Unsplash.

The primary risk of using free stock photos is that someone else will be using that exact image. That’s better than not having a picture at all, though.

Every Blog Post Must Have Subheadings

Subheadings are so important! There are a few good reasons to have subheadings in your article:

  • They make your writing easier to scan and understand.
  • They entice readers to engage with your content by letting them know what they’re about to read.
  • Google places some importance on subheadings when indexing your website.
  • Subheadings make it easier for the Google algorithm to understand what your article is about.

Subheadings organize your writing, and should follow a logical path through your subject. This way, one concept flows easily to the next, making your message easier to understand.

Your subheadings should always be nested correctly; H2 (heading 2), with H3 (heading 3) underneath, then H4 (heading 4). Most content management systems will auto format these for you once you choose which heading level a piece of text belongs to.

Write a Great Title

Writing great titles is a skill that takes practice to learn. The title appears not just on your webpage but also on Google search results. A great title encourages users to click through to your page, but also to read your article. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Great titles use action verbs.
  • Titles must be relevant to your content.
  • When writing for SEO, your title should contain at least one target keyword.
  • The ideal title length is around 60 characters.
  • Write your title after you’ve drafted your article.

Don’t get discouraged if you struggle a little with titles. They take practice to write well, but your efforts will be rewarded.

Review and Revise

Always give your article a second look and see if there’s anything that needs to be changed. Sometimes when we’re writing, we don’t see the mistakes we make. Reviewing your writing carefully will bring these to light. Here are some things to look for when reviewing and revising:

  • Spelling and grammar; they actually matter.
  • Length of sentences and paragraphs. Look for ones that should be broken up.
  • Jargon and academic wording.
  • Sentences in the passive voice.
  • Continuity of the article. Make sure the order of your topics makes sense.

Revision will help you write the best article possible. Every writer edits a little differently. Some swear by reading out loud to catch repetitive word use and awkward phrasing. Others print out their document and edit on paper. Try a few methods out and see what works best for you.

With this knowledge at hand, you’re ready to start writing blog posts for your business or your own website. Remember, the key to doing something well is always practice, and with practice, you’ll be writing excellent blog posts in no time!

A man, seen from neck to waist, wearing a suit

We’ve all had the experience of working for a bad manager. If we’re lucky, we’ve also had the experience of working for a good manager. Sometimes we don’t really know what separates the two; under a good manager, things seem easier, days go more smoothly, and we feel more engaged at work. But what do good managers do to get this kind of result?

My father was a manager of people later in his career, and as he grew into this role, he came to love it. The experience of managing people made him a more understanding and compassionate person. He read books on how to be a good manager. He started talking about emotional IQ and other subjects related to understanding and working with people.

His educational background was in engineering, mine is in business. It is from him that I got my love of management. I got my grounding in management theory from my undergrad and graduate education. This love and this knowledge have brought me to a particular understanding of how good managers work. My experience in the workforce has taught me how bad managers work. Unfortunately there are more bad managers out there than good ones. So how do you recognize a good manager? How do you practice good management?

Good Managers Lead From the Front

We’ve all experienced managers that lead from the back, giving orders without understanding what their team is facing. Truly good managers lead from the front; they understand the goals of their teams and the challenges they face. 

In order to do this effectively, managers must have a clear understanding of their team members’ jobs. All too often, we encounter people who are career managers, meaning that they specialize in management and enter firms and industries as managers without experience in the field that their teams are working in. These managers often do not put in the effort to understand the work that their teams have to do.

This results in frustration on the parts of team members, which reduces engagement with their work. This lack of engagement causes frustration on the part of the manager. Everyone is now having less fun, is less fulfilled, less engaged, and productivity suffers.

To lead from the front, aim for roles managing teams in industries you’ve worked in before. Failing that, engage with and listen to your team members. Understand the shape of their work and the obstacles to performance. Then work toward removing or mitigating those obstacles.

Good Managers Communicate Clearly

If you want a task done a certain way and you don’t communicate that effectively, the problems with the end product are at least partially your fault.

Your team cannot meet your expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are. 

Communicating clearly is more complicated than it sounds on the surface. Communication is not just conveying information, it’s also receiving information. Even if you master one method of communication, different people communicate better in some ways than others.

Here are some general tips for communicating well:

  • Actively Listen: Do not perform other work while engaging in communication. Pay attention. Offer cues that indicate that you are listening, including verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • Be Curious: approach communication with an attitude of curiosity. Virtually every communication offers an opportunity to learn. Curiosity will help you catch subtle cues that help you understand the other person and communicate with them more effectively.
  • Manage Your Emotions: many types of communication that we engage in in the workplace can be emotionally volatile. We can’t always predict or control the feelings that come up in a conversation, but we can manage how we express them. Managing your emotions will help you be a better listener and speaker.
  • Choose The Right Method: The best method for communication depends on both the purpose of the communication, and the person that you’re communicating with. Some people need complicated communications in writing. Some people are better able to absorb information through in-person conversation. Some communications need a paper trail. Understanding what works best is vital, and it’s a skill that often must be learned through experience.

Good Managers Support Their Team

There’s a widespread misconception that employees work for their managers, and I think this is a leftover from the days of Scientific Management Theory. The fact is, a manager’s job is to facilitate their team completing the work that they’re performing. In this sense, a manager works for their team.

The manager’s job is to help their team do the best work that they can do. Yes, this involves giving work assignments and instructions, but it also involves creating a work environment that is as low stress as possible, safe, and enjoyable.

It also involves motivating team members; striking the right balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and manipulating working conditions to activate the three basic components of motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Good managers are also willing and able to take the time to coach and guide team members through technical aspects of their work, to listen to their team members, and to provide accommodations as needed.

Good Managers Tailor Their Approach

Each member of a team is an individual. Every single one is different. They have different communication styles, different motivators, and different learning styles. A good manager is able to recognize these differences and adapt their approach to best support each individual. This may involve a lot of trial and error, but it’s vital to leading and supporting a team effectively.

Good managers pay attention to the way people communicate, the areas in which people are struggling, the way they work.

This is a break from the Theory of Scientific Management, which supposes that all workers are more or less replaceable cogs in a machine, and that one single approach is going to work for everyone. Many managers still believe this is the case, and their teams and their work suffer as a result.

Managing effectively is a difficult job, and it involves a lot of work. You will never enter your first management position as a great manager; these skills require practical experience to learn. An academic background is absolutely useful, but some of it must be learned by doing. 

The management of people is also rewarding work. It’s worth taking the time to learn, practice, and develop those skills. Your team and your company will thank you.