SEMrush is one of the most well-known toolkits in the SEO industry, but it’s particularly valuable for industry research — a core component of any sustainable content marketing strategy. After all, no matter how dedicated you are to producing content on a regular basis (using all the tactics in the book), you simply won’t be able to meet demand if you can’t come up with ideas that inspire you.
Using data drawn from SEMrush, you can identify gaps in the existing digital content out there, and find niches that might be worth your time. The result? A content calendar full of workable ideas, and a real opportunity to surpass your direct competitors.
But how do you actually operate SEMrush? What should you be looking for, and how should you use that information? Let’s answer these questions:
How to research keywords in SEMrush
Firstly, head to the SEMrush homepage. You’ll be met with a search bar — enter a keyword or topic that you want content ideas for, and search for it. Because SEMrush is a paid platform, you’ll need to either pick up a subscription or register a free account to get 10 searches.
While you can certainly get some value out of a handful of searches, it’s absolutely worth investing in a full subscription so you can use the tool consistently. Whichever approach you take at this point, you’ll be presented with the Overview of the Keyword Analytics section, including organic and paid search volume. In the left-aligned column, select the Keyword Magic Tool: this is where you’ll get the most information.
Essentially, it allows you to select relevant keywords (separated into “Broad Match”, “Phrase Match”, “Exact Match”, and “Related”) and add them to distinct lists to go into the Keyword Analyzer (only accessible with a paid subscription). This way, you can easily assemble hundreds of useful keyword variations.
How to use the Topic Research tool
Having done so, you might feel a little overwhelmed with all the keywords now at your disposal. How are you supposed to narrow them down, or know what’s important? Well, you can make things simpler by heading to the Topic Research tool.
Enter your topic of choice and click “Get content ideas”: SEMrush will generate a mind map of hyper-relevant keyword snippets, complete with headlines (sorted by resonance) and viable questions (sorted by type) on the right-hand side.
I suggest paying particular attention to the questions, because they’re perfect material for blog post titles and/or subheadings within the pieces you write (plus they’re vital for contending for featured snippets in SERPs). You can also go to the Cards section (listed alongside the Mind Map) to find the target pages that most commonly appear for the different keywords.
How to use the data you find
Having information is great, but you need to know how to use it. Now that you have a large set of keywords and a smaller but more highly-relevant set of content ideas, you have everything you need to start fleshing out an excellent content calendar.
The missing ingredient here is your level of expertise and interest in different niches. There may be a gap in the digital content world for a certain title, but if you don’t have anything interesting to say about it (and it doesn’t inspire you), then it isn’t necessarily worth pursuing. Similarly, there may already be plenty of results for a particular keyword, but if you can write content better than anything that already shows up, you should do so.
Ultimately, you want the following to be true of every content idea you line up:
- There’s keyword demand behind it.
- The specific topic isn’t completely saturated, or you have a fresh take.
- It provides great creative opportunities.
- You’re excited to write about it.
- It fits in your overall content strategy.
- It suits the planned release date (e.g. Christmas content releasing in December).
It’s a general content marketing point, but never forget what you’re marketing and why you’re marketing it (which is to say, to what end specifically). You could be marketing yourself, marketing your brand, or marketing a side business you bought at 2 am (I know the temptation of website flipping all too well) — each different scenario brings distinct challenges. If you’re just trying to produce enough content to get your side hustle a little more attention, then aim for efficiency… but if you’re producing content for your personal brand, then quality takes priority.
Returning to SEMrush itself, while the two sections we’ve looked at are the biggest research tools, the utility doesn’t end there. Once you’ve set out your ideas, you can make the process of writing and optimizing your content much easier using tools such as SEO Content Template and SEO Writing Assistant (that way, you can ensure that you’re fully prepared for the mixture of organic and referral traffic you’re targeting).
Why you must factor in other sources of data
SEMrush is extremely powerful in isolation, but that doesn’t mean you should use it that way. Instead, you should make it part of a broader ideation strategy, using it alongside other sources of data such as follower surveys and social media activity. This is for two big reasons:
- Current trends on social media channels will affect your ability to broadly promote your content. Organic traffic may be vital, but social media referrals are also extremely valuable, and being able to associate with a hot hashtag can make all the difference. If you can line up some social media trends and link them to your content ideas, you can tee up a lot of cross-channel promotion.
- There’s value in creating channel-specific content at times. For instance, Instagram marketing is key for growing certain types of business, but there’s little natural overlap between an Instagram post and a long-form article. You may benefit from creating an original Instagram story, in which case you’d need to get more granular about works on that particular platform. Using keywords in hashtags is a good idea — but you also need to delve deeper into Instagram-specific trends like Boomerang and use the right cultural terms in order to engage the Insta-generation.
In the end, you want to get your ideas from as many places, channels and people as possible. It may seem daunting, but you can always narrow it down afterwards — the bigger the pool you start with, the better the set of ideas you’ll end up with.
Wrapping up, using SEMrush is a fantastic way to curate a set of high-value keywords and questions that can easily be forged into viable content titles. And since it’s free to test out the Keyword Analytics tool (temporarily, of course), you might as well try it. If it suits your needs, I recommend getting a subscription — you won’t regret it.