How I do keyword research without any software at all (and why)


If you dig far enough into a niche eventually you know what people want to read.  I’ve been neck-deep into my two biggest niche sites for a long time. One site for over 7 years. The other over 18 months. I write for both sites almost every day. I know the niches deeply.

This is why I no longer need keyword research software or tools to come up with article topics for both sites.

I know what people want to read.

It’s the final step to mastering this publishing business.  It’s very liberating.  But it’s taken me a long time to get here. Ir0nically, I’ve come full circle. I started my now biggest site not really doing good keyword research.  I didn’t subscribe to Ahrefs until a few years in.  I guessed.  Worse than that, I copied what the biggest sites were doing topically. That was super stupid. I just ended up going up against very competitive keywords covered by sites with huge authority.  It was a losing battle to begin with.

Fortunately, I learned from those mistakes.  That’s when I pivoted to my long-tail, low competition topic model that’s served me well for years.

Last week, I took the final leap with my low competition publishing model and that is I now choose topics using what I call the “Microscope Keyword” method.  Don’t worry, I’ll reveal what this is below.

I feel like someone who becomes so adept in nature that they no longer need a compass or software to find their way.  I no longer need software to find my way to grow my sites.

What is the Microscope Keyword method?

This is how it works. What you do is zone in on a topic within your niche.  Any topic related to your niche.  Drill down as far as you can.  You don’t need software for this.

Once you’ve drilled down, start thinking up questions about that very narrow aspect of your niche.

I find it helps to start this process with stuff you own or do related to the niche.  The stronger you can relate to the micro-topic, the better questions you’ll come up with.

The best way to explain this is with an example.

  • Niche: Vehicles
  • Zone-in topic: Pickup trucks
  • Personal angle: Toyota Tundra (I have a Tundra)
  • Micro topic: Hauling snowmobiles with a Tundra

Note that you could zone in on “hauling snowmobiles with pickup trucks” as well but because I have a Tundra, I’d probably discuss it from a Tundra perspective.

Time to come up with article topics.  Here are some examples. Note that I do not own a snowmobile but I could imagine having these questions if I did or was looking to buy one.

  1. Is it best to tow a snowmobile on a trailer or haul it in the truck bed?
  2. What is the best way to secure a snowmobile in a pickup truck?
  3. How do I load and unload a snowmobile into and out of a pickup truck?
  4. What should I put under a snowmobile when hauling it in my pickup truck?
  5. Should I load the front or rear end of a snowmobile into a pickup truck?
  6. Can I haul a snowmobile in a pickup truck that has a tonneau cover?
  7. How much does a snowmobile stick out from the back of a pickup truck?  Can I close the gate?
  8. Is it possible to get two snowmobiles in a pickup truck? If so, how?
  9. Do I need to drive with 4 wheel drive when hauling a snowmobile?
  10. Will a snowmobile fit in a small or mid-size pickup truck?
  11. Will my truck insurance cover my snowmobile while hauling it?
  12. Can a pickup truck haul a snowmobile in deep snow? Should you get chains?

I came up with all of the above without any software within 5 minutes.  All of those topics are stand-alone articles.  Most wouldn’t require all that much content but some would require some level of expertise such as the insurance coverage topic.  Generally, those topics would be best-served only by people who have hauled a snowmobile in a pickup truck.  Ironically, I suspect coming up with topics like that is easier for someone who has never hauled a snowmobile in a pickup truck.  I have a pickup truck.  When I envision the process of hauling a snowmobile, I end up with a lot of questions because I have no idea how to do it.

If you don’t have experience hauling a snowmobile with a pickup, how do you get the articles written?

That’s easy.  Find someone who does have the experience.  There are lots of folks who have done it.  Your best bet IMO, would be sending out what’s called a casting call on WriterAccess seeking someone who has the necessary experience.  You might have to pay a bit more per word than you usually do because of the expertise sought. I recently needed a writer with very specific experience. I did exactly this on WriterAccess and found someone very good within a day.  They’re now writing 12 articles for me.  We made a deal for $.06 USD per word.

TIP: Just because you find someone who has experience hauling a snowmobile with a pickup doesn’t mean they can write well.  That means start by ordering only one article from whoever applies.  If they do a good job, you can assign the rest to them. If it’s garbage, you’ll need to find someone else.

Just because I can come up with topics without software, do I never use keyword research software?

No. I still use it.  I just also happen to come up with a lot of topics without it.  Often I discover general topics with Ahrefs and from there I come up with micro-topics that form a cluster.

The benefits of doing keyword research without software

You might be thinking this is all well and good but what’s the point?  Why bother when we do have access to software, even free software such as Google autosuggest?

Here’s why.  This is how you will come up with truly obscure keywords.  You are unfettered.

I still use keyword research tools. I recognize that they are super helpful.  But it’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog.  In order to find keywords, it must be an established keyword.  It must be in some database somewhere in order for it to register.  While that’s perfectly fine for many articles sometimes it’s nice to come up with stuff untouched; unchartered keyword territory.

And no, I’m not suggesting that all the micro-topics I come up with are 100% unique never covered.  But some are.  If many are already covered, they’re pretty low competition (I can tell by when I put the topic in Google and check the search results).

Finally, this is yet another option for you to find great topics for your website that help grow traffic.

Give it a shot.

Zero in on something super specific within your niche.  Start asking questions about it. Chances are, if you have the question, others do too.


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