Google's pretty much eliminated all that juicy keyword data we used to get in Analytics, which means it's become much harder to understand which keywords are driving the best results for your website.
The good news is the best keyword research tool is, and always has been, Google AdWords. Sure you pay Google for clicks, but those clicks can drive leads and, perhaps more importantly, drive a big chunk of your content strategy. Here's how we use PPC (Google AdWords, specifically) to help drive content decisions.
Step 1: Understand why searcher intent is important
The entire reason Google search exists, aside from making mountains and mountains of cash, is to provide people with information that matches their search intent.
If I search for "zebra," Google knows I'm probably interested in general information about the animal. If I search "zebra print sofa," Google knows I'm probably interested in tacky sofas.
The point is, if I sell zebra print sofas, it's going to be an uphill battle to try and rank for the term "zebra." Google knows people who type "zebra" are generally looking for information about the animal and are likely not interested in zebra print sofas.
If Google gives its users what they want, they come back and use Google again. And if you give Google what it's users want, it will reward you with much easier-to-earn rankings.
But how do you give Google what it's users want? The key is to understand the intent behind a given search; in other words, what is the searcher trying to accomplish? Are they researching for a college paper? Are they looking for a specific product to purchase? Are they comparison shopping? Intent is not always an easy thing to figure out, but PPC offers you the best platform to do it.
Step 2: Setup and optimize an AdWords campaign
The first step is to set up an AdWords campaign targeting whatever group of keywords you want to start with. It needs to be a well-structured, optimized campaign, so don't try to tackle all your keywords at once. Maybe start with one product/service segment, perhaps your most profitable one.
Get the campaign up and running with a reasonable spend so you get enough clicks to test ideas.
Step 3: Create ads to match possible intent
The best place to start here is to list out all the possible intents behind a given target keyword or set of keywords.
From there, write ad text that appeals specifically to each of those intents. Maybe also write some ads that appeal broadly to several of those intents.
Step 4: Create MVP landing pages to match possible intent
Next, create MVP (minimum viable product) landing pages that match each intent. By minimum viable product I mean landing pages that require the absolute minimum amount of work necessary to provide a decent user experience. Don't go crazy here, we're only testing things and you'll probably end up scrapping a bunch of these pages anyway.
Step 5: Measure CTR, engagement, etc
Now, either run traffic to it all or test a few variations at a time. Take a look at cost per click and click-through rates in AdWords, watch for measures of engagement like time on page, social shares, etc, and measure goal completions driven by each variation.
We've been able to rank pages against much stronger competitors using this exact method with absolutely no off-site SEO. It's a great method that allows you to test content by driving traffic to the page quickly instead of just waiting and hoping your content ranks.