SEO-Driven Editorial Planning – Course Review

SEO-Driven Editorial Planning – Course Review

This post discusses the SEO-Driven Editorial Planning course as part of Track 5 (of 7) for the Growth Marketing program from the CXL Institute. The course is taught by veteran SEO consultant Dan Shure. It covers how to use keyword research and the right content types to build an SEO driven editorial calendar, including research processes, prioritization, opportunity analysis, and aligning keywords to content structures.

For transparency, as part of my marketing work I have operated in content marketing and SEO for years, so my experience in the course was focused on looking for insights outside of processes that I’m already familiar with. 


Shure uses his templates (see below) and an array of SEO software to demonstrate his workflow. He is exclusively focused on Google search because of its overwhelming 86% of the market. 

If you find the tools a little overwhelming, don’t sweat it. There is a LOT of software servicing the search marketing industry, with extensive overlap between them. Some are simple and specific. Others are insanely deep. Some focus on SEO (organic search). Others are better at SEM (paid search).

For example, MOZ, SEMrush, and Ahrefs are the big three search platforms – they do very similar things. But the more you get to know them, the more you realize it’s about fit with your workflow and marketing needs. The more you work in search, the more you will develop preferences.

No Shortcuts – Develop Broad ‘Seed Topics’.

Many people take shortcuts in the earliest stages of SEO content planning – defaulting to the pursuit of obvious and unimaginative business-related keywords and then jumping right into making content. This results in SEO failure. 

Instead, Shure walks through the complete process, from a blank sheet to final content, using his SEO Editorial Worksheet template. 

It begins with the identification of seed topics, which are ‘broad intent’ words (usually 1-2 words), with very high search volume. He recommends allowing yourself to wander out from obvious topics already related to your business and taking the time to whiteboard or mindmap to maximize open thinking. 

His process is thorough, but in practice, I’ve never started this far out from business-related topics. Typically, if content marketing is for a dod food brand, you’re not going to stray too far from seed topics like “dogs, pets, dog food, pet care, pet food, pet nutrition,” etc. 

Either way, he suggests using BuzzSumo as your next stop. Plug your initial list of seed topics into their question analyzer. This tool crawls forums and QA sites and then presents word clouds and the question threads from which they come. This process creates WAY more seed topics from even basic category keywords. It’s just another way to keep expanding out the seed topic list before you dive deeper.

You can copy-paste or export the BuzzSumo list and import it into the MOZ keyword explorer. From there, continue to use keywords to build on other keywords. He suggests using the ‘display keyword suggestions’ that filters for other options. This seems like overkill, and it is. But again, legwork early pays off down the line when you are otherwise struggling to come up with original content ideas.

Within MOZ, you’re also topic hunting with the context of monthly search volume – looking for topics that have wide appeal. For niche topics and businesses, granularity becomes an issue quickly. This will be a pattern throughout all SEO planning, as the tools sometimes struggle to produce meaningful suggestions or data when volume drops too low.

In addition to search volume, it’s important at this broad stage to identify the content saturation of seed topics – the literal volume of content you’re potentially competing against. Tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs‘s keyword difficulty tool are helpful. And manual work here is extremely beneficial. Do an actual Google search on the seed topics, to see results in the real world – just scan and make a judgment. 

If you’re using the template provided, this is when you would enter your seed topic list along with search volume and saturation. You’re looking to identify 50-100 seed topics that you’ll then begin to expand into specific topic possibilities for your plan.

Specific Topics – Expanding then Prioritizing the Content Plan.

The next step is to come up with specific topic ideas expanded out from the seed topics in your list. But the mistake people commonly make is to just start dreaming up ideas that sound interesting – and jump right into content production. Bad idea.

Now is the time to prioritize specific content based on actual search opportunities. Yes, these need to tunnel to more specific contexts within seed topics (going from “Dog Food” to “101 Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid”. And yes, they need to have a medium-to-high amount of traffic ‘potential’ based on search volume to justify the effort. But the real decider on what to create and what to leave behind comes down to ‘ranking gaps‘.

Success is About Finding ‘Ranking Gaps’

Search is massive. Topics (even some specific ones) have hundreds, thousands, and millions of search results. This means the specific topics you land on will already have a glut of competing content. The only way you have a chance of unseating current search results is if you can close the ‘ranking gap’ on a specific topic. Ranking gaps can be any combination of competitive gaps in domain authority, relevance, quality, or niche topic.

  • Domain Authority Gap – You’ll be looking for content opportunities where top search results are from websites with domain authority rankings below your website’s current rank (more on domain authority below). In other words, it’s a bad strategy to tackle specific topics where page one is covered in websites with ’80’ domain authority ranking, while your authority is ’22’).
  • Relevance Gap – Google uses ‘relevance’ (how much does the content deliver on what the searcher explicitly is looking for?) as the top decider in search results. So, when you are analyzing specific topic ideas and the results don’t produce a high relevancy match (even page one results are kind of off the mark), then there is a potential gap opportunity to be exploited.
  • Quality Gap – Even if you’re out-matched on domain authority and content relevance, you might still be successful if top results suffer from poor quality or design (poor navigation, poor layout, content not updated). It’s hard to displace rank and relevance but reframing what’s already there in a significantly better quality package can be less resource-intensive than starting from scratch.
  • Niche Topic Gap – This is less common, and inevitably a lower volume opportunity, but when search results for a specific topic serve-up only big websites (like media outlets) and niche service providers, then there might be an opportunity gap. With no credibly specific/focused source ‘owning’ content in the middle, your company has an opportunity to satisfy the highly specific niche. (This is an involved approach that requires committing a significant portion of your total content to the niche, not just a specific piece.)

Creating ‘Longtails’ The Process to Get to More Specific Topics

You’re going to use your seed topics to generate specific ‘longtail‘ topics. This is a manual exploration process – I find that this part is half art and half science, so I’d follow what works for your needs. Just remember, you’re using these tools to identify ranking gaps and to prioritize the content opportunities that have the biggest potential to drive results. 

Shure is explicit as he dives into his deeper content refining process, going tool-by-tool, and step-by-step.

Begin by installing two helpful tools:

  1. Keywords Everywhere Chrome Plugin — This is going to display a lot of keyword volume data as you within the right column of your browser when searching on – things like related terms, and ‘people also searched for…”
  2. MOZbar Chrome Plugin – creates a domain authority overlay on Google search results, as well as a bottom bar displaying similar site authority information for each domain you visit.

Reference your seed topic list, go to and enter the terms one-by-one, taking note of Google’s autofill search suggestions for specific topics that stand out as fits for your business. Also, reference the right sides of the search results page using the ‘Find long-tail keywords option’ in the Keywords Everywhere sidebar – it will produce a massive amount of specific suggestions.

You’re compiling a list that’s of interest (not ranking gap analyzing yet, just go with gut), while also validating which specific terms have the search volume to make your effort worthwhile. Keywords Everywhere will provide volume information. For anything else, bigger tools like SEMrush will work.

If you see longtails that have a search volume in the thousands then there is likely still room to tunnel down into deeper longtails. You can keep adding keywords into further longtails until you run out of meaningful search volume.

Prioritization – Which ‘Longtails’ to Turn Into Content?

Shure’s templates work well, but any decision-making process will work as long as it factors in estimated trafficranking potentialpotential business value, and difficulty to produce.

Estimated Traffic

Shure goes deep on this, but I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to be precise here – do just enough to validate the possible traffic so you can prioritize appropriately. You are, after all, estimating. 

Enter each specific longtail you are considering developing content for into Google search, and find the top-ranking piece of content that is the best true match (delivering on the likely intent of the person searching). This won’t necessarily be the very top-ranked result, but it will be on page one of the results. Put the URL for that result in SEMrush organic research to see its potential traffic.

Ranking Potential

As a refresher, our ranking potential will be determined by looking at a combination of domain authority, relevancy, quality, and niche topic. To do this, you’ll rely heavily on, your powers of observation, and a few other tools.

Searching your potential longtails, first take note of the domain authority of the top page results, as well as the relevancy of those results. If you see entrenched/high-authority domains saturating the first page AND highly relevant content, then it’s time to step away from this longtail. The combination of being outgunned on both domain authority and relevance is too much to overcome. 

Ideally, you want the first page of results to be driving to sites with lower domain authority than yours. This presents the easiest approach to winning in SEO – delivering similar or better content, but winning the results battle by virtual of your website’s overall strength. 

Unfortunately, if your site is under a 30, this is probably not going to be an option, which will lead you to focus on relevancy, quality, and niche topic gaps.

If the results present a gap in relevancy (they don’t precisely address the exact longtail search phrase) then this is worth further exploration as it might be a specific topic you can tackle and win. (The best test on relevancy is to ask yourself if the answer to the longtail is in the results’ content, or if a user would need an even deeper longtail to solve their search).

Determining if the results present a quality gap requires manually assessing the actual content linking to the first page results. Do you see any design, UX, content-quality issues that you believe you can address to create similar but significantly better quality versions? If so, this might be a longtail for you to pursue.

Determining a niche-specific authority gap is challenging, and pursuing a niche strategy is high-risk. In simple terms, if you can clearly see a pattern of longtails around a certain topic only being tackled by big publishers and small publishers (no one focusing in the middle on creating a credible ‘source’ of total information for the topic), then you might have something. But if your SEO work is related to promoting a certain business, then this niche must be central to that business. This is more commonly used as an approach for independent bloggers looking to establish territory, with no limitations on where they can stake that claim.

Finding Longtails Through Competitor Research

Inevitably you will encounter massive amounts of ‘competing’ content. And you will weigh the ranking potential against the specific content you see. But as you’re going through this process you will also be encountering competing websites that might be ripe with opportunity. 

Look at their entire body of content for ideas, and for specific pieces that you can rank against based on quality or other factors. One approach is to enter their domains in SEMrush and look at their page report sorted by traffic – the URL often tells you what the content is about based on the keywords it contains. View each specific piece of content to assess if you can make it better.

Potential Business Value.

As you’re narrowing process continues, you will need to assign potential business value to your longtail options. Shure goes through a process using his templates, but I find this to be driven more by personal preference and type of business. 

For me, it boils down to the proximity of the longtail to your core business. The closers the specific topic aligns to your products or services, the higher the value here.

Difficulty to Produce.

Just as important will be determining how much effort will be required to produce winning content. Resource constraints are a reality in any business, so you need to plan content with the highest value options in mind, factoring in how many creation hours you have available and if external resources are needed to produce (research, design, etc.)

Be Ruthless.

Start filtering. And be lean. Remove anything with low business value (maybe even medium business value). Remove anything with low potential traffic/search volume. Remove anything that will be crippling to resources (don’t put all your eggs in one basket). 

Assess how you like, but this should be a ruthless enough process that you are upset in the end at how many specific content ideas you decide NOT to do. 

Send your suggestions for Growth Marketing resources to .

1038 576 Todd Denis

Todd Denis

VP Marketing ★ Human from Earth ★ 15+ years marketing strategy, content, social media, digital, creative, operations, transformation ★ Not a robot

All stories by : Todd Denis
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