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Content Planner: The New Approach to Content Strategy

Content Planner: The New Approach to Content Strategy

Inside this article:

At Surfer, we know that content is the life and blood of any on-page SEO efforts.

We also know that to make your content marketing successful, you need solid research, hard data, and a long-term plan that goes beyond just singular pieces of content.

The final shapes of the rankings are highly influenced by the state of our domains. Many things contribute to domain strength: backlinks, brand recognition, the age of your site alone, etc.

But there is one more content-related thing that can strengthen your domain significantly...

Building such a strong topical relevance in your niche that Google instantly recognizes your authority.

And there is a way to achieve this: by creating topic clusters.

Of course, a cluster must be well-planned to work. You need to combine the right keywords, choose the right structure, and the topics and subtopics for your articles… Not to mention, actually write them.

At Surfer, we came up with a solution that will prepare the whole base for your content marketing strategy with just a click:

Content Planner.

Content Planner will give you the entire foundation for a topic cluster on a silver platter in a matter of minutes. All you need is to type your main keyword and pick a location. You’ll get a list of article ideas (along with the primary and secondary keywords they need to rank for) to cover for the next couple of months.‍

Content Planner is now available for all subscribers, including trial. For more details, check out our pricing page or log into your account.‍

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • How to use Surfer Content Planner;
  • How you can benefit from it;
  • How you can use it in your niche
  • How it works: the old way vs. Surfer way

What are topical authority and topic clusters?

Content Planner is here to help you create topic clusters that will build your domain’s topical authority—to ultimately help your content rank higher.

Sites that cover content from the same niche are said to have topical authority. They have deep, established expertise on a subject.

Content-level topical relevance (which equals publishing a lot of content with the same theme) will help build your brand in a niche and and start getting organic links from relevant sites.

Topic clusters, on the other hand, are a way of structuring your site. It’s when multiple pieces of content grouped by their shared topic and subtopics (supportive pages) are all interlinked. They also all link to one core page that ties them all (a pillar page) and covers our entire overarching theme.

How to create a full-blown content strategy with Surfer in just three steps

To create your content plan, log into Surfer's account, and:

#1 Click the Content Planner feature from the menu.

click the content planner feature in Surfer menu

#2 Type any of the targeted keywords and choose the market/location

type head keyword and location in Surfer Content Planner

To use Content Planner, you have to have the head keyword for your niche—the main theme of your clusters—pinned down. 

A good phrase to use in Content Planner is:

  • A broad keyword that you may or may not want to target (with a pillar page), eg. toys, kitchen furniture, dentist, online marketing, outdoor fashion
  • A category of your business, eg. CRM, CBD oil, cooking class, traveling
  • A category on your blog. For example, for a marketing blog that could be SEO, email marketing, social media, influencer marketing, PPC.

But that’s the only piece of research you need to do. Because now you can just...

#3 Wait for the analysis to finish and enjoy your content plan.

When the analysis is complete, just click it, and you’ll see the guidelines for your content cluster.

results in surfer content planner for ux design query

Now, how to read, interpret, and use the results?

Every box contains a list of keywords to be targeted with one piece of content.

Each cluster has a search intent that it’s related to. We defined four different search intents so you can get a better understanding what kind of content is preferred for a given cluster.

  • informational intent—clusters dominated by educational content,, usually long-form blog posts about the topic.
  • Commercial Investigation—cluster dominated by comparison of different products and/or services, listings, catalogs, directories relevant to the cluster.
  • Local intent—cluster dominated by local service provider landing pages. This can be a homepage of the local business or a service subpage.
  • Shopping intent—clusters dominated by an e-commerce category page or a single product page.

If you don’t want to see some of the intent types in your planner, just mark in the dedicated box.

Choosing search intent in Surfer Content Planner

Now you can not only browse the clusters... but create Content Editor guidelines for the set of keywords (multi-analysis) directly from Content Planner's dashboard.

Creating Content Editor from a cluster in Surfer Content Planner

Content Editor will provide you with a longer list of prominent terms to include in your article, suggested questions to answer, and more!

The multi-keyword analysis contains aggregated guidelines for the entire cluster. After generating the analysis, you can share the link with your team or copywriters.

Sharing your Content Editor in Surfer


What's really cool, you can track each cluster's progress in real-time by following the Content Score.

Checking content score in Surfer Content Planner

Why should you use Content Planner to create a cluster-based content strategy?

Of course, the overarching goal of using Content Planner is to boost your website’s organic traffic and conversion rate.

But there are many benefits you will notice along the way.

1. You’ll save a LOT of time. 

How much time do you spend creating content strategy? How many times do you have to re-work it? How many Excel files do you have?...

With Content Planner, you can have your editorial calendar filled in for MONTHS to come with relevant content. Usually, you’ll get 50+ suggestions for clusters for any query!

You can just write and write away until you get that desired authority:

results for ux design in surfer content planner

For example, for the “UX design” cluster, there are 113 URL-level topic clusters that you can take and use right now. These are a lot of ideas… And that’s the top of the page.

2. You’ll create relevant content that targets the most accurate keywords for your niche.

Surfer scans the web and uses its databases to present a ready-made list of article ideas that both Google and your users want to see. 

Content gaps? Leaving some keywords unattended just for your competition to snatch them? Forget about those problems.

3. You’ll bound to meet your audience's intent by providing just the type of content they expect. 

Our cluster suggestions are based on your audience’s related searches. You’ll have all you need to make them never leave your side because they’ll find an entire knowledge base within a click.

When you create various content related to one subject, you give people a reason to come back for more content or maybe sign up for your email list. 

4. You’ll perform super accurate keyword research and segmentation. 

That’s, without a doubt, the most tiresome and challenging part of cluster creation.

Finding the right keywords for your content, categorizing them correctly into subtopics, and sorting them by similarity… This can literally take hours.

 And if you do it by hand, you can never know if you did it correctly - after all, you don’t have the knowledge of the whole SERP in your head… unlike our algorithms. 

Save time and avoid human errors!

5. You’ll avoid common SEO problems.

Sometimes, creating a strategy on your own—or, even worse, not having it at all—leads to a poor keyword selection, which leads to poor performance. Some examples might be:

  • thin content—when your content is lackluster and doesn’t satisfy the search intent, the visitors will leave and Google will punish you. Content Planner gives you a readied list of keywords to cover, and when you set up a Content Editor for each article (that offers an even more expanded list of prominent terms) you can be sure your content will be as rich as possible.
  • cannibalization—it happens when two articles target the same keywords, and one takes traffic from another, bleeding it dry. It won’t happen with Content Planner, where all keywords are perfectly grouped into separate sub-clusters.
  • irrelevant segment inclusion—you will never dilute your content cluster with a group of irrelevant keywords again. With Content Planner, you have a guarantee that all sub-clusters are topically connected. You won’t accidentally harm your topical relevance by trusting only your logic—and not dry facts based on Google data. 

6. You’ll find opportunities to expand your business.

Clusters will help you get a LOT of relevant traffic and rank high for keywords you couldn’t move the needle for. And more relevant traffic equals more potential customers or clients. All of that without spending hours and hours crafting content strategy.

As you can see, there are a lot of advantages to using Content Planner. Let’s sum them up fast, for those who are in a rush:

  • lots of time saved;
  • relevant content—suggestions based on hard data;
  • satisfied audience;
  • hyper-relevant keyword research;
  • no more common SEO problems;
  • new business opportunities within your grasp.

Fully-fledged content plan for every niche and advancement level: Content Planner use cases

Is Content Planner a tool just for big SEOs who already know the ins and outs of content strategy?

Of course not (but we want them to be satisfied with the results too, naturally).

You can use Content Planner’s suggestion, no matter your niche and level of SEO expertise.

I’ll show you how Content Planner can be used by blogs, e-commerce, and local businesses. Treat these simple use cases as examples and inspiration!

Blog: get a never-ending flow of ideas and SERP visibility

Content Planner is a perfect tool for every blogger. An optimal content plan helps to reach more potential readers and saves a lot of time.

Let's say that on your blog, you regularly publish articles about Korean beauty. Your aim is to reach as many readers as possible; otherwise, creating great content would go to waste. 

To achieve your goal, you have to determine:

  • Which topics you should write about first.

It seems reasonable to create content with higher chances of getting massive organic traffic through search engines like Google—they’re what your readers are most interested in.

Content Planner will get you a full list of them, sorted by priority.

  • What kind of problems your audience has.

Frequently, an average user sees a problem from a different perspective than an expert. Sometimes, you wouldn't expect that potential readers can highly appreciate information that seems basic to you.

Content Planner helps determine what your audience searches for and what type of content is expected for the particular subtopic.

  • What topics could be combined in one article?

There is so much to say about every possible industry... But you will never write just one article that covers your entire niche. Dividing a whole topic into smaller subtopics helps to meet users' intentions and expectations—provided it’s done expertly. Content Planner will help you group your content into smaller structures.

results in surfer content planner for korean beauty blog query

It seems like our audience wants to know more about cruelty-free brands or a good acne product. We can quickly satisfy their curiosity with relevant articles!

E-commerce: create a relevant site structure and expand your offer

E-commerce owners need a clear website structure for a better user experience and higher rankings. If you want to make it with your store, you need to know: 

  • How to structure categories in any online store.

Category structure is a crucial part of on-site optimization. The proper category structure is easy to understand and navigate for potential customers. Creating a content strategy with Content Planner allows us to see which products should fall into the same category—just check which keywords are clustered together.

Content Planner can also help to complement the offer with relevant products. A wide variety of relevant products can give you an edge over your competitors.

For example, if you sell skiing equipment and create a query in Content Planner:

results in surfer content planner for skiing equipment query

You'll be able to see that, for example, people interested in getting skiing gear often inquire about the Rossignol brand or K2 skiing jackets. If you don’t have them in your offer, maybe you should change it.

  • How to address users' concerns and objections.

Some of the products evoke a lot of questions, concerns, and doubts.

Imagine the impact on conversion rate if you could detect and address users' objections before the purchase decision. Thanks to the Content Planner, you can detect frequently asked questions and topics to describe.

more esults in surfer content planner for skiing equipment query

Users seem to have questions about backcountry skis, layering for snowboarding, or skiing jackets and pants. These are perfect opportunities for articles that will address their concerns!

Local business: structure your offer for clients & search engines

  • How to make my services description comprehensive?

Potential customers who search for particular products and services expect short and understandable, but precise and comprehensive description of your service.

You need to provide all the information the visitors need; otherwise, they’ll drop your page.

Let’s take a look at this cluster for the “exterior painter” query.

results in surfer content planner for exterior painter query

The clients looking for this type of service are mostly concerned about your location, so make sure to specify it. They are also highly concerned with color choosing, so make it into a prominent section. And one more thing—your major competition seems to be Hands On Painters and Home Depot (ouch), so make sure your website will convince your visitors why they should choose you and not them

And so on.

It will also provide potential ideas for extending the range of offered services or products.

more results in surfer content planner for exterior painter entry

Using Content Planner and combining it with Content Editor, you'll get real-time guidelines on creating high quality, SEO-optimized content that will correctly describe your offer and boost your rankings.

Maybe it’s time to write about the best time to paint the house, or peeling the old paint?

These were just basic examples of how Content Planner can be used in different environments: to create a series of articles, product pages, or a service offering.

Whatever niche you’re in, Content Planner will help you come up with an entire content strategy in a way that will make structural and logical sense… and will help your SEO efforts in the process

How does Content Planner work & why should you trust it with your content strategy?

When creating our tool, the whole Surfer team had one goal in mind: to automate the modern way of strategizing content based on topic clustering.

Why?

First of all, preparing such strategies on our own takes hours upon hours.

Secondly, we noticed that other tools lacked the approach needed to create highly relevant, authority-building content.

Our tool is meant to fix these two problems.

An old-fashioned approach to content planning

I’ll start with describing the old-fashioned way of doing research and manually preparing clusters (which I have to admit I’ve been doing myself, for hours upon hours).

My goal is to highlight the contrast between the old way and the Content Planner approach.

Keyword research

I don’t think I have to convince you that conducting keyword research usually takes a couple of hours, and if you aim to do it on your own—just observing SERP results—you don’t get the full picture.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that can help with keyword research… but the outcome is usually a laundry list of keywords. In some cases, the number exceeds thousands. 

Which keywords should you start with? How connected are they? How should you tackle them to build topical authority?  These are the answers we sadly cannot get from these lists.

Intent detection

Okay, so we have our neat list of keywords now, maybe we even know if they'll bring us traffic (judging from the overall amount of monthly traffic) and they’re approachable for us (that we know by assessing our competition). 

But… search intent is still a thing. Not every keyword related to your niche should be included in the content strategy. It makes sense to exclude all keywords that don't go in line with your target audience's intentions.

For example, if I were a food blogger, it would be reasonable to exclude keywords with shopping intention (e.g. food stores) to avoid wasting my time and competing with Amazon, eBay. 

Or, if I were a small e-commerce selling skiing equipment only, I shouldn’t waste time writing about snowboarding—even if the two keywords are related, because the users aren’t going to find what they want on my page anyway.

Unfortunately, the process of excluding seemingly accurate keywords with irrelevant intentions meant another couple of hours down the drain...

Keyword segmentation

It’s common knowledge in SEO these days:

There’s no point in writing separate pieces for every single keyword we want to rank for. Many keywords are similar to another—they share a lot of the same search results. And so, they can easily be targeted with one piece of content.

There are different methodologies of segment keywords. The one I used to follow relied on semantic resemblance.

This approach assumed that semantically related phrases should be grouped together and appear in the same piece of content. For example:

  • If one phrase was contained in another, they would go to the same group (if I want to target “best Korean face masks”, why not target “face mask Korea” at the same time?)
  • Phrases with similar words but in a different order would be in the same cluster as well (I’d like my “best Korean face masks 2020” to also target “best Korean face care cosmetics” because the results overlap!) 
  • The singular and plural forms were always paired together (“Korean face mask” and “Korean face masks” do not deserve two different articles.)

And so on.

That’s a pretty decent approach that can bring results, but it’s based mostly on logic, not hard data. Ideally, I should check the SERPs for all the phrases and determine which phrases have overlapping results in Google. 

But this process would take at least a couple of days (or weeks), and it's way too long for the majority of SEO projects.

The new quality of content planning with Surfer

With Content Planner, preparing the content strategy is faster, more accurate, and more actionable.

How so, you ask? Let’s check how the Content Planner way compares to the long process I described above.

1. It does the keyword research for you—and shows you the best opportunities to target.

The keywords Content Planner shows are not just a random list. They’re listed from the best to least attractive opportunities (although, all are relevant to building your domain’s topical authority).

So, in our UX design example:

"Prototyping" can grant you the biggest monthly search volume, and is the most important to supporting your topical authority. UX designer is the next choice. And so on.

2. When preparing the results, our algorithm takes user intent into account. 

Our devs made sure to make it happen by creating machine learning algorithms recognizing four search intents (informational, commercial investigation, shopping, and local).

Therefore, you know what the dominating intent in your cluster is, and you can quickly pick clusters that suit your site. 

Dominating intent indicates which intent will increase your chances to rank for keywords from the cluster. There are clusters with mixed (eg. shopping and commercial investigation) and Surfer will recommend the most accurate one.

3. You’re no longer getting just a long list of keywords sorted only by their monthly search volume.‍

You now know from the start how your keywords are related to one another, and which to target with the same piece of content.

Basically, you’re getting a ready-to-write topic cluster that’s bound to increase your rankings if you plan your content out just like Content Planner suggests.

And the best thing is… the whole process takes from 5 to 30 minutes to complete.

It’s not just about cutting time on research.

You can also manage your project and team by using Surfer’s dashboard. Assigning Content Editors, tracking progress, quality and optimization level doesn’t require complicated spreadsheets and time-consuming communication anymore. Like I showed above, everything happens within a click!

Content Planner automates the modern approach to SEO and content strategy. And it provides hyper-relevant results. Replicating them without a tool would require hours and hours from you… and some tasks, like keyword segmentation, are impossible to be successfully completed by a single human because we’d never be able to compare so much data without an algorithm’s help.

Content Planner = efficiency, accuracy, and maximized chances to rank overtake any niche.

Summary

It took us, the Surfer team, months to create a prototype of Content Planner, optimize the efficiency, and deliver a product that will change the approach to content planning.

What you get is a tool that we wished we had many years ago. 

The process considered by many as mostly manual, now becomes effortless, fast, and accurate. With the Planner, you can be sure your content strategy will be in line with Google’s approach to content and your users’ expectations.

Our new feature is still a beta version. We’re waiting for your feedback! We want to make Content Planner a great asset for everybody, no matter your niche and expertise level. Feel free to let us know how working with the tool is for you, and we promise to keep improving it.

Content Planner is now available for all Surfers.

And if you would like to try out Content Planner but you don’t have a Surfer account...

Good luck!