1. What to Do With a Brand New Unfamiliar Subject
Generally a client will give you a list of keywords to use in your work because he wants the content to rank as highly as possible for searches on those terms. If I'm writing about a subject I'm unfamiliar with, I start out by plugging those keywords into Google, one by one. This not only leads me to material that will help me formulate and write my article, it shows me who the competition is. I can read the top ranking article for a keyword and get a feel for what has brought it to the top, which may be a great title, a respected host site, great writing, or sometimes dumb luck, because search engines aren't perfect, and sometimes bad articles rank at the top.
2. Ways to Formulate my Article
Search on a fairly general keyword like "plumbing repair" and you'll receive a string of plumbing company listings along with names, phone numbers, and maps. This may be of little use to you, but scroll down to the bottom and you'll see a list of "Searches related to plumbing repair." One suggested search is "plumbing repair questions," and that is more promising. Perhaps I can do a "top 10" list of questions, or an FAQ style article, depending on what the client has liked in the past.
3. Long-Tail Keywords
"Long-tail" keywords are keyword phrases that are more specific. They may not be searched that often, but over time they can be very valuable. Suppose you're writing about business law and one of your keyword phrases is "breach of contract." Search on that, and scroll down to "Searches related to breach of contract." Here you'll see "breach of contract defenses," "breach of employment contract," and "breach of employment letter." These are also good phrases to include in your article if appropriate, because it will help your client long term. Ranking for these long-tail keywords helps your client build her reputation online, which will also help her rank better for the "big" keywords.
4. Sources for Numbers and Specialty Content
Your mileage may vary, of course, but in my work I have found several portals and sites to be useful. For example, lexology.com is a great source for finding law cases that can be useful when writing for law firms. IThound.com and TechRepublic.com are good sources for IT clients. When you need numbers, government sites like the US Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics are good starting places, as are numeric search and calculation sites like WolframAlpha (which will also do complex calculations for you).
5. Places to Avoid
This is often highly personal and has more to do with your own proclivities than your abilities as a writer. To use myself as an example, I know better than to click on any link to the UK site Daily Mail. I have nothing against Daily Mail, and in fact, a few years ago when I had to produce a 200-word celebrity round-up every morning, the site made my job infinitely easier. My problem with Daily Mail is personal: I know I will be sucked into the sidebar content and next thing I know, half an hour will have passed. (It took superhuman effort to avoid it when creating the link, in fact.) Whatever they use to draw people into their sidebar content, I wish I could buy a bottle of it, because it is like a tractor beam. You probably have your own sites you know you should avoid when you're trying to get work done.
Just remember, before you start searching, use your brain. Think before you search, and you can avoid wasting time and learn search skills that will lead you dependably to resources you can use effectively in your work.
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