SEO Keyword Strategy: The Ultimate Guide
You can’t create content that contains the right keywords, or that delivers what your audience really wants if you go all gung-ho and dive into writing with zero planning or research.
Keyword research must be a core part of your SEO campaign.
You’ll be making life far too easy your competitors if it isn’t.
We’ve worked with countless clients who have followed the ‘build it, and they will come’ approach to their content by focusing mainly on quality.
We’re talking about truly exceptional content.
Articles based on months and months of independent research, and long-form content well over ten thousand words.
And you know what?
Time and time again, the results showed that it didn’t matter how good the content was if it didn’t target the right keywords.
Here’s what usually happened:
Thankfully, by following a proven approach to keyword research like the one shown in this guide, you can help avoid these issues with your site’s content.
Types of Keywords
To save any confusion later on, let’s discuss the various types of keyword that you can target on your site.
The main types we refer to in this article are primary and secondary keywords:
Beyond this, there are another three categorisations that can apply to either primary or secondary keywords.
Depending on their length and how specific they are, these include:
That’s the basic theory covered.
Now let’s get stuck into some techniques to help you find and use the best keywords.
The Four-Step ToolCrowd SEO Keyword Strategy
Now, let’s get stuck into the nitty-gritty of finding and using the strongest keywords to boost your on-page SEO.
Here’s the basic process…
This process helps eliminate all of the guesswork and hoping for the best when it comes to ranking your content.
It’ll help you figure out:
The first step though is to paint a picture of your perfect lead, client, or customer.
Without this, it’s virtually impossible to create content that’s both authoritative and valuable.
Let’s get started…
1. Understand Your Target Audience
One of the biggest opportunities when it comes to SEO and marketing, in general, is helping people solve their problems.
You can’t do this particularly well, or over and over again if you write about whatever you want.
Your content needs to be laser-focused on meeting the needs of your target audience; whether that’s answering their questions, providing solutions to their problems, or recommending products or service that’ll help them get the results they want.
It isn’t enough to assume that you know what your target audience is looking for. You need to use cold, hard facts.
We aren’t just talking about whether they’re mainly male or female, their age, or where they live, either.
It should go much deeper than this.
You want to understand their interests, what drives them, their pain points, and their fears.
What issues are they coming across again and again? What are they happy with?
You don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
At ToolCrowd, we do this for our project sites by firstly looking at the core topic of the niche they cover, and then…
By far though, our favourite option is to use answerthepublic.com
If you ever wanted a way to get into the head of your target audience, this is it.
Enter the core topic of your business into the search bar, hit enter, and you’ll be presented with a diagram and lists showing the related searches that people are completing, the questions they’re asking, and the problems they’re having.
This is the level of research it takes to truly understand the kinds of topics, and the types of keywords you need to be targeting with your content.
2. Find a Primary Keyword
Next up, you need to find a primary keyword for your content.
The ‘holy grail’ when it comes to keyword research is uncovering the search terms that offer:
This translates into a search term with a high search volume, a low level of competition, and maximum relevance to whatever products or services your business offers.
You’ll probably need to compromise in at least one area, but the more time you dedicate to keyword research, the stronger the search terms you’ll be able to target which helps you keep these compromises to a minimum.
At ToolCrowd, there are four questions we ask as part of every keyword research campaign we complete for our various project sites:
Let’s look at how you can answer these questions for your SEO campaign…
There are plenty of ways to find keywords for your content.
From free research opportunities to paid tools, there are loads of options to suit every budget.
Here are some popular options:
Go back to the results you got from the target audience stage.
What words, phrases, and themes come up again and again on related blogs and websites, in YouTube comments, in Facebook groups, and on answerthepublic.com?
Add these to your list of primary keyword options.
Next up, we’ll use a handy (and free) tool available within Google itself.
First, brainstorm a list of topics that are relevant for your business.
For example, an accountancy practice would probably list the following:
- Audit Services
- Pensions Advice
- Self Assessment
- Tax Planning
- VAT Consultancy
Next, take each of these one at a time and type them into Google’s search box.
Don’t press the return key or the ‘Google Search’ just yet though; we want to look at the various options that Google suggests.
For example, in the case of ‘self assessment’:
There’s a reason why Google is suggesting these too.
They’re popular search terms that people search for again and again.
This is a straightforward way to gauge popularity, and a quick way to grow your list of primary keywords.
Another quick and easy way to find keywords is to look at Google’s examples of related search terms.
Continuing with the ‘self assessment’ example, let’s complete the search this time.
Next, scroll to the bottom of any page in the search results to find a section titled ‘Searches related to [search phrase]’;
Here’s what it looks like:
As with Google Suggest, this is made up of search phrases that Google knows are popular.
Take advantage of this and add these to your keyword list.
You can dig even deeper too by clicking on one of the related search suggestions, and scrolling to the bottom of this page to find even more related searches.
Do this across each of the different topic areas you identified for your business, and you’ll have an almost limitless supply of popular search queries.
As great as the previous examples are, our favourite option by far is using a premium keyword research tool.
Well, using a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush can save hundreds of hours of manual research, making the subscription cost of these tools a relative bargain.
The one we turn to time and time again is Ahrefs.
Here are the three keyword-related functions we use most in Ahrefs:
By now, you should have a list of potential keyword options.
The next step is to review these in terms of search volume and ranking difficulty to see how worthwhile, and achievable it’ll be to rank for these terms.
There’s a reason we’re covering these two questions at the same time; search volume and keyword difficulty are almost always linked.
The general rule of thumb is…
The higher the search volume, the more competitive and difficult the keyword is to rank for usually.
Also, the lower the search volume, the easier it typically is to rank for a particular keyword.
You need to consider both factors simultaneously.
For example, what would happen if you chose to look at search volume without looking at the level of competition?
The chances are that you’d write off loads of long-tail keyword options because individually their search volumes are very low.
Doing so would be a huge mistake.
As we pointed out above, long-tail keywords collectively are responsible for huge amounts of traffic.
They’re also much easier to rank for, and the conversion rates associated with long-tail phrases are considerably higher, which makes them great for boosting revenues.
Let’s look at both search volume and keyword difficulty in more detail…
This is an estimation of how many people search for a particular keyword each month.
You’ll never get access to actual numbers here (unless you work for Google or Bing, but even then, probably not!).
The best we can do, therefore, is work from estimates.
What constitutes a ‘good’ search volume will vary from one topic to the next.
Search Engine Optimisation, for example, will receive exponentially more monthly searches than, say, underwater basket-weaving.
The important thing is to spend some time figuring out what a good search volume is for your business’s particular areas of expertise.
You can use a free tool like Google Keywords Planner, or a premium tool like Ahrefs to figure this out.
Generally, so-called ‘head’ keywords will have the largest search volumes, body keywords have less, with long-tail keywords having the lowest volumes.
One thing that most people fail to do is to figure out if it’s worth the time and effort ranking for a particular keyword.
You can set limits here to help you out.
For example, you could choose to target primary keywords with an estimate of at least 1,000 searches per month, and at least 100 from each of your secondary keywords.
Assuming you had a good chance of ranking in the top spot for a particular keyword, 1000 searches per month would lead to around 312 visitors (based on this table discussed earlier).
Is this high enough, and will the traffic be targeted enough to invest the time and money into creating it, optimising it, and promoting it?
It’s up to you to figure this out.
Just because a particular keyword has 10,000 searches per month, that doesn’t mean you’ll get anywhere close to that number of visitors coming to your site.
Firstly, you’ll be limited by the click-through percentages, but also by your ability to rank for that keyword in the first place.
This brings us to keyword difficulty, which is an assessment of how difficult it is to rank for a particular search term.
Generally, the higher the search volume, typically the more competitive and difficult a keyword will be to rank for.
Similarly, the lower the search volume, the easier it usually is to rank for a keyword as the competition is lower:
It’s crucial to find a balance when choosing keywords.
Too low and you’ll get virtually no traffic even from ranking in the top spot.
Too high and the amount of competition will make it incredibly difficult to rank meaning you’ll also get little to no traffic.
There are a couple of ways to assess keyword difficulty.
Firstly, type your keyword into Google and check out the first page of the search results.
If smaller sites are ranking on the first page, for example, blogs, this gives a good indication that the keyword isn’t particularly competitive and that you stand a good chance of ranking for it with a bit of effort.
Alternatively, you could use a free tool like Google Keyword Planner, which will assess the level of competition for your chosen keyword as low, medium, or high.
By far the easiest solution, however, is to use Ahrefs.
As we pointed out above, Ahrefs assigns a specific and regularly updated keyword difficulty (KD) score for each phrase in its database.
Even better, it provides a handy estimate of how many backlinks you’ll need to rank on the first page of Google for each keyword.
It’s hugely important to understand a searcher’s intent when using a particular search term if you want to create content that resonates with your audience.
There are four main types of intent that you can assign to your keywords:
Let’s look at each one in more detail…
So why is it so important to pay attention to keyword intent?
First and foremost, search engines like Google are smart enough to change the search results depending on the perceived intent.
If your content doesn’t match up with what the search engines are looking to rank, it’ll be a real struggle to bring about any meaningful increases in traffic.
Let’s look at a few examples on Google to illustrate this:
A clear example of informational intent, Google provides information-rich content with dictionary and Wikipedia excerpts, and first page results that provide detailed information to answer the search query as fully as possible.
There are no adverts or product listings for this particular search because Google is smart enough to understand that conversion rates will be extremely low for this type of search.
This search phrase shows investigative intent, as although the searcher is clearly interested in Goji berries, they haven’t made their mind up on which specific option to purchase.
To help the searcher, and because investigative search phrases have higher conversion rates than informational terms, Google starts to show adverts in the search results.
The first page of search results is also full of reviews, buyer’s guides, top-five/top-ten lists, and Amazon product pages.
Google understands that the money is in long-tail keyword phrases, and so, because of this, the search results for transactional phrases are dominated by adverts, as well as e-commerce product pages.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this.
Firstly, you need to understand the various types of intent, and then you need to pay attention to how the SERPs change based on perceived intent.
This is the step we see people miss time and time again when it comes to keyword research.
Don’t make things harder for yourself.
Find out what Google wants to rank, and give them, as well as your audience, exactly that.
For example, this could be YouTube videos, blog posts, e-commerce product pages, Amazon listings.
The easiest way to gauge this is to look at the top-ten results for the keyword in question to see what Google is predominantly showing.
Whatever it is, take a note for later as you’ll want your content to align as closely as possible to this.
3. Find a Secondary Keyword
Once you’ve singled out a primary keyword, the next step is to choose around six to ten secondary keywords to bulk out your content.
Secondary keywords will nearly always have lower monthly search volumes, as well as lower difficulty scores, than your primary phrase.
The lower level of competition is ideal because it helps your content rank faster.
These phrases are also great for adding context, and completeness around your primary topic, both of which Google loves.
Search intent is still important here, so look for secondary keywords that match the intent of your primary keyword.
4. Write Content and Use Keywords Effectively
In this section, we’ll look at where you should add your keywords for maximum impact.
We’ll be using a webpage from Sage that targets the search term Accounting Software as an example.
That’s all folks.
We hope that you’ve found this article valuable.
The key takeaway here is that you can’t expect your website to rank if you aren’t targeting the right keywords.
Keyword research shouldn’t just be a one-time thing, either.
You need to continually research what phrases your target audience is searching for, what keywords are already performing well for your competitors, and how realistic it is for you to rank and compete for these terms.
We’ve given you everything you need to get started.
There’s no point reinventing the wheel here, so feel free to steal our keyword strategy to massively improve the effectiveness of your SEO campaign.