For the vast majority of businesses, the goal of doing search engine optimization (SEO) — which we define as the process of optimizing pages on your website to rank for valuable keywords — is to generate meaningful increases in revenue.
And in our experience doing SEO for dozens of companies over the last 5 years, the most efficient and effective way to achieve this is to rank for keywords that have high buying intent (i.e. keywords that indicate that the searcher is looking to buy the type of product or service you sell).
So, when creating an SEO keyword strategy (i.e. the keywords you plan to target), this is the #1 most important thing to keep in mind. It’s the key filter that you should use when searching for and prioritizing keywords to target.
But most articles on SEO keyword strategy barely discuss prioritizing based on buying intent. At best, they glancingly mention “search intent” as something to keep in mind amidst a long list of other factors to consider when doing keyword research. As a result, most advice on SEO keyword strategy is likely to distract you — rather than focus you on targeting keywords that have actual business value.
In this article, we do the opposite of that. We explain how to create an SEO keyword strategy that’s focused on finding and prioritizing keywords that will drive measurable ROI for your business. We also elaborate on why we think this prioritization is at the heart of good keyword strategy.
Here’s what we cover:
Note: If you’d like to learn our SEO strategy and apply it to your business, we teach everything we do and give personalized feedback in our content marketing course and community. If you’d like us to do SEO for you, then feel free to fill out the form on the bottom of our work with us page.
What Makes a Good SEO Keyword Strategy? (And How We Think About It Differently)
We define SEO keyword strategy as the process of a) selecting keywords that you want your website to rank for, b) deciding the order in which you tackle them, and c) deciding which new or existing pages on your site you will optimize for each keyword.
As alluded to above, we think about SEO keyword strategy differently from most agencies and companies in 2 key ways (closely related but different):
- We target keywords that indicate people have high buying intent first, before moving “up the funnel”.
- We prioritize intent over search volume, even for keywords that show low or zero search volume.
Let’s look at each.
Difference #1: We First Target Keywords That Indicate People Have High Buying Intent, Before Moving “Up the Funnel”
Many people use SEO for top of funnel marketing. In other words, you seek to gain brand awareness with your target audience by targeting keyword topics that loosely relate to your industry or target audience, but don’t indicate intent to buy the type of thing you sell. Then you nurture them through the stages of the funnel to convert them at some later date.
We’ve written at length about the problems with this approach here:
In short, this strategy often yields very low conversion rates because the nature of non-buying intent keywords is that most people searching those topics aren’t on the market for what you sell. Therefore, very few people who search these topics and land on your page ever end up becoming customers.
And crucially, for almost every business, there’s people that are ready to buy and are actively searching for products and services like yours. From our perspective, it makes way more sense to go after those people first by tackling keywords that indicate buying intent because conversion rates are way higher. Then, once we’ve covered as many of those as possible, we’ll begin moving up the funnel.
Difference #2: We Prioritize Intent Over Search Volume
The other key mistake we see companies and most SEO agencies make — which is related but slightly different — is that they shy away from targeting buying intent keywords if they don’t think there’s enough search volume.
For example, if a keyword research tool shows that there’s only 10 or 20 searches per month, they’ll think: “Not enough people are searching this, so it’s not worth prioritizing in our keyword strategy.” And instead, they’ll prioritize high-volume keywords, even if the level of buying intent is much lower.
There are 2 key problems with this:
Problem #1: In our experience, as we’ve demonstrated in our articles on Mini Volume Keywords and Pain Point SEO, we’ve found that if buying intent is high, keywords that show little to no monthly search volume (we call these “mini volume keywords”) can still produce significant conversions.
So we will prioritize keywords with 10 or less monthly searches if intent is really high — and we’ve found these can often produce even more conversions than higher volume keywords with lower buying intent.
Problem #2: If you rule out high intent keywords due to low search volume, you significantly shrink the number of buying intent keywords you have to go after. For many businesses, for example, if you’re only willing to go after keywords with a minimum of 50 or 100 searches per month, you might only have 10 or 20 buying intent keywords that meet that criteria.
But as we’ve seen through our work, there are often 30+ additional high buying intent keywords that have 10 or 20 searches per month that can convert at a high rate and generate great ROI. If you prioritize volume over intent, you miss out on all of those potential customers.
This is the foundation of our SEO philosophy and keyword strategy. We prioritize intent over everything else when choosing search terms to target. This means:
- We start with the highest intent keywords we can find, even if the monthly search volume is low.
- We prioritize getting conversions over getting organic traffic.
- We try to exhaust these opportunities before we begin moving up the funnel to lower intent keywords.
In the rest of this article, we’ll focus on explaining how to find and choose keywords to build this type of buying intent-first keyword strategy. First, we’ll discuss how we do keyword research. Then, we’ll cover how we think about prioritization — i.e. the sequencing of how you tackle keywords. And we’ll wrap up with advice on how to select pages to optimize for specific keywords.
Keyword Research: How to Find High Buying Intent Keywords
Our process for doing SEO keyword research involves the following:
- Step 1: Brainstorming keyword ideas based on 3 high intent keyword categories that we describe below (informed by what we’ve learned about our clients’ business, customers, and competitors during our customer research process).
- Step 2: Plug those ideas into a keyword research tool to look at keyword search volumes and find additional unique keyword variations. We use Clearscope and Ahrefs, but you can use SEMrush, Google Search Console, Moz Keyword Explorer, or whichever keyword tool you prefer. We’ll also plug those keywords into Google to look for further additional opportunities via Suggested Search, People Also Ask, and People Also Search For.
The most practical way to approach this is to brainstorm and look for search queries that fall in the following 3 categories of high buying intent keywords:
- Product or service category keywords
- Competitor comparison keywords
- Pain point keywords
We’ll discuss these categories below and provide examples to make them concrete. And then we’ll link to our in-depth article on additional ways to find high-quality keyword and content ideas.
3 Key Categories of High Buying Intent Keywords
In our client work, we almost always look for these types of keywords first. Understanding these keyword categories can give you immediate and actionable ideas about keyword opportunities to look for as you begin your keyword research.
#1. Product or Service Category Keywords
The first category of keywords we look for are ones that describe our client’s product or service. They’re the top terms that most businesses are bidding on through paid search ads, and the most obvious keywords that any business would want their website to rank for.
For example, if you sell marketing analytics software, you definitely want to target and rank for the keyword “marketing analytics software.” Or if you sell Shopify development services, you should target and rank for “Shopify development services.” There’s nuance to going after these competitive terms, which we’ll discuss below, but these are the highest buying intent terms for any business and therefore deserve high priority.
The key thing to understand about this keyword category is that there are often more product or service keywords — i.e. more relevant keyword variations that closely describe your business — than many companies realize.
For example, take a business we’ve worked with that sells remote executive assistant services to startups. The first obvious service category keyword is “executive assistant service” or “executive assistant for startups.” However, when you look and think a little deeper, there’s a wide array of keywords that they could target in this category:
- “Executive assistant” variations:
- Executive assistant service
- Executive assistants for startups
- Remote executive assistant service
- Executive assistant staffing agency
- Executive assistant staffing firm
- Startup executive assistant
- “Virtual assistant” variations:
- Virtual assistant service
- Virtual executive assistant
- Virtual assistant for startups
- Virtual assistant staffing agency
- “Administrative assistant” variations:
- Administrative assistant service
- Remote administrative assistant
- Administrative assistant staffing agency
- Outsourced administrative assistant
We find that many (if not most) of the clients we work with are in a similar situation where there are many different ways that people search for what they sell. As you begin your keyword research, it’s useful to find as many of these variations as possible.
#2. Competitor Comparison Keywords (Vs. and Alternatives)
The second category of keywords we look for are competitor comparison keywords. These include keywords such as:
- [Competitor brand] vs. [Your brand]
- [Competitor brand] vs. [Other competitor brand]
- [Competitor] alternatives
People who are searching these terms are either a) looking to understand the differences between products or services because they have intent to buy or b) potentially unhappy with their current solution, and looking for a different product or service to use instead. Therefore, like product and service category keywords, these terms have very high buying intent. And in our work, we’ve seen these keywords convert very well for our clients.
To find your own keyword opportunities in this category, you can type different variations of these (with the competitors most relevant to your business space) into Google or your keyword research tool and see what comes up.
Particularly when we’re working with newer or smaller brands where there aren’t many searchers looking for their brand versus a competitor, we’ve had success creating content targeting “[competitor] vs. [other competitor]” keywords. We’ll create content for “[competitor] vs. [other competitor] vs. [our client’s brand]” to piggyback off the search volume of people comparing our clients’ competitors, and insert them into the list of options being weighed by prospects.
The more competitors you have in your space, the more potential comparison keyword opportunities you’ll have.
#3. Pain Point Keywords
The third category of keywords we look for are pain point keywords — keyword phrases that indicate the person searching has a problem that our client’s product or service solves.
Pain point keywords allow you to reach people at the right time (i.e. when they’re trying to figure out how to solve a specific problem) and offer a natural opportunity to present your product or service as a solution to that problem.
Here are some examples of pain point keywords we’ve targeted for clients (and links to the content we created targeting them):
Compared to the first two categories of keywords discussed above, pain point keywords are especially informed by having a deep understanding of your customers and their pain points.
Read our article on Customer-Content fit which discusses at length how we approach that.
Other Ways to Come Up with Content and Keyword Ideas
In addition to the keyword research process we’ve shared so far, there are other tactics for coming up with content and keyword ideas. For example:
- Interviewing key departments/teams in your company that have deep knowledge of your customers and their pain points (sales, customer success, executive team, etc.)
- Using tools like an email auto responder to gather feedback from customers about their biggest challenges
- Joining or creating online communities where your customers ask questions and discuss challenges
- Looking inside your Google Adwords account to see which high-converting keywords could be tackled through organic search
Check out our article on content ideation for in-depth advice on how you can approach this. All of these tactics can further inform your keyword research and help you find new keyword opportunities for your business.
Now, once you have your list of keywords, you need to make decisions about the order in which you tackle them. There’s nuance to this that most articles on keyword strategy gloss over.
Sequencing and Prioritization: How to Choose the Order in Which You Tackle Keywords from Your List
Here’s how we think about sequencing and prioritization at Grow and Convert.
A) Start with Your Product and Service Category Keywords
It doesn’t get any higher intent than the product and service keywords that directly describe your business. In general, we focus on going after these first.
Here are some key things to keep in mind as you choose the order in which you tackle these:
- Product and service keywords are often high competition keywords. This means that in order to rank, it can a) take more time and b) require more backlinks. If you want to eventually rank for these, it’s good to start on them ASAP.
- Within this category, some keywords — often long tail keyword variations (e.g. “hvac software compatible with quickbooks”) — will be easier to rank for than head category terms (e.g. hvac software). So, one strategic way of getting early ranking wins with equally high intent keywords in this category is to find and target these long tail variations first (or at least mix these into your initial priorities list).
- Pay attention to search engine results pages (SERPs) where top results have fewer backlinks. These will have lower keyword difficulty and can also be worth prioritizing for getting early wins in this category.
B) Mix In Some Competitor and/or Pain Point Keywords
It’s good to diversify the types of keywords you’re going after to see how different keywords perform from a rankings and conversion standpoint, spot new opportunities, and double down on what’s working (more on this below).
Often these categories are less competitive and easier to rank for than product/service category keywords, so you can get rankings quicker and build momentum, even with these high intent terms.
The same considerations about competition and backlinks discussed above apply when choosing the order in which you tackle these.
C) Monitor Rankings and Conversion Metrics and Adjust Accordingly
Tracking your SEO performance — which we do with Ahrefs (to track rankings) and Google Analytics (to track conversions) — is key in that it allows you to see what isn’t working, and double down on what is.
Example #1: If you spot a particular subset of keywords that are easier to rank for or drive outsized conversions, you may choose to double down and go after more of those.
One client we worked with was in a space where competitors hadn’t caught onto the “competitor vs. other competitor” keyword strategy, and we found that despite their low domain rating, we could easily get position 1 rankings for these terms. They were also driving outsized conversions despite having very low search volume, so we chose to prioritize going after more of those keywords.
Example #2: If certain keywords are stalled out on page 2 or 3, that may be an indicator that they need more links to rank, in which case you can increase link building efforts for that page.
Example #3: If certain keywords are stalled near the bottom or middle of the first page, you might try updating the SEO title to something more compelling that can increase CTR, which can boost the ranking. We’ve had a number of instances doing SEO for our own agency where changing our SEO title helped us move from the bottom or middle of page 1 to the top.
Monitoring your rankings and conversion data is essential for spotting these opportunities and getting the most out of your SEO efforts.
Mapping Keywords to Individual Pages: How to Choose Pages to Optimize for Each Keyword
Aside from sequencing and prioritization, the other factor you’ll need to consider when you’ve done your keyword research is which pages you should optimize for each keyword.
Here are the key things to keep in mind when approaching this:
Factor #1: When looking at your list of high priority keywords, ask yourself if you have any existing pages on your site that closely match the search intent of that specific query.
For example, when you look at the SERP for a given product or service category keyword, are the top results mostly home pages? Product or service pages? Blog posts?
You likely want to match the page you choose to optimize with the types of pages that are most commonly showing up in the top results since that indicates the search engine algorithm has determined that page type to be the best match for search intent. There are exceptions, but this is a good general rule to keep in mind.
So, if you have a pre-existing page that you think closely matches search intent, you can optimize that page for the target keyword. Otherwise, create a new page.
Factor #2: If you do NOT have an existing page that would closely match search intent for the term, create a dedicated blog post or landing page to go after that keyword.
We cannot emphasize the word “dedicated” highly enough. Many companies and agencies try to target many keywords with a single page, but as Google’s algorithm has evolved, this has become far less effective.
Getting a position 1 ranking requires deeply matching search intent for that one specific keyword, and in our experience, creating individual pages for individual keywords is the best way to do that.
Articles to Help with Executing Your SEO Keyword Strategy
This article has focused entirely on keyword strategy (i.e. finding and prioritizing keywords that have business value). But there’s a lot that goes into execution — doing SERP analysis, creating content, and measuring performance — that’s also necessary to get results.
Here are additional in-depth articles we’ve written that will help you with the other steps it will take to carry out your keyword strategy:
Want to Work with Us or Learn More About How We Approach Content Marketing?
- Our Agency: If you want to hire us to execute content marketing in this way, you can learn more about our service and pricing here.
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- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn our agency’s content strategy and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course, taught via case studies, and presented in both written and video content formats. We include several details and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we, along with other members, give feedback. Learn more here or watch this video walkthrough: