Keyword Strategy: Learning the Basics of Keyword Research [Free Template]
Venturing into the world of digital marketing can be a whirlwind of jargon and strategies, one of the most crucial being the keyword strategy.
In the labyrinth of search engine optimization (SEO), the right keyword strategy will make the difference between your success or failure in growing organic traffic to your site. It's a potent tool that helps your potential customers navigate to your landing pages through the maze of search engine results pages (SERPs).
But what does a keyword strategy entail? And why is it so pivotal for your digital marketing efforts?
What Is Keyword Strategy?
Creating an effective keyword strategy is an essential part of SEO. It involves identifying topics, high-volume keywords, long-tail keywords, and keyword phrases that searchers use when they're hunting for information on search engines like Google.
The aim is to target keywords that align with your business goals so your content shows up when potential customers input these search terms.
The beauty of a good SEO keyword strategy lies in its alignment with user intent. By mapping your content creation to what users are actively looking for, you can craft a marketing strategy that speaks directly to your audience, increasing your chance of ranking higher on SERPs.
Why Is a Keyword Strategy Important?
Think of a keyword strategy as your digital marketing compass. It's not just about driving organic traffic to your site but about attracting the right kind of traffic. A solid keyword strategy lets you target potential customers who are more likely to be interested in your products or services.
Keywords give you a solid starting point of what your target audience is curious about and their place in the customer journey. For instance, someone searching the phrase “how to use keywords” is probably at the beginning of their SEO journey, while searching for “Semrush vs. Moz” tells me that person is likely farther along, as they’re starting to explore SEO tools they can use.
A well-crafted keyword strategy also helps you prioritize your content marketing efforts. By using tools like Google Analytics and Google Keyword Planner, you can identify which keywords your website is already ranking for and which ones need a bit of a boost. This helps in prioritizing where to invest your SEO efforts.
How To Conduct Keyword Research
Now that we understand what a keyword strategy is and why it's essential, let's talk about how to actually do keyword research. Just as a builder wouldn't start without a blueprint, your keyword research should serve as the foundation for your content strategy (and everything else, really).
Phase 1: Topic Clusters
Before you start looking for any individual keywords, it's important to identify specific topic clusters that are relevant to the niche and campaign you're working on. For example, if the business is in the coffee and tea niche, then some of your topic clusters might be:
• Types of tea: black, green, oolong, etc.
• Coffee drinks: latte, macchiato, cappuccino, etc.
• Coffee brewing methods: pour over, drip, cold brew, etc.
• History of tea: regions, growing and harvesting, etc
Each of these "topic clusters" should be highly relevant to your target audience. You're not so concerned with metrics or specific keywords at this stage. Instead, look for topic areas (also sometimes called "entities") that are going to be places you can pull ideas from.
In practice, if you know that "types of tea" is a topic cluster that's relevant to your site and audience, you can know that you should write certain types of content for all of the following topics:
• What is ___ tea? (black, green, white, etc.)
• Comparisons like "green vs. black tea."
• Does ___ tea have caffeine?
You can, in a systematic way, be sure to write content that covers all the various areas of a topic that your users may be interested in. If you identify these first, it can sometimes handle most of the work for you. However, before you move too fast, you should explore a few other things for a more in-depth mapping of important keywords.
Phase 2: Currently Ranking Keywords
Although topic clusters are important, it's also vital to identify what keywords the website currently ranks for. In particular, you want to focus on keywords that:
• Rank between positions 4-20.
• Are high-volume, low difficulty (compared to your site’s Domain Rating).
• Exceptionally relevant to your audience.
• Is ranking on a page that aligns with the search intent for that keyword.
There are a couple of tools and strategies you can use to identify these, but we will use Ahrefs and Google Search Console for the sake of real examples.. If you don’t have access to Ahrefs but have a different keyword research tool at your disposal, it likely includes similar functionality.
Using the Ahrefs Organic Keywords Report
You can quickly identify these keywords by using Ahrefs’ organic keywords report:
Unfortunately, this isn’t very useful, most of the time. All this shows us is which keywords are getting the most traffic. Most of them are going to be branded or keywords that the site already ranks very highly for.
To help our cause in KW research, we’ll use the filters at the top. All tools will have some kind of filtering available, and most of the time, you can filter by:
• Current position
• Monthly search volume (Only 1,000 searches per month or above, for example)
• Keyword Difficulty (Less than a specific number)
• The keyword itself (use this to filter out branded terms)
When you do this, you’re looking for the best “low-hanging fruit” opportunities. Think keywords that have high search volume where your site is already in the top 20 for the term.
This step is especially important for big websites that have a lot of ranking keywords, as it helps you focus on only the best, most relevant opportunities.
Using Google Search Console’s Performance Report
In addition to Ahrefs, we can also pull first-party data using Google Search Console in a similar way. As a starting place, set your filters in the following way:
• Search Type: Web
• Date: Last 6 months
• Queries not containing: A regular expression of your brand terms (for example, “gr0|gro|gro agency|gr0 agency|grow)
• Position is greater than 3
This will let you find the highest search-volume keywords that the site currently is earning impressions for, helping you to identify the best areas of opportunity for optimization.
Keep in mind that you aren’t trying to think about new keywords in this stage — just identifying where we have some low-hanging fruit on the existing site and start finding some topic areas we can explore in phase 3.
Phase 3: Competitive Analysis
The next phase in our keyword research process is to take a look at what the competition is up to.
Generally, there are other websites online that are already ranking for your top-priority keywords. In order to save yourself some time, we can take a look at those keywords and pages that are ranking to find ideas for how to improve our website, too.
As with everything else, there are various approaches to doing this, but for this workflow, we’ll keep it simple and use the Ahrefs Content Gap tool.
Using the Ahrefs Content Gap Tool
This is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal for identifying new keyword topics. Your competitors have already done most of the work for you, and you can start to chip away at their search visibility by targeting some of the same terms if they are relevant to your business, too.
1. Log into the Ahrefs Site Explorer and input your website URL.
2. Under organic search on the left, navigate to Content gap.
3. Add at least 2-3 competitor websites that rank for keywords similar to what you want your website to rank for.
4. Click Show keywords.
This will then outline for you where these other websites rank for keywords that your site doesn’t rank for at all. You can also filter this list the same way we did the others, by volume, difficulty, or by excluding specific branded keywords.
Phase 4: Finding New Keywords
This is where a lot of people start their research — just looking for new keyword ideas. While you can do that, if you start with topic clusters, currently ranking keywords, and competitor research, it will significantly improve your likelihood of finding the best possible keywords for a given campaign.
Once you’ve done those first three phases, though, there’s still a lot of work to be done. This is where you really get to flex your creative muscles as an SEO, thinking outside the box and exploring all the different keyword topic areas you can develop.
There’s a lot of flexibility in how you approach this phase, especially as you get more comfortable with the process, but here is a framework for getting started:
1. Determine how many keywords you can realistically target based on your budget/scope of work. (This isn’t that important outside of an agency context—but it can still be helpful to set a realistic target)
2. Finalize your topic clusters.
3. Explore each of these topic clusters using the SERP, People Also Asked, Ahrefs/Your keyword research tool of choice, and top-ranking pages for that term.
4. Take note of every potential keyword you find, even if you aren’t 100% sure. Add it to a list, either in the Ahrefs keywords explorer tool or a Google Sheet. Don’t be selective here — add everything you think could even possibly be useful. We’ll trim this list later.
5. Create a list of at least 2-3x the number of keywords you need to target for your campaign (e.g., if your campaign is targeting 50 keywords, you should create a list of at least 100-150, or maybe even more depending on how your research goes). This list can include keywords from the currently ranking keywords list you started, your competitor research, or this final discovery phase.
6. Get a final list of these keywords, including search volume, keyword difficulty, cost per click, search intent, and other relevant metrics.
Phase 5: Choosing the Best Options
After creating your final list of keywords, you’ll undoubtedly have a lot of very similar keywords, some that are too difficult/don’t have enough volume, and others that you realize, on second look, are not worth targeting in this campaign.
That’s great, as now we’re going to trim your list of all the fluff and make sure we have the best possible list we can.
Identify Duplicate/Secondary Keywords
The first step is to scan your list and find any keywords that could be considered duplicates of each other. This is obvious with synonyms, but you also should look out for keywords where one page could rank for both.
For example, let’s say, in your keyword research, you come across the terms “what is black tea good for” and “black tea benefits.” Even though these aren’t exactly the same, they have the same intent.
In cases like this, we don’t want to create two separate pages. If we do, we could end up cannibalizing ourselves. If you aren’t sure, just do a quick SERP analysis of the two keywords and look at the top 5 results. If 4 of them are the same, even if they’re in different orders, you should probably stick with one page for the two keywords.
If you’re using Ahrefs, the parent keyword column is a great place to start. It will try to identify these groups of secondary keywords for you, but you should always double-check the SERP, as well, as sometimes tools like Ahrefs can give bad data.
If you find two keywords that fit these criteria, you should add the lower search-volume one to a secondary keywords column beside the higher-volume keyword.
Evaluate Your Keywords
This is the part where we take this strategy to the next level. You’re going to go through your list of, say, 150 keywords and evaluate them based on the following:
• How relevant is this keyword to your business’ products/services/target audience?
• How much demand is there for this keyword? (Monthly search volume)
• How competitive is this keyword? (Keyword difficulty)
• How valuable is this keyword? (Cost per click)
As you consider each of those metrics, your goal should be to pull out the 50 best options from your list of 150, removing all the fluff.
Priority #1 at this stage should be currently ranking keywords, as it is easier to move up in position for using a keyword that a site already ranks for than it is to obtain a new position. However, it should be a mix of both, as you want to also make sure you’re reaching a new audience through the new keywords we identified in the last phase.
Choosing the Right Kind of Content
The last phase is to pick the best kind of content to rank for each of these best keywords you’ve identified. There are some judgment calls to make here, but generally, you can follow a rule based on search intent:
• Informational keywords need blog posts.
• Commercial/transactional keywords need product/category pages or consumer research, depending on the specific term.
As with everything else, your best friend here is going to be checking the SERP. If you see that the top 5 results are all blog posts, then you probably need one, too — and the same if you see all product pages.
You should also determine, for each keyword, if you already have a page on the website you could use to target it or if, instead, you need to create a new page.
The Bottom Line
Navigating the dynamic terrain of SEO may seem daunting, but armed with an effective keyword strategy, you're well on your way to capturing organic traffic, meeting your business goals, and boosting your digital marketing success.
From understanding search queries to making sense of algorithm changes and building backlinks, every aspect of SEO ties back to a robust keyword strategy.
Here at GR0, we are champions of meaningful content creation that connects businesses with their target audience. Consider partnering with us as we help you make sense of your SEO journey, from building a strategic keyword plan to creating content that resonates with your potential customers.
Take the first step towards mastering your keyword strategy. Contact us today so we can help you create an SEO strategy that will “GR0” your business to new heights!
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