How to deliver a winning keyword strategy
Anyone that has ever worked in SEO, worked with an SEO agency or even researched ‘SEO’ will know that keyword research is one of the founding pillars of any successful SEO strategy.
Whilst many SEO tactics have changed considerably over the past 10 years, one thing that has remained consistent is the need to carry out keyword research. This has perhaps never been more true and anyone who is good at keyword research and has a good keyword research strategy is the ones that deliver winning SEO strategies.
Keyword research – more than just the tool
The first part of delivering a successful keyword research strategy is understanding that it is a process. It’s not just a case of adding some seed keywords into one of the many tools available and then exporting an Excel spreadsheet with the results.
A successful keyword research strategy involves mapping out those keywords that will allow the key pages on your website to rank for keywords that are the most relevant and most likely to drive visitors to your website who will engage with the content they find there.
Keyword research is about going beyond what we know. Whenever we work with a new client, a simple browse of their website will tell us some of the keywords we think the site should rank for. Keyword research allows you to go beyond what you know and provides you with data which allows you to discover new opportunities and surprises that you didn’t even know existed.
In this post, we are going to talk through some of the steps you need to go through in order to create a winning keyword strategy.
1. Seed Keywords
The starting point for any keyword strategy is to identify the seed keywords you will use to kick off your research.
We use four different ways to identify these seed keywords:
- Manual crawl of the site to understand the pages that are important
- Asking the question ‘What do we want to rank for?’
- Understanding what we already rank for
- Understanding what the competitors rank for
You can use any number of tools to help you with the last two points above. Simply enter the domain into a tool like Ubersuggest and you will uncover a list of all the keywords that your site and your competitor’s sites already rank for. Hopefully some of these keywords tie in with the keywords you identified by asking ‘what do I want to rank for?’ – this certainly makes your job a lot easier as you have a foundation from which to build on.
2. Build your list
Once you have your list of seed keywords, you’re going to want to dive into one of the tool out there to help you to build out your list of potential keywords. There are heaps of great tools available – Moz and Ahrefs are two of the most popular but we tend to use Ubersuggest.
Use each of your seed keywords to generate a list of prospective keywords and once you have those, you need to sort them.
Most of the tools will provide you with lots of metrics, however, the two you need to be concerned with initially are relevance and volume. Those other metrics will play a part later on, however, you need to do some quick sorting at this stage so relevance and volume will help you to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.
2.1 Expand your seeds
Once you have a list of keywords sorted by relevance and volume, this is the time to expand your seeds. Look at the most relevant keywords with the highest search volume and add these back in as seed keywords.
Then start the process all over again and generate even more related keywords.
The new seeds that you add become drivers for new content, new pages or even an entire content section on your website.
This is a process that never really ends. Keep adding to your seeds and discovering new related keywords as you go, helping you to find as many keywords as you can.
3. Competitor Analysis
The final step in our process is one that often forgotten but can actually be the most important. You’ve identified the keywords you want to rank for, you’ve identified the keywords that you already rank for and you’ve generated a list of highly relevant keywords you are going to target, but what are your competitors ranking for?
A great way to identify your competitors is to take those seed keywords you have identified and add these into Google. Take a look at the top 10 ranking pages for those keywords and look at sites you would consider to be a competitor (throw out sites like Wikipedia, Amazon etc as they are not going to be that relevant to you).
Chuck those domains back into your keyword research tool (Moz’s Keyword Explorer is good for this) and from there, you will discover all of the other keywords that specific URL ranks for.
That’s where you will discover more seed keywords. Then you apply the process in stage 2 and 2.1 above to help expand your keyword list. Keep doing this with all the competitor sites for all the seed keywords and you will end up with a huge list of highly relevant keywords that will need to be sorted and filtered.
Filtering and Sorting
This post is really talking about how to create a winning keyword strategy and by following the points above, you will be able to identify the keywords that are the most relevant to your business and the most likely to help you to drive more traffic to your site.
We can’t, however, finish this post without talking about filtering and sorting.
Following the steps above, you are going to have a massive list of keywords and as we know, not all keywords are created equally. You need to be able to prioritise the ones that are going to drive the best ROI for your business but how do you do that?
Prioritising keywords is a balancing act between many competing forces: relevance, volume, competition, click-through rate (CTR), and more.
The Moz keyword research matrix below helps to show how you should think about prioritising your keywords at the highest level:
Moz have produced an excellent guide to Keyword Research which takes a much more in-depth look at how to prioritise your keywords – make sure you check out the chapter on Prioritising Keywords.
Taking a lead from their guide, we prioritise our keywords based on the following five factors:
- Relevance – the keywords you are targeting must be highly relevant to your business
- Volume – depending on the niche you are in, volume is not always the most important factor, however if no one is searching for the keywords you are targeting, there is no point in wasting time and resources creating content to target those keywords. Volume prioritising will be dictated by the niche you are in but should still be a key guiding factor
- Difficulty – all of the keyword tools out there now provide a keyword difficulty score (often separated by organic vs paid). Typically, the lower difficulty score, the easier it is to rank for that particular keyword.
- Organic CTR – Some keywords generate a lot of clicks in Google SERPs. Others, not so much. The introduction of SERP features has had a huge impact on organic CTR and this needs to be factored into your prioritisation.
- Priority – if you do you Moz Keyword Explorer, then Priority is an aggregation of the other metrics and presents a quick overview of the keywords they believe you should prioritise based on those metrics – always best to manually review these to make sure you are not missing any opportunities but it provides a good guide.
To create a winning keyword strategy, you first need to create a comprehensive list of keywords based on the keywords you want to rank for, the keywords you already rank for and the keywords your competitors rank for.
Once you have that comprehensive list, you need to prioritise those keywords by relevance, volume, difficulty and CTR and then you will have a winning list of keywords to target.