How to Research & Develop Your SEO Keyword Strategy

Importance of a Keyword Strategy

Although Google ranks organic search results based on over 200 factors, one of the most essential is the quality and relevance of a website’s written content.

A keyword strategy is important to this because it ensures a website is able to provide quality answers to search queries based on common keywords

Quality content that brings users directly to a website based on this can lead to higher search ranking and conversions due to:


  • Increased trust from users and search engines
  • Increased traffic
  • Increased website engagement

Steps to a Keyword Strategy


  • Identify high traffic, high volume keywords based on content ‘buckets’ (i.e., specific topics or categories, Type of keyword (Transactional, Informational, Navigational))
  • Identify existing on-page opportunities to improve keyword relevance (i.e., more written content on a page revolving around a specific keyword topic)
  • Identify opportunities based on gaps in keyword relevance and on-page content (i.e., high traffic keywords without a dedicated landing page or content piece)
  • Perform competitor analysis to determine current content & rankings based on keyword list (i.e., how are they targeting keywords and which ones are they more focused on?)
  • Develop landing pages & content based on high traffic, high volume keywords, existing opportunities for copywriting and competitor state

How it Works

When starting a keyword strategy, the keywords should be clearly defined from the beginning. The search terms around which the strategy is built should also be loosely related, so that when additional content is being created, there can be overlap between keywords.

It is important to make sure that there are a variety of different keywords in a strategy so that there is no lack of on-page targeting opportunities. It is also essential to ensure the keywords are at least closely related: think synonyms.

Once a keyword list is developed and separated into relevant groups the next step is to identify where to start applying the keyword strategy on-page. The first two place to gather insights will be:


Google Analytics will convey the most popular and effective pages (based on conversions, time on page, bounce rate, etc.) and the least visited pages.

Google Search Console will identify the search queries that bring users to the website, as well as the average position and frequency of impressions for each one. 

Decision Criteria

Questions to ask yourself when beginning your keyword research include:


  • What business am I in? What do I offer?
  • Who are my customers?
  • What is it my customers are searching for?
  • Does my site have what the customer is searching for?
    • If Yes – Is the information ranking in search? If not, how do we improve? Where are the problem pages? Is it a site-wide issue?
    • If No – Identify the most user search queries as they relate to your business, develop content, implement, monitor & continuously improve

Applying Google Search Console and Analytics

Once the decision criteria are identified, insights can be gathered using these tools, as mentioned above, and a baseline can be established regarding where on your site to apply the keyword strategy.

Examples include:


  • Pages ranking poorly on search results for core keywords
  • Pages with low traffic and a lack of quality, keyword-optimized content
  • Pages with high traffic but low engagement (i.e., high bounce rate)

It is important to remember that a keyword strategy should periodically change, adapt and grow based on business and customer trends. As users ask more questions in search, it is important to consistently align on-page content with changing habits to ensure maximum quality in the user experience.

First Steps: Keyword Seeds & Types

An initial step in keyword strategy is determining keyword seeds: basic, broad and generic keywords related to the scope of what your business does, such as pizza restaurant.

At this stage, keywords should be grouped into three distinct types:

Transactional (DO) | Informational (KNOW) | Navigational (GO)


Transaction, Information, Navigational Keywords


Excellent for use by commercial sites, transactional keywords start with the keyword seed and target a smaller, more niche specific group of users who have the intention to buy a product or service. These users have already performed information-gathering searches and have converted to ready-to-buy.


These search terms are a great source of traffic for users in the research phase. Do not necessarily expect these keywords to bring revenue – however, they can be an excellent source of mid-funnel traffic that would not have found the target site otherwise.


When users type in a company or a brand, these are considered to be navigational searches. Users are already aware of the company and their products, and are simply seeking the right information to drive them to their site, or perhaps a social page. Because of the nature of these search terms, it is important that the landing page is managing its one task correctly: building brand awareness. Nothing would be worse than a competitor ranking for your own business in search results.

By identifying the types of questions users are asking around each keyword, specific content can be developed and tailored to increase ranking for longer-tail keyword phrases (i.e., spoken questions asked via voice search).

These search terms are often less competitive, yet essential to providing users with relevant, conversion-focused information, as they provide ample opportunity for direct, authoritative answers to commonly asked questions or queries.

Long-Tail Keyword Phrases


  • Long-tail keyword phrases are developed around broad, lengthy and generic search terms or questions, such as ‘how to tie a tie into a windsor knot guide’ or ‘where can I find the closest pizza restaurant?’

Long-Tail Keyword Best Practices


  • Eliminate keywords that may not be worth developing content for based on low traffic and low opportunity benefit to the business – this is referred to as keyword opposition to benefit
    • Filter the list of keywords so that it excludes keywords with monthly volumes less than 40-50 and with a keyword difficulty score less than or equal to 70%
    • Where feasible, also filter keyword research to customer areas to ensure accurate representation of search volume

Keyword Insights: Setting a Base

Take a keyword seed and conduct a search query in Google to determine:


  • Top competitors for the keyword
  • Overall competitors for the keyword
  • Whether or not the search results results are affected by local search parameters (i.e., from where you’re searching)
  • Additional opportunities from commonly searched for keywords suggested at the bottom of the page

Keyword Insights: Research Tools

A keyword research tool should be utilized to gather information on search volume and competition, and to ensure no opportunities are overlooked.


  • A free option to help get started is Google Adwords Keyword Planner (you will need an AdWords account, but this is free to sign up for)
  • If the list of keyword suggestions is too long, narrowing down keywords by ad groups can help by making sure the keywords research is relevant to the industry or topic
  • Downloading keyword ideas can make it easier to sort through in Excel:
    • Add custom filters to narrow results
    • Exclude branding
    • Group keywords into similar ‘buckets’ and see exact competition and difficulty metrics as opposed to just ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ as seen in Adwords

Google Search Console

After linking Google Search Console to a site, tracking can begin for the following factors:


  • Crawl Data – How often Google is crawling pages on your website for indexing on its search results page
  • Keyword Position – Where your website ranks, on average, for the most common search terms used to find it
  • Click-Through Rates – How often users are clicking through to your site from search
  • Technical Issues – Any technical problems that are negatively impacting the site and user experience, such as lack of mobile optimization, broken links or speed issues
  • Security Issues – Any potential security issues impacting the site, such as malware
  • Google Penalties – Notifications of any penalties accrued from Google for breaking their terms of service (i.e., bad links, low-quality content)

Google Search Console: Search Analytics

The ‘Search Analytics’ setting in Google Search Console allows you to view top search queries – an excellent way to identify what keywords and search queries bring people to your site.

Google Search Console Seach Analytics Example

The data listed includes:


  • Search Queries
  • Monthly Volume of Searches
  • Impressions (Number of times site showed in search)
  • Number of Clicks
  • Overall Click-Through Rate (clicks / impressions x 100 – a key metric in SEO)

Keeping Track of Keyword Research

There are many different metrics that will be presented when exporting data, no matter the research tool.

The data necessary to make the most informed decisions that will be included on the final spreadsheet are:


  • Keywords
  • Search Volume
  • Cost Per Click (for AdWords)
  • Targeted URL
  • Keyword Difficulty or Competition (two different metrics)
  • Keyword Opposition to Benefit Score

Keyword Insights: Competitors

Competitors that are ranking on the first page of search results in organic search have likely already done some form of keyword research to establish a strategy.


  • Start with three competitors and see what kind of keywords they are ranking for
  • Analyze their current content & landing pages as well as both search & competitive volumes of ranked keywords to determine strategic approach (i.e., target the same keywords or focus on separate, equally relevant keywords)
  • Use a domain vs. domain tool or a competing domains tool, such as SEMRush, to research any existing opportunities between two competitors

Tool Tip: ‘Keywords Everywhere’ Chrome Extension

With the Keywords Everywhere extension, the following information becomes available with every search you conduct:


  • Search Volume
  • AdWords Costs Per Click
  • Competition Score

At a glance, these metrics can be used to conduct further research and choose keyword ideas.

Local Search

Depending on the type of business, it may be easier to focus on targeting local keywords (i.e., pizza restaurant Hamilton) rather than a more product or service-based keywords (i.e., sandwich, coffee, doughnut).

With the rise of the mobile market and personal assistants, optimizing on-page content is crucial for any kind of competitive advantage. Strategies for doing this include:


  • Ensuring on-page copy is focused, at least in part, on the area in which the business is located
  • Creating unique landing pages for each specific city in which the business is located (i.e., a separate landing page for Hamilton, Toronto and Burlington customers)
  • Submitting each location to quality directories with a fully accurate business name, address and phone number
  • Marking up each location page using Schema Structured Data Markup

What is Schema Markup?

Schema is a script that can be placed on a page to give structure to the content placed on a page to help search engine algorithms understand the context of the given content and in turn display the most relevant information to a user making a search query.

Schema can be extremely useful when used alongside local search keyword strategies, as geocentric script can be added to help give accurate results based on the location of the originating IP address performing the query.

From Keyword Seeds to Long-Tail Keyword Phrases: An Example

A music download website performs initial research on the keyword music:


  • There are over 2 billion results and an average of 1.2 million searches a month for this keyword
  • The keyword has a ranking difficulty of 94/100 (where higher = harder to rank) – this would be extremely difficult to rank for based on current levels of competition

Instead of focusing on ‘music’ as a core keyword, this website should consider focusing their efforts on longer-tail, more specific search terms, such as:

  • Sad theme music mp3 free download – 90 searches a month and a keyword difficulty score of 28/100
  • Best trance music download free mp3 – 70 searches a month, also with a keyword difficulty score of 27/100
  • James Bond 007 movie theme music mp3 free download – 90 searches a month and keyword difficulty of 34/100

While search volumes are considerably lower for the above keyword phrases, the business would have a higher likelihood of ranking on the first page. Further, the search intent of the user is much higher than it would be in a generic search for “music”, which could mean anything. This indicates a higher likelihood of obtaining a “download” conversion.

Targeting keyword phrases in this instance allows the business to rank higher for more relevant search queries, on more relevant search terms, and ultimately yields a higher conversion rate as a result.

Common Alternative Long-Tail Keywords Suggestions

At the bottom of most search result pages is a section titled “Searches related to [insert search query]”

Google Search Query example

Analyzing each of these suggested phrases can help provide additional keyword ideas and suggestions in the early stages of strategic planning.

Number of Competing Domains for Similar Keywords

Applying quotations to the search query and jumping to the final search results page often results in the following message:

Keyword Strategy Similar Keywords

This can provide insight into whether or not the keyword is in an overly saturated market, or if there is still room to gain a competitive footing.

Competing in a space with only 50 unique sites can garner quicker results in ranking over trying to rank for a keyword against 200 other unique sites. This does not mean ranking is not possible, but it will likely take a good deal of time to catch up and surpass competition.


Competitor’s Backlink Profile and Keyword Opportunities

During the process of conducting competitor research, use a platform such as AHREFs to see competitor backlinks and anchor text (the text of the link pointing to a website).


  • A competitor’s backlink profile is a great place to find top performing keywords that might have been missed
  • Analyzing anchor text used for links can help determine which keywords a competitor is targeting, and whether or not it should be a focus for your business

The most common anchor text tends to be branded keywords (a brand’s name) to the site being linked. However, optimized keywords are just as common and a great way to further unearth a competitor’s own keyword strategy and add to your own.

NOTE: Exact keywords

Ahrefs example for keyword strategy


  • From this example, the keyword can be identified along with the top referring domain (who the link is from)
  • A competitor with a large backlink profile is an excellent resource for additional keyword ideas and opportunities
  • This is also an excellent opportunity for identifying potential website to reach out to for a backlink


Keyword Opposition to Benefit Score (KOB) Calculation

The KOB score is an intrinsic value that is a measure of opposition to benefit found in targeting keywords in the keyword research spreadsheet.


  • The correlation is based on how strong the competition is on search result pages and how likely metrics are to increase from optimization efforts
  • This score is a great barometer to prioritize which keywords are most likely to receive the most movement with the least amount of time and effort

Setting up KOB Calculations in Excel


  • In Excel, setup in the “KOB” column the equation


=([Search Volume]*[CPC])\[keyword difficulty]


  • Filter the column, once complete, in descending order to get the highest opportunity score at the top and lowest with lowest benefit at the bottom
  • Now, all the information necessary to analyze the opportunities is available and with the KOB score priority can be placed where time allows based on the return of time invested

Keyword Opposition to Benefit Excel Example

Concluding Thoughts

A proper keyword strategy plays a significant role in growth, online presence and overall SEO.


  • Diligent keyword research ensures businesses will optimize their site for the most relevant search terms to their audience
  • Creating landing pages and content focused on these specifically researched keywords will help increase trust from both users and search engines
  • The increased trust will lead to improvements in traffic, rankings, conversions, and the potential for valuable links from relevant websites

Although these three end results simplify the overall concept and potential outcomes from keyword research, it is a process that must be undertaken with professional care and attention to detail.

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