An SEO keyword strategy is the foundation of any successful content marketing effort.
Without clearly studying what keywords (and, thus, topics) are generating the right traffic for your target market, your content team is essentially driving blind on the online superhighway.
Put differently, without a detailed list of keywords organized by metrics, your editors will remain unaware of which are the hot topics du jour — and which are not.
Yet, many companies still fail to build a documented SEO keyword strategy. Even more remain misguided in how to interpret, select and target keywords to support a traffic-building content agenda.
Throughout my work, the most common failures for creating an SEO keyword strategy that I’ve seen include:
- Not thinking like an editor: Addressing keywords as isolated terms instead of broader editorial topics
- Not thinking like a marketer: Simply guessing topics to include in an SEO keyword strategy without conducting market research and creating buyer personas will lead to a content agenda that will not be built to directly address your audience
- Not buying SEO tools: Building keyword strategies without any use of SEO tools such as SEMRush or Ahrefs is a no-no
- Going only for big traffic: Selecting only high-volume keywords instead of keywords that bring in the right traffic that best speaks to your target market
- Giving SEO the robotic treatment: Thinking that successful SEO is just a matter of repetition instead of providing a more comprehensive and authoritative source of information than competitors
- Not studying the top SERP results: This could lead to targeting keywords that result in mostly product pages, then writing a blog post instead, clearly not matching the search intent of the SERP.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of failures that I’ve witnessed, but they’re certainly recurring themes.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly what is an SEO keyword strategy and how it can be used as a powerful foundational tool for content marketing.
This will include examples of how to read keyword metrics, how to choose which keywords are worth writing about, and how to correctly target that keyword to outrank the competition.
Importantly: All great SEO keyword strategies are informed by thorough market research, buyer personas and customer/audience feedback. Keywords will provide the fuel for our content agenda, but we cannot even begin to think of which keywords we will select without truly understanding our audience.
Customer and market research is thus a hugely important topic that deserves its own article.
If an SEO keyword strategy is the foundation of content marketing, knowing your customer is the soul.
For the sake of this article, we are going to assume that you have already defined your buyer personas and target audience.
To start off with building an SEO keyword strategy, let’s begin by learning how to read the various metrics that will help us understand keywords.
[Want to build an SEO keyword strategy for your company? Schedule a call and we’ll demonstrate how we use SEO-backed content marketing to build organic traffic with high buyer intent.]
What metrics must be in an SEO keyword strategy
There are several metrics that we must document when building an SEO keyword strategy. While SEO tools will provide many metrics, the below list is the minimum that needs to be recorded to help accurately guide keywords selection.
The top keyword metrics that we study include:
- Volume: The monthly traffic volume, according to country database
- Global Volume: The total world monthly traffic, usually with a breakdown by countries
- Keyword Difficulty: A gauge for how hard that keyword will be to rank for
- CPC: A gauge for the commercial, buyer potential value of the keyword. As a reference, the average CPC for Google Ads is $2.50.
- SERP Features: A list of the possible features that this keyword generates. Here, it’s important to market if the keyword generates a featured snippet.
Most SEO tools allow keyword searches by country database. Below is an example of a keyword search on SEMRush for “seo keyword strategy” in the US database.
Right away, we can see that this keyword generates 170 searches on average per month in the US, is considered “difficult” to rank for, and has a high potential for buyer interest (as gauged by the $4.80 CPC).
Now let’s break down each metric to help us better interpret our keywords.
The potential traffic for a keyword will change dramatically depending on the country you are targeting.
Also, while a keyword may have little to no traffic in one country doesn’t mean that it will not attract traffic from a global audience across the borderless world of the internet.
Here, it’s clearly important that you have a strong understanding of which country you’d like to use as an overall benchmark. This will anchor down your entire SEO keyword strategy.
Keyword difficulty (KD) tells us just how hard it will be to rank for a given term.
This metric is measured by the competitiveness of the other top pages that appear on the top of a SERP.
In turn, a page’s competitiveness slightly depends on the amount of high-quality backlinks that they collected, which is how most SEO tools generate the KD percentage.
For example, a low KD of just 25% on SEMRush indicates that the top pages on the SERP don’t have an abundance of high-quality backlinks (or ultra high domain authorities for that matter). This indicates that it would be relatively easy for a young website to rank highly for that term.
The exact opposite is the case for a very high KD of, let’s say, 75%. To rank for a keyword with a KD of 75% or higher, your page will need to produce content that is able to generate lots of strong backlinks.
Cost per click
The cost per click metric, commonly called CPC, is how much it costs to advertise a keyword on Google Ads. As the name implies, advertisers pay a certain amount per click.
This metric is useful for content marketing because, implied withing CPC, is a commercial guage of how valuable a keyword is. The more an advertiser is willing to pay, the higher the commercial intent beyond the term.
Globally, the average CPC across all industries on Google Ad Words is about $2.50. This means if you are targeting a keyword with a CPC of $5, we can infer that it carries double the average commercial intent.
This metric is crucial for content marketing that aims to generate bottom of the funnel leads.
If you can capture value CPC keywords that competitors would pay lots of money to advertise for by using SEO tactics, you’ll outrank them without any advertising spend.
Search Enginge Results Page (SERP) features
This is one of the most important and overlooked metrics for studying keywords.
The top pages that a keyword’s SERP generates will influence how an article or landing page is written, including its format, headline, and overall editorial structure.
This is because in order to ranking highly, an article must meet search intent.
Dy default, the top SERP pages is what Google has decided best meet the search intent for a given keyword.
By studying exactly the kinds of pages that are being displayed, how they are written and what information is being presented (or omitted), a content marketing expert will know the best way to outrank the current online content.
[To read more about how SERP results impact content strategy, read “How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy.”]
Documenting your keywords as part of a content marketing strategy
Now that we understand which metrics are important for studying keywords, its important to put all this information into a centralized document.
Below is an example of what our keyword strategy document looks like. It is color coded to easily pick out low KD keywords — often low hanging fruit in a campaign — and to highlight keywords of interest.
Note that knowing where your market lives is imperative for content marketing keyword strategies.
If you are targeting a global market, then I recommend targeting global volumes as well as the US database as general benchmarks.
For businesses looking at a specific region, I recommend targeting the country databas that is most relevant for your product and/or service.
It is common for many businesses to have core audiences in more than one country and region, however. Unfortunately, SEO keyword metrics are today only generated by country. At the moment, there exists no regional databases, such as Sub-Sahran Africa or EU.
While volume will be among the most important metrics on this document, it is a common error to concentrate too much on this.
When to ignore traffic volume
All too often, when the idea of SEO comes up marketers tend to commonly reduce it to a pure traffic volume play. This is misguided thinking.
Traffic is important. But as any company that has misaligned their content strategy will tell you, getting lots of the wrong traffic is worth little and wastes time.
This is where the keyword selection process must carefully mix with marketing and customer research.
Experienced content marketing agencies spends lots of time discussing and debating which keywords will best serve which purpose. The selection process should never be rushed.
Often, low volume keywords will mean much more to your target market that some high volume keywords. In other words, try to speak to the people that more closely meet the search intent of your business than trying to always cast the widest net.
I often get asked which keyword volume is minimum to target. That answer depends.
If a term defines your brand to its core but gets very little volume, then its still imperative to target it. Search volumes change over time, and it could be that you are producing something that is ahead of the curve.
Within the US, as a rule of thumb, the minimum search volume to target is 70. For smaller markets, that minimum can be relatively reduced.
Yet, if a keyword is so powerful and meets the soul of your business so clearly but still doesnt meet that search volume, its perfectly acceptable to ignore traffic in that instance.
Where search and marketing meet
Eventually, once a full study of keywords and their corresponding search intents has been completed, it’ll be time to build this into your content marketing strategy.
If you’d like to learn more about how we use SEO keyword strategies to influence our content marketing, please schedule a call. We’ll be happy to provide a free demonstration.