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SEO is a crucial component of a successful content strategy. In addition to giving your content all that sweet, sweet organic traffic, it increases your brand’s visibility and site authority, helping ensure that the people who want or need your type of product or service can actually find you on the Internet—ideally before they find your competitors.

That said, good SEO doesn’t just happen (unless you’re incredibly lucky). As the Internet becomes more crowded, you need to create content around the right keywords to get your brand the best rankings.

Why Keywords Matter to Your Content Strategy

Content marketing is all about getting your brand’s valuable content in front of people—to position your brand as a helpful resource and, by default, a better option than your competitors. The stronger your keyword strategy, the higher you rank, and the more people can be exposed to and engage with your content.

However, it’s not just about getting your content in front of people; you want to get it in front of the right kind of people, those who will find value in what you have to say, and who one day may have need for your products or services. That’s why you need to find the right keywords to maximize your visibility.

However, finding the right keywords to target can be tricky. Go too broad, and you might get a lot of traffic but very few leads. Go too niche, and your content can languish in obscurity. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.

Unfortunately, many marketers struggle to find the right keywords—often because they’re confused or intimidated by this work, or they don’t know where to start. Some play it safe with high-level keywords, making little headway yet unsure of how to change it. Some simply guess which keywords they should use. Others take the spray-and-pray approach, and simply hope for the best. And some don’t target keywords at all. (If you fall into any of these camps, don’t beat yourself up too much. We’ve committed all of these sins at some point over the last decade, too.)

Luckily, however, it’s never too late to start over—or start a new keyword strategy from scratch. We know this firsthand. Three years ago we completely revamped our keyword strategy and increased leads 78% in six months.

So, if you’ve been languishing in keyword purgatory or afraid to take the plunge, we say it’s time to dive in. Here, you’ll find our simple step-by-step guide to find the best keywords for your brand.

1) Start With Your Goals

If you’ve created a comprehensive content strategy, you should know exactly what you’re trying to achieve. (If you haven’t, follow our guide to create a content strategy.) Your keyword strategy will support your larger business goals. So, for example, if you’re trying to attract more business for a specific product or service you offer, you’ll want to prioritize keywords related to that subject.

2) Know Your Personas

In some ways, a keyword strategy is reverse-engineering your buyer’s journey, helping you identify:

  • Who you’re trying to reach
  • What information they’re interested in
  • What search terms they use to find the information they want

The “who” is crucial, which is why you need to clear personas that detail the demographic and psychographic attributes of the people you’re trying to reach. (Here’s how to create personas if you don’t have them already.)

3) Brainstorm Your Keywords

To hone in on the right keywords, start by compiling a list of all the keywords, subjects, categories, or themes you want to cover. If you’re not sure what these are, talk to your key stakeholders, especially your sales team. (They know what customers are thinking about, looking for, and curious to know.)

You’ll also want to dig into Google Analytics to identify what terms people are using to find you now. (Check your traffic sources and related keywords.) You’ll narrow down the list next, but first you want to identify every potential keyword under your umbrella.

4) Research to Find the Right Keywords

Now it’s time to take a keyword deep dive, identifying and refining the exact terms to target. To do this, you’ll need access to keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner, Wordtracker, or Moz. These tools will help you assess how difficult it will be to rank by providing information about search volume, click-through rate, etc.

Your goal here is to identify contenders, based on several factors:

  • Search volume: The more people are searching for the keyword (the higher the volume), the harder it is to rank. You want something with a decent search volume (but not so high it will be impossible to rank).
  • Relevancy: The more relevant the keyword, the better for your brand (e.g., “ice cream” vs. “gluten-free vanilla ice cream”).
  • Competition: You’ll want to consider what your competitors are and aren’t ranking for, and where you might be able to make headway.

Once you’ve research all potential keywords, you can identify and prioritize the keywords that would be smartest to target.

First, start with your general categories. You can start with your master list of keywords from your earlier brainstorm, which will likely include the general keywords related to your product or service categories. Plug in each term and assess the info provided by your keyword tool, including search volume, click-through rate, keyword difficulty, etc. (We use Moz, FYI.)

As you research, however, remember that keyword strategy is half art, half science. Even if you are targeting a more difficult term (in terms of search volume), you can still rank. There is no specific range to target for search volume; however, consider ranges for keyword difficulty.

As Rand Fishkin of Moz points out, “I personally think of [Keyword Difficulty] scores in the 20-35 range as being quite low, 36-50 in the middle, 51-65 pretty tough, and 66-80 as very difficult.”

Ultimately, it depends on your goals, your domain authority, your relevance, etc. (Experimenting is a big part of content strategy, too.)

For example, as we built our content strategy, we knew we’d need to create content to support our core services, such as infographics, motion graphics, content strategy, etc. However, when it came to the actual keywords, we needed to identify the specific terms to use, as well as the variations (e.g., “infographic” vs. “infographics” vs. “infographic marketing”).

In doing keyword research for words related to infographics, we found the term “infographic” to be a good candidate. It had a large search volume (70K-118K), a decent click-through rate (60%), and was a high priority. However, it had a tougher difficulty score (57).

Infographic keyword strategy content strategy 1

Still, because we decided it was a high priority keyword, we went after it. Now, having created several content campaigns targeting this word, we currently rank #9.

Depending on your product or service, you may find your more generic keywords to be decent options. However, if they are too broad or too difficult to rank for, you may want to explore more specific terms, also known as longtail keywords. (It’s likely you will also have versions of these on your list. If not, your keyword tool will offer related keyword suggestions.)

Next, search your longtail keywords. The more people are searching for a term, the harder it is to rank. Thus, it’s easier to target a term that is more specific. Longtail keywords are the more specific words or phrases that people use when searching for something (e.g., “infographic” vs. “infographic design”). While these terms tend to have less search volume, they are more specific to your business and, ideally, have lower competition.

So, for example, as part of our keyword research, we found that the longtail keyword “infographic design” had a much lower search volume. Still, as it is a keyword that is highly relevant to our work, it is tremendously valuable for us. (Again, having created content targeting this term, we’re currently ranking #4.)

keyword strategy content strategy 2

Once you’ve completed this research, you should be able to identify your priority keywords.

5) Check Your Competitors’ Rankings

To help you figure out what to target first, check your competitors’ rankings for your target keywords. This valuable insight can show you where the low-hanging fruit is. For example, you might find a search term that is lower volume but your competitors aren’t ranking for. That’s an easy win that can help you gain more visibility quickly. For example, we found the term “annual report design” didn’t have much competition, so we did a content campaign to target that keyword and are currently #1.

Every business and industry is different, but your goal should be to rank for as many terms as possible. With this combined insight, you can identify your keyword priorities, then use those to guide your content ideation going forward.

6) Optimize Your Content

There’s no point in doing all that work if you don’t properly optimize your content for your target keywords, so make sure to include keywords in your headers, subheads, image titles, body copy, etc. Luckily, tools like Yoast will help you optimize your content, flagging what’s missing or offering suggestions. We also find it helpful to create an optimization checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. (For more tips on optimizing for SEO, find out how to optimize your infographics and blog.)

7) Track, Measure, and Tweak

Remember: Your keyword strategy will evolve with your content strategy, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t seeing the results you’d like. The more you track, the more you’ll identify ways to tweak, iterate, and improve. You may find you need to target a keyword with a lower or higher search volume. Or you may find a different longtail keyword to be much higher converting.

We suggest revisiting your strategy on a quarterly basis to make sure it still works for you. (We usually target three keywords per quarter. Sometimes they change, sometimes they don’t.)