Trying to build an SEO strategy without a keyword strategy is like trying to build a plane without wings. It’s going nowhere.

Expert-led keyword research and planning are foundational to successful SEO, no matter the business, industry, or audience. This multifaceted process sets the stage for your brand to grow its digital footprint, helping you understand exactly the topics, questions and pain points you need to address with your content. 

What is a keyword strategy in SEO?

Keywords are the terms, phrases and queries that users enter into search engines to surface relevant content. Brands and marketers use keyword strategies to gain a grasp of which keywords they should be focusing on, and how to earn visibility for them. 

Not only are keyword research and planning essential for informing your SEO strategy, they also provide crucial insights for your broader marketing and business development. Understanding how people search for your solutions, where search demand exists, and how keywords are trending has deeply valuable implications.

Why many keyword strategies are lacking

When SEO is not delivering results as a marketing team hopes, the core issues can often be traced back to a keyword strategy that isn’t quite right. Pursuing the wrong opportunities leads to a lot of waste and frustration. 

There are two prevalent challenges that brands encounter with their keyword strategies, in our experience:

  1. Lack of specialized expertise. SEO is as much an art form as a science. While tools like Semrush, Moz and Google Keyword Planner are helpful, it takes real skill and experience to turn their capabilities into action and impact. High-caliber SEO specialists are in short supply.
  2. Lack of maintenance and agility. Many companies are still operating with the same keyword list they developed years ago. That just doesn’t work in an environment where everything is changing, all the time. 

With so many organizations getting stuck in the mud at this critical step, it is no surprise one recent UK study found that two-thirds of businesses are unhappy with their SEO strategy. But the good news is that it’s never too late to revisit your keywords and get on track. 

Building an effective SEO keyword strategy

Identifying target keywords, contextualizing them, prioritizing them, and developing a clear plan to win (and maintain) rankings are all part of a full-fledged keyword strategy. At TopRank Marketing, we focus on these five core steps:

Keyword research

Keyword research sets the roadmap that your entire strategy will follow. The process involves identifying and analyzing keywords that will guide your planning. These phrases and queries all relate in some way to your buyer’s journey. To substantiate your best opportunities, you’ll want to gather data around search volumes, current rankings, keyword difficulty, SERP landscapes, and more.

The goal of keyword research is to understand the language and terms your target audience uses, allowing you to optimize your SEO content accordingly. 

Gap analysis is a key aspect of keyword research, offering a clear view of where your best untapped SEO opportunities lie. Learn about this and other SEO services from TopRank Marketing.

Competitive analysis

After selecting keywords and topics that your brand wants to show up for, the next step is to get a full view of what you’re up against. An expert dive into the data can tell you what keywords your competitors are targeting, which audiences they’re focusing on, and how you can gain an edge. 

Topical mapping

A topical map, as defined by Similarweb, “is a strategic map that outlines all the SEO content you need to cover the length and breadth of an entire topic. Your topical map doesn’t only include what content you need to create but also organizes it into a topic/subtopic hierarchy.”

An important thing to recognize about modern SEO is that “keyword” is a bit of a misnomer, lingering from the internet’s early days when single-word searches were common. Google is now much more concerned with semantic search, and serving results based on user intent and behavior. In many cases, a keyword will actually be a string of words aligning to specific prompts or questions entered by users. 

Topical maps branch out from head keywords into related semantic long-tails that explore sub-topics in further depth. Our agency uses this method to help clients build topical authority and earn rankings for their most valuable keyword clusters.

Search intent analysis

It’s helpful to gather as much intel as possible around keyword search intent so you can plan and craft content accordingly. Topical mapping plays a key role by illustrating how different keywords are connected and grouped by intent, but there are other valuable audience-centered insights to inform your keyword strategy.

For example, what is the user trying to accomplish by running a search for this keyword? From a marketing standpoint, search intent can fall into four different categories, aligning roughly to the funnel:

  • Informational (upper funnel)
  • Navigational (upper funnel)
  • Commercial (mid funnel)
  • Transactional (lower funnel)

Reporting and optimization

A lack of ongoing attention and proactivity is a major pitfall in many keyword strategies. Keeping a vigilant eye on your rankings and performance will help you stay on top of opportunities and minimize lapses as the landscape evolves.

Note that negative keyword trends don’t always (or even usually) mean you’re doing something wrong. All SEO strategies are at the whim of outside forces. In many cases, declines are driven by reduced search demand for specific keywords, algorithm changes, or dated content. You can spot these instances quickly with keyword reporting, and optimization can help you regain lost ground.

Modernize your SEO keyword strategy

The qualities of an effective keyword strategy have transformed over the past 10-15 years, from keyword stuffing to honoring user intent. As search engines become more sophisticated, we’re also moving from short, generic keywords to specific and semantic long-tails. Other trends like AI, local SEO and voice search are also impacting the way businesses approach their keyword strategies.

Expert oversight and continual maintenance will help ensure you’re targeting the right terms and taking the right steps to capture them. 

Learn more about the best practices of modern B2B search engine optimization.

About the author

Nick Nelson is our friendly neighborhood writer-man. As the Associate Content Director at TopRank Marketing, he is on a mission to energize brand narratives with smart, fun, sharp wordplay. In his free time, Nick enjoys basking in the misery of Minnesota sports fandom, making cringeworthy puns, and smothering all types of food in buffalo sauce.

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