Building keyword strategies efficiently

January 2, 2021

There are lots of extremely long guides to building keyword strategies. This is not one of those. The idea behind this list is to give you the fastest steps to building a high-quality keyword strategy without wasted effort.

Limit the number of seed keywords you come up with

The first thing you’ll do is generate an initial list of topics, or “seed keywords”. It is possible to build seed keyword lists that have many hundreds (or even thousands) of keywords that you then go on to evaluate for inclusion in your final strategy. In fact, many articles on how to build a keyword strategy suggest that you do this, often by using Google’s suggestions or suggestions from a paid tool, for example.

It’s often helpful to be thorough, but in practice we see limited value from additional suggestions generated by keyword tools, unless you have a large team behind your SEO efforts. We bet you can name most of the seed keywords you want to use in an hour or two of research. No need to build exhaustive lists.

If you decide to go after long-tail keywords, generate them after you’ve completed your final strategy

Long tail keywords are keyword phrases that are complex and relatively long – for example, “how to measure customer satisfaction for automotive companies” – that also have low volume but high propensity to convert. Pursuing long-tail keywords can be extremely helpful, particularly for direct-to-consumer companies.

But as a matter of process, you should prioritize building a list of more general, or “head”, topics. Then take your most promising keywords and expand them into high-intent versions that you can build landing pages around.

Pick seed keywords that are not too narrow, but also not too broad

The most efficient sources for seed phrases include your own site, your marketing materials, your competitors’ sites, and transcripts from sales calls. Put these in a spreadsheet, ideally something in the cloud (Google Sheets, for example) so you can easily collaborate on it.

Then, you’ll want to make sure you pick seed keywords at the right level of detail for your strategy. Let’s imagine you run a company that sells software to help companies assess their customer satisfaction.

We would probably include “customer satisfaction measurement” or “survey software”. We probably would not include “how sales reps should use customer satisfaction measurement software”, because it’s too narrow… Or “customer satisfaction”, because it’s too broad. There are lots of reasons that people would be looking for this term that have nothing to do with what we sell.

Understand what volume and competition data are telling you

There are lots of ways to pull volume and competition data, but the point is to answer the questions:

  • How much interest is there in these topics?
  • How much high-quality information is already out there?

Just as with everything else in business, we want to find places where we can (a) efficiently fill a need that’s (b) worth filling. The typical way to do this is to pull volume and competition statistics from a tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs. (Note: the numbers you’ll get from such tools are very rough and only give us directional information.)

If you want to get creative, you could also use tools like Google Trends or even other data like social shares, though of course that would result in data that wouldn’t be specific to organic search.

Relevance for each keyword is a critical measurement

Relevance is what you want to be known for. And it’s ultimately what makes visitors convert on the pages you build for organic search.

For a company that sells customer satisfaction software, a term like “customer satisfaction software” will have the highest score possible for relevance. On the other hand, a term like “survey software” – because it can mean so many other things – will probably have less relevance. Be sure to include relevance along with volume and competition as a statistic for your final weighting.

Balance volume, competition, and relevance in the right way for your position in the market

The last step in building a keyword strategy is to combine the 3 key statistics – relevance, volume, and competition – for all of your seed keywords, and see what seems like the best bets.

You can use whatever formula you like to combine your keywords. In particular, you might be at a company that’s just starting out with content marketing, in which case your algorithm puts more emphasis on picking stuff that’s not competitive. On the other hand, you might be in the opposite situation, in which you’re working at a company that already has a lot of traction in search. In that case, it might make sense to go after more competitive keywords.

Use a simple formula. (Or skip using a formula altogether and eyeball it, if you need to.) Of course you should choose things that rank well on your list. But you might have other considerations, too. What’s easy to update? What do we feel comfortable talking about? What do we know about where our business is going? These are all things that might influence the choice of where you ultimately focus.

Iterate and update

Most companies (and, for that matter, agencies), build a keyword strategy once and then forget about it and don’t touch it again for, let’s be honest, years. This is bad, especially at fast-growing companies that need to be responsive to changing conditions around the strategy they’ve built. You need to revisit your keyword strategy consistently, let’s say once every six months to a year, and make sure everyone’s still on board with it.

Building a keyword strategy doesn’t do anything unless it gets followed, and even if it is followed, it takes a consistent effort over months to see results.


Building a keyword strategy doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. You can build a reliable, defensible strategy in just a couple of hours if you limit your focus, incorporate relevance alongside volume and competition, and keep your strategy updated in response to conditions.

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