What is a keyword strategy?

October 3, 2021

A keyword strategy is a prioritized list of which specific keywords you’re aiming to rank for in search.

Generally a keyword strategy is built by researching possible topics, researching which related keywords people search for on Google, and then balancing factors like search volume, competition, and relevance to your business.

A keyword strategy often takes the form of a spreadsheet, or a list, saying what you want to rank for, and why. An effective keyword strategy can then help you make a lot of other decisions, including:

  • What content to produce
  • How to edit, optimize, or re-position existing content
  • What pillars to organize your blog around
  • Where to spend money in paid search

Taking your keyword strategy a step further, it can also be an important factor in figuring out what topics you want your brand to be known for generally, what topics to follow, and contribute to, on social, what communities to join, and so on.

Often, “keyword strategy” refers specifically to organic search strategy, but it can refer to paid search strategy, too.

Why do you need a keyword strategy?

You can’t pursue every possible keyword. But everybody has different opinions of what should happen, in what order, when, and why.

These opinions can vary across the company, and not only that, they can vary across time. What, off the cuff, seems strategically important today might not have seemed that way a month or two ago.

Having a documented strategy ensures that you’re focusing on a limited number of goals, at least for a while. And the process of putting that strategy together helps you decide what your goals are in the first place – including getting input and agreement from other stakeholders in your organization.

Once you’ve completed your strategy, you’ll have a condensed version of a priority list that everyone has agreed on. And you’ll have a guide to help you decide the right actions for pursuing these goals. That, in turn, can help you:

  • Produce the right content. Do you need to produce lots of in-depth content, or lots of shorter content? Which subject areas are most important? How often do you need to create new content, as opposed to optimizing what you already have?
  • Prioritize some tactics over others, and explain why. If we’ve decided to rank for “accounting software”, that will mean that we should produce certain content and pursue certain technical improvements, for example, related to that topic. Or maybe we’ve come up with a product-led SEO motion, or programmatic content, that will help us rank for that term. But if we’ve chosen “small business accounting”, we’ll have to do different things.
  • Give others in the organization information about what you’re planning to do, when, and what they should expect. Collaboration between marketing – and other departments – is critical for success with content. Measure correctly. If your goals were to pursue more brand reach, you’ll want to focus on traffic and make sure you’re instrumented correctly for that. If you want to pursue lead generation, that’s a different set of instrumentation.

How to build a keyword strategy

Building a keyword strategy has several discrete steps. We cover these in more detail in our guide to building a keyword strategy, but in short:

  • Gathering seed keywords. First, you’ll need to generate good keyword ideas – there are lots of places to get these. Our end goal is somewhere between 30 - 70 high-quality terms.
  • Determining keyword relevance. Relevance simply means: How likely is someone to convert if they land on your site after searching for that keyword? Relevance looks different for every company, but some of the ways to approach relevance include figuring out how much your company wants to be known for a keyword, how much your CEO or board would want to rank for a term, and how easily you can align your existing or planned content with a term.
  • Pulling volume and competition data. You can think of volume as the demand for information on a topic (and later we’ll look at competition, which is supply). And competition is the existing supply. You’ll need to pull this data one of the many available tools out there to include it in your strategy.

We’ve built a simple spreadsheet that will help you work with this model.

  • On the first tab, “Keyword Data”, we’ll gather all of the information we have about what your seed keywords are, including relevance, volume, and competition. There’s also a formula that combines these different parameters to tell you in what order you should pursue your keywords.
  • On the second tab, “Strategy Output”, we have a formula that gives you an ordered list. It’s the same data from the first tab, just put into something that’s a little easier to read.

Learn more in our guide to building a keyword strategy.

Organic vs. paid keyword strategy

Organic and paid search activities both happen on search engines, and they both take investment in order to see results. Organic search doesn’t have any upfront cost, and tends to take a more sustained investment over time, but also continue to show results for a long time. Paid search works more quickly, but requires a constant investment of both time and money in order to continue to generate leads and revenue.

We’ve focused on organic search strategy in this guide, but the truth is that getting a keyword strategy in place can help you structure your paid account as well. There are a few different ways to pursue this, including:

  • Starting with paid keywords to build initial traction in certain areas, and then replacing those efforts with organic keywords
  • Owning keywords from both a paid and organic search perspective

The quality of your content will be extremely important to success in paid search, just as it is in organic search. Paid search is organic search plus one additional ranking factor: money. The ranking algorithm for ads takes into account very similar factors to those used for organic rankings, like readability, relevance, and landing page UX, plus how much you’re willing to bid for a certain keyword.

Getting started with your keyword strategy

With your keyword strategy in hand, the next step is to convert your strategy into action – creating content.

As you decide where to start, some general rules:

  • If you already have a page on your site that’s ranking for a term – especially just outside of the first page of results, let’s say ranks 11 - 30 – and you haven’t revisited it in the last several months, your first priority should be tweaking or updating the relevant page.
  • Otherwise, we recommend creating new content. Blog posts are generally fine. If the content is very high-volume or top-of-funnel, we often recommend making explainer pages.
  • Overall, we don’t recommend making more than 1 - 2 pieces of content for any specific keyword, because generally, you will only have 1 page rank for any given keyword. Especially for companies with less ability to produce content, it’s better to create content horizontally.

You also want to make sure you revisit your keyword strategy regularly. Most companies build a keyword strategy once, then forget about it and don’t touch it again for 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, around every 6 to 12 months, and make sure everyone’s still on board.

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