Updated: April 22, 2022
Think like your customer. This marketing adage has led to success for businesses and brands who have followed it. The strategy is simple – by thinking like your customer, you can adjust your strategy to meet their needs. When you truly understand your customers and you are meeting their needs, you will find success.
So much of how your customers find you today is related to search. Meeting your customers needs only takes you so far if your customers can’t find you. By taking a customer-first approach to your keyword strategy, you can ensure your target audience finds you – where they are searching, when they are searching.
Let’s introduce an addendum to our previous marketing adage…
Think like your customers search.
Or in strategic terms…
A Customer First Keyword Strategy
What is a Customer First Keyword Strategy?
A customer first SEO keyword strategy essentially means understanding your customers and putting their needs at the forefront of your keyword research.
What are their motivations?
What is their end goal?
Why are they looking for a solution?
Whether you are targeting businesses or consumers, these questions are all the same. They roll up into one key question regardless of whether you are targeting businesses or consumers –
How can you make your customers lives easier?
Your customer-centric SEO strategy starts with the answer to this question. With it you can better target your website to the customers you can best serve. This will ultimately lead to more engagement and more conversions.
Let’s Dive In…
In this article we will dive into a number of keyword research tactics. Our goal is to provide you with the information and the toolset needed to create a keyword strategy that works for your target audience. We’ll explore:
- How to Identify Customer Search Intent
- Translate Search Intent to Keywords
- The Importance of Long Tail Keywords
- Building a Lasting SEO Keyword Strategy
How to Identify Customer Search Intent
Before we even start discussing keywords, we want to first understand the search intent behind our customers. We recommend kicking off your customer intent session with a team brainstorm around these ideas:
- What product or service do we offer our customers?
- What pain point are we addressing?
- How do we want our customers to feel?
The results of this brainstorm will provide you with a series of ideas and terms to feed into your keyword research.
Our Example Brainstorm
Throughout this article we will be using the example of Company XYZ which sells business software for creating content.
What product or service do we offer our customers?
We sell a software product to businesses that uses AI to generate content.
What pain point are we addressing?
The ability of a business to to generate content efficiently and cost effectively.
How do we want our customers to feel?
That our program made their task to generate content easy and effortless.
Translate Search Intent to Keywords
Now that you have an understanding of your customers and a list of terms related to their motivations, we can start to formulate our keyword strategy. There are a number of tools we can use to turn intent into keywords. Here are some of the top tools we use at Trebletree:
Trebletree also utilizes Conductor and SurferSEO to conduct keyword research and create a comprehensive SEO strategy. For the purposes of this article, we will be specifically focusing on how the tools above inform a keyword strategy.
Google Tools for Keyword Research
Google has a number of tools for keyword research:
- Simply search in Google and analyze the SERP.
- Use Google Trends to identify higher level topics.
- Sign up for Google’s PPC Keyword Planner to explore the search volume of keywords.
Using each of these tools alone can certainly help you identify topics and trends in search that relate to customer intent. The goal early on is to start to convert intent into actionable, optimizable keywords. Looking at your domain and competitors’ domains in the SERP is the best place to start.
Google Trends Keyword Research
You can also utilize Google Trends to input your customer intent keywords. There are 2 areas in Google Trends that provide the greatest insights for keyword research:
Keyword Interest Over Time
You can change the time period on your Keyword Interest Over Time chart. Above you see I’ve updated my view to 5 years. My goal here is to ensure that intent continues to grow for the terms we are looking at. It’s a red flag if interest drops off or is on a decline. As you can see in the above chart, interest for “content generator” has slowly increased over the last 5 years, with a steady increase in the last year.
The Related Searches view identifies keywords that are growing in popularity. Specifically for Company XYZ, our biggest keyword to note is – “ai content generator” – which is a rising star, up 1550%.
Competitor Research in the SERP
Similar to knowing your customer motivations, knowing the landscape of your competitors is just as essential. If your competitors are already ranking well for the keywords you want, then they are providing you with a roadmap for what works.
Start by using your initial intent terms that you identified and do a Google Search. In the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) see what competitors are ranking and go to their sites. Look at the content strategy they have in place. What keywords do they appear to be targeting? Look at the <title> tag, their meta description, their H1.
Get to know each competitor well and fully understand their marketing efforts. If you have a competitor that is killing it in search, they may have already nailed their understanding of customer intent and their keyword strategy. Learn from their success.
SEMRush for Search Queries
SEMRush is my tool of choice for keyword research. Their insights into already ranking domains make competitor research a breeze. And, their keyword magic tool makes it easy to find all related keywords to my initial search queries.
Keyword Magic Tool
I start with the highest level keyword(s) focusing on what the company does. I call this the seed keyword, as it kicks off our keyword exploration. Enter this into the Keyword Magic Tool. In the example of Company XYZ, my seed keyword is “content generator”.
SEMRush outputs Broad Match keywords first. This is a great list to start finding iterations of your services that customers are searching.
How to Read the SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool Output
- Intent – This is SEMRush’s analysis of the intent of the keyword. I for informational (i.e. looking for more information) and C for commercial (i.e. to make a purchase).
- Volume – Total monthly search volume for the keyword.
- Trend – A quick view of the keyword’s volume trend over the last year.
- KD% – This is a measure of competition. Lower keyword difficulty indicates a keyword that is easier to rank for.
- CPC – Cost per click, specifically used for paid media.
- Com – This is your Competitive Density. It relates to competition in paid search.
- SERP Features – This is a very important piece. It shows you the different features that display on the Search Engine Results Page. This is great to identify if Answer Boxes, Knowledge Panels, or other SERP Features are in place.
- Results – This is the total number of results on the SERP. Simply put, a higher # of results can translate to more competition, but not always.
On the left side of the screen you also have the ability to narrow down your keywords. Now, with the Company XYZ example, we know that what they offer is AI based. So we would find that in the left hand word list and select “ai”. The final output is a series of “ai content generator” terms where the Intent is Commercial. Perfect! This is the target audience we are looking for!
Don’t Forget to Move Past Broad Match Keywords
We’ve identified some great keywords using Broad Match. But let’s not stop there. Our target audience may not know the term “ai”. Let’s utilize Phrase Match, Exact Match, and RElated keyword tabs to dive into other phrases that our potential customers are using.
In the Phrase Match keyword results shown above, we can see that there are other relevant terms people are searching for that do not include the term “ai” – content generator, blog content generator, content generator website. These are all relevant phrases that we will incorporate into our comprehensive keyword strategy.
Further, I dove into the Related searches to find several important high volume keywords – title generator, headline generator, blog title generator.
TIP: Try toggling between sorting by relevance or “Related %” and Volume %. This will give you a good cross section of both relevance and high volume.
Understanding Competition vs. Monthly Search Volume (MSV)
It’s so important to find that perfect mix between the high volume keywords that drive results and actionable keywords that have lower competition.
High volume, highly competitive keywords will take strong on-page SEO, strong link building, and a domain that has high authority to achieve first page rankings. If you are working with a website that historically has not ranked well or even a website that is just starting out, these may be more challenging to rank for.
On the contrary, moderately competitive keywords that may have lower volumes can provide faster results. This is the beauty of long tail search.
The Importance of Long Tail Keywords
A compelling and successful keyword strategy is comprised of a variety of keywords. Most can be combined into 3 key categories:
- The Head
- The Body
- The Tail
High Competition, High Volume, Low Conversion
These keywords drive the highest amount of traffic IF you can rank well for them. However, these keywords are highly competitive. And, due to their more generic nature, can lead to lower conversions.
To rank for a head keyword, it takes a tremendous amount of on-page SEO tactics, backlinks from high authority domains, and having a high authority domain.
If you are optimizing for a brand that is just starting out or one that has not attained a level of authority yet, you will want to start with the Body and the Tail keywords. Once you’ve built up sufficient authority in your space, then move into the more highly competitive Head keywords.
What is Domain Authority?
This is a great opportunity to dig into the term “Domain Authority”. Domain Authority is a measure of the quality of your site, specifically as it relates to sites that link to you. The idea is that if you are a high quality site with high quality content, then high quality sites will link to you. Domain Authority factors in the number of backlinks you have, the quality of the sites you are getting backlinks from, social signals, your content’s quality, and even overall SEO performance.
Moderate Competition, Medium Volume, Moderate Conversion
These are the terms that make up the middle of your keyword strategy. They have moderate competition, moderate volume, and even moderate conversion rates. Create content around Body keywords – through top level pages or blog post pages – and you can see significant results.
Long Tail Keywords
Low Competition, Low Volume, High Conversion
Long Tail Keywords are the sweet spot for any SEO. Hidden behind low search volume, long trail keywords can be a traffic monster.
Long Tail Keywords represent all of the keywords with lower search volume and longer phrases. They represent a more natural way of searching – bringing us back to the importance of customer intent. While a single long tail keyword may not provide significant search volume by itself, it is just one of many different ways of writing that particular form of intent.
If you have one blog post that ranks in position 1 for 20 long tail search keywords, each with an MSV of 50 – that’s 1,000 searches who will be exposed to your site first.
Don’t let phrases like “low competition” or “low volume” fool you. Customers with more detailed search queries are often more likely to convert. And, there are a larger number of keywords you can hit with a single piece of content. This makes long tail keywords an incredible successful piece of your keyword strategy.
Long Tail Keywords – Search Example
Let’s look at our Company XYZ and the long trail term – “blog content generator”.
If we create content around the assortment of long tail keywords outlined in the keyword list above, we’re looking at a target audience size of 560. And these just represent the first 9 top terms.
Building a Lasting Keyword Strategy
Now it’s time to pull it all together. Let’s break off those training wheels and hit the road!
If you followed our keyword research steps outlined above, you’ll have the following:
- A brainstorm output of customer intent
- A list of topics vetted by Google Trends
- Insights from your competitors by analyzing the SERP
- Broad Match, Phrase Match, and Related Searches from the SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool that cover Head, Body, and Long Tail Keywords
This is a lot of data to bring together. Now how do you compile this into a cohesive keyword strategy?
Unfortunately this is where I say that it comes down to expertise and experience. In most cases we are compiling a combination of head, body, and long tail keyword terms to create a holistic keyword strategy that is both immediately actionable and provides long term goals.
Have More Questions on Keyword Strategy?
If you are a brand looking for keyword strategy support, we’ve got you covered. Even if you are an SEO just looking to network with other SEOs passionate about keyword strategy. Drop us a line and let us know what questions you have.