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Keyword Selection in SEO

SEO Blog
Advanced Keyword Strategy

SEO is, at its core, a practice of identifying the keywords that are most commercially valuable for your businesses’ website, and creating a conversion-optimized page for each that provides an excellent response to that keyword’s search intent. The latter process—creating the best SEO content—poses its own significant challenges, but in this article we’ll take an in depth look at the most important element of any SEO campaign: keyword selection.

Below, we divide the keyword selection process into 3 steps:

  1. Definition: Evaluating and choosing the highest value keywords for your industry that will serve as hub keywords in a Hub & Spoke strategy.
  2. Expansion: Using your previously defined hubs to generate a comprehensive list of transactional longtail keywords that will serve as your spokes.
  3. Ranking: Evaluating each keyword based on its transactionality, search volume, and your own ability to rank for it; the combination of which will allow you to rank-order each keyword and prioritize your content creation.

We discuss each in detail below.

Defining Your Highest Value Hub Keywords

The most effective way to organize an SEO campaign in 2024 is through the Hub & Spoke model, and the first step in doing so is to define your hub keywords. Because most companies lack the resources to effectively compete for every potentially valuable hub, choosing which 3-5 your website will target is one of the most important decisions that must be made when mapping out your strategy.

The Hub & Spoke Model of SEO
The Hub & Spoke model is designed to take advantage of the emphasis placed on niche expertise by Google’s algorithm. Sites that are “obsessed” with either a single topic or a small number of closely related topics are able to outrank even super-resources such as Wikipedia, giving smaller websites a clear strategy for obtaining first page rankings.In the Hub & Spoke model, every SEO-focused page on your website is either:

  • A hub, targeting a relatively broad keyword that is valuable for your business, or
  • A spoke, targeting a narrower, more transactional keyword that contains the hub in its entirety.

We discuss how to choose and prioritize both hub and spoke keywords in the rest of this article.

There are two primary considerations when defining hub keywords:

  1. Ranking for each hub should convey significant authority on your business, and
  2. Each hub must support a sufficient number of transactional spoke keywords to justify its inclusion as a major pillar of your site (for most businesses, each hub should have 10 or more potential spokes)

Even with the above two guidelines, you may find that there are more potential hub keywords than your team is able to target effectively. Additional factors to consider in order to narrow down your options are:

  • Competitiveness: Will your website be able to rank for the keywords in each hub within 6-12 months of beginning your campaign?
  • Marketing Efficiency: How well does each hub lend itself to creating content that can be shared in additional marketing channels such as email or social?
  • Customer Value: Are any of the hubs likely to attract customers that have significantly higher lifetime value than the other hubs?

Once you’ve defined your hub keywords, you can then use those hubs to generate spokes.

Expanding Your Keyword List With Spoke Keywords

Generating spoke keywords is a relatively straightforward process. Each hub’s spoke keywords should contain that hub in it’s entirety, while also being sufficiently transactional in its search intent and having high enough search volume to justify targeting.

Search Intent
Search intent refers to the implicit reason that a searcher types a specific query into Google. For businesses, the most useful way to conceptualize search intent is as a spectrum from transactional to research-oriented, based on its proximity to a purchasing decision as shown below:A keyword’s commercial value increases proportionally with its transactionality, but even keywords in the clarify and explore categories are worth targeting during the course of an SEO campaign.

For example, we’ve chosen “b2b seo” as one our hubs—a highly valuable keyword given that B2B SEO is one of our core services. The spokes for this hub include:

Note how each of these contains the phrase “b2b seo”, and the search intent of each keyword indicates that a significant number of searchers will be in the market for our services. 

The simplest way to create a preliminary list such as the one above is to type your hub keyword into Google to see which keywords autofill, as shown in the image below:

Expanding Keywords Screenshot

This process can then be repeated for each of your hubs, and again by typing each letter of the alphabet to generate a large list of potential spoke keywords. Note, however, that each keyword that autofills in this way is guaranteed to have high search volume—but not all are commercially valuable. For example, nearly all searchers of the second to last keyword in the list above, “what is b2b seo” will be too far from the point of conversion for us to justify targeting them.

Ranking Keywords by Value

After generating a list of spoke keywords, your next step should be to rank each of them by their commercial value. Commercial value is a combination of three factors, which are:

  1. Transactionality—The more transactional a keyword is, the more commercially valuable it is.
  2. Search volume—How many searchers type a keyword into Google. Search volume can be estimated by using Google’s Keyword Planner.
  3. Competitiveness—How likely you are to be able to rank for a given keyword, given the relative domain ratings of your website and the websites that are currently ranking on the first page.

Weighing each of these factors will allow you to create a rough prioritization of which keywords you should target first in your campaign. Your highest value keywords will be those that are highly transactional, highly searched, and relatively non-competitive, as it is these keywords that will most quickly produce a return on your SEO investment. Less transactional keywords and lower search volume keywords should be reserved for later in the campaign—these keywords are often useful for filling out your conversion funnel, but have less immediate lead-driving impact for your website.

Getting Help with Keyword Selection Strategy

If executed with care and precision, creating and implementing an advanced keyword selection strategy coupled with the consistent publishing of high quality SEO content will grow the seed of your most important keywords into its full expression: new leads and revenue for your firm. Doing so well, however, can be difficult for companies without experienced SEO teams.

A common solution businesses adopt is to partner with an external SEO agency such as ours that can handle every aspect of SEO, from keyword selection to content creation. If you’d like to know more about engaging with our SEO services, you can contact us here.

Evan Bailyn

Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.