SEO Keyword Best Practices
Keywords are the foundation upon which SEO strategy is built. Without careful keyword selection, even the highest quality content will fail to attract the right audience, making it impossible for your campaign to generate ROI. In contrast, with the thoughtful creation of a keyword map to all your highest-value keywords, your site can achieve SEO dominance in its industry.
In this guide, we distill our 14 years of experience selecting keywords for SEO campaigns into 5 best practices:
- Organize SEO keyword selection with the Hub & Spoke model
- Target keywords based on search intent analysis
- Use the right page type for each keyword
- Publish pages targeting new keywords at least 2x weekly
- Create a keyword map
We elaborate on each practice below:
Organize SEO Keyword Selection with the Hub & Spoke Model
Google’s algorithm seeks to connect searchers with the highest quality content that answers their search intent. To do this, it prioritizes two types of websites in the search results: the super-resource and the niche expert. Super-resources are websites like Wikipedia or the New York Times that are authorities on nearly everything, and as a result will rank highly for nearly any page they publish. The vast majority of websites are not super-resources, and it is near impossible for a company to become one if it does not have content as its sole focus.
The other type of website that Google prioritizes is the niche expert. Niche experts are websites that are obsessed with a single topic or a small number of related topics (4-5 at most), and often outrank even super-resources for those topics. An example of this is Elfster—they rank at #1 for “secret santa”, above even Wikipedia, due to the unique expertise they have on this specific topic.
To become a niche expert, you must establish a framework for how each page will fit into your overall SEO strategy. The best framework for doing so is the Hub & Spoke Model, in which every page on your website is either:
- A hub, which targets a broad keyword that defines the subject area in which you wish to be seen as a niche expert
- A spoke, which targets a more specific keyword that contains a hub keyword in its entirety, and is actively searched for by members of your target audience
The image below shows examples of potential spokes for the hub “cloud security”:
The hub and the corresponding spokes are distinct pages that collectively cover a topic of interest to your target audience. Hub pages help your business establish or increase industry authority among members of your target audience, and serve as organizational centers for your site. Spokes are variants on the hub keyword that are transactional or will likely result in a lead directly or via an initial micro conversion—in other words, spoke selection hinges on search intent analysis.
Choose Keywords Using Search Intent Analysis
Choosing the appropriate hub and spoke keywords is critical for the success of your SEO marketing campaign.The most common reason that a campaign might secure high search rankings and generate traffic, but fail to drive leads is selecting keywords without an understanding of searcher intent.
Search intent is the term used to describe the implicit reasons why a searcher types in a particular keyword. It exists on a scale from intent to learn, or research-oriented keywords, to intent to buy, or transactional keywords, as shown below:
- Learn: These keywords are for attracting those that are new to the topic. These keywords are mostly searched by students or very early career professionals: in either case, novices to the subject. Learn keywords are difficult to rank for and provide little commercial value, and should not be
- Explore: Searchers of explore keywords have an existing basic knowledge of the topic and are pursuing deeper understanding. This is the least transactional type of search intent worth targeting for most companies.
- Clarify: The intent behind clarify keywords is to answer a specific question, often by searchers who know they have a problem but they aren’t sure what that problem is yet.
- Solve: Searchers that have a defined problem type in solve keywords. These keywords make excellent targets for SEO content, as searchers have an immediate need.
- Evaluate: These keyword are searched by people who know what type of product or service they need, but want to compare their options against each other.
- Commit: Searchers of keywords in this category are almost ready to be converted, and just need a final push that can be provided through a case study or report.
- Buy: Searchers looking to buy are the most valuable type of traffic, and pages targeting buy keywords must provide as few barriers to conversion as possible.
In addition to determining whether a keyword is worth targeting, search intent also informs the type of page that you should create for each keyword.
Use the Right Page Type for Each Keyword
When searchers click through to a website, they want to see their search intent answered in a specific way. Searchers of explore and clarify keywords are best served by hub pages and blog posts the cover a topic in broad terms, while linking to pages that allow the reader to explore more in depth at their convenience. Meanwhile, the searcher looking to confirm or buy should be presented with a case study or a sales landing page, respectively. The ideal page type for each search intent can be found in the table below:
|Search Intent||Landing Page Types|
|Learn||Too low value to target|
|Explore||Hub Page, Blog Article|
|Solve||Problem & Solution Blog Article|
|Evaluate||Comparison Blog Article, White Paper|
Publish Pages Targeting New Keywords at Least 2x Weekly
Once you’ve chosen keywords, the next step is to publish new pages. Each new page should target a single keyword, and you should publish at least twice weekly to see strong results. If your campaign can support a more frequent publishing schedule, publishing more frequently also correlates with higher ROI, peaking at 5-6 new pages weekly.
Note however, that the above results are contingent upon maintaining high content quality. A campaign that frequently publishes low quality content will fail to rank highly, while a campaign that publishes true thought leadership less often can still rank, albeit slower.
Creating A Keyword Map
All of the best practices described here come together in the master document of an SEO strategy, the Keyword Map. This document is a list of all the keywords you’re targeting in order of their lead-driving value; what type of page targets them; the URL of that page; when it was last updated; and the justification for that page being the best on the Internet responding to the search intent of the targeted keyword. Here’s what a Keyword Map looks like:
|Value Rank||Keyword||Page Type||Last Updated||Content|
|#1||“cloud security”||Hub Page||11/18/22||Link from header nav under “Specialties”; comprehensive definitional page with links to all supporting pages inside container.|
|#2||“cloud security company”||Service Landing Page||5/9/23||Linked from header nav under “Services” as “cloud security”; Sales SLP containing a quick value statement at the top; validation logos; a How it Works diagram; and a brief deeper dive into Next Steps with CTAs.|
|#3||“cloud security for banks”||Industry Landing Page||5/21/23||Included in the title tag of “cloud security” sales LP, above.|
|#4||“cloud security companies”||Comparison Blog||2/15/23||Comparison SLP with client and 5 semi-competitors listed in a table along the X axis with features along the Y axis, as well as a 1-5 star score. Features are each explained in their own bold section below the chart.|
|#5||“cloud security best practices”||White Paper||1/20/23||List page: Immediate pros/cons list at top, followed by explanation of which companies it’s right for; companies it’s wrong for; a process diagram; and a How to Get Started section leading to a CTA.|
Implementing the SEO Keyword Best Practices
The best practices described above are not complex, but executing on them requires substantial time commitment and a wide array of marketing skills. As a result, many SMBs and enterprises find it most advantageous to partner with an experienced agency to handle their SEO needs.
First Page Sage has over 13 years of experience creating and executing SEO campaigns for a wide variety of companies, from startups to midsize companies and even enterprises such as Salesforce and Logitech. If you’d like to learn more about our services, contact us.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.