SEO Keyword Strategy 101
Most marketers familiar with SEO understand the key elements of SEO to be thought leadership content and a high domain rating with Google. However, those elements won’t lead to SEO success if you aren’t targeting the right keywords.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to create a keyword strategy from the ground up, covering the two main strategic areas you need to address in order to make productive use of your content. They include:
- Organizing keywords into Hubs & Spokes
- Hub Keyword Selection
- Choosing Your Spoke Keywords
- Understand Search Intent & Transactionality
- Evaluating Search Volume
- Assigning Page Types to Keywords
Once your keywords have found “homes” on specific pages within your site, you’re at the content creation stage which is its own subject. This guide will be concerned with keyword strategy and page type assignment only.
Organizing Keywords into Hubs & Spokes
The hub & spoke model is built on the observation that Google rewards “niche expertise” in a subject area, granting websites that display this quality higher rankings than even much larger websites in their industry. It involves identifying high-volume keywords, which act as the main hubs of your expertise, as well as derivatives of those high-volume keywords that form conceptual keyword spokes around that hub. A mature SEO strategy usually includes 3-5 hub keywords and 10-25 spoke keywords per hub. Spoke keywords are longer, more transactional keywords that contain the hub keyword in its entirety.
For example, a SaaS company specializing in edge networking might choose the following hubs and spokes:
|cloud computing||top cloud computing providers|
|cloud computing benefits and risks|
|cloud computing services|
|cloud computing iot|
|edge networking||edge networking solutions|
|edge networking as a service|
|edge networking companies|
|edge networking iot|
Now let’s discuss how to choose hubs.
Hub Keyword Selection
This is the simplest step of the process, but a critical one. There are two major factors when choosing a hub keyword:
- It should bestow authority on your website when you eventually rank highly for the hub keyword itself
- It should lend itself to highly transactional spokes that will generate leads
If we look at the example above, ranking on the first page for either “cloud computing” or “edge networking” would signal to a searcher that this hypothetical SaaS company is an industry leader. Both these keywords also lend themselves to many lead generating spokes, such as “edge networking solutions” or “cloud computing services”. In other words, they’re both perfect hubs.
The hubs you choose will determine the range and breadth of content produced throughout your campaign.
Choosing Your Spoke Keywords
While hub selection is built on only two major factors, selecting your spokes is more complex. Most importantly, the full hub keyword must be found within each spoke. Additionally, spoke keywords should:
- Reflect a search intent that is likely to ultimately lead to a transaction
- Have enough search volume to justify the effort of content creation
- Be attainable as a first page ranking within 2 years
- Be keywords for which your website does not already rank
We’ll take a closer look at the first three criteria (the fourth is self-explanatory), starting with search intent.
Understand Search Intent & Transactionality
Search intent refers to the purpose with which a user types in a keyword. We’ll continue with the previous cloud computing example. If a hypothetical person types in “what is cloud computing?” you can easily assume that they’re very new to the topic and are only interested in general information. In other words, they’re extremely unlikely to be ready to spend money on a cloud computing service. Conversely, someone typing in a keyword with a word like “services”, “provider”, or “solutions” (i.e. “cloud computing services”) does so with the intent to buy. This is what we call transactionality. Here is a visual representation of this concept:
When selecting keywords (particularly your spokes) you should choose an array that leans toward transactional search intents, as more research based search intents will attract an audience that isn’t yet ready to commit to a purchase.
Understanding search intent also informs how you should write your content. Because only keywords at the extreme end of transactionality indicate that someone is 100% ready to buy, many of the keywords you target will fall into the middle of this scale. Content geared towards someone searching for a keyword in the commit, evaluate, or solve categories should be written with a more impartial view, focusing on ways to solve specific pain points or presenting unbiased information that builds trust rather than presenting a hard sales pitch.
Next, we’ll discuss how you should evaluate search volume.
Evaluating Search Volume
Transactionality isn’t everything; you also need to ensure that people actually search for the keywords you target. For example, ranking highly in a lesser used keyword like “best cloud computing provider for midsized healthcare businesses in california” won’t generate many leads because there simply aren’t very many people typing that into Google.
Fortunately, this is a straightforward process. Here are the best ways of doing so:
- Google Autofill (i.e., does the keyword show up in a list of 10 when you begin typing it into Google?)
- Google Keyword Planner
Each of these tools can help you identify keywords with a higher search volume, although they vary on specificity. Google’s autofill is easily the most accessible, but it only tells you that a keyword ranks highly. Dedicated tools provide more detailed information, but aside from Google Keyword planner, each requires a subscription.
It’s also important to note that while volume is important, it isn’t everything. Low-volume keywords with very high transactionality, for example, often hold some value for your campaign. This is because they can be very highly targeted to an audience who is ready to buy. Instances like this are where custom-tailored pages play a large role in converting visitors to leads.
When choosing to target a spoke keyword, it’s a good rule of thumb to aim to rank on the first page for that keyword within 2 years. Marketing campaigns tend to have short shelf lives and leadership frequently changes, so a goal further out than that would be too much to ask. But how do you make an educated guess about whether your site will be able to achieve that goal?
Essentially, you are considering 3 factors:
- the overall Google Trust of the websites currently on the first page for that keyword;
- how well-targeted that keyword is by the content on those websites
- how much you expect your own website’s Google Trust to grow, and how well you’re able to target that keyword.
To evaluate the overall Google Trust of a website (i.e. its ability to rank), it can be helpful to use one of the common measures of Google Trust such as domain rating or domain authority. If your own domain’s numerical score is at a third that of the #1 search result, your site has a chance of ranking above it within 2 years. The odds of overtaking that spot increase dramatically if other pages aren’t targeting your precise keyword, but instead rank because of being obliquely relevant to that keyword. (This is because Google values a precise match between the keyword searched and the keyword targeted in the title tag.) The final indicator of a likelihood of ranking on the first page within 2 years is how much effort is going into your SEO campaign. If you’re posting the best content in your industry twice per week, you can likely beat out any competitor except one doing the exact same thing.
Once you’ve chosen hubs and spokes, you’re almost ready to begin planning your content. But to do so, you’ll need to assign the right page type to each keyword.
Assigning Page Types to Keywords
For each keyword you target, you’ll need to decide if you should create a blog post, a landing page, or something more specialized like a case study or a white paper. As with the initial spoke evaluation, this decision should be based on the search intent of that keyword. The table below provides a general breakdown of how to match your pages with various search intents:
|Search Intent||Page Type|
|Buy||Product page/landing page|
|Commit||Case study/landing page|
|Evaluate||Comparison landing page|
|Solve||Blog post/landing page|
It’s worth noting that these categories (especially those closer to the middle of the spectrum) are not set in stone. Visitors looking to solve a problem, for example, might just as well respond to a blog post on the subject as they would a landing page discussing specialized tools designed for that purpose. Content strategists must consider the specific aspects of the piece itself to determine the most applicable page type.
Getting SEO Keyword Strategy Right The First Time
While we hope this article has laid out the elements of successful SEO keyword strategy clearly, there is no substitute for experience. Identifying the most valuable hubs and spokes that balance search volume, transactionality, and competition levels is an art.
If your team doesn’t already have dedicated specialists in-house, an option is outsourcing keyword strategy creation to an experienced agency. If you’re interested in doing so, you can reach out to us here.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.