8 SEO Keyword Research and Targeting Strategies to Supercharge Growth

Abigail Stock

VP of Strategy | Head of Content

It’s been widely proven that organic traffic, largely through search engine optimization (SEO), converts at a significantly higher rate than other traffic sources. This is not to say that other traffic sources, like paid SEM and native advertising aren’t critical to an overall digital growth strategy, but organic results can garner more trust, more clicks, and ultimately more revenue over time.

So, one of the worst things you can do when it comes to your SEO strategy — besides not having one — is to “set it and forget it.” Too often, businesses do the upfront work to define an SEO strategy and research keywords for their site, and then never revisit them.

Keywords are not evergreen. User needs are constantly changing, and so are their queries. New competition is always entering the market. Google and other search engines are continuously updating their algorithms.

This means you must conduct ongoing keyword research, targeting, and optimization if you want to continue to rank — and rank higher — in SERPs. 

How to find ongoing SEO keyword opportunities

Let’s assume that when you did your initial keyword research for your brand or business, you asked all the right questions to understand your target customer needs, conducted sound keyword research, chose the best terms possible, and optimized your content accordingly. But now it’s time to research and target more terms. Where do you start?

It’s first helpful to understand a few different keyword research strategies and SEO approaches that go beyond the typical methods you might have used at the start:

 

1. Go after “shoulder keywords”

These keywords target indirectly related terms for which your customers are searching. For example, if you’re a B2B provider of small business payroll services, you may think about targeting long-tail terms like “how to start a small business” or “starting a small business in New York City” or “how to write a business plan.”
The key here is to truly understand your customer and their needs, and anticipate their previous and next searches. (This is also the foundational thinking behind today’s most effective search engine optimization approach, “semantic SEO”). You can then determine your customer’s intent based on their queries and design a content journey experience that will eventually lead them to your product or service.

How to start a small business search in Google

A search for “how to start a small business” reveals a Featured Snippet from sba.gov under the paid ads on the first Google SERP; this is a perfect place to see what else new entrepreneurs might be searching for as they go through the process of starting a new business.

2. Capitalize on “barnacle SEO” opportunities 

Another approach to adding SEO terms to your strategy is to piggyback off of highly authoritative sites like Linkedin, YouTube, and Medium (and also post your own keyword-optimized content on those authority sites). Many small and midsized businesses struggle to rank for highly competitive and valuable phrases, but barnacle SEO can help get your products and services in front of potential customers and drive traffic from those terms without actually having to rank.
The key here is to attach yourself (as a barnacle would) to a large, fixed object (in this case, another website) and reap the benefits of its popularity, authority, and relevance. Barnacle SEO works particularly well for local businesses and B2B companies; however, it’s not always an effective or relevant strategy for ecommerce sites.

For local businesses, this might look like claiming your profiles on Yelp, Angie’s List, and HomeAdvisor to showcase your services there and build authoritative backlinks to your site.

Google search for "Best Yoga in Brooklyn"

A search for “best yoga in brooklyn” yields large, authoritative sites like ClassPass and Yelp in the top results. No individual yoga studios exist on the first Google SERP.

For B2B companies, like those selling SaaS and software products, setting up your profile and encouraging reviews on customer rating sites like G2, TrustRadius, and Capterra is an easy way to get your product or service introduced within page-one results, while also promoting customer validation and boosting traffic.

Google search for "Best payroll software"

After SEM ads and Google’s answer box, the top organic results include highly authoritative customer rating sites and popular publications.

3. Find competitor keyword content gaps 

One of the most powerful approaches to ongoing SEO research and targeting is to figure out what terms your competitors rank for, but which you do not. This signals that you have an opportunity to rank, or rank better, in search results. Comparing two or more competitors at a time will yield the richest insights.

There are countless tools to help you conduct this type of keyword gap analysis, including (but certainly not limited to): Moz’s Keyword Explorer (specifically their Ranking Keywords analysis tool), Content Gap by ahrefs.com, or SEM Rush’s Competitive Research feature.  

Content Gap by Ahrefs

ahrefs.com “Content Gap” tool

Where else to look for SEO keyword inspiration

From forums to customer support tickets, you can find SEO keyword inspiration all over the place. Here are 5 other places we love to look when rounding up new keywords for our clients:

4. See what the search engines say 

The related and suggested searches are treasure troves of ideas. Just type in your original keywords and phrases, and see exactly what else people are searching for. You can also use these queries to easily understand user search intent and craft your content accordingly.

Google search for How to hire a digital marketing agency

Suggested searches for “how to hire a digital marketing agency” include “how to evaluate a digital marketing agency” and “benefits of hiring a digital marketing agency.”

5. Don’t forget Google Search Console 

This is one of the most powerful tools out there for improving SEO — and it’s free! Google Search Console is particularly valuable for improving technical SEO, as it helps you monitor and troubleshoot your website’s appearance in their search results, as well as find and fix technical errors, submit sitemaps, see backlinks, and more. 

But you can also use it to see the keywords users searched to find specific pages on your site. From “Performance” > “Queries,” you can see the terms for which you appear in search results across your entire website — some of which you may not even be targeting on purpose or super optimized for. Use this list to optimize your content for keywords your target audience is already searching for, and as a jumping off point for other “shoulder keywords.”

Screenshot of Google Search console

The “Queries” view in Google Search Console shows the top searches for a website that tracks state attorneys general elections.

6. Dive into Wikipedia, Reddit and Quora

Forums and websites frequented by your target audience are ripe with queries — your users are asking the same exact questions in these places that they’re typing into the search bar. Read the threads and then create optimized content that answers these questions on your website.

Reddit search on benefits of blankets

r/WeightedBlankets leads to real questions consumers are asking about weighted blankets, as well as a list of related communities to continue expanding your keyword search.

7. Scour social media for SEO research

Search and social may not have the most direct relationship, but at Modus we mine social media for invaluable search ideas and insights, and vice versa. Some ways you can use social media for keyword research include:

  • Join Facebook and Slack groups to gain a deeper understanding of your target audience and see the exact questions they’re asking their own community.
  • Use Facebook Ad Targeting Options to dig deeper into the demographics of your target audience…
  • And to find new and supplemental audiences — and thus, uncover new needs and queries to target.
  • Join Linkedin groups, and mine the comments on Linkedin posts published by relevant influencers in your industry.
  • Search for Instagram hashtags and Trending Topics on Twitter, and then look at the related hashtags and topics for new ideas.
  • Pay attention to the suggested search on Pinterest.

Suggested searches for "weighted blankets" on Pinterest

Suggested searches for “weighted blanket” on Pinterest show an interest in weighted blankets “benefits,” “for kids,” and “weight chart” — all of which are potential keywords to continue researching and solid content ideas.

8. Mine your Help Desk for actual customer insights

The best place to uncover the questions and needs of your actual customer base is to talk to your customer service teams and sift through support tickets. Identify the most popular issues and queries, and then create content around them. No doubt, the same questions your current customers have are right in line with what your prospective customers are searching for online.

 

Customer service team

Keyword research isn’t just where you start your SEO strategy — it’s an ongoing exercise to ensure you’re creating the most relevant content for your target audience. The right SEO terms are critical to attract the right prospects. And continuously casting new nets is the only way to sustain the traffic needed to drive conversions and ultimately revenue growth over time.

Looking to supercharge your SEO? Connect with Modus to learn how our in-house SEO & Content Team can help your B2B, B2C or D2C business grow through SEO.

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