8 SEO keyword research and targeting strategies to supercharge growth



Illustration of a web page with a magnifying glass and growth chart

From ChatGPT to barnacle SEO, there are several tools and methods for effectively growing your online search presence

While the future of search in the age of generative AI is up for debate, it's still 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.

Google search results for "how to start a small business" show other suggested search terms

A search for “how to start a small business” reveals other related search terms above 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, Angi, and HomeAdvisor to showcase your services there and build authoritative backlinks to your site.

Google search results for "best digital marketing agency in Brooklyn"

A search for “best digital agency in brooklyn” yields large, authoritative sites like Yelp, Clutch and Expertise.com in the top results.

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.

3. Find competitor keyword content gaps 

One of the most powerful approaches to ongoing SEO research and targeting is to figure out which terms your competitors rank for, but 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. 

Screenshot of Semrush's Competitive Analysis tool

Semrush's “Competitive Analysis” 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's suggested queries for a search about "how to hire a digital agency"

Suggested searches for “how to hire a digital agency” include “hiring a marketing agency vs in-house” and “how much does it cost to hire a marketing manager.”

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.”

Want to take your use of Google Search Console to the next level? See this keyword gap analysis tutorial from Moz that offers step-by-step instructions for using GSC and ChatGPT to identify keyword gaps on any web page. You can even ask the AI to suggest edits to further optimize your content.

Sample results from Google Search Console for queries for a page about omnichannel marketing

This “Queries” view in Google Search Console shows the top searches for a blog article page about omnichannel marketing.

6. Dive into Youtube, 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 as the ones that they’re typing into browser-based search. Read the threads and then create optimized content that answers similar questions on your website.

Quora results for a query about the value of weighted blankets

Quora results answer real questions people are asking, such as the example here about weighted blankets, and list related queries to continue expanding your keyword search.

7. Scour social media for SEO research

Both search and social are critical channels for brand discovery. 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, Linkedin, 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 and Linkedin 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.
  • Search for hashtags and trending topics on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, and then look at the related hashtags and topics for new ideas.
  • Pay attention to the suggested search on Pinterest.

Suggested searches related to "weighted blankets" on Pinterest

Suggested searches for “weighted blankets” on Pinterest include “DIY,” “crochet,” and “washing your” — 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? Go to the source. 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. AI-powered tools like ChatGPT have accelerated the amount of keyword research marketers can conduct, but as always with AI, you'll want human oversight to ensure accurate, bias-free deliverables.

Looking to supercharge your SEO? Connect with Modus to learn how our in-house SEO, integrated marketing, and content teams can help your B2B, B2C, or D2C business grow through SEO.

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