Keyword Strategy in SEO: What It Is & How to Create One

Rachel Handley

Oct 27, 202311 min read
Keyword Strategy

TABLE OF CONTENTS

What Is a Keyword Strategy?

A keyword strategy is a plan that defines the search engine queries you want to rank for, how you’ll try to rank for them, and in what order. Meaning it helps you prioritize keywords and target them effectively.

And it’s distinct from keyword research.

While keyword research provides the data you need, a keyword strategy gives data meaning and direction. To ensure that your optimization efforts align with your business’s goals and resources. 

For example, keyword research might tell you that “online accounting software” gets searched over 10 times more than “accounting software for contractors.”

But as part of your keyword strategy, you might decide to focus on the latter. Because it’s less competitive and more relevant to your audience.

How to Create a Keyword Strategy

Learning how to create a keyword strategy helps you maximize your SEO efforts. So you can boost search engine traffic and conversions.

Here are 10 tips for success:

1. Review Your Existing Rankings

By reviewing your existing keyword rankings, you can create performance benchmarks. And find opportunities to improve.

To get this data, sign into Google Search Console.

Go to “Performance” > “Search results.” And check all the boxes at the top.

Performance on search results section of Google Search Console

Scroll down to the “Queries” table to see the keywords you ranked for over the selected time range.

Along with the following data:

  • Clicks: The number of times users clicked your result
  • Impressions: The number of times your result was shown
  • CTR: The click-through rate (the percentage of impressions that generated clicks)
  • Position: Your average organic ranking over the selected time range (the lower, the better)
“Queries” table in Google Search Console

Click “Export” to save this data in a Google Sheets, Excel, or CSV file.

“Export” button drop-down menu

To quickly see which pages have the most potential for improvement, import your keywords and target pages to Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker.

The tool analyzes the target page and the top 10 results for each keyword. To provide tailored optimization ideas.

After setting up, scroll down to “TOP pages to optimize” to see pages with the most potential.

Then, click “# ideas” to see the recommendations.

“TOP pages to optimize” section with "Ideas" column highlighted

2. Consider Your Wider Marketing Goals

It’s important to remember your wider marketing goals as you create your keyword strategy. 

Why?

Unified marketing strategies tend to be more efficient and effective—especially on smaller teams. Because everything’s pulling in the same direction.

Let’s say you’re launching a vegan protein powder. 

Your plans already include sending an email newsletter, posting on social media, and sending out a press release. But make sure to target related keywords as well. By publishing an SEO-optimized landing page and related blog posts.

This can help ensure your launch has the biggest possible impact. Which will likely improve the campaign’s overall profitability. And help establish your brand as a topical authority.

Aligning keyword strategies with marketing goals also keeps brand messaging consistent.

For example, keyword research might tell you that “cheap watches” has high search demand. But targeting that keyword might conflict with your positioning as a luxury brand.

So, it’s crucial to make your keyword decisions based on what’s most relevant to your brand. And not get preoccupied with keyword research alone.

Tip: If you haven’t already, create buyer personas and define your brand identity. This will help you recognize keywords with the most business potential.

3. Identify Keyword Opportunities

Keyword opportunities are relevant keywords you don’t rank for yet. And filling these gaps can help you reach and eventually convert members of your target audiences.

You can use many keyword research methods to find keyword ideas. But one of the easiest ways is with Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool.

Enter your domain and up to four competitors’ domains. (The tool provides suggestions to help.)

Then, choose your country and click “Compare.”

Keyword Gap tool

Scroll down and select “Missing” to see keywords that all rivals rank for but you don’t. 

Or click “Untapped” to see keywords that at least one competitor ranks for but you don’t.

“Untapped” keywords table in Keyword Gap tool

Alternatively, use Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

Simply enter a seed keyword to base your search around. Then, choose your country and click “Search.”

"specialty coffee" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

Click the “Broad Match” tab to see results containing your starting keyword or a close variation.

"Broad Match" results table for "specialty coffee"

You’ll learn how to identify the best keywords for your SEO keyword strategy later in this guide.

4. Understand Search Volume

Search volume is the average number of monthly searches for a keyword in a given location. So, it gives you an idea of your potential reach.

For example, “paper filters for coffee” has a search volume of 880 in the U.S., according to Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool.

Keyword Overview dashboard for "paper filters for coffee" keyword

But it’s important to remember that you’ll likely discover similar search terms during your research. And you can combine multiple keywords within a single piece of content. 

To get a fuller understanding of search demand for a topic, create keyword clusters—groups of similar keywords that share the same search intent. And calculate their collective volume.

Semrush’s Keyword Manager can do the hard work for you.

Click “Create list” to get started.

Keyword Manager tool

Enter up to five seed keywords and choose your database.

Then, enter your domain and click “Create list.”

"Creating clustered list" window in Keyword Manager

The tool will collect and cluster relevant keywords. And show you the combined volume.

Now, you can evaluate and compare search opportunities more accurately. Because we’re not just focusing on one keyword.

"Clusters" table in Keyword Manager showing results for for "coffee"

Click any arrow to see the keyword cluster breakdown.

Keyword cluster breakdown for "paper filters for coffee" cluster

Note: Beware of getting too focused on search volume. As we explain throughout this keyword strategy guide, many other factors affect a keyword’s potential.

5. Consider the Search Landscape

The search landscape refers to the search engine results page (SERP) composition for a keyword. 

It determines what opportunities there are to rank. And how likely users are to see and click each result.

In the example below, the first organic result appears right at the top. And there are no ads.

Organic search result on Google SERP for "morning coffee routine"

This suggests that a high organic ranking could drive a lot of clicks.

In the next example, the top organic result appears below an ad and map pack (this is a type of specialized result called a SERP feature). 

Google SERP for "office supplies" with paid search result first, followed by "Places" feature and organic search results

This means organic results could get lower CTRs. So, you might be better off optimizing for prominent SERP features. Or pursuing another keyword instead.

To understand the SERP for a keyword, pay attention to these columns in Keyword Magic Tool:

  • Com.: Competitive Density—a measure of Google Ads competition on a scale from 0 to 1. The higher the score, the greater the number of competing advertisers and the harder it would be to stand out in search results. 
  • SF: The number of SERP features that appear within the top 100 results. Click the number to see which SERP features appear.
  • Results: How many URLs showed in search results for the keyword. Click the icon to view the analyzed SERP for yourself.
"Com." "SF" and "Results" columns highlighted in Keyword Magic tool's results for "specialty coffee"

Alternatively, scroll down to the “SERP Analysis” section in Keyword Overview. This shows where all the SERP features appear.

Click “View SERP” to take a look at the results in full.

"View SERP" button highlighted in the “SERP Analysis” section

Search landscapes are liable to change. But these snapshots should help you identify search results that’ll get the most clicks. So you can optimize your keyword strategy accordingly.

6. Evaluate Keyword Intent

Keyword intent (or search intent) is the purpose behind a user’s search.

Understanding intent is one of the most important parts of determining which keywords to focus on and how. Because if you don’t satisfy search intent, you’re unlikely to rank.

For example, you’d struggle to rank high for “nintendo switch” with a blog post. Because the SERP is dominated by product listing ads and product pages:

SERP for "nintendo switch" is dominated by product listing ads and product pages results

Intent can also tell you where the user is in the marketing funnel. And how likely they are to convert.

An infographic showing marketing funnel, with "ToFu" "MoFu" and "BoFu" sections explained

For example, someone who searches “nintendo switch games” is more likely to make an immediate purchase than someone who searches “upcoming nintendo switch games.” So, the first keyword might deliver more value upfront.

But you also need to attract audiences at the top of the funnel and nurture prospects in the middle to ensure a constant stream of sales.

In Semrush’s keyword research tools, you can see the type of search intent at a glance:

  • Informational (I): Searchers want to find information
  • Navigational (N): Searchers want to find a specific site or page
  • Commercial (C): Searchers want to investigate brands, products, or services
  • Transactional (T): Searchers want to complete an action (e.g., make a purchase)
"Intent" column highlighted in Keyword Magic tool's results for "nintendo switch"

If you’re looking to plug particular gaps in your funnel, filter by search intent.

Like this:

"Intent" drop-down menu with "Informational," "Navigational," "Commercial" and "Transactional" options

Then, assess the competition for a better understanding of what searchers want.

7. Assess the Competition

Before you pursue a keyword, see what competition you’re up against.

Semrush provides a keyword difficulty score (KD %) to help you measure SERP competitiveness. 

The higher the score out of 100, the harder it will be to rank organically on Google’s first page. So, you might want to prioritize at least some keywords with lower scores.

Keyword difficulty filter and keyword difficulty column highlighted in Keyword Magic tool

For an even better understanding of your ranking potential, perform a SERP analysis

In other words, take a look at the top-ranking pages to see how they measure in terms of relevance, quality, and usability (all important Google ranking factors).

Generally, it’s difficult to outrank pages that:

  • Have a high Authority Score (AS)—a score out of 100 that measures the overall quality of a webpage or domain
  • Satisfy search intent with well-written and well-presented content
  • Are secure, fast, and mobile-friendly
  • Demonstrate strong Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T)—especially when it comes to Your Money or Your Life topics like health and finance
  • Have a high number of backlinks from authoritative domains
  • Come from sites with a high amount of topical authority (e.g., Lonely Planet in the travel space)

In the “SERP Analysis” section of Keyword Overview, you can collect key data about top-ranking pages. And click through to view the content for yourself.

For example, it’s extremely hard to rank in the top spot for “endocrinologist” (which has a keyword difficulty score of 100%).

Why?

The page currently ranking in that spot has a high amount of authority and links.

“SERP Analysis” section of Keyword Overview, showing results for “endocrinologist”

The content is comprehensive. And it’s been medically reviewed by a doctor.

WebMD's article on "What is an endocrinologist?", reviewed by a doctor

Plus, the WebMD domain has a high amount of topical authority in the medical field.

In cases like these, you might be better off pursuing a less competitive keyword.

8. Take Stock of Your Resources

To build an effective keyword strategy, you must know what resources are at your disposal.

This includes:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Skills
  • Knowledge
  • Tools 

For example, you’ll struggle to rank for “how to play pickleball video” if you don’t have the skills and tools required to make a video. Or the budget to hire a professional.

It’s also helpful to take stock of your existing assets, such as:

  • Blog posts
  • Ebooks
  • Videos
  • Testimonials and case studies
  • Proprietary data
  • Images

It’s likely that many of these assets have untapped potential. So, leveraging them effectively could help you achieve keyword goals more quickly and easily.

For example, if you already have an infographic about “pickleball court dimensions,” it might make sense to pursue this keyword before one that requires brand-new content.

9. Plan and Prioritize Your Content

Once you know which keywords to target, decide where and how to target them.

We recommend creating a keyword map that matches each target keyword (or keyword cluster) with a target URL. 

Like this:

Semrush's keyword map example

In the document, note whether each page needs to be improved or created. 

And decide on a priority order for each task.

For example, you might focus on improving key landing pages. Before creating blog posts that target untapped keywords.

To get content recommendations, enter your keywords into Semrush’s SEO Content Template tool.

SEO Content Template tool

You’ll see a suggested word count, readability score, and more.

"Key recommendations (based on your Google top 10 rivals)" section of SEO Content Template results

10. Track Your Results and Keep Adapting

Whatever goals you’re working toward, it’s important to track your progress.

Measuring SEO metrics lets you know what’s working and what isn’t. So you can adapt your keyword strategy accordingly.

With Semrush’s Position Tracking tool, you can see where you rank for your target keywords. And get alerts about important changes.

Just click on the bell icon after setting up your project. And set the desired trigger(s).

"Set up alerts to immediately react upon changes in your campaign" pop-up window in Position Tracking tool

Go to the “Overview” tab and scroll down to the “Rankings Overview” to see rankings for target keywords. And see at a glance whether you rank in any SERP features.

“Rankings Overview” table

To see SERP features you’re missing out on, use the filter at the top.

"SERP Features" filter drop-down menu

Position Tracking also allows you to check performance by page, group keywords using tags, create PDF reports, and more.

"Pages," "Tags" "PDF" buttons highlighted in the Position Tracking tool

For an overview of your top landing pages, use Organic Traffic Insights.

The tool compiles useful data from Semrush, Google Search Console, and Google Analytics.

"Landing Pages" report in Organic Traffic Insights

Pulling Everything Together

Here’s a quick summary of the questions you should ask yourself when creating a keyword strategy:

  • How are my existing rankings?
  • What’s the potential reach of each keyword?
  • Where can I expect to rank? 
  • What resources are required?
  • What kind of click-through rates can I expect?
  • What value will the traffic provide?

Once you’ve built an SEO keyword strategy, you’re ready to start targeting your highest-priority keywords.

That means creating quality content. And using keyword optimization techniques.

If you need help, enter your keywords into Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant

The tool evaluates your writing in real time and provides SEO, tone of voice, and readability recommendations based on your top 10 rivals. And comes with AI copywriting tools.

SEO Writing Assistant recommendations and scores highlighted
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Rachel has over 11 years of content writing experience. She built her SEO knowledge at digital marketing agencies before working as a content strategist for an AI startup. At Semrush, she performs in-depth research and collaborates with our talented team to give fellow marketers advice they can trust.
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