Key­word research is one of the most talked about top­ics in SEO. It has such a major impact on what you’re try­ing to rank for that it may seem over­whelm­ing at times.

This arti­cle won’t walk through the entire tedious process of key­word research. That is here.

What this arti­cle will show you is how to align your goals with your key­word research. The results are amaz­ing.

The mind­set shift is worth it. Your project and site will nev­er be the same if you “get it.”

What Does Keyword Research Do?

Let’s face it. If you tar­get the wrong key­words, you’re going to miss your audi­ence com­plete­ly. If you go with super long-tail key­words, you may miss out on traf­fic. If you tar­get com­pet­i­tive key­words, you’re nev­er going to rank.

Where and how do you put all this togeth­er for the best of the best? How do you align your key­word research with your rev­enue goals?

Key­word research should answer the ques­tion, “What does my audi­ence want to know about?” That is the big key — get­ting in the mind of your audi­ence.

Back­linko always pub­lish­es amaz­ing guides on SEO. When you look through an in-depth guide, you always know there are small pieces that are miss­ing — the mind­set or piv­otal pieces. That is what you will find in this process.

Step 1: Understand That There Are 3 Major Types of Keywords

It’s impor­tant to under­stand that there are three major types of key­words that belong to dif­fer­ent stages of the fun­nel. The ques­tion or phrase of the key­word shows how far in your sales fun­nel the prospect should land.

Here are the three major types of key­words:

  • Top-of-fun­nel key­words are infor­ma­tion­al (i.e. best way to, step by step, how to, guide to).
  • Mid­dle-of-fun­nel key­words are solu­tion seek­ing (i.e. that actu­al­ly works, how to stop, ways to avoid, ways to fix).
  • Bot­tom-of-fun­nel key­words focus on high buy­er intent (i.e. com­pare prices, afford­able, best, order, where can I buy).

Top-of-fun­nel key­words are infor­ma­tion­al in nature while bot­tom-of-fun­nel key­words are trans­ac­tion­al in nature. This is the biggest sep­a­ra­tion between your list of key­words.

Iden­ti­fy which key­words you’re tar­get­ing. Find your tar­get key­words for top, mid­dle, and bot­tom of fun­nel key­words. Make any on-page SEO changes need­ed to tar­get these words. The num­ber of key­words depends on the size of the site and bud­get.

Step 2: Decide What Type of Keywords to Focus On

Every busi­ness should do key­word research based on their goals.

Are you focus­ing on build­ing a long-term con­nec­tion with your audi­ence? Or are you tar­get­ing an audi­ence that’s ready to buy and sim­ply com­par­ing prod­ucts?

If you’re plan­ning a big project that is a long-term audi­ence build, it would be best to tar­get top-of-fun­nel and mid­dle-of-fun­nel key­words. But if you’re build­ing an SEO cam­paign for an e‑commerce site, it would be bet­ter to tar­get bot­tom-of-fun­nel key­words.

Also, shoe­string bud­get SEO will have a dif­fer­ent path com­pared to larg­er sites. This is why there is so much talk around key­words. There is a dif­fer­ence in every project — their needs, goals, and who they need to tar­get.

Cre­ate a mind map for your key­words, no mat­ter what type of key­words you decide to focus on. This will allow you to fol­low your prospects’ trail through your site.

You want top-of-fun­nel key­words and pages to lead prospects to the next step of the fun­nel — mid­dle-of-fun­nel pages. And after prospects land on this stage, you want your con­tent to move them to the “buy­ing stage” or the bot­tom of your fun­nel.

Map out the key­words and com­pare the con­tent you have to the con­tent you need. Look at the con­tent that already ranks on page one of Google for each key­word.

Step 3: “Hack” the Process by Setting Goals

Doing key­word research involves spread­sheets and tons of data. This process bores me to no end, but it’s super impor­tant. So yeah, we can’t skip this part.

I like to “hack” this process for my clients. I pre­fer to set goals. I take the main goal of the project and cast a vision.

We want to rank. Why?

We want organ­ic traf­fic. Again, why?

This all leads to an impor­tant piece of infor­ma­tion. The site has a pur­pose. Duh, right? The goals are what we will dive into.

Goals define the con­tent and why we’re even doing key­word research. But your site’s pur­pose clar­i­fies what mat­ters most about the site.

Let me share with you a great exam­ple of “hack­ing” the process by set­ting goals.

If you’re in SEO, you must know Neil Patel. He pre­vi­ous­ly wrote about how he built a 7‑figure SEO agency. How exact­ly did he grow his SEO agency? Refer­rals? Not exact­ly. Blog­ging, speak­ing at con­fer­ences, and help­ing out blog­gers draw cus­tomers in.

But how was he able to con­vince a lot of busi­ness own­ers that they need to hire him to work on their SEO?

He focused on their goals. He didn’t sell SEO, he sold the results they would get if they hire him.

He start­ed out by say­ing that he could improve their SEO rank­ings for each key­word, which would dri­ve x num­ber of vis­i­tors a month to their site. Then, he talked about con­ver­sion rates. Final­ly, he empha­sized how much more mon­ey he could make them every sin­gle month if they decide to hire him.

That, my friends, is why it’s impor­tant to set goals. While I don’t do every­thing the same way Neil does, I do love his idea about cast­ing a vision and relat­ing it to rev­enue. It all boils down to how much mon­ey you can make by sim­ply rank­ing high­er or increas­ing organ­ic traf­fic.

Set and know your traf­fic, con­ver­sion, and rev­enue goals. Focus on them. This will give you a clear­er vision of what you’re sup­posed to do.

Set goals based on the rev­enue and traf­fic count you are cur­rent­ly at. Then set a pace at which you plan to improve.

Step 4: Find the Competition

When­ev­er I start work­ing with a new client, I always find their com­pe­ti­tion. With­in just a few min­utes, I can find com­pa­nies in Google that are way ahead of where we cur­rent­ly are. I set them as com­peti­tors and goals. I want to become like them in x num­ber of years or months.

I find the five-year goal. I then find sites that are two years ahead of our site. I find sites all the way back to six months ahead of us.

My nor­mal goal pat­tern looks some­thing like this:

  1. Five Years Ahead: 2 mil­lion Search Traf­fic
  2. Two Years Ahead: 500,000 Search Traf­fic
  3. One Year Ahead: 100,000 Search Traf­fic
  4. Six Months Ahead: 40,000 Search Traf­fic

It depends on where you’re start­ing. If you’re start­ing from scratch, you may have to find small­er sites to tar­get first. There are a ton of great tools for doing this research.

Find sites in your mar­ket and make a list. Go through that list using tools like SEM­rush. Find the web­sites’ traf­fic and note it. Put the list in sequen­tial traf­fic order.

Step 5: Reverse Engineer an SEO Strategy

Now that you’ve iden­ti­fied your “goal” sites and know who they are as com­peti­tors, it’s time to dive into their links. It’s amaz­ing how much in-depth research you can do and this will help you iden­ti­fy what’s work­ing.

Here’s how you can growth hack your SEO:

Discover How Increases in Traffic Related to Their Site Changes

I do this by

  • Tak­ing apart their URL struc­tures.
  • Look­ing in the Way­back Machine.
  • Look­ing at their traf­fic pat­terns.
  • Find­ing a cor­re­la­tion with increas­es in traf­fic and site changes.

This is a great way to not make the same mis­takes that your com­pe­ti­tion made ear­ly on.

Find the Keywords That Are Giving Them the Biggest Spikes in Traffic

How are the links to pages being done? I find out by:

  • Look­ing through their link and anchor text pro­files.
  • Find­ing the key­words that are giv­ing them the biggest spikes in traf­fic.
  • Look­ing at the type of con­tent dri­ving that traf­fic.

Key­words and back­links are fruit from the same tree. Links help dri­ve your key­word rank­ings. It only makes sense that your com­pe­ti­tion has anchor text that will help you dis­cern which key­words mat­ter the most to them.

Track Influencers They’ve Used in the Past

I take apart their press releas­es and major media. How did they get that fea­ture? Who was the author? I add all of this to a list of peo­ple to start influ­encer out­reach. This pays off lat­er.

Once I am done “pro­fil­ing” the com­peti­tors, I now have an obvi­ous plan in front of me. Take the num­ber of links, con­tent, and struc­ture of the competition’s site and mod­el it.

Take all of this data and form a plan.

Take the num­bers your com­peti­tors have now and the rate at which they are gain­ing links. Cre­ate a pro­file of where they will be in six months to one year, break down a strat­e­gy to pass them, and add 10 per­cent in case you missed some­thing.

This is also a great strat­e­gy to get the most effec­tive key­words in your indus­try. You’ll also come up with a plan to use along with these key­words. If you pull this off cor­rect­ly, you can out­rank any site out there. You just have to plan and have great con­tent.

Step 6: Putting It All Together for Ranking Magic

Now that you have your first com­peti­tor in your crosshair, it’s time to do some SEO.

Set up the URL struc­ture to match or beat your first com­peti­tor. You can start writ­ing con­tent with your cho­sen key­words (and maybe do some link acqui­si­tion) to best them.

I know most large sites pro­duce con­tent real­ly fast (and accu­mu­late links just as fast!) but it isn’t impos­si­ble to beat them. With basic math, you can see what it will take to beat them in six months.

Now put your plan into action and break it down into con­tent and projects. Have enough con­tent and link acqui­si­tion hap­pen­ing that you are on goal.

Sit down month­ly and make sure you’re pro­gress­ing towards the end goals. Realign any lost ini­tia­tives and look for strate­gies to pass your com­pe­ti­tion faster.

Why Does This Process Work?

This process works bet­ter than just doing key­word research and com­ing up with con­tent every sin­gle day. The coolest part of the whole process is that my clients trust me because of this process. They can see why we’re going to hit their goals. I can offer rev­enue share as a down-the-road option for ser­vices.

Hope­ful­ly you found this post infor­ma­tion­al. And hope­ful­ly this process will help you rank high­er and even beat your high-rank­ing com­peti­tors.