Learn how to build a solid keyword strategy in 6 steps – expert tips, myths, and tools included. So, grab a pen and copy the strategy we use for our clients.

Content writing is a balancing act — writing for search engines to get found online, while also writing for people to answer questions, stay memorable, and guide next actions.

A strategic keyword strategy is the tightrope. We stand upon the taut wire, wavering between showing E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) to demonstrate credibility, targeting keyword intent to improve search rankings, and storytelling to grab attention and keep readers scrolling.

But, let’s be real — it’s more than plucking popular keywords out of an SEO tool or worse — blowing your paid budget targeting keywords you just know will work without the customer data to back it up.

At HawkSEM, we’re all about measurable marketing results, predictable revenue, and high ROI. Every approach is informed by data and places customers front and center.

The best keyword strategies revolve around your audience’s needs, questions, and voice.
Here’s how to build a keyword strategy that takes you across the tightrope with confidence.

What is a Good Keyword Strategy?

Keyword strategy is the process of targeting phrases and keywords used by your target audience to improve your content and rank higher in search engines.

It’s more than building a list of keywords — it’s about reaching relevant searchers and generating traffic and conversions to every content piece.

A good keyword strategy uses customer insights to target campaigns and content to their needs and match their search intent. It starts by analyzing the SERPs to see the types of questions, keyword phrases, competition, and content returned by related search queries on a particular topic.

This keyword research is later refined using tools, like ConversionIQ or SemRush, to learn how competitive different keywords are to rank for and how to optimize keyword strategies, content, and landing pages to be more relevant and compelling.

It’s led by instinct and ground in data – offering valuable information throughout the process of what customers’ are seeking and how to deliver the best content and campaigns to stand out from the competition.

Why Do You Need a Keyword Strategy?

Keyword strategy centers your content and campaign tactics around data; namely, your customers’ intent, questions, and goals.

It offers a glimpse into customers’ minds to deliver helpful information, answer questions, and guide deeper interactions with your business.

If your content doesn’t align with your customers’ searches, search engines like Google won’t serve your content to the right audience (if at all).

Why Search Intent is Key to a Successful Keyword Strategy

Google and other search engines’ key goal is to showcase web pages offering the best, most complete response to a search query.
Searchers are looking for something specific, and it’s Google’s job to deliver that best response.

It’s great at connecting the dots between what searchers want and the content that answers their questions, which is why Google dominates with over 378 million queries every hour. Google does this by consistently learning and improving its ability to understand content and searcher intent.

For example, Google recognizes that when a customer searches “Paw Patrol Movie times,” their intent is likely to:

  • Find movie showtimes
  • Find movies playing soon – today, tomorrow, and this week
  • Visit the movie theater closest to where they are
  • Watch the most recent Paw Patrol Movie, even though the searcher didn’t input the full movie name, “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie”


Understanding a searcher’s intent puts you in your audience’s shoes and identifies the right keywords, phrases, and content format to best match their inquiry.

Common search intent includes:

  • Informational: seeking information on a topic
  • Navigational: aiming to visit a specific website (known destination in mind)
  • Transactional: wanting to buy a product or service now (we love this one)
  • Commercial: researching a future purchase (big fan of this one too)

These different search intent types inform the type of webpage to guide searchers to (e.g., a product page, if it’s transactional intent) and the type of content to create (a video may best answer a search with informational intent).

“Our keyword strategy heavily emphasizes the importance of user intent. It’s similar, in my opinion, to figuring out what a customer genuinely wants when they enter a store,” explains DavidReid, Sales Director at VEM Tooling, one of the fastest-growing mold manufacturers in the world.

“We employ technologies to evaluate search trends and pay attention to the context to make sure the keywords we choose are relevant to what users are looking for. This aids in the development of offerings and content that are relevant to consumer needs.”

By understanding what Google thinks and what your audience wants, you can finetune your keyword choices, content format, content quality, and audience targeting to better position your website in search results.

6 Steps to Develop a Solid Keyword Strategy for SEO and PPC

At HawkSEM, we know there’s a proven path to increasing conversions, improving ROAS, and driving revenue – and determining the right path starts with our clients’ goals.

Similarly, any great keyword strategy needs to start with clear goals – who are you trying to reach and what are you trying to achieve?

Three goals of a solid keyword strategy:

  1. Find the right words people search for that match to your content focus
  2. Narrow down that list to the phrases that matter for your business, services, or products
  3. Finetune that list based on your ability to rank for those words and phrases, by understanding the competitive landscape

It is equal parts art, instinct, and science.

Remember, our keyword strategy is intended to make us more:

  • Efficient: by framing our content blueprint
  • Customer-centered: by understanding our audience’s true needs and questions
  • Successful: by unearthing phrases with higher amounts of traffic, so efforts aren’t wasted
  • Competitive: by revealing gaps and opportunities to better position content against competitors

Let’s break down how to develop a solid keyword strategy for SEO and paid campaigns.

  1. Define your goals
  2. Benchmark your current performance
  3. Analyze keywords and SERPs
  4. Use keyword research tools to measure value and prioritize your list
  5. Optimize the landing page and campaigns
  6. Masure performance and optimize your keyword strategy

Step 1: Define your goals

Every marketing strategy should cater to your business goals. Your business goals will inform who you’re writing to, what you’re writing about, and why.

For instance, your business goals and aligned strategy may look like this:

Goal: Improve first-page rankings.

Strategy: Target low-competition keywords to fill gaps and rise up rankings faster.

Goal: Increase conversions (downloads, demo requests, sales rep meetings, product purchases, etc.)

Strategy: Target transactional keywords with search intent indicating the person is in the consideration stage (or lower) in the sales funnel

Goal: Grow website traffic

Strategy: Target broad match keywords to cast the wides net and drive higher numbers of traffic to your audience (note: this audience may be irrelevant, so carefully watch ad spend and lead quality)

Goal: Reduce customer acquisition costs

Strategy: Target long-tail keywords for a more relevant audience and lower competition. Monitor performance to refine your list over time, adding irrelevant search terms as negative keywords.

Goal: Grow your email list

Strategy: Target keywords related to lead generation, like “learn how,” “download,” “case study,” “checklist,” “offer,” “free,” or “how to.” Make sure your landing page aligns with your keyword strategy to reduce friction and bounce rates and test webforms to properly capture email sign ups.

Goal: Increase purchases

Strategy: Target low competition, transactional keywords and make sure the ad links to a matching product detail page (PDP) or product category page to capitalize on product interest and urgency.

The list above is in no way the only strategies to achieve these keyword goals. Let the data be your tiebreaker – try different keyword strategies, monitor success, and optimize your campaigns ongoing.

Step 2: Benchmark your current performance

You can’t improve your content and campaign strategy without a clear view of current performance.

Audit existing content performance to benchmark where your marketing strategy is today, then build a plan to beat it.

To benchmark your performance:

  1. Review existing content: Categorize content themes and formats, and capture key metrics, like organic traffic and conversion rates, using a tool like Google Analytics. This will help you understand what’s working and prioritize what needs improving.
  2. Analyze keyword performance: What keywords are currently driving people to your website? Are you ranking in the top three (or 10) for any search terms? What is your clickthrough rate, cost-per-click (CPC), and how competitive are the keywords?
  3. Audit your technical SEO Does your website have technical issues, like slow page speed or a ton of 404 redirects? Prioritize quick win issues and build a backlog of areas to improve your overall website.

Once you’re done, set new targets and lay out an actionable plan for incremental improvement.

Return to this plan annually, quarterly, and monthly (if not weekly), to measure improvement and tailor your strategy.

Step 3: Analyze keywords and SERPs

Now, it’s time to analyze the SERPs and research keyword phrases to understand the combinations your audience uses.

Here are several ways to do this.

Review existing search results from your keywords and phrases

Input your keyword ideas and phrases into Google that you think your audience is searching for.

Focus on two areas: organic results and sponsored results. What you want to look at is whether the top results and ads have topics or themes similar to your content piece? If so, Google will likely rank your content for the same query. However, if your keyword returns all product-focused pages, when your article is a how-to guide, then your odds of ranking are zilch.

Once you find matches, check who the top-ranking sites are and how you can compete against them. What can you add to make your content better than theirs?

Also, build a keyword list with terms that don’t match your content’s intent — you’ll want to exclude them from paid ad targeting as well.

Review your competitors

Check whether your competitors show up in SERPs for your selected search queries. Review their content, asking yourself:

  • What combinations of keywords are they ranking for?
  • Are there variations of long or short tail keywords that may be worthwhile for you to go after?
  • Can you make your content more in-depth, engaging, or authoritative (think EEAT) by adding unique research or quotes from subject matter experts?
  • What is their search intent (informative, transactional, etc.) and is there a better choice? (E.g., the search intent is “red coats for women”, and the competitors’ content piece is a “Women’s Winter Wear Guide.” Take advantage of the transactional nature of this search by driving searchers to your more relevant red coats product category page or “5 Ways to Wear Red Winter Coats” article.)
  • What is the content format — article, ebook, infographic, video? Would a different format have a better chance of ranking?
  • Are they showing up in featured snippets?

Reverse engineer your competitors’ approach — refining the good, improving the bad. Dive deeper to answer customers’ questions, and beat out the competition.

When Moneta Group came to us to grow keyword reach for their website nationwide , we looked at their top competitors to find the best keyword gaps we could fulfill. These gaps, became the foundation of our content calendar.

By integrating our keywords strategies across competitor research, strategic keyword development, local SEO, backlink development, and ongoing content optimization, we increased Moneta’s relevant keyword portfolio by 326%.

Analyze People Also Ask to find additional keywords and improve your content

People Also Ask

Next, review the “People Also Ask” sections of the SERP at the top and bottom of the page.

Add these questions in your content as H2s and H3s or as part of a dedicated FAQ section.

“People Also Ask” is a direct view into your audience’s needs. Answering their questions in your article makes it more in depth and improves your odds of ranking higher.

Let Google autofill results to expand your list

Type keywords into Google and hit the spacebar to find new keywords. Google will present a drop-down menu of similar queries.

This expands your keyword list, shows variations of keyword intent, and makes your content pieces more comprehensive by answering additional, related questions.

Step 4: Use keyword research tools to measure value and prioritize your list

keyword research tools

The goal of our keyword strategy is to rely less on gut instinct and more on data, so your strategy is intentional and, hopefully, profitable. You’ll need keyword tools to quickly find the best search terms to target. But, what should we look at?

Here are the keyword metrics to consider:

  • Volume: How many people search for this keyword during the set timeframe?
  • Difficulty: How hard will it be to rank in Google’s top 10 search results?
  • Relevancy: How relevant is the keyword to your business?
  • Related keywords: What other words are searched related to this keyword?
  • Variations: What other phrases lead to your content?

Review these metrics holistically to inform your overall keyword strategy, but don’t obsess over any one datapoint. For example, you might see a phrase with low keyword difficulty and think, perfect! But, if other high authority websites are also targeting that keyword, you’re still unlikely to rank.

Let’s take a look at popular keyword tools (this list is not comprehensive).

8 popular keyword tools

ConversionIQ: Our proprietary software helps brands improve keyword strategy by delivering revenue-centered insights that matter, like optimizing and identifying keywords that are more likely to drive revenue — and which to avoid.

Semrush: Offers a suite of capabilities to improve keyword strategy, including competitor analysis, keyword difficulty, search volume metrics, content gap analysis, and website auditing for on-page and technical issues and opportunities. Free and paid plans are available.

Moz: Analyzes your domain and page authority, while diving into keyword recommendations, keyword ranking, and SERP analysis. Free plans are limited, but MOZ offers many paid options.

Ahrefs Keywords Explorer: Shows keyword difficulty and search volume, manages keyword lists, analyzes your backlink strategy, and monitors trends. Ahrefs is a paid tool, but offers a 7-day trial for $7.

Serpstat: Dives into keyword research and trends, streamline keyword clustering, analyze search intent and competitors, and audit your site using this paid tool (or limited free version)

Keyword Tool: The name says it all; Keyword Tool offers straightforward keyword research – long-tail keyword recommendations, Google autocomplete scraping, and competition benchmarking. Free plans offer limited results and paid plans unlock the full features.

Google Keyword Planner: Offers free insights with a Google Ads account. Marketers can apply keyword research and forecasting findings to paid and organic strategies.

Answer The Public: Explores questions asked and the numerous variations in phrasing, intent, and other contextual signals related to your keywords. Free and paid plans available, including a unique lifetime plan.

There are many other tools on the market, offering a solution for every challenge and budget. Find your favorite and get comfortable, before adding additional tools to supplement gaps in your keyword strategy.

Step 5: Optimize the landing page and campaigns

You’ve narrowed down your keyword list and optimized your content to inform your audience and the search algorithms. All done?

Not so fast. The overall quality of your landing page is just as important as the information, storytelling, and point-of-view in your content.

In fact, Google introduced Core Web Vitals in 2021 — a collection of user experience metrics evaluating everything from site speed, mobile optimization, site interactivity, and other factors, as part of ranking criteria.

Google’s message is clear: the overall webpage experience determines whether your content will rank higher than others covering the same topic.

But at the end of the day, we’re still writing for people, not search engines.And they’re sizing up your website to decide whether to read your content or move on to another site.

Overwhelmed? Not to worry – ConversionIQ, combined with our stellar marketing team, will take your performance to the next level by using data to predict the most profitable optimizations to your landing page and campaigns.

Step 6: Measure performance and optimize your keyword strategy

Even the best keyword strategies have room for improvement, especially since:

  • Customers’ needs, questions, and phrasing change over time
  • Search algorithm updates impact performance
  • You may find your content focus or format isn’t properly aligned with expected search intent

So, continuously measure the performance to find opportunities to finetune your keyword strategy and improve your content to better resonate with your audience.

3 Biggest Keyword Strategy Myths

Website optimization, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and SEO advice changes over time — what worked a decade ago, won’t work now.

Here are the three most common keyword strategy myths that hold back — and harm — your success.

Stuffing keywords/keyword density

Need we say it? Even before Google’s Helpful Content Update emphasized rewarding higher quality content, marketers knew stuffing dozens of keywords into increasingly robotic sentences is a recipe for disaster.

Pro tip: Avoiding keyword stuffing is easy, really. Write for humans — not algorithms — and incorporate keywords in natural and genuine ways.

Write an article you’d want to read. Focus on writing the most complete and helpful answer to any search query, then enhance it with proven SEO.

Obsessing over keyword matching

Once upon a time, matching keywords verbatim was the name of the game. Not anymore — Google gets smarter with each passing day and now infers search intent with relative ease.

For example, when you search for “deli”, you get local search listings — delis near you. But, when you search for “Chris Hemsworth”, Google shares information about his movies and career.

Google knows you’re way closer to eating that Italian sub and binge watching Thor, than you are to a personal relationship with Chris Hemsworth. But hey, shoot your shot.

Chris Hemsworth

Pro tip: It’s a lot easier to write great content when you’re done obsessing over keyword matching. Balance your desire to over-optimize your content, by spending that extra time really understanding search intent.

Review different variations of queries in the SERPs and use SEO tools to recognize the types of queries and search intent most relevant to the audience you’re targeting.

By doing the homework to see what your audience searches and needs, and what Google views is the best result for any query, you’ll feel confident varying your use of keywords and phrases, versus forcing a keyword match into an unnatural sentence placement.

Strictly prioritizing high-volume keywords

High-volume keywords are attractive, with the pay-off potential for higher traffic. But, they’re competitive, broad, and it’s difficult to dethrone the authoritative, big brand websites ranking at the top.

Whereas lower-volume, long-tail keywords (e.g., delis in south Georgia) see lower search volume, and have higher specificity and conversion rates. In other words, less, more targeted traffic who’s ready to act.

Pro tip: Kate Ross, PR and SEO Specialist at hair extension ecommerce business Irresistible Me, says it best, “You should target a mix of high-volume and long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords can help you target niche audiences, who are more likely to be interested in your products or services. They can also help you rank for high-volume keywords by covering related topics and subtopics.”

The takeaway

Content informed by a holistic keyword strategy has higher chances of ranking, getting traffic, and converting visitors into leads.

Follow the steps in our keyword strategy guide to learn your customers, identify top keywords, and deliver the most relevant content for their needs.

But, you don’t need to go at it alone.

Connect with HawkSEM’s optimization experts for a free consultation to cut through the noise and start driving reliable and repeatable ROI.

Aly Goulet

Aly Goulet

Aly Goulet is a B2B copywriter and content strategist with years of experience working with brands like Ford, Shutterstock, and Uber. Every story she works on is shaped by her background in the arts and career in data-driven marketing. (Plus, most importantly, drinking copious amounts of tea.)