Why It’s Time to Evolve Your Keyword Research Methods (And How to Get Started)

Mar 15 2023

The release of Google Panda in 2011 heralded a seismic shift in how the search engine indexes and ranks webpages — one that put users firmly at the forefront. And with each iteration since, Google’s algorithm has gotten better at interpreting user intent and elevating pages that give searchers what they’re looking for. 

That means in today’s world, improving your website’s SEO has little to do with mastering the machine. Simply identifying high-ranking keywords and peppering them throughout your site won’t cut it. 

Rather, you need to get into the heads of your audience and tailor your keyword research and overarching content strategy to meet their needs. Here’s how:

Ditch the Linear Approach to Keyword Research 

Keywords play a direct role in on-page SEO and impact other marketing efforts, including paid, email, and social campaigns. They’re foundational to a solid digital marketing program, and it’s important to know how to research them and use them effectively.

The conventional approach to keyword research looks like this:

  • Find the keyword with the largest estimated monthly search volume
  • Optimize a page for that keyword by including it in the metadata, headers, and content
  • Go back to the list and pick the next highest keyword
  • Optimize another page for that keyword using the same methodology
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

It’s ok to start here — but this methodology will only get you so far. Why? Keywords aren’t stand-alone entities. They’re clues that provide a glimpse of what your audience is interested in. 

Furthermore, Google’s algorithm knows how to identify keyword stuffing and prioritize content that’s useful for humans. So to get better results from your content strategy — and your marketing program as a whole — you need to connect the dots between keywords and user intentions. 

Ready to evolve your keyword strategy?  Access our Advanced Keyword Research Guide: 3 Steps to Improve SEO:

Advanced Keyword Research Guide: 3 Steps to Improve SEO

Adopt a Holistic, User-Centered Keyword Strategy 

Conventional keyword strategies focus rather myopically on attracting organic visitors to a particular webpage or piece of content. And yes, that’s important. But what happens when they land on that single page? Is your content strategy designed to lead them through the larger decision funnel?

Imagine a pig searching for a truffle. Its nose either leads it to dig deeper where it is or move on to new territory. In the same way, your users are rooting around for the answers to their questions. If you want to spark their interest and inspire them to discover more about what you have to offer, you have to thoughtfully lead them down the right path.

Develop Content Using Topic Clusters

Users who want to dig deeper into your site should find more than one article, resource, or web page devoted to the topics that interest them. Enter topic clusters. By connecting multiple pieces of content via a common thread, you can keep your audience engaged for longer periods of time. 

To identify topic clusters to create content around, look at the keywords that are ranking and reflect on the “why” behind their high search volume. 


  • What was this person thinking about when they conducted the search? 
  • What were they trying to do? 
  • Are there other things they might be looking for? 
  • What might they not be aware of yet and what do they need to know?
  • What benefits will they gain from visiting our site?
  • What do they need from us? 

Then, review your current content and ask:

  • How well are we answering our audience’s questions?
  • What are we missing, and how should we go about filling those gaps?
  • Which topics could be rounded out or built upon to keep users engaged? 
  • How can we create more interconnected content and resources that will meet users where they are?

Think about all the search terms that a person could possibly use to find your content. Then identify the keywords and topic clusters that will help you create content that resonates with your audience.

Power Your Keyword Strategy With The Right Research Tools  

Embracing a holistic approach to keyword research also means reaching for a variety of tools to do the tactical work. Free tools like Google Search Console will help you see the queries that lead visitors to your site. Search Console can also elevate issues that are preventing your pages from ranking as highly as you’d like.

But it’s also important to access additional tools in your toolbox, including

  • Qualitative research. The best way to get into your audience’s head is to talk directly to them. Ask users what they’re searching for in relation to your site. Give them a series of questions and see how they go about finding the answers. Pay attention to the phrases and keywords they use in their search.
  • Paid tools. Free tools can only go so far to give you the insights you need to develop a robust keyword strategy. Paid tools like Semrush and Moz provide hundreds (or even thousands) of keyword ideas to inform your topic clusters. And, of course, they offer keyword difficulty scores and other metrics to give you a realistic idea of how hard it would be to rank on page one.

Paid tools also:

  • Offer recommendations for ongoing keywords and optimization
  • Track competitor keyword ranking and analysis
  • Monitor overall search performance and backlinks

Remember, if you’re just getting started with keyword research, Google Search Console will give you a strong starting point on which to build. But when you’re ready to take your performance to the next level, you’ll eventually need to invest in more robust tactics and tools.

Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool that will give you a strong starting point for keyword research.

Make Keyword Research an Ongoing Priority

Making keyword research a thoughtful part of your overall marketing strategy will pay dividends. When we look at all of the analytics data we have access to we see one common thread:

Organic search traffic consistently outperforms all other acquisition channels.

Visitors that come from a search engine stay longer, view more content, interact with the

digital experience more, and take more of the actions deemed important. That’s why evolving your keyword strategy is such a smart and strategic move.

Like everything else related to your website, the most important thing is to commit to ongoing and continuous improvement. Your audience isn’t set in stone, and the keywords they use to search for information will constantly be changing.

At a minimum, plan to revisit your keywords and conduct new research on a quarterly basis. But if you have a lot of website traffic or if your business needs change rapidly? Keep keyword research at the top of your ongoing priority list.

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