How to Use Keyword Research at Every Stage of the Sales Funnel

Content Marketing, Search Engine Optimization

Part 1: The Basics & Some Background

Why do keyword research?

There are billions of internet users, and hundreds of millions of active websites. In order for Google to serve me up the best results, I need to be specific with my intent. For example, if I need a shoe store nearby (shoes seem to always be my go-to example) I can’t just search “shoe store.” I need to search something more like, “Portland shoe store near me.”

Your agency’s job is to help you determine what YOUR users are looking for, how they’re looking for it, and how to show them you’re the answer to all their wildest dreams. We NEVER know our clients’ businesses better than they do, and it’s our job to help them understand their users on a deeper level.

We always start our PPC or SEO partnership with an in-depth round of keyword research, driven by thorough research and discovery. The strategy, method, execution, and application of keyword research have all evolved over the last decade-and-a-half, but it’s still a crucial element to digital marketing.

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How has keyword research changed?

Good agencies  definitely don’t cram or stuff keywords anymore. I’m amazed this still happens, and even more amazed that it ranks high enough in Google for me to even find it – Google’s algorithm updates have mostly shuffled these websites to the bottom of the pile. Google also used to give us a LOT more information on how users were searching; the upside is it forced SEOs to start using a whole suite of different tools to do our research, which makes the results much more nuanced.

A few of the biggest shifts Google made were toward user intent (think Hummingbird, Pigeon, even MobileGeddon) and it made a big impact on how we do keyword research. A major benefit for us is that we’re thinking more about our customer or client’s needs and how we can help meet them. We’re thinking about customer personas, answering their questions directly with targeted content and landing pages, and carefully considering long-tail search terms (see below).

This WordStream post popped up in my research and I wanted to share for fun, even though it’s a bit more broad: “The History of Search Engines.

Good keyword research creates a roadmap for your digital strategy

Once we’ve nailed down the most important keywords for each section of the site (products, services, etc.) then we can begin writing content for those sections based on each stage of the purchase funnel.

Keywords and intent help us prioritize our work as well – the top priority is the conversion-oriented content for your most important product or service. For example, if your bike shop’s bread and butter is bicycle repair, then before we start writing fun blog posts on DIY bicycle maintenance we need to make sure there’s a page on your website specifically for repair, probably in the top-level navigation, with calls to action like “schedule a repair appointment with us.” More on prioritizing later!

I said I would talk about long-tail search terms, so here goes. In short, long-tail searches are 3-5-word phrases that are specific and targeted to what your business/website offers. They are often used later in the purchase process, yielding fewer but more qualified user leads. Content written for long-tail keywords is more natural and relevant. Mining for these search phrases requires a bit more patience and creativity, and there’s a seemingly endless number of great articles out there on it already. I really enjoyed this one from BackLinko, aptly titled, “How to Find Long Tail Keywords.”

Here’s an example – last week I started  searching for “cowboy boots women” and got a lot of different online stores. I started to get a better idea of what I wanted, and  couple days after that initial research, I did a search for “brown ankle cowboy boots women.” The search results were links to specific product purchase pages, and I bought some that day, in case you were wondering. You probably weren’t.

Part 2: Strategy, Priority, & What to Write

So your agency made a big fancy spreadsheet. Now what?

At Intuitive Digital, we compile our keyword research in a Google sheet and we organize it by category, topic, page, etc. It varies depending on the size and scope of the website. The sheet lets us identify priorities, then do a thorough audit of the website’s current content: what’s missing, what’s thin, what’s off-target. Now that we know what we have and what we need, we can make a plan.

Prioritizing my content with keyword research – where do I start? (the big section)

Like I said earlier, always start with conversion-oriented content for your most important product or service. Without that pinned down, there’s not much point in driving a bunch of users to the site. Once that’s in place, move to the second most important product, then the third, then the fourth. Once conversion content is in place for ALL important products and services, you can move to the next phase.

The purchase funnel is the easiest way for me to think about prioritization: establish the funnel for your business, and work your way up from the bottom. The purchase funnel is also referred to as the sales cycle, the buy cycle, the customer journey, the purchase process, etc. There are endless articles written about the cycle/funnel/journey, and if you need some background, Conversion Funnel 101 from BigCommerce has some great info.  The conversion cycle applies to every business out there from ecommerce to educational institutions. If you’re not sure what your business’s cycle looks like, we can help you map it out.

Many blogs I’ve read separate content out into three categories: informational, navigational, and transactional; I actually think there are 5, and my list would include retention and advocacy because it’s not actually a funnel but a cycle, and the last two push buyers back up to the the funnel after their first purchase.  Here’s an example of a basic user purchase funnel/cycle, and the order in which to tackle your content needs:

Putting the cycle stages in order of priority for content:

Content Cycle Phase: Transactional

Also known as conversion or purchase phase. They’ve decided to convert/purchase, but they haven’t necessarily decided on YOU or your brand. The user knows they want to solve their problem and they know how, they just need you to give them that final nudge.  Searches at this stage might look like this:

  • Buy
  • Coupon
  • Discount
  • Deal
  • Shipping
  • Consultation
  • Free consultation
  • Subscribe
  • Apply

Content ideas for this stage: final nudge, call-to-action:

  • Case studies
  • Infographics
  • Product literature
  • Free demos
  • Coupons
  • Free trial offers
  • Testimonials
  • Reviews

Content Cycle Phase: Navigational

Also known as the consideration, or research, or evaluation phase, or some combo of those – the user is researching, comparing, and exploring options and brands. They’re usually being much more specific when it comes to services, product categories, and brand names, and they’re closer, but not quite ready to buy.  Navigational searches might look like this:

  • Comparisons between
  • Compare this to that
  • Top 10
  • Reviews for
  • Best brand of
  • Specific product names
  • Specific brand names
  • Affordable brands

Content ideas for this stage -nurturing, building trust, educating, establishing credibility:

  • Industry news
  • Thought leadership
  • How-to’s
  • Coupons
  • Free trials
  • Webinars
  • Testimonials
  • Reviews

Content Cycle Phase: Informational

Also known as awareness and discovery, these are searches performed to learn something or answer questions. The user has identified a problem/need/challenge/opportunity, and they are looking for potential solutions. They aren’t ready to buy yet, but if you answer their questions and provide them with value, they’ll remember you when they’re getting ready to make a decision. Informational content often looks or starts like this:

  • How do I
  • How to
  • What’s the best way to
  • Ideas for
  • Ways to
  • I need to

Content ideas for this stage – answers, opinions, education, data, insight:

  • White papers
  • Ebooks
  • Tip sheets
  • Checklists
  • How-to videos
  • Educational
  • Industry curating

Bonus Content Cycle Phase: Loyalty & Retention

The user has purchased or converted, and at this stage they’ll test the product or service and decide whether or not to purchase or convert a second time.  CTA is to provide feedback and to convert again.

Content ideas for this stage – fostering loyalty, educating, building the relationship, entertaining them, and giving them a reason to stay:

  • How-to guides
  • Trouble-shooting and FAQs
  • Lifestyle & personal interest articles
  • Surveys
  • Demo videos & training
  • Loyalty program
  • Specialty coupon codes/freebies/giveaways
  • Requesting feedback

Bonus Content Cycle Phase: Advocacy & Evangelism

The user has purchased more than once, they love the product, and they want to share their experience with others. CTA is to engage with brand, share experience, and convert again.

Content ideas for this stage – delighting, galvanizing, informing:

  • Surveys
  • Affiliate programs & referral incentives
  • Contests
  • Education
  • Community news
  • Lifestyle & personal interest
  • User-generated content
  • Forums

Hopefully you have an idea of where to start. If not, shoot me an email at [email protected] – I’m happy to help or just talk shop. If you’re looking for some keyword research and content expertise, Intuitive Digital is here to help. We love this stuff!

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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