Last year, when spend on traditional media declined by as much as 46%, digital channels, including paid search and social media, saw big increases. Paid search spend increased by 25%, as illustrated by the following IAB graph.


source: IAB media buyers survey


And it’s not just paid search. Businesses spent nearly $50 billion on SEO services and products in 2020. This number is expected to grow by 10% over the next three years. At the same time, marketing budgets are being cut for other tactics (particularly on the non-digital side of things).

This means your search strategy must pull even more weight, generating not only sustainable traffic, but qualified leads and sales. The best way to achieve these goals is to ensure you’re targeting the right keywords.

The value of keyword research

Simply put, keyword research is the process of identifying the keywords you want to target for organic search engine optimization or paid search ad campaigns (or both). Businesses perform keyword research using competitive tools like SEM Rush, Spyfu, and Moz. Google has a built-in keyword research tool, the Keyword Planner, which is free for advertisers. Keyword research tools help you understand keyword search volume, competitiveness, and provide cost estimates for paid campaigns. These are helpful metrics to know when planning your search strategy, but they are only part of the larger picture of keyword strategy.

The starting point for your keyword research should begin with your customers. What problem are your customers experiencing that your product or service can solve? What questions are they asking your customer service and sales teams? What are they saying on social media, online forums, and other public spaces that are relevant to your business?

Talking to your customers and listening to what they have to say is an excellent way to build the foundational language you’ll use to create a comprehensive keyword strategy. This includes your keyword list, but it also includes topics, categories, and issues that you plan to address on your website. Once you have your preliminary list, you can plug the keywords into a tool like SEMRush or Keyword Planner to get specifics on volume.

Another powerful keyword research tool is Google Search Console, a free tool from Google that measures your website’s search traffic. Per Google, Search Console enables you to, “See which queries bring users to your site. Analyze your site’s impressions, clicks, and position on Google Search.” Search Console helps you understand how Google “sees” your website so you can make changes to ensure the keywords you’re targeting are visible to Google.

Your keyword strategy should include more than keywords

Google’s algorithm uses more than 200 factors to rank websites. Page speed, mobile-friendliness, domain age, user interaction, and much more influence what ranks at the top of the organic search results. An effective keyword strategy starts with a comprehensive list of keywords and topics, but it also considers Google’s other ranking factors, especially something called RankBrain.

RankBrain is an AI algorithm that Google launched in 2015. It uses machine learning to better understand the meaning behind search queries, just like a person would. RankBrain is Google’s attempt at understanding the intent behind a search query using more than just the keywords in the query.

RankBrain observes user behavior like click-through rate (CTR) and bounce rate, then automatically tweaks the search algorithm to improve results. This is important because it means that you don’t have to target exact keywords or phrases to reach your audience. RankBrain is smart enough to figure out that a user’s search query matches the content of your website based on context. Google does this by matching new (never seen) queries with terms already in its database.

Zero-click searches, voice queries, and featured snippets

Your keyword strategy should factor in a few recent search marketing trends that are, quite frankly, game changers.

Let’s start with zero-click searches. More than half the searches on Google do not result in a single click—that’s roughly 175 billion searches per month. Google’s rich search results (SERPs) are the reason for this. Rich results attempt to answer a searcher’s question from within the search results page. For example:

  • Google business listings provide business contact information, directions, hours, services, and reviews—all from the SERPs page.

Ashworth Creative’s Business Listing in Google


  • People also ask reveals results that provide answers to queries and related questions that users can scroll through without having to click through to the source.

A list of questions that appear for the search “How to bake an apple pie”


Since the details of your business are present as a business listing in the search results, part of your keyword strategy should be to update your Google business listing and include relevant keywords when describing your business and services.

Also consider the questions that Google lists in the “People also ask” section. These keyword phrases come from actual user queries. You can target these phrases with a blog post or landing page designed to answer specific questions.

Featured snippets are listed at the top of the SERPs just beneath the search bar (also referred to as “position zero”). Google pulls content from your website to populate the featured snippet box, so the best way to optimize for featured snippets is to be as specific as possible and answer a question. Outlining the answer using numbered steps is a great approach for this. Here’s an example of a featured snippet that appears for the query, “How to wash a dog.”



Voice search is another trend that impacts search strategy. Roughly 30% of the global population uses voice search on their mobile phones. Voice search queries tend to be longer and more specific than typed queries and they also convert better since voice search queries come from people typically further along the purchase funnel.

Better leads, more sales, and less waste

Keyword research is the foundation of your search marketing strategy, but it’s also the cornerstone of your content marketing approach. From structured snippets to zero-click searches to voice search, your keyword research approach must incorporate the latest search trends and behaviors to ensure you reach the most targeted audience.

Keyword research also helps you understand the competitiveness of the keywords you’re targeting. This will be increasingly important as businesses pivot from offline to digital channels.

Taking the time to understand the keywords, phrases, and conversational themes your customers are using will ensure that the time you spend on SEO (and the money you spend on PPC) effectively drive traffic, leads, and sales.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you create a comprehensive search marketing strategy that focuses on targeting the most relevant keywords for your business.