SEO Keyword Research Should Start at the Top of the Funnel

While there are many debates within the realm of SEO over what strategy is most effective to grow SEO traffic, the one thing everyone can agree on is that content – in any format- is the most critical component of any organic effort. Fast pages with a clean architecture will never drive any organic value if there is no content with which Google can rank the pages. Additionally, there isn’t much use for a user to do if there’s no content on the page.

Content is King

It is for this reason that tools and guides related to keyword research are so popular around the web. In this respect, content may be “king” but the emperor does not have any clothes without proper keyword research. The common recommendation around keyword research for SEO is to use keyword tools which reveal some sort of metric around volumes of monthly search and competition.

Building upon this data, one would pick keywords with high search volume and low competition.  Keyword research in this fashion would consist of putting a primary keyword in a keyword research tool and then building upon that first keyword with similar keywords. The challenge in this approach is that this would likely result in keywords that don’t necessarily match the user intent of the query.

Competitive Research

One way to negate this intent challenge is to use a competitive research tool which shows the keywords that competitors are ranking on and then building on that keyword set. (Personally, I love Ahrefs.com for this).The obvious issue here is that if competitors are already generating traffic from these keywords, a site already has a competitive mountain to climb.

Regardless over whether, the start of the keyword research begins with high value keywords or competitor rankings, this effort only reveals queries all the way at the bottom of the funnel. By their very nature, they will be hyper competitive with other sites on both organic and paid listings.

Top of Funnel Keywords

Instead, my advice has always been to get into the mind of customers and build a user journey into a search funnel. Everyone that has ever built a search campaign is also a search user, and when we search we hardly ever start with bottom of the funnel transactional keywords. At some point, we start with more exploratory discovery keywords.

This top of the funnel is where it is a lot easier to match the intent of a user and also have far less competition. It is also gives websites the chance to introduce their brand to users and potentially have them come back directly to the site without needing to search again when they are closer to the bottom of the funnel. For users that are taking too long to convert, sites can run retargeting campaigns on the paid network of choice and remind the users to come back.

Example Funnel

To illustrate how this might work, here’s an example of how someone might search for a new phone beginning all the way at the top of the funnel. This is a loose example, but I am sure anyone that has ever purchased any new device online can imagine how many queries they might conduct before they finally search the very bottom of the funnel “buy” query.

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The best visual example of this search funnel is Google’s 2009 Super Bowl commercial  where they show the progression of someone’s life using Google queries beginning with deciding to study abroad through falling in love and then ending with buying a baby crib. The queries in the video are a great representation of the intent behind specific queries that can seem very broad and are far less competitive.

A traditional keyword research effort would direct content efforts towards the top of the funnel, but as this video shows every bottom of the funnel conversion keyword begins with many more early informational searches.