How to map keyword strategy to B2B buyer intent

To ensure that you’re providing content that aligns with business objectives, columnist Derek Edmond recommends basing your keyword strategy on stages of the buyer journey.


Keyword research can be overwhelming for clients. In its most basic form, keyword research will almost always consist of a spreadsheet of hundreds, if not thousands of words and phrases, or “key phrases.”

In an effort to make this type of deliverable more “digestible” for clients, KoMarketing (my employer) will often organize these key phrases around core themes, like solution sets or product categories.

From there, we try to prioritize keyword recommendations based on available metrics such as monthly search estimates and applicability to the client.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for any of the following to happen with the keyword research:

  • Client gets overwhelmed with the volume of information at hand.
  • In an ongoing program, we lose sight of the deliverable as a reference point for ongoing tactical recommendations.
  • The deliverable becomes obsolete or gets ignored over time.

We’ve revamped keyword research deliverables in numerous ways. While we’ve certainly made strides, there is always an opportunity to improve.

One such tactic we’ve applied recently is in mapping keyword recommendations to various levels in the B2B buying cycle. This tactic has become effective in obtaining client buy-in, because they can better relate keyword opportunities to more familiar sales behaviors and milestones.

Screenshot from Forrester Analyst Lori Wizdo's B2B Buyer Journey Mapping Basics

Screen shot from Forrester Analyst Lori Wizdo’s B2B Buyer Journey Mapping Basics (Source)

In this column, I will outline steps we take in this process.

Mapping keywords to B2B buyer behavior

There will always be a set of keywords that a client wants products, solutions and the organization to be aligned towards. This exercise is not meant to sidestep this objective but to provide complementary sets of keyword targets that can be leveraged in ongoing content marketing campaigns.

Mapping keywords to steps in the buyer’s journey makes SEO more important in ongoing marketing initiatives and also shows leadership that there are steps in the process for achieving results in the most critical keyword opportunities.

Starting with defining core sets of keyword opportunities, next are two phases of keyword prioritization:

  1. Assessing objectives in search intent on a per-keyword basis.
  2. Confirming applicability based on client-specific sales objectives and procedures.

Keyword-related search objectives need to be defined to understand the type of content marketing assets that resonate best for users and through Google search.

Once marketing has reviewed and agreed upon direction, this information needs to be brought back to sales for perspective and further review and agreement.

Analyze keyword-specific search results

Last year, I wrote about the need for online marketers to map keyword priorities with the content marketing objectives of the web pages found in organic search.

When reviewing organic listings to define content marketing priorities, consider the type and objective of content found in first (but even second or third) page search results in particular.

Here is a recent search result example for a highly competitive keyword phrase (“invoice factoring”):

Google SERP Example

Following are the types of content found in the search results for this keyword:

  • Eight informational articles on the topic, mostly basics and 101-level stuff, including two Wikipedia entries;
  • Two solution-oriented results for commercial companies; and
  • Google featured snippets and answer boxes throughout search results page.

We have found that organic results with a large percentage of articles tend to infer more top-of-funnel buying behavior — information on seekers and buyers beginning the sales process.

As search results point to assets that lead to more conversion-oriented experiences, such as landing pages, webinars, PDFs, and even sales collateral, recommendations need to change accordingly.

In the case above, almost all of the non-Wikipedia article results were in excess of 1,000 words and used some form of design technique to attempt to make the material more reader-friendly. Non-Wikipedia results generally contained some form of conversion action, as well.

This type of information helps guide content marketing efforts and determine how far down the sales funnel someone clicking through to this material may be.

Assess keyword difficulty metrics

Moz’s keyword difficulty grader helps our team assess the strength of web pages, domains and home pages found in organic search results, in comparison to our client’s overall “authority.” This is one way we can assess the types of tactics and opportunity we might have to prioritize for a particular keyword.

Screenshot from Moz Keyword Difficulty Grader

If your organization’s scores pale in comparison to existing results, it might not be wise to prioritize that particular keyword, at least in the short term.

Home page results are the most challenging, particularly for more complex key phrases, since more analysis would need to be done to determine viability in tactical application.

For competitive home pages ranking well for a target keyword, consider strength of domain and volume and quality of inbound links to that domain when prioritizing tactics.

Evaluate related keywords

When defining keyword priorities and evaluating organic search results, take note of the related keywords Google provides, as well. Marketers will find this in both Google’s autocomplete function and in the “Searches related to…” section typically found at the bottom of the search results page.

Google has also begun adding the “People also ask” element in organic search results.

Google Related Questions Example

All of this information can provide insight into the direction content marketing assets need to take or supporting material required for more competitive keyword phrases.

Working with sales teams

The second step in the process is bringing keyword data, along with content marketing tactics, to sales teams for review. We’re looking to affirm the following types of tactical recommendations and questions:

  • How helpful might specific content marketing assets be in satisfying prospect objections and challenges?
  • Would information on downloaded assets create a better picture of a prospect’s needs and situation?
  • How do the type of content assets defined stack up against competitive offerings and experiences?

Obviously, the hope is to obtain positive feedback. In the event that feedback is not as expected, discussion on analysis tackled in the first step would be prudent to uncover missed opportunities and oversights.

Review paid versus organic data

If available, it is always recommended to review paid search data when aligning keyword targets for SEO. Conversion volume, rates and quality all play a part in supporting the organization of keyword targeting for SEO.

Some general ideas to consider and experiences we’ve seen:

  • High conversion, low cost-per-conversion keywords and campaigns (in comparison to others) tend to infer more top-of-funnel buyer activities such as research, discovery and interest-seeking actions.
  • Prioritize keyword research based on both lead volume and conversion rates.
  • Any keywords that generated sales-ready leads should certainly be evaluated more specifically.

Organizations that can combine paid and organic keyword data to align content marketing with B2B buying behavior have more leverage in gaining buy-in from sales teams.

Final thoughts

Mapping keyword strategy to the B2B buyer journey creates an opportunity for SEO professionals to stay more relevant with ongoing marketing priorities.

More importantly, if implemented and measured successfully, this practice can more effectively tie SEO tactics closer to sales-oriented initiatives, creating a win-win for all parties involved.


[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from


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