The trifecta of keyword research strategy: Volume, difficulty, intent

Search marketing is an ever-changing industry, but even amid the generative AI movement, one thing remains constant: keywords.

Identifying the most valuable keywords for your business can make or break your visibility and online presence and put distance between you and your competition. But only when it’s appropriately harnessed.

Learning to do strategic keyword research for SEO allows you to navigate the clutter and noise of search marketing, leading you to the treasure trove of targeted traffic, higher rankings, and increased conversions.

Keyword research goes beyond simply finding popular words or phrases, though. It involves understanding the trifecta of volume, difficulty, and intent. 

  • Volume tells you how often people search for specific keywords.
  • Difficulty gauges the competition you’ll face.
  • Intent reveals the underlying purpose of user searches. 

Clarifying how to use these three data points will help you create a crystal-clear keyword strategy for your business.

Understanding keyword volume

Keyword volume represents the number of times a keyword is searched for within a given time frame, providing valuable insights into user behavior and search trends and indicating the potential traffic and visibility that a given keyword can bring to your website. 

High-volume keywords can be a goldmine, attracting significant organic traffic and potential customers. 

On the other hand, low-volume keywords may have less competition (we’ll get to that next), allowing you to carve out a niche and target a specific audience.

Finding high-volume keywords relevant to your business is the ultimate goal of keyword research. 

You want to uncover those hidden gems with a high search volume that align with your products, services, or industry.

To find these, start by brainstorming relevant terms and phrases that your target audience might use when searching for solutions or information related to your business. 

Put yourself in your target customer’s shoes and think about the language they would use. 

Then, leverage keyword research tools to explore the search volume for these keywords and identify the ones with substantial search traffic.

For example, if you’re a roofing company offering various types and styles of roofs, but you want to bring more traffic and awareness to your metal roofing option, you would want to explore a few variations of key phrases your customers might search to find the more commonly used terms. 

Here are a few to consider:

Here you can see the average number of times per month each keyword is searched in the Volume column to assess what keyword you might like to go after with your metal roofing service page.

But remember, it’s not just about chasing the highest volume keywords mindlessly. You also need to consider the relevance and competition associated with those keywords. 

Finding a balance between high volume and achievable competition is the key to success.

Evaluating keyword difficulty

Keyword difficulty measures how challenging it is to rank for a specific keyword. We turn to our trusty tools to assess keyword difficulty and calculate the factors influencing it. 

We’re talking about things like the number of websites already ranking for the keyword, the quality and authority of those websites, SERP features, etc. 

A good keyword research strategy is a balance of finding that sweet spot between high-volume and low-difficulty keywords. 

You want to target keywords with decent search volume but aren’t overrun by fierce competitors. It’s about choosing your battles wisely and focusing on those keywords where you have a fighting chance.

Choose a keyword difficulty that isn’t more than 10-15% points higher than your current domain authority (a metric you can measure in those all-in-one search marketing platforms mentioned above). This will give you a fighting chance of ranking with the right content.

Following the metal roofing company example, if your domain authority score is sitting at 30, you’ll want to target keywords with a difficulty score between 20-40. 

Your site should rank pretty quickly for the keywords with a difficulty under 30. Anything above that will provide a bit more of a challenge for those top 3 spots in the search results, but getting ranked higher for those terms will also help to grow your domain authority over time.

Looking at those same keywords, I would say “types of metal roofs” and “metal roofing contractors” are achievable to rank for with our current domain authority.

SEO is a long game. It’s about finding that delicate balance and adapting your strategy. 

Start with a viable strategy now, and as your domain authority builds, you can go after more competitive terms in time.

Matching user intent

User intent refers to the underlying purpose or motivation behind a search query. This is where the scientific field of SEO turns into an art form, open to interpretation.

Identifying the keyword intent is all about deciphering the hidden meaning behind someone’s words. 

Users who type their queries into search engines have a specific goal in mind. It could be: 

  • Researching information.
  • Navigating to a particular website.
  • Finding a solution.
  • Completing a transaction.
  • And more.

User intent is most commonly broken down into four different types. Let’s break it down:

Informational intent

This is when users seek knowledge, answers, or solutions to their questions.

They might search for “how-to” guides, tutorials, or informative articles. Meet their search with a blog or long-form informational landing page on your website.

Navigational Intent

Users with navigational intent already have a specific website or brand in mind. They want to navigate directly to that website.

They might search for the brand name or particular URLs. Meet their search with your company information like an About or Location page.

Commercial Intent

These users are in the investigational research phase and are likely to consider a purchase. They’re looking for product comparisons, reviews, or pricing information.

For example, “best software for bookkeeping” or “top trail running shoes.”

Meet their search with a long-form service page, a UX-optimized homepage, or a great “top products” blog post, depending on your business.

Transactional Intent

Users with transactional intent are ready to take action. They want to make a purchase, sign up for a service, or complete a transaction.

They might search for keywords like “buy,” “order,” or “sign up.” Meet their search with a product or service page with an appropriate CTA.

Dig deeper: How to create and execute a buyer journey-based content strategy

You’ll want to analyze search engine results to align your keyword targeting with user intent. See what types of content are ranking for specific keywords.

Look at the top-ranking pages and ask yourself, “Does my content align with what users expect to find?”

It’s about stepping into the shoes of your target audience and providing them with the answers and solutions they seek.

Coming back to the metal roofing example, if it’s between “types of metal roofs” or “metal roofing contractor,” we would choose “metal roofing contractor” based on the commercial user intent.

The intent on “types of metal roofs” does show possible commercial intent. 

Still, after looking at the other content ranking for this keyword, we would quickly determine that this is a keyword for a blog or other content piece.

By understanding user intent and creating content that addresses it, you improve the user experience and increase your chances of conversions and customer satisfaction.

Dig deeper: There are more than 4 types of search intent

The trifecta in action: Best practices

With some background in making good keyword strategy decisions, here are some best practices to get going with your research.

Conduct comprehensive keyword research

Don’t limit yourself to a handful of keywords. Cast a wide net from the start to explore various keywords to ensure you get all hidden gems instead of only the obvious terms.

Use keyword research tools, brainstorming sessions with coworkers and customers, and competitor analysis to gather a diverse pool of potential keywords.

Prioritize keywords based on the trifecta

Not all keywords are created equal. You need to prioritize based on the trifecta factors. 

Identify keywords with a decent search volume that align with your business goals and have a realistic difficulty level. 

Also, consider different variations of words (e.g., past or present tense) as you explore the meaningful keywords for your business and audience.

Create content that addresses user intent

Develop content that satisfies the needs and intentions of your target audience. Whether it’s informative blog posts, engaging videos, or interactive guides, tailor your content to align with user intent. 

Not sure what language your customers use or what questions they ask? 

Talk to your sales and customer service teams to see if they have a list of common objections or frequently asked questions. That is a great place to create a keyword-focused and in-demand content plan.

After identifying your most valuable keywords, the last thing you want to do is target them with the wrong piece of content. 

Don’t take that high-volume informational keyword and optimize your product page to get more purchases. Those users are merely looking for more knowledge and are not ready to buy.

Meeting the user intent with the right pieces of content satisfies the customer and rewards your website authority with positive ranking signals.

Dig deeper: Content mapping: Who, what, where, when, why and how

Monitor and adjust your keyword strategy

SEO is constantly evolving. Keep an eye on your keyword performance and be ready to make adjustments as needed. 

In-market language can change over time as trends ebb and flow. Analyze the data, track rankings, and listen to what your audience is saying. 

Keep your landing pages and content fresh with your top target keywords, but feel free to tweak those keywords as your audience broadens.

Remember to stay agile and adapt your keyword strategy as needed. 

Keep experimenting, testing, and refining your approach to stay ahead of the latest search trends and ahead of your competitors.

Where to get your keyword data

You can choose a range of free and paid tools to gather the data points we discussed above. Below are a few options:

Google Keyword Planner

This free tool allows you to explore keyword ideas, analyze search volumes, and even get insights into the competitiveness of specific keywords. 


This “freemium” tool allows you a few searches per month for data before needing a paid account. It’s a great introductory all-in-one tool if you’re starting out.

Search marketing platforms

A few all-in-one paid tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz provide all the data you need and some nifty tools for digging deeper when you conquer your keyword strategy, giving you a comprehensive understanding of the search landscape.

Consider volume, difficulty and intent for a solid keyword strategy

Keyword research is not a one-time endeavor. It’s a continuous journey of growth and optimization.

Keyword research isn’t going out of style anytime soon. Even generative AI needs to use language and commonly used search terms.

So if you’re starting to scratch the surface or are ready to dig deeper into keyword research and SEO, you’re on the right path. Just keep going.

Let your curiosity be your compass, your creativity be your fuel, and your commitment be your guiding light. 

Soon, your expertly selected target keywords will help you connect with your audience, elevate your online presence, and drive more conversions for your business.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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