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How to Prioritize which Keywords to Target

Keyword research and targeting are critical first steps in any SEO campaign. First, you come up with a list of relevant, traffic-driving keywords that you bucket into high-level keyword groups. Then, you map those keyword groups to corresponding pages on your site. Or if there are no relevant URLs to map to, you have new content created.

That’s your typical keyword research and mapping process. But what’s missing here is prioritization. Even with a list of keywords and URL targets, you still need to determine which terms deserve more of your time and which deserve less. Here’s how.

How to Prioritize Your Keyword Targeting Efforts

Not all keywords are created equal. Some drive more traffic, others have higher intent, and still others may be more profitable for your business. So you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to your keyword targeting efforts.

You need to prioritize and allocate your time and resources accordingly based on a range of deciding factors, which include:

  1. Search demand
  2. User intent
  3. Competition
  4. Budget
  5. Timeframe
  6. Goals
  7. Profitability
  8. Scalability

Let’s dive deeper into each of these prioritization factors and see why they’re important.

Search Demand

The first factor you want to assess is the level of demand (or interest) for your keywords, both at an individual keyword level and at the aggregate level for an entire group of terms. Search demand is important since theoretically, the more people that are searching for your target keywords, the more traffic you’ll drive to your site.

But it’s not only about the traffic. And all too often marketers fall in love with chasing after big traffic numbers without determining:

  • If the traffic generated from certain high-demand keywords is in fact qualified
  • Whether this traffic help you achieve your (or your client’s) goals

Just because one relevant keyword drives more traffic than another doesn’t mean it’s a better term to target. You also need to consider the value of that traffic.

User Intent

The intent of the searcher is also a key factor to consider when prioritizing your keywords. Assessing user intent is all about determining what the user wants and meeting their needs.

So after you collect search demand data, you want to examine your list of keywords and ask yourself questions like:

  • What’s the user’s intent behind a search query containing this particular keyword?
  • Is their intent informational or transactional in nature (i.e., is the searcher collecting information on a product or service or are they poised to buy)?
  • Where would someone searching for this keyword fit into my marketing funnel?
  • Will the user visiting from this particular search have a satisfactory experience?
  • Will my content meet their expectations?
  • Will they take a prescribed next step be it sign up for a newsletter or start a free trial?

So a keyword may have high volume, but low intent to convert or complete a desired action. Or in many cases the keyword you’re targeting isn’t specific enough to attract a qualified user. So search demand alone should never be the only aspect that guides your prioritization efforts.

Keyword Competition

The next factor to assess is the competitive landscape of the keyword SERPs you’re targeting. When evaluating how competition will impact your keyword prioritization, explore the following:

  • How hard will it be to rank for this keyword?
  • How competitive are the keyword verticals on a SERP by SERP basis?
  • How authoritative and trusted are the domains/brands you’re trying to outrank?
  • How does the trust and authority of your domain compare to the competitor sites?

Say for example you’re working with a brand new site. Going toe-to-toe with aged, trusted domains in hypercompetitive keyword verticals is likely the wrong approach (even if those keywords are high demand and high intent), since results will be hard to come by. So you’re probably better off targeting potential market inefficiencies (i.e., moderate search demand with lower competition).

However, if your site is aged and trusted, you might get more aggressive approach.

In sum, the veritable “SEO strength” of your domain and your competitor domains is a critical factor you need to consider to properly inform and guide your prioritization efforts.


Another factor to consider is how much money you or your client has to spend on this engagement. Budget size will help you further refine prioritization and help guide how and where you allocate your resources.

Spend level will also help you determine if you should target the most competitive and profitable keyword verticals or you should set your sights lower and focus on less competitive verticals. Or maybe the right approach is somewhere in the middle.

Keyword prioritization is often about diagnosing the situation and prescribing the right approach. And budget plays a key role.


Time is also an important factor. Many clients understand that SEO is a marathon, not a race. Others expect faster results.

Say you only have a few months to deliver results. Then it probably doesn’t make much sense to target competitive keyword verticals initially –even if they are high intent and high demand – because your lead time is likely too short to get them good visibility in the SERPs. However, if you have longer, then you would prioritize differently.

Think of your timeframe like investing for retirement. The more time you have, the more aggressive you can be with your investing approach. The less time (the older you are), the more conservative you should be.

Client Goals

If you’re working with clients, you need to consider what they’re expectations and goals are as well. For example:

  • Are they hell bent on first page visibility for a concentrated group of keywords?
  • Are they focused on targeting a few money pages on their site and corresponding terms?
  • Are they only interested in targeting keywords that will drive a particular lead type?
  • Are they primarily interested in generating sustained growth from organic traffic over time?
  • Or maybe they’re a startup and unsure of which keywords to prioritize yet, so they want to engage in keyword discovery and expansion to cast a wide net and see what works.

Point is, the possibilities are really endless and will vary depending on the client. So it’s critical that you key on the client’s goals and act accordingly.

What should you do? Have the client order keywords and keyword groups by priority, so you know which terms they covet and which are of secondary importance.


The end game for SEO isn’t really about traffic numbers and rankings, it’s about increasing revenue. Savvy business owners and marketers know that.

While traffic growth and higher rankings may impress some site owners, others are far more bottom line driven. They expect more revenue.

Your approach here is to learn which of their services or products are the most profitable, which products have the highest margins, etc.


The final factor that should influence your prioritization efforts is the scalability of a set of keywords. Look at your keyword groups and which URLs they’re mapped to for indicators like:

  • Is there a confluence of high-intent, high-demand or highly-profitable keywords mapped to a single URL?
  • Is there more than one group of keywords mapped to a particular URL or set of URLs?

If these instances of high-value URLs exist in your campaign (and they usually do), focus more of your efforts and resources on these specific pages. Because when you raise the visibility of a single high-value URL (one with multiple instances of priority keywords mapped to it), you scale your efforts along with your results.

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