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How to Find and Map Keywords to the Buyer’s Journey

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Marketing @ Ahrefs. I read, breakdance and try random life experiments.

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    Do you want to satisfy searchers and convince them to become paying customers? Then you need to find and map your keywords to the buyer’s journey.

    Your customers don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be sent “nurturing emails” and be “warmed up.” They don’t want to be “closed” with the latest sales techniques.

    These are part of today’s standard sales process. But they also have zero value for the customer.

    Your customer wants to do their own research. They want to learn more about your product or service on their own terms, in their own time.

    They’re looking for information.

    The stats are compelling. In the B2B world, customers completed almost 60% of a buying decision before even conversing with a supplier.

    The same goes for the B2C world. 60% of shoppers begin their research on a search engine. And 61% read product reviews before buying.

    To capture this shift in buying behavior, you have to understand their buying journey and find out what kind of queries they’re searching for at each stage.

    This enables you to create content that matches their search and helps to:

    • develop their trust in you;
    • guide their decisions towards buying your product or service;
    • be their first choice when it comes time to buy.

    In this post, I will show you how you can find these keywords and map them to the buyer’s journey.

    Before that, let’s first cover the basics.

    What is the buyer’s journey?

    The buyer’s journey is the research process a person goes through before making a purchase. There are four stages:

    1. Awareness: The buyer realizes they have a problem.
    2. Interest: The buyer wants to understand more about their problem. At this stage, they’re also looking for potential solutions to their problem.
    3. Consideration: The buyer is comparing different solutions on the market.
    4. Conversion: The buyer is looking to purchase a solution.

    These align with the four stages of a marketing funnel:

    pasted image 0

    Let’s take a look at a real-life example:

    At Ahrefs, one of our potential customers is a solopreneur (let’s call him Billy Blogger). His goal is to build a popular blog he can monetize.

    Here’s what his buyer’s journey may look like:

    • Awareness: Billy realizes that his blog is not receiving any traffic. He searches the Internet for potential solutions.
    • Interest: After reading our article on how to promote your blog, he decides that SEO is the way forward. He begins learning more about SEO… likely from the Ahrefs blog.
    • Consideration: Billy realizes he needs a tool to do SEO. He finds that most posts recommend a few tools and begins comparing them. He reads reviews, asks questions in forums and consumes the educational content available on the different blogs.
    • Conversion: He decides to take advantage of our 7‑day trial. Convinced that we’re the right solution for him, he proceeds to sign up for a paid plan.

    Now, Billy Blogger is just one of the many customers that buy from us. In reality, we have a few different types of customers. And their buying journeys are different.

    To cater to the different journeys, you need first to understand who you’re targeting.

    Defining your buyers’ persona

    A buyer persona is an “imaginary person” you create that represents the common characteristics of your customer. It helps you visualize their buying journey, internalize who they are and empathize with their struggles.

    The more types of customers you have, the more personas you should create.

    For example, at Ahrefs, a potential buyer persona would be Billy Blogger.

    However, we also have:

    • Anna Agency (an agency owner);
    • Lily Local (a local business owner);
    • Ian Inhouse (an in-house digital marketer)

    When creating these personas, your goal is to get super detailed in who you’re targeting. Give them names and faces. Fill in their demographics and psychographics. Understand their goals, challenges, hopes, fears and pain points.

    In essence, what you’re looking for are patterns and commonalities. Some important data points are:

    • Income
    • Gender
    • Age group
    • Education
    • Occupation
    • Location
    • Marital status

    If you need help, you can use a worksheet like this to point you in the right direction.

    Take note that while your personas may be “fake”, it should be based on real-life data.

    You can gather data by talking to them face-to-face, reaching out to them via email or just observing the communities where they hang out.

    Creating a good buyer persona is an article on its own. If you want more guidance on this topic, I recommend this comprehensive guide.

    PRO TIP

    If you’re a solopreneur, creating multiple buyer personas may seem overwhelming. After all, creating content for every stage of the journey for five different personas is a lot of work!

    You may not have the resources to do so.

    As such, it may be a better idea to focus on your “best” customer initially. Your best customer is usually a combination of these factors:

    • They pay you the most money;
    • They give you the least support headaches;
    • They have the highest lifetime value (LTV).

    If you have existing customers, look through their profiles in your customer relationship management (CRM) software.

    If you’re new and yet to have a paying customer, don’t worry. You can research your competitors and try to find out who they’re targeting. Facebook’s Audience Insights is also great for discovering information about your target market (here’s a solid guide on how to do this).

    How to find and map keywords to the buyer’s journey

    The purpose of understanding the buyer’s journey is to create content that matches what they’re looking for at each stage.

    That means doing keyword research.

    Typically, keyword research involves looking for keywords with the highest search volume and the lowest competition (in Ahrefs, that is known as Keyword Difficulty.)

    But that’s not what we want.

    Keyword research is not only about search volume. I would say it isn’t entirely about traffic either. It’s about choosing topics that potential customers are searching for, serving their needs and eventually converting them into customers.

    The stage your buyers are in will determine the search queries they’re making. This concept—known as search intent—is the objective a searcher has when entering a query into Google.

    You can generally categorize search intent into four groups. These four groups, as you might have guessed, roughly match the buyer’s journey/marketing funnel.

    How keywords types align with different stages of the marketing funnel

    Let’s run through these four types of search intent and how they align with the buyer’s journey:

    1. Informational — The searcher is looking to gain general knowledge on a topic, or gather more information about something. For example, “how to get more traffic.”
    2. Navigational — The searcher knows the destination they want to reach. For example, “ahrefs on page SEO guide.”
    3. Commercial Investigation — The searcher is looking to get information on something they want to buy. For example, “best keyword research tool.”
    4. Transactional — The searcher is ready to make a purchase. For example, “ahrefs pricing.”

    Your goal is to find keywords corresponding to each intent and create content around those keywords.

    a quick note

    Why do you have to create content for each stage? Why not only target transactional keywords, since they’re the ones that direct revenue?

    Three reasons:

    • Transactional keywords usually have lower search demand.
    • Unless you have a low-cost, impulse-driven product, people usually don’t buy on first sight. They’d much prefer to buy from someone they trust. Informational content helps build trust and authority.
    • Informational queries allow you to enter your their conversion journey early, so you can guide them towards choosing your product or service.

    How can you determine search intent from a keyword phrase?

    With some keywords, you can’t tell from the search query alone. But there are a good number of them that can be easily identified using keyword footprints.

    Here’s a list of modifier words that typically indicate the stage the buyer is in:

    InformationalNavigationalCommercial InvestigationTransactional
    howBrand namesbestbuy
    whatName of a producttopcoupon
    whoName of a servicerevieworder
    whereAttribute of a product (size, color)[city] type of store (local)
    whycomparisonpurchase
    guidecheap
    tutorialprice
    resourcepricing
    ideas
    tips
    learn
    examples
    Sidenote.
    Navigational queries are perhaps the most nuanced. Those searching for such queries may be in the “Interest” stage of the funnel and just want to learn more about your products/services. Or they could already be customers and are simply trying to navigate to a specific page on your website. To see one example of how you can tackle that issue, try visiting our Content Explorer page when you’re logged in and out of your Ahrefs account. You will see that the content is different. That helps us cater to different stages of the buyer’s journey with one page.  

    Use these modifiers to find your desired keywords. Here’s how.

    First, enter a few seed keywords related to your business into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. Then, go to the “Having same terms” report which will show you all the keyword ideas that contain the target keywords as a broad match.

    having same terms keywords explorer

    From this report, you can filter by search intent. Grab the modifiers from any of the stages, and plug them in the Include box.

    In this case, I am searching for keywords with informational intent.

    keywords explorer informational include box

    TIP

    You may have noticed that informational keywords tend to be questions, like “what” and “how.” You can filter for these keywords automatically by selecting the “Questions” report:

    questions report keywords explorer

    Now all that’s left is to scan through this list of ideas and pick those that are relevant for your business.

    Repeat the same process for the other stages.

    Other ways to find and map keywords

    That was the easiest way to identify and map keywords to the stages of the buyer’s journey.

    However, footprints aren’t foolproof. There are plenty of keywords that contain no such footprints. Neglect these, and you will miss out on some good keyword ideas.

    How can you find these ‘missing’ keywords?

    Here are three suggestions:

    1. SERP Features

    Ever seen this when you did a search in Google?

    check website traffic featured snippet

    This is known as a ‘featured snippet.” It’s when Google shows an answer (or a partial answer) to the question directly in the search results.

    The featured snippet is one of the many SERP features Google shows. You might have seen some others, like:

    serp features

    Here’s the interesting part:

    The presence of certain SERP features can help you to understand the intent behind the search. In other words, if you’re looking for keywords that align with a specific stage of the buying journey, you can use SERP features to help do that.

    Here are some rough guidelines:

    InformationalNavigationalCommercial InvestigationTransactional
    Featured snippetSite linksAdwordsAdwords
    Knowledge cardTweet boxFeatured snippetShopping results
    VideosKnowledge panel
    People also ask
    Sidenote.
     Not all keywords fit neatly into one of these four boxes. This is commonly the case. So while the presence of certain SERP features can help with inferring search intent, these rules aren’t set in stone. The truth is that many keywords have mixed search intent. For example, one person searching for “protein powder” may be in buying mode (transactional). Another person may wish to learn more about protein powder (informational). You should always manually review the SERP if the search intent is unclear.

    To find these keywords in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, you can filter to include or exclude keywords with particular SERP features.

    For example, say that I’m looking for keywords with informational intent: I could type in a broad keyword into Keywords Explorer, go to the Phrase Match report and filter for featured snippets.

    website traffic keywords explorer filter featured snippet

    Voila! A list of keywords where a featured snippet appears in the SERPs. These are almost always keywords with informational intent.

    NOTE. To reiterate, you should still do a manual review of the SERP to make sure these keywords are indeed informational. Google may show a featured snippet for keywords that are not informational. For example, the keyword “best headphones” shows a featured snippet, but it is a commercial investigation keyword.

    2. Cost-per-click (CPC)

    Cost-per-click is the average price advertisers pay for a click in Google’s paid search results.

    If you’re paying for every click on Google, you’ll want to see a return of investment (ROI). Otherwise, you’ll just be flushing money down the drain.

    Most advertisers will target transactional keywords.

    That makes sense. These searchers are ready to spend. All advertisers need to do is to appear in the search results and convince them to click on their ad.

    What does that mean for the buyer’s journey?

    Generally speaking, the higher the CPC,  the closer it is to conversion.

    To find these keywords, enter a broad keyword from your niche into Keywords Explorer. Then, sort by CPC from high to low.

    keywords explorer sort by cpc

    Keywords with a high CPC—and thus, likely to have transactional intent—will rise to the top.

    NOTE. This isn’t entirely foolproof as some advertisers may be bidding on informational keywords too. As always, do a manual review to make sure the intent is right.

    3. Online communities

    There are times where it’s difficult to find the right search query. It could happen because you’re completely new to the niche, or the results you’re getting in Google are unsatisfactory.

    In times like these, I turn to communities.

    si quan question in fb group

    The same goes for your customers.

    They visit online communities (like Reddit and Quora) for various reasons. They might be looking for answers to their questions, or to get advice on which product to choose, etc.

    Here’s an example of someone asking a community what tools they use for SEO:

    seo signals lab question

    I would guess that he checked out some of the tools recommended by the group, and perhaps even bought one of them!

    For informational and commercial investigation keywords, communities are ripe for the picking.

    Example: For Billy Blogger, the subreddit r/blogging might be a place he hangs out. So, I’ll head over to r/blogging and check out what topics they’re discussing.

    Instead of looking through every discussion, I’ll do some sorting to find the most popular ones. I’ll sort by “Top” (i.e., most upvotes) and add a time period of “All Time”:

    r blogging sorting

    After some scrolling, I find this topic that seems a good fit.

    r blogging question

    With 30 upvotes and 70 comments, this topic on “promoting your blog” seems to be a hit with people like Billy Blogger.

    I would guess that the intent is informational. But to double check, we can enter this keyword into Google and look at the top 10 ranking results.

    serps for promoting your blog

    Looks like people are searching for tactics on how to promote their blog posts, i.e., informational intent.

    PRO TIP

    Many of the keyword ideas you find in communities will have low search volumes.

    search volume for promoting your blog

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad topic. It may mean that people who are looking for similar topics are not using this exact language.

    You can find the most popular way people are searching for a topic using Keywords Explorer.

    When you enter a keyword idea, Keywords Explorer will suggest a Parent Topic, which is basically the keyword sending the most traffic to the #1 ranking page.

    parent topic how to promote your blog 2

    In this case, the keyword “how to promote your blog” may be a better topic to target.

    Accelerating the buyer’s journey

    Most people think of the buyer’s journey as a slow and long process.

    They imagine their customer taking months (or even years) to go through all four stages of the buyer’s journey. That can be true for certain companies if their products or services are on the expensive end.

    But it need not always be the case.

    The cool thing about creating content for each stage of the journey is that you can use it to accelerate the buyer’s journey.

    Imagine a potential path that Billy Blogger might take. He has decided to start a blog, but he doesn’t know how to drive traffic to his site. So he searches for “how to promote your blog” and finds himself reading our article with the same title. Within the blog post, we talk about getting traffic from Google, and how powerful a strategy SEO can be.

    He discovers another post—Tim’s post on increasing blog traffic—and learns all about keyword research. He reads our keyword research post and learns about our tool, and how it can help generate tons of keyword ideas with relevant SEO metrics.

    He decides to test our 7‑day trial and implements the strategies we suggest. Along the way, he discovers more things to do with our tool and decides to upgrade to a paid plan.

    Of course, this is an ideal path. Not many people will sign up to our tool this way. But through targeting different stages of the journey, and via smart internal linking, we can help guide Billy from knowing nothing about SEO to being aware of our product and brand, and possibly even considering a purchase.

    As you are targeting and creating content for each stage, make sure you’re adding relevant internal links to the next logical stage. If you have a blog post targeting a topic in the Awareness stage, make sure it links to a relevant page in the Interest stage.

    Internal links aren’t the only way to do this. You can also consider other tactics like retargeting, live chat, etc.

    It’s all about mapping the buyer’s journey to the marketing funnel, guiding people from being problem-aware to being product-aware, and ultimately towards being a customer.

    You can learn more about creating a marketing funnel in our guide to marketing funnels.

    Final Thoughts

    Keyword research isn’t a volume or traffic game. There must be a logical methodology behind why you’re choosing certain keywords and how they come together in the grand scheme of things.

    This is why it makes sense to think about keywords in the context of the buyer’s journey.

    If you can deliver the right content to them at the right time, you can develop your authority, trustworthiness, and influence with potential customers.

    And when it comes time to buy, there will be no more obvious choice than you.

    Shows how many different websites are linking to this piece of content. As a general rule, the more websites link to you, the higher you rank in Google.

    Shows estimated monthly search traffic to this article according to Ahrefs data. The actual search traffic (as reported in Google Analytics) is usually 3-5 times bigger.



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