We’ve all learned the importance of creating unique content for each stage of the journey along what used to be called the marketing funnel but now called the marketing hourglass. The hourglass is a more appropriate visual analogy because business owners understand the value of the inverted, “bottom part” of the old marketing funnel: customer satisfaction (use), retention (repeat), and referral (refer). But just how do we marry the SEO keyword needs of a content calendar with the content we need to support the customer journey efficiently? After all, one is a mechanical puzzle (the SEO keyword plan) and the other, a practical solution that addresses the psychological buying hurdles during the customer’s purchase cycle.

The answer lies in how careful and thorough you are when you create your keyword plan. The more thoughtful and complete you are in your analysis and prioritization when you build it, the larger, and more meaningful it becomes. Large keyword plans that do not support your core marketing strategy do very little for you; they are just too unruly and difficult to maintain. Chasing too many keywords usually makes us a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Regarding page rank, that usually means sudden death. But the ability to identify enough meaningful keywords to provide seed ideas for each of the 52 pieces of content in your content calendar (assuming your goal is to blog once weekly) is very helpful.

How Many Keywords Should a Keyword Plan Have?

When you create a keyword plan and a website for a business that has a one-person marketing team, it’s best to focus on no more than 5-7 top keywords. Why? Performing the on-page and off-page tactics required to rank for more than that is time-consuming and gets expensive for businesses that don’t have a dedicated SEO team or an enormous marketing budget. However, even though the plan you deliver calls out 5-7 main keywords, it should have another 50-60 carefully ranked choices which include semantic variants and slightly off-topic long-tailed keywords. Why? Because you need them to become seed material for your content plan. Additionally, some of your ‘throw-away’ keywords that have decent volume and difficulty might match up nicely with some of your customer journey collateral pieces. By starting with a large but carefully ranked keyword plan, you can delegate your best choices for your main pages and cornerstone content posts, but have enough leftover (but still good!) keywords to productively put to work through weekly blogging and content that’s aimed at supporting your customer journey.

What Is a Customer Journey?

The customer journey is the grouping of the stages that a customer passes through from the moment they start looking for your product or become aware of it, to its purchase. Only it doesn’t stop there. From a marketing perspective, the customer journey includes the follow-on stages where customers:

  • use your product (this includes the on-boarding process, too)
  • make repeat purchases
  • refer your product to their friends & family, and post reviews on social media networks

These stages describe the buyer journey:

  1. find
  2. like
  3. trust
  4. try
  5. buy
  6. use
  7. repeat
  8. refer

And yes, you need content to support each of those stages.

How Much Research Goes Into a Keyword Plan?

Creating a solid keyword plan is not an easy task. It is complicated by the fact that no single tool can be relied upon for accurate search volume and difficulty. So marketers have to come up with their best guesses using one tool, then check those with another source, and make adjustments as needed. Then repeat the whole process, and repeat it again when comparing the results from tool three back to their original results from tool 1. Each stage of the process requires reprioritizing. It’s an iterative task that takes concentration and judgment. Taking shortcuts will cost you. No matter how awesome your content, on-page, and off-page SEO is, if you’re targeting the wrong keywords, you won’t end up ranking for the keywords that drive the kinds of leads you want.

How Long Should You Spend On a Keyword Plan?

Your keyword plan is perhaps your most important marketing asset because it’s tied directly to your marketing strategy. It’s not something that should be rushed. Carve out at least 8-12 hours to do your research. The more systematic you are and the deeper you dive into the analysis, the better your results are going to be. Yes, at some point you begin splitting hairs, and then you know it’s time to stop. Whatever you do, don’t scrimp on this process.

Why Spend All That Time on Keyword Research and How Does This Relate to Content Needed for the Customer Journey?

A well-researched keyword plan takes all the guess work out of creating your content calendar. Once you’re confident about your choices, you can simply designate where and how you’re going to employ those keywords. It’s during this process that you want to keep in mind the content pieces that you will need to support your customer journey and be sure to allocate the keywords that match those topics. Deciding which keywords to use on posts, pages, and customer journey collateral pieces is nothing more than a budgeting process once you have carefully conducted your keyword analysis.