4-Step Guide to Keyword Targeting

Different business models and monetization strategies need different keywords. That’s why targeted keyword research is crucial.

It’s not a case of getting more traffic to your website. You also want the right type of traffic – the type that will actually take action.

To achieve that, you need to:

  • Align keyword research to your monetization model
  • Build and qualify your target keyword list
  • Optimize your content around them

In this guide, I’ll show you the exact steps to quickly uncover the most targeted keywords for any business model or industry.

Disclaimer: This article does contain some affiliate links. If you purchase a tool through one of my links I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This is how I fund the blog and its promotion. Thanks for the support.

What are target keywords?

Target keywords are specific phrases people use when searching for information.

Typically, they are phrases about your business rather than individual brand keywords. For example, “Semrush” is a brand keyword. But “competitor analysis tools” is a relevant target keyword for Semrush.

By using relevant target keywords, you can increase your website’s organic search traffic and conversions.

How to perform targeted keyword research

In this section, we’ll walk through a 4-step process for targeted keyword research:

  1. Align keyword research with your site monetization model
  2. Build a list of target keywords
  3. Qualify your target keyword list with SERP data
  4. Optimize your content with target (and secondary) keywords

Let’s dive in!

1. Align keyword research with your site monetization model

Your keyword research needs to align with your site monetization model. That way, you can increase traffic, rank higher, and generate more conversions.

So you need to determine which keywords are best to target.

For example:

  • AdSense sites like Healthline target high-volume informational keywords, such as “keto diet”.
  • Affiliate websites like Coffee or Bust target mid-funnel investigational keywords. For example, “best roasts” and “best espresso grinder”.
  • Ecommerce stores like Zeus Beard target product-based transactional keywords. For example, “beard shampoo” and “mustache wax”.
  • SaaS websites like Copper CRM target feature and solution-based keywords, such as “crm project management”.
  • Local business websites like Dolman Law Group target service-based keywords. For example, “motorcycle accident lawyer” and “brain injury lawyer”.

2. Build a list of target keywords

Keyword research is a massive topic that you can approach in countless ways.

In this section, you’ll discover four methods that cut through the noise. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of target keywords that aligns with your monetization model.

Use subfolder gap analysis to find target keywords

One of the best ways to find target keywords is to run a competitor subfolder gap analysis. Here’s how you can do this for a couple of monetization models.

Note: If you’d prefer to watch me execute subfolder keyword analysis for several different business types, check out the step-by-step video tutorial below. Otherwise, read on 🙂

(a) Ecommerce stores

Zeus Beard and Beardbrand are ecommerce competitors in the beard grooming niche. But they list their products in different subfolders:

  • Zeus Beard uses the /collections/ subfolder.
  • Beardbrand uses the /products/ subfolder.

Imagine you’re running Zeus Beard. You can run a subfolder gap analysis to identify more target keywords.

In Semrush:

  • Enter your subfolder – e.g. https://www.zeusbeard.com/collections/
  • Enter your competitor’s subfolder – e.g. https://www.beardbrand.com/products/
  • Click the green “Compare” button
Finding target keywords with subfolder gap analysis

Next, apply a Top 20 position filter to find Beardbrand’s top-ranking keywords:

Finding high-value keyword gaps

The missing keywords report shows 295 high-value keywords that Zeus Beard can target:

Finding missing keywords to target inside Semrush

The weak keywords report highlights 59 target keywords that Zeus Beard could improve:

Finding keywords with weak existing rankings to optimize for fast ranking gains.

You need to analyze the SERPs to see if you can optimize your existing content to potentially outrank Beardbrand. (More on this later.)

(b) Local businesses

Fellerman Law and Dolman Law Group are two competing injury law firms.

Dolman Law Group lists all its services in the website’s “/legal-services/” subfolder.

Suppose you’re running Fellerman Law. You can use subfolder gap analysis to identify potential target keywords.

In Semrush:

  • Enter your root domain – e.g. https://www.fellermanlaw.com/
  • Enter your competitor’s subfolder – e.g. https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/
  • Click the green “Compare” button

Next, apply a Top 20 position filter to find Dolman Law Group’s top-ranking keywords:

Finding potential target keywords for a local service business

The missing keywords report shows 488 high-value keywords that Fellerman Law can target:

Finding commercial intent keyword opportunities

These are all potential high-value, commercial intent, service-based keywords.

The weak keywords report highlights 11 target keywords that Fellerman Law could improve:

Check the SERPs to see if you can optimize your existing content and outrank the competition.

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Use filtered subfolder analysis to find more targeted keywords

You can also apply filters to find targeted keywords in subfolders. Here’s how to do this for a couple of monetization models:

(a) Affiliate sites

Let’s say you run an affiliate site about coffee products. There are thousands of keywords in the coffee niche, so where do you start?

You could filter the “/wirecutter/reviews/” subfolder of to find affiliate mid-funnel opportunities.

In the Organic Research tool:

  • Enter your competitor’s subfolder – e.g. www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/
  • Select the “Positions” tab
  • Select “Pos: Top 10” to display the top-ranking keywords
  • Apply advanced filters:
    • include keyword modifiers such as “best” and “coffee
    • exclude the brand “wirecutter”
Applying advanced filters to find target keywords.

From the results, you’ve got 928 keywords to target. These commercial-intent keywords include “best coffee grinder” and “best drip coffee maker”:

A list of high-intent target keywords in Semrush.

If your competitors don’t use subfolders for their reviews, there’s another option. You can run a subfolder gap analysis at the root domain level.

For example, the up-and-coming Coffee or Bust could analyze an established player like Home Grounds.

In the Keyword Gap tool:

  • Enter your root domain – e.g. https://coffeeorbust.com/
  • Enter your competitor’s root domain – e.g. https://www.homegrounds.co/
  • Click the green “Compare” button
Finding affiliate target keywords

Next, add some filters:

  • Set search volume to “Volume: 100+” to find the most searched keywords
  • Apply advanced filters to include keyword modifiers such as “best
  • Set KD: 0-29 to only identify low competition or easy keywords:
Using advanced keyword filters in Semrush

Scroll down and check the missing keywords:

List of Affiliate keyword gaps

From the results, Coffee or Bust has 144 keywords to target. These commercial-intent keywords include “best coffee for pour over” and “best espresso cups”.

Simply hit the “+” icon next to any missing keywords you want to add to your master list of target keywords.

(b) AdSense sites

Let’s say you’re a new nutrition site that monetizes mainly off ad impressions.

You could check the /nutrition/ category on Healthline for potential keywords. Then filter them for long-tail, low competition, high traffic (ad impression) opportunities.

In the Organic Research tool:

  • Enter your competitor’s subfolder – e.g. www.healthline.com/nutrition/
  • Select the “Positions” tab
  • Select “Pos: Top 20” to display the top-ranking keywords
  • Set “Volume: 1000+” for high-traffic keywords
  • Set “KD: 0-29%” for low competition keywords
  • Select “Intent: Informational” for info keywords
  • Include “word count greater than 2” for long-tail keywords:
Finding AdSense target keywords

From the results, you now have 237 relevant keywords to target. These high-traffic keywords include “olive oil and lemon juice” and “how many ounces is 3l”:

List of AdSense target keywords inside Semrush

Use modifiers to uncover targeted keywords

You can find the highest value opportunities by combining modifiers with your website’s core keywords.
For instance, my site monetizes with affiliate marketing. Since I write mostly about SEO, I want to help people choose the right tools for their business.

So, first I list all the best tools/platforms for specific SEO use cases. And then I add comparative modifiers that align with that mid-funnel intent.

For example, in the Keyword Magic Tool:

  • Enter a seed term – e.g. “Similarweb”
  • Add 3 comparative keyword modifiers – e.g. “alternative, competitor, vs” – and select “Any keywords” in the Include Keywords filter:
Using comparative modifiers to find target keywords

From the results, you have 81 keywords to target. These mid-funnel terms include “similarweb alternative” and “similarweb vs semrush”:

You could add investigational modifiers for people trying to find all the best options. Although they may not be product or solution aware, these are still targeted terms.

For example, you could add “best, top, tools, software” to seed terms related to your product, features, etc.

In the Keyword Magic Tool:

  • Enter a seed term – e.g. “ecommerce”
  • Add 5 investigational keyword modifiers – e.g. “best, top, software, tools, platform” – and select “Any keywords” in the Include Keywords filter:
Using investigational keyword modifiers to find target keyword opportunities.

From the results, you have a list of keywords to target. These terms include “b2b ecommerce platform” and “top ecommerce companies”:

Let’s look at one more example of what this could look like for Semrush.

Seed terms related to their features include:

So they’d definitely want a presence in the SERPs when people are looking for the best tools for these use cases.

In the Keyword Magic Tool:

  • Enter a seed term – e.g. “on-page seo”
  • Add 5 keyword modifiers – e.g. “best, software, tools, top, popular” – and select “Any keywords” in the Include Keywords filter:

From the results, you have a list of relevant keywords to target, including “on page seo best practices” and “on page seo software”:

A list of SEO-related keyword opportunities

If you want to dive deeper, watch over my shoulder as I use the tactics above to find targeted buyer keywords for several different websites:

Identify existing keyword opportunities

Finally, if you already have a content footprint, you’ll want to see if you have any existing quick-win keywords to target first.

Like the above, you can apply this process to a high-intent subfolder on your site, such as the features subfolder on Semrush.

In the Organic Research tool:

  • Enter your high-intent subfolder – e.g. www.semrush.com/features/
  • Select the “Positions” tab
  • Set a “Custom range” – Pos: #6–20 – in the “Positions” filter to find “quick-win” keywords you can target:
Identifying existing keyword opportunities in Semrush

From the results, you now have a list of existing keywords to target. These “quick-win” opportunities include “keyword research” and “competitor analysis tools”:

List of existing keyword opportunities

Or, if you have an extensive keyword list to analyze, you can run the analysis at the domain level. Add some modifiers related to your website topics/products/services to extract the most valuable opportunities.

In the Organic Research tool:

  • Enter your domain – e.g. www.robbierichards.com
  • Select the “Positions” tab
  • Set a “Custom range” – Pos: #6–20 – in the “Positions” filter to find “quick-win” keywords you can target:
  • Add a modifier – e.g. “best”:
Using modifiers to find targeted existing keyword opportunities

From the results, you have a list of existing keywords to target. These “quick-win” terms include “best keyword research tool” and “best seo software for small business”:

List of existing keyword targets

Editor’s Note: You can upload your target keywords into the Existing Keyword Research template:

Paste the exported data (including headings) as Values Only into the Existing Keyword Template into the third tab labeled “1. Semrush KW Opp

Check the DONE tab for results like this:

Existing keyword research template

The GREENEST rows show the MOST ATTRACTIVE quick-win keyword opportunities – i.e. the highest current rankings and search volume with the lowest competition level.

Qualify your target keyword list with SERP data

Once you’ve created your target keyword list that aligns with your site monetization model, the next stage is to select the right keywords. That means the keywords that you can get onto the first page of the SERP within 90 days.

Here are 3 ways to qualify your target keyword list with SERP data:

Assess organic traffic potential

Although search volume provides a reasonable estimate, it’s more practical to look at organic traffic estimates as they give a more accurate TOPICAL traffic potential.

In the Keyword Overview tool:

  • Enter your keyword – e.g. “beard styles”
  • Scroll down to the SERP Analysis section at the bottom of the report:
Analyzing SERP data in Semrush

Check if there’s enough traffic potential to justify producing new content.

Editor’s Note: Depending on your monetization strategy, your traffic threshold will vary significantly. For example, the traffic threshold for a sales or lead gen site will be much lower than that for an ad-based site.

Identify content type and format

Once you’ve determined there’s enough traffic potential, you need to identify the content type and format. If you write the best piece of content, but choose the wrong type and format, you won’t rank.

You can identify the content type and format by looking at the URL strings in the SERP Overview report.

Here are a couple of examples:

Content type

In the Keyword Overview tool:

  • Enter your keyword – e.g. “interactive infographics”
  • Scroll down to the SERP Analysis section at the bottom of the report:
Analyzing content types and formats in the SERP

The top-ranking content type for this keyword is informational intent list-type blog posts. You can double-check the titles and content. For example:

  • 101 Visually Stunning Interactive Infographics to Inspire You
  • 15 Best Interactive & Animated Infographics
  • 23 Stunning Interactive & Animated Infographics
  • 16 Stunning Examples of Interactive Infographics
  • 10+ Animated and Interactive Infographics
Content format

Once you’ve established the content type, you need to check the content format.

Typical formats include:

In the Keyword Overview tool:

  • Enter your keyword – e.g. “quadcopter controls”
  • Scroll down to the SERP Analysis section at the bottom of the report:

The top-ranking content format for this keyword is informational intent “how-to guides”. You can double-check the titles and content. For example:

  • How To Fly A Quadcopter
  • How to Fly a Drone: Beginner’s Guide
  • How to Fly a Drone: A Beginner’s Guide
  • How to Use a Drone Controller? Easy Step-by-Step Guide

Analyze page-level link counts

Finally, you want to analyze the page-level link counts in the SERPs to see how difficult it will be to rank for your target keyword.

In the Keyword Overview tool:

  • Enter your keyword – e.g. “Semrush free trial”
  • Scroll down to the SERP Analysis section at the bottom of the report:
Analyzing backlink data in the Semrush SERP report

The overall Page AS (Authority Score) is based on the number of referring domains, backlinks, and organic search traffic.

In this example, the sites above me have more referring domains, backlinks, and search traffic, resulting in a higher authority score. To rank higher, I need to increase those page-level metrics.

Optimize your content with target (and secondary) keywords

Once you’ve created your content (with the right type and format), you need to optimize it.
First, make sure you’ve included your target keyword in the key on-page places:

  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • URL
  • Headings (H2/H3)
  • Body copy

Then, take it up a level by using a tool such as the SEO Content Template to analyze your existing copy:

Running on-page analysis to optimize for a target keyword

You can also use the tool if you’re starting from scratch. You get recommendations based on the top 10 competitors for:

  • word count
  • semantics
  • readability
  • plagiarism/uniqueness
  • backlinks
  • header optimization
Secondary target keyword recommendations in Semrush

You can even use the SEO Writing Assistant to get real-time feedback and recommendations while writing in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, WordPress (with a plugin), or the Semrush interface.

Finally, if you don’t have the internal bandwidth to scale content production on your own, Semrush has a marketplace of writers you can order from within the app:

Order content for target keywords inside the Semrush Marketplace

Target the right keywords for your business

Let’s quickly recap the key steps for targeting your keywords:

  • Align keyword research with your site monetization model to target the right opportunities.
  • Build your list of target keywords using the steps above.
  • Qualify your target keyword list and move them into your content pipeline.
  • Optimize your content so that you have a strong chance of ranking.

Whether you monetize by ad revenue, affiliate commissions, product sales, or services, you can use this process to find the most targeted keywords that will drive an ROI.

Semrush allows you to quickly find and qualify the best keyword opportunities and even analyze your content to ensure it’s appropriately optimized for those target keywords.

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