Cove commerce

eCommerce Keyword Research Strategies (& Pitfalls to Avoid)

Naman Nepal


Naman Nepal

Last updated: 

July 25, 2023

We’ve managed keyword research, content development, and SEO strategies for various eCommerce businesses (e.g., custom printing services, mattress companies, home decor brands, backyard equipment, wineries, manufacturing, and more) over the last five+ years. 

In our experience, we’ve seen these teams fall into a few common pitfalls when researching keywords and building content plans:

  • Chasing high-traffic keywords to “get their name out there” instead of targeting qualified audiences.
  • Targeting any keyword that seems relevant to their brand without basing content plans on actual content marketing goals.
  • Copying competitors’ content plans to “be competitive” without combing through to find the keywords that make sense for their business.

So we’ve developed strategies to course correct and generate ROI from website content — these strategies can be applied across eCommerce brands because they’re based around your unique offerings, target audiences, and short- and long-term goals.

And this guide walks through our approach. It covers:

  • How to identify keywords with real business potential and drive conversions (actual sales) from content. 
  • Best practices to create variety in your content plan and use content marketing to achieve multiple goals — so you can employ brand awareness strategies while improving ROI from content. 
  • The best SEO tools to perform keyword research. 
  • What to avoid when building out your content plan. 

Our team can also show you the ropes. We’re a full-service agency that can build strong content plans and develop SEO strategies to improve rankings and visibility, promote traffic and new visitors, and drive ROI from content. Schedule a free consult. 

How to identify buying-intent keywords for eCommerce websites & drive sales from content

Though most eCommerce businesses are interested in content marketing as a means to grow their brand name and increase website visitors — the end goal of all marketing (increasing brand awareness, attracting new potential buyers) is to promote sales from your online business. 

So the best way to do that is to get in front of Googlers at the bottom of the funnel — a.k.a. when they’re actively interested in what you offer and ready to make a purchase — and target keywords that indicate buying intent.

Types of keywords that indicate buying intent include: 

  • Product or service keywords 
  • Brand-specific keywords (your brand name or competitors) 
  • Long-tail keywords that describe a problem your product/service solves or task it completes 

Let’s talk more about each category and provide some examples. 

Category — product or service — keywords 

These are the exact search terms Googlers would look up to find the products or services you offer — they’re the absolute most bottom-of-the-funnel keywords. 

These are typically straightforward and easy to identify (think product categories and names). For example, say you manage website content for an online mattress brand; you’d want to target product names like “memory foam mattress,” “hybrid mattress,” or “latex mattress,” depending on what your brand offers.

You can also think of product or service comparisons, for example: “memory foam mattress vs. latex” or “types of mattresses,” and target readers (slightly more up the funnel) researching product categories. 

Think of your brand offerings — main offerings and “extras” — and put together a list of products and services to use as a foundation for keyword research. Then, you can search related keyword ideas for each product or service and determine the right keywords to slot into your content plan. 

Then you want to prioritize keywords based on what’s most valuable to achieving short- and long-term goals. For example, a keyword like “memory foam mattress” is more valuable than “waterproof mattress protector” because one product obviously brings in more revenue (high ticket products vs. low ticket products). 

That said, you shouldn’t totally overlook content about mattress protectors; this content is just lower on the priority list and can be slotted in when convenient. You may prioritize promotional content if you’re just releasing a mattress protector or if you want to encourage sales for that product specifically.

Note: some of these keywords will have high search volumes and keyword difficulty scores, so it might be harder to rank for them initially. If the keyword is applicable to your brand and it makes sense to target, we recommend slotting it in. Then, once your website starts appearing for this keyword, you can reap the benefits of increased traffic and targeting qualified buyers.

Category keywords that contain a layer of specificity 

Other keywords in this realm include category keywords that have an added layer of specificity. These indicate even greater buying potential because Googlers are looking for an exact product or service — they’ve likely done some research about the product and are ready to pull the trigger with a brand that offers what they need. 

So if you fit the criteria, there’s a good chance Googlers will take the next steps with you

Let’s circle back to our mattress brand example: say this brand’s competitive advantage is that they offer organic mattresses and bedding (e.g., plant-based memory foam, organic latex). Targeting keywords with those specific details — for example, “organic latex mattress for side sleepers” or “latex mattress with organic certification” — is even more advantageous because those Googlers are further qualified and better potential buyers. 

You could even use this to improve local SEO if you have retail stores in certain cities — “organic latex mattresses in [location name]” and attract Googlers who still wish to make their final purchase in person.

Note: these keywords will likely have fewer searches than main category keywords. Although it may seem enticing to target the keyword that gets you in front of more prospective buyers, you have a much greater chance of seeing success from content by narrowing in and being more strategic with who you target. 

You can slot in a mix of keyword types (which we’ll talk about below), but you shouldn’t rule out these variations of product keywords just because they have a lower search volume. In our experience, we’ve seen them convert at a much higher rate.

Competitor keywords 

Competitor keywords also indicate buying intent because Googlers are researching and comparing brands they’re interested in doing business with — these are also pretty bottom-of-the-funnel opportunities. 

There are two types of competitor keywords: 

  • Keywords that include “[competitor name] + alternative” (or “competitor”) — for example, “Tempur-Pedic alternatives” or “Casper competitors.”
  • Vs. keywords that compare two brands — “[brand name #1] vs. [brand name #2] — like Tempur-Pedic vs. Casper. It’s helpful to find “Vs.” keywords that mention your brand name, but you can also find creative ways to target other variations and insert your name in those conversations.

Compile a list of your most noteworthy competitors to gather keyword ideas that fall into the above buckets — direct competitors or those who offer similar products or services are most valuable here, but you can also weave in other names that make sense for your organization. 

Then you can add these keywords to your content plan and effectively target Googlers who are interested in solutions similar to yours (and may be good prospects for your business). 

Also, consider your brand-specific keywords here — like “[brand name] reviews” or “[brand name] discounts” and build landing pages to target those keywords. These are a little less valuable because the reader already knows about you, but offering the right resources at this stage of the sales process may give readers the extra push to make a purchase. 

Long-tail keywords that mention problems or tasks your brand can solve 

The next category includes keywords that mention problems your products/services solve or tasks they complete. 

These are a little less obvious, and they target Googlers farther up the purchase funnel, but they still indicate buying intent because readers are looking to solve a specific problem or accomplish a specific task — so if you offer a solution, you have a chance of converting these readers into customers. 

To identify these opportunities, think about why people purchase with your brand, the pains customers mention, the goals they want to accomplish, and your competitive advantages. 

Also, consider search intent when assessing the value of each keyword — grounding yourself in the Googler’s shoes gives you a better idea of whether the searcher is likely to make a purchase or just researching.

Take our example mattress brand — some keyword ideas may include: “how to find the right mattress size for bedroom space,” “which mattresses are organic,” or “how to stay cool during sleep.” These Googlers aren’t directly looking up products or brand names, but they’re still in the market for what you sell. 

Then you could write content that answers these questions while promoting your brand — you could:

  • Provide tips on comparing mattress sizes with bedroom sizes and recommend your products within.
  • Explain how to find an organic mattress, the materials and certifications to look for, and explain how your beds fit the bill. 
  • Write a blog post on how to prevent night sweats and weave in details about cooling sleep products.

Here’s another example to help your brainstorming. 

One of our clients, PosterJack, offers online printing services (in a variety of formats and with custom frames) — so we slotted in keywords like: 

  • How big can I print my photo?
  • Photo frame size chart 
  • Where to print out panoramic photos

However, we also prioritized topics like “best canvas print services” and “best places to print large photos” because this introduced PosterJack to potential customers interested in the services they offer. 

How to create a well-rounded content plan for eCommerce businesses 

The best way to create a well-rounded eCommerce content strategy is to incorporate keywords at each stage of the funnel — while prioritizing those at the bottom; these transactional keywords attract the Googlers who are more likely to buy from you and drive ROI from content sooner. 

Slot in product or category keywords, competitor keywords, long-tail keywords, and brand awareness content to help you work towards multiple goals. The exact ratio of keywords per category is highly dependent on your current website performance and what you want to accomplish. 

That’s why basing your content plan on your goals is so important; you identify the opportunities that make sense for your brand, then determine the right order to schedule topics and strategies to target keywords. 

For example, if you already have an established eCommerce site with a large library of content, buying-intent keywords should be your greatest priority — you can optimize existing content to rank for these valuable keywords or create new content. 

On the flip side, if you’re just launching your online store, you’ll want a more even mix of BOTF and brand awareness content. 

Before you begin keyword research, we recommend sitting down with your content marketing team, brand managers, and other relevant stakeholders to determine: 

  • Goals of content marketing — What is the motivation to invest in content marketing? What problems are you trying to solve? What milestones are you hoping to achieve?
  • Target audiences — Who are your best buyers? Who do you want to attract more of? Anybody you should avoid? 
  • Products, services, or events you want to promote — What products or services are most valuable in driving revenue? Are you releasing new products, or have any events on the radar? 
  • Competitive advantages — What differentiates you from competitors? What problems do you solve? Why are you the best choice for target audiences? 
  • Top competitors — Think of who you directly compete with, new names in the space, or brands you often hear from customer feedback. 

Once you iron out these details and have some direction to guide content marketing, you can create a list of keywords from our categories above and determine how to prioritize topics.

We also suggest: 

  1. Thinking about the brand awareness content that’s most interesting or appealing to your marketing teams. Which conversations do you want to join and introduce your name to new buyers? Think about popular industry topics, current events, and what’s trending to gather some ideas. Though these are low-priority and should be scheduled around the buying-intent keywords above, they’re still worth pursuing if you have the resources and interest. This content can drive traffic, works well for link-building and social media promotion, and boosts topical authority. 
  2. Building topic clusters to create structure across your website and ensure you have comprehensive content to rank for relevant keywords. Topic clusters are groups of related content, like a hub and spokes: you create one parent page and determine additional keywords to complement the primary content. 

For example, in our mattress brand example, you could create a topic cluster for “memory foam mattress” keywords, including “best memory foam mattress” as the parent page, complemented by posts like “memory foam mattress for back pain” or “memory foam mattress for stomach sleepers.” Then you can schedule related topics together (or space them out to encourage variety) and make sure you cover important boxes. 

  1. Develop a high-level strategy for each keyword you want to target — think about search intent, or the goal of the searcher, and decide whether building a product page, website landing page, or blog post makes sense. Also, decide if you can re-optimize existing content or if you plan to create new content for keywords. 

Note: it helps to look at search engine results pages to gauge what’s already ranking for target keywords and who you’re competing with; then, you check and confirm that the keyword presents a solid opportunity for your business and determine the right way to approach content. 

Remember — the specifics of your content plan, including the best keywords to target, when to target them, and what type of content to build, is totally dependent on your current situation and goals. There’s no exact science; you can drive our strategies around your business goals and report on content performance. 

Then you’ll have a better understanding of what strategies work well for you; this is important because you can use insights to continually refine keyword strategies and see better success from website content. More on this later. 

Best SEO keyword research tools

Now that we’ve explained our method to identify valuable keywords and build a comprehensive content plan, let’s talk about the tools you can use to accomplish this research.

Some of the most popular SEO tools with keyword research features include Ahrefs, Semrush, and Clearscope. 

We normally use Ahrefs in our processes because it has user-friendly keyword research tools, a “Content Gap” feature to research competitors’ keywords, and custom rank trackers — however, we have experience with all three tools, and they each allow you to follow the steps above.

Alt text: Ahrefs search engine optimization solution 

When working in Ahrefs, you can:

  • Explore keywords by topic and identify relevant keywords to add to your content plan — you can find secondary keywords to target with main keywords or identify related keywords to build topic clusters.
  • Look up specific keyword opportunities to see search engine metrics (average monthly search volume, keyword difficulty, and CPC) — these are important, but don’t get too caught up in this; you should assess keywords by search intent and business potential. 
  • Analyze the keywords competitors rank for and determine gaps between content — then identify the right keywords to add to your plan. 
  • Build custom rank trackers to see where your site ranks for keywords on your content plan — you can track the rate of progression and troubleshoot low-ranking content so it hits the first page of organic search results. 
  • Identify the best keywords to target via PPC campaigns — for example, as we mentioned above, main category keywords are super valuable but sometimes hard to rank for, so you could prioritize these keywords to promote via Google ads until you achieve page-one rankings. 

Before we wrap up, let’s talk about: 

  • The pitfalls to avoid when planning keywords. 
  • Recommended methods to report on content, so you can make more insightful decisions in future strategies. 

Three pitfalls to avoid during keyword research & planning topics 

We’ve already mentioned a few of these pitfalls throughout — for example, teams get caught up pursuing high-traffic content because it seems applicable to their brand and they want to “spread awareness.” But let’s talk more about these mistakes and how to avoid them during the keyword research process. 

  1. Targeting only the popular category keywords for the sake of increasing traffic and out ruling more specific variations of category keywords

While teams get distracted chasing traffic, they often overlook or completely rule out keywords just because they have low volumeswhy target “organic latex mattress” when you can target “best mattress 2023” and get in front of X times the number of searchers? 

While we see the logic in that thinking, we don’t recommend “casting the widest net” because there’s a good chance you won’t catch anything valuable — you’re far more likely to convert the readers with interest in your specific offerings. 

Targeting a keyword like “best mattress 2023” might bring thousands of visitors to your site, but you are probably only going to convert a few readers. “Organic latex mattress” might only bring one hundred visitors to your site, but you have a higher probability of turning those hundred website visitors into actual customers.

  1. Copying competitor content plans without any strategy

Another pitfall we wanted to elaborate on is: copying competitor plans to appear in the same conversations. We often see brands, especially those who are just starting out, look at what competitors do and copy the strategy. This is actually a pretty common SEO tactic. 

However, you have to be more strategic to actually reap the benefits of plucking competitor ideas. The right keywords for your competitor might not be a good fit for you. 

For example, let’s take it back to our mattress brand: if you primarily sell latex mattresses, it wouldn’t make sense to copy keywords from Tempur-Pedic (a memory foam mattress brand) because you have different target audiences. Some of the keywords might apply to you, but certainly not all of them.

Instead of just copying the content gap report and scheduling in everything you haven’t covered, you should weed through the gap report and identify the topics that actually relate to your content marketing goals and brand offerings. 

Otherwise, you’ll spend time and resources targeting keywords that don’t attract the best leads or generate real results.  

  1. Failing to establish clear goals before kicking off keyword research or content marketing strategies

Of course, the biggest mistake we see teams make, and one that leads to the pitfalls above, is the failure to brainstorm clear goals to drive marketing strategies. 

Everybody wants to “increase website visitors and sales,” but you have to dig in to gameplan the specific steps to achieve that — which keywords and audiences to target, the products to promote, how to build website content, and how to position your solutions. Again, what works for another brand to “increase ROI from marketing” might not be the best approach for you.  

That’s why we recommend having an organizational brainstorm before putting together your content plan (as outlined above). This is what gives you the insights to carefully build a content plan that’s tailored to your eCommerce store, designed to help you hit short-term goals and work towards significant milestones.

Bonus: Tips to report on & improve eCommerce content marketing efforts 

Speaking of insights to guide content strategies, we’d be remiss if we didn’t touch on measuring results from website content. 

Even if you put together (what seems like) a really solid keyword plan, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t track content performance — specifically, rankings in search results, organic traffic, and content conversion rates. These metrics tell you what performs well in SERPs, draws in new readers, and leads to sales.

Without this data about your keyword strategy, you’re stuck slotting in new keyword suggestions without any real idea of how they’ll work for you. 

We recommend Ahrefs above to build rank trackers and report on SERP performance, but you can supplement with tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics to measure traffic and conversions from content. 

  • Google Search Console shows you which queries you rank for, the number of impressions for each query, and how many times searchers clicked on your content from results.
  • Google Analytics lets you dig into traffic sources, view metrics for individual web pages, and track conversions from website content. 

Then you have the data to double down on what works for you and troubleshoot what doesn’t. 

  • Content not ranking well? Refresh and re-optimize the page, or try off-page strategies to promote content. 
  • Ranking but not drawing in traffic? Revise page titles and meta descriptions so they’re more attention-grabbing. 
  • Drawing in traffic but not converting? Take a look at page content and update so it better appeals to search intent.

Pro Tip: After you understand which category keywords are most successful for your brand, you can also optimize Amazon (and other online marketplace) listings for those keywords. Then, your website and Amazon online store can appear in SERPs for related search queries, and you can target users from both channels.

You can also schedule a consultation with our agency to talk digital marketing strategy. We cover everything from website design to SEO, content development, email marketing, and more. We’ll meet with you to understand your current challenges and develop the right eCommerce SEO strategies to build your brand and achieve your goals.

Naman Nepal

Naman Nepal

Naman is the founder of Cove. He has 10+ years of experience executing SEO and growth for eCommerce and SaaS companies.

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