A Comprehensive Guide to Conducting B2B Keyword Research

Imagine building a house with a faulty foundation. You miss the error early on, and later the structure is compromised, forcing you to tear it down and start over. It wastes time, money, and effort. Picking the right keywords is the same; if you don't get it right from the start, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Finding the right keywords, from the start, can make or break your ranking and conversion goals.

If you're thinking, "Why should I care about keyword research for B2B? Isn't it all the same"—well...

Imagine you're building a house, but the foundation measurements are off. You don't catch it early, so the whole thing goes up on shaky ground. Later, you realize the structure's compromised. You have to tear it all down and start over. All that work, money, and time? Yup, destined to fail from the start.

Picking the right keywords is the same. If you don't get it right from the start, you're doomed later.

You'll be wasting a lot of time on what may be the best content ever created. Beautiful work of art only a mere fraction of your potential audience ends up reading.

Key Takeaways

  • Identify Your Market and Audience: Understand specific pain points. Gather insights from key stakeholders using interviews, surveys, customer feedback, and industry forums.
  • Collect Seed Keywords: Start with primary keywords and expand your list using SEO keyword research tools to uncover a broader range of potential keywords.
  • Analyze Competitors: Use SEO tools to identify and analyze competitors’ keyword strategies. Look for gaps and opportunities you can leverage.
  • Select Target Keywords: Choose a balanced mix of high-volume, low-competition keywords that align with different stages of the buyer’s journey.
  • Develop a Content Strategy: Include cornerstone pages and cluster content, and make sure to match the right keywords with the right content type.

Unlike B2C...

Three people sitting around a wooden table in a bright room with large windows and several green plants. They appear to be in a discussion, with one person gesturing while talking. There is a laptop and two coffee mugs on the table.

With B2C, the focus may be on getting as many eyeballs as possible. Extra exposure is always welcome. Therefore experimenting and deviating from the core topic is a common scenario. This means you'll have a much wider ocean to explore.

B2B keyword research is all about precision. It's not as abundant with opportunities either.

And that's exactly why keyword opportunities are harder to find for B2B customers. You have to understand the complex needs of businesses, pinpoint potential keywords from the cheapskate keyword database, and blend it all in neatly. It's about aligning real-world pain points their clients have with promising queries in SERP.

With that said, in B2C, keywords with high search volume are generally easier to find.

B2B clients, on the other hand, are different. It's a bit like playing chess. You’re targeting niche markets, decision-makers, and professionals with very specific needs. It’s not just about traffic; it’s about getting the right traffic. Plus, you're down to the wire with finding any SEO keyword opportunities.

Understanding B2B Keyword Research

First off, let’s define what we’re talking about.

B2B keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing search terms that businesses use to find solutions online. These keywords are the backbone of your B2B SEO strategy.

They help you create the type of content that not only ranks well but also attracts potential clients. The right kind that is likely to convert. In a nutshell, effective keyword research for B2B is about understanding the language your target market uses, testing different queries and their keyword difficulty score, and settling on a keyword list.

Why is this important?

When you perform B2B keyword research effectively, you’re not just guessing what might work—you’re using data to back up your content strategy. This means you’re more likely to create B2B content that resonates with your audience and answers their specific questions.

Moreover, a solid B2B keyword strategy supports strategic content creation. It ensures that every piece of content you produce is optimized to attract the right audience - potential B2B buyers. This is crucial for maintaining consistent search traffic that converts into leads and B2B sales.

Steps to Conduct B2B Keyword Research

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Let's explore the nitty-gritty behind conducting effective B2B keyword research. By following these steps, you can create content that targets the right queries and ranks high in search results.

1. Identify Your Market and Audience

The goal research phase #1 is to understand the business's target audience’s needs and pain points. This isn’t about creating a buyer persona. I find this type of general marketing wisdom to be time-wasting and misleading in this instance.

Instead, you should identify pain points their audience has that are related to your client's business needs.

Are they struggling with integrating new software? Do they need more efficient supply chain solutions?

Second, write down a list of all the products or services the business is offering.

I suggest you start by talking to a person who has the best insights - a business owner, CEO, B2B marketing manager, or sales agent. Whoever you can get hold of. Their insights will help you set the right foundation to proceed with your research of keyword targets.

If you have the time and resources, using surveys, customer feedback, and industry forums can also provide valuable insights for your market research.

Ask for permission to record and collect industry jargon and phrases.

If you explore forums, perhaps, copy and paste messages into a single Excel file and create a Word Cloud. This will help you identify the words and phrases your target audience uses most often. Sharing this with a marketing team can add value by helping them adjust their messaging. I used this approach in one content research project for user testing software and it delivered.

Word cloud in the shape of an open book, featuring prominent words such as

This kind of research will give you the foundation for identifying the right keywords to target.

2. Collect Seed Keywords

First, start with the basics.

Gather terms that are directly relevant to your business from the research you connected in step #1. These are your primary keywords. Think about the core products or services you offer - also your primary keyword ideas.

For instance, if you’re in B2B SaaS, terms like “enterprise software,” “B2B solutions,” or “business management tools” should be on your list. These are the terms people use to find specific results in search engine. This part of the research is crucial to build discovery and relevance for search engines.

Next, it’s time to expand this list. Use research tools like Google Keyword Planner, Keyword Explorer by Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Answer The Public. These tools are essential for uncovering a broader range of potential keywords. They help you understand what your target audience is searching for and give you insights into search volume and competition.

SEMrush keyword ideas for

To get even more refined results, use Chat GPT 4o. This fancy updated version can generate a list of synonymous, industry-relevant keyword search terms. Just paste all the terms you have collected so far, explain the purpose of your task, and let it do its magic.

Screenshot of a list of synonymous phrases for 'product development' that people might use in search engines. The list includes phrases like 'new product creation,' 'product innovation process,' 'developing new products,' and others.

Once you have these terms, run them through SEMrush to further refine your list and get a sense of which keywords have the most potential.

Now, let’s talk about keyword modifiers.

These are crucial for honing in on B2B-specific searches. Add modifiers like "enterprise," "solutions," "software," and others relevant to your industry. Include job titles, industry-specific terms, and problem-specific modifiers to make your keywords more precise and targeted.

This process will help you compile a comprehensive list of potential keywords that align with your B2B marketing goals.

3. Analyze Competitors

Insights into your competitors can supercharge your keyword research.

Sometimes, you find a competitor who provides over 60% of your keyword opportunities. When that happens, it’s like striking gold—all the extra work on seed keywords vanishes.

Therefore, it's important to identify and analyze competitors using SEO tools. Try to find other sites within your niche that utilize low-score keywords.

Screenshot of main organic competitors and competitive positioning map, showing organic search traffic and keywords for top competitors.

With one of my clients, I discovered a competitor who targeted all the right keyword opportunities a new domain should target. But their content quality was lacking. I knew we could outrank them in 80% of search queries by focusing on better quality and super-optimized semantics.

To this day, this client, Vending Locator, remains my most extraordinary B2B SEO case study. At one point, 12% of all produced content was ranking in the top 3 search results within just 7 months.

Screenshot showing organic traffic and keywords trend. Organic traffic increased to 25,629 per month by April 2024. The organic keywords chart shows 783 keywords ranked in the top 3 positions as of March 2024.

This success came from strategic competitor analysis and leveraging their long tail keyword opportunities to our advantage.

Tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush are great for this.

The conclusion? Look for gaps and opportunities where competitors are underperforming. These gaps are gold mines for new keywords your competitors might be missing.

4. Select Target Keywords

Choosing the right keywords is a balancing act. Ideally, you want a mix of high-volume and low-competition keywords with a lower keyword difficulty score.

Make sure you're not picking too ambitiously though.

I see many content writers and businesses make this mistake. New domains and those fresh to the Google game should start by cherry-picking the lowest-hanging fruit. Picking only the opportunities they are certain they can rank for. This is what B2B keyword research for SEO is about.

By doing so, they'll gradually attract organic traffic, earn backlinks faster, and slowly boost their authority score. Boosting authority opens you to a wider range of opportunities for growth as you push more content out. Soon enough, with consistent effort, you'll get to those opportunities that looked super attractive. Until then, go brick by brick.

Here's what this approach did for a B2B SEO client, Vending Locator,

Screenshot showing vendinglocator.com's authority score rising from 9 in June 2023 to 29 in May 2024, with 258 referring domains, 1.3K backlinks, and 25.6K organic traffic.

If you're unsure about choosing keywords, here's a simple rule: add 5 to your domain authority (DA) score in SEMrush. For example, if your DA is 25, aim for keywords with a difficulty of 30 or less. If you're not a professional, anything above this is riskier and is likely to result in wasted effort.

If you're doing the research for B2B companies, then focus on keywords that align with different stages of the buyer’s journey. Map these keywords to your content strategy, ensuring each keyword has a clear place in your content plan.

Avoid picking keywords with high commercial intent if your goal is to create SEO content. Save those for your PPC campaigns.

Keyword difficulty scores can be tricky as an only assessment criteria.

Therefore, always check the top 5 search competitors for your target keyword to verify. If popular sites are dominating the results, it's better to look elsewhere. For example, here's what the Google SERP looks like for "keyword research".

SERP with high domain authority for keyword

We got Zapier, Hubspot, Ahrefs, and SEMrush all competing for top spots.

Instead, you want to find keywords that high-authority sites haven't covered. Plus you want the content to have low optimization scores. Like "b2b keyword research".

Just look at the difference in the top 6 search results in terms of domain authority.

Search result page for b2b keyword research

Tools like SurferSEO and Neuron Writer can help you quickly check how well competitors have optimized for your keyword. Finally, once you have these long-tail expressios, you should include them in your article outline document to instruct the writers on how to use them.

4.1 Create Keyword Clusters and Silos

Now that you have your keywords, it’s time to organize them into clusters. Think of keyword clusters as groups of related keywords that revolve around a central topic.

This helps you create a structured content plan and identify cornerstone content - aka the king of a single cluster. In other words, the piece all your little content pieces from a single cluster should refer to. This is how you make your SEO efforts more effective and your content more focused.

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Here’s how to create keyword clusters in four simple steps:

  1. Use Tools to Organize Keywords: Tools like Keyword Cupid, SEMrush, or even ChatGPT can help. Import your list of keywords into one of these tools. For example, with Keyword Cupid, it will automatically organize your keywords into clusters based on semantic proximity, meaning it groups keywords that are conceptually related. Chat GPT does a pretty decent job in this as well.
  2. Identify Core Topics: Look at your main keywords and identify core topics. These are the main themes around which you will build your content. For instance, if you have keywords related to "B2B marketing," your core topics might include "content marketing," "email marketing," and "social media marketing."
  3. Group Related Keywords: For each core topic, group related keywords together. Let’s take "content marketing strategy" as an example. Related keywords might include "b2b content marketing strategy," "content marketing strategy examples," "seo content marketing strategy" and so on. By grouping these keywords together, you’re creating a cluster that revolves around content marketing.
  4. Link Strategically: Internal linking is crucial. Within each cluster, link your content pieces to each other and to the main pillar/cornerstone page. This not only helps with SEO but also makes it easier for readers to navigate related content. For example, your blog post on "SEO content marketing strategy" should link back to your main "content marketing strategy" page and also to other related posts like "SEO content marketing strategy."

By following these steps, you’ll create a well-organized, effective content strategy that not only boosts your SEO but also provides valuable, structured information for your audience.

One little caveat - building keyword clusters for small, niche websites is sometimes unnecessary. The opportunities are simply too scarce, and your authority score is probably so low, that it doesn't make sense to lose time on this step.

Instead, you should just focus on aiming for the lowest-hanging fruit and make sure you link everything nicely. With time, if it makes sense, you can explore the idea of building clusters.

6. Develop a Content Strategy

Collage of professionals working in various settings, with the text

Now, it’s time to develop a content strategy that includes cornerstone pages and cluster content.

As we said, cornerstone pages are the central hubs of your content strategy. They cover broad topics essential to your business and can be broken down into smaller subtopics. Think of these pages as comprehensive guides or ultimate resources on a specific subject.

Each keyword in your clusters should be mapped to specific types of content like blog posts, whitepapers, or case studies.

For instance, blog posts are ideal for answering specific questions or diving into detailed aspects of a topic. Whitepapers are great for in-depth analysis or comprehensive reports. Finally, case studies are perfect for showcasing real-world applications and success stories. This ensures that every keyword has a purpose and a place within effective b2b seo strategy.

Use tools like Lucidchart or even a simple spreadsheet to map out your content. Start with the cornerstone page at the center of your map, then add cluster content by drawing lines from your cornerstone page to each piece of related content.

For example, from your “B2B keyword research” guide, you might have branches to blog posts on “How to Identify Market Needs” and “Using Tools for Keyword Search.” Make sure related cluster content links to one other as well. This creates a strong internal linking structure, which is great to build relevance and discovery and helps readers navigate related topics easily.

Every time you create a new piece of content, link it back to the relevant cornerstone page.

For example, if I was to write a new blog post on “B2B tools for keyword research,” I would include a link back to “B2B keyword research” cornerstone page. This signals to search engines that my cornerstone page is highly relevant and authoritative.

Remember, Keywords Need Some Backing Up

Once your content is live, promote it through various channels.

Share your cornerstone pages and supporting articles on social media platforms where your audience is active. Include links to your latest content in your email newsletters. Optimize your content for search engines and consider using paid ads to drive traffic to your cornerstone pages.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to plan your B2B content strategy effectively, ensuring it attracts high-quality leads and supports your overall digital marketing efforts. This approach not only enhances your SEO but also provides clear, valuable information to your audience, resulting in great B2B engagement.

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