A common mistake SEOs make when they do keyword research: they assume that as long as their content matches the search query, it will satisfy their audience's needs. As a result, they only align content with the topic of the query, ignoring its most important element – the actual intent of the search.

Every query not only tells what information the user is looking for (e.g. a hotel or a gift for someone) but also reveals their intent behind doing the search in the first place.

What’s more, this intent almost always relates to a specific stage of the buying cycle the person is going through.

By identifying a user's search intent, you can present them with the exact information they’re looking for at the precise moment they need to see it, therefore increasing their chances of converting on your site.

And the good news is, it’s not that difficult to do! In this post, I’ll walk you through a process of identifying what keywords and topics correspond with your target audience’s buying cycle. But first, let's establish the basics.


What is Keyword Mapping?

Keyword mapping is the simple process of applying your target keywords for your brand or business to specific pages on your website, based on both user intent and topic of the page. By mapping out your keywords for your site, you are effectively telling both users and search engines what your site is about. 

Keyword mapping doesn't have to take place when you're building your site. Rather, this should be an ongoing process in creating new content and evaluating old content. Most importantly, keyword mapping helps prevent keyword cannibalization and ensures that you provide your users with information that satisfies a need on your site (as opposed to your competition!).

Recommended Reading: The Complete Guide to Creating a Content Marketing Strategy

Content Mapping vs. Keyword Mapping

While there are a lot of similarities between content mapping and keyword mapping, the two concepts have slightly different meanings and workflows. 

Keyword mapping starts with the keyword research process. This fundamental stage of creating content on your site allows you to identify topics and target keywords customers use to find relevant information.

Once keyword research is complete (though, be advised, you should always be researching new keywords to target), you can then determine what content to create to position your brand to be in front of your target audience.  

Recommended Reading: SEO Keyword Research: 4 Steps to Find Profitable Keywords Fast

Content mapping, on the other hand, combines both keyword mapping and SEO forecasting to ensure you have all of your bases covered in regards to what your audience wants to know from you. Where keyword mapping identifies target keywords you could approach, content mapping identifies keywords, gaps in currently existing content, and where your competition is ranking and you are not for certain target terms. 

What Resources Do I Need for Keyword Mapping?

Anyone of any level of content creation or SEO can create a keyword map. Simply open an Excel spreadsheet and begin tracking target terms, search volume, and content you'd like to create (if you haven't already created it already) in an adjacent column. You can even get granular about details separating out your related keywords by topic. 

Recommended Reading: Why Topic Strategy Matters Most in Keyword Research

Alternatively, you can leverage Search Analytics, which provides visibility to all keywords + URL data, making it easier if you haven't executed the keyword research for each landing page on your site. You instantly get the list of keyword that are driving organic traffic to the corresponding page.

Any way you decide to map your keywords, it's important to note that you must have some idea of what keywords you wish to target before beginning into the real work of aligning your key terms with your target customers.


The Relationship Between Buyers and Keywords

Every person using a search engine for products to buy or services to hire goes through what marketers call the buying cycle – a process of discovery, evaluation, and selection. In order to have a well-founded marketing strategy, you need to be familiar with this buying cycle. 

Although the number of steps in the process may vary depending on the person, the product, or the service, in general, we identify five key stages of the buying cycle:

  1. Need Recognition – a person at this stage realizes they might have a problem or need.
  2. Information Search – knowing they have a problem, they search for information to understand it better and learn about possible solutions.
  3. Evaluation – having found alternative solutions, they evaluate them to make a final selection.
  4. Purchase – having made the final decision, they buy a product or service.
  5. Buyer’s Remorse – an optional part of the buying cycle, this is time when they might doubt their choice. At this stage, they might be prone to returning the item or canceling a subscription, etc.

buying cycle


Where someone is in the buying cycle will also affect their search intent.

Intent to Learn

People early in the buying cycle want to be educated; their search queries imply an intent to learn. These individuals haven’t fully realized their problem, yet. They seek information relating to the problem -- they may research potential symptoms, try to discover the severity of their problem, or look for initial advice on solving it. Although they aren’t ready to evaluate or purchase any solutions, you can convert them into cold leads for further nurturing.

Intent to Compare

Satisfied with their knowledge, people begin to evaluate available options. They already understand their problem. They’ve also researched available solutions and may have already picked a couple they’re considering to buy. What they want to do now is evaluate those options to make the final selection. It is now possible to convert them into customers or hot leads.

Intent to Buy

Finally, happy with their selection, they decide to make a purchase. They know what solution they want, so they begin to search for the best place to acquire it. They scour the web looking for a particular product, evaluate offers, prices, and perhaps look for a discount.

query by intent

What’s important for you to remember is that depending on the intent, users will use a different list of keywords for their searches.

Recommended Reading: Going Above & Beyond Google Analytics in the Quest for Search Visibility 


Keyword Intent in the Buying Cycle

You already know the process a person goes through when buying a product. You also know how their intent for information changes as they progress through the buying cycle. So now, let’s look at the four different types of keywords customers use while progressing through the buying cycle.

1. Informational Keywords

These keywords help people, who have the intent to learn, find information and answers to their questions. You can sometimes recognize these long tail keywords by such words as “how," “where” or “when."


  • “Chicago rent prices”
  • “Bed bugs symptoms”
  • “How to get rid of bed bugs”
  • “Hotels New York”

2. Commercial Keywords

Commercial keywords help searchers dig deeper into the solution they’re considering, evaluate available options and find additional information. These searches might include such words as: “best," “reviews” or “compare."


  • “Best iPad covers”
  • “Types of laptop computers”
  • “Compare Asus laptops”
  • “Asus Laptops reviews”

3. Transactional Keywords

Transactional keywords help users find places to buy the solution they chose. These keywords often include words like “buy," “cheap," “coupon," “discount” or “price."


  • “Buy Asus Zenbook”
  • “Cheap Asus Zenbook”
  • “Buy Fintie iPad Cover Chicago”

4. Navigational Keywords

Finally, customers might be looking to contact a specific business they’ve selected. For this purpose, they use what’s known as navigational keywords – ones that include just a brand or a company’s name.

Different Types of Keywords Relating to the Buying Cycle


Mapping Keywords to Different Stages of the Buying Cycle

Let’s turn this information into practice and look at how a person’s search queries might change as they progress through the buying cycle.

Imagine a person who noticed something strange happening with her laptop. At first, she’ll look for information about what’s going on with her computer. She’ll use such queries as:

  • “Computer working slow”
  • “why is my laptop  slow”
  • “reasons for laptop working slow”

At this stage, she only intends to learn more about the cause of her problem. But as she discovers more about it, her search queries will begin to change. For instance, she might have learned that her computer could be infected with viruses. She’ll then start searching for:

  • “Antivirus software for PC”
  • “Best antivirus software”
  • “Antivirus software reviews”

She now exhibits an intent to compare and starts to evaluate possible solutions on the market.

Finally, she decides to purchase an antivirus software and begins to search for a place to make the purchase:

  • “cheap antivirus software”
  • “buy antivirus software”

Here are queries she might have used depending on her intent:

queries she might have used depending on her intent


Applying This Knowledge to Your SEO and Content Marketing Strategy

Understanding the search intent behind a keyword will help you send a user to highly relevant content that delivers to their specific needs. (Note: the presentation of the SERP can alert you to the search intent behind a query.)

For example, to target users with the intent to learn, you could publish a series of blog posts on common symptoms of their problem and optimize them for the right keywords. Then, offer a cheat sheet or other lead magnet to convert those searchers into leads.

To attract users with the intent to compare, you could rank pages featuring your latest digital marketing pieces, such as video reviews of your product, an eBook, case studies, webinars or other content that would help a person to evaluate your solution as the best option to solve their problem.

And finally, you should optimize product pages, landing pages and sales pages for keywords that users with the intent to buy would type into the search box.

Doing so would create a full alignment between a person’s intent, their search phrases and your content, delivering information a person at a very specific stage of the buying cycle would be seeking.

TIP: Include your main keywords in the URL so searchers have an extra clue as to what the page will be about. You can learn more in our guide to SEO basics

As always, be sure to have proper on-and off-page optimization so the user has the best experience possible, and use internal links to strengthen the content in a relevant topic cluster. A site audit can alert you to any potential issues with usability or on-page SEO issues that hinder the searchers' time on the site. This changes the conversation from search engine optimization to search experience optimization. 

Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated to reflect advancements in our industry.