Keywords don’t bring you profit; they bring you people. The most profitable keywords for your business are the ones that will attract relevant readers who are likely to purchase your product or try your service.

Too many people try to choose these keywords by looking solely at metrics like volume, keyword difficulty (KD), and cost per click (CPC). Although these numbers can be helpful, they often aren’t telling you the whole story. A keyword’s high volume doesn’t matter if the people searching for it won’t be interested in your product. Tons of irrelevant searchers aren’t as valuable as a small number of highly qualified leads.

The trick to finding profitable keywords is to focus on what truly matters: matching search intent. To find profitable keywords that will help your business grow, you’ll need to form a clear picture of how you plan on making money, use research tools to find the right keyword candidates, and then match those keywords to your profit strategy with thorough search intent analysis. This way, your keywords aren’t just shots in the dark or based on vanity metrics—they’re part of a targeted business plan.

1. Understand Where You Expect Profit to Come From

Before you can start looking for profitable keywords, you need to know how you plan on making money online and who you’re targeting with your content. You need to understand these points because many of the most profitable keywords are long tail keywords that hone in on a specific audience with specific needs. Niche search terms like “best speakers under $50” or “best ethical socks made in the US” can be more profitable than more generic keywords if they connect your unique product or service with the audience that’s looking for it.

Most websites today use a number of different revenue streams to help them stay profitable. For example, an education website focused on encouraging accessibility can have affiliate links to specialized textbooks on Amazon, a paid membership program to access premium lesson plans, worksheets in their shop, and ads on their free site to make money from Google Ads.

For this guide, you should focus on one revenue stream at a time. If you have multiple streams, then come back and redo this process for each one so that you can find the best keywords to optimize for. Choosing one revenue stream to focus on is important because you may need different keywords and landing pages to promote different streams. As well, you may have different target audiences in mind for each stream. For example, homeschooling parents might be your target for your membership program, while teachers might be the people you’re selling worksheets to.

The revenue streams you choose for your website will be based on what service or product you offer. The most common ways to make money from your website are:

  • Direct purchases of a product from your website
  • Subscriptions to your service
  • Memberships to your site
  • Google Ads revenue
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Offline sale promotions

Once you’ve decided which revenue stream you’re researching, you next need to clearly understand the target market it’s trying to capture. The more specific you can be, the better. For instance, if you’re targeting homeschooling parents for your membership program, you might ask yourself some pointed questions to understand this group of people. Most importantly, you need to know who they are and what problems your membership program can solve for them.

If you aren’t sure of these answers, try going through this guide to market research to get you thinking about who your target market really is. By the time you’re done, you should know:

  • Where they are in their buyer’s journey: Are they problem aware, solution aware, or provider aware?
  • How their search goals can align with your content and boost your revenue: What are they going to be searching for, and how can you build a landing page that will give them the answers they need while trying to get them to take the next step on your website?
  • Why your product or service is uniquely the best choice for them: Understanding this can help you with your content, but it can also help you understand who your market niche truly is.

Let’s go back to our membership program example. After doing some research, we might learn that our buyers are solution aware, so they know they need help coming up with professional lesson plans to teach their children but are still researching what their best options are. Some of our potential buyers are looking for help to make their own lesson plans, while others are looking for a source of lesson plans they can pull from when they’re too busy to make their own.

We can help satisfy their search intents by publishing free lessons so they see the value our lessons bring, by creating informative articles that’ll help them develop their own lesson plans, and by giving them project ideas to supplement their current lessons. Finally, our membership stands out from the competitors because our plans were created in conjunction with accessibility experts, meaning that our perfect audience has children who struggle to get the most out of lessons that don’t account for their child’s unique learning needs.

With this research done, you can move on to finding keyword ideas that can connect your fleshed-out ideal clients with your unique product.

2. Do Keyword Research to Generate Ideas

With a clear idea of how you’re making money and who you need to attract to be successful, you can now start to research keywords to help you accomplish your marketing goals.

To begin your keyword research, log in to your preferred keyword research tool. For this demonstration, we’ll be using SpyFu’s Keyword Tool. Just make sure to keep your keyword research tool consistent: Each tool uses its own estimates of volume, keyword difficulty (KD), and CPC, and you don’t want to be comparing apples to oranges when you later look at the keywords you’ve found.

Start by researching a general short tail keyword that gets to the heart of your product or service. You want to choose a general keyword that is broad enough to capture a number of different search intents while still being specific enough to keep your options narrowed to your field of interest. In our example, this could be the keyword “lesson plans.”

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Look through the listings and find keywords that could relate to what you learned in your customer research.

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For example, “How to write a lesson plan” could make for a great, informative post for the segment of our audience that is looking for help writing their own lesson plans. It will position us as an expert in the field, and we can include a CTA at the end to urge them to sign up for a free trial of our premium membership to get more lesson plan ideas.

As well, it fits in nicely with where our readers are in their buyer’s journey, giving them content that helps them find the best solutions to their lesson planning problems.

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Keep an eye open for keywords that’ll help you target your niche. For example, the keyword “esl lesson plans” could play directly into our wheelhouse because it could connect us with parents or teachers looking for lesson plans accessible to new English learners.

When you’ve exhausted the possibilities on your general keyword, start experimenting with more specific searches. Instead of just looking at “lesson plans,” we could explore “lesson plans for dyslexia.”

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You can find these more specific searches by looking up one of the keywords you found in your general search or try out some ideas based on what you know of your audience. Consider what words your target market would use to describe their problems. Think about whether there are any synonyms or phrases your ideal readers might be more likely to use than the general phrase you’ve already looked at.

For example, not everyone likes the term ESL (English as a second language), so it would be good to try out other terms like ELL (English language learner) or ESOL (English for speakers of other languages).

Another effective strategy to find more keyword ideas is to see what high-value keywords your competitors are ranking for and targeting with their marketing efforts. Head to SpyFu’s Kombat Tool, put in your top competitors, and SpyFu will give you a list of your competitors’ top keywords and any keywords they share. Search through their keywords, and look for any that would suit your content marketing goals.

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You can also check out the Ad History Tool to see which keywords your competitors are buying PPC ads for. If your competitors are buying ads on keywords related to your business model, it’s a pretty strong indicator they could be profitable keywords to pursue yourself.

As you work, create a spreadsheet that lists the keywords you find and their volume, difficulty, and CPC. If your keyword research tool doesn’t have all of this data, you can supplement it with Google Keyword Planner, a free tool from Google. You can learn more about how to get the most out of this tool by reading our Guide to Google Keyword Planner.

When you’re done, you should have at least 30 ideas on your sheet—but the more, the better, as long as they seem to fit what your research told you about your audience.

Your last job before the next step is to prioritize everything that you’ve found so you can find the most profitable keywords hidden on your spreadsheet. We’ll be using the keyword data you’ve collected to prioritize your keywords for search intent research, but how you prioritize your keywords will depend on whether you plan to use them in SEO or PPC campaigns.

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The advantage of SEO is that it only has labor costs to create, and it’s more evergreen, so once your article ranks well, it’ll continue to bring in traffic with no additional cost for as long as it remains at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).

On the other hand, PPC is far quicker than SEO. Once you pay your money, you can have a link on Google’s SERP right away instead of waiting for the three to six months that SEO takes to kick in. Unfortunately, PPC keywords continue to cost you money for as long as you use them, so it’s important that you only use PPC when you’re sure it’s making you more money than you’re spending.

If you plan on creating an SEO campaign, sort your potential keywords by KD. By sorting this way, you can eliminate keywords that you aren’t strong enough to rank for easily and prioritize low-hanging fruit.  

Otherwise, if you plan on creating a PPC campaign, sort by CPC so you can find relevant keywords that you can afford to target.

After sorting your keywords, go through them and look for the ones that have high volume and either low KD or low CPC. Prioritize these keywords at the top of your research list. If you plan to do both an SEO and a PPC campaign, create a duplicate list to keep them separate. Next, we’ll take your list and start to narrow it down to only the most profitable prospects by looking at the search intent behind each of your collected keywords.

3. Match Keyword Search Intent with Your Profit Strategy

A keyword’s search intent should perfectly match the solution you provide on your landing page. If this match doesn’t happen, your organic traffic will suffer, and your PPC campaign won’t get the best results. So your final step to finding profitable keywords is to take your keyword ideas and analyze their SERPs to find the ones that’ll be the most profitable for you.

Start by doing a quick analysis of each SERP so you can eliminate keywords on your list that obviously don’t match search intent. Do this by opening an incognito window in your browser to get search results that aren’t biased by your own search preferences and type in your keyword.

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When skimming SERPs for quick impressions, take a look at:

  • The titles on the pages of the SERP
  • The ads on the page (for PPC)

If you don’t think your future content would fit on this SERP, remove it from your list and move on to the next keyword.

In the above example for “lesson plans for dyslexia,” there seems to be a good fit. The ads include other programs and resources to help dyslexic students, and the organic search results include sites offering lesson plans and resources to help people teach students with dyslexia. This keyword will stay on our list, and we can now check out our next keyword candidate.

But here's how it sometimes doesn't work.

Another keyword on our list could be “cfi lesson plans.” This keyword popped up when we were looking for related keywords to “lesson plans,” and it has good metrics. However, one look at the SERP will tell us that it’s not the right keyword for us.

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CFI stands for Certified Flight Instructor, which becomes evident once you look at the SERP and see the titles and ads on it. We can safely remove this candidate and move on.

Once you’ve removed any keywords that aren’t a good fit, it’s time to take a deeper dive into your analysis.

For each SERP:

  • Read the “People also ask” section
  • Read the “Related searches” section
  • Click through to the top ads and pages to see what they are offering

Your goal here is to better understand who is searching for this keyword and what they are looking for. This research will help you pick out the most relevant keywords for your revenue stream, which will allow you to put your time and effort toward the right keyword.

Also, it’ll help you craft the content and message of your landing page for this keyword to help you increase your conversion rate and improve organic rankings for SEO campaigns.

For example, at first glance, the keyword “lesson plan template” seems like it could be perfect for our website.

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It has a volume of 33.9K, a KD of 91, and a CPC of $1.74. On the SERP, you can see education resources helping teachers more easily make their lesson plans. However, if we look closer, the content on these pages is very bare. Google is favoring websites that provide free resources with very little room for us to upsell our premium membership.

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Canva is currently ranking at the top of the SERP, and their landing page is only a title, two sentences, and then a huge selection of downloadable lesson plan templates. If our business were more focused on lesson plan templates, this might be the right keyword to go after, but for us, this isn’t the perfect fit.

Continue to do this kind of analysis down your list of potential keywords. To learn more about understanding the people behind the SERP, read our in-depth guide to performing search intent research.

When your search intent analysis is complete, it’s finally time to put everything together. There’s no easy way to quantify search intent, so you’ll need to use your best judgment. However, your goal will be to pick out the keywords that have high volume, low KD/CPC, and are the most relevant to your target market based on the search intent of the keyword. When judging your keywords, always err on the side of search intent over the other metrics. A difficult KD or expensive CPC can be overcome with the appropriate SEO strategies or PPC strategies, and overall volume is only as important as the number of relevant searchers it brings.

List out the top keywords based on these three metrics, and you’ll be left with the most profitable keywords for which you can optimize that particular revenue stream of your website. Now, it’s time to execute on these keywords and grow your business.

Take the Next Steps to Maximize Your Most Profitable Keywords

Finding the most profitable keywords is only part of the battle. Successful pages also need to create value for readers, have strong SEO fundamentals, and be well written. To learn more about how to make your landing page stand out, take a look at our on-page SEO checklist.

As well, no matter how good your research is, you’ll always want to check out how your current SEO and PPC strategy is paying off. You can see how individual landing pages are contributing to conversions on your website using Google Analytics. Learn how to set goals on Analytics and much more in our beginner’s guide to Google Analytics.