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Why Brands Should Prioritize Bottom Of Funnel Keywords In SEO

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Why Brands Should Prioritize Bottom Of Funnel Keywords In SEO

Celebrate the Holidays with some of SEJ’s best articles of 2023.

Our Festive Flashback series runs from December 21 – January 5, featuring daily reads on significant events, fundamentals, actionable strategies, and thought leader opinions.

2023 has been quite eventful in the SEO industry and our contributors produced some outstanding articles to keep pace and reflect these changes.

Catch up on the best reads of 2023 to give you plenty to reflect on as you move into 2024.


The concept of search intent and the recommendation that marketers pay close attention to it when targeting organic keywords is well established in SEO.

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But while a lot of SEO writing has described search intent (for example, these two excellent articles on SEJ on creating content that satisfies search intent and understanding how people search), most stop short of clearly prescribing how brands should prioritize keywords.

Specifically, most discussions of search intent state the fact that search queries range from informational (people looking to learn about a topic), to comparative (people comparing solutions to their problem), to transactional (people looking to buy).

This is often visualized as a marketing funnel.

But regarding recommendations on how to use search intent to your advantage in SEO, the most common advice is to ensure you have a variety of content to “cover” the full spectrum of search intent; have some informational, some mid-funnel, and some transactional content.

We disagree.

Specifically, we’ve found in working with dozens of brands over many years in creating SEO-focused content that the vast majority of companies should not create an even spread of content across the funnel, but rather prioritize bottom of funnel content and slowly work their way up.

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Why?

Because SEO resources are finite and bottom of funnel content (e.g., search queries with “transactional” search intent) generates tremendously more return on investment (ROI) on SEO spend than everything else.

In this article, we’ll explain our reasoning and share data supporting this thesis.

SEO Resources Are Finite: You Can’t Target All Keywords Well

The general recommendation that you should “make sure you have content for all stages of the funnel” (aka all search intents) would be fine if companies had infinite SEO resources – meaning unlimited writers to produce content, unlimited SEO strategists to pick keywords and do SERP analysis, and unlimited budget for link building.

But no brand has this.

Even the idea of AI-assisted writing making producing massive amounts of content easier doesn’t negate this fact.

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Sure, AI tools can produce thousands of pieces in a fraction of the time it would take a human, but that doesn’t mean they will all rank or be good enough to impress prospective customers and convert.

If a bunch of sites are all producing similar AI-assisted content to target the same keywords, Google will have to differentiate somehow to decide who to rank – and two safe bets in how it will make this decision are content quality and backlinks.

In terms of content quality, it’s quite likely that the best pieces for a given keyword will be the ones with the most originality and specific personal expertise, traits that Google has clearly stated it prefers and which require human input.

And backlinks have been a known ranking factor forever in SEO. In a world where many sites produce similar AI-produced pieces targeting the same keywords, it’s safe to assume it will be just as, if not more, important.

So regardless of how content is produced, SEO resources for everyone are finite. There are a finite number of employee hours, a finite number of writing budgets (regardless of if writers use AI), and a finite link building budget.

That means you have to prioritize the keywords you will target.

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And the most logical way to prioritize is to focus SEO efforts on whatever will generate the most ROI (that is, leads and sales attributable to SEO).

In our experience, that is bottom of funnel, transactional, keywords.

Bottom Of Funnel Keywords Convert Significantly More Than Everything Else

To conclude, as we have, that bottom of funnel content converts significantly more than any other type of content, the first step is to actually measure and track conversions from SEO.

This sounds obvious, but the reality is that most SEO and content teams don’t do this; they just assume the more traffic, the better, and their entire strategy is focused on growing traffic.

You can measure conversion from SEO in different ways via different analytics tools, but in general, the process will require the following steps:

  • Define a conversion. This is typically a lead form fill or trial start for SaaS or sales-based businesses, or an actual transaction for ecommerce businesses.
  • Create a goal in your analytics platform to measure this conversion event.
  • Generate reports of which landing pages on your site resulted in how many conversions. This can be done via different attribution models like first or last click, depending on the analytics platform, but any data here is better than no data.

When you do this, you’ll inevitably find what we have found over 5+ years, dozens of brands, and hundreds of SEO pieces.

Specifically, pages on your site that rank for bottom of funnel keywords convert at multiple single digit percent (1% – 5%), whereas pages that rank for top of funnel, informational keywords typically convert at a fraction of a percent (0.01% – 0.5%).

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In other words, the difference in conversion rate between bottom and top of funnel keywords is not 10%, 20%, or even 50% – it’s multiple fold.

This is exemplified in this data across 60+ content pieces for a software client of ours, where the content ranking for bottom of funnel queries converted on average at 25X higher than articles that targeted mid to top of funnel queries.

Image created by author, June 2023BOTF vs TOF Total Conversions

Bottom of funnel posts had a 4.78% conversion rate versus 0.19% for top of funnel posts. Based on 60+ posts for a client.

Even after accounting for top of funnel pieces getting more traffic, the raw conversions from just 20 bottom of funnel pieces were 3 times more than those from 40 top of funnel pieces:

BOTF vs. TOF Total ConversionsImage created by author, June 2023BOTF vs. TOF Total Conversions

 

20 bottom of funnel posts generated 1348 conversions while 40 top of funnel posts generated 397 conversions.

To emphasize, the 1350 conversions from BOTF content above are from only 22 pieces, whereas the 400 conversions from TOF are from 42 articles.

In addition, we should mention the articles we labeled as “top of funnel” in this study still had some buying intent. We went after them only after exhausting most bottom of funnel keywords and chose the keywords strategically to ensure they still had some chance of a conversion.

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In that respect it’s fair even to call them “mid-funnel.” For many companies, the majority of their content and SEO efforts are directed exclusively at top of funnel keywords that will convert to leads or sales at or below the conversion rates above.

That’s a tragic waste of SEO efforts, in our minds.

Why Are Informational, Top Of Funnel Keywords So Low Converting?

The argument for chasing top of funnel keywords is typically that their search volumes are high.

So, the story goes, you can get your brand in front of a large number of people who, at some point in the future, are likely to need a product or service like yours.

But as the data above shows, and our collective experience confirms, it requires so many steps to get to a conversion from top of funnel traffic that the conversion rates are minuscule.

Specifically, the journey from someone Googling a top of funnel informational query to becoming a customer is:

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  • They Google the query.
  • They click into your results.
  • They read the article.
  • Some fraction of these users either return to your site on pure memory or give their email to download a white paper or gated resource.
  • Some fraction of those users open subsequent drip emails.
  • Then at some point, some fraction of those users will need your product or service and reach out.

Each of these steps has a small conversion rate, so in combination, the entire journey has an absolutely minuscule conversion rate.

So much so that, as per the data above, a possibly higher search volume of these top of funnel queries compared to transactional queries does not make up for the tiny conversion rates.

There Are More Bottom Of Funnel Keywords Than You Think

So if you buy into this notion that targeting bottom of the funnel keywords is a better use of finite SEO resources than evenly spreading SEO content across the full spectrum of search intent, the next important question to tackle is: “Which keywords in my space are bottom of the funnel are high converting and how many of them are there?”

We’ve noticed that many SEO pros and marketers have a limited view of which keywords are bottom of funnel – that is, have some level of transaction or buying intent.

In our experience, there are three common buckets of bottom of funnel keywords, only the first of which is commonly considered as bottom of funnel.

1. Category Keywords

If we use a hypothetical business that we’re all familiar with, SEO software, the obvious transactional keywords are things like “SEO software” or “best SEO tools.”

Yes, those are very high-converting bottom of the funnel or transactional keywords that any SEO software brand should absolutely target.

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In our framework for BOTF SEO, called Pain Point SEO, we call these “category keywords” since they involve the user literally Googling the name of the product or service category.

Most SEO and marketing teams are aware of these keywords and do target them, usually with the homepage or one or two landing pages.

But what we’ve found is that many teams consider this to be the entirety of bottom of funnel or transactional keywords. They target a few category keywords and spend the rest of their time creating blog content to rank for top of funnel search terms.

But there are actually a lot of other high-converting search terms that we notice most brands don’t think about and ignore in favor of producing content to go after extremely low converting top of funnel keywords.

2. Comparison Keywords

Specifically, another extremely high-converting category of keywords is what we call comparison keywords.

These are keywords that show the searcher is comparing multiple options, such as “salesforce vs pipedrive” or “adidas vs nike womens running shoes.”

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Many discussions of search intent categorize this as a mid-funnel query because, they say, the searcher may not be ready to make a transaction but is simply doing product research.

But in our measurements of conversion rates of hundreds of pages ranking for comparison keywords, they often convert just as high as the category keywords discussed above.

As a result, in my view, companies that want to maximize ROI from SEO should aggressively target comparison keywords.

They should identify every comparison keyword stemming from their top competitors that has any semblance of search volume and ensure they have a dedicated page on their site to rank for each.

3. Jobs To Be Done Keywords

The final of our three categories of keywords that we have found can generate conversions from SEO are jobs to be done keywords.

This is the largest of these three categories of high-buying-intent keywords, meaning there are usually a lot more jobs to be done keywords than category or comparison.

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This category is often ignored or not prioritized by brands as being conversion-generating, though, because these are queries where the user is not overtly looking for or comparing product options but is indicating that they have a problem that your product happens to solve.

In our SEO software example, this would include queries like “how to do competitor keyword research,” “how to know search volume of keywords,” or “how to track which keywords a site ranks for.”

If you have an SEO software product with features that lets people do those things, then, in our experience, ranking for keywords like these will generate conversions.

Typically the conversion rate of these keywords is slightly lower than category or comparison keywords.

However, they are still much better than top of funnel queries like “SEO strategy,” “best SEO tips,” or even “digital marketing strategies,” which are typical top of funnel keywords companies go after but which have very little buying intent.

More resources:

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Google Clarifies Vacation Rental Structured Data

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Google updates their vacation rental structured data documentation

Google’s structured data documentation for vacation rentals was recently updated to require more specific data in a change that is more of a clarification than it is a change in requirements. This change was made without any formal announcement or notation in the developer pages changelog.

Vacation Rentals Structured Data

These specific structured data types makes vacation rental information eligible for rich results that are specific to these kinds of rentals. However it’s not available to all websites. Vacation rental owners are required to be connected to a Google Technical Account Manager and have access to the Google Hotel Center platform.

VacationRental Structured Data Type Definitions

The primary changes were made to the structured data property type definitions where Google defines what the required and recommended property types are.

The changes to the documentation is in the section governing the Recommended properties and represents a clarification of the recommendations rather than a change in what Google requires.

The primary changes were made to the structured data type definitions where Google defines what the required and recommended property types are.

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The changes to the documentation is in the section governing the Recommended properties and represents a clarification of the recommendations rather than a change in what Google requires.

Address Schema.org property

This is a subtle change but it’s important because it now represents a recommendation that requires more precise data.

This is what was recommended before:

“streetAddress”: “1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy.”

This is what it now recommends:

“streetAddress”: “1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Unit 6E”

Address Property Change Description

The most substantial change is to the description of what the “address” property is, becoming more descriptive and precise about what is recommended.

The description before the change:

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PostalAddress
Information about the street address of the listing. Include all properties that apply to your country.

The description after the change:

PostalAddress
The full, physical location of the vacation rental.
Provide the street address, city, state or region, and postal code for the vacation rental. If applicable, provide the unit or apartment number.
Note that P.O. boxes or other mailing-only addresses are not considered full, physical addresses.

This is repeated in the section for address.streetAddress property

This is what it recommended before:

address.streetAddress Text
The full street address of your vacation listing.

And this is what it recommends now:

address.streetAddress Text
The full street address of your vacation listing, including the unit or apartment number if applicable.

Clarification And Not A Change

Although these updates don’t represent a change in Google’s guidance they are nonetheless important because they offer clearer guidance with less ambiguity as to what is recommended.

Read the updated structured data guidance:

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Vacation rental (VacationRental) structured data

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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

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