The Anatomy of a Perfect Striking Distance Keyword

Scott Merilatt / 3rd November 2016 / Comment / Content Strategy


At Wheelhouse, we’re quite fond of striking distance SEO. It’s an art that’s been lost in the daily cacophony of tricks, hot takes and algorithm updates. But at the end of the day, it’s a reliable way to drive real value with pages on the brink of success.

The overall goal of striking distance optimization? Pushing high-converting pages into the top 4 positions in organic search (i.e. the most likely to be clicked) in order to maximize revenue. Search Engine Land has a great overview of the expected traffic increases from rank movement. The TLDR: there’s a sweet spot for rank movement. Moving from the second page to the middle of the first, or from the bottom of the first page to the middle/top, can really move the needle on traffic. Below, we break down six characteristics of a perfect striking distance keyword – a handy rubric for identifying quick, low-hanging value from your site.

1. It’s actually within striking distance

The fertile ground for on-page content optimization is a keyword ranking between roughly position 5 and 15. It may even be as high as position 4, depending on the keyword and page in question. It’s not an exact science, and it’s largely dependent on your SERP competition. But we’ve found that even small optimizations can influence upward rank movement in this range.

Pay attention to search results for your striking distance keyword. Are they grouped by search intent? Are there articles, informational results or reviews? Where are your direct competitors? Are there actually 10 spots up for grabs on the first page? For many shorter-tail, high-volume queries (where search intention can be a bit more varied), Google likes to cover its bases with a mix of results (informational, e-commerce, local, etc.).

Let’s say, for example, you sell empty wine bottles for wine makers, and you’re within striking distance of the first page for the term “wine bottles.” Let’s take a look at the competition. The first five organic results:striking distance keyword

Nothing too surprising here, but there’s some serious competition. Amazon and eBay for the DIY wine makers and some heavy hitting wholesalers for bigger bulk customers. So how’s the rest of the first page look?


Two more spots for e-commerce results and… three news articles? Yep, Google likes to keep things interesting. Because maybe you searched “wine bottles” to pick up a handful of cheap empty bottles but maybe you wanted to read about the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold EVER.

All that to say, know your SERP landscape. In this case, you and your competitors are vying for 7 spots on the first page, not 10.

2. There’s enough demand. 

The primary goal of striking distance optimization is not to increase position ranking — it’s to increase organic revenue. It’s all-too-easy to get caught up in position movement, but if it doesn’t increase your bottom line, it’s just a game.

And that brings us to demand. In most cases, you don’t want to spend time precision-optimizing a keyword with 140 searches a month. At that range, moving from position 8 to position 4 is not going to drive significant revenue. This is a general best practice, and there are exceptions (like if you’re selling a high-priced product in a niche market). Not ranking in striking distance territory for any high-volume keywords? Striking distance optimization may not be the most valuable exercise at this point.

3. Your page is not already optimized to death

Say you’re stuck in position 11 for “electric train sets.” Your ranking page is an e-commerce category selling … electric train sets. Your title tag, meta description, H1, friendly URL, on-page content … all mention electric train sets. Your site structure points dozens of internal links to your page with the anchor text: (you guessed it!) electric train sets.

At this point, any old-school optimizations for “electric train sets” is overkill. There’s a ceiling, and you hit it yesterday.

So what’s an SEO to do? We’ve found the sweet spot to be high-volume secondary keywords. Let’s say that same electric train set page is sitting in position 10 for “train sets for toddlers” — 2400 searches a month and you haven’t even used the phrase once in your copy or meta! How about adding a sentence or two about little tikes to your copy, and throw in a subheading to boot?

4. There are quick, low-hanging wins

Efficiency is one of the most important elements of successful striking distance optimization. Be on the lookout for quick wins: keyword diversification, title tags, meta descriptions, small copy changes. We’re fine-tuning, not rethinking site structure or rebuilding a landing page.

5. Your ranking page is relevant

If you’re already on the first or second page for a high-volume query, there’s a good chance your page is somewhat relevant. But there’s a lot of subtlety here. Pay close attention to CTR, especially at a keyword-specific level. Look at the top search results — does your page fit in? Internally, is it the best page on your site for that query?

6. Your page actually converts! 

smiley-1635464_640Congrats, your page is hovering somewhere between position 5–15 for a high-volume transactional keyword and hasn’t been optimized to death yet! You’ve found the perfect striking distance opportunity. Just one final test: does your page convert?

All the above means nothing if your page can’t convert users into paying customers. It’s a problem higher rankings won’t solve (they’ll actually just make it worse). When vetting for striking distance opportunities, throw out low-converting pages and put forward your best and brightest. If none of your pages convert, you should really be prioritizing CRO over striking distance SEO. And that’s a post for another day.

So, to recap. The ideal striking distance keyword target …

  • Hovers somewhere between position 5 and 15 in search results
  • Targets a high-volume keyword (1,000+ searches a month, if you can manage it)
  • Focuses on a page that is not already over-optimized for said keyword
  • Is ripe for quick, light-touch wins
  • Targets a relevant, converting landing page
By Scott Merilatt