How to Find Purchase Intent Keywords for B2B Software

April 10, 2024
Content that targets purchase intent keywords gets your product in front of in-market buyers. Here’s how to find the best ones for B2B software companies.
Jessica Greene
Table of Contents

In late 2019, Help Scout hired me to help recover organic traffic they lost after a site migration.

They’d implemented redirects for the migration properly — done everything right as far as I could tell — but they were only seeing about 50% of the organic traffic they had pre-migration.

I worked for the next year to help them recover the traffic they’d lost. We updated many blog posts, identified and solved technical issues, and added hundreds of internal links.

Before the end of 2020, the traffic was not only back to pre-migration levels, it had surpassed it.

Big win, right?


Yes, we were getting more traffic than ever, but that traffic wasn’t converting. More traffic didn’t equate to more leads. More traffic didn’t generate more revenue.

More traffic ≠ more leads and revenue

The biggest mistake companies make when it comes to SEO is assuming that organic traffic to top-of-funnel content helps with brand awareness. The thought process goes a little something like this:

If we write helpful content about things our ICP cares about, they’ll find that content in search, see our brand name, and somehow understand that we sell something. Eventually, they’ll buy from us because we’ll be top-of-mind when they start shopping for software like ours.

It’s a beautiful concept — and things can work this way when it comes to more community-focused channels like social media and newsletters — but it doesn’t reflect the reality of how people use search engines.

People use search engines to find answers to questions. Most of the time, they pay zero attention to who provided the answer. And they certainly aren’t clicking through to other pages on the site to discover that the company that provided the answer sells software.

They’re getting their answer, leaving, and forgetting you exist.

Unless the answer they’re looking for is your product.

To grow Help Scout’s traffic, we were focusing on top-of-funnel, high-volume search terms like “customer service,” “customer service skills,” and “customer service resume.”

The problem: Help Scout’s product wasn’t a solution to the question behind those searches.

What we needed to do was find the keywords where the answer to the question being asked was customer service software.

Enter purchase intent keywords.

In 2021, we pivoted our SEO strategy to focus on creating content targeting purchase intent keywords. We increased first-touch trials from content that year by 50%.

In 2022, they went up another 53%.

And not only did we increase trials, but the trial-to-paid conversion rates from our purchase intent content was considerably higher than trials from other channels — even ones like paid search that you’d expect to generate similar types of leads.

What are purchase intent keywords?

Purchase intent keywords are search terms that suggest the searcher is actively shopping for a product.

They might want to make a purchase immediately (transactional purchase intent), or they might be putting together a shortlist of products to consider (informational purchase intent).

In either case, you want your brand to show up in the results for those searches.

Content that targets purchase intent keywords lets you get your product in front of active buyers, presenting it as a solution in the exact moment when it’s needed most.

It’s a demand-capture strategy that ensures your product gets added to the list of options that buyers are actively considering and comparing.

How to find purchase intent keywords

To find the best purchase intent keywords for your brand, look for terms that suggest the searcher is actively shopping for a solution like yours.

For B2B SaaS businesses, these are most commonly search terms like “[category] software,” “[product] competitors /alternatives,” and “[product] vs. [competitor]”.

Finding category keywords

Category keywords suggest that buyers are trying to put together a shortlist of options to consider. They’re keywords like “customer service software,” “marketing automation software,” “project management software,” “video conferencing software,” and so on.

Often, these keywords are prefaced with adjectives like “best,” “top,” or “free.” And “software” might be substituted with a synonym like “tools,” “apps,” or “platforms.”

Unless your product is a brand new type of thing that has never existed before, you should already have a sense of some of the categories your software belongs in, so compiling a list of initial keywords should be easy.

But most software categories go by many names. And prospects may describe your category (and search for it) in ways you never considered. So it’s important to go beyond your initial thoughts to find additional opportunities to get your product in front of active buyers:

  • Look at the categories your product and competitive products are listed in on software roundup and review sites like G2 and Capterra.
  • Enter those keywords into a keyword research tool to get additional ideas. You might find different category keywords to target, or you might find keywords that will help you better target your ICP like “customer service software for small businesses,” “help desk software for schools,” or “SaaS help desk software.”
  • Consider not only your broadest category but also the categories for any major features of or use cases for your product, such as “knowledge base software,” “live chat software,” “social customer support software,” “AI customer service software,” and “chatbot software.”
  • Finally, I highly recommend listening to recordings of sales calls to get a better sense of how prospects describe your software. You might hear things you would have never considered or found in other ways; at Help Scout, “universal inbox” was a new one to me.

The number of category keywords you can find that have active search volume will be highly dependent on how established your category is.

Categories like “customer service software” that have been around forever will have exponentially more keywords to target than newer categories like “demo automation software.”

Finding competitor / alternative keywords

Keywords like “[competitive product] competitors” and “[competitive product] alternatives” are another great source of qualified leads from search. People searching for these keywords are also usually putting together a shortlist of products to consider.

They might be a current customer of your competitor looking to move to a new solution (in which case you definitely want to show up as an option).

Or they might not know what category of software they’re looking for, but they know your competitor is a tool in that category, so searching for competitors / alternatives is a workaround for finding similar tools.

Similar to category keywords, you should already know who your main competitors are, so brainstorming a starting list of keywords should be easy.

But in all likelihood, there are other tools out there in your category that you’re unaware of that your product would also be a great alternative for.

To find those products, I recommend actually Googling the category keywords you found in the last exercise. Look at the results, and start compiling a list of all of the products that are competitive with yours.

After that, you can see if there is search volume for either “[product] competitors” or “[product] alternatives” keywords for each product.

You can also grab lists of competitive products by looking at what’s listed in those categories on sites like G2 and Capterra.

Finding “versus” keywords

Versus keywords — “[product] vs [product]” — suggest that a buyer is very close to making a purchase decision and trying to understand the key differences between two or more options.

You can use a keyword research tool to easily find all of the vs. keywords for your brand. Just type in either “[brand name] vs” or “[product name] vs” into the keyword research tool, and you’ll get a list of all of the competitors that searchers are actively looking to compare to your product.

Pro tip: If there are common misspellings or mis-writings of your brand name, make sure to search for all of the different versions of it in your keyword research tool to get the best results. For example, people often wrote “Help Scout” as “HelpScout,” and searching for the camel-case version of the brand name in keyword research tools generated more results.

Of course, if your product is a newer entry into a category, there might not be many vs. keywords for your brand. In that case, I recommend checking out the vs. keywords for your top competitors.

For example, say your product is called “Contactly” and your top competitor is HubSpot CRM. You see that people often search for “HubSpot vs Salesforce,” “HubSpot vs Zoho,” and “HubSpot vs Pipedrive.” This suggests that it would be a good idea for you to create content for “Contactly vs Salesforce,” Contactly vs Zoho,” and “Contactly vs Pipedrive.”

Don’t forget about branded keywords

Category and competitor / alternative keywords are great for getting your product on the shortlist of options that prospects are considering. And vs. keywords are great for making sure you control the narrative when prospects are actively comparing your product to a competitor.

But there’s one final type of keyword you should consider when looking for all of the opportunities to get in front of active buyers: branded keywords.

Branded keywords are keywords that include your brand/product name in them.

While some of these searches might be from existing customers looking to do something with your tool (e.g., “[product] login”) or people looking to work at your company (e.g., “[brand name] careers”), many might also be prospects doing deep research before starting a trial or requesting a demo.

If people are searching for information specifically about your product, you should have content that provides the answers they’re looking for.

Keywords like “[product] reviews,” “[product] features,” “[product] customers,” and “[product] security” are almost certainly prospects doing deep research on you.

Keywords like “[product] integrations” or “[product] API” might be customers looking for that information, but it might also be prospects looking to make sure you integrate with a critical tool or have an API they can connect to.

To find these keywords, type your brand and/or product name(s) into your keyword research tool (remembering to also check for common misspellings or mis-camel-casings). Make sure you have relevant content that ranks for each of the keywords you find.

And this is another place where newer brands/products can use competitors for guidance. If you don’t have a lot of keywords for your brand name, check out what brand keywords show up for your competitors, and consider creating content targeting those terms for your own brand.

How to choose best keywords to target

By the end of this exercise, you'll have a long list of keywords you could target. The next step is prioritizing the order in which you'll target them.

Priority 1: Prospect-focused brand keywords with search volume

Your top priority should be making sure you have great content answering any questions prospects are asking about your brand.


  • Google almost always ranks a brand #1 for its branded keywords (a notable exception is “[product] reviews” which will almost always have a review site like G2 in the top spot), so you won’t have to do much work to earn a number-one ranking for these terms.
  • You should control the information prospects are getting about your product. If you aren’t creating content for these keywords, you leave the door open for competitors, affiliates, and/or ChatGPT to provide this information for you. And they’ll probably get it wrong.

However, this doesn’t mean you should start by creating content for every single branded keyword you found in your research. Just the ones that:

  1. Show active search volume (more than 0 searches per month) -AND-
  2. Are likely being searched for by prospects.

Save your zero-volume branded keywords for a later date — they’re a lower priority.

And if your goal is to generate revenue, focus on the search terms that it wouldn’t make sense for existing customers to be searching for, like “[product] vs [competitor],” “[product] features,” “[product] customers,” “[product] security,” and “why [product].”

Priority 2: High-volume category and competitor / alternatives keywords

High-volume category and competitor / alternatives keywords are going to be the most difficult to rank for — you’re going to need really exceptional content and a lot of backlinks to get to the top of the rankings — but these are by far and away the biggest revenue-generators.

So why start there and not with less competitive keywords? Why not go for low- or zero-volume keywords you can rank for really quickly?

In my experience, these high-volume keywords are the money keywords. A single post ranking in the number-one spot for a high-volume category or alternative keyword will generate dozens or hundreds of qualified leads for you each month (depending on your price point).

A low- or zero-volume keyword might generate one qualified lead a quarter.

Personally, I’d rather spend the time creating one super powerful post (for example, at TestBox, a single piece of purchase intent content was responsible for 21% of all of our demo requests in 2023) than toil to write 20-50 posts targeting low- or zero-volume keywords just to get the same results.

Priority 3: Keywords that are ICP-specific

ICP specific keywords (think “help desk software for schools” or “saas help desk software”) will inevitably be lower-volume than the bigger, more generalized category keywords, but they deliver a big advantage — they’re guaranteed to get your product in front of your ICP.

You won’t get as many leads from content that targets these keywords as you will from the higher-volume ones, but these leads will be among your most qualified and likely to convert.

Prioritizing the rest of the list

Once you’ve scored great rankings for all of the priority keywords above, start working your way through the rest of your list, keeping an eye on what’s generating the most leads and revenue, and reprioritizing based on your learnings.

Every business is different, so experiment, find out what works for you, and prioritize accordingly.

Should you ever bother targeting zero-volume keywords?

Personally, I’ve only found pursuing zero- or very-low-volume (e.g., 10 searches/month) keywords to be valuable in three very specific cases:

  1. It’s a versus keyword. If your product is a newer entry into your category, there may not yet be many people searching for your product vs. competitor products. But you want to show up if they do. Plus, these pages make great sales enablement assets, so I always recommend creating content for these keywords whether they show search volume or not.
  2. It’s a brand keyword. If a keyword research tool shows a keyword like “[your product] integrations,” you should create a page, blog post, or knowledge base article targeting that keyword even if it says zero people are searching for it. Keyword research tools don’t log keywords that no one’s ever searched for.
  3. You don’t have many purchase intent keywords to target. Newer categories will have far fewer purchase intent keywords to target. But as the category grows, so will the search volume for software category and competitor / alternative keywords. Securing a top ranking early on will help you solidify your ranking before competitors start copying your strategy.

I guess a fourth option would be if you’ve run out of better keywords to target.

If low and zero-volume keywords are the only options available to you because you’ve got everything else that’s a higher-priority ranking in the number-one spot, go for it. And kudos!

Want to implement a purchase intent SEO strategy at your company but don’t have the time, people, or expertise to do it? Let’s chat!

You might also like

No items found.

Subscribe to the Organic & Greene newsletter

Get my best SEO and growth tips delivered to your inbox.