How to Rank Buyer Intent Keyword Phrases with Little or No Link Building in 2017

One fun way to discover ways to make money as an affiliate is to observe your own search patterns, especially when researching and buying products online.

If it’s a decently sized purchase, you probably conduct a number of searches from different angles trying to figure out what is the very best option for you.

When you do this, pay attention to what you’re searching, because if you’re doing it, chances are other people are doing it.

What you want to figure out is how to discover those high value buyer intent keywords no other websites cover.  Yes, they exist in every niche.  You just have to find them.

What you don’t want to do as an affiliate is strive to rank for keywords that everyone else targets.  This includes trying to rank for various product names and even “review” oriented content.

For example, you ain’t going to outrank Amazon or Overstock or any number of other e-commerce sites for product names that they sell.

In fact, “review” oriented keywords are getting harder to rank for too because most online retailers have loads and loads of customer reviews and so they rank for “review” oriented searches as well.

Here’s the thing.  As a consumer, I like it that Google gives priority to reputable e-commerce stores for most product-oriented keywords.

Where does that leave promoting products as an affiliate?

That leaves you, the affiliate, having to get smart about ranking for blatant product promotion web pages.

In this article I’m not talking about promoting affiliate products in passing with one-off links in informational content.  Instead, I’m talking about ranking those keywords that have huge buyer intent so that chances are they’ll buy something after clicking your affiliate links.

I can tell you from personal experience that ranking one or a few of these types of articles can easily earn you four figures per month.  I’ve not yet had a single piece of content earn five figures per month, but I’m sure it exists.

How to find low competition high buyer intent keywords for product galleries

The thing is, Google search gets smarter and smarter every month.  E-commerce merchants are also creating mammoth product websites that are very well search optimized for tens of thousands of product-oriented search terms.  The smart online retailers are creating tens of thousands of search optimized URLs with parametric (faceted) search which Google is ranking.

These two occurrences is making it tougher for affiliates, or so it seems.

Take the “review” website concept, for example.

While it’s still a decent approach, the problem with publishing just reviews in many niches is that the retailers have hordes of customer reviews.  Because of those customer reviews, Google is giving them top rankings for “review” oriented keywords.

Are review sites dead?

Not at all.  I still publish product reviews across my niches.  They’re still very effective in many niches, but in many other niches where the retailers have their own reviews, it’s harder.  This means affiliates in many niches need to tackle affiliate content from a different angle.

Here’s the good news.  More and more people buy online.  Our household buys the majority of everything for our home online. We’re not alone.  Since more and more people buy more and more of their goods online, the variety of searches for products grows every month in concert with increasing amounts of money spent online.

That means there’s still MANY great opportunities in most niches.

Here’s the golden take-away:

The key is to discover product-oriented search phrases that the big online retailers and other authority websites do not target that have worthwhile search volume and of course strong buyer intent.

You MUST then publish great content targeting those search phrases and promote products in a way that you’re providing value to your visitors in a way that retailers don’t.

If you manage to achieve this, you can rank for some valuable search terms with little or hopefully no link building (other than the standard social media promotion which really isn’t link building where off-site SEO is concerned).

While I publish some product reviews, it’s not my staple.  I prefer going plural and creating buyer intent product galleries that prove helpful for visitors.

FYI, I call it a product gallery, but it’s much more than just a bunch of product images.  It’s a lot of text (700 to 3,000 words) plus the product images (and affiliate links of course). My aim is to target very specific long tail product-oriented keywords that no other site targets so that I have a reasonable chance for ranking at the top of Google with no link building.

How do you find those low competition buyer intent keyword phrases?

You must research product lines and uncover attributes about those product lines that either aren’t filterable options on the retailer sites and/or they simply don’t rank for them for whatever reason (i.e. no URL is generated with those attributes).

Every product line and niche is different.  However, I’ll give a few examples that more or less universally apply.  FYI, my examples are pretty obvious so the competition is probably fierce.  The examples are for illustration purposes only.


1. Top 10 Galleries

Example: Top 10 Flat Screen TV’s 

2. Target by Product Attribute(s)

Some product lines don’t have many attributes, but some have many.  When people search for products, they often do so with several product attributes, features and/or descriptors.

Example: Flat Screen TV’s with Wall Mounts

Your job is to uncover attributes that aren’t well covered by the retailers and then find those products.  Additional attribute examples include:

  • product benefits,
  • product features,
  • colors,
  • sizes/dimensions,
  • materials,
  • specifications,
  • capabilities and
  • prices.

Example: 12 Blenders that Can Make Hot Soup

People search for blenders that can make hot soup.  I know about this because we have one.  This would be a list of blenders organized by a benefit.  I’ve yet to see a retailer offer “make hot soup” as a filtered search term.  In fact, search this term in Google, it’s wide open right now.

3. Combine Top 10 with Product Attribute(s)

If you want to go for the super long tail so that you have the best chance to rank, combine the article to be a top 10 for one or more product attributes.

Example: Top 10 Blenders that Can Make Hot Soup with 64 oz. Containers

Example: Top Ten 65″ Flat Screen TV’s with Wall Mounts

Example: Top 12 Slim-Fitting Blue Jeans for Men with Big Legs

Example: Top 10 Black Penny Loafers Under $100

Example: Five 65″ Flat Screen Smart TV’s Under $1,000 (with Wall Mounts)

Example: Top 10 Three-Wheeled Scooters with Removable Seat for Toddlers 

Example: Top 5 Three-Wheeled All-Terrain Strollers Under $200

I think you get the point.  I could go on and on in many niches without even knowing the niche all that well.  That said, It is easier to get a sense of what people want when you know the niche.  For instance, the above blender, 3-wheeled scooter and 3-wheeled strollers are product lines I’m familiar with having had to buy all three of those types of products.

Does this stuff work?

Yeah, it can amazingly well.  I rank quite a few of these types of posts in the top 3 spots in Google.  In fact about 8 to 10 days ago I published a new product gallery of this type going after a product line “under a specific price” and today it was ranked number 5.

FYI, my site has some okay authority so I do have an advantage over new sites.  I acknowledge that, but there was a time my site was brand new (about 3 years ago).

Golden Keyword Ratio Formula

If you like to be more scientific about choosing keywords, watch this really good video by Doug Cunningham who published Niche Site Project.

This video shows you a simple formula he uses to qualify easy-to-rank keywords… usually able to rank for them with no links.  Doug is great on camera and this is very informative.  I tend to avoid spreadsheets and calculations like this… probably to my detriment.

Unlimited Product Galleries

When you systematically break down product lines by various attributes, the potential number of product galleries is very high.

Check in Google first

Before you publish dozens of these articles, check your keywords in Google to see if there are online retailers or other high authority sites already ranking for your terms.  If they are, put those on the backburner, especially if your site is young.  You want to uncover buyer intent search phrases that are not targeted at all.

My product gallery article format

The following is a general template format for a product gallery format.  However, be creative and add more if you can think of it.  This is a basic outline to use as a starting point.  Check out the my “21 content enhancers” which you can easily add to these types of articles to make them better.

Title:  Put a number at the beginning or close to the beginning of the title.  Numbers get people to click into your post.

Introduction:  Whenever possible, I open the article discussing a product as it relates to my personal life.

Table of contents:  I use the *Table of Contents Plus plugin.

Explanation:  In this section I explain how we select the products in the gallery.

Product 1:

  • Image
  • Affiliate link
  • Description
  • Pros
  • Cons

Product 2:

  • Repeat

The Affiliate’s Advantage Over E-Commerce Websites

So far I’ve made it sound like affiliates don’t stand a chance when it comes to ranking ahead of e-commerce sites when they target similar keywords, but the fact is, and I’ve noticed it with my posts, you as an affiliate have one big advantage.

Your big advantage is you can write a great title that will convert better.

Why can affiliates write better titles?

The reason is that generally, e-commerce sites with tens of thousands of products target long tail product oriented keywords via dynamically generated URLs via their database set up.  What I mean by this is the e-commerce sites are one bug database.  When set up right, every combination of search parameters result in a search engine indexible URL.  When they’re really well set up, a meta title and h1 title is created from the search parameters.  This is how e-commerce sites can rank so many long tail targeted keywords.

While that sounds sweet, the one downside to dynamically created meta titles is that they aren’t very engaging.  They’re boring.  Yes, they include the various keywords but they don’t grab searchers by the throat.

This means if you create better titles, you may at position 3 to 5 get a much higher CTR than the e-commerce retailers.

Merchant Selection Strategies

There are two strategies when it comes to which choosing the merchants you include.  You see, many products are sold by multiple retailers.  Which ones do you choose?

I bet you’re thinking the one with the highest commission rate.  While that’s one factor to consider, you must consider conversion rate too, which you won’t know until you’ve sent referrals to multiple merchants.  Unfortunately this is a time-consuming process to figure out which merchants ultimately earn you the highest earnings per click.

One solution if starting out

When starting out, if possible, include products from a variety of merchants in the content.  This way you can get several merchant affiliate cookies clicked.  Over time with sufficient traffic and affiliate link clicks you’ll see which merchants convert and which ones don’t.  It’s actually a very interesting process because I’ve definitely noticed that some merchants convert far better than others.  I published an Amazon vs. Other Merchants analysis here.

In some instances, you may have no choice but to include only products from one merchant because they are the only decent merchant that sells the products.


1. Must it always be “10” products?

No.  I tend to stick to 10 with “top” galleries, but for many other galleries, I’ll have 12, 20, 40, and sometimes 100+ products.  It really depends on what’s the most helpful for readers and what makes sense.

For most product lines, suggesting the 1op 100 is ridiculous.  That doesn’t help anyone.  People want a shortlist.

However, for people a little further away from deciding on a product, but who have a firm budget, you could easily have 40 Y products under $XXX.

2. Are product reviews worth publishing?

It’s always worth publishing in-depth product reviews, especially if you own and use the product so you can write something outstanding.

However, in product lines where are there are dozens or hundreds of options, it’s not likely you’ll be able to review everyone.

For example, you couldn’t feasibly publish reviews of every sneaker available.  New sneakers are released faster than you could keep up.

Instead, for product lines with hundreds of products, you’re better off coming up with themed product galleries organized via various product attributes.

That said, it never hurts to publish reviews of the more popular options in a product line.  Choose 3 or 5 or 10 popular sneakers, go buy them and publish amazing reviews.  If you buy the product, which is a really good idea, make video reviews too.  Those are very easy to get loads of views quickly.

I’m not suggesting reviews are useless; instead I’m suggesting that you think about how you can publish great content targeting buyer-intent search phrases.  When you go about it methodically like I (i.e. via product attribute combinations), you can generate a tremendous amount of affiliate promotion content quickly.

3. What if authority sites are ranking for the head search term?

By head keyword (or search phrase), I’m referring to “top 10 flat screen TVs” as the included parent keyword of the longer version “Top Ten 65″ Flat Screen TV’s with Wall Mounts”.  There are some authority sites ranking for “top 10 flat screen TV’s”; however, there are no articles that directly rank for the longer tail version “Top Ten 65″ Flat Screen TV’s with Wall Mounts”.

Sometimes if the head search phrase is highly competitive it’s worth going for the longer tail version, but sometimes it’s not.  It depends on how my your set of attributes distinguish your gallery from the lists that simply target the head term.

In the case of TV flat screen TV’s, I’d pass.  That’s so competitive.  However, for less popular product lines where attributes truly distinguish product lines, then it’s worth pursuing.  Sometimes it boils down to a judgment call.  You’ll hopefully win some while some may never get a single visitor from search.

4. Do you need to build links to rank?

You might.  I typically don’t bother and instead seek out long tail buyer-intent keywords that no website targets.  But by all means, if you’re into outreach or whatever link building methods you pursue, go for it.  I prefer publishing more long-tail content than investing resources into building links.  By my way is obviously not the only way.  If you’re awesome at building links, go nuts.

List Building Tip with Top 10 Articles

This may or may not work, but it’s worth testing if you’re a list-building believer.

You can withhold the top item in your top ten list and require visitors to sign up to your email in order to get access.  Whether people opt in will depend on keen people are about finding out your number one pick and how well you create intrigue so that they absolutely must find out what the top-rated product is.

The content must be great

Don’t just slap up 10 products with 10 affiliate links and call it a day.  Instead, craft a really great article that provides excellent information and data pertaining to the topic.

For example, with my “top 10” articles, I base it on quantifiable data, which I explain to visitors so they know exactly how the rankings were determined.  I then describe each product and include a fairly in-depth pros and cons section for each product.  The end result is a lengthy, helpful article that blatantly promotes content.

Don’t expect everything to rank

This, as is everything SEO-related, will be hit and miss.  But, if you rank a few in the first three spots on page one of Google, those will be very high-earning pieces of content assuming you get a decent volume of traffic.

When you notice a product gallery ranking well, dive in there and make it even better if it’s possible.

Should these “buyer-intent” articles be your entire site?

No. I’m a believer in extensively covering a niche and publishing plenty of non-affiliate content monetized with ads.  I have no empirical evidence that this is the best way to go about it from a rankings perspective; it’s just what I do and it works well for me.

8 thoughts on “How to Rank Buyer Intent Keyword Phrases with Little or No Link Building in 2017”

  1. Hi Jon,

    What is product gallery articles? I am newbie, would you please show me some examples?

    Thank you!

    1. Hey Jone,

      It’s an article that in some fashion profiles several products such as a “Top 10” or some listicle featuring products.

  2. Oh wow this is really a great and detailed article till date. I also own a top 10 type affiliate blog and I am kind of doing same but you cleared my many doubts. Thanks I will follow this 😀

    1. Hi Kev,

      I’m familiar with Doug’s GKR but I don’t follow it. I have my own ways of finding long tail keywords which allows me to really scale content. I think Doug’s method is great but I like publishing mountains of content in series so I’m not nearly so specific as he is.

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