Editor’s note: This post continues our weekly primer in SEO, touching on all of the foundational aspects. In the end, you’ll be able to practice SEO more confidently and converse about its challenges and opportunities.
When optimizing a large site for search engines, you need a plan of attack. Keyword mapping is the process by which you determine which keywords of the thousands identified in your keyword research will be assigned to each page for optimization. It’s also an excellent way to determine which pages to prioritize for optimization.
This is the seventh installment in my “SEO How-to” series. Previous installments are:
- “Part 1: Why Do You Need It?”;
- “Part 2: Understanding Search Engines”;
- “Part 3: Staffing and Planning for SEO”;
- “Part 4: Keyword Research Concepts”;
- “Part 5: Keyword Research in Action”;
- “Part 6: Optimizing On-page Elements.”
Think of your website as an army of pages fighting the competition for rankings in natural search. You wouldn’t have every fighter in an army attack the same target in the same way. Each would have a different target or way of approaching the target. Doubling up would leave some of the competitors’ targets free to win rankings without a fight, while other targets would have so many fighters trying to accomplish the same goal that they’d get in each other’s’ way. In both cases, you’re not using your army to its full potential.
The same is true of optimizing content. The keyword map is nothing more than a tool to ensure that you’re deploying your valuable keyword research data to your army of pages optimally. Assign a unique keyword target for each page on your site to ensure that all the valuable targets are covered and none of the pages are fighting with each other for rankings.
Start by outlining the pages on your site in a spreadsheet.
List every page you plan to optimize and its corresponding URL on the left. If this sounds tedious, consider that most people start by optimizing the major category pages. Those categories are probably listed in the header navigation on every page of your site. Try viewing the source of a web page and copying-pasting the header navigation into a document. Then you can remove the extraneous HTML coding around the page names and URLs, and you’ll be left with a list that you can paste into your spreadsheet.
Crawling your site with a tool that mimics search-engine-crawler behavior is another method of collecting page information. For a free option, try Link Sleuth. It’s older and now unsupported but has a useful basic feature set. Screaming Frog is a more complete crawler available as a free limited trial, or with a minimal annual subscription.
With the pages captured, turn to your analytics and layer-in the visits and revenue data for each page. Then add in the average ranking from the Google Search Console “Top Pages” report. If you’re not already familiar with the VLOOKUP formula in Excel, this is an excellent time to learn. It can automatically pull in the data for each page name or URL from an export of your data, saving you from having to match them up manually.
And lastly, assign keywords to pages based on the keyword research you’ve already done. For every page, choose the single, most highly searched and relevant keyword to list in the “Primary Keyword” field. Then use your VLOOKUP formula to pull in the searches per month for that keyword. Choose a closely related secondary keyword as well, and include columns for additional keywords if your research is deep enough.
Make sure that the keywords are closely related when you’re assigning keywords to support the primary keyword. Just like each keyword needs one page to target it to maximize your ranking potential, each page should have only one keyword theme. That one-to-one ratio is very important.
It’s also important to choose a primary keyword that represents the totality of the content on the page. For example, in the image above, the last page shown contains “Body Scrub” products. In this case, “sugar scrub” is nearly twice as frequently searched in Google in the U.S. as “body scrub.” I’ve assigned the lower-valued “body scrub” as the primary keyword, though, because all the products on the page are body scrubs but not all are sugar scrubs. Sugar scrubs are a popular type of scrub, in addition to foot scrubs, foaming scrubs, and spa scrubs.
When the keyword map is completed, you’ll also be able to use it to prioritize where to start content optimization. The “searches per month,” “visits,” and “Google ranking” columns provide the data needed to choose pages to optimize that will improve your natural search performance. Pages that improve the most are ones that rank on the bottom of page one or the top of page two in search results, and that represent a higher number of untapped searches per month. On top of the search data, layer in your knowledge of the areas of your business that have the highest priority and the highest profit.
Enterprise search platforms, such as BrightEdge and Searchmetrics, do some of these calculations for you in predicting which pages to focus attention on. However, if you can’t pull all the data needed into your search platform, or if you can’t afford a search platform, the keyword map can be a good, manual method for prioritizing content optimization, as well.