Marketing & Advertising

SEO 101, Part 7: Mapping Keywords to Pages

This is the seventh installment of my “SEO 101″ series, following:

Keyword research improves search engine optimization only when it’s used to change the content on a site. The process of transforming a spreadsheet of data into optimized content can be bewildering without a process, however.

Every page on a site needs to have its own unique keyword target so that the site can target as many relevant keywords and drive the most organic search as possible.

Keyword research can yield hundreds of thousands of potential keywords to target. The keyword map is the bridge between keywords and content, and the tool that ensures that keywords are used most optimally across the entire site.

Identifying Pages on a Site

The first step to mapping keywords to pages on a site is to list out all of the pages on that site. The list should only contain pages that can be uniquely optimized. If your content management system doesn’t allow optimization of a page, that page shouldn’t be on the keyword map. There are a couple of ways to compile a list of pages quickly.

Web analytics will have data on every page that has received a visit. Go to the report that shows visits to all pages, not just organic search visits, and set the timeframe as broadly as possible. Export that list of pages and clean out any duplicates in the list. For example, if the list contains the same page with different tracking parameters, remove tracking parameters and delete all but one reference to that page.

Unfortunately, web analytics won’t show pages that don’t get visited. And a page may have organic search potential but not receive any visits because it hasn’t been optimized yet to drive organic search performance.

Crawling a site using a piece of software will also result in a list of pages. The crawler also collects a wealth of information on each page, such as title tags, metadata, server header status and more, so it’s valuable for more than creating the keyword map.

The two most frequently used crawlers are Link Sleuth and SEO Spider. Link Sleuth is a free tool that isn’t supported or updated, but has good, basic functionality. If you need something with more features, like the ability to enter a password or detect custom text, Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is a nice alternative. It offers a free trial to crawl up to 500 URLs, with an annual fee for the full license.

Neither of these methods takes much effort, so it’s a good idea to use both and merge the lists. Next, remove duplicates and organize the URLs by categories of the site for easier mapping. For instance, all of the URLs in the “About Us” section should be together and all of the URLs selling a particular type of product should be together. This will make it easier to assign related keywords to the URLs without needing to hunt through the list to find them.

Structure of a Keyword Map

To create the structure of the keyword map, add columns for page name, primary keyword, secondary keywords, and number of searches to the list of URLs, as shown in the partially completed sample below.

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Sample keyword map.

Sample keyword map.

In this example, the list of URLs collected from an analytics export and crawl are in column B, and each URL has a page name (column A), and three keywords associated with it (columns C, E and G). To make it easier to determine which keywords are the most valuable, pull in the number of searches that each keyword receives according to the keyword research (columns D, F and H) and sum the total search value of all of those keywords (column I). Using Excel’s VLOOKUP formula will make this much easier, but the data can also be pasted in manually.

Mapping SEO Keyword Targets

The process of mapping a single keyword to a single URL is quite simple: For every page, decide why that page exists. Every page has a unique purpose, or that content would be part of another page. And because every page has a unique reason for being, every page can be assigned a unique keyword target.

It’s tempting to assign a valuable keyword to more than one page. Be ruthless. Trying to target the same keyword on multiple pages results in self-competition for results and reduces the number of keywords the site can effectively target. The fewer keywords targeted, the fewer total searches the site is targeting, which means fewer potential customers. Choose the page that is best suited to rank for a keyword phrase, assign that keyword to that page, and move on to the next.

The example shows three keywords for each page. The primary keyword is the page’s keyword target: the one keyword the page is targeting for rankings. Any additional keywords listed are supporting keywords — closely related keywords that can be used to boost the page’s relevance for the keyword theme without having to repeat the exact primary keyword over and over. The keyword map only requires a primary keyword; the other keywords are optional.

For very large ecommerce sites, it could make sense to only map keywords for the most valuable sections of the site or to a certain level of the site. Start with the sections or pages that represent the best return on the time this exercise requires.

When the mapping is complete, if there are valuable keywords left over that don’t have a place on the site, consider creating content to target those keywords. Conversely, if the map contains pages without keywords, return to the keyword research tools to dig more deeply into those areas.

Some pages will not have keywords associated with them, no matter how thorough the keyword research. Company information and article pages may have very little keyword value associated with them. Pages like these can be valuable to consumers when they’re already on the site, but probably won’t drive much organic search traffic. Just make a note that the keyword data did not suggest a keyword target on that page and move on to the next page.

For the next installment of this “SEO 101″ series, see “Part 8: Content Optimization.”

Jill Kocher Brown

Jill Kocher Brown

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