Keyword Research

SEO: Marshaling Your Keyword Army

Content optimization for search engines seems straightforward. You research the keywords that your customers use most frequently and you use them on your site in the places that matter most to search engine algorithms. But deciding which keywords to apply to individual pages when you’re ready to optimize is a much greater challenge.

When faced with a set of pages, it’s tempting to optimize for the same keyword on multiple pages. After all, the more pages optimized for a keyword phrase the better chance of ranking well, right? The reality can be just the opposite.

Every Page Has a Keyword Purpose

If five pages on your site are optimized for a juicy keyword phrase, each page is competing with the others for dominance for that phrase. In a well-designed site each page has a unique purpose. That’s why it’s a separate page and not part of another page. And because each page has a unique purpose it will also have a unique ability to rank for specific keyword phrases.

Think of each page on your site as a soldier in your army. Each battle to win individual search results contributes to the greater glory of the army and organic search victory for your site against competitors. Each soldier has a specific task to do to help win the war.

In an ecommerce site, the hierarchy of products is very similar to the hierarchy of an army. Only one man in the army is the general, making the most strategic decisions. Similarly, only one page on your site can do battle for the most valuable general term in your keyword strategy — usually the home page based on the number of external links to that page. If you sell office supplies, it’s likely your home page is best suited to rank for the most valuable general phrase of “office supplies.”

A general wouldn’t tolerate lesser officers or foot soldiers attempting to direct his troops because they don’t have the authority and experience required. It’s the same with your home page. Only the home page — or whichever page on the site has the most link authority — has the strength to rank for the most valuable keyword phrases. So why waste the other pages in your army by trying to compete with the home page for that phrase? They can be fighting and winning battles for lesser keywords for you, contributing to the greater glory, and revenue, of your site.

Beyond the Home Page

Winning the war is about more than the home page and trophy keywords, however. Each page needs a unique keyword target to fight for. In SEO terms we make battle assignments by converting keyword research into a keyword map that identifies which page will target which keyword phrases. The keyword map lays out the plan to execute the keyword strategy.

In our keyword map, the more valuable, general keyword phrases will be assigned to the highest level pages in the site’s hierarchy that are relevant for those phrases. A mid-level page such as a category page would look to target a more general keyword while a subcategory page would target a more specific keyword. The lowest level pages in the site’s hierarchy, the product pages, will target the most specific keywords for individual products.

Again, if you sell office supplies you might have a category for staplers. The main category page would naturally target “stapler” and “staplers,” both because those are the most generic phrases relevant to the page and the most valuable. The subcategory pages will also be related to staplers, but to a specific type of stapler, such as “Swingline stapler,” “electric stapler,” “stapleless stapler,” “heavy duty stapler.” So rather than targeting “stapler” on each subcategory page to compete with the category page, let them fight for the keywords they’re best suited to win.

Internal Links Strengthen Keyword Themes

Links have a special power in search engine optimization because they pass link popularity from the page the link is on to the page being links to. In addition, the anchor text used as the link text sends a keyword signal to the page being linked to along with the link popularity. To really optimize a page for a keyword phrase well you’ll want to link to the page using the keyword phrase as anchor text. For example a link in the navigation would use the keyword to link to the page targeting that keyword. But you can’t link to five pages with the same keyword phrase because that would be utterly confusing to customers.

The page that receives the internal links with the targeted keyword phrase will have an advantage over the other pages in the site competing for that same keyword phrase. Since they’re at a disadvantage for that keyword phrase anyway, it’s best to let them target other keyword phrases that they’re more uniquely able to win rankings for.

You could use links from the body content on different pages to link to each five of the pages with the same keyword in the anchor text. But you’re splitting your internal link popularity and the keyword signals sent along with those links in five different ways. As a result, each page will receive one-fifth of the strength it could have, leaving them all at a disadvantage instead of choosing a single page to stand strong and fight.


The army metaphor has always resonated with me for keyword mapping, because both the military and keyword mapping rely on clearly defined hierarchies and roles. Have the discipline to create and execute a keyword map to optimize the content on your site and you’ll win more battles and perhaps even the war over your competitors.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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