Keyword Mapping 101: Why a Map is Critical to SEO Success (Templates Included)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that not all Google searches lead people to the homepage.

In fact, this is not just a universal truth; it is a fundamental principle of SEO.

I would say that of the searches I do daily for business and personal reasons, less than 15% lead me to a website’s homepage. What about you—when you search, do you even notice which pages are presented in the SERPS? Whether you’ve noticed it or not, this SEO trend has been in effect for many years. The homepage may be the most important page for your brand keywords, it sets the SEO tone for your site, and it may naturally have the most backlinks, but it may not be the strongest SEO page on your site. Chances are, it is your internal pages that are driving keywords and traffic with the highest intent. And if you haven’t been leveraging your SEO strategy with this in mind, then you need a map.

No, not that kind of map.

A keyword map to be specific.

The purposeful designing of which keywords should land people on which page is called keyword mapping. A keyword map is one of the most important yet undervalued tools in your SEO arsenal.

What is the Definition of Keyword Mapping?

I’ll say it again for the people in the back: the definition of keyword mapping is the action of purposefully assigning keywords to important internal pages of your site.

  • Keyword mapping (verb) = actively deciding which keywords should go to which pages
  • Keyword map (noun) = the spreadsheet containing rows and columns identifying which keywords are mapped to which pages, along with other data points and notes important to your SEO efforts

Who Should Create a Keyword Map?

Well, personally, I think every marketer who undertakes any SEO initiative should be creating a keyword map:

  • Did you optimize your homepage for a specific target keyword or two? Document it.
  • Did you optimize your About page for a specific keyword? Document it.
  • Did you optimize your main services page for a specific keyword? Document it.
  • Did you optimize your latest case study for a specific keyword? Document it.

OK, you get the picture. A keyword map is a tool that grows and changes as your site, content, and organizational focus and marketing goals grow and change.

Why is Keyword Mapping Important?

Keyword mapping is essential for 4 reasons:

  1. it answers the question, “What keyword do I target for this page?” and provides the direction for your on-page page optimization, which is the core work of your SEO.
  2. it is your goalpost for what should be happening with your SEO performance; it forces you to stop randomly doing SEO in your head, and makes it a concrete, real initiative that we’re bringing out of obscurity and onto paper.
  3. it documents the next keywords you should go after, and what content should be created.
  4. And here’s the 4th most important reason: keyword mapping saves you from yourself. Here’s why: you are not supposed to rank more than one page for the same exact keyword. Every page on your website should be targeting a different keyword. A map will help you make these decisions and understand what similar content you have.

How to Create a Keyword Map?

So how do you make this wondrous map?

For starters, you can do this off the top of your head, or you can make this a data-driven activity (eventually, it will have to become a data-driven activity, no getting around that).

Let’s start doing this the simple way. Open a spreadsheet, list out your most important pages, and then list out what you remember to be the keyword you target to that page.

What if you forgot what keyword you were targeting for which page?

Here are 2 ways to quickly find out what keyword you (or someone else) were targeting:

  • The answer lies with your title tag. Open up the page, and put your cursor at the top of the address bar on the tab you’re viewing (if you’re like me, you have 20 open at a time). Do you see your title tag pop out? SEO 101 tells us that our most important keyword(s) should be prominently in your page’s title tag. If not, then that page has not been properly optimized and chances are you’re missing out on SEO potential.
  • If you are a WordPress user and have an SEO plugin like Yoast, you can go to your pages or posts list in your dashboard and check out your focus keywords:

A keyword map can be as simple or complex as you’d like, depending on your site’s sophistication level of SEO, and your personal level of SEO knowledge. At a minimum, I want to see:

  • the URL/page name
  • the primary keyword
  • the search volume for the primary keyword

Basic Keyword Table

Here is a basic keyword table, if you’re not big on spreadsheets:

Intermediate and Advanced Keyword Map Templates

And here are intermediate and advanced keyword map templates I use that you can download for free:

(click the image below or click here to download the Excel file)

Need more help? I love this Moz tutorial on building a Killer Content Keyword Map for SEO.

I have my Keyword Map – Now What?

Now you know which pages are supposed to rank for specific keywords important to your business/organization/website.

Great—so how’s that going for you?

Are these pages performing well for those keywords? If not, then addressing this is where you go next. If this is a little scary, you’re not alone. It makes SEO “real” and means you may be accountable towards the goals you’re putting down on paper. But it’s facing this reality that will make you a more SEO-savvy professional who is committed to getting results and more visibility. Welcome to the club!

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.

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