a map showing the connections between different places, routes and connections
PHOTO: adobe stock

Keyword research can be a lot like lawn care. Choosing keywords is like mowing the lawn — it's the bare minimum to keep things in good shape. Keyword mapping is where the SEO refinement happens — the edging around the sidewalk, the weed removal, the fertilizing.

Keyword mapping is an on-page SEO tactic to match target keywords to website structure. Using keyword mapping can help improve search strategies to better match customer queries on products and services. The result is a search strategy which reflects how customers really search online.   

SEO 101: The Basics on Keyword Mapping

Keyword mapping works by analyzing website pages against query volume on questions and interest rather than broad keyword terms. The page content is then adjusted so that it attracts your customers to the pages where their questions can be answered.

Keyword mapping is becoming more of a standard practice compared to other SEO on-page optimization tactics such as keyword density. Search engines have become better attuned to interpret the phrases and questions people use in queries. Because of the growing emphasis on phrases, old approaches such as a focus on single keywords can lead to site visitors who are not necessarily interested in what you offer. Moreover, your site ranks for the content it shares on its blogs, which are a subdirectory to your site. Thus it is vital to enhance a site with phrases that share the customers' thoughts during a planned digital journey.

Another advantage of keyword mapping is minimizing the likelihood of pitting keywords against each other in search queries. Keyword cannibalization is real. You can learn more about the associated SEO challenges from cannibalizing keywords in the post, "How to Avoid SEO Cannibalization."

Tools to Help You Start Keyword Mapping

To start, create your list of words. The target number of keywords will vary — there is no ideal, magical number — especially if you are starting a new site. Use your judgment what a manageable range is for you. I have used 30-40 words with simple sites as a starting point, but then adjusted according to the number of products and services on the site. The important takeaway is not to scale with too many words. The more words you use, the more opportunities you open to create debates around site content.   

Google Trends can help you refine your keyword choices, by showing the search volume of your selected keywords over time. Trends allows comparisons of one keyword against another over time, with up to five words at a time. 

You can also filter results according to search subcategories such as YouTube, Image, News, Google Shopping, as well as location. For example, News can yield good ideas for trending topics that may trigger a related search for your keyword. The YouTube subcategory is definitely an aid if your business hosts a YouTube channel of educational videos.

If you use Google Trends, it's a good idea to adjust the date ranges to see how the volume of search for a keyword has changed since the pandemic, as well as adjusting the index data for any other dates you find important.

At the end of the day, you'll create a plan using the words that best fit the questions that customers tend to ask. When you start with a keyword, refine its purpose to match the questions customers ask and how your product or service answers that question. Refinements such as these help you avoid keyword stuffing — a tactic of inserting keywords for the sake of only attracting traffic without qualifying those visits against the intended customer audience.

Related Article: Get Your SEO House in Order for 2021

Matching Keywords to Customer Questions

The next step is to group keywords according to topics. List the questions and see what kind of groupings make sense in relation to your site pages or sections. Let's say your firm offers a range of home repair services. A page or a section of pages can be dedicated to outdoor questions like "How do I waterproof my windows?" Another page or section can focus on indoor repair needs. You can discover some variations on questions based on adjectives used or regional needs (e.g., "What home repair is available in Chicagoland?") to attract clients by location or questions that match a particular consideration in the customer journey ("When is a good time to replace my air conditioner?").

Mapping Your Site

Keyword mapping does (surprise!) involve making a map. The map is a simple table listing with your keywords, page HTML elements and the recommended phrases. The table also lists your meta description, H1 tags and page title. Each of these have two columns: one with the current text, and the second with the recommended text. The image below is an example of what such a table would look like.

keyword mapping

You can then map the content to each element. The content should help people and search engines understand it is dedicated to answering related questions about the page topic.

Each HTML element is an opportunity to insert keywords into the page relevant to the topic. There is no one way to set up where to emphasize questions and responses.  But the table should show where text are best located without over redundant placement. 

If you are revising an existing site, consider reviewing the Index Coverage Report in Search Console. The Index coverage report reveals which pages are being indexed by the Google search engine. This information can help you decide which pages would benefit from mapping the most.

Keyword Mapping Can Help Optimize Social Media Strategy Too

In the past, keywords tactics meant matching website content to search patterns. Today, the main feeds of the big three social media platforms — Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest — can appear as part of your query presence. Each platform's impact is different. Tweets and YouTube videos can appear in a Google query. Pinterest can be used for SEO, and Pinterest Trends is a great source for keyword ideas

Social media posts can help address variations of customer questions (though your site remains the best place to build the right audience). Use your keyword mapping strategy as an opportunity to organize your social platforms to augment your website pages. 

The pandemic clearly changed what customers wanted or needed, so expect more changes to search behavior in the days and months ahead as circumstances change. Taking a proactive approach to keyword research is vital for staying relevant.

No matter the size of your site, you must consider how your keywords map to the site's purpose. Doing so will improve how your products and services communicate their value to online customers.