Keyword mapping is a critical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) activity that’s usually performed at the beginning of an SEO campaign, before optimizing the existing assets of a website. However, keyword mapping isn’t keyword research, as many people think.
In fact, the two activities—even though they’re both very important—are significantly different to one another. In this guide, we’ll show you what keyword mapping is, why it’s important for SEO, and how to perform keyword mapping for your own website.
What is Keyword Mapping?
At MINUTTIA, we work with a 6-stage framework that helps us attain organic growth for our SaaS and tech clients. The 6 stages included in our Organic Growth Framework are the following:
- Stage 1 – Understand
- Stage 2 – Plan
- Stage 3 – Optimize
- Stage 4 – Create
- Stage 5 – Amplify
- Stage 6 – Measure
One of the actions that we perform during the second stage of our framework—the stage of Understanding—is keyword mapping. So, the question is: what is keyword mapping? Here’s a definition that we developed internally and use to describe keyword mapping to our clients:
Keyword mapping is the process of assigning a Target Keyword to each of the Target Pages on a website. In some cases, there may be more than one Target Keyword assigned for one page, but in most cases, there should be one assigned Target Keyword to each Target Page.
Thus, as you can understand, keyword mapping is all about matching specific pages on your website to specific keywords. The keyword you assign to each page can be a) one of the keywords your page already ranks for on Google or b) a keyword that’s important to you and that you want this page (ideally) to rank for.
In order to map keywords to specific pages on your website, you need to know exactly what the purpose is behind each of those pages (e.g. page with commercial intent), and you also need to know why that particular keyword matters to you.
Before moving forward, we need to make one thing very clear: like most SEO activities, keyword mapping can be performed using different tools (e.g. Google Sheets templates) and using different methodologies. There’s no right or wrong here, as long as it fits your needs and helps you achieve your goals.
Thus, regardless of what SEO experts or other agencies promote, try to do things in a way that’s easy and convenient for you. In that context, the keyword mapping process we’re going to describe is the way we do things for our clients. Use it only if it fits your own needs and internal processes.
Why Keyword Mapping is Important
The reason why keyword mapping is important is obvious: we need to know what the target keyword is (the main keyword) behind each web page of a particular website. Let’s use the following page by online course software LearnWorlds as an example:
This page lives in the following URL:
At first glance, we might say that the target keyword behind this page is “how to create an online course” or “create an online course”. Of course, we can’t be sure about this without taking a closer look at the organic footprint for this page and the keywords it already ranks for on Google.
Google Search Console—a free tool by Google that allows us to monitor a website’s search traffic and overall organic performance—is the best source of data in this case. Among others, Google Search Console gives us the search terms that bring searchers to our web pages.
One of Google Search Console’s reports (Performance > Pages) gives us a list of search queries that a page ranks for organically. This is very helpful, as it helps us understand which search terms drive organic traffic to our website and at what volume.
Assuming we don’t have access to Google Search Console though, we can use a keyword analysis tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs. First, we need to insert the URL of the page into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
Then, we need to choose the option “URL – Exact URL” and click the orange button.
The reason we’re doing this is because we want to get data only for the URL that we inserted into the Site Explorer. This is what we’re going to see next:
Next, click on the Organic Keywords report.
This will give you the list of keywords that this particular page ranks for on Google.
As you can see in the screenshot above, some of the main keywords this page ranks for are:
- How to create an online course
- Create online courses
- Creating an online course
- Create an online course
- How to make an online course
Even though there are many relevant keywords in this list, we need to choose one of these and optimize this page based on that keyword. Our decision will be affected by factors like the keyword volume, the keyword difficulty, the keyword’s commercial value and more.
Note: Keyword Difficulty (KD) in Ahrefs is affected by the number of external links that the top competing pages on the Search Engine Page Results (SERPs) have.
One of the most promising keywords in this list is “how to create an online course”, as it:
- Isn’t as difficult to rank for (KD: 30)
- Has a decent search volume (Search Volume: 1,300)
- Is a long-tail keyword, which are usually less competitive
- Obviously has some commercial value/interest (CPC: $6)
Thus, we can say with some confidence that if we were to map this page to a specific keyword, it would be “how to create an online course”. The reason why this process is significant is because it will affect our SEO efforts, and to a certain extent have an impact on our content marketing strategy as well.
Mapping keywords to pages is important not only for our existing pages but also for the new content pieces—and new pages in general—we’re going to create, as it will help us have a clearer scope as to what the purpose of each page is and avoid keyword cannibalization issues.
One thing we need to mention before moving forward is that keyword mapping is more useful for websites that already have an organic footprint. New websites usually don’t rank for keywords, and thus mapping the right keywords to the right pages doesn’t really make sense here.
In the next section, we’re going to show you how to do keyword mapping using our keyword mapping template on Google Sheets.
How to Do Keyword Mapping
To do Keyword Mapping for our clients, we use a Keyword Mapping Template we created. Even though the template is in Google Sheets, you can also use Excel or any other tool/software that fits your needs.
Once we open the template, we start by visiting the “Start Here” tab, which is the first tab of the template.
In this tab, we need to do two things:
- Add the homepage URL of the website we want to map the pages for
- Add all the Sitemap URLs of the website we want to map the pages for
The website we’re going to use for our example is http://learnworlds.com/.
A common misconception is that every single page on a website should have an assigned keyword. We believe that this is wrong for two reasons.
- Imagine that a website has thousands of pages. Is it possible to map every single page on that website? Also, is this productive and will it contribute to your overall SEO efforts? The answer to both questions is no.
- As an agency, we don’t have the time to do on-page optimization or amplification (e.g. link building) for pages that don’t perform well organically. We have to focus on pages that have some value and have the potential to perform if optimized or amplified.
Thus, it’s evident that when mapping pages to keywords, you need to focus on the pages that really matter for you and your business (e.g. SaaS, eCommerce). These pages usually exist on your website’s Sitemap (or somewhere inside your Index Sitemap).
In our example, the pages we want to assign a Target Keyword for are all the pages included in the Post Sitemap of the website.
Note: To locate the XML Sitemap for a particular website, you need to visit example.com/sitemap.xml. In some cases, there will be an Index Sitemap that includes all the XML Sitemaps that have to do with this site. You should use only those that include pages you want to map. For instance, you don’t need to map keywords for Category Pages or Tags that are auto-generated from your blog.
In our case, the template will look like this:
Once we copy/paste the Sitemap URLs of the Sitemaps we want to include in this process, our template will count the total number of pages as well as the total number of Sitemaps included in the template. In other words, it tells us how many pages from how many Sitemaps we’re going to map.
In our example, we have 161 pages from just one Sitemap—the Post Sitemap.
In the “Sitemaps” tab, we notice that all the URLs from the Sitemaps we’ve inserted are included there.
Our template can be used with as many as 10 Sitemaps.
The next step requires us to get organic keyword data for all the pages included in the website to which we want to assign Target Keywords (similar to what we did a bit earlier with the “how to create an online course” page). To do that, we visit Ahrefs’ Site Explorer once more.
We paste the website URL and click on the little orange button.
Note: Make sure that the default option here is “Domain.” If it’s not, make sure to select this in order to include the domain with all its domains in Site Explorer’s analysis.
Once we get the analysis of the Site Explorer, we click on the “Organic keywords” report.
There, we’ll see what organic keywords that the domain (with its subdomains) we’ve inserted is ranking for. Next, we need to extract the data so that we can use those keywords in our template. To do that, we click on “Export”.
Note: Keep in mind that if you’re using another keyword analysis software (e.g. SEMrush, Moz), there may be some differences in the number of keywords per country, the positions that the keywords are ranking for, the traffic estimation or the volume for each keyword.
We choose “Full export”, as we want a list of all the organic keywords the website is ranking for.
Once we click on the “Start export” button, it will take a few minutes until our export is ready to download.
When our export is ready for download, we click on the exported file and choose where we want to save the CSV file.
We can save the CSV file onto our device, since we only require this to copy the data we need to continue with the Keyword Mapping process.
The columns we have (in this specific order) before copying all the data are:
- Page URL
Once we remove all unnecessary columns, we copy all the data included in those 4 columns.
Next, we visit the Organic Keywords tab in the Keyword Mapping Template and paste “Only Values” to avoid any formatting (e.g. font colors, sizes) being copied as well.
Next, we click on the “Update” button next to the Page URL column.
This will update the data that the template may already have, and will combine the data from the Sitemaps tab with that from the Organic Keywords tab.
Once we visit the Keyword Mapping tab—which is where everything ends up—we notice two things:
- Some of the pages (which are the exact pages included in the Sitemap URL we set in the beginning) have a Target Keyword assigned.
- Some other pages don’t have a Target Keyword assigned.
This occurs simply because those pages may not be ranking for any organic keywords and thus don’t have an assigned Target Keyword yet. However, pages that do have an assigned keyword may have the wrong Target Keyword assigned. And, as we mentioned earlier, this process all happens so that we can assign the right keyword to every single page included in the website’s Sitemap.
Here’s an example where a page talking about “social media holidays” has “social media dates” as an assigned Target Keyword.
This happens because this is the keyword that the script attached to our Keyword Mapping Template found for this page.
To assign the right Target Keyword, type it manually in the “Manual Override” column and then choose “Yes” as an option in the “Confirm Manual Override” column.
Once we do this, the first keyword that was auto-assigned will be deleted.
Of course, this won’t be necessary for all pages, but the purpose of this process is to identify the right Target Keyword for each page. Thus, we need to do the same for all the pages included in the Keyword Mapping tab.
Note: If you consider a page to be of low quality or irrelevant to the business and goals of the client, feel free to skip it.
If we want to clean up our data for any reason (e.g. we made a mistake while copying/pasting data from Ahrefs), we can click on the “Clear Data…” button on the top menu.
We can choose between two options—Organic KW and KW Mapping—and clear data so that we can add new information. Once we click on “Organic KW”, for example, we get a window with the following message:
We click “Yes” and let the script do the rest. Here’s what we see next:
Once we finish with the keyword mapping process, we can start prioritizing optimization for certain pages based on the keywords assigned to them on our keyword mapping document.
As is evident by now, keyword mapping is a process that has an impact not only in terms of on-page SEO and optimization of our existing pages, but also in terms of content creation and overall content strategy.
A keyword analysis tool like Ahrefs, SEMrush or Moz, together with a simple template like the one we use internally at MINUTTIA, can help you perform the important action of keyword mapping in a few hours.
We hope that this step-by-step process has brought you closer to understanding what keyword mapping is, why it’s important and why you need to add it to your digital marketing strategy.