Keyword Maps in 2018: User-Centred Approach is Now King

Ryan MacKellar Blog 0 Comments

Google search results

Proper keyword targeting. The key to getting your site here, more often

Keyword maps are the foundation of any SEO strategy. You can a site 100% optimized and with a domain authority equal to Wikipedia, but if you don’t target the right keywords on the right pages your SEO efforts won’t amount to much.

For those unaware, a keyword map is a spreadsheet containing a list of URLs from a website and a list of keywords. You try to match the right keywords to the right URL and then ensure all elements of a webpage (think the title tag, header, meta description and words in the writing on the page) are optimized from  Here’s an example of one I worked on. Please excuse poor formatting as I discovered how hard it is to format a PDF from excel.

My exposure to keyword maps began in 2016, before I started work as an SEO specialist. I was working in a content department, but we would also be asked to provide keyword maps for clients, usually as a one-off document (not part of any wider SEO implementation plan). I was given a list of keywords, scanned the client’s site using screaming frog and found target pages. We had a few golden rules to follow:

  • Having the keyword in the title tag was a critical ranking factor
  • We could only target 4-5 keywords max per page so we could fit them all into the title tag (limit was 60 characters at that time)
  • Keep meta descriptions and headers natural
  • Make sure a website is optimized for as many keywords as possible
  • Content on the page should 200-300 words in length

After I was finished, the document was delivered to the client and I never saw the website again to see the fruits of my labour. Now, having been able to watch the implementation several of my keyword maps being implemented for enterprise level websites, I’ve noticed those golden rules don’t seem so golden anymore. Not only is there more to keyword targeting, but Google continues to advance more and more.

What makes for a good keyword map in 2018? It’s about being user-centred in everything you do. With that in mind, here are my 5 personal golden rules for getting keyword maps right.

Research the top ranking pages of the target keyword

Steelcase landing page

A content rich landing page

This is the first step and critical for anyone who wants to actually rank for a keyword. You need to know what you are up against by Google the keyword and taking a look at the results. If you notice that all of the competitor pages are thin on content and have low page authority (research using ahrefs), you can target your this keyword to a page of similar quality on your own site.

If you notice the ranking pages are homepages or major subpages complete with lots of content, images or even a video, your page better be of similar quality.  If it’s not, you might as well not optimize it at all.

Here’s an example. One of our clients I worked on was targeting the keyword “engineering company” (note while this anecdote is true the keywords have been substituted out lest my employer read these lines and become upset with me for betraying client information) and I decided in the original keyword map that /company page would be a good place to target. It has /company in the URL, wasn’t targeting any other keywords on the page and had the target keyword a few times in the copy.

6 months later, I’m asked to create a report for why this keyword is not ranking in the top 100 despite. I compared the top ranking pages to my own and the difference was obvious. All of the pages ranking in the top 10 targeted this keyword on the homepage with a content-rich landing page with a clear call to action for what the user should do next. So I changed the target page to the homepage and now they rank on the first page.

In short, find what your competitors are doing and do the same thing, just slightly better or smarter.

Don’t get bogged down with title tags

In my previous approach to keyword maps, this was the most important of the golden rule. If a keyword didn’t find in the title tag, then I needed to find another place for it as ranking was hopeless without it. Now, having the keyword in the title tag (while still important) has become a much less significant ranking factory. Title tags should be natural and communicate what the page is about to the user.

SEO title tag

An overoptimized title tag

Even if you try to use a perfectly stuffed title tag anyways, Google might not even display on the SERP result. Indeed, the Google algorithm has been reported to substitute it’s own title tags if it doesn’t like the one you wrote. Along with meta descriptions, this trend is a clear sign that Google is not going to be fooled by our use of over-optimized language for much longer.

So what’s the right way to do title tags on a keyword map for 2018?

Above all, you want to target the relevant page for the user, not what fits in the keyword. If it doesn’t fit in the title tag but is clearly the right keyword for the right page, target it there anyways. There are other methods at your disposal to get a keyword to the top. Once it starts ranking high enough so that users can target it, you can use the next step mentioned below to get it to the top.

Optimize title tags and meta description for clickthrough rates

This has always been a ranking factor to some degree. Google has been penalizing sites where the user arrives and hits back soon after (known as a bounce). Today, however, it has become about much more than just the bounce rate. For example, if I get this blog as the ninth result on the first page and it gets more clicks than the pages in 7th or 8th, Google will move my page higher in the rankings and those two down.

This is because I was able to better communicate that my page spoke to the users’ needs. How does this affect our keyword maps? Attention must be paid to the title tag and meta description so that they speak to the needs of the searcher and perhaps even pique their curiosity.

So what’s the best way to get the user to click on your page? While obviously it varies based on what kind of page it is, here are a few approaches to follow:

  • Make title tags natural rather than keyword stuffed
  • Use words strong words that evoke emotion rather bland descriptions
  • Communicate a clear value proposition using the meta description
  • Use a simple URL structure
  • If you have the time and budget, test out headlines and descriptions using adwords and see which performs best.

Use anchor text to target additional keywords

Anchor text (the hyperlinked text that points to a page) has been an important ranking factor for some time. However, it’s importance is on the rise because ranking factors like title tags are less of a surefire way to get yourself on the first page.  Using anchors, you can target primary pages with far more keywords than before by making sure they are part of the anchor text.

For example, if I search for the term modular classroom furniture, here’s what comes up:

Modular is missing from any of these results, so how does Google know what to show?

You will notice that modular is not in the title tag. So how does Google know it’s a relevant result? While there are a few reasons, one of the biggest is the number of anchors.

So what impact does this have on your keyword map?  You focus on a few main pages and try to rank them for as many keywords as possible (so long as they are relevant to the searcher of course) and no longer worry about fitting them in the title tag.

Before, you used to have to find another target page in order to optimize your site for that keyword, a state of affairs which was not user-friendly in any way. But with the decline of title tags (at least for keyword targeting) and the subsequent rise of other ranking factors like anchors, you can focus on making your core pages as outstanding as possible instead of spreading yourself thin.

Because in 2018, strong pages with high page authority, lots of content and high click-through rates will dominate.

Have engaging, user-centric content on the page

Finally, if you are making a keyword map in 2018, make sure that the pages you are targeting are rich with a clear call to action. While you still want to make sure that the target page has a reference to the keyword if possible, it’s hardly the ranking factor it once was. Indeed,a high click through rate and lots of time spent on page is more important. If your target pages don’t have this, then after your keyword map the next order of business is to improve the quality of those pages.

What makes for an engaging page? There are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Use lots of images (optimized for loading time)
  • Make sure you have at least some text and don’t be afraid to add more it’s relevant and well formatted.
  • Make sure the design is beautiful
  • Add a video.
  • Ensure you have clear paths for the user to take to get deeper into your site

In short, you want a page that keeps the users there for as long as necessary and encourages them to click to another page afterwords.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please note that a lot of the specifics mentioned in this article will vary by keyword, industry and website. Keyword maps also depend on how your site is optimized and if you have a lot of pages to work with, by all means use them. Just remember 2 things: do your research first and put the needs of the user above all else.

Happy mapping!

Ryan MacKellar

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