Content Strategy

How To Design an SEO Content Map

When it comes to building content over time to increase your search engine rankings, one analogy immediately comes to mind:

Stacking the bricks

The first time I heard this term was Amy Hoy using it to describe building products, and in similar fashion I’m using it to describe the process of building a house of organic rankings.

Just like Amy describes success as being built brick-by-brick, so is SEO – you just need to make sure you’re using the right bricks.

Building Your SEO Bricks

Building a base of content designed around contextually relevant and interconnected topics is just like building a house, you need to:

  1. Define your requirements and what your house needs to have.
  2. Design a blueprint to figure out where things will be built.
  3. Develop the structures that are needed to support your requirements.

Let’s talk more about these one at a time;

1. Defining Your Requirements

When it comes to SEO, requirements are defined by keyword research and prioritization.

Once you have your list of target keywords and associated targeting timelines, i.e. immediate, short-term (3 to 6 months), and long-term (12+ months), then it’s time to go to work analyzing your competitors.

What you’re looking for here is to adjust and validate your priorities based on your target keywords individual rank potential.

The goal of your requirements is to crack rankings and gain traction (traffic) as quickly as possible for qualified queries.

It’s OK to start with less than ideal keywords, as long as they’re at least tangentially relevant – and you’re able to acquire the traffic quickly and easily.

As you begin building up traffic and relevancy, it gets easier to begin targeting better, more difficult keywords.

Requirements Sample

Content requirements can take on a lot of forms, but generally the criteria that I want to see when reviewing requirements are:

  • Audience – who is this content being created for?
  • Stage – which part of the conversion funnel does this content support?
  • Target Keywords – self explanatory 🙂
  • Meta Attributes
    • Title
    • Slug (or URL if you prefer)
    • Page Description (used for meta description)
    • Social Description (should be different for each social channel)
  • Length – I prefer this is based on data from within the vertical, both Sentinel and Clearscope are very helpful with dialing this in.
  • Internal Links – yup you guessed it, which pages on the site will have links to this page, how will it be linked (i.e. text, image, buttons, etc.) and what will the anchors be. Will it be included in any navigational elements?
  • Media – what types of media will this content contain; images (how many?), videos (which ones?), quotes (from who?)
  • Links – how many links does this content need to crack page one for the target keywords? Again, sentinel is very useful for this.

2. Designing a Blueprint

Building your blueprint depends heavily on your target keywords and your decided priorities.

Once you’ve honed in on the rank potential for your terms, and adjusted your SEO timelines accordingly, you can start to design a keyword strategy that includes mapping content to your keywords.

One of the first steps in creating your blueprint is to analyze your requirements list and identify content themes or categories (think of these like buckets). Ideally you want to come up with somewhere around 10, up to a max of 15 or so.

The purpose is to keep these high-level, but if your broad topic is already a niche inside a niche, like let’s say you’re a construction company that focuses on excavating, then you would want to expound on topics within the sub-niche of excavating, like underground excavating for rail tunnels, excavating procedures for city streets, or even excavating around fragile structures.

Making sense?

3. Developing The Structure

Now you can begin to flesh out the requirements for your content – my newest favorite tool for doing this is Lumanu; it’s like BuzzSumo and Jarvis from Ironman had a really smart baby.

I use Lumanu to build topic lists using favorites, and then group my favorites together to create what Lumanu calls their “insights report,” which is where the really smart magic happens.

The tool’s insights are split into 2 main sections; influencers and content – here’s a snapshot of the influencer insights:


Each of which can be drilled into for more details:


and here’s a snapshot of the content insights:


and here’s a look at what makes me really excited about this:


and taking this even further, you can drill into content examples based on specific success criteria and heuristics:


With the requirements for your content in hand, now you can begin to stack the bricks.

It starts with building out the cornerstone content that will be needed to establish the relevance your after, let’s just look at this blog (especially since at this point it’s still very new).

My topic priorities are:

Notice anything?

That’s my roadmap for content development, I’m building posts that act as the scaffolding to connect the topics around my site. The next step is to build the rooms (individual posts within the topic areas), and then connect the rooms with hallways, better known as links.

If you look back over that list, you can quickly see that I’m about halfway done building out the initial seed content for my internal content map – with this post on internal link development being next on the list.

Backing Into Your Content Map

Maybe you have an existing site, or your doing work on a client site, where you already have a content catalog to work from and most of the important pages exist, but they’re not that great yet.

Here’s where a content audit can work wonders from an SEO perspective.

My favorite process for this, and the one we use at FTF, is to do a content gap analysis.

To get you started on what can be a daunting process depending on the size of your website, check out this wonderful post on how to build a content inventory and this post on how to do a content audit.

Essentially you’re taking inventory of all your existing pages, tagging them into keyword buckets and themes, and then finding the gaps where content needs to be created or repurposed.

TIP: While auditing your content – make a note, even if that content doesn’t exist yet, once it’s created make sure you go back to these pages and add in those links.

Refreshing and Adding Content

One of the easiest ways to blow out your existing SEO is by leveraging content to find opportunities to poach rankings.

My favorite way to do this is to find pages on your site that are already ranking, albeit not on page one, that are pretty thin in terms of both content and link authority.

Once you know which pages need some love it’s not hard to create a priority list by cross-referencing your keyword targets.

So start by analyzing existing content for keywords that are already in place – that should be supported with dedicated content (think of these as adding re-enforcements to your house).

My favorite way to do this is to drop a URL into SEMRush, download the keyword rankings report, and then filter the rankings column for greater than 10.


One extra tip is to use a constrained filter by setting it to greater than 10 but less than 20 – so you can first look at your page 2 poaching opportunities.

Then the next step is to quickly beef up the link authority of these pages you want to move up in Google’s rankings – and the easiest way to do this is to add links that are both trusted and guaranteed (read: from YOUR website, i.e. internal links).

Here’s an example from where their missing the SEO boat:


^If you review that picture you can see I’ve highlighted terms that already existed naturally on the page that would be great topics to reinforce the topical relevancy of the page.

In order to maximize the link juice of the pages you’re building new internal links to, find pages on your site that have the highest link authority, using a 3rd party link metric like Ahrefs or even page authority.

Identifying New Content Opportunities

In some instances while working on your content map you’ll realize that there are naturally occurring keywords within your content that would be great keyword rich internal links – but you have nowhere for them to link to.

Coming back to the above example on, let’s see if they have a good place to link that first keyword to, to do this I’m just going to fire up big G and punch in “life insurance policy”

That was easy, the number one result is the ideal place to link to.

Let’s try one more, how about the next keyword opportunity from that example paragraph – I’m going to do the same for “the insurer:”


No dice.

So this would be the a piece of content I would add to my content map and consider creating. I’m honestly surprised a site like Policy Genius doesn’t have a glossary for terms like this.

An Important Consideration

Gone are the days of “stone throwing SEO,” and what I mean by that is there was once a time where it was considered a good idea, even a best practice by some, to create a page for every keyword you wanted to rank for.

That’s not how shit works anymore.

Instead of just throwing stones (small, lightweight objects that won’t have any impact unless they’re being chucked at really weak, thin glass), modern SEO requires you to build sturdy websites made with bricks.

You need to be smarter and more intentional with your content development.

Google’s ability to comprehend and predict LSI, connecting all the conceptual dots and topics, is only going to get better. A great re-enforcement of this is how sometimes the best thing you can do for your site’s content is to kill it.

Does stacking the bricks make sense in terms of designing your SEO content map?

Please take a second in the comments and let me know if my whole house analogy for this SEO strategy makes any sense – I’d really appreciate it.

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  1. Nick, thanks for writing such a useful article. I’ve known for some time that I need to put together a plan to improve SEO on one of my websites, and this lays out exactly how to do so. I intend to follow it step by step when I have a few quiet hours this weekend. Thanks again!

    1. Joanna – My pleasure, thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts. Definitely stop back and let me know how it went – I’d love to do an update to this post and link to you as an example of implementation 🙂

  2. Hi Nick,

    Think the house metaphor for building content is very apt, and one most folks will be able to picture and grasp.

    I’d even take it further, and say that technical SEO checks (making sure your site can be crawled, understood and indexed, acts as the foundations for your house. Without those foundations, the best content rooms won’t stand…

    Cheers for sharing your content map, fascinating to see the plan in action!

  3. Great article, Nick. It’s very thorough and the house metaphor works well. One of the hardest parts is getting clients to understand that — similar to building a house — it takes a long time, there will be delays/missteps along the way but you’ll be happy you put in the effort when storms (READ: arbitrary Google algorithm changes) arise because you’ve built a house that is storm proof.

    The only other thing I would mention somewhere is that good writing is essential. Technical tactics and link building will, of course, help search engines find your content AND help build authority, but without quality writing, it falls apart. Nice work!

    1. Thanks Jeff – That’s a solid point, and although I’m a big fan of methodical and systematic promotion to win at content; you’re absolutely right that the content itself can’t be pure crap or it will fall apart in the hands (and eyes) of the target audience.

  4. Hi Nick!

    Great piece. I like how it’s thorough yet not overly complex to read and understand.

    I love the tools you show. It’s exactly what I was looking for, and it came straight to my inbox. What more can I ask?

    This for me comes at the right time for 2 reasons: I’m getting ready to create a content map for a client (with different verticals to address) and—the toughest one—I would like in the near future to start writing things that make sense for my audience, concerning video & marketing. Looking for what to write is a really important part for me. Only knowing what people are looking for and what can get me in front of their eyes can motivate me to write thorough, rich articles like this very one. And when will it be worth it to complement those articles with videos and infographics? We shall see.


    1. That’s great feedback – I just got an email yesterday that talked about some of my posts being too technical and going over readers heads; and these were the exact readers I wanted to reach and start conversations with.. so I actually ended up doing a bunch of editing on this post before publishing this morning to try to “soften it up” a bit.

      Glad you’re digging Lumanu – I have found it to be invaluable in terms of the content and influencer benefits it offers.

      Please keep me posted on any new visual content you create – I always love seeing your work.

      Thanks again.

  5. Nice post Nick, topical SEO is badass.. Been using it a lot more recently and to great success.

    Few things to add:
    – Ahrefs seems to have more keyword data than SEMRush right now, always good to run with both though.
    – If a sites in WP, it becomes super easy to get internal linking oppurtunities with the various free plugins out there for just that.
    – Local SEO wise, this works even better, you can create posts around so many different longtails that all build up the overall topical relevance of a site to the main keywords.

    I think its time to write a post on Topical SEO myself, see how a more BH crowd reacts to this sh*t ^.^

    1. Thanks Charles – couldn’t agree more, especially as Google’s ability to connect the dots/semantic relevance scoring becomes increasingly more intelligent.

      • I’ve been keeping a close eye on Ahrefs and you might be right – if nothing else this is likely why their price just took that huge jump.
      • Do you have one you like? I’ve tried several and they’ve all produced pretty much shit links
      • Absolutely, we use Quora to find topical questions in local verticals and start there in terms of content for local

      I’m sure it will stir the BH pot enough to get you plenty of shiny white links though…

      1. I haven’t found a specific one I like no, I used a few different ones on some smaller sites just to get links in place for broader terms used in the content..

        I’ve been using VAs a lot recently.

        Writing the post at the moment 😉

  6. I am not sure if you realise that on an iPad the social buttons you have on the left hand side make reading your article hard as it covers up the first few words. Most frustrating. Can this be placed somewhere else?

  7. I am genuinely impressed by the quality of your blog posts – I digest everyone of your posts. They are always intriguing, relevant and filled with meat. I get so tired of the other internet marketing wannabees spewing out 250 of mindless blabber before getting to the point – never with any useful information actual content or SEO strategy. Y

    our posts are refreshing and satisfying, I am glad for your success. I hope it continues so you will stay inspired to helping your community as you do.

  8. A really in-depth, info packed article. Great work!

    I agree about the ‘throwing small stones’ metaphor, and suspect we’ll all be focusing on topical SEO a LOT more in future. I think it’s time to make hay before the competition wises up!

    Nice tip about Lumanu too, I’ll be sure to check it out.

  9. There is loads of helpful information gathered here! I believe that content is the most important part in SEO along with the right keywords. Doing On page Optimization is a plus also. I’ll surely apply some of the tips here to improve my SEO rankings. Thank you so much.

  10. Website SEO planning is very important and if it can be started during the site’s designing and development phase, then nothing is better than that. Loved reading this post, really well written and very well guided. Anyone wants to know how to plan the optimization & content before implementing those, this content is going to be a very good resource for them. I am personally going to share this with all our SEO students who are about to start their career in coming months.

  11. Hello Nick,
    You highlighted the page with the keywords that talk about the article. I will put it in quotes “^If you review that picture you can see I’ve highlighted terms that already existed naturally on the page that would be great topics to reinforce the topical relevancy of the page.”

    I am confused can you please clearup with that below statement of yours in simple language, I am not that techy when it comes to SEO.

    1. Hey Abhishek – I’m not clear on what you’re asking. The words I highlighted in my example are all keywords that are contextual to the website’s overall “SEO Theme” and hence would make great internal links to dedicated pages on the website about those topics.

      Does that make sense?

      1. I know this is an old post, but just thought about giving it a try. How do you come up with “highlighted terms that already existed naturally on the page that would be great topics to reinforce”? Is this a pick and choose process? Or is there any tools besides GSC that could help?

        1. So first pass at this is actually stupid simple; you just look for terms that exist naturally within the pages and posts on your site that would make sense to link to another page or post on your site based on the context of the term. You could absolutely use GSC for this, specifically the process might look something like this:
          – Identify a high value page on your site that already has some SEO traffic coming into it from Google
          – Filter the organic query impressions in GSC for that single URL
          – Look for keywords where that URL is getting impressions that are relevant to the content on the page, but are lower than you’d like them to be, either based on the average count of those impressions relative to counts of other terms for that page or based solely on average ranking position
          – Find other pages on your site that have solid internal link flow (use the linked pages report in GSC and filter in descending order) where you can go add new links back to your target page using those terms that GSC showed you your page does not yet have sufficient visibility for.

          Make sense?

  12. The SEO industry gets a bad reputation from all the snake oil salesmen and outsourced companies around…
    Are you active on any discussion boards?

  13. This is a great article and very well explained. I agree that website SEO planning is very important from the very beginning. I believe in professionals so this is a very useful article for everyone. Many thanks for your share.

  14. You’ve given some fantastic information here, something that digital marketing experts can use in making their business sites more popular online. To increase your knowledge further & become an expert, join to learn marketing courses, digital marketing courses, full stack developer course and web developer professional courses.

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  16. This article is simplified my SEO content plan. It has reduced the time & improve productivity a lot. Also shared this article with like-minded people, everyone appreciated.

  17. Well-written article! I absolutely agree, building, or winning then attacking, like the great Sun-Tzu said is fundamental to all strategy.

  18. Hey, its a very nice post and very helpful to me. Me also a blogger and started it recently but don’t know how to increase traffic in quick succession ,so i need a help from you. Please visit my website and help me what i can do more. visit at

  19. Thanks, Nick. This post is always great to revisit for a greater understanding of the basic foundations for content development and strategy. It’s so easy to get distracted by new ideas, plans and designs, but if you forget the structural components that enable a solid base to build on, many other things become. Yep, your analogy is awesome too. Thanks again.

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