Mindmapping Audiences and Tasks for Category and Keyword Development

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Working Towards Keyword Development

It’s been a while since my last Back to Basics post here, so I’m going to provide an example of one SEO task that can be a lot of fun if done right; the Keyword Development Process.

It’s an exercise in Mind Mapping and is the kind of thing that can be done in a group. It involves getting something to write upon (ideally posterboard paper and a mix of different colored magic markers) and thinking non-linearly while filling that paper up with ideas about which keywords a site should be about.

What tasks can a site perform that the audience of the site is interested in?
What words will they expect to see on the pages of the site?
What questions might they ask that you want a site to answer?

The ideas don’t necessarily have to be completely on topic, and sometimes writing down an idea that is only tangentially related to the topic may lead to the exploration of ideas and keyword development that are more relevant.

One of the points of performing search engine optimization on a website is to make it possible for the site owner to be found in search engines for information that is relevant to questions from the audience that they will be searching for. So learning about the audience of a site, and what they will be most interested in finding out about is one of the most helpful things you can do in your keyword development approach.

Making lists is one fun way to understand the tasks and needs that a website might have to offer when doing keyword development.

Here’s a start to a list of targeted audiences that might be visiting a site to perform different tasks.

For a school, different audiences and associated tasks might be:

  • Students looking for a school
  • Students looking for a school in a specific location
  • Students looking for a school that offers certain programs or classes
  • Students looking for information about the place that a school is located
  • Students looking for information about housing, about financial aid, public transportation, and about other practical matters that don’t primarily involve classes and education.
  • Students comparing more than one school
  • Students who have decided upon a school and want to apply
  • Parents or guardians of students looking for a school (locations, housing, financial aid information, etc.)
  • Parents or guardians of students comparing more than one school
  • Parents or guardians of students who have decided upon a school and want to apply
  • Students (or their parents or guardians) who have been accepted by the school and want to know what to do next
  • Returning students
  • Parents of students who are presently attending the school and want to know the latest news about the school
  • Students or parents looking for services or contact information while attending the school
  • Alumni looking for people they attended a school with
  • Alumni attempting to provide some money to an endowment fund
  • Alumni trying to get transcripts or some other documentation
  • Alumni looking for news about their alma mater
  • Potential employees
  • Vendors for the school
  • Present day teachers and administrators of the school
  • Previous teachers and administrators who are attempting to find someone that they worked with, or taught
  • Sports fans attempting to find out schedules of the school’s teams
  • Teachers and administrators comparing what the school has to offer to their own schools’ offerings
  • Conference attendees visiting a conference or seminar held at the school
  • People looking for specific information about a location on campus
  • People looking for specific information about a program on campus
  • Students and alumni and potential employers looking for a jobs placement office

I could go on with adding audience members and tasks for a while, but I might limit the size of this list and start looking at some existing school websites to see which audience members they addressed, how those sites met information needs, and how they prioritized those needs. I would probably have quite a few audience members and tasks listed, and the task of listing them all might need more structure.

Before my lists get too large, I would want to start thinking about different ways that I could categorize some of these audience members and some of the tasks.

Some categories might ideally be best organized by audience members, and the nice thing about that is that if the structure of your website echoes the categories that you create, you’ll be creating sections of a site that visitors can easily understand are for them. Separate sections for students, alumni, staff, and visitors might make some sense.

Other categories might better be organized by topics, such as different school departments, information about the physical layout of the campus, and classes offered.

I mentioned looking at other school sites. That should be done not to imitate any of the other schools, but rather to see some of the possible variety of approaches, and to find gaps that might have been missed with your mind map above, as well as possibly identifying things that other schools might have missed that could help you stand out.

Keyword Development Conclusion

As I look through those other pages and think about the site that I am working upon, I ask myself many questions. For instance, are there pages or sections for each of these different audience members?

Some tasks are more important than others and need to be prioritized. How might that be shown on the pages of the sites?

Do the pages use words that these audiences might use to search for those pages? Are those words being used in page titles and the navigation of the site?

Is it easy for each of these audiences (and others that I might have missed), to find the information that they need, or complete the task that they set out to do when arriving at the home page, or any other page of the site?

This approach is one that could be used in anticipation of conducting keyword research, and in constructing the hierarchy of a site.

It can and should be augmented with information from the school about what they offer, but the process of thinking about the site in terms of audience and tasks is a step towards building a site that delivers the objectives of the site owners to the audiences that they want to focus upon.

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15 thoughts on “Mindmapping Audiences and Tasks for Category and Keyword Development”

  1. It can be a lot of fun doing it like that.

    Your card sorting approach sounds like a good way to do things, too. Adding that physical level to the process brings something tangible to the ideas, and the development proces.

  2. Thanks Bill. I’ve done similar things, but not to this extent and I haven’t attempted to mind map possible audiences. I like the approach.

    One thing I do like to do when starting a site is to jot down every idea for content on a separate index card. With each idea I can then play around with the info architecture and add further notes to each card while refining and developing content ideas.

  3. Bill, do you think there is is synergy between the usability/HCI and SEO disciplines? Your post has set me thinking that the two overlap.

  4. Hi Dave,

    Great question. I find that I can’t help but think of SEO in terms of a holistic approach to interactions between visitors to a site and the site itself.

    We know that search engines can deliver visitors to any page of a web site, and that they often bring someone to a page deep within a site, as opposed to the main page of the site.

    Someone delivered to a page by a search engine has certain expectations of the page set in place based upon the page appearing in search results for certain terms, and upon the page title, snippet shown, and possibly the URL listed.

    If we can anticipate audiences, their tasks and needs, and the words that they might use to fulfill those needs, and a page can meet those needs, then it helps us not only to write page title and possible snippets for the page itself, but also for how it might appear within search results.

    The structure of a site, and the words within links that connect pages and create that structure are also important and essential to a successful SEO approach. The clickpaths that one might follow to get to certain information, the scent of information that certain words trigger as one goes deeper into a site, are all important. The words used in those links, and in page titles and headings are often chosen to appeal to people who might search for the words, and who might expect to see those words on pages within the site.

    Building a site so that it focuses upon more general terms at a top level, and as pages get deeper, focuses upon more specific terms is part of that process. Setting up pages so that someone visiting any page might have a sense of where they are, where they’ve been, and where they can go, also helps.

    There are also ways to format information upon web pages (key:value pairs, for instance) that make it more likely that if a search engine extracts that information for a vertical search like Local Search or product search, a page using that kind of formating might appear in search results for those types of inquiries. So, sites that present biographical information, for example, might include a “vital stats” sidebar that list key:value pairs of information about a person in addition to prose on their pages. This is helpful for a spider that extracts structured or semi-structured information from pages to answer questions or populate specialized databases. It’s also helpful for people looking for fast answers.

    With HCI as an interdisciplinary study, concerned with biology, psychology, computer science, and other areas, there’s some significant overlap in some ways with SEO. The way some search engines attempt to index pages may mean paying more attention to factors that signify importance upon pages – such as bolded words, headlines with white space around them above areas of content, and much more. Or perhaps understanding how some parts of pages might be taken out of context when parsed and indexed by a search engine.

    Understanding tasks, knowing how to layout pages and format content, how to make sites more usable – these are inherent in recognizing that a search engine acts as secondary indexing system for a site. It’s important to be able to think outside of the narrow framework of a Web site to the wider space that it exists within upon the Web, including search engines.

  5. I wish I could take credit for the index card thing, but I got it from a web design class I took a number of years ago. I thought it was a good idea when I heard it and have been using it ever since.

    The physical nature of the cards does add something to the process and index cards are pretty easy to carry around with you.

  6. Steven,

    I’ve seen a few articles about card sorting, including this one, which I really like, from Boxes and Arrows:

    Card sorting: a definitive guide

    I’ve used the process on a few sites to help define the structure of the site, and it can be really helpful, and result in pages that are organized in a manner that search engines seem to like a lot.

    And yes, there is something satisfying to the feel of the cards between your fingers as you sort ideas and concepts. :)

  7. A great back to basics post. I have always used Post It notes during the first stage of keyword research. As you have proved above, you can come up with so many ideas and suggestions than you otherwise could with most keyword tools, particularly in niche markets.

  8. Thanks.

    Post It notes can be brilliant in that exercise, too.

    My only problem with using them for an exercise like that is that they tend to end up all over the place. :)

  9. Brilliant post, thanks!!

    I tend to use a whiteboard for the first stage, any connections are then drawn in.
    It really helps to identify over complex nodes and to simplify the architecture.

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