SEOs often get hung up on specific keywords, which can waste time and energy when it comes to doing more in-depth work on a topic. This is why I put together an article that highlights some of the top strategies that have helped me become more effective with my SEO efforts.
The way we optimize content has been evolving over the last several years. Google is getting more thoughtful, and its algorithms are becoming more sophisticated. As a result, search engine optimization (SEO) is no longer about ranking for specific keywords.
Instead, SEOs have shifted their focus to optimizing for topics instead of keywords. This is because of semantic search. Semantic search is the process of understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms used in the search engine’s query. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
SEO in the Age of Topics
For a long time, SEOs have been optimizing content around keywords. We figured out what people are searching for on Google and then optimized our pages to rank well for those terms.
But in today’s world of conversational search, driven by voice and mobile, users are asking questions more than ever before – and they’re no longer using short-tail keywords to find what they need. Instead, they’re asking long-tail questions that reflect their intent better than the broader keywords of yore.
SEOs can optimize content for this new era by focusing on topics rather than keywords.
Let’s look at why you should be optimizing for topics and how you can do it.
What SEOs Need to Understand About Topics
For years, SEOs have focused on optimizing for specific keywords.
But the world has changed. Today, searchers expect to find various relevant content surrounding their queries, not just ten blue links to individual pages.
What’s more, search engines now understand that topics are made up of related concepts and keywords.
This is why the focus is shifting away from individual keywords and toward a more holistic content creation and optimization approach.
To get started with topics, you can use tools like Google Trends to identify relevant concepts that may be related to your target keyword. Once you’ve found a topic, you want to cover, do some research on it and organize your findings into an outline based on relevant concepts. When you’re ready, write up a post (or several posts) that covers your topic in-depth. If you’re building off another piece of content, be sure to link back to it so Google can make connections between the relevant pages.
How Do You Identify a Topic?
How do you identify a topic? There are several different ways. For example, you might observe that people ask questions about the same subject on Quora. Or you might see that there are many articles clumped together around a specific area or topic in Google News. Or you might use Google Trends to see if there has been an increase in searches for those keywords.
You can use BuzzSumo to determine which topics have been most popular in terms of social media shares and links over time. You can also use it to discover what content is being shared by your competitors and other influencers in your industry.
Another option is to use keyword research tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to identify content that ranks on Page 1 for particular search terms and then look at the content’s word frequency or topic modeling (see below) to determine what that page is about.
Finally, you can use topic modeling, which is a method of discovering the hidden topics within collections of text documents. It uses natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to analyze a set of papers and sort them into groups based on the patterns that exist within each document.
Resolving Problems with Topics-Based Keyword Research
For the last couple of years, I have argued that we should stop thinking at the keyword level because it no longer makes sense. Google has evolved to the point where that’s where keyword research stops.
Instead, we should be thinking about topics.
Why? Because Google is good at understanding topics of searches and matching searcher intent to content on web pages that deal with those topics better than any other search engine. For example, if you search for “how much does a new kitchen cost,” Google will return results with pieces of content covering the topic of how much a new kitchen costs.
So if you’re still focusing on keywords, your ability to satisfy searcher intent is limited by your focus on keywords and not topics.
If you want to succeed in SEO today, you need to stop thinking about keywords and start thinking about what topics will solve the problems your target audience is searching for answers to.
Topic-Based Keyword Research Your Audience Cares About
When Google introduced Hummingbird in 2013, it signaled an end to the keyword-based SEO strategies that dominated search marketing for years.
However, many SEOs have struggled to adapt to this new reality. Instead of focusing on topics and intent, many continue to obsess over individual keywords.
SEO is about attracting the right kind of visitors through search results. This begins with keyword research and ensures you target keywords your audience cares about.
Keyword research has been the cornerstone of SEO for over 20 years. Based on a keyword or set of keywords, SEOs begin optimizing pages for specific terms to rank well in search engines.
Ranking well for a specific keyword is essential, but today’s SEOs need to consider how their efforts affect the entire topic, not just a particular phrase.
While keywords are still important, they should be part of a larger topic-based strategy that emphasizes overall authority and relevance on that topic rather than only focusing on a particular phrase.
Google’s focus on user intent has made keyword research less relevant.
When it comes to search engine optimization, content is king. But to create the right content, you first need to know what your audience is searching for. And that’s where keyword research comes in.
You’ve probably heard the term “keyword research” thrown around by SEOs and marketers before. But do you know how to do keyword research? When done correctly, keyword research will help guide your content strategy, allowing you to focus on the topics that your customers care about better.
Keyword research used to be simple. You would find a list of keywords people typed into Google and then optimize your page accordingly. Those days are long gone.
Today, Google understands user intent, providing searchers with the information they seek as quickly as possible. Optimizing for keywords has become less relevant, and many SEOs have stopped doing it altogether.
So what’s an SEO to do? Should you stop optimizing for keywords? After all, if Google is already doing it for you, wouldn’t that make your job easier? The short answer: no.
The way we optimize content has been evolving over the last several years. Google is getting more thoughtful, and its algorithms are becoming more sophisticated. As a result, search engine optimization (SEO) is no longer about ranking for specific keywords. Instead, SEOs have had to shift their focus to optimizing for topics instead of keywords.
The key takeaway is that SEOs should stop thinking about keywords and start developing higher-level strategies. How? They can do this by focusing on topics rather than keywords. A high-level process involves:
- Identifying the root meaning of a topic.
- Building out long-form content.
- Creating killer headlines.
- Including images and videos.
So, if you are looking to take your SEO strategy to the next level, start by always focusing on topics first instead of only keywords.