Keywords vs Topics: Optimizing Your Pages for Search

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SEO has evolved tremendously over the past few years. Much of what used to be considered “best practices” are now either obsolete or could negatively impact your search visibility. As Google continues to make algorithm updates to deliver the most accurate results for searchers, we need to adjust our strategy to ensure we are getting the most return on investment.

When it comes to optimizing a page for search, the traditional rule was; one page, one keyword focus. But does this rule still apply? Should we still be optimizing our pages around specific search terms and defined keywords?

According to a study by Ahrefs, the average #1 ranking page will also rank in the top 10 for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords. So if your page is ranking in the top position for a given term, it’s also ranking for about 1,000 other related terms. So how does this work? Let’s get into the power of topic-based search vs. keyword-obsessed search.

Video Transcript

Traditional SEO says one page, one specific term. We’re going to optimize that page around one term from top to bottom to achieve the top keyword ranking position. Now, I’m not telling you that keyword research or on-page optimization around specific search terms is wrong because it’s not. You absolutely should have the technical discipline to do SEO the right way. But we need to start thinking outside of just specific keywords. If you look at the Ahrefs research in the link above,  you’ll see the power of ranking in the number one position versus a specific term. You actually need a ranking for about a thousand other terms in the top ten as well that are very related and are going to drive over the traffic.

This is showing the shift away from keyword-specific ranking and now more toward topical ranking. In Google, as they begin to understand and continue to really drive innovation toward understanding users and their behavior, they’re pushing more topic-based ranking, where a site that is known for a specific topic is going to rank for a broader set of terms in that topic, rather than just focusing on a specific keyword match.

Related article: What is Topic-Based SEO?

Improving Keyword Ranking Position By Becoming a Topic Authority

So how do we start to shift our mindset, and how do we start to shift our strategy to understand how we can become topical authorities when it comes to our brands online?

Your users are really going to start to drive interaction more than ever before. If you’re not really understanding users, doing the correct persona research, you’re going to be way behind in this area. Instead of just obsessing over rank tracking, obsessing over keyword positions, you need to start obsessing over your users and the problems that they have, doing research on their search intent, and then developing content that will solve their problems.

One of the great things about topical authority is you don’t have to focus so much over one specific keyword when you’re writing. I know a lot of time this is where SEOs or content marketers hit a wall trying to develop a piece of content around a very specific term. Well if you put that aside and you start to think about the topic as a whole, it actually allows you way more creativity and allows you to solve better problems, where you’re not trying to stuff a keyword into a specific section of your content. Instead, you’re allowed to just write about the topic and really help your users solve their problems.

And this is what Google and the other search engines are trying to do, is help content get better. There’s so much content on the web, but there’s still millions and billions of people looking for answers every single day. In fact, 15% of searches are brand new every single day they’ve never been searched before. So there’s still a lot of opportunities to grow and expand. But if we also look at that on the flip side, 85% of searches are terms that people are searching on a regular basis. So we can start to build our strategy around core topics and topic clusters and understanding how they all fit to what we’re trying to really drive as a whole, that core term and that core theme that we’re trying to deliver in order to direct people to the right page at the right moment.

So how do you get started with topic-based SEO strategy? Well, we need to start with a very broad keyword. You wanna start at the very broad target that we’re trying to hit. So in this case, I want to be known for local SEO. So that’s a very broad term and a top-of-the-funnel search query. Now outside of that, are going to be long-tail keyword phrases. So we still need to do keyword research, and we need to understand what people are searching for. We’re using that research a little bit differently than we would’ve in the past.

So we will start doing some research on local SEOs. So local SEO companies, local search engine optimization – those are kind of keyword variants, they’re similar to my main topic. But how do you show up on Google Maps? That’s still related to SEO but has SEO nowhere in the actual term. But it’s still part of the topic as a whole. How do I get my business to show up in search? How do I drive in organic traffic to my local business? We start to look back at these other terms that are kind of related, that maybe have some similarities and relevancies to the topic as a whole, but they make sense in the big picture, right?

Map Out Your Topic Clusters

So we’re not obsessing so much about specific target keywords or high-traffic keywords We’re obsessing about the topic and making sure that we’ve got an understanding of the topic as a whole. I like to loop these into clusters, having the core topic in the middle and doing a bubble … Venn diagram or a bubble chart on the outside of it and sort of see where these things overlap, see how they’re connected. And then I can use that research to create really good content, answering specific search queries, and helping drive potential customers to my new page, my money page, the conversion page, the page that I really want them to get to in order to know more about my services.

content marketing pillar page and topic cluster example

A lot of the time we focus so much on these very narrow keywords, and we blog about very narrow keywords, and we have a very specific intent, like the ones I’m ready to do … people don’t always do what we want them to do. Searchers are looking for answers to their questions. Then they want to see what we have to offer. How much is this going to cost me? What do these guys actually do? How is this going to solve my problem?

So topical authority helps you to really drive traffic back to the core pages on your site by creating easy, organic, and natural pathways instead of forcing somebody down a landing page tunnel.  Landing pages are great, but you have to make sure that your pages are contextually appropriate for the user and that they can find the information they want in the shortest amount of clicks possible.

Improve Your Keyword Ranking Positions with Topic-Based SEO

Topic-based SEO is helping you rank for more terms and gives you more search visibility so you can actually pour more people in the top of the sales funnel and then direct them to those pages, those core topic pages that they really want to know about. So instead of obsessing about search engine rankings, instead of obsessing about keyword positions, use the keywords, use the research, use the data you have, to make informed decisions about how you can become a topic authority.

You may also be interested in: Why Pillar Pages are a B2B Marketer’s Best Asset

All right, so I hope that was helpful today, I know we didn’t go deep into the topics, but we did link out to a really good Ahrefs article and really good research on keyword ranking pages, so please take some time to dive into that. Trust me, topic-based SEO is the way to go. You will rank for more terms, you’re going to drive more traffic, and you’re going solve more problems. Yes, 15% of searches are brand new every day, but 85% are people who have been searched again and again and again. So it’s still important to understand that you can be a topic authority across the web in your specific area, but it all starts with making sure you’re solving your problems, making sure that you understand what your users are actually looking for, and then developing high-quality content that’s not keyword-stuffed or forced, but actually makes a difference in their lives. Until next time, Happy Marketing.

Also see: The Problem with Obsessive Rank Tracking

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for completeness and accuracy.

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