SMA Marketing Blog

The SMA Marketing Blog

What is Topic-Based SEO and Why You Should Care

Nov 22, 2021
Share this Article:

In this video, we're going to be looking at topic-based SEO. We're going to be discussing what it is and honestly, why you should care.

 

Video Transcript: 

What is the Goal of SEO?

So before we get into concepts and tactics, it's really important for us to understand what the goal of SEO is.

Now, I know a lot of people have different goals for why they do what they do, but for me, this is the goal. This is the purpose of search. SEO is more than just rankings. Ranking is great, and it's definitely very important, but ranking in a specific position, doesn't pay the bills. You don't get any money for just being there.

SEO is about driving qualified users to our website and specifically users that we want to take in action.

SEO is about driving qualified users to our website and specifically users that we want to take in action. And that action could be maybe read your content and trust you as an expert. That could be to sign up for a resource or a mailing list. So then you can connect them and move them through the funnel. Or maybe it's to purchase a product or service.

The end goal of SEO is for that user to find our site and then take a specific action. That's what we're trying to do. And all the other work around it should really be focusing on that primary goal.

What is Topic-based SEO?

So I define topic-based SEO as the creation/optimization, as well as the grouping of content that is semantically related and interlinked in order to produce better topic or coverage for both users and search engines.

So I know that might sound like a mouthful, but really it's making sure that we're covering our bases, that we're creating content that's helpful for the user, that we're creating content that's easily indexed and read and understood by search engines and optimizing that to the best of our abilities.

Now, there are some other related processes and tactics out there. Those could be something like content hubs, or content clusters, or pillar clusters. All of these kind of have related concepts. The difference between topic-based SEO and the above tactics in my opinion, is that topic-based SEO also incorporates both foundational SEO, as well as semantic SEO into the process.

Why Does This Matter?

So why does this matter? If we go back to the beginning where we talked about the goal, and it's to drive qualified traffic to our site that are going to take a specific action, then we need to make sure that we match the intent of our users.

People use search engines for a variety of different reasons. To learn, to solve problems, to research ideas, to buy products. There's so many different things that they do. So we need to understand what they need and then try to position our site as the solution to that query throughout the funnel.

Now, traditional SEO was narrowly focused around specific keywords. Now keywords still matter, but the advancements that have been made within search engines have changed the game drastically. So let's take a look at how this actually plays out within the search engines themselves.

So I made a number of queries here that are covering the four basic intents that we've talked about before on this channel; informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional.

Informational Query

So, as you can see here, if we do how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, this is an informational query. Somebody's trying to learn how to actually make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And we've got a YouTube video here.

We've got some people also ask questions. We've got another how to post here, as well as recipes. So right off the bat, something we should think about if we're creating content around here is that Google expects a recipe to be part of how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. People aren't just looking for steps, they're looking for the term recipe. So we have to be incorporating concepts around recipe because in the query itself, there's zero mention of a "recipe", but is still something that is semantically related. Now, this is a very simple walkthrough of how this concept works, but it's still very important that we pick up these terms.

Now, as we go down this page, we see obviously a lot of video. We see a lot of recipes here. We see ratings and all the different SERP features that he could also potentially earn here. But let's go down a little bit further here. We look at images. Images is starting to show us some other related queries. So recipe, flow charts, printable. People might be looking for printable recipes. They might be looking for a book that tells them how to do it.

In the related searches we see things that are similar. So peanut butter or bread, maybe butter, gelatin dessert. All of these things are related to that original query that we made and they make up a larger topic of how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But that query in itself is connected to all of these other different concepts and subtopics that if we're going to create a piece of content around here, or we're going to have a hub on our website with content around here, we need to make sure that we're addressing.

Now, I haven't even looked at an SEO tool. This is just from looking at the search engines. So Google knows that when you're looking at this query, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that it involves, obviously peanut butter and bread, again, we don't use bread, but Google knows that in order to make a sandwich, bread must be involved. It's nowhere in the query here. Right? It also is talking about recipes steps and all of those different things that we also need to incorporate in.

So just creating a piece of content that exact matches that query, or we have X amount of mentions, isn't going to do us very good. We need to understand that this is a concept as a whole and within this concept there's other related terminology.

Commercial Query

So how does this work on, let's say, a commercial query? So if we're looking at what is the best VPN? Right here at the top, we see a number of entities that Google's extracted and put for us. Computer, Chromebook, Mac, laptop, iPhone, mobile, Roku, desktop, Fire Stick. All of these can be related to what is the best VPN because we can say, "What's the best VPN for our computer, or for our Chromebook, or for our Mac, or for our laptop?

So if you're talking about VPNs and you specifically want to target this informational query, but this is obviously more commercial because they're looking for specific brands or to purchase something within the category of VPN, we know that all of those concepts at the top are extremely important. We can see down here, the VPN services. We didn't add services in there, but adding the terminology services and talking about as a service is also important.

We can scroll down here and probably find a number of different instances, but typically I'd like to go to the bottom and look at related searches where you're going to see brands, specific brands of VPN, as well as the best VPN for Netflix, or app, or other things like that. So we can see, again, that the search engine, even in a commercial query can take the topic like VPN and start to extract all of these other meanings from it that we didn't necessarily tell it.

Again, this is continually showing the importance of topic-based search because we can't just target a specific term, we have to target the relations between that term and other terms in order to help give a better picture or a fuller understanding that we know what we're talking about.

Navigational Query

So what about a navigational query? Here I'm looking for an Apple Store. Right? So Google's going to give me an Apple Knowledge Panel, but it's also going to give me the map here with the locations that I can find these Apple stores in. It's got some news, it says that people might honestly be interested in some of the latest news from Apple if they're looking to find an Apple Store. Today at apple, what are the things that people are doing? Online store, online store appointment, online store near me, locations, USA, Brooklyn, New York City. It's going to continue to narrow those down and put these related terms in.

So some of the terminology we need to make sure we add in not necessarily the exact match way, but we need to be talking about how do you make an appointment online, how to find a store near you. All of those do different aspects we need to have within our content. And honestly, when it comes to navigational queries, adding in that extra information within the structured data, like the store location and all of the different contact information, like the support number and all those things that people need when they're looking to find a specific location.

Now, as we can see, we didn't tell Google where we were. If you're looking for a store, you might need an appointment and you might want to set that appointment online. And you probably are going to need to find somewhere that's near you. So you probably need to look at some different locations.

All of this is being extracted from the simple query 'Apple Store'. If you're just trying to rank for that specific query, you may not think about all of these related terminologies and subtopics that fall underneath your main concept.

Transactional Query

And lastly, let's look at a transactional query. Somebody looking to buy a Peloton bike. Well obviously ads are going to dominate. Look at the ad pack here. You've got four ads and then you've got this over here on the side, and then you've got Peloton itself.

So buy a Peloton bike, shop the original Peloton bike. So buy, shop. Related concepts, right? So if you're talking about buying a Peloton bike, some of the topics that you need to be adding in are the idea of shopping. You might need to add in some of the other online streaming, especially if it has to do with a Peloton bike or a workout bike that you want people to stream while they're working out. We can also see that stores and locations might be something that somebody's looking for.

And you can start to, again, go down to here to the related searches. Elliptical, alternative movements, Bike+, NordicTrack, some related companies that people might be looking for. But as you can see, I have the ability right here to start purchasing things directly from this specific query, as well as some extra information that I didn't necessarily add in there in terms like shop, or reviews, or other concepts like that, but are all very related to this query itself.

Now this is just looking at the search engines and I really think that this is an important factor and think that you should totally do when you're looking at trying to build out a topic-based strategy, because you're going to get some information directly from the search engines about what they expect to see when it comes to a page trying to rank for these topics or these queries as a whole.

Why Does This Matter?

As we can see, the search engines have changed quite a bit.

They not only understand the queries we're putting in, they understand the relationships between those queries and other concepts and topics. So we can't just look at variance of our keywords, we have to look at related terms and ideas that are also semantically connected and related to what it is that we're trying to rank for.

How to Implement Topic-based SEO?

 So how would you implement this entire topic-based SEO strategy?

Step 1: Define the Core Topic(s) You Want to be Known for

Well, the first thing you need to do is you need to understand your core topic or your core topics. So for instance, let's say we are a sandwich maker and we want to be known for the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Our core topic would be peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Right? That's what we want to be known for. We want to be known as the best. Then we can go and we can research related terms and concepts that make up or help further explain our ideas.

Step 2: Research Related Terms and Concepts that Make Up or Further Explain Your Topic(s)

We'd start in the search engines and we'd start to say, "Okay, what are these things that we're seeing in the search engines, but there's also other tools that can help you do this? There's a tool like Frase.io, which allows you to go in and make optimizations and add related terminology and topics. You could use natural language processing, look at the search results and see the different entities that it extracts that you can also work in and really help you understand those topics. You can use tools like SEMrush. They've got a topic cluster tool which helps you see that as well.

And as you begin to do this research, you should start to see some patterns and some things that up across all the different tools. And you'll know that those ones typically are the ones that have more weight and have more authority to the concept itself.

Step 3: Define What Content You Currently Have that Fits into Your Topic(s)

Then you need to define the content that you currently have on your website. What is the content that currently fits into your topics?

Step 4: Make a List of Gaps in Your Content and Plan to Close Those Gaps

And then, find the gaps. Where are you missing content? Where are pages that you need to create or content you need to add to current pages that could help close those gaps?

Step 5: Optimize Your Content Based on Your Research

From there, you want to optimize your content based on your research. You want to make sure that you're covering your topics. You want to make sure that you're internally linking these together. Make sure that you're adding core entities and structured data to your content so that it's really rich and it's easy for the search engine to crawl from one piece to the next.

Step 6: Track, Measure, and Adjust

And finally, you want to track, measure and adjust just like we talked about in a previous video to make sure that you're going in the right direction. Now this isn't a full plan, you need to work through this.

Now I will mention this as well, a lot of times when people will get into optimizing around topics, they start to fall into the gap of having to have these topics mentioned X amount of times. Now these tools are going to show us some really cool things. Like for instance, phrase, you could go into phrase and says, "Okay, your competitors mentioned this topic X amount of times." You don't have to necessarily put it in there five times in order to get better results. You need to start working it in naturally.

Don't keyword stuff. I've seen a lot of people fall into where they start to stuff these terms in where it doesn't make sense because they're trying to earn some kind of ranking or better score from a tool. Don't force it. Work it in naturally. And if you can't force it into that content, but it's a really good concept, create a new piece of content that maybe can address that. By doing that, you're going to create content that's easy for the user to read.

You're not going to stuff it with things you don't need. And search engines are smart. They know when you're keyword stuffing, and when you have too much just content that doesn't make sense. They're getting smarter all the time. They're understanding language better all the time. So make sure that when you're optimizing, especially the content side, you don't fall into that gap.

The Result

So you might be asking yourself, "Does this work? Will this deliver results for my site?" So as an agency, this is what we do. We focus on building topic-based search marketing strategies that help our clients own their topics and grow in their authority and expertise. So here's some results. And I can show you some sites that are large sites, and sites that are smaller sites and upcoming sites. This top site, we actually grew the impressions of the site by 3 million.

We were also now able to increase the clicks 300,000-400,000 to this site. That's a big increase on a site. It's a large site, and this has direct impact on their purchases through their site as well.

If we look at the one below, we saw about 500,000 increase in impressions and about 6,000 increase in clicks to the site. Now we've got in the next slide, these sites are a little bit smaller, about 10,000 increase in impressions and a couple hundred increase in clicks. We're still trending up. And the average position to the site is also going down.

And below, it's a relatively new site and we're seeing 15,000 increase in impressions and over about a 500 click increase as well.

So the foundation of a lot of this stuff and where you really begin to get more out of it is using structured data.

It's not enough today just to optimize your content. It's not enough just to do the bare minimums. You need to go above and beyond, and you need to help the search engines understand the content that you're creating within the context that they understand. So using their language, which is schema.org.

And if you want to learn how to do that and leverage schema.org and structure data to earn rich features like those review snippets we saw, like those videos, like those images and all of that other really cool information that makes your listing stand out, I have a course that will walk you through that. And it's called Mastering Structured Data & Schema.org For Rich Results.

You get a 25% discount by being a YouTube watcher. So just type in the code 'YouTube', and you can sign up today at learn.simplifiedsearch.net. Thanks a lot for checking out this video. If you have any questions of what we talked about today, you have any questions on topic-based search strategy or SEO in general, please comment below. We'd love to continue that conversation with you. And until next time, happy marketing.

New call-to-action

Share this Article:
Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

Blog Comments

Get Awesome Content Delivered Straight to Your Inbox!

Learn SEO
Help us Help Others

Popular Posts

Related Post

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.