Google has made several changes to the way its crawlers understand how content responds to queries in the last few years.
More algorithm updates, including sophisticated enhancements to natural language processing and machine learning models like BERT and MUM, have been made recently.
These updates help Google better understand how people search for topics, what kind of content they’re looking for to meet their query’s needs, and how different types of content on a site can best meet those needs.
The ultimate goal is to provide the best content for the user to improve their search experience.
With this in mind, focusing on creating a topic structure that meets the needs of a user at various stages of the buyer’s journey, rather than just what keywords are used on a page, has never been more important.
What Is the Difference Between Topics and Keywords?
You might be wondering what the difference is between a topic and a keyword at this point, especially since I just mentioned that keywords are still an important part of the SEO puzzle.
A topic, in my opinion, is a more comprehensive approach to “keyword research.”
A topic is made up of a number of relevant terms and questions that can be found in various stages of the buyer’s journey.
The types of content you can create around a given topic are somewhat determined by the vertical in which your site is located.
Some sites would need the following:
- Topics from the early stages of learning are covered in this content.
- Content that expresses the company’s point of view on the subject.
- It’s possible that their product offering will solve this issue.
Smaller sites, particularly those run by local businesses, may only require a single piece of educational/early-funnel content that also links to content that outlines the services or products available to solve the problem or need the customer/user is experiencing.
1. Develop a strategy
Taking a step back and strategizing the topics you need to focus on is the most important thing you can do for your site when building it or rethinking its structure.
You will have a better understanding of your needs if you look at the broader aspects of your offerings and identify a top-level topic for that offering.
You can use the standard keyword research process once you’ve determined what your main topic focuses should be.
The main catch is that you want to broaden your search beyond the main keyword to include more semantically relevant terms related to the topic.
Examine the areas surrounding the topic that must be covered in order to meet the needs of the searcher. Consider what questions you might be asked about the subject and conduct research on those terms.
If at all possible, get out into the real world and ask people in your target demographics what they might be looking for or what questions they might have about it.
2. Find out who your competitors are
Start looking into who ranks well in these spaces once you understand what content you need to perform well for a topic.
If they’re already doing well in this area, it’s safe to assume they’re doing something right. There are exceptions to this rule, so keep an eye on the competition in the market you’re targeting.
Once I’ve identified a competitor, I like to run their website through a tool to see how they’ve performed for relevant terms over time.
This will provide me with some baseline information to determine whether these results are long-term or if they are a recent jump, as well as whether it is even worthwhile to pursue them further at this time.
Examine how your competitors structure their content once you’ve figured out what they’re doing in the space you’re targeting.
Examine how they deliver their content and how the site structure around that topic is set up. When working on your site, this information will serve as a starting point.
That being said, do not plagiarize your competitor’s content. Use it as a starting point, but plagiarizing content will only hurt you in the long run.
As corny as it may sound, you want to figure out what your competitors are doing well and then improve on it.
3. Keep Intent in Mind
With the evolution of search engines over time, especially with Google’s recent rollout of BERT, it’s more important than ever to understand the intent behind the queries you’re creating content for.
While there are many tools available in the SEO world to identify topics and keywords, I’ve always found that searching for a query in an incognito window is one of the best ways to determine the intent behind it.
You might be surprised by yourself.
You might conduct a simple search for a single word and notice that the results include more educational content related to the term – similar to a “what is…” result.
This will help you figure out what content needs to be created (or reworked) to meet the search’s requirements.
4. Don’t Forget About Your Site’s Structure
Creating content for a particular topic is only one part of the puzzle.
It’s critical to organize your content in a way that makes sense to crawlers and demonstrates that you’re an expert on a particular topic.
You should see more improved results around these terms if search engines see that you are creating more relevant content around a given subject.
Using breadcrumbs to show the flow of your site is one of the best ways to demonstrate this authority.
This not only serves as a second layer of navigation for users, but it also aids crawlers in figuring out how to get from point A to point B on your site.
Breadcrumbs can also help you change the structure of your site without changing the URLs, which can be extremely harmful to SEO.
Don’t forget to look at your top-performing competitors’ websites to see if you can learn anything from their site structure.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, and you might learn something new about how to broaden your coverage of a subject as a result.
5. It’s Time To Take Control
Because Google has implemented more intelligent ways to process and return content to match user queries, it’s critical to create a logical topical structure on your site to make this content easier to process.
This provides a compass for your content creators to use when writing.
Make sure your content fulfills the promise you made to the reader completely and clearly. Avoid filler, jargon, and unnecessary words.
Keep in mind that quality trumps quantity!
It’s almost entirely about quality, but it’s also about discoverability. Make sure you’re using the keywords and phrases that people will type into Google to find solutions to their problems.
Then, make sure you’re keeping track of your own and your competitors’ performance. Set goals for yourself and always strive to improve.
If you do this, you should be able to start dominating your competition with long-term results.
Learn more from SEO and read How to Improve SEO Titles Using Popular Keywords.