Over the last few years, Google has made several changes to the way their crawlers understand how content answers queries.
Most recently, those changes have included more algorithm updates that include sophisticated enhancements to natural language processing and machine learning models like BERT and MUM.
These updates help Google better understand how people are searching for topics and what type of content the user is actually looking for to meet the needs of their query, then how pieces of content across a site can best match those needs.
The end goal is to serve the best content possible for the user to enhance their search experience.
With this in mind, it is even more important now to focus on creating a topic structure that meets the needs of a user’s various stages of the buyer’s journey instead of just what keywords are being used on a page.
How Are Topics Different From Keywords?
You may be asking yourself at this point what is the difference between a topic and a keyword, especially considering I just mentioned that keywords are still an important piece to the SEO puzzle.
In my way of thinking, a topic is a more holistic approach to “keyword research.”
A topic can be made up of several relevant terms and queries that can fall into different areas of the buyer’s journey.
The types of content you can create around a given topic are a bit dependent on the vertical your site falls into.
Some sites would require:
- Content that covers early-journey learn topics.
- Content on the business’ point-of-view on the subject.
- Possibly their product offering that solves this problem.
Smaller sites, especially local businesses, might only require a piece of educational/early-funnel content that also points to content that outlines the services or products offered to solve the problem or need the customer/user may be facing.
1. Start With A Strategy
The most important thing you can do for your site when either building it or rethinking its structure is to take a step back and strategize the topics you need to focus on.
By looking at the broader aspects of your offerings and identifying a top-level topic for that offering, you will have a better understanding of your needs.
After you have an idea of what your main topic focuses need to be you can follow the standard keyword research process.
The main catch is that you want to expand that research to encompass more semantically relevant terms related to the topic, not just the main keyword.
Take a look at the areas surrounding the topic that need to be covered to satisfy the searcher’s various needs. Ask yourself what questions might be asked regarding the topic and do research on those terms.
If possible, don’t be afraid to get out into the real world and ask people in your target demographics what they might search for or what related questions they might have.
2. Research Your Competitors
Once you understand what content you need to have to perform well for a topic, start looking into who ranks well in these spaces.
If they are performing well in this space already, then it’s safe to say they are doing something right. There are exceptions to this so make sure you continue to monitor the competition in the space you are targeting.
Once a competitor is identified, I like to run their site through a tool to see how they have performed for relevant terms over an extended period.
This will give me some base info on if these results are lasting or if it is a recent jump to determine if it is even worth researching them further at this point.
Once you understand what your actual competitors are doing in the space you are targeting, take a look at how they structure their content.
Look at how they are delivering their content and what the site structure looks like surrounding that topic. This information will give you a baseline blueprint when working on your site.
Now, with that being said, do not copy your competitor’s content. Use it as a guide, but plagiarizing content will do nothing but hurt you in the end.
As cliche as it may sound, you are looking to identify what your competitors are doing well and then do it better.
3. Consider Intent
As search engines have evolved over the years, especially with the recent rollout of BERT by Google, it is important to understand the intent behind the queries you are creating content around to target.
While there are many tools out there in the SEO world to identify topics and keywords, I’ve always found one of the best ways to identify the intent behind a query is to simply search for it within an incognito window.
You may surprise yourself.
You may search for something as simple as a single-word query and notice that the results are returning more educational content around the term – like a “what is…” result.
This will help you determine what content needs to be created (or even reworked) to fit the needs of the search.
4. Don’t Forget Site Structure
Creating content around a topic isn’t the only piece of the puzzle.
It is important to organize your content in a way that makes sense to crawlers and shows that you are an authority in a given subject.
If search engines see that you are creating more relevant content around a given subject, you should see more improved results around these terms.
One of the best ways to demonstrate this authority is by using breadcrumbs to show the flow of your site.
Not only does this act as a second layer of navigation for users, but it also helps crawlers understand how to get from point A of your site to point B.
Breadcrumbs can also help you shift the structure of your site without having to make changes to URLs, which can be incredibly dangerous for SEO.
Don’t forget to take a look at your competitors that are performing well to see if there are any insights you can glean from their site structure.
No need to reinvent the wheel and you might gain some more info on how to expand your coverage of a topic in the process.
5. Time To Dominate
As Google has implemented more intelligent ways to process and return content to match user queries, it’s important to create a logical topical structure on your site to make it easier to process this content.
This gives your content creators a north star to guide their writing efforts.
Ensure that your content answers the promise made to the reader completely and with clarity. Avoid fluff, jargon, and wasted words.
Remember, it’s all about quality over quantity!
Well, it’s almost all about quality – it’s about discoverability, too. Make sure you’re using the keywords and phrases searchers will use to find solutions to the issues they’re experiencing.
Then, make sure you’re tracking performance – both yours and that of competitors. Establish benchmarks and always strive to be better.
Do this, and you should begin to dominate your competition with lasting results.