The Metamorphosis of Keywords to Topics

Posted by Nikki Wardle on Jun 27, 2018 11:27:34 AM

Metamorphosis of Keywords to Topics

Keywords: they have been prizes to be won by Google, Bing, and other search engines since the mid-nineties. So after twenty-plus years of focusing our search engine optimization efforts around a short list of keywords to work on and rank for, we say goodbye to this practice and usher in the new world of topics.

What Brought on This Change?

If you're looking for someone to blame, don't think of Google or any of the other search engines, blame yourself, me, your neighbors, co-workers, and the majority of your family. We are all to blame for the metamorphosis of keywords to topics.

The way we search for information has changed dramatically, especially over the past decade since the first smartphones became mainstream. Today many of us have virtual assistants in our homes to search the internet at the sound of our voice.

Think about the last search you did with your smartphone, versus your virtual assistant or your laptop. Do you use more words to search for what you want with your virtual assistant as opposed to your laptop or tablet? Of course, you do. Nobody wants to type out "What is the closest Chinese restaurant that has gluten-free options?" Yeah, try optimizing for that long-tail keyword.

The search engines have become sensitive to our new search habits and therefore changed the way they rank websites. Instead of ranking a site for the string of keywords like "What is the closest Chinese restaurant that has gluten-free options?" they are now going to rank you by the topics Chinese food and gluten-free. Well, along with about 100 other factors too.

The Birth of Topics

Now that we have the why, let's focus on the how to start using topics in your marketing strategy. 

Define the Goals

Defining goals has always been (or at least should have been) the first step in determining how to develop the best search engine optimization strategy. Make sure also to make your goals specific and attainable. Goals may be something like:

  • Increase website traffic by 20% in 12 months
  • Increase new leads by from 15% in the next 12 months
  • Improve conversion rate by 5% in 3 months

Shift Your Thinking

An example of a poor goal would be: "Increase rankings of "x" keyword by 50% or to rank for "x" amount of keywords in 12 months."

Why? Because ranking for specific keywords isn't how the search engines operate anymore. Stop thinking about keywords and focus more on becoming the expert in your industry topics.

Ask These Questions

  • What topics are people searching to find your product or service?
  • What valuable content can you provide in order to be a leader for that topic?
  • Are you covering all the relevant topics?
  • Do you have gaps in your content? 

Answering those questions will help you with lead generation and improved conversion rates you are aiming for.

SEO and PPC whitepaper

Topics and Paid Advertising

Let's side step for a moment and discuss how the change from keywords to topics has changed the digital paid advertising landscape.

Paid advertising platforms like Google Adwords and Bing Ads Manager have handled the evolution of keywords to topics in a different way and did so quite some time ago. Keywords are still very important to building successful campaigns; but it's how those keywords are categorized that turn them from exact keywords to topics or broad match keywords.

Specifically, let's discuss how Google AdWords handles keywords and how they are used to trigger ads within your campaign.

  • Broad Match Keywords: Misspellings, synonyms, related searches, or close variations.
  • Broad Match Modifier: Search terms that include all words preceded by the '+' or close variant.
  • Phrase Match Keywords: Search terms that include the keyword phrase without any words between, or a close variant.
  • Exact Match Keywords: Search terms are only that keyword or a close variant.

With each keyword match type, you can set your keywords to be very general to topics, or you can really drill down if you're lucky enough to know exactly what your customers and potential customers are searching for and use exact match keywords.

Reporting Your Success

Moving away from keyword reporting is going to change the layout of the metrics and measurements you or your boss want to see each month. Here are some steps to help reorganize your reporting to help align with goals and progress.

Divide and Conquer: Once you decide on the topics that you are going to focus on, assign the correlating web pages and landing pages to those topics.

Yearly Analysis: While it is the most common to pull and report on the month over month traffic trends, you'll get the best indicator of how your marketing efforts and paying off by showing year over year traffic data. Every market goes through ebbs and flows which makes month over month data not very reliable.

The Nitty-Gritty: Compile the data for each topic group of pages as they relate to your goals. An example would be for your Topic A, report on the total traffic, conversion rate and new leads that each of those pages brought in. Same for Topic B, Topic C and so on. You'll be able to see where you are gaining customers and where more efforts need to be put in.

It's A Lot, I Know

Moving from the mindset of keywords to topics is a big shift. It means retraining not only your way of thinking but your companies as well. It also means reorganizing some previously outdating marketing goals, but these steps are ones that are certainly necessary to stay relevant to the search engine powers that be and to your customers.

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Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki has a degree in Marketing from Boise State University and has been an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Tribute Media since 2014.

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