Google Cares About Topics Over Keywords

Posted by Sarah Wai on Oct 24, 2019 10:37:00 AM

topic cluster concept

Keywords have traditionally been the focus of Google and other search engines since the mid-nineties. So after twenty-plus years of focusing search engine optimization efforts around a short list of keywords to work on and rank for, times have changed. With updated Google algorithms, the focus is no longer just on keywords, although those are still relevant. The greater focus is on topics that answer the questions that users are searching for via  desktop computers, mobile devices, and voice command devices. Let's delve into what this change means for you.

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 your family. Because guess what? We are all to blame for the change in focus from keywords to topics.

The way we search for information has changed drastically over the past decade since the first smartphones became mainstream. Today many of us have voice command devices (VCD) in our homes to search the internet with the sound of our voice (i.e. Google Home, Alexa, etc).

Think about the last search you did with your smartphone, versus your VCD or your laptop. Do you use more words to search for what you want with your VCD or voice searches via your phone 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?" I dare you to try optimizing for that long-tail keyword.

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 would potentially rank you for the topics Chinese food and gluten-free. Well, along with about a hundred other factors too.

How to Focus on Topics in Your SEO Strategy

Now that we have the why for the change, let's focus on the how to start using topics in your SEO 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. Creating SMART goals is the best way to do this. These goals may be something like:

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

Shift Your Thinking

An example of a poor goal that won't get you much traction would be, "Increase rankings of 'x' keyword by 50%" or "rank for 'x' amount of keywords in 12 months."

Why? Because ranking just for specific keywords isn't how the search engines operate anymore. Stop thinking about keywords as the main goal and focus more on becoming the expert in your industry topics, utilizing tactics such as pillar content to maximize your impact. We've seen great success with this for our clients; here's an example that showcases that success.

Ask These Questions

  • What topics are people searching for that are related to your product or service?
  • What valuable content can you provide in order to be an industry authority for that topic?
  • Are you covering all the relevant subtopics for that main topic?
  • Do you have gaps in your content? If so, where are they and how can you fill them?

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

SEO and PPC whitepaper

Reporting Your Success

Moving away from a focus on keyword reporting is going to change the layout of the metrics and measurements you'll view each month. Here are some steps to help reorganize your reporting to help align with goals and progress.

Organize Your Topics and Subtopics: Once you decide on the topics that you are going to focus on, organize the correlating web pages and landing pages within those topics (we recommend topic clustering for this) and monitor how they are performing (Hubspot provides an easy way to do this in their SEO tool).

Year over Year Analysis: While it is most common to pull and report on the month over month traffic trends, you'll get the best indicator of how your marketing efforts are paying off by showing year over year traffic data. Every market goes through ebbs and flows, which makes month over month data unreliable compared to year over year data.

Data Compilation: Compile the data for each topic 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 your holes may be in the buyers journey and where more effort need to be put in.

Moving from the mindset of keywords to topics can be a big shift, but if you need some assistance, we're here to help!

Sarah Wai

Written by Sarah Wai

Content and Email Marketing Specialist of Tribute Media. B.S. in Media Communications. Certified in Hubspot, Inbound Marketing, Contextual Marketing, and Email Marketing.

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