2020 Trends: Topics are the New Keywords
In my last post, I talked about semantic search and how it changes the way users interact with search engines like Google. In short, semantic search allows people to type a variety of things into the search bar and have a high likelihood of getting good results. So, misspellings are no longer a problem, and exact search terms are not necessary as Google has gotten pretty good about making associations between similar terms.
For that reason, the content creation part of your SEO strategy is ready for a big, refreshing change if you’re still focused on satisfying exact and specific keywords. Let’s dig in.
Topics are the New Keywords
In the past, getting found from people using tools like Google meant creating lots of content focused around specific words. In order for your content to be a match for that word or phrase, the word or phrase needed to be found as an exact match on the page. For example, if someone was searching for “home plumber,” and all you had on your pages was “residential plumber,” you might be out of luck. Today, Google understands that both mean the same thing and is happy to serve up the related result.
What this means for businesses is that you no longer have to be constrained to a tight list of keywords and struggle to force your content to include these words exactly, even when they don’t fit the context of the content.
So, I Can Forget About Keywords?
No, not completely. But, instead of focusing on keywords as an end goal, keywords should be the jumping-off point for your content creation strategy. Instead of just hammering away at certain keywords, think in terms of creating comprehensive coverage of a specific topic. Your main keywords should help you choose the topic, and a variety of things should help you figure out how to create a bunch of content to achieve comprehensive coverage.
What Does This Strategy Look Like in Action?
Several years ago, I wrote an ebook detailing the steps for creating a content marketing strategy that will get results. In the book, I talk about creating a pillar page, or a single piece of content that serves as a starting point for someone learning about a particular topic on your website. From that central page, you would branch out and create separate pages that go into further detail around the points covered on that main page.
The strategy is still essentially the same, but now we have a few more things we can use to inform our strategies and make sure we’re getting the best results. The first is user intent. While the concept of user intent deserves a page (or several) of its own to really describe, I’m going to shrink it down to a basic idea for the purposes of this post.
Another thing we can use to inform our strategies is thinking in terms of how people ask questions. With the rise of voice search being used for devices like Alexa and Google Home, and from assistants like Siri, how people are looking for answers is shifting. When people use voice search, they tend to ask complete questions. How do I do something, where can I find something, what is this thing? When you think about the kinds of questions people are asking, it can help you expand your content creation ideas.
The concept of the pillar post and its supporting documents is still a sound idea, but it’s time to grow that thought just a bit for content creation strategies in 2020. Try these steps as you build your roadmap:
Keyword Research. This step is still very relevant as Google still relies on keywords as part of its algorithm. What they do with them (and what YOU do with them) is what’s shifting a bit. So, begin by coming up with a list of the most important keywords for you to target.
Create Clusters. Remember those brainstorming sessions where you’d put the main idea in a circle, create smaller circles that are related to or support that main idea, and draw lines to show how and where these ideas connect and intersect? This kind of idea map can be a great way to think about your topic clusters. Put your big keywords in the middle, and long-tail keywords and related topics in the smaller circles.
Enhance the Strategy. At this point, you’re ready to create comprehensive coverage, but you’ll need a strategy to make sure you’re creating a path from these smaller circles to the central idea, and from the central idea to your landing pages for conversion opportunities. This is where user intent comes in as you want to make sure you have a start-to-finish path for each intent.
Keyword Density? If you’re old-school like me, you remember trying to make sure you hit that 3 percent keyword density on each of your pages. The good news is that keyword variety is the new keyword density. Instead of making sure you have an exact phrase stuffed into your documents 10 or 20 times, start thinking of all the different ways people ask questions and look for solutions, and include a variety of terms in your content. In most cases, just doing a good job researching and writing about a topic will make the variety fall in naturally. For almost all content writers, we’re relieved as this means we can just write a thing instead of using a bunch of trickery to make stubborn keywords look natural for its tenth appearance on the page. Now, just make sure it’s in a few important places and be done with it.
Give People What They Want!
If we were to boil this entire concept down to a single action, it would be to give people what they want. When they’re searching for solutions to their problems, they want… solutions! The better tools like Google become at understanding what its users are doing and why, the more businesses are freed from the constraints of Google’s best practices. In other words, over time, Google’s best practices are coming closer and closer to aligning with the simple practice of doing good business, which is to say, giving your customers what they want.