Are Topics Trumping Keywords?

September 2, 2014

You think you have the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) down—keywords and keyphrases are a pillar of best practices, right? That’s certainly been the case for several years, but when Google Penguin waddled into the limelight in 2012, a lot of changes came SEO Keywordswith it. As a website owner, you need to focus on SEO’s future, not just the present. With Penguin, there’s been a major shift towards “topics,” not “keywords,” which means SEO professionals and website owners need to change how they think about approaches.

There’s no getting rid of keywords. However, as Google makes bigger pushes for quality content, comprehensive topics instead of one-off keywords are being more prevalent. What’s the bigger picture that topics bring up? Keywords are pretty limiting, while topics open up a world of information. Here’s what you need to know about going “topic-al.”

Topics for Search

Google’s algorithm is designed around what users want and need. The search engine giant reports that Search Engine Watch is the most useful tool, and it’s all about making the online experience the best it can be—for users, not website owners. Content marketers are charged with optimizing their credibility and creating authority. To do this, you have to understand what your audience wants and then dish it up. You’re the expert, and that’s why topic is trumping keywords.

One way to get ahead is by developing SEO based on themes, which hands over topics in lieu of risking keyword stuffing. Of course, “keyword stuffing” of the black hat variety has long been frowned upon, but nailing the right keyword density is a serious art that few newbies can manage. Even some SEO professionals have to force words inorganically at times, but that’s not the case with themes and topics.

Google has been quicker to penalize websites that even hint at keyword stuffing, even when the SEO is meant to optimize—it can be seen as “over-optimization.” Obviously, this negatively impacts how a website is ranked and in extreme cases can nix it completely from search results.

Picking a Theme

When SEO gurus focus on themes for topics instead of stand-alone keywords, the results are more natural. This means your audience will love it, Google will love it, and everyone wins. However, to do this you need to really know your target market. Their demographics, needs, and the trends in that arena all play a role. This is how you find out what they’re interested in and what drives your overall strategy.

Having tunnel vision for keywords restricts strategies and forces you to sidestep what your audience is after. Who wants a sales pitch in a landing page? Today’s audiences can sniff out a pitch immediately and they’re not averse to backtracking. Keyword stuffing (even when it’s done “legally”) makes readers run, which means a rock bottom ROI.

Topic Tipping Points

Ready to get started with theme- and topic-based SEO? Begin by researching your audience—Google Keyword Planner is a great resource. Next, design optimization, which includes taking keywords (especially long-tailed varieties) and putting them into multiple theme variations. This takes the robotic voice out of your writing. The third step is editing and where a solid editor is sheer gold. They can take out words that aren’t necessary and ensure an organic flow.

Tags are key with topic-based SEO, so don’t forget the title, meta description, H tags and description. Headings need to be natural, and make sure to cap the description at 160 characters so it shows well in Google’s search display. Finally, keep on keeping up with your link building. References need to be both credible and complementary. Google likes anchored text to be natural.

The best news? Topic-based SEO means more creativity and better content—which means better content for readers and more enjoyable writing for you or your SEO pros.

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