The Future of SEO: Topics Instead of Keywords
Here we are, eight months into 2014, and we’re already talking about the future of SEO. It seems like just yesterday we were discussing how to blast off your SEO content and rankings for the future—2014. We saw noteworthy changes in optimization, including Google’s unmistakable push for content over tactical rank increasing strategies. As we march forward, the future of SEO comes into clearer focus: and the future is topics instead of keywords.
Basically, this makes a ton of sense for the future of upcoming SEO. It’s undeniable that keywords are viable. They can be a one-hit wonder (especially long tail keywords) but you never know who will rank above you the next day. There’s no consistency.
A specific keyword is never a good bank to count on. But, a topic—there’s a wealth of investment!
Serving Up Topics for People
We’ve reported on Google algorithm updates from Panda to Penguin. The nutshell of it all is that every update pushed by Google has set a pattern. According to SearchEngineWatch, Google is concentrating search results based on what users want and find most useful. Their goal has been to create the best possible experience in terms of what the user feels is the most awesome experience.
The result has been an unprecedented push for authoritative content containing semantic relevance that delivers a positive user experience. We’re staring down the barrel of a new key focus: understanding our target audience and producing the kind of quality content they want, thus establishing ourselves as an expert and a resource. Keywords—even keyword phrases—don’t hold a candle to topics in accomplishing this goal.
Here Enters Theme-Based SEO
You might not have heard of theme-based SEO before. It’s a basic concept that revolves around serving up topics for people versus keywords for search spiders. According to SiteProNews author Mike Small, theme-based SEO focuses on putting your optimization efforts into an overall topic or “theme.”
One of the big pushes of 2014 has been to create content that naturally houses keywords, also known as organic optimization. Small points out that Google has taken a staunch stand against keyword stuffing and over-optimization. Now, we all know what keyword stuffing is. It’s the exact opposite of naturally housing keywords within copy. It’s like stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey with as much stuffing as possible before the bird bursts. This outdated practice will spark the wrath of Google, effectively sinking your chances of ranking.
Over-optimization happens when you incorporate too many specific keywords. If you target a specific list, Google might just blaze in anger. Instead of taking this rather frightening risk, why not focus on a more natural means of ranking? Here enters keyword topics or theme-based SEO.
Your Target Audience Is Everything
If you’re even slightly familiar with either content marketing or copywriting, you know that the number one thing preached is to always keep your target audience clearly in focus. They are the ultimate determining factor because if they don’t care for your content, it was all a wasted investment. Rand Fishkin of Moz held a Whiteboard Friday in which he explained how targeting specific kinds of people (our target audience) and the topics they’re interested in could be one of the most effective traffic driving strategies, blowing keyword-based ranking out of the water.
The problem with keywords is that they create restrictions. Audiences want relevant, informative, and engaging content. They want to gain knowledge, and their goal is to become an educated consumer capable of making their own decisions. They don’t want sales fluff, and they most assuredly don’t want to stumble around awkward wording. According to Fishkin’s whiteboard, creating landing pages with each key term or phrase can create unnecessary words, overlapping information, and cause user confusion. With search engines determined to bring the best possible experience to the user, it’s a sure bet that confusing content won’t make it high in ranking.
Topic Application Saves the Day
Blogs, entire websites, LOTS of content can be curated, well written, and published under the umbrella of a topic, instead of one specific ugly keyword that gets harder and harder to write for as you create more content to publish. It’s a viable and effective means of creating natural content, which is what audiences (and therefore search engines) want. The way of the future is topic-based content, which at the end of day houses the very search engine optimization needed to catch the attention of the spider. It’s rather brilliant, isn’t it?
Small makes yet another noteworthy point by saying that “theme-based SEO provides a lot more bang for your buck.” According to their research, a standard theme or topic package will cost approximately the same as a standard 10-keyword SEO package. The thing to remember about keywords is that it’s highly likely you won’t be able to pack them all into your content. If you do, it’s likely that some stuffing is going on. At any rate, it’s almost a guarantee the reader won’t feel that the content has a natural flow. Topic-based SEO provides anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times the investment return in comparison to traditional keyword-based options.
Where to Start
The benefits of focusing on topics over keywords are undeniable. The question now is where do you start? In an effort to help you step into the realm of topic-based optimization, we’ve compiled this five step guide:
- Research your product(s) and/or service(s). Mike Small fromSiteProNews recommends using the Google Keyword Planner tool (it’s free) via a Google AdWords account to research and select your keyword themes. You can also stick to the most notable “core keywords” you have already identified to choose your keyword theme, and then move to step two. Keep in mind that long-tail keywords count, and these keywords are invaluable for placing in local searches; including them in your theme gets your local SEO going.
Your goal is to create a single SEO theme that houses an array of volume packed and exact match keywords. You can pay for that standard 10-keyword SEO package, or you can take the viable keywords you already know, couple them with the results of the Google Keyword Planner, and create a theme capable of housing 40 or 50 keywords. At this point, the trick is to incorporate those keywords (or variations of them) naturally throughout the theme.
- Start optimizing. You’ll want to use a combination of core and long-tail keywords in your theme. The trick is to use numerous variations of these keywords to promote a natural, organic flow. The idea is to be natural, not mechanical. Place the keywords in the text naturally, which means not worrying about whether they are EXACTLY the same as they keywords you identified.
- Refine through a little editing. Once you’ve created your text, it’s time to refine it. You’ll want to edit through it, ensuring you haven’t overused or included any keywords too often. The ultimate goal of your edit is to ensure the text reads naturally. One of the best ways to do this is to read the text out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over the words, the text needs refinement. Natural text will be easy to read off the page aloud.
- Pay attention to your tags. H, meta, title, and description tags are still important. You’ll want to choose your main heading (H1) tag carefully. The heading should read just as naturally as your text. Meta and title tags should be concise and fluidic. When it comes to your description tag, Small recommends using the first 160 characters of your page text. Google will use this text if you don’t have a title. However, they do recommend tweaking the 160 characters in the description tag to get the most spunk for the space.
- Do a little link building. Link building is a huge topic. But the main point to incorporate into topic-based SEO is that the material you choose to link should be authoritative, credible, and highly relevant to the content it resides in. Anchor text (the clickable words) is important. It needs to be varied, and it needs to convey either the relevancy or credibility of the link. Again, links should naturally flow into the content—otherwise; they aren’t fit for the text.
Make Way for the Future
We all love themes. A theme brings to mind a fluidic transition of things that relate to one another. It opens the door to a wide variety of topics and subtopics, all housed under one primary or mother theme.
Topics are sheer poetry in text. The umbrella they create takes search engine optimization to an entirely new and fresh level. It’s an exciting future for the user because as more and more businesses begin investing in and developing unique content, they will benefit from an ever-improving experience. It’s also an exhilarating future for businesses, as they break free from the restricting ball and chain of keywords in favor of the variety, spice, and strength of an umbrella of topics.
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