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How to Develop a Topic-Centered Keyword Strategy

6 min read

When Google’s Hummingbird rolled out, some SEOs wondered whether it signaled the end of keywords as we know them, because the algorithm knocked keyword strategy out of the limelight. The new star of the show? Topic relevancy.

While it’s true that the update made some strategies obsolete (we don’t think anyone misses keyword stuffing) keywords are still an important part of how search engines connect user queries with content to determine ranking. Methods have just gotten a little more complex, that’s all.

Thanks to Hummingbird, we now need to account for topics and relevancy, as well as keyword use. It’s not as difficult as it seems, though, and you will see better rankings when you take an approach that puts your readers’ wants and needs above all else.

First, let’s go over some of the typical keyword research methodology that’s still a best practice today, then we’ll talk about how to factor topics and user intent for a well-rounded content marketing strategy.

Conducting Keyword Research

You’ll probably want to start with the tried-and-true approach of brainstorming. Gather your core team members and spend some time spit-balling, with at least one person writing it all down. Then, narrow your list down to those most relevant to your brand and product.
In any group situation, you’ll want some guidelines to follow. Here’s a list of the categories that keywords will fall into, from most obvious to least:

  • Branded keywords
  • Product keywords
  • Competitor keywords
  • Alternative product keywords
  • Complementary product keywords
  • Audience keyword

Of course, you’re going to have better luck with terms higher up on this list, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find some hidden gems in broader terms. The main thing to remember is to keep it relevant, or else you’re fishing in the wrong pond.

Next, you’ll need to check your volume and difficulty.

We understand that there are many keyword research tools you can use to help you determine search volume, competition, and relevancy. Checking relevancy is part intuition, and MarketMuse can help you identify relevant keywords that you may not have thought of on your own. Just enter your focus topic in Research, view your list of related topics, and click on individual topics to see variants.

First, check your Topic Inventory for topics about which you’ll have the most success at writing content. The Opportunity Score is one way to sort topics. But you may prefer to use Personalized Difficulty score.

Now that we’re on the same page as far as how to determine which keywords give you the best chance of ranking, let’s talk about how topics fit in.

How Do Topics Fit Into Your Strategy?

A big question we often get from our customers is the difference between the keywords and topics. Here’s how to think of it:

The topics you choose are paramount to the keywords you use. If you have topic relevancy, you’re naturally going to end up with relevant keywords as well, though you still need to be selective about the keywords you target. Simply put, if you build your topics, keywords will come.

The reason we believe topics are of higher importance than keywords is because keyword use does not equal utility to your user. While marketers used to get away with simply playing to search engines, this is no longer the case, as Google’s Hummingbird algorithm makes it capable of reading semantic meaning. This means you need to think first and foremost about what is useful to your users and build pages that address all their concerns, from big-picture stuff to the minutiae.

How to Choose Keywords Relevant to Your Topics

You can also look at the search queries that are bringing in visitors, and think about the user intent behind those queries. It may also be helpful to have another brainstorming session with your key team members to come up with a list of topics and subtopics.

After you develop your list of key topics, you can use the MarketMuse Research to generate a list of relevant topics and their variant keywords. For instance, let’s say you’re getting a lot of traffic to your site from the query “recruiting software.” Assuming this is one of your product offerings, you’ll want to create more than just a product page around this topic – you’ll also want content that answers any questions related to recruiting software.

MarketMuse scans the web looking for the top-ranking pages for “recruiting software” and identifies the related topics within those pages, while also providing you with a list of related keywords.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Research.

The list is sorted in descending order of relevance, so those topics appearing near the topic, such as ‘applicant tracking,’ will be the most relevant. The ‘Suggested Dist’ column provides an idea of how frequently experts mention the topic when writing about the subject. Clicking on ‘Variants’ brings up a list of variations of that topic.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Variants for the topic recruiting software.

When writing your content or a content brief for your writers, be sure to include as many of these keywords and variants as possible, as using these semantic terms signals to Hummingbird that your content covers this topic in depth. Ultimately, this will lead to better ranking.

MarketMuse Optimize provides detailed information regarding average and target word count and Content Score. A page is awarded one point for each topic mentioned, up to a maximum of two points per topic. You should aim to meet the target score within the target word count.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Optimize showing average and target word count and Content Score, plus related topics.

By using a topics-first approach to selecting your target keywords, you’re building your entire strategy around your users’ interests, which is exactly what Google wants you to do. It’s a more intuitive method that blends topic comprehensiveness with proven keyword selection processes.

If you want to learn how to create more comprehensive content that speaks to user intent, schedule a call to see how MarketMuse can provide you with the guidelines to become the authority in your focus topics.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Rebecca is an experienced writer with a demonstrated history of working in the online media industry. Skilled in search engine optimization (SEO), journalism, magazine writing, AP Style, and content marketing. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.