Information Architecture
April 24th 2017

How to Develop a Topic-Centered Keyword Strategy

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 in 2017

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. We’re big fans of Moz to find keyword volume and difficulty, while <SEMrush gives you useful competitive analysis. 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 the Content Analyzer, view your list of related topics, and click on individual topics to see variants.

First, upload your keywords to find those with the highest volume, then use the difficulty scores in Moz to see how hard it will be to out-rank the competition. Then sort them by the highest volume and lowest difficulty score to see those with the best opportunity for ranking.

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 Content Analyzer 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.

The Content Analyzer 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.
Scan the list and exclude anything that seems irrelevant by hovering your mouse to the right of the keyword. In this list, you might want to exclude “graph chart,” for instance.

From this list, you can derive that “applicant tracking” is a key topic that you should mention within your content, and the analyzer tells you 39 keyword variants that can be used when talking about applicant tracking.

You can then go back to the keyword vetting process and check volume, competition, and difficulty to determine which of those 39 keywords you should use in your content. Your end result is keywords that are not only good opportunities for ranking, but are topically relevant as well.

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.

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.

Rebecca Bakken

Written by Rebecca Bakken rakkenbakken