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Keyword Relevance: The Hidden Success Metric in SEO and Content Marketing

7 min read

While content marketing has substantially changed since I wrote this post five years ago, keyword relevance has not. It’s still key to establishing your topical authority.

Technical marketers continue to spend their day knee-deep in the minutiae of their site’s data. They’re still busy analyzing conversions, optimal keywords, volume, and cost per click. In which case, they have trouble seeing the forest for the trees.

It may be time for you to take a step back. Look at your overall content and ask yourself two questions.

Keyword relevance isn’t just about choosing terms that are applicable to your business, although that’s part. It’s about using all the relevant related terms and topics in your content. You want to signal Google that you’re not just publishing surface-level content. You’re getting into the nitty-gritty with your posts because you’re an expert and that’s just what you do.

Why Keyword Relevance and Topic Comprehensiveness Are Important

One school of SEO thought says you should focus on your best-ranking keywords and create dedicated pages for each. While that’s a good strategy, it isn’t enough. If you want to rank for a keyword phrase, you need to have many pages that mention that term and its related topics.

The reason behind this is twofold. Google’s search algorithms look beyond keyword use to gauge the semantic meaning behind content. It also collects user data to analyze the path that people take from search query to landing on the right content.

As such, having comprehensive topic coverage and relevant content sends both direct and indirect signals to the search engine. Google helps you rank when you focus on relevance. Then it rewards you further when search users realize the value you provide. That leads to an exponential improvement in ranking.

As Eric Enge explains in the video below, Google’s view of your keyword relevance matters.

“It’s often not enough just to build a single great page with the “right answer.” You have to show Google that your site is relevant for the topic in which you want to rank.”

Eric Enge

Right, so how do we identify those chunky middle terms and related topics? Next, we’ll talk about what Google does – and doesn’t – tell you, and how to work around these gaps in knowledge.

Search Engines and Keyword Relevancy: What We Know and What We Don’t

Industry experts, and Google itself, urge marketers to write high-quality content. Focus on your target audience. But it’s up to you to identify which topics are relevant to your target market.

Google is certainly calculating relevance and scoring it in a quantitative manner. These relevance calculations are core to determining Topical Authority, PageRank, the synonyms that are matched by their internal engine, and more. But the search engine giant is not providing the relevance data back to marketers, so as not to tip their hand. Without that relevance data, however, marketers simply lack the necessary information to make data-driven decisions on the relevance of their content.

Google doesn’t provide clear direction on how to model relevance. So marketers have found workarounds when developing content strategies. As pointed out by Moz, one good method of determining semantic relevance is to build a topical hub. Use relevance-based data sources such as Wikipedia, and then look at entities to determine the most relevant keywords.

This tactic is undoubtedly valid since Wikipedia is bound to have high-quality, relevant content for basically anything you’d want to market. As you’d expect, however, it’s difficult to execute this at scale. Marketers have to manually build topical hubs for each topic that they’re marketing and, for agencies, each client as well, which can quickly get out of hand. This is one of the main reasons we built MarketMuse. Next, we’ll discuss how our solution can assist you in search engine optimization.

How to Relevant Topics and Keywords in Your Content

SEO tools today also fail to provide relevance-based metrics. Great keyword research tools such as SEMRush and SpyFu return keywords that have some degree of relevance but they can’t quantify the degree of relevance, so their data can only be sorted on Search Volume. If you’re a fan of SEMRush, no worries! Read how to get the most out of SEMRush using MarketMuse.

But there is another issue regarding the way that relevant keywords are generated. The easiest way for a keyword tool to generate suggestions is to look at the seed term you’ve entered (e.g. “canned dog food”). Then expand it to a list of niche keywords that contain the seed (e.g. “best canned dog food for senior dogs”). Campaigns relying on long-tail keywords have always relied on this type of expansion.

However, with Google’s move towards semantic search, it’s made adjustments to the way it lists Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Google is now lumping results, meaning that it shows the same SERP for many long-tail keywords. As a result, there is less of a discernible difference between ranking for “canned dog food” and “best canned dog food for senior dogs.”

MarketMuse bridges this gap and provides marketers the relevance data that they need to be effective. Working with a team of Ph.D. statisticians, we’ve built the MarketMuse Keyword Relevance Engine. It’s the core technology that powers our set of content analysis tools. MarketMuse patented systems and methods for semantic keyword analysis differ from any other keyword research tool in two important ways:

  1. MarketMuse generates topically related keywords that don’t necessarily contain the seed term. Using our technology to research the topic ‘how to grow avocados’ returns topics including ‘watering,’ ‘fertilizer,’ ‘sunlight,’ and ‘root rot’ because they are semantically related to that subject.
  2. For each related keyword, MarketMuse calculates a Relevance score, which measures the degree of topical relevance. We return a list of 50 semantically related topics, sorted by relevance, so you know the most important topics upon which to focus.

In addition, we also provide the suggested distribution and variants for each topic. The suggested distribution indicates how frequently an expert mentions the topic when discussing the main subject. 

Screenshot of MarketMuse Research showing related topics.

To be clear, we’re not talking about keyword density; that’s not even a thing in 2020. Unless you end up keyword stuffing, in which case it can have a negative effect. Instead, what the suggested distribution does is provide context for how to naturally incorporate topics. Keep in mind that a topic can be important even if it’s mentioned infrequently. 

Topic variants include the keyword phrase for example, ‘treat root rot’ would be a variant of the phrase ‘root rot.’ Variants can be helpful in adding variety to your writing to further engage your audience.

When you create content that draws a relevant audience, that content is much more likely to drive real results to your bottom line. A central question in organic search marketing is conversion: you draw pageviews on your website, but how many visitors will convert to customers? By prioritizing relevance, you’re more likely to draw the right audience that will actually buy your products and services.

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.

Co-founder & CEO of, Co-founder & President of MarketMuse, Advisor at (builders of the El Salvador Chivo wallet). Holds 2 patents in semantic analysis. Ex-VC at OpenView. Building decentralized tech to empower society.