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Topics, Keywords, And Entities: How They Can Work Together

9 min read

Tired of chasing the latest SEO fad? Want to create content that resonates with readers and search engines alike? There’s a better way! In this post, l examine the limitations of traditional SEO methods and show you why topic modeling is the key to creating informative, engaging content that ranks well. I explore:

  • The pitfalls of keyword-centric SEO and why it backfires.
  • How entity SEO can miss the mark by focusing on elements instead of the bigger picture.
  • How topic modeling can uncover hidden themes to craft comprehensive content, and spark creative connections.
  • The advantages of combining all three approaches

Get ready to ditch the keyword checklist and embrace a topic-driven SEO strategy. Let’s see how to create content that not only ranks high but also captivates your audience!

The Difference Between Topics, Keywords, and Entities

Topics, keywords, and entity SEO are all interconnected pieces of the SEO puzzle, but they serve different purposes. Let’s start by breaking down the key differences between them.

Topics are broad categories or themes that encompass a variety of information. Think of them as the big picture or the umbrella under which everything else falls. Some examples include space exploration, history, and cooking.

Entities are specific and well-defined elements within a topic. It’s what the Google knowledge graph is filled with. They can be people, places, or things, and to a certain extent, ideas. Entities provide details and context within a topic. Examples for the topic “Space Exploration” include “NASA,” “Neil Armstrong,” “International Space Station,” and “gravity” (an abstract concept). 

Keywords are specific terms or phrases users search for. These can be directly related to the topic or conceptually related. They act as signposts, guiding users to the information they need. Examples for the topic “Space Exploration” include “types of spaceships,” “history of spaceflight,” and “becoming an astronaut.” Some keywords might be broader and encompass multiple topics (e.g., “science”).

Entities and Abstract Concepts

Entities often refer to concrete things, but it’s not always the case. Entities are more likely to be concrete, like physical objects (a car, a mountain) or clearly defined things (a company, a historical event). Some concepts, even if abstract, can be treated as entities in specific contexts. For example:

  • Mathematical concepts: Numbers, functions, and shapes can be considered entities within mathematics.
  • Philosophical concepts: Love, justice, or freedom can be treated as entities when discussing their properties or role in society.
  • Legal concepts: Rights, ownership, or citizenship are abstract ideas but function as entities within the legal system.

The key thing is that the abstract concept needs to be clearly defined and play a specific role within the context to be considered an entity. It should be something you can reason about or have rules governing it, even if it’s not physically tangible.

Using a Topic Model to Write Better

A topic model, like MarketMuse has patented, excels at capturing the nuances of a subject, including abstract concepts like beauty and fear. Here’s why a topic model is well-suited for understanding how to write about a subject:

  • Uncovers hidden themes: Topic modeling goes beyond just identifying keywords. It reveals the underlying themes and concepts that connect those keywords. In spaceflight, it might show the connection between the awe-inspiring beauty of the cosmos and the inherent fear of the unknown.
  • Provides a framework: A topic model acts as a framework, identifying the important aspects and subtopics that contribute to the bigger picture. This framework can guide writers in exploring different facets of the subject and incorporating diverse perspectives like fear and wonder.
  • Highlights surprising connections: Topic modeling can reveal unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. This can spark creative writing ideas and help writers craft a more engaging narrative.

An entity-based approach, while useful for identifying specific elements, might miss these crucial aspects. It wouldn’t capture the emotional and philosophical dimensions of spaceflight that a topic model can reveal.

Imagine having a map. An entity-based approach would be like listing all the towns and landmarks on it. But a topic model would show the different regions, transportation routes, and maybe even the historical significance of certain areas. It provides a much richer understanding for navigating the territory, which is what a writer needs to do with a subject. It’s what we refer to as semantic SEO.

The Pitfalls of Keyword-Centric Content

Keyword stuffing with ‌primary and numerous secondary terms can lead to unnatural content that suffers in both user experience and SEO value. Here’s a breakdown of my major concerns with this approach:

  1. Mismatched Intent: Targeting secondary keywords with different intents can create a confusing and irrelevant experience for users. Imagine an article about “choosing a hiking backpack” that also shoehorns in keywords about “fashionable handbags.” This wouldn’t be helpful for someone looking for hiking gear.
  2. Superficial Similarity: Relying on SERP overlap (number of shared pages) to determine keyword similarity can be misleading.  Just because two keywords appear on similar pages doesn’t mean they have the same user intent. “Catamaran” and “sailboat” might show some overlap, but someone searching for a catamaran might not be interested in a general sailboat article.
  3. Execution Woes: Telling writers to target a specific number of keywords doesn’t provide clear direction. It creates a checklist mentality that can hinder creativity and lead to forced keyword insertion that reads poorly.

Limitations With Entity-Based SEO

There also issues with a pure entity-based approach. Here’s a breakdown of what I perceive to be the limitations, and why topic models are a more promising approach.

  • Misses Nuance: Entities alone might not capture the full scope of a topic. Just focusing on keywords like “Mars” or “rocket” wouldn’t convey the wonder of space exploration or the human challenge involved.
  • Limited Creativity: Focusing solely on entities can restrict creativity and lead to repetitive content. It might miss opportunities to explore the topic from different angles or incorporate interesting narratives.
  • Potential for Irrelevant Traffic: Optimizing for specific entities might attract traffic that isn’t genuinely interested in the topic. For instance, focusing on the entity “Elon Musk” might attract fans following his ventures in general, but not necessarily those interested in the intricacies of spaceflight.

The Attraction of Entity-Based SEO

There are a few reasons why entity SEO might be more popular than topic modeling, even though topic modeling offers a more nuanced approach.

Ease of Implementation

Entity SEO seems more straightforward. You can identify popular entities related to your topic and optimize content around them. There are tools and software that can help with this process.

Topic modeling, on the other hand, requires a deeper understanding of the subject matter and the ability to analyze data. It might involve using specialized software or working with data analysts.

Perceived Value

Entity SEO feels results-oriented. You can track rankings for specific keywords associated with entities, which provides a sense of accomplishment and a way to measure progress.

The value of topic modeling might be less immediately apparent. The benefits lie in creating well-rounded content that might not show immediate results in keyword rankings but could lead to better long-term engagement and user satisfaction.

Lack of Awareness

Entity SEO is a more established concept within the SEO community. Compared to topic modeling, there are many resources and tutorials ‌available online.

Topic modeling for SEO is a relatively new concept. There might not be as much readily available information for those unfamiliar with it.

Mindset of SEO as Tactic vs. Strategy

Focusing on entities can be seen as a tactic to “trick” search engines. You’re optimizing for specific terms rather than creating genuinely informative content.

Topic modeling, on the other hand, encourages a more strategic approach to SEO. It’s about understanding your audience and their search intent, then crafting content that fulfills that need in a comprehensive way.

This doesn’t mean entity SEO is completely useless. It can still be a valuable tool, especially when combined with topic modeling.

Advantages of Topic Modeling for SEO

There are three primary advantages in topic modeling for SEO. Specifically it:

  • Improves Relevancy: By understanding the underlying topics and their relationships, you can create content that’s more relevant to user search intent. This can lead to higher engagement and better SEO performance.
  • Encourages Content Depth: A topic model helps you explore various facets of a subject, leading to more comprehensive and informative content. Search engines tend to favor in-depth content that establishes expertise.
  • Uncovers New Opportunities: Topic modeling can reveal unexpected connections and related subtopics. This can help you identify new content ideas and keywords that you might have missed with a purely entity-based approach.

How Keywords, Topics, and Entities Can Work Together

In my opinion, combining all three approaches can give you the best of all worlds. Here’s how they work together:

  1. Topic as the Foundation: Start with a topic that you want to create content about (e.g., space exploration).
  2. Keyword Research: Within that topic, identify relevant keywords that users might search for (e.g., “types of spaceships,” “history of space exploration”).
  3. Entity Integration: Entity SEO helps identify relevant entities related to the topic and keywords (e.g., “NASA,” “Neil Armstrong,” “International Space Station”). You can then optimize your content around these entities by mentioning them naturally and providing context.

This analogy may help. Imagine a library where the topic is a bookshelf (e.g., Science Fiction). The keywords are individual book titles on that shelf (e.g., Dune, Ender’s Game). Entities could be the authors (Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card) or awards the books have won (Hugo Award).

Here’s the key. While entity SEO can be helpful, it shouldn’t overshadow the importance of understanding the broader topic. A focus on topics helps you create content that’s comprehensive, informative, and addresses the user’s intent behind their search. Keywords and entities then become natural elements that enrich your content and improve its discoverability.

The SEO Landscape: Beyond Keywords

The world of SEO is constantly evolving, and keywords will likely remain a factor for some time to come. But by prioritizing topics and understanding the relationships between entities, you can create content that goes beyond just chasing search rankings.

Focus on Your Audience, Not Just Search Engines

By using topic modeling, you can craft content that’s informative, engaging, and truly addresses the needs of your audience. This not only leads to a better user experience but also positions you as a thought leader in your field. Search engines are getting better at understanding user intent and the connections between topics.

Ready to take your SEO strategy to the next level?

Start by identifying a topic you’re passionate about and delve deeper. Explore the subtopics, research relevant entities, and weave them into a narrative that resonates with your readers. Remember, creating high-quality content that fulfills a user’s search intent is the key to achieving sustainable SEO success.

So ditch the keyword checklist and embrace the power of topics. It’s time to create content that informs, inspires, and ranks!

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.

Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.