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August 4, 2017

Why You Should Target Topics, Not Keywords

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Photo Credit: andercismo

As search engines like Google get wise to what their users want, their technology catches up, too.

Search is changing. The influx of new devices that people are using – Smartphones, tablets, virtual assistants, Smart TVs, etc. – along with the move to lots of voice control, has influenced what your average search query looks like.

Searches are longer and more precise. People are asking specific questions when they look for answers on the web.

These changes filter down to us, the ones writing for those all-important SERPs.

How Do Changing Queries Translate to Search Engines Like Google?

One important way that Google is changing for its users’ changing queries is that it’s becoming more semantic vs. keyword-oriented, according to Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media.

What does this mean?

For us writers, you could say that the death of keyword density is here, or at least well on its way. The evolution toward semantic search means that Google is looking for the meaning and intent behind searches, not just the words.

The definition of “semantic” tells us that, in relation to searches, Google will be looking for related meanings, not just related keywords.

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It wants semantically-linked phrases in the pages it displays in users’ search results, not just keywords.

So, what does this mean for you, the writer?

How to Adapt Your Copywriting to Semantic Searches

Semantic searches revolve around related topics. The context of the search is very important. What is the user looking for, but also, what problem are they trying to solve? Why?

To optimize your writing for semantic searches, you need to pay attention to those related topics – the broader context.

How do you do this?

There are a few excellent tricks to help you find semantically linked, related phrases to your main long-tail keyword. Andy Crestodina explains them in his article, but we’ll go over them here, too.

Targeting Topics: Finding Related Phrases to Use in Your Online Writing

You can use Google itself as a tool to help you find related phrases to sprinkle in your online writing.

1. Choose a Long-Tail Keyword

First, narrow down your target phrase. Go ahead and type that into Google. For our purposes, we’ll pretend that we need to write an article about how to build a fence.

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As you can see, Google will start suggesting other search terms as you type. Once you get to the end of your phrase, you’ll see the top suggestions for your particular query. Write down the most relevant ones.

2. Narrow It Down Further

Let’s change the query a bit to see what other topics Google comes up with.

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As you can see, not only did I change the wording, I narrowed down the topic to what kind of fence building I want to write about. We can use these related phrases in our article, too.

3. Find Related Searches

After looking at suggested phrases, let’s hit “enter” on our initial search query (“how to build a fence”) and scroll to the bottom of the page.

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As you can see, Google gives us lots of suggestions for related queries. These are semantically-linked topics that we can use in our article. Jackpot!

4. Use Other Tools That Help Find Semantically-Linked Phrases

Along with using Google, Andy also recommends using some quick and easy tools like SEMrush and Keyword Tool in his Orbit Media article.

Keyword Tool

Searching Keyword Tool for “how to build a fence” gives us plenty of great ideas for semantically-linked phrases:

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The free version gives us all kinds of great ideas for related phrases to use in our article. If you spring for the paid version, you can also get useful statistics for each key phrase, like search volume and cost-per-click – the amount of money that advertisers are bidding for this keyword on Google AdWords.

SEMrush

Meanwhile, with SEMrush, we can check to see what related phrases top-ranked sites are using. Go back to our original search for “how to build a fence.” The top-ranked result is from Home Depot:

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Take that result and plug the URL into SEMrush.

When the results pop up, go to the left menu. Under “Domain Analytics,” look under “Organic Research” and click on “Positions.”

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You’ll come up with a heck of a lot of results. Filter them to hone in on your particular key phrase. In our case, that’s “how to build a fence.”

You’ll need the paid version to filter by keyword, but the information it gives you is incredibly valuable – just look at what came up for Orbit Media’s search for “website footer”:

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More Useful Tips for Appealing to Semantic Searches

Besides using semantically-linked phrases in your writing that are related to your main keyword, there are some other strategies to get Google to take note.

Use Natural Language and Full Sentences

One of the best tips is to use natural language and full sentences instead of stilted, truncated keywords that sound robotic. This appeals to voice queries, where people ask their devices full questions.

For instance, instead of “best restaurants Tulsa,” the better phrase would be “what are the best restaurants in Tulsa, OK?”

Isolate the Questions and the Answers

You should also isolate sentences that provide both the questions and the answers, according to Orbit Media. This is how you appeal to voice-based searches.

What does this look like? Here’s an example:

What are the best restaurants in Tulsa, OK? 

Many of Tulsa’s best restaurants include… 

The Takeaway: Related Topics Help Contextualize Your Online Writing for Google

The future of search is semantic. What matters more and more is the context of the search versus the words themselves.

Keyword density is on the way out. Thankfully, this means frowned-upon practices like keyword stuffing should be deader than dead, too.

Search is getting wise to how people are using the Internet. Search engines not only understand what people are looking for, but also why they’re searching in the first place.

This means content writers need to wise up, too. To boost our content writing, we should employ ways to appeal to semantic searches. Use these tips and your writing will be optimized for context as well as content.


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Julia dropped out of college to follow her passion in tech and writing, and hasn’t looked back since. Today, she’s been named among the top 30 content marketers, is the founder and CEO of leading content agency Express Writers, hosts the Write Podcast and #ContentWritingChat, and is a published, best-selling author. She’s also the creator of a brand new, leading industry course, The Practical Content Strategist Certification Course.

9 Responses to “Why You Should Target Topics, Not Keywords

    avatar Tim L. says:

    Lots of great advice in here and I think it illustrates the major shortcomings of listening too closely to Yoast SEO for WordPress. It’s crazy to concentrate on just one word and stuff that into subheads and alt text all over. Contextually you need to mix it up.

    Thanks for this piece. I use Keyword tool and it’s perfect and easy. Once I hit on COPY ALL, I then use delim.co/ to auto separate the keywords with comma for my use in tags or any other part of the writing

    avatar Ned says:

    Great tips, I’ve done that with my blog about “learn to play guitar”.

    avatar Gtmultimedia says:

    very insightful , a must practise

    avatar Hadi Nugraha says:

    I’ve used this method for my latest articles, and to update my old articles. Surprisingly, google started rank up my articles for their main keywords.

    I think Long Tail Pro does help in this regard of long keywords. I have been drilling down to more specific results but traffic seems to be less for those keywords.

    avatar Stephen says:

    This is true! Thanks for sharing! If you will target with topic, you will automatically target with chunks of keywords!

    avatar Maria Huges says:

    Great information, mostly we always try to use the keywords but it all depends on the user engagement. If the topic is not worth reading or relate the users then all waste. We should have to focus on the topic rather than the title.

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