As marketers, if there is one thing that we are all aware of it’s the fact that the world of marketing is constantly changing. We spend countless hours creating content through the process of well-defined strategies, only to discover that there is a new and improved way to do what we do.
That my friends is what has happened to SEO. The way people search for information has changed and therefore so does the strategy behind how to optimize for it. So strap in and don’t blink because we have a lot of information to cover and you won’t want to miss a thing!
The World is Changing
Two major shifts have taken place over the last few years that have made a very big impact on the way we optimize for search engines:
- The way people search for information is changing
- Search engines have become better at interpreting and providing information
So, what does that mean for the marketer?
Thanks to recent advances in technology and the rise of voice search with devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s Siri, the way people find information has changed. No longer are the days when you type simple and specific phrases into a search bar when asking a search engine for answers. In fact, search inquiries are becoming longer. People are asking for answers from search engines in a way that is more conversational, much like they would ask any person on the street.
Here’s an example:
Not long ago, if you were walking down the streets of New York City and had a sudden hankering for tacos, in order to get the most accurate results for your search, you might type something simple like, ”Tacos in NYC”. Makes sense, right? However, these days if you were hungry for tacos you can simply whip out your iPhone and say, “Hey Siri, where is the best place to get tacos around here?” and like magic, you’re going to get a list of places near you that serve tacos. It’s seriously that simple. I know because I just checked …and now I’m starving.
This shift happened naturally. Not only because the use of technology in this way more common, but the quality of search results have dramatically improved and the quantity of content just keeps rising. In turn, people are trusting that, when they ask things more vaguely, the result they will receive will still be just as (if not more) relevant. But, how does that affect your marketing strategy? I’m glad you asked.
The Death of Keywords in Content Marketing
No, keywords aren’t actually dying. Though I’m sure that the headline grabbed your attention. Keywords are still a very important part of your content marketing strategy. But, since search engines are getting smarter, the focus is no longer on the keywords but the topics that those keywords fall under.
I’ll explain what I mean. Let’s begin with going through the SEO process that is and has been widely used by marketers for quite some time now.
It starts with doing extensive research on keywords that will match the topic of what you want content to be about. You need something that is widely searched that won’t be too difficult to rank for. This part of the process takes some time and is constantly being refined. You then use “long-tail” versions of these keywords to create keyword phrases. Those keyword phrases become the anchor that all of your content is tied to. You put it in the URL of your web pages, in the titles and bodies of your blogs, use it in the alt text of your images, and in the meta description for your pages. This allows Google to recognize it as a relevant piece of information when someone types in a search inquiry with those keywords in it.
Keywords have been the heart of SEO for years. Companies have spent countless hours (and dollars) mastering the art of keyword strategy in an endless struggle to rank on search engine results pages, and good grief did some of them get good at it! To those that did, do not fear. You will still maintain authority as a source of information on those keywords. But, while they will still play a big role in the way you plan your content, it’s time that we, as marketers, stop thinking about our content in terms of just… words.
Say Hello to Topic Clusters
But if not keywords, what are search engines using to determine a posts relevancy? Enter the Topic Cluster.
Like we mentioned before, Google can now understand intent. It doesn’t have to match specific keywords in a search with the same words in a post anymore. This not only means searching for information is now easier, but results are going to become more and more relevant. So, what’s actually happening when you search for answers?
In its simplest form, Google is searching for the topic of the inquiry. When it finds a piece of content that matches the topic of the inquiry, it then checks to see if the source of that content has authority on the topic. If you have multiple pieces of content supporting the same topic that are linked together, Google will recognize that. It then returns your content in the search results. This new way of organizing content is called a topic cluster. The goal now is not to anchor your content to a keyword, but to a topic.
So, where do you start when creating a topic cluster? Well, topic clusters are made up of two parts: pillar pages and cluster content.
A pillar page is the foundation on which a topic cluster is built. Pillar page content is more long-form because it completely covers the topic in a broad manner. It’s intended to answer questions about the topic while leaving room for more detailed posts (cluster content) to describe more specific branches of the topic. This cluster content allows for an in-depth look at a specific branch of the topic. This is where keywords come into play. Using keywords that support your topic, you can then build content around your pillar page, and when hyperlinked back to the pillar page, it creates a topic cluster.
For example, if the topic were “baseball”, the pillar page would consist of all things baseball (it’s history, how it’s played, the culture, etc.). While cluster content might consist of things such as “how to throw a wicked curveball” or “understanding the rules of America’s greatest past-time”. The purpose is to rank for topics related to baseball. The pillar page acts as a guide to the basics baseball, and the cluster content takes a deeper look into the specifics of each branch of baseball.
If done correctly, when a search inquiry is submitted the search engine will crawl over the different pages of your topic cluster and recognize the content as a relevant source of information on the topic. You will then be marked as a source that has some authority on the topic of the inquiry.
We know that this is a lot to take in. Just keep in mind that it’s fairly new for everyone. However, it is a positive change for both marketers and those we are trying to reach. We believe that with these changes, the future holds promise of easier searches, higher quality of information, and an overall better user experience with search.
About Guest Blogger Priscilla McKinney
Priscilla McKinney, CEO of Little Bird Marketing, is a popular keynote speaker, prolific blogger, podcast host, industry innovator and diversity champion.