Can SEOs Stop Worrying About Keywords and Just Focus on Topics? – Whiteboard Friday

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Should you ditch keyword targeting entirely? There’s been a lot of discussion around the idea of focusing on broad topics and concepts to satisfy searcher intent, but it’s a big step to take and could potentially hurt your rankings. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses old-school keyword targeting and new-school concept targeting, outlining a plan of action you can follow to get the best of both worlds.

Can We Abandon Keyword Research & On-Page Targeting in Favor of a Broader Topic/Concept Focus in Our SEO Efforts?

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re going to talk about a topic that I’ve been seeing coming up in the SEO world for probably a good 6 to 12 months now. I think ever since Hummingbird came out, there has been a little bit of discussion. Then, over the last year, it’s really picked up around this idea that, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be optimizing for researching and targeting keywords or keyword phrases anymore. Maybe we should be going more towards topics and ideas and broad concept.”

I think there’s some merit to the idea, and then there are folks who are taking it way too far, moving away from keywords and actually losing and costing themselves so much search opportunity and search engine traffic. So I’m going to try and describe these two approaches today, kind of the old-school world and this very new-school world of concept and topic-based targeting, and then describe maybe a third way to combine them and improve on both models.

Classic keyword research & on-page targeting

In our classic keyword research, on-page targeting model, we sort of have our SEO going, “Yeah. Which one of these should I target?”

He’s thinking about like best times to fly. He’s writing a travel website, “Best Times to Fly,” and there’s a bunch of keywords. He’s checking the volume and maybe some other metrics around “best flight times,” “best days to fly,” “cheapest days to fly,” “least crowded flights,” “optimal flight dates,” “busiest days to fly.” Okay, a bunch of different keywords.

So, maybe our SEO friend here is thinking, “All right. She’s going to maybe go make a page for each of these keywords.” Maybe not all of them at first. But she’s going to decide, “Hey, you know what? I’m going after ‘optimal flight dates,’ ‘lowest airport traffic days,’ and ‘cheapest days to fly.’ I’m going to make three different pages. Yeah, the content is really similar. It’s serving a very similar purpose. But that doesn’t matter. I want to have the best possible keyword targeting that I can for each of these individual ones.”

“So maybe I can’t invest as much effort in the content and the research into it, because I have to make these three different pages. But you know what? I’ll knock out these three. I’ll do the rest of them, and then I’ll iterate and add some more keywords.”

That’s pretty old-school SEO, very, very classic model.

New school topic- & concept-based targeting

Newer school, a little bit of this concept and topic targeting, we get into this world where folks go, “You know what? I’m going to think bigger than keywords.”

“I’m going to kind of ignore keywords. I don’t need to worry about them. I don’t need to think about them. Whatever the volumes are, they are. If I do a good job of targeting searchers’ intent and concepts, Google will do a good job recognizing my content and figuring out the keywords that it maps to. I don’t have to stress about that. So instead, I’m going to think about I want to help people who need to choose the right days to buy flights.”

“So I’m thinking about days of the week, and maybe I’ll do some brainstorming and a bunch of user research. Maybe I’ll use some topic association tools to try and broaden my perspective on what those intents could be. So days of the week, the right months, the airline differences, maybe airport by airport differences, best weeks. Maybe I want to think about it by different country, price versus flexibility, when can people use miles, free miles to fly versus when can’t they.”

“All right. Now, I’ve come up with this, the ultimate guide to smart flight planning. I’ve got great content on there. I have this graph where you can actually select a different country or different airline and see the dates or the weeks of the year, or the days of the week when you can get cheapest flights. This is just an awesome, awesome piece of content, and it serves a lot of these needs really nicely.” It’s not going to rank for crap.

I don’t mean to be rude. It’s not the case that Google can never map this to these types of keywords. But if a lot of people are searching for “best days of the week to fly” and you have “The Ultimate Guide to Smart Flight Planning,” you might do a phenomenal job of helping people with that search intent. Google is not going to do a great job of ranking you for that phrase, and it’s not Google’s fault entirely. A lot of this has to do with how the Web talks about content.

A great piece of content like this comes out. Maybe lots of blogs pick it up. News sites pick it up. You write about it. People are linking to it. How are they describing it? Well, they’re describing it as a guide to smart flight planning. So those are the terms and phrases people associate with it, which are not the same terms and phrases that someone would associate with an equally good guide that leveraged the keywords intelligently.

A smarter hybrid

So my recommendation is to combine these two things. In a smart combination of these techniques, we can get great results on both sides of the aisle. Great concept and topic modeling that can serve a bunch of different searcher needs and target many different keywords in a given searcher intent model, and we can do it in a way that targets keywords intelligently in our titles, in our headlines, our sub-headlines, the content on the page so that we can actually get the searcher volume and rank for the keywords that send us traffic on an ongoing basis.

So I take my keyword research ideas and my tool results from all the exercises I did over here. I take my topic and concept brainstorm, maybe some of my topic tool results, my user research results. I take these and put them together in a list of concepts and needs that our content is going to answer grouped by combinable keyword targets — I’ll show you what I mean — with the right metrics.

So I might say my keyword groups are there’s one intent around “best days of the week,” and then there’s another intent around “best times of the year.” Yes, there’s overlap between them. There might be people who are looking for kind of both at the same time. But they actually are pretty separate in their intent. “Best days of the week,” that’s really someone who knows that they’re going to fly at some point and they want to know, “Should I be booking on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or a Monday, or a Sunday?”

Then, there’s “best times of the year,” someone who’s a little more flexible with their travel planning, and they’re trying to think maybe a year ahead, “Should I buy in the spring, the fall, the summer? What’s the time to go here?”

So you know what? We’re going to take all the keyword phrases that we discovered over here. We’re going to group them by these concept intents. Like “best days of the week” could include the keywords “best days of the week to fly,” “optimal day of week to fly,” “weekday versus weekend best for flights,” “cheapest day of the week to fly.”

“Best times of the year,” that keyword group could include words and phrases like “best weeks of the year to fly,” “cheapest travel weeks,” “lowest cost months to fly,” “off-season flight dates,” “optimal dates to book flights.”

These aren’t just keyword matches. They’re concept and topic matches, but taken to the keyword level so that we actually know things like the volume, the difficulty, the click-through rate opportunity for these, the importance that they may have or the conversion rate that we think they’re going to have.

Then, we can group these together and decide, “Hey, you know what? The volume for all of these is higher. But these ones are more important to us. They have lower difficulty. Maybe they have higher click-through rate opportunity. So we’re going to target ‘best times of the year.’ That’s going to be the content we create. Now, I’m going to wrap my keywords together into ‘the best weeks and months to book flights in 2016.'”

That’s just as compelling a title as “The Ultimate Guide to Smart Flight Planning,” but maybe a tiny bit less. You could quibble. But I’m sure you could come up with one, and it uses our keywords intelligently. Now I’ve got sub-headings that are “sort by the cheapest,” “the least crowded,” “the most flexible,” “by airline,” “by location.” Great. I’ve hit all my topic areas and all my keyword areas at the same time, all in one piece of content.

This kind of model, where we combine the best of these two worlds, I think is the way of the future. I don’t think it pays to stick to your old-school keyword targeting methodology, nor do I think it pays to ignore keyword targeting and keyword research entirely. I think we’ve got to merge these practices and come up with something smart.

All right everyone. I look forward to your comments, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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