For most of us, one of the first things we do to optimize a site is to perform a keyword search.
Millions of pixels and inches of column have been devoted to defining different keyword strategies.
SEO professionals spend millions of dollars every year to track the rankings of keywords, much to Google's chagrin.
The evolving search query
Real estate in organic research is shrinking.
There have been countless articles written about this phenomenon, but all you have to do to find out for yourself, is to search Google for some very large terms.
I urge you to visit Google and enter a competitive term.
Most likely, you will not see any organic results above the fold of the SERP page.
For years, Google has given marketers the opportunity to get "free" traffic and lead through organic searches.
I do not believe that Google and the other major search engines will stop providing this kind of traffic – but the way we will need to capture this traffic is changing very quickly.
This is partly explained by the fact that Google wants to keep the traffic for itself and partly because search queries are evolving and becoming more and more sophisticated.
More and more people are using more sophisticated queries to find out what they want.
In 2012, Google had stated that 16% to 20% of the searches made each day had never been done before.
I suspect that this number is even higher today.
And people are looking for more.
The number of searches on Google is increasing by about 10% each year.
So let's recap so far.
- There are not so many places to get organic clicks.
- People are not doing the same research as in the past – research is more complex.
- There is more research each year.
So how can we, as digital marketers, pivot to take full advantage of the news?
The answer is complicated, but it starts by reducing our goal of optimizing keywords and focusing on topics.
What are the topics?
The topics look exactly like what they look like: the overall content related to the content of a specific topic.
Topics do not encapsulate a complete search trip as keywords do.
When we think of keywords, we usually focus on individual searches.
Most adopt a last-click mentality with regard to keywords.
The perceived path is brief.
A user types a query into the search engine, clicks on a list, is redirected to a web page, and then performs the desired action.
Most search marketers know that the above scenario is rarely the method by which a conversion is performed.
For years, we have mapped users' paths, trying to understand the path they take and the keywords they are looking for.
The Holy Grail is an attribution model that groups all of the user's behavior, as well as the data related to the keywords.
Oh, and this attribution of "holy grail" must be able to gather all this data and to provide useful and exploitable information.
We are not there yet and we may never be.
Why focus on topics?
As we discussed, the customer journey including search has changed.
Consumers are looking for more information.
Google tries to keep these people in their own walled garden.
However, if your company appears in most information requests on a specific subject, you get a perceived authority in the mind of the consumer, even if this information is stuck in a Google Knowledge Box.
Every product and service is different.
But if your customers are looking for information about your niche, or if they are looking for the best product or service (your competition), focusing SEO efforts on topics is a great way to break the clutter.
How to target the subjects?
With your own website, you will not be able to dominate any subject.
Google has made it clear that they do not want to get a set of results from the same website for an individual query, also known as diversity of domains.
Of course, you can be present on several related queries with your own site – but that will probably not be enough in most cases.
This is where you need to put your public relations cap (or link building) and find the information sites that dominate the topics (I promise you in most vertical areas).
You must obtain endorsements of your products and services on these "influence" websites.
If you have been doing SEO for a very long time, you can find several ways to get into a subject by simply analyzing the SERPs around that topic and figuring out how to do it as many times as possible.
I'm not saying that keywords are not important
Keywords are important.
Rankings are important.
Recently, I've been reminded of the importance of leading keywords.
We have a client who has two websites for various reasons that are not important for this illustration.
A site is new, the other is a legacy site.
Web sites compete for the terms. One of the sites is older and ranks under several terms "money" – in other words, the most vertical terms.
And even if the new site surpasses the old site in terms of traffic and ranking, the other site generates more leads, but above all of higher quality.
This is directly related to the fact that the old site is classified according to specific keywords that convert very well their vertical orientation.
We're still in the early stages and finally we're going to have the new site ranked for these key terms – we certainly have not abandoned keyword targeting.
But I know that if we can eventually dominate the subject as a whole, we will have more traffic and lead diversity than the sum of its parts.
In other words, if we can win at the same time on the target keywords and on the target subjects, we will have the best of both worlds and we will not have to worry as much when Google will bring a change an algorithm that will make our keyword ranking disappear.
Work to diversify your priorities by focusing more on topics than on keywords.
Like me, you will find that when you widen your field of action on the subject, you create better content.
You also find yourself in a good position for the keywords and the results last longer.
Google wants the expertise, authority and trust of websites.
If you can dominate a subject, you will create these three attributes in Spades.
Selected image: created by the author in August 2019