What’s the first thing most marketers think of when hearing the term SEO? Keywords, of course!
No other organic search activity has such an effect on our work than thorough keyword research. I’d even argue that other activities – link building, creating quality content, improving the user experience or anything else, for that matter – don't truly work without performing solid keyword research beforehand.
But it’s also one causing a serious problem: so many marketers still take an incorrect approach to the keyword research process. This has a lot to do with not realizing that how we use search has tremendously changed. Keywords used to be at the center of an organic search strategy, but things have changes.
Many SEOs still believe that identifying target phrases involves nothing more than finding the actual keywords. So, they log in to Adwords, Google Keyword Planner and the like and look for an ideal phrase to target. All while today, they should focus more on topics and categories instead.
Allow me to explain.
How We Search for Information: Then and Now
I don’t know if you remember the early days of search engines; how limited our options were back then.
We couldn’t ask Google questions. We couldn’t give it scraps of information and get it to figure out what we want either. Well, technically, we could... but the search engine wasn’t capable of actually analyzing those requests.
So, to find information, we had to use well-defined keywords and phrases. Instead of looking for “shoes to jog on the sandy beach,” we had to type “running shoes,” and so on.
Such a situation was ideal for SEOs. We could log in to the Keyword Planner, for instance, and find out the exact phrase our customers used to find a product or service.
That's not the case anymore.
Now, today, as users, we can do it all. We can ask Google questions. We can type a unique search query and request any type of information and know that the search engine will understand it and present us with the applicable results on the SERP. We can even speak our question as a voice search query into our mobile devices!
But as SEOs, we face a problem. There are an infinite number of search phrases now and try as you might, you’ll never find the exact one your audience uses.
Why? Because there isn’t a single phrase like that. Searchers act so differently now. They do it the way that works for them, and that includes how they describe the object of their search.
So, how do you research keywords, then? To understand this, we must look at keyword research elements – topics, keywords, and categories – more closely.
What are Topics, Keywords, and Categories?
In keyword research, a topic is a general idea describing the subject of the search. It defines a broad area of information that relates to it.
Take basketball, for example. The topic encompasses everything that relates to the game. In this case, it could be anything from basketball rules, information about players to merchandising, and more.
Notice how a topic does not define what the person is searching for, specifically. It’s not its purpose. It defines all areas that people are searching for around it.
Defining the search intent further is the role of a keyword. It outlines what specific information the person’s looking for. In the case of basketball, it could be basketball caps.
Finally, categories help organize keywords in relation to the main topic and eliminate phrases irrelevant to your product or service.
Take conjunctivitis, for example. A typical keyword tool will return terms that have little to do with the main term. Some examples may include conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and many others.
Breaking topics by categories (i.e. industries) allows you to access only the phrases related to what is relevant to you.
Let’s bring it all together.
Outlines the general idea describing the subject of the search.
Classify all areas of the topic, based on the type of information covered.
Defines specific information about the topic within the category.
What Does the Above Division Mean to SEO?
Most likely, you find keyword research tedious. You dread it deeply. You groan having to sort through millions of keywords and messy spreadsheets to actually get to the high-demand opportunities.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly the problem.
Although most SEOs research keywords in a variety of different ways, they can all agree that the process is dull and tiresome, at best.
Unfortunately, that’s because they launch into finding keywords right away, causing more than just one problem.
For one, you find it hard to identify high-value phrases.
But you might also miss many other ways people who aren’t the experts in your product or service call it.
Take conjunctivitis as an example, again. Most people do not refer to the condition in this way. They call it pink eye, instead.
I'll admit that I haven't used the term "conjunctivitis" before; I had only found out about it because I conducted a different type of keyword research, focused on topics and the right categories instead.
Then, I used Topic Explorer's Intelligent Match to fully understand the topic and its semantically-related phrases.
(A semantically-related list of keywords to our target keyword.)
Before I show you how to do it, let’s discuss quickly why you should follow the same process.
The Benefits of Conducting Topic Research
- It saves time; for one, there is no question about it.
- Topic research helps you see the whole breadth of information on the subject of the search right away too.
- By focusing on topic research, you understand all the areas you need to cover on the topic.
Recommended Reading: Build Content that Drives Authority with Topic Explorer, Our Topic Cluster Tool
How to Conduct Topic Research: A Process Overview
Step 1: Identify the Topic
The typical keyword research process requires you to know one thing – your target topic upon which you'd like to build authority. You cannot start without it.
But what if you don’t know the topic? What if you’re new to the industry, and can’t determine what are the key topics there?
That’s the first of our absolutely mind-blowing innovations. seoClarity is the only SEO platform that allows you to research categories, too. Now, you can discover all the topics and keywords relating to a specific category.
Take the rental market, for example. A common keyword combination people optimize for is something like “apartment for rent in…” But perhaps there is more to cover?
In the Topic Explorer, choose Industries instead of Keyword. Then, select your target industry from the drop-down list, select the location, and click Search.
The platform will return every keyword we know that’s related to the industry.
In this case, it returned more than 691,000 of them!
From here on, I can slice and dice this data to identify topics and phrases I should incorporate into my strategy.
I can uncover the most common keyword patterns and associated phrases.
I can fine-tune the industry too, and analyze keywords that relate to its specific aspect.
That is just the start, really.
Want to see this feature in action? Book a demo, and one of my colleagues will walk you through it in detail.
Step 2: Focus on the Semantics of a Specific Topic
Go back to Topic Explorer. This time, however, use the keyword tab and type in your target keyword. Select the Intelligent Match option.
The platform returns every keyword that’s topically related to your target keyword (using our NLP processing model) and allows you to discover hidden relationships between your audience and their intents. This is the same methodology we saw with the conjunctivitis example.
What’s more, some of these phrases do not include words like “apartment” at all.
Why? Because the platform goes beyond just matching your topic with phrases that include similar words. It analyzes how your audience searches for this type of information instead, allowing you to discover their intent.
With the ability to sort results by Intent Similarity, you can discover an overlap between audiences, what they search for, and their underlying intents.
The higher the Intent Similarity, the more alike the audience is to the audience of your target phrase — there is a great overlap here. As the Intent Similarity decreases, the intent begins to change as well.
In this step, I can dive deeper into the data as I did above. I can evaluate keyword patterns, fine-tune the industry, or even discover which of my competitors dominates the topic already.
What’s more, I can find out which keywords they’re ranking for, specifically.
With the data above, I can understand the whole topic and all areas I need to cover for it. What’s left is to prioritize target keywords and start working on improving my rankings in the SERP.
The way we search has evolved, and so must our process for researching keywords. We must move from thinking in terms of specific search queries to figuring out topics to cover.
At seoClarity, we’ve set out to make this task easier. As you’ve seen above, we’re the only SEO platform that offers the ability to research topics by industry, and use this data to power your keyword research.