While the definition of keyword cannibalization in SEO seems clear, identifying cases on a blog may be a little tougher. Some keywords are more of broad topics and will inevitably appear often. In other instances, keywords are very narrow-focused and will generally be discussed in-depth within a single blog post.
Keyword cannibalization can be intentional from a former content marketer who thought the more a keyword was mentioned on a website, the better it was. However, in most cases, cannibalization is unintentional and results from miscommunication between various content writers, or simply due to a lack of anticipation and accountability.
Automatic keyword cannibalization checkers and tools alike are not really useful, and rather expensive. This is a tedious task to perform manually simply because nobody understands your content strategy better than yourself.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization happens when several pages on your website cover the same keywords. It happens often with large blogs where topics have been covered multiple times, inevitably provoking the repetition of some keywords.
Repeating the same keywords in a few article is not a problem at all. Cannibalization only occurs when multiple blog posts use the same keyword(s) as their main subject matter. In such articles, the focus keyword may be repeated over ten times. Therefore, having more than one blog post discussing the same subject matter may show a lack of topical depth in any of them.
Imagine all the competitors trying to outrank you for a given keyword; and then add your own other blog posts competing for the same search query. Exactly, you already have enough external competition! No need to compete with yourself!
Is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?
Keyword cannibalization and having too many blog posts tackling the same keyword may result in lower rankings on search engines. This is simply because search engines would hesitate at ranking one of your article knowing that you have other blog posts also covering the same topic.
What a search engine can read when you use the same keywords in many articles is that not one of them is comprehensive in its coverage. Obviously, some articles are deeper than others but for long-tail keywords especially, you do want to merge all your articles into one big piece. A longer article does not mean a lack of readability — use these tips from Yoast to improve your articles’ structure!
How to avoid keyword cannibalization?
Successful content writers avoid keyword cannibalization by precising the focus keyword of their other blog posts. That way, a blogger can shift away from the same keyword and write about a more specific and unique angle.
Avoiding cannibalizing your keywords requires you to keep track of each blog post and the keywords associated with it. If you plan your content calendar months in advance, you should already know what articles will be written soon and you naturally avoid such repetition. On the other hand, if you write blog posts as you go without much planning ahead, you must:
Decide on your article’s focus keyword(s)
Search each focus keyword on your existing blog
And then if the keyword:
does exist: refresh and update the existing blog post
does not exist: carry on writing your blog post as initially intended
Additionally, to prevent themselves from keyword repetition in several blog posts, content writers can use distant synonyms. Although, with the years passing, most search engines are great at grouping together all words with similar meaning.
How to check keyword cannibalization?
You can check for keyword cannibalization by using a spreadsheet to list each blog post’s focus keywords. Then, look for keywords covered by two or more articles on your blog. Doing this manually is the most accurate way of performing a thorough SEO cannibalization check.
Keyword cannibalization checkers such as those offered by Ahrefs (see video) may be useful but they will not be as accurate as you. Because a keyword can be inserted using one of its many variations, keyword cannibalization tool will often fail at spotting them all. They may spot obvious ones, though.
Additionally, using an automated tool can help when you have hundreds or even thousands of blog posts in your content library. Reading them all yourself would take you weeks; which is obviously unrealistic.
How to solve keyword cannibalization?
Content strategists solve keyword cannibalization by implementing keyword governance, user intents, keyword universes, internal linking strategies, and eventually, by merging duplicate pages.
There is no miracle for bloggers who are wondering how to fix keyword cannibalization. You must absolutely review all your articles discussing the same topic and pick one of the below solutions.
Some fixes are easier to implement and can be put together in a meeting. Other solutions require an entire rewrite of some articles, and a removal of others.
Keyword governance is a system-based repartition and division of the list of keywords a business has in its digital marketing strategy. In simpler terms, have clear categories within your blog and authorize a single team or a single writer to produce content for it. Each writer or team is in charge of writing and maintaining its keywords healthy.
In companies where multiple people decide on the focus keywords and content calendar, keyword governance is required to avoid duplicate blog posts, and overall repetition. Communication is not always optimal so having one person in charge of a specific grouping of subjects makes sure nobody else within your organization writes about them.
The most dreaded solution to keyword cannibalization is to merge duplicate pages and the delete outdated and thin blog posts. First, you must list every single article with your focus keyword as main subject matter. Then, look at your Google Search Console and other Analytics which one of them is the most popular, and highest ranking. That one article will be the one to enrich with the other ones’ content.
While rewriting your now core article for your keyword, try to implement any new SEO strategies you have learned recently. Some of a blog’s best performing pieces of content could rank even higher by using recent whitehat tricks (e.g. resizing images, use of headings and subheading).
In search engine optimization, user intent is the context of the person performing the search query. Common user intents include:
informational for learning something about a topic (e.g. how to, guides)
commercial for transactional-seeking searches (e.g. product listings, reviews)
media for consuming multimedia content (e.g. videos, recipes, pictures)
question for quick answers (e.g. voice search, answer boxes)
Therefore, writing articles about the same subject is not necessarily keyword cannibalization if the different articles about the same keyword focus on distinct user intents.
For example, Arabic coffee beans can be written about a few times: once as a comprehensive guide (informational intent), another time with a top best products (commercial intent), and even a last blog post as a frequently asked questions blog post to feature in the Google Search snippets.
Backlinks & Internal Linking
Another way to remedy keyword cannibalization without deleting or merging content is by prioritizing a given page in a set of blog posts using the appropriate internal linking strategy. We know how links are tremendously effective signals at indexing. Search engines see inbound links as proof of reputation for a given page.
Internal linking also shows Google how important a page is in comparison to a website’s entire content library. Therefore, if three pages cover the very same keyword on your blog, Google will consider which one of the three is the most linked to from within your own website, but also externally. Along with other social signals, user intent, and on-page SEO, search engines will favor one page more than the others.
Topical SEO is based on modern search engine algorithms. Bing, Google and other alternatives are indexing websites, blogs and web pages by the topics detected on-page. Topics are expressed by their keyword universe: the weighted list of keywords often used to discuss a particular topic.
A lot of synonyms, variations, infections, and related phrases reside within a topic’s keyword universe. Instead of using the original keyword you have already written about in the past, pick a more precise (or even broader) one. Avoid too close subjects as Google and other search engines have a great understanding of synonyms.
For example, Coffee arabicaand Arabian coffee would both be considered the same by most search algorithms these days. Therefore, writing about both would potentially harm your SEO due to topic cannibalization.
Instead of synonyms, find related phrases that pertain to your original idea. For instance, Coffee liberica would make a lot of sense for a next article to write about. If you really have a lot to say about your original keyword, update your original cornerstone blog post about the same keyword and append your new thoughts on it.
To conclude, keyword cannibalization is often unintentional and content strategists must absolutely schedule cannibalization checks every now and then to correct such duplicate content. Avoiding and fixing occurrences of dense keyword repetitions requires some planning ahead for the your business’ content calendar, but also a lot of communication between the writers. As always, reviewing and updating old content is most definitely recommended to give it a quick refresh!
Topical SEO is what drives the growth of a website’s topical authority. Keywords are still alive but topics are what search engines use to index and rank web pages, for the most part, today. In order to improve your content depth, your focus topics must be carefully chosen and written about. This is where topic research tools come in handy.
Nowadays, keyword research tools are very easily available and with some tweaking, most can be used for topic research, too. Yet, they may be a little too literal and intentionally too close to the initial seed phrase. Topics are broader concepts with a keyword universe sitting right under. Remember that topics are abstract subject matters expressed using keywords — therefore, topics and keywords work together, not against each other!
The best topic research tools should be easy to use in a few clicks. Generally, you type in your core topic and expect key phrases, questions, and other related topics in return. Some keyword research tools are real-time and fast, while others take a tad more time but provide more accurate results.
1. Keyword Planner
Google is by far the best search engine ever, but it is also an advertising machine. The giant has gathered so much insight from search queries and the trillions of web pages indexed that they have their own tool for topic research. Using Keyword Planner is very easy since their recent 2018 update.
Type in one or a group of topic ideas into the search box, and instantly receive a list of related sub-topics and key phrases to write about (or advertise against). And, this tool is virtually free — you just need to have topped up your Google Ads account, even for a dollar!
The only con with this tool is that the suggestions will often be very close variations of the seed topic. So it remains very narrow. See the screenshot below, I entered Caffeine and most suggestions contain the word caffeine in them. Although this was to be expected, we do not want to stuff our content with a single core word. There are still some welcomed variations such as Coffee or inflections like caffeinated. Remember that using a wide range of terms helps with boosting your topic coverage.
Our free topical research tool! WikiBrowser allows you to visualize Wikipedia pages in a truly refreshing manner. We remove all textual content to focus on related Wikipedia pages. Indeed, a given topic is defined by the keywords used to express it, but even more so by the topics it is a neighbor of.
Little aside here: topic neighbors are how modern algorithms like classifiers find topics. They put all concepts in a three-dimensional matrix (vector space) and see which ones are close to each other. German Shepherd and Dog would obviously be closer than Dog and Computer.
This tool makes total sense. Type the page name, hit enter, and visualize what truly matters when you are doing your topic research:
a topic’s thesaurus-like outline
a list of ranked concepts
keywords pertaining to the topic
For instance, if you want to be authoritative on the topic of German Shepherds, you must also discuss the Herding Group it belongs to, Search-and-Rescue tasks and training, as well as Police dogs and many other related subjects.
3. Answer The Public
When you know the key phrases you want to cover, Answer The Public gives you search engines’ autosuggest data in a stunningly visual way. So once you submit your topic, it automatically calls Google servers (it takes a few seconds), and then displays common questions, and other search queries associated with your seed topic. Some topics really yield no results like topical authority (how sad, ha!) but others will get you hundreds of hits.
Check it out, it is a cool way to find some common questions to answer within the body of your blog post, or even pick some questions and answer them with a full article each. There is no search volume data on Answer The Public, but you can export the data as or spreadsheet, to then copy and paste it on Google Ads Keyword Planner to get the historical search volume for each suggestion.
The data is sorted by question tag (what, how, which, who, when, where, etc) but there are also suggestions that are preposition-based. This is an overall helpful tool for common topics. You could complete the data yourself by typing your phrase on Google and look at the recommended searches, the “People also ask” box, and so on. All the contextual data from your search helps you understand what people want to know, so you can better cover it in your blog post.
Topical SEO is so new because algorithms required to detect topics within textual content have only been perfected recently. Before, such algorithms were somewhat inaccurate and tremendously hungry in terms of computing power. Sense2vec is one of those algorithms and a tool has been provided by the machine learning company explosion.ai.
In their own words, the sense2vec demo “read every comment posted to Reddit in 2015 and built a semantic map”. What does that mean exactly? Well, without getting into too many details, the algorithm read all Reddit comments and extracted the main keywords (noun phrases mainly). But each time, the algorithm looked at the closest neighbors and took such factor into consideration when building the knowledge graph.
So when you type in a topic name or keyword, the application finds the associated entity in the model and returns all the co-occurring neighbors that were found in these millions of Reddit comments. Because it is based on a huge amount of data, noise and irrelevant neighbors simply disappear. You may get an odd result here and there but overall, it’s great!
The best for the end — topicseed is our own topical SEO platform! It is a suite of Herculean tools helping content strategists grow their topical authority, find new article ideas, and reach content depth. We also have powerful visualization tools for you to compare a single, or many, web pages against your competition.
During your topic research phase, you want to analyze what your competition is writing about for the same topic:
how many pages cover a given topic
what key phrases and words are these pages using the most
are they using simple or complex variations for their keywords
what outbound links have they added, etc.
The topicseed platform does just that. Take a look, below, at our phrase table. We analyze a blog post from a hypothetical competitor, and at a glance, we can see the phrases they use the most. If they rank very high, you de facto know what Google wants to read! Each topic on Earth comes with its own ever-expanding keyword universe. Meaning, you must use as many of these keywords to show search engine that you know what you are writing about.
An actual phrase table can hold hundreds of keywords so we allow filtering by terms (just type it and it automatically filters out), phrase score, or even word count. Unigrams (one-word keywords) are rarely useful and salient. We recommend content marketers to focus on bigrams or longer noun phrases. However, focusing on a particular term is important in order to view the list of keyword variants for SEO purposes.
Take a look at the same document’s analysis with a filter added over a particular term we want to focus on:
Here, after filtering added, you can start seeing the long list of keywords variations this document was holding. Sure, the document is clearly about dog clippers, but what does this assumption translate into? Well, they use a lot of variants in order to show Google their topical breadth and depth. Plus, this makes it more interesting for the reader as we avoid the undesirable keyword stuffing.
To wrap up this article, I just want to recommend every content marketer to adopt a wholesome topical SEO strategy. What I mean by that is simple. Take a step back from your article-centric approach. Do a lot of research independently of any singular blog post. Find focus topics you want authority over, create pillar pages, make long-form evergreen articles, shorter articles, and so on.
Topical SEO is the most recent approach to organic search engine optimization. Instead of focusing your attention on a keyword-based method, topical SEO favors topical authority, which is what search engines value the most.
In other words, you now must structure your content with focus topics as trunks, and narrower concepts as leaves. A few years back, you would write several blog posts around the same keywords and its variations. This was mandatory to appear in the search engine result pages for all keyword variants. Today, all these forms of keywords, as well as synonyms, are all put under the same topic, making writing plenty articles redundant and even penalized due to thin content.
This article offers you 20 actionable strategies to improve your topical SEO within days or weeks of solid execution.
1. List Your Main Focus Topics
The first step to a true improved topical SEO is to know what topics are you going to work with over the next years. After all, a topical approach needs topics, right?
Most readers already have a large content inventory with dozens or even hundreds of blog posts published. Although this is time-consuming, this is awesome! When you are just starting out, you may think you will deal with some topics but eventually, you don’t. When you already have plenty of live content, you can go through it and categorize each post.
Core topics should already be very clear for your brand, it should not take you a week to figure them out. But don’t be a simpleton by just consider a couple of topics directly pertaining to your expertise or brand’s products. Think about your target audience. What other problems would most of them have? Add this to your topic list because writing about these problems is another way to get them in your content pyramid!
2. Create Keyword Universes
Once you know what core topics you want to focus on, take one at a time, and find all the main keywords pertaining to it. This step is closer to what you would usually do during a keyword research phase, except that this time, it must be topical.
For example, if your brand sells coffee machines then one of your core topics would be Types of Coffees, and in this topic’s keyword universe we would find the likes of arabica, robusta, coffee beans, coffee grind sizes, and so on.
In ontology and information retrieval fields, topics are abstract entities defined by the terms used to represent them. In you take a vector space filled up with millions of keywords, you will find millions of keywords clusters close to each other. Each cluster would be a topic.
If you take the key phrases content, keywords, search engine, Google, top position, page one power, you know they form a cluster which represents a topic we could name Search engine optimization. This cluster of keywords is called a keyword universe for that given topic (or bag of words for natural language processing experts).
So, for each topic you have on your list, find the keywords directly relating to it. Some tools are available to facilitate this task:
If you already have a content library, simply read them up or use the keywords you targeted to start up your list.
3. Outline Your Pillar Pages
By now, you have the topics and the different ways to express them with keywords. Now, you want to outline the ideal pillar page for each topic. In simpler terms, you want to silhouette the ideal page to explain everything about that topic. Let me be clear, at this stage, you are not writing content yet; just the sections and sub-sections in a clear, digestible, structured way.
Two things, though. First, if you realize that it would take you way too long, perhaps you are too broad with your topic, and it should be broken down into different more concise concepts. Secondly, if it is done and dusted in a couple of headings, you are probably too concise and what you thought was a topic, was perhaps just a keyword belonging to a broader concept.
In order to outline a pillar page, you need to know what you are talking about. Read as many blog posts about this topic, get inspired by its Wikipedia’s entry or entries, and check out what the competition has done so far. The goal of this page is not to compile all articles already written and published on your blog, it is to offer a bird’s-eye view of this topic, some summarized content for each section, and links to the full articles. All of that, with original content to make it interesting to read.
Pillar pages will eventually become your content marketing strategy’s best friends. For a given topic, the pillar page links to all the relevant articles you have already written about. It’s an enhancer post listing page for this topic. A pillar page is meant to skyrocket in the organic search results, and often reach thousands of words (hence starting with a very organized outline)!
4. Classify Your Content Inventory
Listing topics and keywords falling under them is not enough; you must go through your entire content library and classify your content. Manually, this may take a while but you have a few ways to automate this task:
Use your CMS categories or tags system
Code a little script using a text analysis API (Google, Amazon, etc)
Hire a virtual assistant to classify your blog content (Upwork)
Any given article may belong to a couple of topics, but it is generally targeting a single concept. Be strict with classifying your content! You want your categories to mean something, not to include everything and anything.
5. Delete Redundant Articles
While going through your old content, you will inevitably find shameful stuff you wrote years ago. It’s ok, we all experience this at some point. We start out not really mastering our subject matters, you try things out, and then we write so many new articles that we forget about the past. The problem is, Google scores your domain as a whole so poor content written years ago may currently hold you back.
Additionally, when we start out, we may repeat ourselves trying to outsmart these olden search engine algorithms: an article for each keyword variant. However, as we today know so well, synonyms and variants are fully understood and grouped together for search engines. And such articles would fall under the duplicate content with most search engines.
Lastly, studies have shown that longer articles perform best which perhaps wasn’t a known factor in your past. This may have resulted in a lot of less-than-1,000-words blog posts that could perhaps, with some rewriting works, be merged together to perform better.
Overall, make sure that while you are categorizing each article, you spot redundant posts that should be merged or removed.
6. Rewrite the Old Content
As explained above, your old content is most likely vastly imperfect. Better content from competitors surely appeared since then, and new information has surfaced over time making your old content somewhat outdated. Some unnatural SEO practices used in the past (e.g. pseudo-natural keyword stuffing) may have been used and require an overdue change.
Therefore, rewriting some of your old content is very much recommended. I understand that for some businesses this would be a huge project but it does not have to happen overnight. Additionally, an article rewrite doesn’t mean changing all sentences or writing an extra thousand words. It could simply be changing the way the post reads by adding headings, links, quotes, videos or new infographics.
Merging several pieces of content together requires a little more work but it will pay off. It is better to have a strong article rather than a few thin blog posts. And if such thin articles are already written and published, ask your content writers to simply glue them together and refresh the article’s structure so it appears natural and wholesome rather than copied and pasted text. This reminds me of emails we receive with parts clearly copied and pasted (different fonts, different text size, and other gross obvious discrepancies… Ha!)
7. Use Keyword Variants
For your future content as well as your refresh (or recycled) content, make use of your keyword universe. Avoid repeating the very same keywords as you used to do ten years ago. Times have changed and search engines clearly prefer natural content that uses different phrases to refer to the same concept. Chances are, each keyword in your keyword universe for a topic most likely has plenty of closely related different forms you could find.
Once you have a keyword variant, let’s say article writing, brainstorm to find relevant variants such as blog post writing, content writing, content creation, or even writing a blog article! Be creative and do not worry, Google will get it, and your audience will find your content more natural to read.
Use a wide range of keywords for a given blog post also helps with your content depth. This modern concept is rising at the same pace topical SEO is. A topic is represented by a multitude of keywords and variants, therefore, you gain content depth by showing that you know and use all these key phrases (as opposed to only using one).
8. Use Inflections
In linguistics, inflections are the prefixes and suffixes added to the root form of a word. Using available inflections, the base form of a word gives birth to a multitude of new words that are different but their meaning still relates to your topic.
For example, if your article is about excess caffeine you could transform both words to come up with new keyword variants: excessive caffeine intake, too caffeinated, caffeinism, etc.
By using grammatical inflections on your core keywords, you can vary them without straying away from them. They increase their frequency without being literally the same. This is because natural language understanding algorithms focus on lemmas (the base form) but also consider full forms since they can change the meaning significantly.
9. Refresh Your Anchor Texts
The key to an improved topical SEO and topical authority growth is by improving your link profiles. Links are still incredibly relevant in the search engine optimization world, whether internal or external. Within your website, you face the same problem we all do.
Older articles, at the time of writing, did not know the newest blog posts would exist. Inevitably, the more you publish content, the more the new content links to existing old articles. You put your most important pieces (the newest ones) at a disadvantageous spot: very few internal inbound links! Fix that by going back to your old content to add links to your recent posts.
The keyword universe you have created for each concept will help you find the most appropriate anchor text for each hyperlink. If your target blog post is about SEO, do not use SEO as the anchor text every single time. Pick other words from your list of key phrases such as search engine marketing, SERPS, organic search rankings, etc.
Think of the aforementioned content depth: using as many relevant keywords as possible to show the comprehensiveness of your expertise.
10. Write Your Pillar Pages
Each pillar page is already outlined and you already know your sections. By now, you have rewritten some pieces of content, re-read them, and improved the overall content quality across the board. Yet, the pages still are scattered all over your domain. It is time to write your pillar pages and think of the existing blog posts you will link up to.
Pillar pages are often following the 10x content strategy or the skyscraper content method. To put it simply: find the best piece of competing content for this topic, and make your pillar page ten times better. Generally, pillar content is lengthy which eludes to a skyscraper. There is no magic word count number to give you, this is very topic-specific. A pillar page about Advertising would surely require tens of thousands of words due to the topic’s breadth. A pillar page about Nicaraguan Cuisines would undoubtedly be shorter.
How to write pillar pages to gain topical authority is a science and takes a while to master. Yet, you must go through this learning curve if you truly want to shift from a keyword SEO to a topical SEO. There are as many types or formats for pillar content as there are content editors. Generally, people stick to one of these strategies:
Resources — not very meaty in terms of text, but a lot of structure and explicit links (both internal and external)
Q&A — each heading asks a precise question, and the summarized answer is given right under, usually with a link to an existing article for a more in-depth response
Thesaurus — my favorite but the hardest to execute; very long form page broken down for pleasant user experienced with links added in the right context (10x content!)
All pillar pages on your website should absolutely be kept updated whenever you release new articles or learn a new nugget of knowledge that is worth being added. The Pepperland Marketing website put together a great list of examples of pillar pages, check it out!
11. Adopt a Tree-Like Internal Linking Strategy
On one hand, we have written content, and on the other hand, we have links. Well, instead of thinking about both separately, content marketers must put together a clear internal linking strategy for their topic clusters:
Should two different pillar pages link to each other, or should they stay in their own silo?
Do you want to just randomly link to blog posts without much structure?
Wouldn’t you prefer to show search engines how pages are related using a clear linking tree?
Should each link from page A to page N be reciprocated from page N to page A?
Are the pages under a pillar page linking to each other or not at all?
Internal linking is very much at the core of topical SEO because entities and keywords are nothing without relationships. And you got it, in the web the relationships are hyperlinks between pages! The source page, the target page, the topics and keywords present on both pages, the anchor text, the URLs, the position of the link on the page, all of these features are factored in by search engines algorithms during their crawling, and then, indexing processes.
12. Link One Page Up, Many Pages Down
By linking to a specific page often, you increase the importance of that page for your given domain, and by extension, for the topic(s) it belongs to. Therefore, a basic but powerful way of organizing content is to always have a child article link to its parent (pillar page or any broader page), and have each parent page link to its multiple child pages.
In the end, you end up with a tree-like structure giving a lot more weight to the most important pages. Plus, it makes a lot of sense for readers to easily access broader concepts, and narrower problematics, all from that one landing page they are on. Obviously, the pillar page should not have a parent as it is virtually the trunk of your topic’s content tree.
13. Gain Topical Backlinks
Beyond internal links, SEO experts spend most of their time building their domain name’s link profile through external topical backlinks. A simple goal here: prove your content is valuable and substantial by using social proof from other trusted topically-relevant websites’ links to you.
The idea here is that if you write smartphone tech reviews and many other tech websites link to your content, then you must be a good player in that space. If only Wordpress.com blog posts and public subreddits link to you, then you probably are not as relevant. Google uses this improved version of its PageRank algorithm to make it more topically relevant.
Search engines create a topic map for each domain they crawl. Each page mentions specific topics and keywords, so the whole domain can be summarized up as the sum of all of its pages’ keywords and topics, ranked by weight. Therefore, each website in Google’s index should have such topic list and if a website A is linking to your page about topic X, and that same topic is the main subject matter of website A, then that juice flows over to your target page (and domain, as a whole).
To do so, you need to gain links from topically relevant websites, and much less from generalist magazines like Forbes, Business Insider, and the likes. Such websites are too broad to testify of your expertise but definitely bring some trust in your domain nonetheless.
14. Find Page-Level Content Gaps
Content gaps are the measure of topically-relevant terms between your article, and a competitor’s high performing article.
Content depth and topical authority together mean that your website showcases comprehensiveness and full coverage of a particular topic of your choice. Each article focuses on a particular concept’s facet and has its own keyword universe with various expected terms.
Writing an entire article about back pain without mentioning once arthritis shows a gap, for example. Because there is no way of knowing what keywords Google expects for a given topic, the best way to benchmark your blog post is by analyzing what Google shows. Find the best ranking pieces of content for your core topic, and compare them to your blog post. See what phrases have been used by your competitors and not by yourself, and fix this. Add paragraphs that add these missing terms to your entire article, rising your topic breadth and depth!
How to spot content gaps effectively? It takes time to read all the articles and memorize what terms you have used and what words they have used. The simplest and longest way of doing so is to use a spreadsheet with one column for the list of terms and then a column to count each analyzed webpage’s occurrences of each term. Every time you come across the term, increment the count.
Or, you can use topicseed Gap Analyzer which does that automatically and merges very close variants (plurals, inflections, etc) for high accuracy!
Check out the screenshot to see results at a glance between two pages discussing internal links. Within seconds, you spot what your page is completely lacking (gray), very low on (red), and on par or great (green). This was a screenshot of our preview alpha version — it’s got even better now!
15. Find Cluster-Level Content Gaps
When it comes down to content gaps in SEO, content marketers must fill the page-levels gaps between two pages but also cluster gaps. Take your cluster of the main pages pertaining to a given topic, and find a competitor’s main pages pertaining to the very same topic. Again, analyze both groups of pages to find what you are missing, and what you are performant in.
Finding gaps between two pages is hard enough that finding content gaps between topic clusters is almost impossible to do manually. It would take too much time and the accuracy would be questionable. Plus, doing it again every time you or your competitor changes part of the cluster would just be a full-time job.
Here again, we have our amazing SEO Content Gap tool that handles groups of pages rather than individual pages. Customers of topicseed can within a few clicks add web pages to the two groups and find all the keyword gaps to fill.
16. Answer Related Questions
Over the last few years and thanks to Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa, users started asking actual questions to start their quest for information. Yourself, you surely realized how often when asking a question to Google, some answer box appears and directly responds to your question, without the need for you to click anywhere or visit any website.
In order to increase your organic visibility on search engines through this featured boxes, you must be considered topically knowledgeable and trusted. Additionally, in your content, you must clearly state some questions and answer them succinctly. Only Google knows why a paragraph in a website can be featured and how much is based on the domain’s reputation or the content quality.
But, we have noted that asking the question in your article title, or inside the article body with a heading, will increase your chances of appearing in these coveted spots! The answer must be affirmative, informed, and ideally sourced with a reference link. Keep it short so it can appear whole in the box. Use another second paragraph to develop your candidate answer.
Google went as far as adding a “People also ask” box. with plenty relevant questions already shown and a click away from seeing the answer, directly on the page.
17. Publish Different Types of Articles For Each Topic
Content markets do not possess crystal balls. They did not know, a decade ago, that question boxes and featured snippets would be so prevalent today. The same way, today, we have no clue what will dominate the organic SEO game in a decade.
Petty and dodgy tactics can perform well in the short run but will get your manually removed from the rankings soon. And today’s methods may not be tomorrow’s. Therefore, we should always have a higher-level understanding of how events unfold. Topical SEO is the most human (people are expert at a topic), so this is here to stay.
Low-level implementations such as “writing question-answer articles” are very important for the moment in time, and the near future. But to build a dominating SEO engine, you must be able to context switch from the Now, and the Future. The best way to do so is what financial investors have done forever: put your eggs in different baskets.
Write different types of articles, even focusing on the very same keyword. Want to rank high for fighting the writer's block? Write a long-form article (Guide to Fighting the Writer's Block) but also a short listicle (Top 5 Ways Active Writers Are Fighting the Writer's Block). This will not be duplicate content since you are not rewriting or spinning your paragraphs. Instead, you tackle the same problem with two approaches!
Indeed, Google loves to understand a searcher’s intent and provide relevant results for that query, at that time. Sometimes it is showing a very long-form piece of content, and other times it is showing a very short listicle. Offer alternatives of high-quality and let search engines decide what to show whom and when!
18. Study Your Competition’s Topical SEO
Rare are the websites with no competition. So your competitors, too, are working hard to boost their topical SEO and increase their topical authority. Even if you rank higher for most key search queries, they may outperform you in some other aspects.
Most marketers do competitor analysis by listing the new blog posts published and try to beat them (using our tool, for example). This is a great start to make sure they do not take an SEO lead too early on new keywords. But there is more to SEO competitor research! Map out their main hubs and how they link to each other, how often do they publish new content, how do they increase their topicality outside of their own property (answering questions on Quora, hashtags on their tweets, etc). Perhaps their internal linking is more polished, their backlinking strategy is of much higher quality, and so on.
Optionally, you should study how the marketing giants dominate their own topics, even if very different from yours. There is a lot to learn from giants like HubSpot (and their various pillar pages) or ProfitWell (full of case studies and actional insights)!
19. Measure Your Traffic Topically, Too
Finally, to conclude, every marketing effort should be accurately measured in order to review the results in the future. Then, the feedback loop kicks in — review, correct, review again, fine tune, and so on!
Because you have now shifted to a very clustered and grouped content strategy, you should not see how one page performs but rather how a given topic cluster performs. Google Analytics allows you to do so using the Content Grouping feature. Your content groups must mirror your own topic clusters and constantly be updated, either automatically using CMS plugins or custom code, or by using the regular expressions filters available in Google Analytics (works by URL, title, and so on), retroactively.
By measuring and analyzing aggregated data, you can quickly see what topic performs the best, and how you can learn from it to improve other topics on your website. You should also group your content in other ways (authors, format, length, etc). By using Google Analytics, you can drill down at any time to see the exact pages driving the traffic and study how people jump from such pages to the next. Schedule a weekly Sunday morning where you will just dive into all this data to try to understand what works, and what doesn’t.
20. Just Do It!
To conclude, after thousands of words, you need to put everything you have just learned in practice. Crafting these pillar pages, rewriting some of your old content, creating a keyword universe for each topic, finding and filling content gaps, only by doing will you increase your topical authority and boost your topical SEO.
Some parts are easier and quicker to implement… Finding performing gap analyses using our platform takes seconds. But restructuring your entire content inventory’s structure and organization tree may take months to be finished. Take your time, do things well, do things slow. But please, do it so once done, you can reap the benefits of having shifted from keywords to topical SEO!
In linguistics, a synonym is a word or phrase that has an identical meaning than another word or phrase. For example, the verb decrease is a synonym of the verb decline and serene is a synonym of tranquil. Over the years, synonyms in search engine optimization have played very different roles.
Synonyms Used To Be Different Keywords
A few years ago, words were very literally understood by search engines. Back then, algorithms were not very smart and synonyms were not perceived automatically. Humans had to enter the most common synonyms in order to get the algorithm to search for all possibilities.
Content marketers understood that in order to rank for a particular key phrase, never one should use synonyms since they would dilute the presence of the main keyword. Therefore, if you were trying to rank for TV Guide Spain, you would avoid using TV Listings Spain within your page. Instead, you would create another page ranking for this particular variation.
The problem with so many pages targeting so many synonymous terms is that the content from one page to the other was nearly identical. The smartest (yet laziest) would use some text spinner in order to shuffle up the paragraphs but overall, the content was thin. To some extent, plurals and singulars were often times considered to very different keywords, especially for terms were the inflection was unusual (i.e. not a simple letter ‘s’ to remove).
The same went for anchor texts for backlinks. The SEO experts recommended to insist on the main form of the keyword and use synonyms very rarely. Nowadays, this would drive you straight into a brick wall with potential SEO penalties. But years ago, if you wrote an article ranking for synonyms for SEO, you would avoid anchor links such as synonyms in search engine optimization despite both forms conveying the exact same meaning.
Today, Search Engines Understand Synonyms
Over the last years, search engines have immensely increased their fast understanding of unstructured textual content. Natural language processing techniques have boomed and several algorithms have helped automatically understanding words in their context. With that, came the grouping of words that appear in similar contexts (e.g. word2vec), but also the automatic detection of synonyms using latent semantic analysis (paper), or word embeddings (PDF study).
Using these computationally-hungry models and by continuously training them, search engines like Google have started to serve similar results for synonym-based queries. Sure, the set of results may differ a tiny bit but they are overall the same lists of pages. And even better now, synonym detection is automatically handled by machine learning models that are always analyzing new documents and web pages in order to fine-tune the synonym detection of their main search feature.
As a direct consequence, today, instead of stuffing your page of a given keyword, you should use different variations throughout your article. This has vastly improved the quality and readability of articles themselves. Think of yourself searching on Google: you do not want to read the same keyword in each sentence, it’s just bad writing. But until recently, it was an effective way of improving organic search rankings.
Leverage Synonyms For SEO In 5 Steps
With synonyms being easily understood by machines, content writers have struggled using them properly in order to gain a search engine optimization advantage. Most content writers will simply ignore synonyms and use them here and there without strategizing.
If you oversee a team of writers, make sure you let them know about the below steps.
Step 1 — List Synonyms for the Focus Keyword
As always, each article written tackles an outlined problematic and has one or a couple of core key phrases in mind. As explained a gazillion of times, focus topics and core keywords do not mean stuffing them at every line — they are just a rope guideline to avoid losing focus! Take the main keywords and list relevant synonyms.
For example, if you are writing about the Top 50 Tips For Structuring a Blog Post, you may want to list synonyms for:
structuring — outlining, breaking down, and organizing
blog post — article, blog content, blog page, piece of content, and on-page
Just these few variations when combined together will offer you over a dozen new possibilities to mention your initial subject matter.
Step 2 — Use Many Synonyms Within an Article
Depending on the length of your blog post, you may want to use all or only some of the synonyms you have found. As discussed just before, you now have a dozen ways of referring to your original problem; using them all can seem tedious and read unnaturally. As always, with machines getting closer to human understanding of language, you want to write naturally without forcing or stuffing keywords and key phrases.
Therefore, if your word count is too low to use all variations and combinations, save some synonyms for the next steps. Especially because even with today’s modern SEO guidelines recommending the use of variations, you still want to use your main key phrase a few more times than the rest. Ideally, at important spots such as the first paragraph, the last one, the article’s title, one of the headings, and so on.
When using synonyms throughout your piece of content, place these at the same valuable spots you would with your core keyword(s).
Step 3 — Add Synonyms to your Internal Linking Strategy
Besides what is on your blog post, Google also learns what a page is about by understanding the different anchor texts you have used internally. When you add a link from a blog post to another blog post, you make a few words clickable, right? Well, these words are generally very much pertaining to whatever is covered in the target page. And, to some extent, both pages must be somewhat related since they are linked together.
A website is a universe of keywords, pages, and links; also called a directed graph in the field of information retrieval. It is made up of entities (pages, keywords) and relationships (links). The idea for search engines is to take a given page, see what incoming links it has, and what keywords are used in this universe, to then assess what a page is about. This is a modern way of mapping the web, and it is relatively complex in terms of computation needs.
Therefore, by using the best internal linking strategy throughout your website, you can help Google create its own topical map of your website’s pages and topic clusters. Use the right anchor text, use different synonyms when linking to a given page, and link from topically relevant pages in order to boost your topical SEO as a whole.
Step 4 — Use Keyword Synonyms for Backlinks
External backlinks from other websites pointing to a blog post of yours also use an anchor text when creating a link. Ideally, you would also prefer to use your core keyword along with its synonyms to have a more comprehensive approach. Search engine optimization has always been an on-site performance meets off-site signals, and backlinks are the strongest off-site signal of all.
An important point though is that you do not control anchor texts and web properties your links will appear on. And if you shoot emails, even gentle, to the authors, they may mark them as spammy. We are all grateful to be mentioned on another website so let’s not abuse their kindness by requesting a change of wording. Instead, write guest posts in which you may use your preferred anchor text.
Step 5 — Use Stemming & Inflections
In linguistic morphology, stemming reduces any given word to its root form (also called stem, or base). In other terms, stemming a words means removing its prefix and suffix in order to keep the base form that still conveys the same sort of meaning as the original word.
Some examples of word stemming include:
writer, written, and writing => write
dog breeding, dog breeds, and dog breeders => dog breed
ran down, and running down => run down
fishing, fished, and fisher => fish
For SEO purposes, you do want to use stemming and inflections to transform a word in order to avoid using the very same form every single time. Additionally, by using inflections, you may explore new article ideas to write about. For example, if you write a blog post about 7 Tips When Attending Dog Shows, stem the main two words (dog show, attend) and generate new content ideas from these, such as Dog Showing from an Attendee’s Perspective and Attending vs Showing — What Should Novice Dog breeders Do?
Content clustering a modern buzzword in the SEO world and a valuable topic modeling strategy. Search engine optimization only means being perceived, by search engines algorithms and by your visitors, as a knowledgeable source for a given search query. Therefore, your SEO strategy should not consist of stuffing keywords all over the place, but rather group pages together in order to demonstrate comprehensiveness of information, as well as your depth of expertise.
The action of grouping related pages together is exactly what clustering content is about.
Inexperienced blog editors, whether solo bloggers or brand marketers, may have published dozens or hundreds of blog posts over the years. And when you just started out, you did not know exactly the boundaries of each topic you would cover. As content editors, we write a few articles, see how the content performs on various business-driven metrics (e.g. organic reach, social shares, conversions) and if we judge them positively, we will write more about them.
Most of us have worked that way and this is a right way to do it at first. Testing the water, do more of what works, and less of what does not. The problem is that such methodology produces a heap of unstructured content. Articles are written a long time ago with no clear vision on how your blog will cover, in depth, the topic.
List Your High-Level Topics
To build a content clustering strategy, you must understand what topics is your content about. And if you have hundreds of thousands of blog posts, that will take some time.
You can automate the task using our content analyzer, or if you are a programmer, take advantage of natural language processing APIs and content classifiers such as Amazon Comprehend or IBM Watson. When done manually, this is a tedious task but in a way, more accurate. You know what your brand or blog is about, and you know what to ignore in each article. An automated content classifier used for clustering a collection of documents will process the whole corpus, and provide topics based on the co-occurrence of words. If you have a dieting blog, you may find some ingredients and vegetables amongst these suggested topics. Yet, you do not want a content cluster around “Bananas” on your blog.
If you use a content management system such as WordPress, you probably have been using post tags and categories. These are great ways to get started without having to re-read each article again. Although your future topic structure may differ from these categories, the latter will allow you to crunch hundreds of blog posts fast.
We’re talking about high-level topics, here. The final list should not be granular. You only want the main top three, five, or ten topics. The actual count really depends on your blog’s size and field.
Group Related Articles Together
Once you have your list of core topics your brand has been writing about, cluster content around it by finding the relevant articles. Ideally, you want most of your pieces of content to belong to a single or couple of content clusters. Inevitably, some articles will equally belong to three or more topics and that’s fine, too.
In the end, you have topics paired with a bag of articles that are relevant to them. The more quality articles you have in one of those bags, the more depth of content you have reached for this particular topic. A topic can be represented as its Wikipedia page, and the depth of content would mean having written in-depth articles about each subsection, and the main pages linked from the article. Use our WikiBrowser to see outlines and related topics!
At this stage, if you have more than thirty blog posts in a single topic cluster, you may start thinking about having sub-clusters for nested topics. Most content libraries do not have such a need for granularity, though. But if you do, you then need to have a depth of content coverage for both topics, making it harder for yourself.
Find Content Gaps Within Each Content Cluster
A group of related articles, called a content cluster, sits under a focus topic. This is what you have right now. Take that cluster and find the gaps in it. In other words, you want to find the article ideas you should have written about, but have not yet. Because up until now, your content plan was a lot of freestyling, you had not properly planned for content depth and topical authority.
Content gaps are these content cavities that you did not write about because, at the time, you weren’t sure this entire topic was going to be a stream of organic visitors. But now that it is one, you want to fill up these holes in your overall topic coverage. Content gaps are not necessarily filled with 10x content. Sometimes, a short, to-the-point, question-answer article can precisely address what was missing. Remember that search engines, nowadays, receive more and more questions when user search for a piece of information. Therefore, writing in a Q&A-style can drastically improve your organic reach in SERPS.
Besides finding content gaps yourself, you could use our topicseed platform. Indeed, you can add your cluster in our Gap Analyzer and compare it to another cluster (your competitor’s, for example). Within seconds, you can see at-a-glance what key phrases they used that you did not, and vice-versa.
Other ways to find content gaps include using autocomplete tools from Google or Amazon to see what suggestions come up when typing your core topic, Wikipedia browsing, and a read through your emails and blog comments.
Create a Pillar Page For Each Cluster
Having a lot of unstructured content clustered together is a good start but you must offer an entry point for your audience, and search engine indexers. A pillar page is the main page for a given topic on your website. It explains in details what the main facets are for this subject matter. It must be structured with basic principles in mind:
the most important ideas should be placed higher up
the top-level headings represent the core facets
use H3 and H4 tags if you have a lot of sub-sections
use HTML formatting (bold, italic, quotes) to make the content easily digestible
And then, start adding links from the pillar page to the other relevant blog articles from that same content cluster. Think of your pillar page as the outline of the topic covered, and your related articles as the actual content. Do not give it all right in the pillar page, just tease and link up! You got it — the pillar page is the entry point but visitors can read a more in-depth coverage of a particular facet by reading the associated blog posts (already published months or years ago).
Improve Your Cluster’s Internal Linking Strategy
A blog’s internal linking strategy should not only focus on links from the pillar page to the relevant articles. Internal linking, for SEO purposes but also for discovery purposes, should be done naturally. If one article clearly eludes to something developed in another one of your blog posts in the same cluster, link to it.
An example of bad internal linking strategy is having a blog post about “caffeine overdosing”, search your blog for every single mention of “caffeine overdosing”, and link these mentions up to that original post. This is not what internal linking is, and if it was, this could easily be achieved programmatically. A link should be added whenever you feel like reading this piece of content, right now, would be helpful to understand the next sentence, paragraph, or section.
Users should almost be prompted to read an internal link before carrying on, this is how important the linked article should be. If the related articles aren’t required, just limit yourself to linking up to the pillar page. Which, in turn, will link back to all these related pages. That way, you give a lot more weight to the pillar page and this is exactly what we want to do: make the pillar page the gate to the rest of your content cluster’s published posts.
Content depth is an arbitrary score or rating of how comprehensive the coverage of a specific topic is within a piece of content. Content breadth is an arbitrary grading of how many related subjects are you covering within your content.
And this distinction is important to make and establish from the beginning. Effective topical authority can only be gained when you use both content depth and content breadth in your overall content strategy for rapid search engine optimization gains. However, because most content writers prefer to write a little bit about many things rather than write a lot about one thing, you end up with a too little substance spread very thin.
Content depth should be the urgent priority for your content marketing strategy. Start by dominating your own core topics, before venturing across the pond and write about linked subject matters. Otherwise, you are the opposite of an authority as the definition states that an authority is “a person with extensive or specialized knowledge about a subject; an expert”. Lastly, do not mistake article depth vs. article length: a blog post’s extreme wordcount has nothing to do with its content depth.
Assess How Deep Is Your Content
The first task on your list, right now, is to shortlist your core topics. What are you trying to be an expert on? Then, go through each one of your pieces of content and understand how well each blog post is covering its focus topic(s). Not how many times specific keywords appear, or how well the article is outlined and structured.
Put yourself in the shoes of an ignorant reader who seeks information. Read your article. And ask yourself how in-depth was the content you have written? I know the excuse you will come up with: this was written for beginners, therefore, it shouldn’t be too in-depth. And you are correct. Not every blog post is about absolute content depth otherwise we would only write one 10,000-word-long article, once and for all. But then, how well your beginner-level content pointing to your expert-level content?
In other words, each article should reach an incredible level of content depth for its expertise level. And then, provide further reading (i.e. links) to gain more knowledge, and depth. A lot of content editors write a beginner’s blog post and wait to see it perform well in order to write a more advanced sequel. Wrong. Give all the value so search engines can grade you highly on their authority scale for your core topics. Yes, it is a risk and you may write a dozen of articles on a specific topic that will never really rank at the top of SERPs, but reaching content depth is the first step towards SEO gains.
Remember that skyscraper content and 10x content are not necessarily the answer. These content writing strategies state that in order to beat another piece of content, you need to write 10x more. Either in quantity with a 10x word count or in quality by putting times more information within your own piece of content. Such articles often become unreadable and discourage visitors from absorbing all the knowledge. The best alternative is the create pillar pages centered around core topics, and several articles dealing with each specific section in depth. This is deep content powered by a smart internal linking strategy and search engines love that in this day and age where attention spans are short! With that being said, avoid writing 600-word articles!
Rewrite With Content Depth In Mind
Once you know which articles are lacking depth of knowledge and information, it is time to rethink each one. For each article, make a list of what essential pieces of information or data are missing. Then decide where to fit them, and decide whether the article would benefit from a full rewrite or not. As a rule of thumb, if you need to change a third of your article, you may need to rewrite it entirely. Of course, this does not mean erasing all work done prior, but it means starting afresh! Trying to fit deep content into an existing blog post gives you constraints so doing it from scratch can actually be easier to fight thin content.
As explained above, make sure you do not force yourself to write a much longer article to reach a magic word count. And if you do, it has to be natural. In many cases, articles written months or years ago may need some upkeeping: trimming the fat and removing parts that are not bringing much value. Replace these with your newer and deeper content.
All content writers know that when you open Google Docs, WordPress, or your text editor of choice, you will inevitably count your focus keywords’ frequency. Although I understand (yet question) the value of keywords in modern SEO, do not become obsessed with reaching a magic number for your keywords. No reader coming from Google is out there counting how often your keywords are appearing. And search engine algorithms will penalize you for writing for robots, rather than humans.
With the massive rise of voice searches, users tend to use full questions for their search queries. What used to be top bottled water brands is now OK google, what is the best bottled-water brand in Texas? The point being, keywords are losing traction to leave space for a more natural language understanding of a blog post’s textual content, and meaning.
Yes, Content Depth and Breadth Overlap
“A topic can be defined as the company it keeps.” A very accurate saying loved by ontologists within the fields of computational linguistics, and information science. In simpler terms, a topic and all the terminology it is encompassing will inevitably overlap with related topics. Which, in turn, will form topic clusters.
For example, it is obvious that despite being two different topics, digital advertising and content marketing share some common phrases and terms. Inevitably, a website picking one as its core topic will use words in some blog posts that will identify the article as belonging to both topics, with a specific weight for each.
A keyword, phrase, or term, is not a prisoner to a single concept at all. This is how algorithms in natural language understanding can understand how two topics are related (e.g. read about topic modeling). Each topic has a specific vocabulary, a list of words and phrases commonly used in its context, and some of these terms are present in different vocabularies.
Therefore, content depth and content breadth are not to be opposed. Content marketers should use both strategies in order to reach ultimate topical authority over their choice of subject matters.
Depth of Content = Quality + Frequency
Up until recently, long-form blog posts generally were evergreen articles that generated a constant stream of organic traffic for a website. This was a lead magnet generation strategy which worked well: hire a writer, include the right keywords, reach over a 5,000-word word count, and hit publish. Then, wait.
Nowadays, in-depth content requires more effort over time in order to pay off. Writing a big article, as good as it is, will not get your anywhere near the level of topical breadth required by Google to rank you first. Instead, your content marketing plan should be about having:
a comprehensive pillar page covering a unique topic, and
narrow-focused children articles to dig deeper.
Search engines also look at how often you publish about a specific topic, and when was the last time it was written about. Nobody likes a graveyard blog, it just makes the reader lose trust; as if the writer was not good enough, therefore had no traffic, before entirely giving up. Deep content requires a sustained effort on your part to always new find ways to write about a specific subject. Sure, it will be easy at first. But what about five years later? Well, you will still need to hit publish, all about the very same topics you already covered years ago.
Tools and platforms such as topicseed are here to help you find new article ideas pertaining to your core topics within a few clicks and a few minutes. The number of web pages, Wikipedia articles, and pieces of content, our machine-learning algorithms can analyze in seconds would take you months to digest. Our topicgraph finds closely related concepts in order for your domain to reach topical authority through content depth and content breadth.
Search engines put a lot of effort into identifying a page’s noun phrases and scoring each one in relation to the others found within the same textual piece of content. Noun phrases are at the top of a linguist’s arsenal. Studying the noun phrases and noun compounds in an article is an important part of computing fields called information retrieval and entity extraction.
Most keywords content editors and marketers try to target fall into one of two categories:
Nominal phrases — a noun as head token completed with its modifiers and other nouns
Verb phrases — a syntactic unit comprised of a verb and its dependent words
Nominal phrases, or noun phrases, are the most common syntactic unit in most textual content. The root is made up of a noun, and it can be modified by other nouns, adjectives, qualifiers, and determiners. While a single noun is dog, a noun phrase could be a fast hunting dog.
Verb phrases, on the other hand, have a verb as root token and all of its dependencies. For example, hunts is a verb and a verb phrase could be the dog hunts the small fowl. It is often a subject-predicate-object situation where we have a subject, the action performed, and what it is performed on. You can see on this verb phrase example that the small fowl is a nominal phrase, too.
What Are Noun Phrases?
A noun phrase is a group of words comprised of a nominal head token, and acting as a subject, object, or prepositional object in a sentence. Also referred to as a nominal phrase, such sequence of words is often used in computational linguistics in order to extract the main topics discussed in a textual piece of content (e.g. transcribed video, blog post, research paper, etc).
The structure of a noun phrase can be broken down into different parts depending on what application you are interested in:
article — e.g. the, a, our…
quantifiers — e.g. some, a bunch of, many, ten…
modifiers — e.g. best, luxury, dog, aluminum, heavy-duty…
head token — e.g. dog, dog clippers, laptop…
prepositional phrase — e.g. in London, for professionals…
Noun phrases and their saliency within a body of text have been studied over the years, if not decades. Indeed, because they give away so much information on what a document is about, many techniques have been elaborated to know which ones matter, and which ones should be dismissed. Once you have the right list of candidates noun phrases, you need to clean each one up. This class of tasks entails removing words that bring no further information about the subject matter, including:
stopwords — e.g. incredible car dryers
articles — e.g. the best car dryers
arbitrary parts — not every marketer will care about the same parts of a noun phrase
The entire list of noun phrases from a blog post, or any document for that matter, conveys most of the meaning from that given text. While verbs and other lexical items matter very much, paying attention to your head tokens and the adjectives surrounding them will matter hugely for search engines at indexing.
Using Noun Phrases in Blog Posts
In a sentence, noun phrases often represent either the subject or the object. In English, and this is also true in other languages, objects and subjects are often the most important parts of the contents. When you remove pronouns and determiners to then list all noun phrases, that somewhat summarizes the essence of the text at hand.
Verbs are great for intent and actions but the targets of these actions are defined using noun phrases. All modern search engines work hard on their part-of-speech tagging algorithms in order to identify, as precisely as possible, nouns and modifiers in a text. That way, they can offer very precise search results, and then focus on verbal phrases to catch the intent of the document being indexed.
As a content editor or content writer, your initial task is to shortlist the main head tokens for your article’s subject matter. That list could include only one noun, or seven, or more; this really depends on how long your article is going to be. Once this list of root nouns is established, choose the right modifiers for each. These modifiers will broaden up, narrow down, or bound the scope of your head token(s). Generally, they are either adjectives or nouns.
For example, a head token could be laptop and its selected modifiers could be professional-grade, Apple, and aluminum. During the writing, you will want to put the emphasis on the head token and surround it with its modifiers. Avoid always using the same modifier unless your article requires it. If you write a blog post about professional-grade laptops, you will inevitably use this noun phrase repeatedly; and that’s totally fine.
If you are a customer of the topicseed platform, you will see an advanced syntactic interpretation of every document you have in your library. Our machine learning-powered interpreter gives each word (token) its part-of-speech tag and analyzes each noun phrase, verbal phrase, and their dependencies. That way, you can quickly see what words get the most attention in your article, and improve your writing style to become more pertinent, and to-the-point.
Building a topic cluster on your blog requires you to write several pieces of content covering a core topic, as well as related concepts. It is a must-do for any topical SEO expert. Using the right words and writing style matters. Yet, internal linking is the most powerful tool at your disposal to show search engines how your article relates to other pages.
Each article you write about covers (hopefully) at least one topic. You will generally mention a few keywords carefully handpicked for that article. But this article is not the only article covering or mentioning, the given topic. Instead, you generally have multiple blog posts discussing multiple topics and some topics may appear in many of your published pages.
Google has its very own knowledge graph where it already knows what subject matters a given concept is connected to, and how strong is that bond. However, you need to show Google that you also have that expertise in your domain. How is this done, you ask? Well, by using a solid and constantly updated internal linking strategy.
There are various strategies you can implement in order to boost your internal linking signals. Most people adopt one of the below plans without realizing it, and many more mix them to suit their content marketing strategy.
Interlink All Related Pages
The easiest internal linking strategy in SEO is to simply add links to related pages. For instance, if you have written about coffee beans in the past, and are today writing about coffee machines, there is a high correlation between both pages so adding a link from one to the other makes total sense. If you write many articles related to Coffee, you will have (without even realizing) created a topic cluster through such interlinking.
The main downside for this internal linking SEO strategy is the fact that you are giving a wrong sense of priority or importance to older pages. Oldest pages receive inbound links from newer articles. Yet, old pages do not have outbound links since the content was nonexistent back then. A good piece of content tends to receive inbound links, it’s a known truth in SEO. But that’s harder to do for newer articles you publish! Unless you decide to manually go through your old content inventory and add links to your recent articles. And trust me, you should.
Additionally, your are meshing your content without real thought-through effort or planning. What I mean by that is that you add links to relevant pages without a conscious effort to structure how all of these relationships will be perceived by search engines and users.
One Link Up, Many Links Down
Instead of simply adding links to relevant pages, the content editor or blogger should plan its content strategy ahead of time, or revamp it now. The idea is to create a pillar page to cover a given important topic for your brand or blog. These pillar pages are hubs that will link out to articles answering precise questions, or blog posts digging even deeper. Yet, all main pieces of information should appear on your pillar article. For example, if you have a blog about dog food, you may want to arrange your content structure the following way:
A pillar page specializes and comprehensively covers a specific topic. This topic must be broad enough to be written about and narrowed down over time. If your pillar page is the end all be all of that topic, then it is probably too narrow. The pillar page should link down to all of its direct children articles — think of it as a textual category page. Each article should be linked to from the right textual context. Therefore, structuring and outlining pillar pages in a human-readable way is crucial for search engines to understand the context of each link. That’s the “many links down” part.
The “one link up” simply says that each article should link to its parent pillar page. Obviously, one article can overlap different pillar pages so add links accordingly. You do also want to add some links to other articles but very carefully as otherwise you will make the pillar page less relevant, and blur out the entire hierarchy of your article. You should want to link to other articles only if they are a “perfect match” to avoid dilution.
Following this strategy from the beginning of your blog’s life will help you keep a clear structure. Additionally, it will make browsing your website easier for visitors, and search engines. The information about a given subject matter resides in one lane with the main page, and plenty of articles to back that cornerstone article up. It is easier to navigate and find the piece of information you are after. The last thing you want to offer your prospects is a blog section with endless “Previous” and “Next” pages. Such a spartan setup only works for small blogs.
Make Old Content Great Again
The problem I faced while running a content-driven website is that I published hundreds of blog posts over time. New articles are easy to link out from. Indeed, you have a library of hundreds of existing blog posts covering many facets of your domain. But what about the older content? There is no mystery here… You must go back and rework on every single old article.
Mainly, when editing old articles, you want to:
remove outdated parts and inaccurate data,
rework on your old article’s outline and titles
write more information (you gained expertise since then, right?), and
add links to the relevant fresher pieces of content now published.
Going back in time is a very tedious task. Especially for those having hundreds of published articles living on your blog. Yet, it is very much needed for multiple reasons.
Google and other search engines do not enjoy websites having inaccurate or badly written content. When we start a blog, we generally write articles in a certain way and then learn how to do better. These old pages are most likely poorly written compared to your modern posts. Rewrite these old posts in a more actualized style. Change the outline as well to structure the content better. Alter introduction and conclusion to make them more to-the-point. And at last, add all the missing links. Surely, you wrote again about topics this old piece of content covered and link that new content up. If you have created pillar pages and hubs in your content strategy, absolutely add links to these!
The way SEO is going to unfold over the next months, and years, is by shifting the effort away from literal keywords, and over to topic clusters. Meaning, instead of focusing on specific phrases and words, content editors should plan a topic-centric content strategy. Writing more about subject matters pertaining to their core expertise.
Using topic clusters, a brand can increase organic traffic and visibility as a whole rather than for low hanging keywords. This is a more wholesome and comprehensive approach that search engines are now rewarding. Keyword-driven SEO strategies are noticeably to lose momentum with every single new update to Google algorithms.
Topic Clusters Aren’t Keyword-Driven
The problem for smart search engine optimizers wanting to move away from keywords is that the concept of “topic” is difficult to grasp. After all, one could say that a topic is the sum of its keywords. We all know the famous and sought-after two-word keywords which could also be considered as target topics (e.g. dog food, or health supplements).
Yet, defining every single concept using keywords is a wrong reflex to have for the future. With the rise of voice search, the user intent is more explicit, and the search queries a lot more precise. it is not uncommon to see in the search console full-on sentences and questions used to land on your website. And because visitors are, nowadays, using many more words, search engines must clean that input to understand the true meaning behind a search query, not just the words themselves.
New user behaviors have forced search engines to move away from keywords and get into true natural language understanding. What was impossible a few years ago is now already in action thanks to huge progress by Google and Amazon on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Our platform at topicseed uses Google’s very own Natural Language API to understand the text better.
Incredible NLP algorithms give search engines the power to beat black hat SEO and other keyword stuffing marketers. Now, Google can almost instantly know, without focusing on specific keywords, how many articles your blog has covered a given subject matter.
A Topic Is Not Alone
A mistake many content writers make when getting accustomed to the idea of topical authority is to write a gazillion articles about the very same narrow topic. While this is important especially to build pillar pages and sub-content, topic authority works only if you also offer an in-depth coverage of related topics, too. If your brand makes coffee machines, you must absolutely cover all types of coffee machines but also coffee as a whole. Torrefaction, beans, roasting, grounding, and so on.
Therefore, most new-age SEO adepts prefer to use the words topic clusters, rather than simple topics. A cluster is a group of closely related subject matters and concepts that would naturally be mentioned together, at some point. Obviously, these topical relationships are not binary and can score more or less than the next one. A good way to think about topic clusters is by visiting the Wikipedia page that represents the most your business, brand, or expertise. Read through the first few paragraphs and write down the pages linked from there.
The important rule when working with a universe of related concepts is to not get lost and confused during your topic research phase. Do not go down the rabbit hole that we all went down: one topic leading to another one, and another one, and it never ends. A good rule of thumb is to only cover direct connections. If you take the example of the Wikipedia page above, any blue link is part of this cluster while the main topic is Machine Learning for our hypothetical brand blog. If I visit these pages, there will be more related topics. So depending on how broad your subject matter is and how large your content team is, you should put suitable limits on how many concepts you want to cover.
The idea is not to become an expert or a topical authority in all of these related concepts, instead, you want to mention these topics in order to reinforce your domain-specific expertise on the main subject (Machine Learning in this example). Like the title suggests, a topic is the sum of its relationships, not of its keywords.
Pick Your Battles Carefully
If you lead a content team of dozens of writers, you can go broad, deep, and write about the same topic a dozen of times. And you would still nail it! But realistically, most content marketers or content writers can only write so much every month. Therefore, choosing the most relevant subjects does matter to avoid scattered effort.
Generally, if your website and blog have been running for a while, you should know what articles perform the best. Build around these top three articles. Find one, two or three specific topics each article was about and start creating clusters around them. Do you have some related topics overlapping that come up several times? These are your priority! It’s common sense, really. Such topics are second-citizen in your best-performing articles and seem to reappear in several pieces of content, so it is worth digging a little deeper and write a couple of new blog posts about them as first-class citizens.
Trial and error is your best friend. Some content editors follow metrics and traffic stats while others follow their guts. Generally, the latter type of marketer will win in the long run but may not see mind-blowing results right away. Just like back in the days, people targeted long-tail keywords to rank high and fast, while short-tail keywords often took years to catch.
Going narrow and going broad are not incompatible in your overall content schedule. Plan for both and the broader you go, the longer the content should be while tackling very precise and narrow problematics can be solved in a shorter form. Use different writing styles when covering the same topic several times, add videos, infographics, and link to resources in the same domain. All of that shows to search engines that you have a depth of knowledge but also a breadth of styles that can appeal to all personas (newbies, experts, and so on).