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
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
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 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,
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,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!