In today’s SEO, where context is more important than keywords, performance measurement often still comes down to specific keyword terms and phrases that a user searches.
While you don’t have to chase the algorithm for specific terms and work on variations and phrasing to jockey for position against competitors, you still have to care about both relevancy and authority.
The relevancy of content to the subject matter and the ambiguity of what context really means versus an individual keyword approach have led to looser strategies and a renewed need to stay focused on on-page optimization.
While trusting that Google will understand the context of our content as you build a strong brand and positive user experience, you’re still faced with the need to:
- Determine the hierarchy of our content.
- How to organize our content.
- How to build that context to ultimately rank for multiple keywords that will meet our conversion goals.
The need to optimize and focus on keywords is as important as ever even though the importance of certain optimization techniques has changed.
1. Know Your Current Content
Once you’ve established your conversion goals, arranged your analytics house, and conducted keyword research, you’re ready to organize your keyword data into meaningful topics.
You can find sets of terms on the same topic and group them together. You won’t need to do stemming or use all of the literal variations of the terms and its plural or singular versions, but you need to know which sets of terms are related to a topic.
When running an e-commerce site, this likely falls into top-level terms for the most general topics of the niche or industry that your site sells products in, product categories, brands, other filtering or grouping options for products, and ultimately at the product level itself.
Most B2B sites follow a pattern as well with top-level business industry terms, product or service categories, and the products or services themselves.
With keywords grouped into topics, it’s possible to take the important next step of mapping your keywords to existing pages of content or conducting a content audit.
My go-to process is to run a crawl of the existing site structure with Screaming Frog, download the HTML page results into Excel, and then get to work putting topics and terms out to the side of specific pages. Issues with gaps (in terms of pages for the number of topics and keyword terms) often emerge quickly, allowing for the planning of additional content.
When you know you have content gaps and need to create more, that’s when you can turn around and quickly search to see which websites own the top of the SERPs for those topics and draw inspiration (without copying them) for ways to fill the gaps with your own content and make decisions based on priority.
2. Optimize Site Architecture
Knowing where you stand with content and having a plan for filling gaps is the start, but won’t get you far before you realize you need to figure out how to organize the content. Bruce Clay’s concept of siloing still has solid principles for helping get hierarchy and focus right for your site (though some aspects of how it is done are different today).
Balancing user experience, priority of product/service offerings, and topical keyword search volume (audience demand), build out your site hierarchy working top to bottom going from most general to most specific. As noted earlier, most sites are already built this way naturally. However, when SEO isn’t involved, site navigation and structure is often dictated by an internal or organizational view of what we think is most important rather than what our prospects are searching for and how they are searching.
By taking an approach that looks at essentially any page at any level on the site as an entrance point and landing page for one or more topical keywords, you’re able to cast a wider net in terms of rankings and visibility.
When you try to rank for too many terms with a single page or section of the site, you will cannibalize your own efforts and dilute your message. Stone Temple Consulting recently went in depth on how to recognize cannibalization.
We’re far from the days of targeting a keyword per page, but at the same time you can’t expect to rank for a wide range of topics and terms with a small set of pages and going in the direction of “less is more” when it comes to content.
3. Do Your On-Page Optimization
It is surprising to me how many SEO campaigns I have seen recently that have neglected the basics of on-page optimization. These SEO basics and best practices still apply.
You have to go deeper than just trying to produce great content and organize it well top to bottom in the site. When you’re building context for the user and Google, you have to ensure proper categorization.
The last thing I want is for pages on my site to provide a bad user experience. If a potential customer is searching for whiskey gifts for groomsmen in their wedding but don’t yet know what type of product they want and they end up landing on a specific whiskey barrel page that outranked the category page, they are more likely to bounce.
When you’re building context for the user and Google, you have to ensure proper categorization. The last thing you want is for pages on your site to provide a bad user experience.
If a potential customer is searching for whiskey gifts for groomsmen in their wedding but don’t yet know what type of product they want and they end up landing on a very specific whiskey barrel page that outranked the category page, they are more likely to bounce.
There is still power in the on-page variables. The focus isn’t on having a single tag or body copy keyword density that will move the needle alone, however, with all factors working together with architecture and on-page optimization, you can present a solid set of content regarding relevancy on our particular subject matter.
When you have everything in great shape, you get to spend time on more granular details of optimization and test to see how they impact rankings.
4. Don’t Forget the Rest of SEO
When your information architecture is in alignment with your strategy for building context and when you’re in good shape from an on-page optimization standpoint, you can focus on fine details and single variable testing changes.
You don’t want to stop here and be short sighted in your approach though. It is important to remember the rest of your SEO strategy including aspects of “authority” that work together with the “relevancy” that you have built.
When you have a balanced website and great content from top to bottom, you can now attract links to pages other than your homepage, utilizing off-page ranking strategies that are targeted to specific topics deeper within the site without worry of dilution or cannibalization, shifting the intent of a page in the determination of the search engines from one topic or subtopic to another.
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