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The Death of Keywords? Why Topic Clusters are Now the Best Approach for Your Content Strategy

It’s official: The use of keywords as we know them is becoming a thing of the past. In response to changing consumer behaviour and search engine algorithms, HubSpot has announced that as of May, their keywords tool will be no more. By declaring that they will be ‘sunsetting’ this previously vital element of content creation and SEO strategies, the inbound marketing colossus has refocused to launch its Content Strategy tool in its place.

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Ignoring the terrible marketing jargon (why say ‘sunsetting’ when you can say ‘ending’?), this is something that will change how we go about creating content to rank well in search.

To put it simply, the use of single-word keywords had already become outdated and a little irrelevant. Where once we included keywords into our content to make sure it matched the exact typed searches of consumers, that no longer works, because that is not how searches are conducted, or results ranked, anymore.

Machine learning, artificial intelligence, smarter search engines that recognise a user’s intent, and the rise of voice search are big new trends in inbound marketing, and they have all changed how people use Google and other search engines. It stands to reason, then, that the strategies we use must also change to satisfy this shift.

This development is not new. More than a year ago, as this blog from Impact discusses, Google decided it would be pulling its Content Keyword function in its search console. The reason was the same: It no longer served the purpose it was designed for.

The entire purpose of search engines such as Google is to deliver the results people want to find when they search for information, but over the last decade or so, the results we tended to get were becoming less due to their relevance, and more due to the ability of marketers to play the system and optimise their content to reach that coveted first page of results. Not to mention the appearance of paid-for content that sits on top of those results.

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That means the results we sometimes saw were from companies and agencies who were great at creating an online presence, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were great at providing the content a user actually wanted or needed. That had to change, and so it did, with algorithms now recognising what it is users are actually looking for, and providing them with the most helpful results based on not just their location, but their intent.

Matching Content to Intent

Of course, in order to handle the ways in which search results have changed, we as inbound marketers need to change our approach to creating the content that consumers want in a way that answers their true intent. Long-tail keywords can help because they better reflect the phrases or queries used, but they are not an answer in themselves.

As the internet is such a vast depository of information with countless variations on any and every topic, it has become almost impossible to cater to each of these query elements in the traditional keyword strategy, and create individual pieces of content that will suit users at every stage of the buyer journey.

How do you reach your audience and get found in search now? By changing to a topic cluster strategy. Search engines want to provide the most relevant information to its users, and they want you to help them by organising your content in such a way that it outlines clearly and comprehensively what it is your business does, what it offers, the expertise and authority you have, and how you can help people with their challenges or needs.

If your best-performing web page includes all of this information and branches out with links to variations or sub-sets of your key content, it stands to reason that it will rank well for many, many keywords, as they will be intrinsically linked to your most useful content.

How Do You Create a Topic Cluster?

The first step is to look through all of your existing content and categorise it according to topic. That means, for example, finding all of your articles about content creation, and using that broad topic as the basis for a pillar piece that touches on the many aspects and sub-topics it involves, from blog writing ideas to optimisation to CTAs, and so on.

Your pillar piece should include links to each of these sub-section blogs, and within each individual blog, you should also add the same anchor text with a link back to the pillar piece, so that the search engines can recognise that it is part of the cluster.

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Put simply, if Google can more easily find you and verify your relevance and authority through a structured content map that prioritises a main topic and its related pages, the higher you will rank, and the higher you rank, the better it is for your business when it comes to attracting website traffic and generating leads.

2 Things to Remember About Keywords

Of course, ranking well does not mean, and shouldn’t be taken as, the ultimate success. Sure, we want to be on the first page of Google, but it is not the be all and end all of inbound marketing. For instance, a high search result position for a query that has very little search volume won’t generate any new customers because not enough qualified leads will look at it. It’s the digital marketing equivalent of the conundrum of the tree falling in the woods, and whether it still makes a noise if there is nobody there to hear it. Your content must, therefore, not just rank well, it must continue to be great, helpful, informative and relevant.

Also, it is important to remember that while keywords do not perform in the same way they used to, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of their death are an exaggeration. They are not completely redundant. They should still be a necessary part of your content strategy and SEO, because they determine what it is you should be writing about, and highlight the key terms you are using within your pillar piece and sub-section blogs.

A New Tool for a New Approach to Content

Pulling together all of your existing content to form pillar pieces and topic clusters can take time, and is not the most thrilling of exercises, but it needs to be done, and so any tools that can help make this process less painful is welcome. Thankfully, as we mentioned earlier, with the passing of the keyword tool in HubSpot comes the arrival of the Content Strategy Tool. So, what can this do?

In general, it helps to plan and carry out a content strategy built to suit the ways today’s search engines work.

On a practical level, it enables you to identify the key topics that are most relevant to your business and your market by crawling through your site and suggesting the topics you should be writing about, based on relevance, competition and popularity.

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Once you have these topics, you can then use the tool to organise pillar content and topic clusters of web pages and blogs based on them to boost your presence and rank in search engines, bring higher quality traffic to your site.

Easy to use templates mean you can take much of the pain out of building pillar pages, while the blogging tool enables you to create those clusters of keyword-relevant articles that further boost your authority by way of offering comprehensive insights into every aspect of your core topic.

The benefit of this is that it gives you focus – on the type of content you should be creating, and those pages and blogs that are working – and being integrated with reporting tools, you can easily see what has been effective and what needs to be refined, changed or scrapped based on traffic generated, contacts made, all the way down to customers gained.

If you know what content is generating qualified leads, conversions and customers, you can know what direction your content needs to go, and gain insights into other areas that may further improve your ranking and ultimately your ROI.

We will take a more in-depth look at how to use the Content Strategy Tool soon, so keep an eye on our blog, but for now, find out how we can help you create an effective and efficient website and content that will bring you new customers by booking a strategy review with us:

Request A Website and  Strategy Review

Author:

Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam is the most vital link between your message and your audience, ensuring your tone is on brand and optimised for engagement.


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