Topics vs. Keywords: What’s More Necessary for SEO?

21. Dec. 2022 | Written by Daniela C.

Topics vs. Keywords: What's More Necessary for SEO?

Keywords have traditionally been the focus of Google and other search engines since the middle nineties. They were crucial because search engines could search terms that contained only single words or short phrases. But times have changed – the focus is no longer only on keywords. Search engines have become “smarter” and can index more website content to find more relevant results. So the focus shifted towards topics that have become the latest SEO strategy, making keywords an outdated tactic for good search ranking. Although this new SEO strategy has changed the game regarding search, it still did not dismiss the keyword’s relevance and importance for SEO. What is the difference between keywords and topics, and what is more important for SEO? We will explain it to you below.

What Is the Difference Between a Topic and a Keyword?

The difference between topics and keywords may seem obvious. But for Google’s bots, the distinction is essential. Topics contain relevant keywords, while keywords suggest relevant topics. The topic is at the top of the hierarchy, and one or more subtopics come below. Precisely, these subtopics are related to keywords. Many different keywords can be associated with a related subject and vice versa. Simply put, a topic is what you organize your content around.

In contrast, keywords are search terms that people enter into a search engine. When creating content, you must include the most frequently used keywords in your blog post’s words and phrases. For example, if the main topic of your blog is interior design, it affects the content ideas for your blog posts. You can organize your blog around subtopics like furniture, lighting, or colors. These subtopics should contain exact keywords or phrase search terms to help readers find your content.

Keywords vs. Topics

Since smartphones became mainstream, the way we search for information on the Internet has changed. Search engines have become sensitive to our new browsing habits, changing how they rank websites. As Google’s John Mueller explained, “search engines will get better over time to understand more than just the words on a page.”

In earlier years, to be successful in SEO, you had to signalize Google what your content is about. That meant optimizing for one keyword per page and including the keyword in prominent places such as title tags, H1, first paragraph, alt tags, etc. If done correctly, keywords can help your blog posts rank better in search results, increasing your blog and website traffic. However, in the early SEO marketing strategy, content creators would “insert” keywords into their content, repeatedly using identical words to improve their position on the results page search engine (SERP). That often led to poor content, and no one paid attention to posts that continuously repeated keywords, as users did not regard the blog as a source of valuable content.

Things have changed and progressed. Over time, Google’s semantic search capabilities have improved thanks to algorithms such as Google Hummingbird. This algorithm can assess the search intent behind the query and determine whether the user is looking for transactional, navigational, or informational content. That indicates a shift from keywords to the topic. Modern SEO techniques will no longer focus on how to “game the system.” Quality web content has become the deciding factor. Shifting the focus from the keyword to a broader area, i.e., the topic is how to create value and quality content.

Why Do You Need to Start Thinking About Topics Instead of Keywords?

Keyword research doesn’t help you create better content. The topic, not the keywords, lets you focus on the critical issues your content addresses. That’s why writers stumble to fit keywords into their narratives. The goal is not to optimize usage keywords but to thoroughly cover the topic and build the website around issues central to business and services.

Over the years, Google has tried to understand content in a way that humans can. To do so, Google added a Topic Layer to its Knowledge Graph. Note that the name is not “Keyword Layer.” “The Topic Layer is built by analyzing all the content that exists on the web for a given topic and develops hundreds and thousands of subtopics,” wrote Nick Fox, Vice President of Product & Design, on the Google blog.

Google maintains an extensive database of entities (known things) in the Knowledge Graph. The database includes entities with their meanings and information about how these entities are related to each other. First, it groups entities with similar attributes. In other words, onions and potatoes are grouped as vegetables. Second, the information is also grouped into topics and subtopics.

How to Focus on Topics in Your SEO Strategy

Instead of struggling to produce a ton of content optimized for every keyword variation, you should only focus on researching the topic in detail. That means you should choose one main, overarching topic and create as much content as possible to cover the entire topic. To create a topic group, you need to come up with subtopics.

Subtopics help to wrap up a topic entirely in detail. Proving to visitors and search engines that you are a subject matter expert, it is likely that you will need to create an entire web of content laid out in a logical flow. That allows your site users to get answers to any questions they may have about your topic. So instead of optimizing each blog post around one keyword, focus on how that blog post fits into a larger picture.

You’re probably wondering, how exactly do you do this? It all starts with research.

Topical Research

Before you start planning your content, research your topics. This way, you will understand how Google views the topic. That includes finding out which entities Google considers related to your topic and any associated subtopics. You can get answers in several places:

  • Knowledge panels
  • Keyword research tools
  • Google’s Autosuggest and Related Topics features
  • Google Trends Related Topics and Related Queries reports

That should give you an excellent overview of all topics, related topics, and entities in the Google Knowledge Graph. But you also must get to know your audience and understand what topics interest them. In the end, they are the ones who will read your texts.

Plan Your Content

The next step is to figure out how to create content that covers all of these topics and answers each question. That means you should generate a list of content ideas based on your research. Once you’ve chosen the central theme, create clusters, placing the main theme in the middle. You can also make a Venn diagram to see how all these topics are connected and where they overlap.

Only after finishing that part should you plan the content. Topical Research and Content Planning will help you create good content, answer specific search queries, and drive potential customers to your site. But before you start creating your content, you must also plan your content structure. Publishing a large amount of content isn’t enough – creating a well-structured content network is necessary.

Keywords haven’t gone away.

This blog doesn’t intend to get you to ditch your keywords altogether. Keywords and keyword research are relevant and should remain part of your SEO strategy. They still play a significant role in connecting users with the right content. However, the fact is that themes have made keywords and keyword research less essential to your SEO strategy. Google continues to update its algorithm to provide the most accurate results for searchers, so we must also adapt our SEO strategy.

A big part of what used to be considered “SEO best practices” is no longer of such importance today. Keywords, while still influential, are beginning to share the stage with topics. Don’t think that one excludes the other. Why not get the best of both worlds and combine topics and keywords? By combining keywords with a topic strategy, you can establish an effective SEO strategy that makes your page easier to find on search engines.

Think Big Picture

Always remember that SEO and content marketing is about people. You can trick a search engine into ranking your page higher in search results, but you can’t get someone to click on your content or convert it into a lead based on your keyword optimization alone.

You need quality content that covers the topic. Since Google and other search engines try to understand content the way humans do, applying semantics, i.e., thematic SEO strategy, becomes essential to any SEO strategy.

Keywords remain important, but now you have to look at them in the context of the bigger picture or topic. That is the only way you will create trust and authority with your audience and, at the same time, rank better in Google search.

Written by Daniela C.