Topic Modeling 101 for SEO

Over the years, Google’s approach to ranking websites has changed dramatically. In the beginning, it was as simple as stuffing as many keywords as you possibly could in the meta tag. These keywords didn’t have to have a single bit of relevance to your website, and you could rank number one for nearly any search query with relative ease.

As Google’s algorithms got smarter, the meta tag lost its weight in ranking, and less emphasis is placed on keyword density. Now, it’s all about crafting content that is valuable to readers, written naturally for them. While the keyword still plays a role in ranking, it is much less important than it has been in the past.

While we don’t really know, and never will, exactly how Google ranks content – because their algorithms are hidden under lock and key with plenty of legal protection to keep them safe – we, as an industry, have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t, through trial and error, and listening to what Google tells us directly impact rankings. (When Google says something about changes you need to make to your website to keep or improve your rankings – you listen.)

In today’s rapidly evolving SEO industry, how can you be sure you’re creating content your viewers will love to read, but that will also keep the search engines happy? The answer lies in Topic Modeling.

What is Topic Modeling?

Latent Semantic Indexing, or LSI, has been part of the Google ranking factors since the Hummingbird update in 2013. If you’re not already familiar with the term, it involves not just the words that make up your content, but the context of those words. And, it looks at the user’s search intent, and that relationship to specific keywords. Put simply, LSI helps search engines find related keywords and process synonyms to deliver more accurate results. It uses TF*IDF, or term frequency times inverse document frequency, to determine how important a specific word or phrase is to a document.

Though we’re five years out from the update that shook rankings and many websites have recovered, topic modeling can be considered an extension, or a type of LSI. It’s incredibly important to how your website ranks in Google (and other search engines) today, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

Basically – you can’t frame your content around a single keyword phrase anymore. You need to start with the core phrase, and use other sources to create topic clusters, also known as keyword clusters, to flesh out a piece of content. And, those topic clusters will change depending on user intent.

User Intent

Research shows searcher intent can be broken into two segments. Users are looking for specific information related to the keywords they’ve used, or they’re looking for general information about the topic.

You can split intentions based on how specific the searcher is, and how exhaustive the searcher is. Queries can generally be broken down based on:

  • Navigational – trying to get to a certain website
  • Informational – trying to get some kind of information
  • Transactional – trying to buy something, or perform another specific online activity

Keeping user intent in mind with what your website goals are will help you choose the right keywords to target in the first place.

How to Create Topic Clusters for SEO

Start with your core keyword phrase. Search in Google. For instance, this article, could have the core keyword phrase: topic modeling for SEO.

Look at Google’s related searches at the bottom of the results page. This gives you an idea of other keyword phrases to include in your content.

On certain searches, you’ll also find a People Also Ask section.

You can use this to determine whether you should include more information on the page, or if you should answer other questions on additional pages of content. Hint – for an idea about which way to go, check and see what the highly ranked competition is doing. If they’ve answered all the questions on the same page, do it that way – but answer them better. Add more information and value. If they’ve not answered the questions on the page, answer them, and be thorough. Google, and your readers, will thank you.

These of course are not the only tools you can use to help build your topic clusters and models. You can start with a keyword research tool like ubersuggest to give you an idea of the search volume of your core keyword phrase and other similar phrases with lower competition. However, you must go beyond basic keyword research tools and related keywords. Tools like market news and article insights are good because they take the main keyword you’re targeting and provide you with groups of words you should aim to include.

Let’s say your main keyword is “what to sell online”. Ubersuggest gives you phrases like:

Best goods to sell online

Best ecommerce products to sell

Apps to sell stuff

And so on.

These are related phrases you can work into your content, but you still need to dig a little deeper.

Running the main phrase “what to sell online” through Article Insights will give you topic buckets of words and phrases that should naturally occur in your content if you want to rank well for that keyword.

It will also show you what the competition looks like, so you can be sure you’re doing better than the content they provide. You can paste your content into Article Insights to see how well your content matches up to the recommendations, and how it stacks up against the competition.

To make sure you’re really going in depth, you can also run related keywords from your research in Article Insights.

Credit: MarketMuse Overview

MarketMuse is a similar tool that helps you see how you can rank for all searches related to your business – not just the keywords. By focusing on this approach, you can cover topics, and not just the keywords.

Examples of Topic Modeling and How They Affect SEO

Take for example, actress turned singer, Selena Gomez. When you search for her using just her name, Google doesn’t know which context you’re trying to find information on, and presents news stories, her official website, Instagram, and YouTube.

But when you alter the search to provide more context, by adding acting to the end of the phrase, you get entirely different search results, including her IMDb listing, an article discussing her return to acting, and a series of YouTube videos to show her first auditions for the Disney Channel. Though the box on the right show some information about her both, you’ll see the information there changes, too – including the photos, movies and TV shows she’s credited in, and more.

 

Because Google wants to improve the quality of results for their users, the context of a search has the power to change everything about it. Topic modeling allows you to hit on more than the core keyword, but a number of contextual clues, too.

How to Leverage Topic Modeling for Your SEO

Creating New content around topic models is the easy part because all you have to do is your keyword research and build your model then right. It’s optimizing old content with topic modeling that can be somewhat daunting. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea, don’t worry. Simply start with an audit of your content and work methodically.

Build an inventory of all the pages on your website in a spreadsheet, if you don’t already have one. Include each page URL on its own row.  Along with the URL, include the user intent, focus topic, and any notes about the quality of the piece. This will help you determine which pages you need to focus on first,  and which ones can wait until later. Even if you’ve built your website around quality content, you can improve upon that quality by taking a deeper dive into the topic to create a more comprehensive piece. Take notes about where it ranks, and what the competition’s content looks like, so you have an idea of adjustments you can make in an effort to improve your rank.

Next, look at your on-page SEO factors, such as your headline, subheaders, and so on. Does the headline grab reader attention? Are keywords present where they need to be? What’s your linking structure like? Do you have outbound links to reliable sources? Are your related pages interlinked?

Check to make sure your content answers your readers’ questions – and does so well. If your content responds directly to a query, search engines will favor it – and it will increase your odds of landing in the Google Answers Box.

If you’re ready to learn more about how our Denver SEO agency can help your business grow with our topic modeling approach to SEO content, get in touch with us today to schedule your free consultation.