co What Are You Optimizing? Keywords vs Topics |

“Searchmetrics recently launched their yearly Ranking Factors Study that bases numbers on rank correlation and averages of top 10 SEO rankings, and this year’s analysis shows that content on top-performing sites is much more holistic and less keyword-focused.”

This is the opening statement of Marcus Tober’s excellent article on the Moz blog looking at Searchmetrics Ranking Factors 2014: Why Quality Content Focuses on Topics, not Keywords. There are lots of numbers and charts for those who love numbers and charts, and a link to download the study with more numbers. And my favorite part is always the discussions in the comments since you get a sense of what other marketers are doing.

But I want to discuss the idea of the holistic-topic approach versus the keyword-focused approach to SEO. 

Why The Topic Thing?

Remember the days of devising a landing page for each keyword and variation? Those days are soon going to be legends told for the amusement of new marketers. Diversity in search terms is decreasing because the algorithms are being updated to look at a page like a person would look at that page. So the Hummingbird algo, for instance, zips all over the page like its namesake and assesses it in context. Keywords need to be relevant and the content has to jive.

Landing pages should make sense for the searcher. Your site content needs to be written as an interrelated and comprehensive unit. It doesn’t need to be written all at once (in fact, adding to it regularly is a good idea), but everything on your site should fit. This is the holistic-topic approach.

What About Keywords?

When you think of it, your brain looks for keywords all the time. This is how you scanned this post to decide if it was worth the time it takes to read it. Keywords are still important, but the importance has expanded to include context. You don’t need to worry about keywords being an exact match because the algorithms are looking at more than keywords, but you do need to have words that communicate what your content is about — a good working definition of keywords.

Who Are You Optimizing For?

When it comes down to the practical, you optimize for your user. Search engines are users because the engines are the navigation mechanism people use to get the information they are looking for. In that sense, we need to be aware of what is happening with search algorithms since they affect our marketing efforts. But the end user, our targeted audience, is a person.

Effective marketing will always be holistic because people are holistic. We think in topics and we use keywords as clues to find the topic we want. I don’t think it really is an either/or scenario because SEO is both Search Engine Optimization and Searcher Experience Optimization.

What do you think?