You thought you were finally understanding SEO, didn’t you? Joke’s on you – search has changed. Again. SEO can be very confusing! Search engine algorithms change at such a rapid rate that keeping up with the best practices for optimizing your blog so that it ranks on the first page of search engine results (SERPs) is near impossible. But inbound marketers like us are always interested in using the latest techniques to attract traffic and generate leads. This includes staying on top of the latest SEO changes and adapting our strategies. Just as consumer search behaviours are always changing we too must change.
Allow me to unpack one of the most recent changes in search engine optimization. I hope you are sitting down for this one: optimizing content for long-tail keywords is not the best way to rank in search engine results anymore. “What?! But why?” you ask. I sympathize; it’s a bit shocking. Long-tail keywords do still play a part but their role is a bit different. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to improve your rankings in this new search world.
Site Architecture and Other SEO Strategies
The way people search has changed and that greatly influences the ways content creators create content. In a nutshell, people are searching using longer queries. Search queries today tend towards the conversational side of things as well. Sixty-four percent of searches are four words or more and longer-form queries are sure to become the new norm as people want to find the exact right information when they submit a search.
The rise of voice search has been predicted to have a great affect on SEO (see this Forbes article) and the growing number of long-form search queries that match natural speech patterns is the most obvious influence. As Siri and Google Assistant and Cortana technologies improve, the number of mobile Google Searches being conducted via voice search will surely rise (it is currently 20%.)
Besides voice search, people are submitting longer queries because, well, frankly, there’s a lot of content – and not all of it’s quality. Searchers must use more detailed queries to sort through the clutter and search engines are becoming really good at sifting through the thousands of options out there. Google’s constantly evolving algorithm is helping searchers get the most accurate information possible – even if it isn’t a direct match. (Thank you, machine-learning.) A new content strategy, involving “topic clusters” and “pillar pages,” is proving why it might be time for you to reorganize your website’s architecture.
From Keywords to Key Topics
Bloggers and SEOs must create and organize content to fill in any holes that might keep searchers from getting the necessary information from your website. According to HubSpot, sites now “need to be organized according to different main topics.” Blog posts that are about specific long-tail (and conversational) keywords should be linked to one another, clustered by topic.
Often, bloggers are writing posts on similar topics, using similar keywords. I know I often write a whole series on the same topic or several posts about social media that address different points but are still very similar. In this model, your own URLs are competing against each other in rankings. Topic clusters will help more of your pages rank.
A pillar page will cover all parts of a topic on one page. Then you create more detailed pieces in other clustered blog posts (which then hyperlink back to the pillar page). Confused? Think of the pillar page as a “101 Guide” and the cluster content as specific courses. Pillar pages broadly cover your chosen topic and the cluster blog posts are in-depth reports on a specific keyword related to that topic.
Now, let go of keywords. Seriously, stop thinking about your website in terms of only keywords and start thinking in terms of what topics you want to rank for. Take into consideration the interests and concerns of your target audiences. Avoid topics that are too broad and can’t be covered in one pillar page.
As I’ve mentioned above, a key step to the topic cluster model is links. The topic cluster model links URLS together to help more pages on your site rank. As cluster pages are created and hyperlinked to the central topic, the pillar page will become an umbrella for all of the related pages to live under. Your pillar page will pop up in search results. Then searchers can peruse that page and click your hyperlinks which will direct them to more relevant content. Connecting your URLS in this way means they won’t be competing for Google’s attention and your site will have more authority.
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SEO is complex and ever-changing. Being intentional and careful about your site structure will help enhance your SEO. The better the site structure, the better the chance of ranking higher in search engines. As simple as that! I hope this information proves helpful when optimizing your next piece of content for search. And don’t forget to first create content that is relevant and useful.