Topic n. A subject or theme of a webpage, section, or site.
Several SEOs have recently written about topic modeling and advanced on-page optimization. A few of note:
- Rand Fishkin’s What SEOs Need to Know About Topic Modeling & Semantic Connectivity
- Bill Sebald’s How To Work Relationships and Concepts Into Your Copy
- My own More than Keywords: 7 Advanced Concepts of On-page SEO
The concepts themselves are dizzying: LDA, co-occurrence, and entity salience, to name only a few. The question is“How can I easily incorporate these techniques into my content for higher rankings?”
In fact, you can create optimized pages without understanding complex algorithms. Sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, and Amazon create highly optimized, topic-focused pages almost by default. Utilizing these best practices works exactly the same when you’re creating your own content.
The purpose of this post is to provide a simple framework for on-page topic targeting in a way that makes optimizing easy and scalable while producing richer content for your audience.
1. Keywords and relationships
No matter what topic modeling technique you choose, all rely on discovering relationships between words and phrases. As content creators, how we organize words on a page greatly influences how search engines determine the on-page topics.
When we use keywords phrases, search engines hunt for other phrases and concepts that relate to one another. So our first job is to expand our keywords research to incorporate these related phrases and concepts. Contextually rich content includes:
- Close variants and synonyms: Includes abbreviations, plurals, and phrases that mean the same thing.
- Primary related keywords: Words and phrases that relate to the main keyword phrase.
- Secondary related keywords: Words and phrases that relate to the primary related keywords.
- Entity relationships: Concept that describe the properties and relationships between people, places, and things.
A good keyword phrase or entity is one that predicts the presence of other phrases and entities on the page. For example, a page about “The White House” predicts other phrases like “president,” “Washington,” and “Secret Service.” Incorporating these related phrases may help strengthen the topicality of “White House.”
2. Position, frequency, and distance
How a page is organized can greatly influence how concepts relate to each other.
Once search engines find your keywords on a page, they need to determine which ones are most important, and which ones actually have the strongest relationships to one another.
Three primary techniques for communicating this include:
- Position: Keywords placed in important areas like titles, headlines, and higher up in the main body text may carry the most weight.
- Frequency: Using techniques like TF-IDF, search engines determine important phrases by calculating how often they appear in a document compared to a normal distribution.
- Distance: Words and phrases that relate to each other are often found close together, or grouped by HTML elements. This means leveraging semantic distance to place related concepts close to one another using paragraphs, lists, and content sectioning.
A great way to organize your on-page content is to employ your primary and secondary related keywords in support of your focus keyword. Each primary related phrase becomes its own subsection, with the secondary related phrases supporting the primary, as illustrated here.
As an example, the primary keyword phrase of this page is ‘On-page Topic Targeting‘. Supporting topics include:keywords and relationships, on-page optimization, links, entities, and keyword tools. Each related phrase supports the primary topic, and each becomes its own subsection.
3. Links and supplemental content
Many webmasters overlook the importance of linking as a topic signal.
Several well-known Google search patents and early research papers describe analyzing a page’s links as a way to determine topic relevancy. These include both internal links to your own pages and external links to other sites, often with relevant anchor text.
Google’s own Quality Rater Guidelines cites the value external references to other sites. It also describes a page’ssupplemental content, which can includes internal links to other sections of your site, as a valuable resource.
If you need an example of how relevant linking can help your SEO, The New York Times famously saw success, and an increase in traffic, when it started linking out to other sites from its topic pages.
4. Entities and semantic markup
Google extracts entities from your webpage automatically, without any effort on your part. These are people, placesand things that have distinct properties and relationships with each other.
• Christopher Nolan (entity, person) stands 5’4″ (property, height) and directed Interstellar (entity, movie)
Even though entity extraction happens automatically, it’s often essential to mark up your content with Schema for specific supported entities such as business information, reviews, and products. While the ranking benefit of adding Schema isn’t 100% clear, structured data has the advantage of enhanced search results.
For a solid guide in implementing schema.org markup, see Builtvisible’s excellent guide to rich snippets.
5. Crafting the on-page framework
You don’t need to be a search genius or spend hours on complex research to produce high quality, topic optimized content. The beauty of this framework is that it can be used by anyone, from librarians to hobby bloggers to small business owners; even when they aren’t search engine experts.
A good webpage has much in common with a high quality university paper. This includes:
- A strong title that communicates the topic
- Introductory opening that lays out what the page is about
- Content organized into thematic subsections
- Exploration of multiple aspects of the topic and answers related questions
- Provision of additional resources and external citations
Your webpage doesn’t need to be academic, stuffy, or boring. Some of the most interesting pages on the Internet employ these same techniques while remaining dynamic and entertaining.
Keep in mind that ‘best practices’ don’t apply to every situation, and as Rand Fishkin says “There’s no such thing as ‘perfectly optimized’ or ‘perfect on-page SEO.'” Pulling everything together looks something like this:
This graphic is highly inspired by Rand Fishkin’s great Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO. This guide doesn’t replace that canonical resource. Instead, it should be considered a supplement to it.
5 alternative tools for related keyword and entity research
For the search professional, there are dozens of tools available for thematic keyword and entity research. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but contains many useful favorites.
1. Alchemy API
One of the few tools on the market that delivers entity extraction, concept targeting and linked data analysis. This is a great platform for understanding how a modern search engine views your webpage.
The SEO Keyword Suggestion Tools was actually designed to return both primary and secondary related keywords, as well as options for synonyms and country targeting.
The LSIKeyword tool performs Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) on the top pages returned by Google for any given keyword phrase. The tool can go down from time to time, but it’s a great one to bookmark.
Quick and easy, enter any keyword phrase and then check “Top Keywords” to see what words appear most with your primary phrase across the of the platforms that Social Mention monitors.
Google trends is a powerful related research tool, if you know how to use it. The secret is downloading your results to a CSV (under settings) to get a list up to 50 related keywords per search term.