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What’s the Big Difference Between Keywords and Content Topics?

Storefront business owners, online marketers and SEO consultants need to know the difference between keywords and topics. It may seem obvious. It may seem like splitting hairs. But to the self-learning artificial intelligence engines driving search bots around the Internet, it matters. And more importantly, it matters to the human web searcher you want to land on your web page.

When Keyword Was King

As a technical matter, especially for SEOs, debate over the use of keywords and topics in content creation has been around since the early days of search, when AI was still in kindergarden. Keywords initially ruled because search engines were able to search for terms comprising single words or short phrases only. Gradually, search engines became ‘smarter’ and were able to index more of a web page’s content in order to find more relevant results for a search subject or question.

Top online marketing guru Neil Patel explains this process in distinguishing between ‘keyword’ and ‘query,’ based on the need to have precise definitions in order to have precise control of the results you can produce.

According to Patel, ‘keyword’ is the exact item a marketer is targeting, and ‘query’ is the expression users actually type (or speak) when they search for that item. Patel says, “be aware that the difference between keywords and queries could actually change the way you work and strategize as a marketing professional.” This means that you still target keywords, but you find your keywords by reverse engineering the natural language expressions of search queries.

Google Raises the Bar

This dynamic range of meaning and intent between keywords and queries is similar to the dynamic relation between keyword and topic. This has been a top priority for content marketers since Google’s release in 2012 of Penguin 1.0, and in 2013 of the search engine update known as Hummingbird. The level of AI in the search algorithm took a giant step forward with these revisions. “Now, rather than hunt for keywords, Google can derive the contextual meaning of websites to deliver higher-quality search results.”

One of the main consequences was Google’s ability to sniff out the SEO tactic of ‘keyword stuffing’ which led to a lot of online content that contained not much more than keywords. Users find little value in these pages, don’t stay around and don’t click through to further engagement with the site. Google rankings for the site drop as a result. Now, this kind of misuse of keywords can cost you rankings, even blacklist your site, on the SERPs.

More recent Google search engine revisions (the last was Penguin 4.0), and future revisions as well, only raise the bar even higher for content relevance in setting SERP rankings.

The Difference Between Keywords and Topics

The difference between keywords and topics is that topics contain relevant keywords, while keywords suggest or evoke relevant topics. In this context, there is a hierarchy of ideas. At the top is a topic. Beneath that is one or more sub-topics or subjects. And attached to these sub-topics and subjects are keywords. There can be many different keywords associated with a given topic, and vice versa.

The thing that changes any given word or phrase into a keyword is when it gets used in a search query by an online searcher. That particular keyword becomes important to you when you have a reason to reach out to that searcher using that keyword. Your general topic becomes important to the searcher when it contains useful information about the keyword used in the search query.

Whatever your reason, you want to know which keywords are used in the most common searches that fall under the umbrella of your topic. The subtopics included in your coverage should be organized by using the keywords and phrases of actual search terms in the subtitles and subheadings. And the subtopic content should reflect the actual interest of the person doing the searching.

How This Affects Your Website Content Strategy

Cutting-edge SEO techniques will no longer focus on ways to “game the system.” Quality web content is the decisive factor. Moving ideas from a keyword focus to a wider topic area is how useful content is created and added to the general topic discussion. Moving from general topic to specific keyword focuses on the way useful content can be targeted, developed and published, and how it can reach out and connect effectively in a multi-channel marketing strategy.

Creating great content that is keyword optimized and targeted to the appropriate market segments is what Paul Teitelman, Toronto’s top link building & best SEO expert, has been doing with great results for over 10 years. Call today for a detailed quote and get the insight you need to weld your keywords and topics into useful content that searchers will find and appreciate.

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