This new series of blog posts includes my thoughts on episodes of the popular Whiteboard Friday series created by Rand Fishkin at Moz.

This week’s thoughts are on this episode of Whiteboard Friday: Can SEOs Stop Worrying About Keywords and Just Focus on Topics? – Whiteboard Friday

My Initial Thoughts:

  • Very glad that Rand continues to focus on core SEO topics as well as answer burning and big issues that can have huge impacts
  • As measured by the amount of thumbs up on this video vs other videos in the past year, many agree
  • Rand’s tactic of comparing old school methods vs new methods is a consistent format that I appreciate because I and many others get stuck in an antiquated way of thinking sometimes
  • Example of new school topic-based thinking is a good example of brainstorming and answering customer queries
  • And at 3:43 – hilarious response to this idea of the probability of ranking
  • Rand’s recommendation: combine tried and trued keyword research with topic-based content
  • To combine the two, think of keyword groups by organizing keywords by keyword intent
  • This combination definitely creates more work in your keyword planning because you have to go beyond just the list of keywords and search volume. You have to use your brain and combine keywords with human intent
  • This idea is similar to other ideas, which involve tracking an index of keywords rather than individual keywords

Thoughts on this Concept of Combining Old and New Methods

I definitely 100% agree with this new concept of combining old and new methods to keep everything balanced. I’ll admit, when I’m in content creation and writing mode, if I don’t take the time to do my homework first, I’ll forget about keyword targeting all together.

I think the majority of individual bloggers, content-focused marketers, and journalists definitely ignore keyword targeting. I would just throw out a random estimate that 60% don’t research keywords before they hit publish, 20% make some sort of effort to do keyword research such as choosing one keyword, and another 20% do really thorough job of it.

With deadlines and limited time, I don’t blame them. Doing keyword research involves opening up the Google Keyword Planner or your tool of choice, researching, thinking, downloading, targeting, and embedding these keywords in your content. Then there’s the question of workflow. Do you target first, then write? Or do you write first then edit and include the keywords?

My answer is that I think batching is important. Depending on the website size, there needs to be either quarterly or monthly keyword research performed on the site, keeping in mind competition. While doing so, the keyword researcher should compile a list of keyword-targeted content ideas and generate them all up front. That way the writer doesn’t have to lose will power with their context switching while trying to simply get their piece published.

Tracking Keyword Intent, or an Index of Keywords

Since Google took away specific keyword traffic down to the individual keyword in Google Analytics a few years back, SEOs have had to get crafty with how to think about and track keywords. Instead of reporting on individual keywords, it became necessary to reporting on the organic traffic of individual pages, and also show the keywords ranking for that page. It was not so easy to show a direct correlation of keywords ranking and driving traffic. At least not 100% correlation.

Thankfully, with the power of Webmaster Tools (now named Search Console) upgraded to include keyword level reports with average ranking positions, a good amount of that data returned. But it still wasn’t the same.

This new lack of data provided by Google actually did cause somewhat of a positive shift in the industry in the sense that it forced people to think about higher level strategies. Rather than honing in on individual keywords and creating pages for each, as Rand described above, content hubs and pages with many keywords targeted became the new practice.

Also recommended was the idea of tracking keyword indexes rather than individual keywords. So for each topic group of keywords, such as women’s running shoes there were dozens of related keywords that were grouped together with that parent keyword, and they’re part of an index. Just like you have stock indexes that track different groups of stocks, you could have a keyword index that tracked all of your targeted keywords, or break it down by category, product, theme, and more.

That’s what Rand is talking about above when he’s talking about keyword intent focusing. Keyword intent groups and keyword indexes may or may not be the exact same, but they dance around the same concept of keyword clusters rather than individual keywords.

My one problem with this idea is that when thinking of keyword clusters, it’s easy to forget about the cluster’s ‘Captain Keyword’. The Captain Keyword is the most prominent keyword that brings the whole group up. You might have 20 keywords in your cluster, but the Captain Keyword on its own has more search volume than the rest combined. A Captain Keyword is often a “head term” keyword that has a ton of search volume on it’s own, as opposed to long-tail keywords that have a tiny bit on their own, but a lot in aggregate.

At the end of the day you want a good balance of both head term keywords and long-tail keywords. The only downside to overly focusing on keyword intent groups, or clusters, is that you might forget about the top searched individual keywords. This can simply be counterbalanced by being aware of the top and supporting keywords at all times.