Topic Clusters Top Rankings

Marketers are always looking for strategies to gain top rankings in search engines. Just when you think you’ve tried every keyword and linking strategy known to man, the search engines change their algorithms. You find yourself going back to the drawing board to beat your competitors with a new strategy.

The latest algorithm updates put a new spin on SEO ranking. Keywords and linking are still relevant, but SEO is evolving and favoring a new model called topic clusters. Using topic clusters requires new ways of thinking about SEO. It also requires changing the architecture of your content.

Why Search Engines Keep Changing

Search engines keep changing because consumer behavior keeps changing. Technology is evolving, and consumers are evolving with it. They’re learning how to use it, which also means they are expecting more from it. For example, people are no longer putting the word “housekeeper” into the search box. They’re more likely to input a sophisticated phrase, such as “find me a reputable and reasonably priced housekeeper in Boston.” The customer will be looking for results that are accurate and relevant.

Every time there’s a change in consumer behavior, search engine developers get busy redesigning their algorithms to match consumer behavior. The Google Panda update in 2011 forced digital marketers to stop overusing keywords and start producing quality content. Some marketers thought that the Hummingbird update was the official switch to changing SEO patterns because it focuses on phrases rather than keywords.

In 2015, the RankBrain update broke the mold with a machine-learning algorithm that could understand phrases in search queries and put them together with the customer’s intended context. Google picks up multiple phrases and keywords from past searches on similar topics. In this way, the search engine “sees” what the consumer is looking for within the intended context. According to HubSpot research, after the RankBrain update, websites that had greater numbers of interlinks got better placements in search results. Sites with a lot of interlinks also got more impressions. 

Using topic clusters creates many interlinks. This new marketing strategy tells the search engine that you’re an authority on the subject because you have the highest quality of content, and it links to many other pages of high-quality content on the same topic. I like to think of topic clusters as spokes on a wheel. A single pillar page acts as the main hub.

Our pillar is in-home care for seniors. I set up several subtopics, such as senior care costs, quality senior care, care for Alzheimer’s and memory loss, etc. These topics form the center of the hub. Then, I expand on each topic with many more articles, linking each one to the center hub and to the others. A content hub about in-home costs for seniors might include interlinked articles about how much in-home care costs, how families fund it, how to blend family caregiving and professional care, and more. I then do the same with the other subtopics to create cleaner, more streamlined content architecture.

These topic clusters signal to the search engine that my company’s website covers our industry with a wide lens. It tells them that we’re a leading authority on in-home care. The result is that they’ll reward my efforts with a higher ranking.

Tips And Tricks For Topic Clustering

Try to keep the subtopic broad enough that you could easily add 30-40 posts on topics related to it. The topics that you add to the subtopic hub must have some type of connection. Each subtopic should cover one area of knowledge related to your industry. The interlinking topics connected by spokes (links) take your audience into greater detail.

Put solid thought into your subtopics. Are there any topics that you need to compete with other companies over? What do your customers need to know more about? Map out the problems that you know your customers have, and create subtopics around problems that you can help solve with your solutions. Take a look at your frequently asked questions to spark your imagination for even more topics. If your customers are asking the same questions, you need to create content to answer them.

Using topic clusters doesn’t mean that you should forget about other marketing strategies like keywords. I still use them in the content of the articles I create and add to the subtopic hub.

Looking Toward The Future Of Topic Clustering

Give yourself time to create new clusters for topics. A helpful resource for creating your new content architecture is to repurpose and revamp existing content. After it’s been on the web for a while, you can measure the results and restrategize if necessary.

Developers are also taking a look at how new tools can help website owners analyze and master cluster topic strategies. As a marketer, I look forward to these resources.

User Intent For Online Searches

Each new Google update sends me and every other digital marketer back to the drawing board to re-strategize on how to use keywords and content to get the best traffic. The sophistication of Google’s algorithm rises to new levels with each update, which presents interesting challenges for marketers. I’m always up for the challenge, and the latest update was no different.

Some things at Google haven’t changed much at all. Its algorithms are still interested in SEO and keywords. Numbers, which have always held a crucial place in my marketing plans, are also still an important part of its algorithms. My strategy places a unique focus on SEO as it relates to user intent. “User intent” is a term that gets the strategic wheels turning in my head. So, what is user intent?

Defining User Intent

User intent is changing how search engines see content and has made it more difficult for marketers to decipher and build new strategies. Essentially, Google isn’t just taking the words in the search box literally. It wants to know and understand, “What is the user’s intent?”

Obviously Google’s algorithms aren’t smart enough to read a user’s mind. The search engine is smart enough, however, to figure out how to get behind the categories of user intent. I recognized two categories of user intent and SEO that helped me revise my marketing plans accordingly.

User Intent And SEO

Thinking about some of the idiosyncrasies of the English language helped me understand user intent and SEO. We can’t always take words at face value unless we know the proper context. For example, what do you think of when you hear the word “jam”? Were you thinking of this morning’s traffic jam? Maybe you jammed your toe in the door, and you’re still feeling the pain. Perhaps you packed a delicious sandwich for lunch with peanut butter and strawberry jam.

If a user puts the word “jam” in the search box, Google wants to know which context the user intended. Typically, users are looking for information based on the keyword, or they’re just looking for general information on the topic.

When the word “jam” appears by itself, Google has to find a rating in terms of how it meets the needs of the user. That rating falls somewhere between “fails to meet” and “fully meets.” The search engine would likely pull up queries regarding all three meanings because“jam” is an ambiguous word with multiple meanings. Google’s rules won’t allow this word to be “fully met” under these circumstances.

User Intent Vs. Query

Google doesn’t respond well to words with unclear meanings. The new algorithm looks for clues regarding user intent vs. query words. User intent usually goes along the lines of:

• Something they want to do

• Something they want to know

• Someplace they want to go

Do, know, go is the user intent that Google tries to uncode. Search words can indicate that a user wants to make a transaction or do something — book a hotel, buy a book, find a job or buy a jar of that amazing strawberry jam.

In my experience, users who search for something they want or need use their mobile devices about half the time. It’s common for them to do some online searching and finalize the transaction later on a desktop or laptop. Google picks up on the idea that a lot of mobile users are just doing preliminary browsing.

Other words tell the search engine that users want to know something in real time. They are information words. For example, what time is it in another time zone? When does the store close? What time will the train arrive? When will that traffic jam lighten up?

Google often puts know-something posts at the top of the page in position zero, giving users some of the information they’re seeking without giving it all away. Position-zero posts might give you an idea of traffic flow at a certain destination, but you have to click through to find the state of the traffic in real time.

If people aren’t looking to do something or know something, they know right where they want to go — online, that is. They know enough to tell Google almost exactly the type of site they’re looking for. The user with an aching toe is going to tell Google they need to go to a site that tells them how to make it feel better.

Voice activation is starting to play a big role in go searches. The general public is just getting acquainted with Siri and Alexa. As more people gain familiarity with voice activation, and as voice activation becomes more sophisticated and translates more accurately, technology will make it easier for Google to identify go searches in addition to do and know searches.

Moving forward, be strategic about ambiguous words and words with multiple meanings. I’ll still be optimizing my content for keywords and SEO. I’ll just be selecting my keywords from the perspective of user intent and considering the impact of do, know, go. Google updates and data analysis will tell me when I need to modify my strategy.

local reviews can help local seo

Many facets go into a marketing strategy, and that’s what makes it so interesting. Marketers need to think about who their clients are and what their online search and shopping habits are. They also have to keep a keen eye on the competition, create similar angles that are better than the competition or break out of the box and do something completely different.

Factoring all of those issues and more, marketers have to accomplish their marketing strategies using the funds and resources that are available to them.

For smaller companies, the term “marketer” is often loosely applied to a company owner, employee or intern because of budgetary constraints. Some companies don’t even have the funds or technical wherewithal to put up a company website. Others create a simple, no-frills website and spend little or no time updating it.

A basic website is better than no website at all. Small companies with small budgets don’t need to break the bank to advertise online. A few great reviews, written and posted by local customers, go a long way towards helping new customers find your business among the local pack.

Get acquainted with Google My Business.

Your business can get some attention online, even if you don’t have a website, as long as you’re willing to take a few minutes to complete a Google My Business page. Google has done you the favor of setting up a blank template of a page that you can easily customize for your business — for free.

Google My Business is a user-friendly template that lets you add your company’s name, address, phone number, fax number, email address or other contact information. Your Google My Business page will enable your customers to call you right from the site and give them directions to find you in person.

When you’ve got new and exciting information or events to share with your customers, you can easily edit the page and let your customers know about it with a few short paragraphs and some images.

Business owners that have any amount of marketing know-how can also take advantage of linking, keywords, alt tags, meta descriptions and other search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. Most importantly, your customers can leave a review on your Google My Business page. Whether the review is positive or negative, it gives you the chance to connect with them to thank them or offer to turn a negative experience around.

Google My Business has an easy-to-understand section called “Insights,” which tells you how your customers found you.
The platform can increase your business’s ranking, even if you don’t have a website or have one without many bells and whistles.

Reviews mean a lot to business owners — and Google loves them, too.

Local SEO Guide conducted its annual study of local SEO ranking factors and found that customer reviews were big players in search engine ranking for local search. The study analyzed more than 200 factors as they related to 100,000 businesses. 

The study also looked at other factors that help local businesses rank well. It found that local ranking factors are highly connected with organic ranking factors. Businesses that ranked well in organic searches also showed high in Google’s local pack. This leads me to believe that businesses can rank well in local packs even when website owners or marketers aren’t taking advantage of SEO strategies, like keywords and linking.

Exactly how do reviews correlate to local search?

What we can learn from this is that smaller companies may think that they can’t have a huge presence online, but a Google My Business page with lots of positive reviews on it can change all that quite nicely. Google will see lots of reviews on a Google My Business page, indicating that it is a local business that does well and has a great reputation with local customers.

Essentially, Google uses crowdsourcing to tell it whether a site is a company with a strong reputation. Google has a specified format for reviews, so that customers know how their review will appear. The tools for Google My Business make it hard for spammers to get in on the action and damage the customer’s reputation. If they get through, Google will crack down on unscrupulous spammers and hackers.

Quality and quantity matter equally in reviews.

The Google search engine takes a look at what reviewers are saying before making a judgment on rank. Google gives special attention in the local pack to reviewers who mention any of the keywords or the name of the city where the business is located.

I’ve noticed that websites that have high-quality link profiles nearly always rank well in local search. I’ve also noticed that sites with few or no links, and those that have poor-quality links, also rank well in the local search pack if the business has good reviews on Google My Business.

Here are a few final clues about local reviews.

Creating a website should be the highest priority for companies that don’t already have one. Website platforms are relatively easy to set up. Many templates have automatic updates, so some of them require little or no maintenance if that’s what you’re looking for.

With or without a website, ask your best customers to rate and review you on your Google My Business page. Encourage them to mention your services and your city.

With Google picking up the cost for the site and you putting forth some effort of your own, new clientele may be clicking and calling because they loved what other locals said about you.

SEO As A Primary Marketing Tool

Paid advertisements have long been a staple of the marketing industry. Advancements in technology showed us how to organize content so that potential customers could more easily find our offerings on the world wide web. This began the great debate of whether it was better to attract customers by educating and enlightening them or by splashing attention-grabbing ads where they couldn’t miss them.

In my career as a digital marketer, I’ve learned the pros and cons of search engine optimization and pay-per-click through experience. Marketers can use both for any type business if they master one important concept — understanding why they need to put more effort and resources into one rather than the other.

Going Back To The Basics

SEO and PPC can complement each other nicely. Are you marketing a product or a service? How well-established is your business? I’ve found that answering these questions are good places to start when making decisions about which marketing approach is likely to be more effective, or whether you need to use some combination of both.

This is when it helps to go back to Marketing 101. Are you clear about who your target market is? Where will your potential customers be looking to find the products or services that you’re offering? What words would you type into the internet search box if you were looking for the same product or service?

PPC As A Marketing Strategy

PPC tends to work well for companies that are offering products. Paid ads also work nicely when you have a new angle or new use for an existing product or service. When paid ads are designed well, PPC helps attract new customers quickly.

PPC puts your brand front and center right at the top of your webpage. Google will typically show four paid ads on a desktop. Mobile apps leave room for three paid ads topping the page. Paid ads give you a lot for your money because they give you room for a brief written description and a few “sitelinks.” Sitelinks are subsections of your ad that will take your customers directly to a page on your website for locations, specials, blogs, news or your about page. PPC ads also allow you to select your target audience by day, time, location, language, previous visits and other important parameters.

You need to keep a tight handle on your budget when using PPC. Many clicks are bound to bring you new business, but they can also waste your budget. I’ve found that it’s important to set a realistic budget for paid ads and monitor them often.

Another nice thing about PPC is that analytics make it easy to see whether your PPC ads are effective in real time. Getting quick feedback helps me make decisions about pulling ineffective ads. It also gives me an opportunity to increase my budget for ads that provide a strong return on investment.

SEO As My Go-To Marketing Strategy

I tend to use SEO as my primary marketing tool. That’s because I’ve found that SEO works extremely well for our business, a senior home care company, as well as companies that are primarily service oriented.

Over time, I’ve worked diligently to build a strong brand within my company. My current goal is to keep the brand in front of our target market. I want to establish Caring People as the authority on home health care and continue to build trust and credibility in our brand. Organic searches deliver greater volume to our website than paid ads. SEO is the most cost-effective strategy for us at this time because content is working great for us.

Using PPC To Enhance A Strong SEO Marketing Strategy

I believe that SEO offers a better value for the home-care industry because we offer personal services. Our customers want to know more about our company before they’re willing to invest their money in our staff. Articles, reviews and positive testimonials are the key to getting clients to make that first call asking for more information.

Despite the fact that SEO takes center stage in my marketing plan, I still regularly manage a medium PPC campaign. I’ve found that adding PPC ads to my marketing strategy adds enough spice to our efforts to draw in some new clientele. I use PPC at various times to highlight certain campaigns or to tie our services into current events. For example, this year we had a huge marketing campaign for National Grandparents Day. In using SEO and PPC together, we get more clicks overall. Greater numbers of clicks lead to conversions.

As a rule, PPC tends to work better for e-commerce companies. SEO tends to work better for services businesses that want to keep their brand visible while getting new clients. PPC can strengthen your SEO efforts nicely and vice versa. Of course, there are always a few exceptions to the rule. After SEO and PPC, monitoring and analytics are your next BFFs.

What exactly is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is basically the text in a hyperlink that is usually underlined and blue and is clearly visible for you to click.

The Anchor text can give visitors and search engines important information about the links destination as well as its content.

What search engines do is they use anchor text that comes from external sources as a way to measure the way others view your page and the relevance it has. Despite the fact that as an owner it’s hard for you to control how other sites will link to yours, it’s still crucially essential to use anchor text in your own site that is relevant, descriptive and useful. Below you can see a target link along with an anchor text.

 

Types of Anchor Text.

There are different types of anchor text and it is important to keep them in mind. Here is a breakdown of those different types of anchor text:

  1. Exact match: An anchor text is considered an exact match when it uses keywords that are the same as the page that it is linked to. For example, if we have ‘seo writing’ linking to a page that covers everything about SEO writing.
  2. Partial-match: This is the case when there is a slight change or variation to the keyword that is being used. Such can be the case when using ‘seo writing strategies’ when linking to a page about SEO writing.
  3. Branded: This is when a brand named is specifically being used as an anchor text. Let’s say ‘Nike’ linking to an article in the Nike website.
  4. Naked link: As the name would imply, this is when we use the full naked link such as www.google.com
  5. Generic: The most popular case is when a generic term is used like: ‘click here’
  6. Images: If an image is linked, then Google will use the alt attribute on the image as the anchor text.

SEO Best Practices

When it comes to SEO, it’s always good to keep in mind the best practices not only to help the page get a better rank, but also to avoid penalties for over optimization. Therefore there are certain guidelines when it comes to best practices for applying SEO-friendly anchor texts.

Good SEO anchor text is succinct and completely relevant to the page it’s linking to as well as avoiding keyword-heavy text.

  1. Succinct anchor text:

    There isn’t a length limit to anchor text, but it’s best to keep the link as succinct as possible. The bottom line is. It’s important when picking the terms in your anchor text to consider two important factors:

First of all, what is the most accurate and succinct way to describe the page you’re linking to?

What phrase or keyword can you choose to get users to go ahead and click on the link?

Link relevancy happens naturally when pages are linked out to other relevant content on the web. There are two things that determine link relevancy:

 

  1. The topic which is on the source page
  2. The content which is on the anchor text on that page

 

  1. Anchor text keyword density

It’s important to highlight at this point that this is where we must consider Google’s Penguin algorithm update. This is because with this update, Google started to closely analyze keywords in anchor text. For example, if a sites inbound links contain the same anchor text, it may give the impression that the links are not natural.

Of course, it is important to use keywords in anchor text, but this must be done wisely using different strategies to avoid being penalized by Google for over optimization. Therefore SEOs will benefit from using a wide variety of anchor text phrases instead of overusing the same keyword.

Most importantly, when linking internal pages together, it’s best not to over do it with keyword-heavy anchor text. Google might find this as spam, thus risking they way your page would rank.

However, to go deeper into Anchor Text, it’s best to analyze how Anchor text is used after the Penguin Algorithm.

Anchor text after Penguin Algorithm

Long gone are those wonderful days in which you could go crazy with your anchor text. Back then you could perfectly use exact match anchors for your backlinks and you’d rank. But that was the main reason why Google had to change the algorithm.

In the beginning, the first Penguin update (2012) was the first major change that Google made to stop users from over optimizing and saturating their backlinks with anchor text. Penguin aimed at websites that were using spammy link building in an attempt to cheat the search engine. But how exactly did they know if a website was building spammy backlinks?

Well, the answer was simple. It was through Anchor Text. And that’s because it doesn’t make sense for a website to have all of its backlinks with the same Keyword. And what exactly is the process that Penguin uses to determine this? Here’s a breakdown on how Penguin does its job:

  1. The user builds a backlink.
  2. The backlink is then indexed by Google.
  3. This new backlink is put into a database for your website. This is commonly known as “link profile”.
  4. This process repeats itself thus creating a link profile that is easily analyzed by the algorithm.

In this case, the algorithm goes through your link profile to compare it to the keyword optimization set up that you have on-site. For example, if your page is optimized with the keyword “SEO writing” and all of your anchors are using the same keyword, you will definitely get penalized for over optimization. This type of activity represents two things for Google:

  1. You’re building artificial links
  2. You’re trying to rank with the keyword “SEO writing”

So remember. The formula to get a Penguin penalty is having an exact match anchor text along with keyword rich optimization. As long as you stay away from this kind of link building you’ll be fine and your page will benefit from it.

But what exactly can you do to avoid getting penalized and still rank?

The answer is simple. There’s a When and a How when using keyword rich anchors.

Following Best Practices when building relevancy

Best Practice 1: Anchor Text Percentages

While there are different views in terms of the percentage of the type of anchor text that should be used on your profile, one thing still agreed on by all SEO specialists. Which is the importance of branded anchor text?

If you don’t have a branded homepage profile, then a smaller mistake can result in huge penalization. Aside from the fact that this will definitely make your page difficult to rank, you’ll notice that your ranking will fluctuate daily making it difficult to maintain the proper relevance you desire. But following the best practices mentioned here will help you rank safely.

You can create natural inner page links with a branded anchor text despite your high margin of error. Once you’ve gotten this part clear regarding the importance of using the brand in an anchor text, the question is, what exact percentages of anchor text should you use to rank your target keyword?

As of the beginning of 2018, the percentages are roughly around the following according to a 2017 case study

  • 50% — Branded anchor texts
  • 10% — WebsiteName.com
  • 10-20% — Naked URL
  • 1-5% — LSI- partial match keywords
  • 1-5% — Generic anchor texts
  • 1-2% — Exact- match keywords
  • Other

Of course, this is a general overview of how to break down your percentages but it can help to do further research depending on your industry. SEO is constantly changing and Google’s algorithms are getting smarter as AI is being introduced into almost everything nowadays.

Best Practices 2: Get links to your Website from the right sources

Although backlinks are important for ranking your website, this has to be carefully done. It’s not smart to just simply have any backlink sending traffic to your site. This is because traffic coming from low authority websites will be considered by Google as spamming links and unethical practices. Thus turning your optimization efforts counterproductive, not to mention, the penalties incurred for not taking this into more consideration.

The best practice is to earn high-quality links from truly authoritative websites. And though this may take more time, it’s definitely better to have 2 to 3 links from good websites than 30 from low authority websites. As in everything else, an investment of time and effort is necessary to help your site rank superbly.

Best Practices 3: Keeping Succinct Anchor Text is Key

Although there is no limit regarding anchor text length, it’s still vital to keep your link text succinct.

First, it is important to accurately describe the page you’re linking to. So for example, if you’re linking to “SEO writing best practices”, think of the best and most concise way to describe the page, while avoiding exact match anchor text. A good way of doing this for this particular case would be “Great SEO Writing Tricks”.

A Second and final thing to consider are the words and phrases which will attract users to click. Despite having an accurately described page, readers may simply ignore the link if it doesn’t catch their attention. So this is important to consider if you’re trying to drive traffic to your page.

When it comes to building anchor, accuracy is important, but also attractiveness. You want to entice your readers to click on the link, and using the right words will achieve this ultimate goal.

Whenever you are building an anchor, always try and figure out how you can entice readers with your text to ensure that they click on the link.

Best Practices 4: Anchor Text Relevance

Another important consideration when working with anchor text is the relevance of the other anchor text. In other words the relation of the topics on both pages. Therefore if your article is about “SEO Writing Basics” but you link to “SEO 2018”, then the anchor text would only have a medium level of relevance. If you were to link to something with a title like “Cat Toys”, then your anchor text would have low relevance.

Therefore search engines are constantly cracking down on low relevance links. Obviously to avoid spamming links. Long gone are the days in which bloggers could include links to irrelevant sites for some extra pay. With Penguin, all of that has changed. Which has improved the quality of the content on most websites and the internet overall?

Best Practices 5: Focusing Anchors on “Deep” Links

Another way in which beginners affect their website ranking negatively is by building a link profile that depends on top level pages. They design their anchors to link to irrelevant sections of pages such as the homepage, contact, and product page. In the end, this results in an unnatural link profile.

Instead of doing this, it’s better to link to relevant content. This can’t be stressed even more in this article. But relevance is the key! Linking to archives, relevant pages, or pages that are deep in your website can result in positive ranking and improve it considerably.

Best Practices 6: Avoid Extremely Rich Anchor Text

Beginners tend to make mistakes in focusing all their inbound link anchor text on one specific keyword. This will result in an unnatural link profile and result in a penalty.

That’s because it makes no sense that all your links would include keyword rich anchor text every time.

here are better ways to do this. So for example, instead of using “SEO writing basics”, you could use, “the most fundamental skills for SEO writing” Therefore you spread out your anchor text in a way that will seem more natural and avoid making Google suspicious of your optimization efforts.

Best Practice 7: Be careful who you link to.

Google pays a lot of attention to the websites you link to. This is known as Co-citation.

While it is common knowledge that the authority of the websites linking to your content plays a pivotal role in determining your search engine rank, Google also takes into account the websites that you link out to.

This is a relatively new principle known as Co-citation. This is when a website uses two different online sources creating an algorithmic relationship between them. Therefore it’s better to avoid linking to spammy websites.

A better approach would be to naturally build high authority backlinks focused on small niches. Be aware of linking to spammy websites. Even if they are offering to pay highly for it. The return, in the long run, will be greater.

Best Practice 8: Understand Natural Links

It’s important to create a healthy link profile. It must be clear and natural. But this doesn’t mean that you just let the web decide where you rank.

Instead, your focus should be to have your link profile follow Google’s white hat approved methods.