Why SEO Strategy Is More Than Keywords

Stephen Jeske

Search engines are no longer driven by keywords, which is why your business should focus on strategies beyond keyword-based content.

Web pages don’t rank for just one search term, so why write content that way?

Search engines have evolved dramatically over the last 10 years. Yet, most content strategists and SEO experts still approach content like it is 1999.

It’s become increasingly difficult to rank content, and the keyword-based process isn’t helping much. This post looks at a number of issues from which this strategy suffers and offers an alternative to creating expert-level content at scale.

Why You Should Consider Approaches Other Than Keyword-Based Content

  1. Google challenges keyword-driven content
  2. Strong pages don’t rank for only one keyword
  3. Search volume doesn’t serve as a useful metric
  4. Linked-based metrics aren’t the most helpful

Google No Longer Prioritizes Keyword-Driven Content

Google’s search algorithm is continuously evolving with near-daily updates. Some notable past updates include Panda (2010) to target low-quality sites, Hummingbird (2013) to differentiate search intent, and RankBrain (2015)  to provide relevance and context to searches.

Last year, Google added a topic layer to complement its knowledge graph. Not only does it understand people, places, things, and facts – it can deeply understand a topic space. It does this by analyzing all existing content on the web for a given topic and creating a model of that topic.

Good Pages Don’t Rank for Just One Keyword

There was a time when the one-page-one-keyword rule was in fashion. SEO experts would create and optimize multiple pages for closely related keywords.

So, a marketing agency might have separate pages that targets different but similar keywords:

  • Digital marketing agency
  • Digital marketing company
  • Online marketing companies
  • Online marketing agency
  • Marketing companies near me

Of course, these types of pages were often low-quality content, but it didn’t matter as long as the page ranked high.

Times have changed, and that approach no longer works. However, today a well-crafted page can rank for hundreds and even thousands of keywords.

Take, for example, the Top Digital Marketing Agencies page on Clutch. SEMRush data shows that it ranks for 879 organic keywords, including those I just mentioned.

Top Digital Marketing Agencies

Note that only the first one on the list appears on the page. So, the page isn’t optimized for all those other keywords, yet it ranks very well for those searches. How come?

Because Google has gone beyond keywords — it not only understands synonyms but also the semantic relationship between words. So, if a page doesn’t rank for only one keyword, why write content in that manner?

Search Volume Isn’t a Useful Metric

Keyword-driven content marketers typically use search volume as a metric. They only create pages targeting keywords that meet a minimum threshold.

That’s wrong, and here’s why.

We’ve already established that a well-written page can rank for a multitude of keywords. Added together, the traffic potential of those keywords far exceeds that of the targeted keyword.

For example, this page on Geico, Does Car Insurance Cover Rental Cars?, targets a keyword phrase with a monthly search volume of just 590.

Geico Does Car Insurance Cover Rental Cars?

Yet, this page, with multiple links and references to car insurance and rentals, receives nearly 8,000 monthly visits from 1,400 keywords for which it ranks. Now that’s something to write home about!

Still not convinced? Here are some more examples of pages targeting low volume keywords that generate lots of traffic.

Linked-Based Metrics Aren’t Helpful Either

Marketers often combine search volume with “keyword difficulty” (a linked-based metric) in an attempt to find the best opportunities. There are three challenges to this approach.

They're a Poor Predictor of Difficulty

They do not account for the individual site. For example, the phrase “digital marketing agency” has a difficulty of 59% according to a popular SEO tool. That difficulty score is the same, whether its Clutch.co or MarketMuse that’s aiming for that keyword. That’s not realistic.

They Don't Lead to Better Opportunities 

With everyone looking for high-volume, low-competition keywords, those opportunities quickly disappear.

Each Piece of Content Fails to Contribute to the Bigger Picture

Chasing those opportunities frequently leads to a disjointed collection of articles that don’t contribute to the greater good of your site. It’s hard to build authority and credibility this way.

Keyword Research Doesn’t Improve Content Quality

Traditional keyword tools aren’t helpful for creating expert-level content at scale. They’re not modeling a topic to provide semantically related concepts.

Instead, they provide variants of a root keyword. Enter a term such as “office breakfast ideas” into a keyword tool, and you’ll get a list like this:

  • Store-bought breakfast potluck ideas
  • Group breakfast ideas for work
  • Breakfast ideas for work meetings
  • Office breakfast
  • Breakfast ideas for work
  • Breakfast potluck ideas
  • Breakfast food ideas for work

That’s why keyword research doesn’t help create better content. A list like this does little to help a writer craft a high-quality piece of content.

However, a topic model, like that used by MarketMuse, returns a wealth of semantically related topics that can be used to create expert-level content. This type of list below creates a narrative that can help shape the story.

Topic model

So, when writing a blog post about office breakfast ideas, you’ll want to include hard-boiled and scrambled eggs, as well as yogurt, granola, granola bars, avocado toast, and bagels in the discussion.

Even better, that content can be compared against the model to ensure complete topical coverage. Your editor will love you for this!

Why a Topical Approach Is Better for SEO

As search engines change their approach to understanding and ranking pages, content marketers adapt their way of creating content with the help of content analysis tools. Here’s why a topical-driven strategy offers more potential.

It Negates the Shortcomings of a Keyword-Based Technique

Instead of chasing fleeting opportunities creating a potential mishmash of content, why not create the Wikipedia of your industry? With a topical approach, you can be sure to address all user intent profiles and relevant subtopics that comprise your subject.

Better yet, every content item contributes to building your site’s authority in the eyes of your audience and search engines. Connecting content together in this manner makes it easier to rank for every piece of content you create.

It’s an Efficient Way to Create Expert-Level Content

A topic model, based on an analysis of thousands of documents related to the topic, reveals the key related topics that need to be covered in your content. Address those topics within your article to ensure your content is of the highest quality.

It’s a Scalable Process

Through the use of machine learning, AI-driven platforms can quickly create topic models that form the basis for this approach. The list of related topics can then be handed off to a writer, where even one with average competence can create expert-level content with far less research required.

Editors can quickly compare submitted content against the model to determine the depth of coverage and suggest corrections. The entire process changes from gut feeling to one that is driven by data. Now, content quality can be based objectively and not subjectively.

Skate to Where the Puck Is Going, and Update Your Content Marketing Strategy

Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player ever, said I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Content marketers need to take the same approach.

Search engines are no longer driven by keywords — neither should your content.


Stephen Jeske

Content Strategist, MarketMuse
Stephen Jeske is a content strategist at MarketMuse, the AI platform that enables marketing teams to build high-quality content at scale. Craft content that improves organic search rankings, drives expertise in your industry and impacts revenue.
Need Help Finding a Company?