October 3, 2018

Is the Keyword Dead? The New Role of Intent in SEO and Content Marketing Success

6 min read

Written by: Julia Woodward  |  Share:

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Many reports and articles have state that the "keyword is dead." With the growing prevalence of voice search and Google's never-ending updates to its search algorithms, it's obvious we need to update our approach to SEO moving forward — but does this mean the keyword is truly dead?

New Breed's own Lead SEO/SEM Strategist, Everett Ackerman, knows all about the constant evolution of the keyword. In his INBOUND 2018 presentation, "Is the Keyword Dead? The New Role of Intent in SEO and Content Marketing Success," he dived into Google's recent updates and how they've affected the relationship between keyword and search intent. In today's post, we're going to determine whether this claim is valid (or not), and then discuss our advice on how to update your approach to SEO and content marketing to drive success for your business.

The New Role of Intent in SEO and Content Marketing Success

A Brief History of SEO

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As you can see, Google likes to keep you on your toes. There have been the big updates, like Panda, Penguin, knowledge graphs and featured snippets, but the change we're going to focus today is Hummingbird. This update brought about long-tail keywords and popularized writing content for a specific search query in order to show relevance. For a while, this strategy worked and the algorithm started to better understand our language in terms of the search queries it was receiving. But, just like technology does, Hummingbird evolved faster than anticipated and started to understand more than the initial search term.

Don't believe me? Well, Everett discovered Hummingbird's evolution when he was looking into one of our strongest blog posts, "10 Selling Techniques to help you Become a Better Salesperson." He was diving deeper into the keywords driving visitors from search to this post and found out it was a much greater list than he expected. Though this blog post was only optimized for one of those keywords, it was ranking so well for all of them because Google had learned to understand the greater context surrounding its search queries, rather than just the single term being searched.

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The Takeaway: If we can see that one piece of content can rank for a range of keywords, we should instead focus around producing better content, rather than more of it, since it has the opportunity to rank for more than your original keyword.

The Role of Intent

There are few things you need to focus on to understand intention and effectively use it to drive your visitors toward a better experience. First, you need to determine the goal of the searcher. What are they looking for: A specific page on your website? Information on a certain topic? How to take a certain action? These are the three different types of search queries most people are making:

  • Navigational: A searcher is trying to go somewhere. They want to log into Facebook, so they search "facebook."This type of searcher is probably looking for your homepage or a specific page on your website, such as "Careers." You'll want to make sure your brand identity is still being reflected in the SERP results with this type of search.
  • Informational: A searcher is looking for information on a topic, subject or area of expertise. This type of searcher is ultimately looking for your educational, top-of-funnel content. You'll want to provide relevant answers to your searchers' questions, grab those featured snippets and receive reviews that lend credibility to your brand.
  • Transactional: A searcher is trying to take an action. Therefore, you'll want to thoroughly consider what actions/transaction are possible on your website, and then make sure the content you serve with this search is relevant to what they're expecting to find.

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Your searchers are using these different types of searches, so exploring how your specific topics relate to each type of keyword will help you build an improved content strategy and determine the pieces of content you're missing. With your content built out around navigational, informational and transactional searches, you'll also want to keep the following tips in mind:

  • Align your content with the buyer's journey: Yes, I know this isn't your first attempt at inbound marketing, but don't forget to lose sight of the buyer's journey while planning your content according to the three types of search queries. It's still critical to keep in mind what your buyer personas will ultimately be interested in, not just what they're searching.
  • Set up event tracking for your content and landing pages: Get some GTM tracking or a heat mapping software, so you can see how visitors are interacting with all of your new content. With this data, you can see deeper into their experience, which help to...
  • Audit and Optimize: With your solid reporting in place, you're in the perfect position to better understand the effectiveness of your content and keyword strategies for generating qualified traffic. You're allowed to update your content to make it even better than before, so do it!

The Takeaway: Guide your searcher by determining the goal of their search query and then producing relevant content for that search in order to build their trust.

Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages

Now you know the role of intent in creating your content, but you also need to be strategic in how you're arranging it. When done successfully, your SEO and content strategies will improve:

  • The quality and quantity of domains linking back to your website to show your authority;
  • Your portfolio of owned content that allows you to rank for a multitude of keywords; and
  • Your website performance as you only receive visitors that convert, stay a long time and don't bounce away from your site.

In the past, you had to run multiple strategies in order to improve just one of those aspects. But with the killer combination of topic clusters and pillar pages, you can now increase all three at the same time. A pillar page is a key part of a topic cluster strategy and consists of a single, comprehensive page dedicated entirely to a single topic. They’re longer than typical posts, since they cover all aspects of the topic you’re trying to rank for and you’ll want to make sure your content answers all questions for that specific topic.

Then, based on the topic you're trying to rank for, that topic will have additional relevant content that you'll want to write blog posts about and link back to your comprehensive pillar page, which creates a cluster of content dedicated to a single topic.

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Now, all of this is super easy to do with HubSpot's Content Strategy Tool. To our knowledge, it's the most robust topic cluster tool on the market today. The Content Strategy Tool enables you to:

  • Map out all of your content in a helpful, visual format. It will even show you clearly which subtopics are linked to your pillar page and which ones aren't.
  • Dive deep into analytics. The analytics dashboard includes on-page behavioral metrics and lead-to-customer conversions to give you deeper insight into how your pillar pages are performing and contributing to your revenue stream.
  • Take next steps for building even more content. As you're building your topic cluster, you can now literally see gaps in your content if your topic cluster isn't 100% completed.

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Last, here's one more tip to get you started successfully with topic clusters and pillar pages. Before writing the entire page, identify the head term you want the page to be about. Head terms are the core topic you want to start ranking for and should consist of topics that must be associated with your business. Then, identify latent semantic index (LSI) terms, which are the keyword synonyms to your head term and should be mixed in throughout your pillar page to expedite your ranking process. Your LSI terms could also potentially be subtopics linked to your pillar page if there's enough interest in them on their own.

Key Takeaway

It's time to change your perception of search engines and update your approach to content creation and optimization accordingly. Try to understand the search goal of your visitors and serve it to them on a platter. Link to other relevant content on your website to make it easier for them to navigate through it to learn more. Expand your library of important and relevant keywords to your business as the list is probably longer than you think. Reconsider how your website is designed and how it helps you generate leads.

So, after all of this, do you think the keyword is dead? Based on what we've read and experienced here at New Breed, we're inclined to say "no" — like everything else in this world, it's simply evolved.

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Topics: Lead Generation, SEO & Paid Search, Content Marketing

About The Author

Julia is a former New Breeder.

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