— January 20, 2019
What is Topic Modeling?
Topic modeling itself is a complex system that ranks content based not just on the keywords, but also on the context.
We are long past the days when all you had to do was stuff some keywords in the meta description, and you could easily rank for whatever you wanted to regardless of whether or not it matched the content on your website. In 2013, with the Hummingbird Update, Google began using latent semantic indexing or LSI to determine how a keyword and content work together to mean the same thing. It’s how Google and other search engines are smart enough to understand the context behind your content and learn how what you’re talking about is related to the keywords and phrases are using.
As much as we wish we did, we don’t know exactly what Google does when they decide how and when to rank any website for a keyword. Sure, we have some pretty good ideas thanks to research, trial, and error, but our agency doesn’t know exactly how it’s done. The truth is, no one does because Google keeps it under lock and key and if you have ever come in contact with an agency that guarantees number one ranking, it’s time to run.
If you’re not using LSI as part of your SEO strategy, you’ll never reach your full ranking potential. Why are we talking about a search engine update that happened nearly five years ago? It’s because a lot of businesses don’t understand how to craft content that uses LSI to their advantage. We’re going to go a little bit further than LSI and look into topic modeling for SEO.
What is Topic Modeling and how is Topic Modeling used for SEO
Topic modeling itself is a complex system that ranks content based not just on the keywords, but also on the context. Let’s take a look at an example:
Mark Wahlberg is one of many musicians who turned to act. While most people know him for his recent appearance in Daddy’s Home 2, he was once only known for his music. When you search Google for Mark Wahlberg without specifying anything related to music or acting, you’ll get results that look like this:
Without qualifiers, Google delivers an assortment of results – including his IMDB for movies, his Facebook, and articles that mention him.
But when we add “music” to the end of that search, the results page changes dramatically.
And when we change “music” to “movies,” we see it change dramatically again.
How to Create Topic Models
To build your topic clusters for topic modeling, you have to go beyond the basic keyword research tool. You’re looking for more than related keywords. Using a tool like Article Insights is an excellent place to start because it takes the main keyword you’re targeting and spits out groups of words you should aim to include across 20 topics related to your content. For instance, if your main article is about types of acne, Article Insights would return something that looks like this:
Source: Article Insights
You can paste the content of your article in the window next to that list of topics, and it will highlight the words you’ve included. You don’t need to add every single word from each subject, but you should be aiming to hit at least a few from all 20. The good news is that writing naturally about types of acne means you’re going to have words like “hormones”, “cleansers”, “bacteria”, “pores”, and “pimples” in the content anyway, so it’s not really much of a task to make sure you’re hitting on those words and phrases.
But, no tool is going to replace taking a hands-on approach with your content.
Open a spreadsheet and create an inventory of all the pages of your site. List each page URL on its row. Include the focus topic, the user intent, and notes about the quality of the piece. Then, note whether or not it needs improvement. Even quality content can be improved with a deeper dive into the topic at hand.
Identify gaps in your coverage. Look through your list of focus topics to see which ones you’ve covered well, and which areas need a bit more. Create a content plan centered around beefing up the topics that need better coverage, and focus on crafting valuable content.
Now, organize the pages that need improvement by priority. When you update those pages to make improvements, look for related subjects and add more value to the content. It’s best to begin, with the pages that have the least coverage, or the topics that are the most important to your business.
Optimizing with Topic Modeling in Mind
If you’re reading this article in shock because you’re suddenly overwhelmed with an extensive library of content to go back and edit, fear not. You’ve already done your content audit to determine which pages need the most attention.
Optimizing with topic modeling always starts with the on-page SEO factors like headline and page title. You need something that not only describes what your page is about but also grabs attention. From there, move to the first paragraph – readers are impatient and want to get straight to the point. Search engines will give the most weight to information presented in the first paragraph. The target keyword – or focus topic – should always be present in that first paragraph, and you should work to get to the point within a few sentences.
Now, take a look at headings and subheadings. Are there keywords there? They break up the content and make it easier for your audience to read, but they help the search engines in understanding and ranking your content, too. Spent time looking at all the links on your page – both internal and external – and the anchor text. These are all signals to the search engines what you’re writing about and the associated content you value.
Review the content to make sure it is answering users’ questions. Search engines will rank content that directly responds to queries more favorable – and it increases your chances of landing in the Google Answer Box.
Topic modeling for SEO may sound like it’s more complicated than the old school methods we’ve used for years, but really, it’s just a more sophisticated approach focused on keywords and user intent. If you’re writing about baking cupcakes, certain words and phrases will naturally be included in that content – and if you include material about frying eggs on the same page – then it’s no longer topically modeled or relevant to the audience. But, you wouldn’t usually combine baking cupcakes and frying eggs on the same page anyway, would you? As long as you focus on creating informative, valuable content, that serves your target audience, your users and Google will be happy. Google wants to serve their customers by serving them content that helps them get what they need – and if your content does that, you’re golden.