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Topic Clusters: Are Keywords Dead?

Every few years I see some new marketing tactic come around that challenges the status quo and asks the question...is {old tactic} dead?  Well, I guess now it's my turn to ask the question.

With all our talk about topic clusters, it's got me thinking.  Are keywords now dead?


Before I answer that question, let's take a quick look at the current landscape of search.  Today, people are seaching the web in a multitude of ways:

  • Google Search (Desktop, Tablet, and Mobile)
  • Voice Search (Siri, Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.)
  • Social Media Search
  • Forums
  • Chat Bots

That means the SEO landcape is getting more and more fragmented.  It used to be that things were pretty straightforward.  People type in keywords.  You want to rank for those keywords.

However, today people search a bit differently.  They ask questions.  They expect to find the answers quickly, but they also want their search engine to anticipate their next question or even provide additional information they may not have even thought they wanted...but they do.

Also, think about how many different variations of questions people will ask into voice search devices.  They're all going to be so different because there's not "auto-suggest" like you get in a Google search so you know what others have typed in.

This had led Google and other search engines to make some changes in the way they return results, which has led us to the idea of creating topic clusters to get found for specific topics.  This helps reign in results for all these long tail, specific phrases and questions being searched for.  For example, if you've got a fitness blog, you would want to get found for "fitness" as a keyword or topic, but also lots of sub-topics around that main topic.

  • fitness for couples
  • quick fitness workouts
  • diet as it relates to fitness

...and so on.

Tradionally, these were all separate keywords.  However, by grouping them into a topic cluster, we're able to signal to Google that our blog or site is a great resource for anyone searching on that topic.


So, keywords are turning into topics.

But does that really mean keywords are dead?

No.  I don't think so.

People will continue to search for keywords and phrases, and they'll continue to ask questions.  Those keywords will range from "auto repair near me" to "fitness tips" to "how many triple-doubles did Oscar Robertson have in his career?".  

Search engines will still be able to track how many times keywords and phrases are searched each month, and that means as marketers, we'll want to be able to rank and show up for those phrases.  

Having said all that, even though I don't think keywords are dead, I think the way we think about creating and structuring content will change dramatically.   By thinking about searches in terms of topics, we'll recognize that someone asking a question into their Amazon Echo or Google Home such as "Mexican restaurants near me" is probably looking for a similar answer to a variety of extremely similar varations:

  • "Mexican restaurants close by"
  • "Mexican restaurants within 3 miles from here"
  • "What's the best Mexican restaurant closest to my home?"
  • and so on

So, by shifting your focus and thinking of search in terms of topics, you'll be able to cover those topics holistically and thoroughly.  

The end goal is to provide a great resource for your end user/searcher, and in turn, you'll start showing up in search more often.

What do you think?  Are keywords dying off?



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