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3 Helpful SEO Moves to Get on Topic

3-helpful-seo-movesTo produce reliable and scalable results, think beyond the content you write. Look at the structure and targeting of your content.

Here’s a crash course on three advanced SEO techniques to help you get more conversions and better ranking from content you’re creating.

You won’t need the help of your IT department to use these techniques, but you will need to think like a strategist. Ready to take your content marketing expertise to the next level? Read on and soak up the knowledge.

1. Structure internal links by topic

Internal links make navigation easy and intuitive while defining the structure and hierarchy of your site. They also distribute link authority throughout your pages. However, if they aren’t well organized, you won’t get the full benefit of an internal linking strategy.

A clear and navigable framework resembles a spider’s web. The home page occupies the center; pillar pages are the second ring; and supporting pages are the outer rings. Each pillar page and its supporting pages are topic clusters.

Organize your internal linking strategy: home page, pillar pages + their supporting pages. @stephenjeske #SEO Click To Tweet

The goal of topic clusters is to demonstrate that your site comprehensively covers a subject – users can find the answer to any subject-related question on your site.

For example, let’s say you have a website selling small home appliances. You could have three pillar pages – kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom appliances. All the content about blenders, microwaves, food processors, etc., would link to the kitchen appliance pillar page. Boom – topic cluster.


Picking your pillar and cluster pages

Determine your site’s main topic areas. You want to have comprehensive pages for each area you cover.

Next, you need to conduct a content audit. Fun? No. Necessary? Yes. A content audit forces you to take a long, hard look at existing content. If you’ve been consistently categorizing and tagging your content, this should be relatively easy.

If you haven’t structured your content by categories and tags, create a simple spreadsheet. Each row should have a blog post URL and its corresponding focus topic. Identify any posts that serve as pillar pages or have the potential to do so. (Reminder: When sorting in spreadsheets, inputs must be uniform. Decide your topics ahead of time and don’t stray from your list.)

Here’s an example spreadsheet from MarketMuse, the company for whom I work.


When you’re done, you should be able to easily group your posts into clusters. Identify topics missing comprehensive pages. Then create and update your pillar posts as necessary. Make sure each cluster post links in relevant anchor text to its corresponding pillar page, as well as other pages within the cluster.

It’s OK if content links to topics outside the cluster, but only when necessary. The goal is to provide links that guide a visitor through the customer journey, answering increasingly specific questions and breaking down barriers to conversion.

Some search engine optimizers tend to add a link whenever a keyword is used. However, it’s more useful to think about intent and link to content that answers a visitor’s next logical set of questions. Think of it as a narrative set up to inform your users and aid in conversion.

#SEO tip: Don’t add link to every keyword. Link to content that answers viewer’s next question. @stephenjeske ‏ Click To Tweet

Knowing your pillar pages and clusters is Step 1. Step 2 is ensuring that each page is as comprehensive as possible. Deep, broad topic coverage is a major ranking signal, but what does it mean? Next, I talk about how to create content that exceeds what’s already out there.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Do a Content Audit in a Few Hours

2. Optimize topics

Creating topic clusters also helps you optimize your site for topical authority. Thanks to Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, the search engine extracts semantic meaning from search queries.

Instead of providing results based purely on the query entered, the search engine accounts for past results for that query, links between content, the user’s personal search history, and more. Hummingbird was the final nail in the coffin for keyword stuffing. The emphasis in the results are topic comprehensiveness and user intent.

Whereas keyword optimization aims to make pages rank for individual keywords, topic optimization primarily seeks to make pages rank for groups of keywords (i.e., the main keyword and its synonyms). Secondarily, topic optimization results in ranking for search terms related to your focus topic. When you’ve done a good job covering a topic in depth, you’re bound to have touched on many other connected ideas. A well-optimized page signals both breadth and depth to search engines, allowing you to rank for a range of keywords.

A well-optimized page signals depth & breadth, allowing ranking for range of keywords. @stephenjeske. #SEO Click To Tweet

There are a few ways you can perform topic optimization. Small sites may get good results from manual optimization. However, enterprise organizations probably require a more robust solution.

No-cost method for optimizing for topical authority

A common way to gain topical authority is the skyscraper technique – taking the highest-ranking piece of content for your topic and writing something better. Find areas where the competition only scratched the surface and go deeper with your content. Add stats, figures, examples, and step-by-step instructions. Use whatever your audience might find relevant and helpful. Whatever you do, don’t stuff it with more keywords.

#SEO tip: Take highest-ranking #content on your topic and write something better, says @stephenjeske. Click To Tweet

The drawback to this method compared to a data-driven software approach is you’re guessing at what you need to add to gain better rankings. Plus, it’s a time-consuming process, whereas tech can perform the task in minutes.

If you’re comfortable with tech but don’t have a big budget, you can combine the skyscraper technique with some free tools that perform semantic analysis.

Free tools

TF-IDF stands for term frequency-inverse document frequency. This method determines the topical relevance of a page based on – you guessed it – term frequency within a document. Free apps like Website Auditor crawl your site to analyze topical relevancy and conduct a basic SEO audit.

Latent Dirichlet allocation is a common topic model used in semantic analysis, and the free MALLET – machine learning for language toolkit – can analyze your pages.

TIP: Content marketers may not find these free solutions to be very user-friendly. In which case, some mid-market tools to help you research topic optimization: Ubersuggest,, and SEMrush can all give you insights that would be time-consuming to uncover manually or with a free tool.

Enterprise solutions for topic optimization

The platforms dreamed about decades ago by content marketers are now a reality. Machine-learning platforms can automate content outlines based on the terms for which you want to rank. They take the guesswork out of the skyscraper technique by identifying the subjects ranking pages are missing. Searchmetrics Content Experience and MarketMuse (my employer) offer these types of solutions.

When people execute a search, they are asking a question or trying to fulfill a need. Optimizing your content for topical authority helps your readers by addressing all their possible questions and needs, and Google likes that. The search giant rewards sites that put quality and usefulness at the forefront.

Of course, it’s not just about who can write the longest, most in-depth piece of content. It’s who can answer the right questions. This leads us to the subject of user intent and how to tailor your content to your specific personas at every stage of the customer journey.

3. Profile for user intent for SEO

“Searcher task accomplishment” is receiving a great deal of attention in the world of SEO. It refers to a successful search where a user enters a query, finds and clicks a relevant link, discovers information, and either stops searching or enters a query for the next step of the journey.

Searcher task accomplishment is the goal of user-intent profiling. Marketers create content around buyer personas, stages in the funnel, or both.

Searcher task accomplishment is the goal of user-intent profiling, says @stephenjeske. #SEO Click To Tweet

Buyer personas help you stay organized as you create content for a diverse clientele (industries and/or needs). If you want to get granular, this post on the nine essential parts of a buyer persona provides great tips and insights. Each person should include:

  • Industry
  • Needs
  • Pain points
  • Solutions
  • Preferred messaging type (e.g., Is this persona more likely to respond to appeals to logic or emotion? Is humor appropriate?)
  • Preferred distribution channels (i.e., Twitter, LinkedIn, forums, email, third-party publishing platforms, etc.)

Knowing this information for each buyer persona lets you tailor content to each customer group. Aside from giving viewers what they want, this exercise is valuable because you can A/B test your messaging and channels to determine what is most effective for each persona.

If you have a niche client base or there’s not much variation in pain points or need, you may not need to create buyer personas. Instead, your user intent profiles should focus on stages in the funnel: awareness, engagement, conversion, and referral.

You can target users based on funnel stages by creating content around the intent of search queries. As you may know, queries fall into one of three categories: navigational, informational, and transactional.

Navigational queries indicate the users want to find out where to go to fulfill a need. They could either be looking for a URL or a physical location. Navigational queries include “location,” “address,” a brand name, or a generic product name in the search terms.

Informational queries come from people who are doing research. Alternatively, they’re not interested in buying anything. Informational queries often include search phrases such as “what is,” “how does,” “when is,” etc.

Transactional queries are often made by people who have completed their research and are ready to make a purchase – your bottom-of-the-funnel prospects. These can be your highest value queries. Frequently, they include terms like “comparison,” “pricing,” “integration,” and “requirements.”

When you create content that directly responds to these three types of queries, you’re more likely to see clicks and conversions. Search engines can determine user intent and match it to page content, using topic modeling and other known/unknown factors.


Content marketers today need to be strategists who think about achieving broader goals as the content is created. Having an organized link structure, comprehensive topic clusters, and user intent profiles will always be important for SEO strategies. Be sure to master these concepts before moving on to the next big thing.

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Great SEO content is content searchers find that addresses their needs. Great content marketing requires a strong education. Get yours in person at Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute