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Over the past few months, I have read a lot of resources citing that "Topical SEO" is the way to go for good search result rankings. These resources refer to Topical SEO as some great new marketing strategy.

Whilst there may be some truth to this, in that search engines are able to rank sites based on topics now, isn't 'Topical SEO' simply the by product of a well structured website, or is there more to it than this?

With search engines now focusing more on Topical SEO, would a back link from a similar topic website be more valuable than from an off topic website, despite the off topic website having more authority?

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    Can you share links to some of these resources? It is hard for me to comment on what they mean by topical SEO without reading the articles. – Stephen Ostermiller May 24 '18 at 14:20
  • @StephenOstermiller I think he is talking about me. My point is to think less about keywords and more about how LSI sees content where with topical analysis any content that covers a topic well will score higher. Why do I say this? Somewhere I will give a stone cold example of why where my point will be self-evident. I think I confused the OP. For that I apologise. – closetnoc May 24 '18 at 16:35
  • Answering the OPs question briefly. Yes. Relevency is important. Both from the source page (the one with a link) and the link text. But it does not always have to align perfectly. For example, a page with a pot roast recipe can link to a page about red wine, and again to a page for a chocolate cake. In this case, these all fall within the topic hierarchy as a single broader topic. In the first image I included the other day, you can see the hierarchy and where the content fit into that hierarchy. Using textrazor you can see the literal scores focusing content strength. Cheers!! – closetnoc May 24 '18 at 16:42
  • My laptop battery is dead and the power cord a bit hinky. I was typing an answer and kaplewie! It will take a bit of time to reboot. It is a slow poke. I installed too much heavy stuff. Since this is where all my tools are installed, we will just have to wait. I will be back later and will try and explain things better. Cheers!! – closetnoc May 24 '18 at 18:44
  • @StephenOstermiller For the sake of the OP, did I make sense? I feel bad for adding confusion when what I was trying to say was so simple (at least in my mind). I guess it can be a bit of a mind bender especially when the SEO world talks about keywords constantly and exclusively. – closetnoc May 24 '18 at 21:30
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Okay. I have clearly confused some people. I will try and make that right.

My point is not to think about the keywords you want to be found for and just plug them into your content thinking that is the total answer. Sure, terms are important, clearly, but keyword matches is not what search engines do. I will give some examples and may go the long way around the barn a bit. Please stick with me.

Here is a paragraph from Wikipedia.

The Chevrolet Corvette (C3) was a sports car that was produced by Chevrolet for the 1968 through 1982 model years. Engines and chassis components were mostly carried over from the previous generation, but the body and interior were new. It set new sales records with 53,807 produced for the 1979 model year. The C3 is the third generation of the Chevrolet Corvette, while the 1963 through 1967 models mark the second generation of the Corvette Sting Ray.

Here is how key terms fit within the topic hierarchy.

enter image description here

The content is analyzed using ontologies, in this case a topics ontology, where recognized terms are analyzed for topics.

enter image description here

Here you can see Chevrolet is associated with car using another ontology.

Using TextRazor, you can see more.

Here is a list of how information is found using ontologies.

/AUTOMOTIVE/GENERATION
 Chevrolet Corvette (C3)

/AUTOMOTIVE/AUTOMOTIVE_CLASS
 Sports car

/SYMBOLS/NAME_SOURCE
 Chevrolet Corvette

/BUSINESS/CONSUMER_COMPANY
 Chevrolet

I have cleaned up the list a bit. The point being how terms are understood.

Here is a list of topic scores.

1.00 Chevrolet Corvette
1.00 Chevrolet vehicles
1.00 General Motors vehicles
1.00 Automotive technologies
1.00 Rear-wheel-drive vehicles
1.00 Vehicle technology
1.00 Transport
1.00 General Motors marques
1.00 General Motors
1.00 Chevrolet
1.00 Transportation engineering
1.00 Sports cars
1.00 Road vehicles
1.00 Coupés
1.00 Artificial objects
1.00 Manufactured goods
1.00 Vehicle industry
1.00 Electric vehicle manufacturers
1.00 Private transport
1.00 Car body styles
1.00 Product introductions
1.00 Automobiles
1.00 Motor vehicles
1.00 Vehicles
1.00 Wheeled vehicles
1.00 Cars
1.00 Automotive industry
1.00 Land vehicles
1.00 Cars of the United States
1.00 Automobile layouts
0.99 American brands
0.95 Convertibles
0.94 Car brands
0.82 Transport economics
0.72 Automobile models
0.69 Chevrolet Corvette (C3)
0.69 Motor vehicle manufacturers
0.62 Sedans
0.55 Car performance
0.52 Hatchbacks
0.52 Motor vehicle manufacturers of the United States
0.49 Manufacturing
0.49 Sports car
0.47 Industries
0.45 Muscle cars
0.42 Wheels
0.42 Light trucks
0.42 Car manufacturers
0.40 Station wagons
0.40 Front-wheel-drive vehicles
0.39 Trucks
0.35 Industry
0.35 Luxury vehicles
0.35 Off-road vehicles
0.35 Commercial vehicles
0.33 Full-size vehicles
0.32 Roadsters
0.31 Ford vehicles
0.31 Four-wheel drive layout
0.31 Vehicle manufacturers of the United States
0.30 All-wheel-drive vehicles

A score of 1 is strong and anything less is relative. Because this is a short paragraph, there are a lot of strong scores. With longer content, this would change. This does not mean that shorter content performs better in search, it may or may not, it does mean that this example is limited in scope and one reason why I used it.

Taking a subset of the topics list, searches for:

1.00 Sports cars
1.00 Automobiles
1.00 Motor vehicles
1.00 Vehicles
1.00 Cars
0.49 Sports car
0.47 Industries
0.45 Muscle cars
0.32 Roadsters

...can potentially match this list. If for example you want be found using Muscle cars, you can add the terms 'muscle cars' or simply write how the Corvette 427 and 454 are muscle cars and compare them to other muscle cars of the period. You can possibly increase being found using Roadsters by comparing the Corvette to the AC Cobra, the MG, the Austin-Healey, etc. You can also simply use the term.

While this may not be the best example out there, you can see some associations exist beyond any keyword. In this case, the paragraph is short and limited in scope. When you analyze larger content, you will begin to see opportunities to strengthen your content by making the content better and not just place in a smattering of keywords which would not move the needle much in topic scores.

As for links and other smaller segments of content, the fuller semantic the segment of content is, the better. For example, Chevrolet Corvette (C3) is fine, however, The history of the Chevrolet Corvette (C3) American performance sports car. is far better. Not because I added some keywords, yes that helps, but because it is fully semantic with a subject, predicate, and object. Adding history increases the topic scores in other areas if your content is about history. If the content is about design, then How the designers of the Chevrolet Corvette (C3) American performance sports car conceptualize the process. Please note that it is not necessary to put performance sports car in your work since topic scores for these terms exist. To increase being found by performance, you can simply talk about the performance of the Corvette.

To answer the question as to whether topics are a product of a well structures site, the answer is Yes! But it is also more. Any well written content focusing on clarity, completeness, expertise, etc. along with organization that signals what the content is about, both structurally and using links, strengthens the topical scoring.

To answer the question as to whether linking from pages of a different topic will help of hurt SEO, this is a bit trickier.

Once you get a feel for how terms fit into topics, you will quickly see that some topics are complimentary and sometimes obvious. The example of pot roast, wine, and chocolate cake are all complimentary, it is easy to see these are foods, but these are also topics about baking, roasting, etc. If you link between pot roast and leg of lamb, these are closer because they are both roasting which is a method of cooking meat. However, linking pot roast to cars is inadvisable. The topics have to be relevant.

My point is this, keywords often do little where as tweaking content to add strength does far more including how searches find your content which is ever evolving. As long as you stay within topic. For example, you can add content about other car manufacturers and still be within topic. The first image shows a fraction of the hierarchy. Chevrolet comes under vehicle manufacturer. Comparing the Corvette to the Mustang at the time works on multiple levels of the hierarchy and will strengthen the topic score because Ford is a vehicle manufacturer, the Mustang can be a muscle car, certainly the Mustang is a performance car, both are two seaters, both are sports cars, etc. However, if your content is about Corvettes explicitly, then a mere mention of the Mustang is enough. You do not want to dilute the topic of Corvette.

Are you getting my drift?

As English speakers, we are trained poorly for this. We use far too many pronouns and make assumptions that readers know what we mean. However, a good writer has been trained to avoid such traps and be a bit more explicit. When content is clear, thorough, and most importantly desired, then it will be found. There is no need to guess what search terms are used, and remember this changes daily, and insert keywords awkwardly to compensate. Strong content wins the race every time.

  • As ever, thank you for the comprehensive answer. Gradually, I feel I am getting to grips with Topical Relevancy, though I may have to come back to this answer again, for a recap! ;-) – Craig May 26 '18 at 1:32
  • @Craig I may be confusing, but eventually I make sense! – closetnoc May 26 '18 at 1:48
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After further reading, and understanding, I feel I may have a better understanding of the implementation of 'Topical SEO Modelling'. As such, here is my very broad and simplistic, oversight over said topic. Whilst I place this as an answer, I am still very much in the 'exploratory' phase of its understanding and place this answer up as a point of discussion. This is reflected in the fact that I have accepted an alternative answer here. I welcome feedback ...

What is a Topic?

Firstly, I would like to put forward my interpretation of what a Topic is; in the context of website content:

A Topic, is a subject matter or the overarching contextual theme of a given web page. Depending on how a website it structured, a Topic may something which is supported with a variety of Pages/Posts, or it could be limited to a single Page/Post. If a Topic is supported with multiple Pages/Posts, then it may be wise to assign said supportive Pages/Posts, a 'Sub Topic'. Just like Child Categories support Parent Categories, in a contextual/thematic manner, Sub Topics would support Topics. As such, it could be said that Topics are synonymous with Page/Post Categories.

Website Structure

In order to get the best out of SEO, it is imperative that a website is logically structured. The structure of the website would need to reflect the future SEO efforts. When structuring a website, it would be important to know what Topics a site would want to explore. A simplified site structure being as follows:

Sitemap

Focusing on the above 'Blogs' entry,'US Government' and 'Financial' would act as 'Parent Categories' with 'Political Parties', 'Presidents', 'Banks' and 'Investments' all assigned the role of 'Child Categories'.

Topicality SEO

With the site structure set up, with SEO in mind, we would then turn out attention to what 'Topics' we would want to cover.

Lets focus on:

Homepage > Blogs > US Government > Presidents > Ronald Reagan

On the above page, our Topic could be 'Ronald Reagan's Political Life and Career'.

As many will know, Ronald Reagan was also an Actor. Since we want to attract search queries of, Political in nature, we need to reaffirm this. As such, we would need to ensure supporting Topical Keywords, such as the below are included:

  • 40th US President
  • White House
  • Republican Party
  • Eureka College

By ensuring Sub Topics, such as the above are included, it tells search engines that the page is Politically orientated. So, if there is a section entitled 'Early Career' with a Keyword Just before Ronald Reagan's debut movie, the page will not rank well for Ronald Reagan's debut movie, since this is just a minor extract of the overall piece, with the other Topics such as 'White House' and 'Republican Party' 'diluting' any Movie related references and strengthening the Political references.

Keywords

Evidently, Google focus more on topical relevancy than on Keyword matches per se.

If you perform the search query: Ronald Reagan's College, 'Eureka College' appears at the top of the search results as a Rich Snippet/Rich Card followed by a Wiki entry, with a dynamically called Meta Description displayed.

Similarly, if you perform the search query for where was ronald reagan born, then 'Tampico' appears, as this is what the user is looking for. Again, the same Wiki page appears at the top of the search result, with a differing Meta Description. Since the same result appears, even when using the Keyword ronald reagan place of birth, it is same to say that Google may be matching results on topical relevancy of 'Ronald Reagan > Birthplace'. As such, we do not need to insert the above keywords, and all its variations. Simply talk about it naturally, assigning topical signals such as 'Location', 'Coordinates', 'Birth date' etc.

SEO is ultimately, educated guess work. Just like many SEO, I have a lot to learn, acknowledging a continual learning curve. As such, do feel free to feedback :-)

  • Bingo! BTW- all of these example results in your last paragraph comes from the answer engine which used the knowledge base (sometimes referred to as knowledge graph) to answer an apparent question. In this case, fact links are used. You are right that keywords do not enter the picture. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jun 24 '18 at 0:03

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