Think Like a Search Engine: Advanced Content Strategy for Marketers

Despite recent buzz about semantic concepts eclipsing keywords as the focus of search engine algorithms, keywords and key phrases continue to be at the forefront of SEO strategy. Even as the engines become more intelligent, they cannot yet read minds – people still need to type words into a box in order to find information.

Indeed, keyword-based strategies for optimization are taking a backseat to semantic relationships that form meaningful “concepts”, but this concept is not new; Google has been incorporating semantics into their algorithms for a few years now.

In order to fully capitalize on Google’s move to semantics, marketers need to think relationally about keywords – this means web pages should be optimized thematically rather than based on the presence and frequency of a single keyword. Keywords are still the building blocks, but the research process is no longer a keyword-centric, volume-driven approach. In the past, marketers would start by looking for the most-searched keywords (emphasizing those with low competition) and plugging them in their respective target pages early and often. Now, the process requires a holistic contextual approach applying more sophisticated semantic analysis and strategic thinking about audiences and relevant content.

Implications for Keyword Research

The process begins straightforwardly by culling a very large number of terms related to the main topics addressed on your site, taking care to flag trending phrases for special attention. Next, lump those terms into thematic categories, and optimize content towards each theme. Each list of theme-grouped terms will then guide the content focus for corresponding pages.

A simple thematic keyword research outline would look something like this:

Theme 2 – Diagnosis

  • “Strep throat Diagnosis”
  • “Throat culture results”
  • “Types of sore throat”

Theme 1 - Symptom

  • “Strep throat Symptoms”
  • “Do I have strep”
  • “Sore throat fever headache”

Theme 3 – Treatment

  • “Treatment of Strep”
  • “strep throat antibiotics”
  • “Procedures to Cure Strep”

One of the benefits of optimizing in this way is that it allows for a more strategic approach – you can create themes around audience segments (i.e. stage of illness), brand imperatives (i.e. education about treatment options), conversion goals (i.e. coupon downloads), etc., in a far more natural way than if your primary objective were to simply load up your top landing pages with target keywords.The good news is that the Google Keyword Planner is still very valuable when performing thematic keyword research. However, to maximize the value of keyword research in an age when search engines understand “concepts”, applying social listening insights to your SEO-driven content strategy can make a tremendous difference.

Beyond Keyword Research: Social Semantic Analysis

While more expensive than the free Google keyword tool, tools such as Radian 6, Sysomos, and Sprout (among a plethora of emerging resources) scrape, organize, and summarize posts and comments from all major social networks, as well as publicly accessible forums and blogs on virtually any healthcare topic. These tools provide invaluable insight into real conversations between people (patients, doctors, researchers, etc.) talking about any given health condition. We can analyze the language used while also bucketing conversations by audience segment, treatments discussed and other actionable dimensions –very helpful context for enlightened keyword and ad copy development. Google’s goal, after all, is to deliver results that are ever more meaningful to its users – and by extension, to encourage them to search more, engage with more content, and in so doing, keep business moving for its advertisers.

Social conversations not only add a wealth of insight and “texture” to inform ad copy and content strategy, but can also contribute directly to target keyword selection and expansion. The arsenal of conversational language allows marketers to expand keyword lists with semantically related terms, improving reach while also providing a broader palette for meaningful messaging. By infusing page copy and meta-data with socially-informed language, the brand experience will resonate more effectively with the user.

In short, properly applied social listening as part of an enlightened SEO strategy can help marketers simultaneously increase web visibility and improve user engagement. It turns out that, at least in 2014, “thinking like a search engine” is a great way to make sure that you create content that is in perfect harmony with your audience on all levels.





Brett Landry