When you search for something on the Internet, do you stop with a single word (focus keyword), string together related words (semantic keywords), or do you ask a question as though Jeeves was standing by ready to serve up the answer(s) on a platter? More and more life is imitating art. We have become accustomed to speaking to our search engines like Will Robinson talking to Robot. We expect our search engines to understand our complex questions just as a co-worker, a subject matter expert, or a friend would.
And it works—natural language processing (NLP) is a reality. In 2015, Google implemented RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm that’s able to understand the context of people’s search queries. RankBrain associates past searches with similar topics and extracts multiple keywords and phrases that are associated with the search query to serve up the most relevant results.
More than 15 years ago, in the November/December 2000 issue of Harvard Business Review, David Kenny and John F. Marshall painted a clear picture of this landscape in the article, Contextual Marketing: The Real Business of the Internet.
Today companies leveraging the benefits of NLP can be in the moment with their potential customers on SERP pages. Has your company invested time and energy to create content and found the industry expertise, contextual marketing, semantic keywords, featured snippets, and schema is confusing? We propose four simple steps you can take to put all this expertise to work for you and get in the moment with your potential customer. You still need to start with keyword research—the key is to not stop there.
1. Identify your pillar pages.
The content of pillar pages is grounded in topics or themes that address the pain points or needs of your potential visitors and prospects. These pages broadly but comprehensively address the common questions, concerns, and needs of your potential visitors and prospects. These pages are foundational.
Do you currently have this type of page on your site? Dig into your data. What pages are being legitimately visited the most often? What pages currently have the most backlinks? What pages, besides the contact page, convert visitors to customers? These pages will become your pillar pages as you plan modifications you may need to make to get found or continue to be found via organic traffic.
2. Identify or create pages amplifying the content of the pillar pages.
Where do your visitors go from those pillar pages? Sometimes one pillar page will be successful at drawing a lot of visitors, and some marketers prescribing to the "less is more" train of thought want to stop there. Consider the following:
- How deep does your expertise go when addressing your prospects’ pain points? Can you effectively get it all on one page?
- Is it likely your prospects are wanting to using search to drill down to specific answers that may be subtopics of their broader pain points?
- Does your pillar page have all the content you want your site to achieve authority for on that topic?
- Wouldn’t it be nice to show up more than once on a search engine result page for your prospects’ search queries?
3. Create text links from your pillar pages to the amplifying pages.
Do you have internal text links that provide more specific information, options, next steps, or examples that elaborate on the content of your pillar page? If you do not, this is an opportunity to build the contextual roadmap the search engines crawl and use to determine whether your content is a good fit for your potential visitors’ and prospects’ queries.
These text links tell search engines like Google and Bing there is a contextual/semantic relationship between these pages, resulting in greater site authority for your subject matter expertise and will reward you by serving your pages up in response to your potential visitors’ and prospects’ queries.
However, don’t start creating amplifying pages just for the sake of SEO. Make sure the pages are quality pages with content that is:
4. Make sure all pages are built with solid on-page SEO.
Don’t abandon the best practices of on-page SEO. On-page SEO is a solid foundation on which to build your contextual framework.
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- Content of page
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To start leveraging NLP, it is that simple. Simple does not equal easy. At LMG, we leverage tools and our clients’ industry expertise to put this strategy to work. HubSpot’s recent rollout of content strategy tools to include Topic Clusters allow our HubSpot clients to identify the existing content they have that needs to be linked together to create the contextual roadmap for search engine crawlers. The tool also serves as a place to brainstorm and build out ideas for new pillar and amplifying pages. MozPro has a Related Topics tool that helps you vet the relevance of the content you are considering for development and helps you identify topics you should be going after.
Don’t throw out all the content you currently have published. Do stop relying primarily on focus keywords. Start developing new content and refresh existing content that is consistently found when your potential visitors query search engines about your subject matter expertise or products.
A contextual framework for content strategy should dictate your site architecture and provide clear connections for the site crawlers to put NLP to work for your content!