CONTENTS

What Are Topics?

What Are Keywords?

Topics vs. Keywords: Main Differences

How To Develop an SEO Strategy That’s Based on Topics & Keywords

Conclusion

10 min

Topics vs. Keywords: Main Differences & Examples

According to a University from Arizona, humans speak on average 16,000 words every day.

Unless you’re a teacher or frequent public speaker, that’s a lot!

The vast majority of those words take place during conversations with other people, with each conversation covering a certain topic.

Chances are, you’ve found yourself in the place of not being able to make exact sense of what topic a conversation was all about, because its contents (words) didn’t clearly point to it, in what might have caused you confusion.

Search engines work in a similar way, because their algorithms need to be provided with the right terms in order to associate them with each other and have enough context, as to what the main topic is.

As you can imagine, this can cause many problems in terms of SEO performance, so let’s see how you can avoid them.

What Are Topics?

Topics are subjects that refer to a particular matter and can have various other topics that are related to them.

For example, while you already know that digital PR is a topic that can be discussed or written about, it’s important to also understand how topics are perceived by search engines when it comes to SEO.

Before we dive deeper into this, let’s take a step back and see how Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a topic, which is “the subject of a discourse or of a section of a discourse” 

Going back to search engines and how they’ve evolved, just like we —humans— engage in discourses and try to make sense of the topic(s) involved, search engine algorithms work in a similar way; they try to understand what a piece of content is all about, in order to promote it to the right audience.

The driving force behind this aren’t just keywords, like they used to be in the early days of SEO, but the relevance of the topic and specifically the semantic relevance between different topics, by building more meaning and topical breadth and depth

How to Build Topical Authority: George Chasiotis (MINUTTIA)

Briefly taking the example of digital PR we mentioned earlier, let’s assume you want to get organic visibility for a term with commercial intent, like digital PR tools.

Are you the right source to talk about this matter? 

Are you credible enough? 

Is the topic suitable for your website and business?

The answers to these questions are for search engines to decide, but in order for them to give you an affirmative answer, you need to help them and prove that you’re indeed all of the above.

This can be done by building topical authority, which in a nutshell helps Google associate a website with topics that are tightly related to what the website is all about.

So in order to have visibility for a term like “digital PR tools”, you also need topic breadth or else horizontal topical authority.

What we mean by this is that you need to not only talk about digital PR or some of its subtopics, but other topics that aren’t the same but simply related to digital PR.

In other words, that way Google will understand that you’re able to talk about topic A, since you’re able to talk about topic B.

In our case, topics like:

  • SEO
  • Email outreach
  • Link building
  • Content marketing

Should ideally be covered by you because there is a topical association between them, and you want to achieve as much topical breadth as possible.

Should you achieve that, Google will see you as a credible source to talk about “digital PR tools”.

Apart from topic breadth, you should also strive for topic depth or else vertical topical authority.

In simple words, you don’t only have to cover different topics that overlap with each other, but dive into each of them and extensively cover keywords they include (we’ll elaborate on this in step #2 of how to develop an SEO strategy, further on).

If you correctly identify those keywords, you’ll ideally start receiving online visibility for them and, therefore, your main topic(s).

In the case of digital PR, we have:

  • How to write a pitch
  • PR strategy
  • PR outreach
  • What is a press release

And many more keywords, both for digital PR, as well as the other topics we saw earlier.

We mentioned keywords, so before we have a closer look at them and their differences with topics, let’s see some examples of topics in order to fully understand what they mean in terms of SEO, as well as how you can fully utilize them as part of your content strategy.

Topic: Product Launch

In general, we could say that product launch refers to the effort of bringing a new product to market.

As a topic, there’s a lot to discuss/write about which are directly related to it, such as:

  • Market research
  • New product
  • Product manager
  • Product roadmap
  • Minimum viable product (MVP)

And many more, all of which are separate topics themselves, closely (or else semantically) related to our “main topic” of product launch.

Ideally, if you wish to achieve topical authority, those are some of the topics that you need to cover in your content, in order for Google to associate them with each other and be seen as a trusted source, around this topic.

Otherwise, should you only focus on product launch as a topic, you won’t achieve topical depth.

After all, it’s no secret that Google works with semantic associations, meaning that you need to cover many related topics in order to rank for your target one.

Let’s have a look at another example.

Topic: Link Building

Link building is yet another topic that’s closely related to other topics, with:

  • Backlinks
  • Link equity
  • Internal links
  • Anchor text
  • Domain rating

Being some of the semantically associated topics you should cover, if you wish to rank high(er) in the SERPs for content based on the topic of link building.

To give you an idea, one of the top performing pieces for the term “link building” is this guide from Ahrefs.

Image Source: Ahrefs

In order for Ahrefs to perform so well in the SERPs for a term like this, it obviously had to “prove” to Google that not only this topic is relevant to the website’s identity, but also that it’s a credible enough source to talk about it.

How is this achieved?

Through topical authority and covering a wide range of topics associated with link building, like the few we saw earlier.

Let’s have a look at them one-by-one.

First of all, when it comes to backlinks there’s a complete guide on the website that covers this topic…

Image Source: Ahrefs

…which actually performs really well organically, ranking in Google’s 3rd position as of today September 8th, 2022.

Another related topic that we saw is link equity.

Image Source: Ahrefs

Although in the website’s glossary, the topic has also been covered and ranks in Google’s first page.

Moving on to the topic of internal linking, it’s also been covered sufficiently by Ahrefs…

Image Source: Ahrefs…

…as well as the topic of anchor texts

Image Source: Ahrefs

…and lastly the topic of domain rating.

Image Source: Ahrefs

Obviously Ahrefs has covered even more topics related to link building, which seem to be sufficient enough for Google to promote the link building guide, but just by seeing these 5 topics gives us a good idea of how topic depth works in action.

But in order to achieve complete topical authority, topic breadth is also important.

Think of the example of Digital PR we saw earlier; it works in a similar way, since to rank high for link building, one should also cover a wider range of topics like SEO, content marketing, and email outreach.

When it comes to SEO, it seems to have been covered significantly, through several pieces of content.

Although we know that Ahrefs is a popular SEO tool and it’s credible enough to cover such topics, this also needs to be proven to search engines.

It’s the same case for content marketing, with the website covering the topic extensively, through a great deal of content around it…

…as well as when it comes to email outreach as a whole…

It’s important to mention that Ahrefs has not just talked about SEO or content marketing as general terms, but covered many keywords related to them, such as free seo tools and content marketing examples, in an effort to achieve topic depth for each of the target topics. 

We could feature many more related topics that Ahrefs has covered, both vertically and horizontally, but we believe that the importance of topical authority is clear, in order to prove to Google whether a website is suitable to talk about link building (which was where everything started in the beginning of this example) or not.

It’s also easy to see how covering entire topics is different to simply including them as keywords in a piece of content, but we’ll talk more about this later on.

For now, let’s move on to our last example.

Topic: Email Marketing

Whether you’re into email marketing or not, it’s quite clear that it’s a broad term with many topics related to it.

Just to give you an idea:

  • Email list
  • Subject line
  • Open rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Newsletter

Are all topics that can directly be associated with email marketing one way or another.

Imagine being an email marketing platform, such as Moosend for example. You would want to get organic visibility for many terms with business value, just like email marketing services for which Moosend ranks in Google’s first page for its list post on them.

Although it’s a high-quality piece of content that gives value to readers and has many on-page SEO principles applied, those aren’t the only reasons it performs so well.

You’ve probably rightly guessed that ranking for something related to email marketing, you also need to cover other topics related to it, like the few we saw earlier.

Moosend has sufficiently managed to write about email lists

Image Source: Moosend

…as well as subject lines…

Image Source: Moosend

…metrics like open rate

Image Source: Moosend

…and bounce rate

Image Source: Moosend

…and lastly newsletters.

Image Source: Moosend

Those are just some of the topics that Google can associate with each other in order to determine whether Moosend is a suitable source to talk about email marketing services, or email marketing in general.

From a wider scope, some parent topics of email marketing are:

  • Content marketing
  • Online marketing
  • Digital marketing

Which as you know are much broader, but there is some overlap between them and is worth covering in order to achieve topic breadth.

This is something Moosend has taken into account and made sure to cover all of the topics above, thus helping search engines associate them with each other…

…and determine whether it’s credible enough to talk about email marketing or not.

As we saw, it seems that it is, so it’s clear that Moosend has managed to achieve topical authority in its field, making it easier for the website to rank for many terms related to email marketing, including email marketing services.

Now that we saw what topics are, how search engines perceive them, and why they’re important in terms of SEO, let’s move on to keywords and explain what they’re all about.

What Are Keywords?

Keywords are terms added to online content that help both searchers and search engines find it easier and understand what it’s all about.

They come in the form of words or phrases and are an integral part of on-page SEO. If implemented correctly, keywords can help your content gain more organic visibility, by Google promoting it to the right audience.

In a more general sense, according to Marriam-Webster, a keyword can be defined as “a significant word from a title or document used especially as an index to content”.

In other words, keywords can match your content with online search queries, thus helping you gain organic visibility.

Just to give you a brief idea, if a searcher types “audience research tool” into Google, the first non-paid result that comes up is SparkToro.

This is largely because the website has proved to Google through its extensive content efforts and other on-page SEO tactics, that this keyword is directly relevant and descriptive of what it does.

Although keywords used to have more power in the early days of SEO, when search engines were simpler, they’re still very important nowadays and you should know how to integrate them into your content strategy correctly.

To begin with, selecting the right keywords is essential, but you should also know how each keyword is associated with your topics, but at the same time how they’re different from each other.

3 Types of Keywords

Before we dive deeper into the comparison, we should mention that there are 3 types of keywords:

  • Phrase match
  • Term match
  • Semantic

That you should know how and when to use each one.

Let’s have a closer look at them, one-by-one.

Type #1: Phrase match keywords

Phrase match keywords refer to keywords that contain the exact words of the topic in the order they’re written in.

For example, if our topic is product launch, then product launch checklist is a phrase match keyword, because it contains the exact words of the topic, in the exact same order.

Type #2: Term match keywords

Term match keywords are keywords that contain all the words of the topic, but in any order.

Following the same example, our term match keyword could be how to launch a product, because it includes both “product” and “launch”, but in a different order.

Type #3: Semantic keywords

Semantic keywords are keywords that don’t belong to any of the types above and they don’t have to include the words of the topic at all, as long as they’re semantically associated with it.

For example, coming soon landing pages is semantically relevant and doesn’t include “product launch” in any way.

We believe the 3 keyword types are quite clear, but let’s dive deeper into them through some examples of topics, like we did earlier. 

Topic: Product Launch

Although we briefly saw the example of product launch before, it’s worth breaking it down through the 3 keyword types.

A good case is that of Viral Loops, a referral marketing software for which we created a topic cluster a while ago, around the topic of product launch.

Author’s Note: A topic cluster is a set of pages that cover one main topic and semantically associated subtopics.

Topic clusters are ideal to describe how keywords work, because each main topic (hub page) is broken down into related subtopics (cluster pages).


With each cluster page being based on a keyword that contains the exact match of the topic’s words.

So, considering the topic is product launch, some of its phrase match keywords are:

  • product launch strategy
  • product launch email
  • product launch examples
  • product launch ideas
  • product launch metrics
  • product launch checklist

For each of which a separate page has been created.

Image Source: Viral-Loops

When it comes to term match keywords, the guide on how to launch a product is an excellent example, because it contains “product” and “launch” in a different order, unlike the phrase match keywords we just saw.

Image Source: Viral-Loops

The interesting thing is that this page is also a part of the topic cluster, despite not being a phrase match keyword, since it’s semantically associated with the topic.

As for semantic keywords, “coming soon page examples” is a good example because it doesn’t contain the topic’s words, but it’s semantically relevant to it, considering it refers to launching something  without saying the exact words.

Image Source: Viral-Loops

All in all, you can see how the different keyword types are applied to real examples and how they’re connected to a certain topic.

Let’s have a look at another example.

Topic: Link Building

Like product launch, link building is also a topic that’s easy to demonstrate how the keyword types are associated with it.

So, what do phrase match keywords of link building look like?

Although it’s not hard to guess some, it’s easy to find them all through a keyword research tool like Ahrefs.

By interesting the term into Ahrefs’s keyword explorer and selecting matching terms

…the tool presents us with a list of almost 7K phrase match keywords containing the words “link building”.

Obviously some are stronger than others, but some good examples are:

  • Link building strategies
  • Link building service
  • Link building tools
  • White hat link building
  • Link building techniques
  • Broken link building

Because they contain link building either at the start or the end of the phrase, making it a great case to create a topic cluster on.

Let’s move on to our third and last example we have for you.

Topic: Email Marketing

Email marketing is a topic many people are interested in and involves a variety of things, so it makes sense that there are almost 37K keywords related to it, according to Ahrefs.

The majority of them are phrase match keywords, so finding them is quite easy. A few notable mentions are:

  • Email marketing statistics
  • Email marketing strategies
  • Email marketing software
  • Email marketing platforms
  • Email marketing examples
  • Email marketing templates

And many more, which include “email marketing” in that exact way.

When it comes to the topic’s term match keywords, we can see that:

  • Marketing email
  • Marketing email subject line
  • Marketing email templates
  • Marketing through email

All contain the topic’s words but in a different order.

What about its semantic keywords?

We could say that “promotional newsletter” is a good example of a keyword semantically associated with email marketing, without actually containing those words, because it represents a large part of what email marketing is all about.

So we just saw what keywords are all about, their different types and how they can be associated with their topic(s), since they’re included in them.

What’s also vital to understand is that topics and keywords aren’t the same thing; they have fundamental differences which you need to know before you develop your content strategy.

Let’s have a look at those differences.

Topics vs. Keywords: Main Differences

Before we dive into our comparison of topics vs. keywords, keep in mind that one’s not better than the other, but you should learn how to utilize both as part of your content strategy.

Difference #1: Keywords aren’t the same as topics

First and foremost, keywords and topics aren’t the same thing; keywords are a part of topics, not the other way round.

This means that a certain topic consists of various keywords (of all kinds), because one topical area includes many subtopics.

Just think of the example of product launch that we saw earlier, where the topic consisted of many phrase match, term match and semantic keywords.

Author’s Note: Not all keywords that belong to the same topic are necessarily a phrase or term match.

Depending on the topic, it can have few or many related keywords.

If we take another example of a topic, like “social media”, some keyword it consists of are:

  • Social media strategy
  • Social media manager
  • Social media tactics
  • How to be a social media influencer
  • How to post on social media

And many more, which if you cover sufficiently through your content efforts, you’ll manage to achieve topical authority and be seen as a credible source by Google.

Ideally, once you have a topic in mind, you should identify keywords and subtopics around it and create high-quality content, albeit a blog post, a topic cluster or anything else; this is something we’ll explain later on in this guide.

All in all, the better the research, the better the outcome will be.

Let’s continue to the next difference.

Difference #2: Not all keywords are reported in SEO software

Another difference to be aware of is that when using an SEO software, not all keywords are reported in it.

This is because such tools are designed to find keywords (or topics) with at least a little search demand, for people to use in their content.

However, there’s also the case of zero search volume keywords, which are –usually– long tail keywords for which SEO tools don’t provide enough data about their history or search volume.

For example, link building is a topic with great search demand, according to Ahrefs, and the same tool provides us with even more information such as:

  • Keyword difficulty
  • Traffic potential
  • CPC
  • Related questions

And much more, to help us make a well-rounded decision on whether we should target it or not.

However, when searching for a more specific keyword of this topic, like “link building for tech companies”, we don’t get any data.

Does this mean that it’s a “bad” keyword?

For some SEO professionals that might be the case, due to the low volume, but there are many benefits to taking advantage of such keywords, because they:

  • Have low competition
  • Target a narrow audience
  • Can generate high-quality traffic

So there’s a chance that you miss out on a lot, if you avoid targeting zero volume keywords.

After all, if a keyword is relevant to your topic based on the associations Google has made in its Knowledge Graph, then you should cover it even if there’s no search volume according to the SEO software you’re using.

This is why you shouldn’t rely your entire research on what SEO tools report, but dive deeper into things and discover as many keywords related to your main topic as possible.

All in all, SEO tools tend to have more data about topics as a whole, whereas not all keywords are reported.

Let’s continue.

Difference #3: Keywords that belong to a topic aren’t necessarily a phrase or term match

Another difference to bear in mind is that a topic’s keywords aren’t necessarily a term or phrase match.

This is an often misconception, because it’s easier to find such keywords, whether it’s through SEO software or your own research.

After all, they contain the topic’s words inside them, whether in the same or a different order.

On the other hand, semantic keywords are harder to identify, but they’re nevertheless important keywords of topics and they shouldn’t be avoided.

For instance, going back to the example of product launch as a topic, the keyword “coming soon landing pages” is semantically associated with it and makes it a good chance to target it.

Overall, even if the process is harder, we recommend you always try to identify a topic’s semantic keywords, in order to achieve full topic depth.

So now that we saw some of the most important differences between keywords and topics, let’s see how you can integrate them into your SEO strategy.

How To Develop an SEO Strategy That’s Based on Topics & Keywords

Through the following steps, we’ll show you how to integrate both topics and keywords into your content strategy more efficiently.

Let’s begin with the first one.

Step #1: Build a topical map

In order to successfully develop your strategy and achieve topical authority, you first need to create a topical map.

You can think of a topical map as a map of subtopics that are related to your main topic, so you need to cover each subtopic sufficiently in order to rank for your target topic.

For instance, if you want to gain visibility for the keyword “musical instruments”, then you should identify the right subtopics.

In our case, they could be:

  • Guitar
  • Piano
  • Violin
  • Drums

But also many more, but let’s feature those 4 for the sake of example.

This means that if you want to rank for something like “top musical instruments”, then you should also create in-depth content for each of the subtopics above.

That way, Google will understand that you have sufficient coverage of the main topic (musical instruments) through the coverage of its subtopics and keywords.

Author’s Tip: You can further help Google identify the page you’re most interested in promoting by adding internal links that will point to it.

Once you’ve identified your map’s most important subtopics, you need to extend them by finding relevant keywords to each one.

Step #2: Identify keywords for each of your topical areas

This is the part where you give depth to each of your topical areas.

Ideally, with the help of a keyword research tool like Ahrefs, you need to find several keywords related to each area, in order to be considered credible enough for Google to give you visibility for each one and, therefore, the parent topic.

After all, to be an authority for your topic in the eyes of Google, your site needs to cover the breadth and depth of your chosen topic.

It doesn’t really matter if the keywords you identify are a phrase or term match, as long as they’re directly related to each topical area.

In our case, we have the following keywords for each of our musical instruments.

As you can tell, the terms are in the form of a parent-child hierarchy, which is key for semantic search and how Google will be able to make the right associations between the terms.

Obviously, identifying all (or even most) of those terms isn’t easy and you need a solid keyword research process in place.

This will allow you to not only gain extra visibility for them, but ideally for your parent topic which is what you were aiming for in the first place.

Now that you’ve identified your topical map’s areas, let’s move on to the next step.

Step #3: Define your URL architecture

This step is all about finding the right URL architecture for each of your pages.

A clean and logical URL structure can maximize crawl efficiency and even improves user experience, because clear page hierarchies can make your content easier to navigate by users.

Although we could mention many things about URL best practices, it’s important to know how they should be adjusting according to each keyword type we saw earlier

When it comes to phrase match keywords, if we assume you want to build a topic cluster around the topic of product launch, you need to build a clear and evergreen URL structure that will make it easier for search engines (and users) to understand how the topic cluster has been organized.

Earlier, when talking about the keyword types, we saw that some phrase match keywords of product launch are:

  • Product launch checklist
  • Product launch ideas
  • Product launch examples
  • Product launch metrics

This means that the most optimized URL structure in this case is:

  • product-launch/checklist
  • product-launch/ideas
  • product-launch/examples
  • product-launch/metrics

So it’s easy to see how clear the architecture is.

Keep in mind that the URL structure above refers to the example of a topic cluster. If you want to target the same terms through your blog, the URLs should be in the form of:

  • blog/product-launch-checklist
  • blog/product-launch-ideas
  • blog/product-launch-examples
  • blog/product-launch-metrics

When it comes to term march keywords, following the example of how to launch a product that we also saw earlier, the URL being an exact match of it is the most optimized structure.

So the URL should be:

product-launch/how-to-launch-a-product

This also maximizes crawl efficiency and is evergreen, since it solely focuses on the keyword and not other words in the title, dates and more.

Lastly, it’s more or less the same case for URL structures of semantic keywords.

Once again, around the topic of product launch, a semantically related keyword like coming soon landing pages should ideally have this URL structure:

product-launch/coming-soon-landing-pages

Which offers the same benefits as before.

All in all, we recommend you keep your URL architecture as clear as possible, maintaining a logical structure for each subfolder and making it simple for search engines to understand where each page lives.

Let’s move on to the next step.

Step #4: Optimize on a page level

Optimizing your content on a page level is essential for many reasons, including to ensure sufficient coverage of your target keyword.

We’ve mentioned that Google’s algorithm needs to make the right associations between keywords in order to make sense of a target topic; this is why using semantically related keywords are so important.

However, when it comes to actually writing a piece of content, each keyword has certain entities, which can define a person, a place, an object or anything else.

According to a Google patent:

Entities are also things that Google will associate with each other in order to understand what a piece of content is all about, so including the right ones in your content is essential.

Author’s Note: Tools like Clearscope can help you with this process, as they use AI to extract the right entities from the top search results for a keyword.

At this point, you should keep in mind that not all objects –like words– are recognizable by Google and might not be in its Knowledge graph, so identifying the right ones is essential.

To give you an idea, for Viral Loop’s guide based on product launch checklist, we can see that Clearscope provides us with many recommended terms to use in the content, which are associated with the keyword.

It seems like the writer has done a great job at adding the vast majority of the recommended terms, considering the report’s content grade is A+.

Adding those terms and phrases optimizes the content to be better understood by search engines and help them connect it to the target keyword and, therefore, the main topic.

Overall, those were some of the most important steps to take in order to integrate topics and keywords into your SEO strategy.

Remember, that one’s not “better” than the other, but you need to be able to see how they’re different and develop a strategy that includes both, especially to achieve topical authority.

Let’s wrap things up with some final words.

Conclusion

Search engines become smarter and at the same time more complicated.

Just like our human brain works, having enough context when it comes to a certain discourse is vital, in order to understand its meaning.

This is why it’s essential that you understand how search engines tend to think,, through the right topics and keywords.

As long as you know how to implement them into your SEO strategy, your content will be clear to search engines.

Doing this is no easy task, but we’re here for any help you might need. Best of luck!

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