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Search Engine Optimization

How Google’s algorithm updates amplify the role of topics in SEO

Keywords have been the backbone of SEO (search engine optimization) from the start, driving traffic from search engines straight to a website’s content. It’s hard to think of SEO without them. But the game is changing. Recent updates to Google’s algorithms, including helpful content and core updates, have shaken things up and placed growing emphasis on factors like content context and user intent.

While keyword research is still really important (and will be for the foreseeable future), good topics are starting to share the stage.

While keyword research is still really important (and will be for the foreseeable future), good topics are starting to share the stage. For today’s digital marketing-focused content creators, this means the way forward is using an SEO strategy based on comprehensive, compelling topics backed by solid keyword research.

The Differences Between Keywords and Topics

Relevant keywords and topics are both important for SEO strategy and content creation. However similar they may appear, there are some pretty key differences between the two.

What Are Keywords?

You probably already know this, but keywords are specific words or phrases of varying length that web users enter into search engines to get results. While keywords are vital for driving traffic to websites, how often they’re searched can shift based on current trends, varying searcher behavior or even changing seasons.

What Are Topics?

On the other hand, topics are broad concepts that pertain to a subject. They serve as a way to gather, guide and organize information during the content creation process. Topics also add semantic relevance or the connection between words and concepts within a piece of content. This offers strong SEO value by encouraging more comprehensive, user-friendly content and use of related terms rather than keyword stuffing. Though topics are affected by trends and seasons, they tend to have a bit more search stability than specific keywords.


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How Keywords and Topics Work Together

Imagine you’re walking through a bookstore with row after row filled with just about any book you could want. There are all kinds of sections: fiction, history, science, travel and cooking. Think of topics as the broader areas in the bookstore, like the cooking section. You make your way to that section hoping to find some cookbooks for your home. You’re interested in finding selections with recipes for at-home gourmet sandwiches and simple 30-minute dinners. These specific terms and phrases represent relevant keywords. Once you find a book that matches your interest, you look over titles and peek through a couple of pages until you find a book with the information you’ve been looking for.

How to Pick and Write for Topics

So, back to search engine algorithms. Updates in recent years have been in an effort to reinforce Google’s ultimate goal: to connect users to relevant, helpful content that answers their questions and provides solutions to their problems. Choosing the right topic, supporting it with keyword research and writing about it in a way that meets search intent often proves to be a successful SEO strategy.

Semantic Search

Search engines use a semantic approach to search results, meaning they are much better at understanding content aspects like synonyms, context and natural language than they used to be. Content creators should take note and factor this into topic and keyword research. Topics that cover key concepts that are of interest to a target audience and include a natural scope of keywords and related terms are more likely to be recognized as higher-value content. For example, if you wanted to write a blog with a topic revolving around healthy eating, including terms and concepts like nutrition, balanced diet, wellness and healthy foods would address adjacent topics and keywords alike.

User Intent

User intent, also known as search intent, is the goal that someone has in mind when entering a question or query into a search engine. There are four kinds of user intent: informational, commercial, navigational and transactional.


The searcher is trying to find information or gain knowledge about a topic.


“How to start meal prepping for beginners”


The user is researching and comparing different products or services with the idea they will make a purchase in the future.


“Best meal prep recipes book 2023 reviews”


The searcher is trying to locate a specific website or page on a website.


“Pinterest meal prepping ideas”


The user is planning to make a purchase or perform an action on a website.


“Buy meal prep containers online”

Search engines like Google have a far greater understanding of user intent now than ever before, allowing them to link searchers with content that best matches their intent. Content creators who choose topics relevant to their audience, cover them in depth and answer multiple queries that correspond to the user intent and topic may have more success in search engine results. The more thoroughly you cover a topic, the more engaged readers tend to be. You’ll not only demonstrate that you’re an authority on the topic to human users, but you may also signal to search engines that your content is valuable and worth reading.


One of the biggest difficulties writers face is creating unique content. Millions of pieces of content are added to the internet daily. It’s nearly impossible to cover a topic that hasn’t already been written about in some way. While writing about what’s trending is natural, sometimes it’s better to think outside the box and try to address the needs of your audience that haven’t been widely discussed. Truly understanding your target audience is key to uncovering original topics and sharing new takes on trending topics. If you’re able to identify a pain point, specific area of interest or new angle on a topic, you’ll be able to differentiate your content and connect with searchers.

Summer Phillipson / Copywriter
Summer balances a knack for telling a story (thanks to a stint in journalism) with copy that tells readers exactly what they need to know. Her experience, which includes everything from industrial ad copy to small business websites, is evident in every project she takes on for Parkway’s clients.