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SEO Decoded – Keywords, SEO Backlinks, and Topic Clusters Explained

Brad D
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Understanding SEO Basics - Keyword Research, Backlinks, and Topic Clusters - Featured

Let’s say that you’ve been a member of the digital marketing community for some time now.

If you’re an industry veteran, you’ve seen it all at this point.

You’ve got the experience and industry savvy to spot a flawed strategy from a mile away, and you know what it takes to properly implement a winning SEO strategy.

And that’s great…if you happen to fall into that category.

But for every true SEO veteran out there, there are five SEO rookies, just taking their first plunge into the world of search engine optimization.

Which brings up an interesting question: how on earth do you go from novice to expert in this field?

Some might argue that it’s experience, others may say that it’s raw knowledge.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that it’s just ‘know-how’.

Can you gain this know-how by trial and error, in the trenches? Absolutely.

But that’s a very time consuming and costly process for most business owners.

And while it’s great to learn from your mistakes, it’s better if you can learn from other people’s.

So, in the spirit of education, we’re going to be decoding some of the more important components of any successful SEO strategy.

Not only are we going to break down what they are, we’re going to help you understand what it takes to make the most out of each of these crucial SEO concepts.

With that in mind, let’s dive right into the one that’s most commonly associated with understanding SEO basics, and one of the most difficult to implement properly: seo keywords.

Optimizing for SEO Keywords

Understanding SEO - Keywords and SEO Keyword Strategy

Even if you’re new here, you’ve probably started to notice that there’s a bit of a debate going on when it comes to keywords.

On one side, you have the people who think that keywords are absolutely essential. If your website doesn’t have perfect keyword optimization, it might as well be invisible to the Google search algorithm.

The other side of this debate claims that SEO keywords are a thing of the past, and that paying any attention to them is a waste of time. In fact, some go as far as claiming that focusing on keyword optimization too much can hurt your brand.

So, who’s right?

Both of them, actually.

There’s no getting around the reality that when it comes to understanding SEO basics, SEO keywords can certainly have an impact on your search engine ranking.

But they’re hardly the key that unlocks the doors to the coveted first page of Google. If they were, all the results on that page would be perfectly keyword optimized.

Expect that it isn’t. And there’s a good reason for that, but more on that later.

And while keywords may not be the most important part of an SEO strategy, they’re certainly not harmful to your search engine rank — as long as you use them properly.

Again, more on that later.

Understanding SEO - Keyword Research

What’s important to understand now is that SEO keywords are one of the many ways that your website can communicate with search engines.

Confused? Okay, let’s clear this up.

As far as Google is concerned, they have one objective when it comes to their search engines: ensure that they provide users with the most relevant, valuable answer to their query.

Now, in order to find those high-quality results, Google’s search engines rely on an algorithm. And that algorithm is made up of several moving parts.

One of those many parts is keywords, which function as a way for the copy on your site to signal that your content is directly related to whatever’s being discussed.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keywords.

If you try keyword stuffing, which is just spamming certain keywords in the hopes of getting more traffic, you’ll likely end up flagged by Google and most likely have your website removed from Google’s search engine results altogether.

Understanding SEO Basics - Avoid Keyword Stuffing

As if that wasn’t enough to scare you, your conversion rate will be absolutely awful.

Imagine you saw this block of text after searching for ‘best laptops for under $500’:

Are you interested in the best laptops for under $500? If you’re looking for the best laptops for under $500, then we have the store for you. Look at our best laptops for under $500 on our site or see the best laptops for under $500 below.

Yuck.

No consumer in their right mind would ever look at that and say it’s ‘trustworthy’. So clearly, keyword stuffing is off the table.

Instead, the name of the game is ethical keyword optimization. Google doesn’t hate keyword insertion, provided it’s relevant and moderate.

To pull this off properly, we recommend that you focus less on the algorithm and more on the users that will be searching for your page.

Our advice? Craft copy and content that’s value-driven and uses keywords appropriately and in a contextually appropriate way.

If your keywords are just plastered on at the end, you’re in trouble. But if they’re woven into your content in a way that still adds value to the consumer’s experience, you’ll be just fine.

Getting Quality SEO Backlinks

Understanding SEO Basics - Backlinks To Your Website

When it comes to SEO, the other piece of the puzzle that people tend to think about is backlinks.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with these, SEO backlinks are just links on other sites that lead back to your site.

Internal links (or hyperlinks on your own content that lead to other sites) are important too, but we’re here to focus on backlinks and how you can best make use of them.

The idea here is that Google uses SEO backlinks as a way to measure relevance and authority in a particular industry.

Simple concept, right?

Well, it may be simple, but getting a ton of quality SEO backlinks is anything but easy.

That’s because there’s a massive difference between a high-quality link and a low-quality link.

The key objective here is to have several pages with high PageRank linking to your site. No matter what you’ve heard, the online authority of the page linking to you is massively important.

Of course, if you can get a link from a site with significant online authority, that’s even better.

If you’re confused about the difference between ‘site’ and ‘page’, here’s an easy way to think about it.

A page with high online authority would be a guide to hiking essentials that performed very well on a particular site. Whether or not the rest of the page has a ton of authority is irrelevant. The page authority is already strong enough.

Understanding SEO Basics - Hiking Essentials - Build Domain Authority

But a site with high online authority would be CNN.com. Any backlink that originates from that site is going to benefit from the online authority of the site.

Understanding SEO Basics - Take Advantage of Ahrefs

By the way, if you want to check these factors out for yourself, a great tool that will help you get a better idea of the situation is Ahrefs.

But that still leaves us with one unanswered question: how the heck are you supposed to get these SEO backlinks?

After all, if they need to come from other sites, what could the average business owner do other than cross their fingers and hope for the best?

Well, there’s plenty you can do, it turns out.

Understanding SEO Basics - Free Backlink Strategy

To solve this problem, let’s work backwards.

It can sometimes be helpful to think about the duality of SEO backlinks. A backlink that leads to your site is an internal link for the other site.

So, why would another site willingly give you a free backlink?

For starters, internal links aren’t without their SEO perks. They show Google that the content in question is linked to some authoritative work in the industry.

But beyond that, they show the average reader that the content they’re reading is high-value and well-informed.

Which brings us to the key to building high-quality SEO backlinks consistently…creating top-notch content.

Listen, we get it.

It’s not the most exciting answer in the world. But the SEO world is about solutions in the real world, and having a strong content marketing strategy is one of the most consistent ways to earn high-quality SEO backlinks.

And when you understand how consumers and other brands think, it’s no surprise why.

Is it likely that your direct competitors will link to your site? No, not if they can help it.

But usually, your best backlinks come from sites that run parallel to your brand.

For example, we’re not in direct competition with a business like Moz. But their content can often offer some interesting insights that we’d like our readers to see, which means we’re very likely to link to their content.

And that’s sort of the point. If you want to earn more high-quality SEO backlinks, you first need to understand want kinds of sites and brands are willing to give you the exposure you want.

From there, you need to create content that’s so undeniably valuable that anyone even discussing your industry is desperate to use it as a reference.

Executing a successful content marketing strategy at the same time as you’re trying to prepare an SEO strategy can be tricky, there’s no getting around that.

But if you’re able to integrate the two well enough, you’ll end up with some pretty spectacular results.

Topic Clusters

Understanding SEO Basics - Free Backlink Strategy - Using Topic Clusters

Alright, now we’re getting into the bonus round.

The first two concepts are pretty standard in the world of SEO. If you want to do just about anything with SEO, you’ll need at least a basic understanding of both of these concepts.

But topic clusters are a little different.

When compared to the previous two concepts, topic clusters are not as widely known or as synonymous with SEO strategy.

Part of the reason for that being that there simply wasn’t an ecosystem that could support topic clusters.

But with the changes in Google’s algorithm over the last few years becoming more and more well-defined, it became clear that topic clusters could do more than just survive — they could outperform traditional keyword optimization.

The way topic clusters work is actually pretty ingenious.

Instead of trying to rank each page as highly as possible, and then relying on the site’s online authority to boost them slightly, topic clusters function as a sort of self-contained hub of authority.

Essentially, there are three components:

  • Pillar Pages
  • Cluster Pages
  • Hyperlinks

Pillar pages are created, designed to be the central focus of the topic cluster. Once that’s done, cluster pages are created and linked to a related, central topic, which the pillar page has already begun addressing.

Finally, once everything is in place, the hyperlinks are the glue that holds the topic clusters together, linking all the clusters to the pillar.

This sends a clear message to Google: all of this content is valuable, but this pillar content is the most important.

Search engines then use those hyperlinks as a signal to determine how much authority the pillar page should have.

In other words, instead of hoping to hit the search engine lottery with one of your many blog posts, each one of them is helping you build more authority for both themselves and specific pieces of content.

But make no mistake, your content still needs to be high-value. If it’s not, you won’t be able to build the authority you need to properly boost your pillar content.

To put it simply, this is what the future of SEO and content marketing looks like.

Conclusion

Understanding SEO Basics - Keyword Research, Backlinks, and Topic Clusters - Conclusion

Being new to the world of SEO can be a pretty overwhelming experience.

Everyone claims that they’ve got the best strategy and the winning SEO formula to help Google finally notice you.

But the truth is that trying to ‘outsmart’ Google isn’t the path to SEO greatness.

If you want to ensure that your site gets the best ranking, traffic and conversion rate possible, you need to understand how to apply the fundamentals of SEO and how to take advantage of strategies that move in the direction of progress.

What’s the difference between keyword stuffing and topic clusters? A focus on providing value to users.

It may seem intimidating at first, but if you arm yourself with the right tools and knowledge, it’s only a matter of time before your SEO strategy gets your site the attention it deserves.

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