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Google Introduces Subtopic Rankings, a New SEO Opportunity

Jan 18, 2021   |   SEO
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Google has confirmed that they launched their new subtopic rankings for certain queries. Last fall, Google had let marketers know that the change was coming, and they confirmed this winter that the change went live in November 2020.

Tweet -, Milestone Inc.

Google said this about the introduction of the subtopic rankings last October:

“We’ve applied neural nets to understand subtopics around an interest, which helps deliver a greater diversity of content when you search for something broad. As an example, if you search for “home exercise equipment,” we can now understand relevant subtopics, such as budget equipment, premium picks, or small space ideas, and show a wider range of content for you on the search results page. We’ll start rolling this out by the end of this year [2020].”

With this change officially live on the SERPs, it has caused some adjustments in how content is organized and ranked for certain types of keywords and queries–particularly those that are broad and open to different types of interests that users might have when making the query. 

Although it will only impact a subset of searches, we wanted to explore this change and the potential it holds– particularly for small businesses. 

What are subtopics?

Google describes subtopics as specific topics and types of content within a broader category. In the example the search engine gave, that we quoted above, ‘home exercise equipment’ might have subtopics related to budgets or small spaces.

The core of the issue comes down to the ability of the search engine to understand how different topics are related and the subordinate topics that fall under a broader category. The idea behind ranking the subtopics lies in the ability of Google to create diversity within the search results. By making sure the different options are represented on the SERP, it will be easier for customers to find the content that appeals to them and thus lead them down the subtopic that they initially wanted. 

What does this mean for marketers?

For marketers, this change can present a window of opportunity for those who face stiff competition on the SERP for popular, broad queries that relate to their industry. While formerly they may have had to compete directly with the larger, established sites and brands to earn a place on the front page of the SERP, the subtopic rankings may now enhance their ability to improve their rankings. Instead of trying to rank directly for the head term overall, the business might now be able to secure a higher position based on their targeting of a particular subtopic within the broader query.

How can I use subtopics to rank higher on the SERP?

Brands that want to take advantage of the opportunities presented in the new SERP will find that they have a few different strategies and techniques to help them secure real estate. Although smaller businesses have long struggled to gain rankings against larger, more established companies- particularly for valuable yet broad keywords–this will provide openings. 

Remember the importance of E-A-T

Google continues to want to find websites and pages that it can trust to show high-value content to users. Therefore, for brands to take advantage of the subtopics, they must still make sure that their content offers an excellent user experience and authoritative material. Build a website that includes valuable assets such as:

  • Authoritative writers
  • Original research
  • Well-cited material that suggests well-supported ideas within the piece

Using these types of best practices will help your brand establish authority on the web as a whole, and thus prime you to rise within the rankings for an important subtopic.

Consider the subtopics that your brand fits the best

Your work to optimize for a subtopic should align with your area of service and expertise. Falling back to Google’s example of home exercise equipment, if you focus on selling equipment for bargain hunters who still want quality material, then that will provide you with the path forward when optimizing your material. Focus on editing and publishing content that supports your position as a reliable guide for home exercise equipment that also falls into the ‘bargain’ subtopic. 

As you create material for the broad topic of ‘home exercise equipment’, place an emphasis on how you can help those looking for affordable materials. Make sure that the subtopics you target apply directly to the type of content you produce and the audience you appeal to. Google still wants to see depth and expertise when selecting the pages that will receive prime positions.

Incorporate keyword research

 As brands begin to incorporate the idea of optimizing for different subtopics into their overall content strategy, they will find that keyword management and research will continue to play a critical role. You will want to investigate not only the keywords that matter the most to your target customers, but also which keywords Google seems to display subtopics for. Running Google searches yourself on your target keyword as you plan your content can help you uncover these divisions and help you begin to know how to position your material.

Using information about the subtopics that you identify, you can use further keyword research and investigations on the SERP to uncover strategies for optimizing your content. You can see the vocabulary and terms used when speaking about a specific subcategory so that your content fits well with the user experience Google wants to create on the search page. 

Armed with this information, you can create material that reflects the interest of the search engine and likely searchers using the broad query. 

Make sure your content reflects user intent

As you begin to create the content based on your keyword research and previewing the existing SERP for the term, do not forget to also verify the user intent. Knowing what people want to accomplish when they search for this particular broad keyword and express an interest in a particular category will help you create the right type of content.

You can find this information by examining the existing SERP. Look carefully for use of visuals, such as pictures, videos, or infographics. Note if the customer will likely have a strong interest in making purchases online. 

As you get to know the likely intent of people searching for your particular topic, the easier it will be to effectively engage them and create material that ranks well on the SERP.

Track your metrics

As you begin to create content to appeal to people through this new algorithm adjustment, make sure you continue to effectively track your page rankings and other important KPIs. The better you can see how your efforts impact your rankings, the easier it will be to make sure that your campaigns and marketing efforts produce results. You will also be empowered to change and adapt your strategies as needed, allowing for the best possible results.

Google continues to create new algorithm updates to help them better understand and anticipate the needs of the end-user. By offering greater diversity in the results for a particular query, particularly broad questions, the search engine will improve their ability to present the customer with the information they seek.

This change offers opportunities for marketers interested in building their digital presence on the SERPs. See how you can begin to incorporate some of these best practices into the content and campaigns you create. 

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