Going Deep: Winning Top Rankings with Topical Depth Optimization

Joseph Volk / 29th May 2019 / Comment / Content Strategy

scuba diver on sea floor

Topical Depth Optimization: A Proven SEO Tactic for 2019

At Wheelhouse, we’re always evaluating new content creation and optimization tactics to see which ones can truly drive performance and create business value for our clients.

One emerging tactic that we’ve seen great results from so far (and we’re very excited to use more in 2019) is topical depth optimization.

What is Topical Depth Optimization?

Topical Depth Optimization is a technique for optimizing or creating content based on topical search engine results page (SERP) analysis. It’s a time-consuming tactic, but one that allows you to develop content that is finely tuned to meet Google’s standards of truly comprehensive, truly helpful content for your users.

Topical depth optimization works best for content that is already published and ranking in the first few pages of search results for its primary keywords (in that sense, it functions as a form of “striking distance” optimization), but the topical evaluation it involves can be relevant for any piece of content.

Google’s algorithm has become increasingly intelligent over the last five years. One way it has dramatically improved is in its ability to assess the depth of a piece of content. The algorithm primarily achieves this through its expansive Knowledge Graph, and its ever-expanding understanding of the complex relationships between entities (people, places, things, etc.).

If a piece of content covering Topic A is substantially covering related subtopics B, C, D and E – it provides a clearer sign that the content is “deep” compared to more traditional SEO content that attempts to convey relevance through keyword density.

At Wheelhouse, we owe a debt to Jeff Baker and his Moz Blog article from early last year for putting this approach on our radar. Since encountering his work, we’ve been able to put this tactic to work for our clients with undeniable results that I’ll share a bit later in this post. First though, let me walk you through the process we use to optimize for topical depth.

How to Optimize for Topical Depth

Optimizing for topical depth is a three-step process:

  1. Identify key topical entities and relationships.
  2. Research and compile an outline that effectively touches on all related subtopics.
  3. Optimize content to substantially and expertly cover the full range of related subtopics.

1. Identify Key Topical Entities and Relationships

To first identify key topical entities, start digging into SERPs. The SERPs for primary keywords will provide a clear window into what content Google considers relevant and deep on any given topic.

Within the organic results for each keyword, open the first six or seven results, each in their own tab. In a spreadsheet, begin to track topics and subtopics covered in each result.

The example below shows a simple spreadsheet or table that allows you to review top-ranking URLs for a keyword, naming and noting subtopics that appear in each URL’s content.

Keyword: [Insert Keyword here]
PositionTopic ATopic BTopic CTopic DTopic ETopic F
1: [URL]XX XX 
2: [URL]XX X  
3: [URL]XXX   
4: [URL]X XX  
5: [URL]X   X 
6: [URL]X X   
7: [URL]X    X
Your content should cover:XXXXXX


2. Research and Outline

From this analysis, begin outline a revised, optimized version of your content that will cover all the necessary subtopics. These subtopics are the foundational elements of a winning article—for users, and for search engines.

As you outline possible changes and additions to your article, it’s important to recognize that substantial research and expertise will likely be required to address each subtopic. The word “depth” should not be overlooked in the phrase “topical depth optimization”: if the writer working on the piece of content does not have the knowledge to offer genuine insights into each subtopic, they should plan on interviewing SMEs within your organization or to review internal documentation, data, etc. to ensure the content’s quality.

3. Optimize and (Re)Publish

After the outline is complete, take the time to write in-depth takes on all the subtopics identified. Remember, topical depth is not about keyword density—it is about writing helpful, informative and expert content to add real depth to your content.

When optimizing an existing piece of content to address a full range of subtopics, work to fill in the new subtopics in a logical way that does not sacrifice the narrative or flow of the post.

Once your content is updated, re-publish the post and request indexation from Google in Search Console

For high-priority content, topical depth optimization will ideally not be a one-time event. If you have an editorial calendar, incorporate ongoing topical depth optimizations into by scheduling refreshes of content throughout the year.

SERPs evolve constantly, so your topical depth optimizations should be slightly different each time you hunt for new topics and subtopics. And each time you update content it is also important to add “Updated for 2019” or other freshness indicators to title tags, H1s or even just the top of the content itself to clearly signal to users and search engines that your content is as up-to-date as possible.

Topical Depth Optimization Success Stories

Boosting Visibility for an Informational Blog Post

One of our clients had an informational blog post that had provided some search visibility and traffic in the past, but faded over time. The content did a good job of speaking to the general topic, but after looking more carefully at key SERPs we realized that competitors were outranking the post with more recent, up-to-date content that covered a wider variety of subtopics.

One of our content specialists at Wheelhouse reviewed SERPs, filled out a topical analysis table like the one included above, conducted research into the subtopics they found and created an optimized, comprehensive version of the post which was then re-published and re-indexed with the recent updates clearly signaled.

In the months that followed, the post’s rankings improved and its incremental search visibility soared:

Increasing CTR for an eCommerce Category Page

Topical depth optimizations are an intuitive tactic to employ on informational blog posts or articles, but what about eCommerce PLPs and PDPs?

One of our clients was disappointed with the performance of a category-level page, noting that similar competitor pages seemed to be consistently outranking it for its primary keywords. After analyzing the page against its competitors, we noticed that the competitors’ pages mentioned a wider range of sub-categories (product types) than our client’s page. This led us to wonder: could we perform a type of topical depth optimization on our client’s category page by increasing the number of sub-categories listed and displayed on the page?

As it turned out, the answer was a clear “yes”. We added sub-categories to the page, called them out explicitly in copy and saw our search rankings and visibility rapidly improve. Most notably, with higher rankings came higher click through rate and 44% more potential customers choosing our client’s page from their search results:

How Can You Optimize for Topical Depth?

Our content specialists and writers at Wheelhouse DMG are continuing to fine-tune our approach to topical depth optimization. We would love to hear more about your current content goals and challenges and help you choose the right optimization strategy to maximize the business value of your content. We’d be happy to give advice about using this particular tactic, or to have a longer conversation about how we can help you achieve better search performance from your on site content.

By Joseph Volk