In this article, you will discover:
- How to set up a clever and practical map of your website, instead of a standard and useless sitemap.
- How to use semantic internal linking to boost your SEO traffic with no (or very few) external backlinks.
This method is powerful, universal, and easy to understand. It's called the "semantic cocoon."
Obtaining backlinks to a website is one of the most painful tasks any SEO specialist will undertake. If you work at an agency or with different clients, you probably don't have time to obtain the best backlinks unless the client is willing to pay a lot more.
Well, what if you had the opportunity to get more results for your website, without running after backlinks day and night?
Many SEO best practices guides highlight the importance of internal links. But the problem is that, without proper semantic/logic planning, you will still get pretty poor results. Internal linking is not only useful for indexing the website; I would argue it's the most powerful on-page optimization you can implement.
By applying the method described in this article, you should see dozens of your pages rank better in Google in a matter of weeks. That's because Google will have a better understanding of your website's expertise on the different subjects it covers.
Now that I've piqued your curiosity, let's cut to the chase. In this article, I will teach you how to use the "semantic cocoon" method on your website. This technique will allow you to get more results using fewer backlinks.
"Semantic cocoon": how to show Google that your website is that special something they're looking for.
Google is a semantic algorithm. Ever since its Hummingbird update in 2013, Google has been trying to reduce the importance of backlinks and focus more and more on the quality of the content and the editorial intent of the website. This is something you can see in Google's Search Quality Rating Guidelines.
These are the criteria Google evaluates when ranking pages:
Does the website contain sufficient information?
The number of pages and the number of words in those pages are important clues in Google deciding if the content can be trusted and if the source is authoritative. If Google finds very few pages within the same website concerning a specific topic, it will be more difficult to rank on the keywords relative to that topic.
Is this page part of a website that provides a complete information about this topic?
When building your website, you need to show Google and your visitors that your site provides the most precise, detailed, and accurate information possible. Google intends to only present users with content that precisely answers the questions they ask. So, in order to rank on competitive keywords, you not only need to create great content for the specific page you want to rank well, but you also need to create other pages about similar topics.
This is where the semantic cocoon comes into play. In order to show Google that you deliver enough information about a general topic, you need to link between different pages on your site that cover the same general topic. In our example, we'll need to create links between all the pages that talk about ultra portable laptops. Google wants to know if each specific topic is fully explored or if the editorial team barely mentions it. Thanks to those links and detailed content, you'll show Google that your website contains all the information a user might need on the subject.
Do the pages cite authoritative sources or is the content purely editorial?
Don't hesitate to add external links to your content; if you link to authoritative sources, this will show Google that your information is reliable.
Step 1: Keyword Research
You probably already know tons about keyword research since it's the most frequently discussed topic in SEO. But to start building your semantic cocoon, you will need a less traditional approach to keyword research. What we need to do is identify the most popular keyword searches, including long-tail searches. But we also need some keywords that are not specifically popular and whose only goal is to bring more value and more information to visitors.
For example, if you want to rank on the keywords "ultra small laptop," you will create three other pages with long-tail keywords that target similar keywords like "how to choose ultra portable laptops," "lightweight laptop reviews," and "Cheap Lightweight Laptops," as well as two more that don't specifically target a keyword, but provide more information about the topic: "Laptops: why weight is more important than power" or "What are the best Lightweight Laptops For Business"
Developing the semantic cocoon is more about topics than keywords. Imagine that your goal is not to rank on keywords, but to instead deliver the most complete information on the topic at hand.
For your research, you should use a keyword research tool based on questions and categories. We're going to be using Mazen's keyword tool, which is based on the Google Knowledge Graph. Mazen provides a broader and deeper view into the subjects related to the main queries for your website.
Here is an example.
For this query, many specific categories come up:
Subjects related to ultra portable laptops include:
Here, you might write content describing how lightweight these ultraportable computers are, debating the pros and cons of being so lightweight, and discussing specific lightweight laptops that are on the market.
For this, you can provide a list of the thinnest laptops on the market and explain how ultraportable computers can be so thin.
- Reviews: (the user wants to get advice from other customers)
- Top/best: (the user wants to know which is the best product to buy)
- Business laptops (the user expresses a specific need):
On the page, you will specifically explain which ultraportable laptops are best for business.
You'll also need to find some queries containing the main keyword targeted here: "ultraportable laptop." You can use answerthepublic to get suggestions for very specific queries people have made about ultra portable laptops.
You can select some of the more valuable queries. To select the best ones, ask yourself, "If I wanted to create an FAQ about ultra portable laptops, which topics would I cover?
In this case, we would probably choose the following queries:
Ultraportable laptop touch screen
Ultraportable laptop 16Gb ram
Ultraportable laptop video editing
Ultraportable with longest battery life
Ultraportable laptop with dedicated graphics
Ultraportable laptop budget
All these queries give us a more accurate sense of the semantic field, i.e. all the subjects we need to cover if we want Google to think, "hey, these guys really are the preeminent experts on the web about ultra portable laptops. They can answer any question about it."
When you've done this research for all the categories of products/services/info your website provides, you should have hundreds (or thousands) of keywords to target. We don't really care about search volume here; our goal is to create an ideal website map, so we need to find all the keywords we would target in an ideal world. After that, we can start creating content with the highest opportunity keywords, high or medium volume, and not too much competition.
Step 2: Organizing the Future Map of Your Website.
Once you have found your keywords, you'll have a list of topics your website will talk about. Next, we're going to organize them in a logical way, so that we can help Google understand the "semantic consistency" of our website. Here is how we go about doing that:
a. Create an account on Coggle, an easy-to-use online mind-mapping tool
b. Create a new diagram
c. Your starting point should be your homepage
d. Create your first branch: this is your first main category.
Note that this has nothing to do with your navigation menu, and it will not be reflected in the UX of the website. The only things that will be impacted by this semantic website organization are the internal links that you'll be adding to your webpages.
Here, a category is just a general topic. For each general topic, you can have different subtopics, and for each subtopic, different sub-subtopics, and so on. The more subtopics you have, the better your website's "text-appeal" will be for Google.
In this diagram, we have three levels: Level 1 (red), Level 2 (blue), and Level 3 (green). The pages that are on the Level 3 should have very specific content and cover the topic from Level 2. The subtopic on Level 2 touches on the more general topic expressed on Level 1.
I know, I know, it's confusing. Let's dive into an example.
In this diagram, we'll zero-in on just one branch of the semantic cocoon: SEO –> On-page Optimization -> SEO content
The pages in blue ("semantic writing," "how to write SEO content," "SEO content checklist," and "content writing best practices") are all subtopics of the page "SEO content" (green). "SEO content" is a subtopic of "On page Optimization" (yellow). "On page optimization" is a subtopic of "SEO" (red).
e. Create all the semantic cocoons
Now that the logic makes sense, we can create a global map of the website using the semantic cocoon. For each page, try to find 3 to 10 subtopics. For the sake of this example, I'm going to call the homepage the "Index Page." A page that has subtopics will be called a "Mother" page and the subtopics will be called "Daughter" pages. Any page that has both a Mother and a Daughter will be called a "Mixed Page," and any page that has a Mother but no Daughters will be called a "Complementary Page." Two pages that have the same Mother page will be called "Sister" pages.
Your plan can be asymmetric: if, for example, a page has 5 Daughters, that page's Sister could have only 2 Daughters, or even no Daughters at all. It doesn't matter.
Step 3: Write Content with a Semantic Approach
Now that you've designed a big map with your semantic cocoon, you can start writing your content. Usually, about 10 to 30% of the pages in the cocoon/map already exist.
Here is how you should structure the articles:
If the page is a mixed page (has a Mother page and a Daughter page):
- Your <H1> should contain the main keyword of the page
- You should have a short paragraph introducing the content and containing a link to the Mother page. The text anchor for this link should be the main keyword targeted by the Mother page.
- Each <H2> should contain the main keyword of one of the Daughter pages. The idea here is that mixed pages should summarize all the Daughter pages' content.
- For each <H2>, write 1-2 paragraphs that sum up the content of the corresponding Daughter page. You can use <H3> and <H4> if you think it's useful for your audience. In each <H2>, include at least one link to the corresponding Daughter page; the text anchor for this link should be the main keyword targeted by the Daughter page you're linking to.
- At the end of the page, you should have a list of links to related topics. Those related topics should all be Sister pages of the current page.
Let's go back to our example and see how we might structure the page "SEO Content."
The page should be structured something like what you see below. This is just a quick and easy example, the content won't be great.
<H1>: SEO Content: The Ultimate Guide
"Writing SEO (link to the Index Page, which targets the very broad keyword "SEO") content is not exactly the same as writing content only intended for humans. Google and other search engines need your help to understand the purpose of your page and evaluate its quality" (…)
<H2>: Structure Your Content: How to Write SEO Content
"Writing SEO content (link to Daughter pager, which targets the keyword "seo content") is above all creating valuable content for your readers. But you should always keep one specific reader in mind: Googlebot, who needs your help to understand the main topics of a page. By observing certain rules, you can help Google and your readers at the same time" (…)
<H2>: Semantic Writing: How to Use the Right Words for Google
"Google is a semantic algorithm. This means that the content of your pages is analyzed from a lexical point of view; the more precise and developed your semantic field is, the more Google will consider your page interesting and of high value. Therefore, it's important to learn "semantic SEO writing" (link to the Daughter page targeting the keyword "semantic SEO")
<H2>: Make Sure You Did Everything: The SEO Content Checklist
(Same thing as above: one ore more paragraphs and a link to the page "SEO content checklist")
<H2>: Content Writing Best Practices: Top SEO Experts Share Their Experience
(Same thing as above: one ore more paragraphs and a link to the page "Content Writing best practices")
Conclusion (=last paragraph)
Want to know more about SEO and on-page Optimization? Check out resources:
Step 4: It's Always a Work in Progress
Right now, you probably have about 100 pages to write. Then, it'll be time to find new keywords, new topics, and new subtopics. Every time you publish content, you should decide where it should be implemented in your overall website map.
Thanks to the semantic cocoon, Google will know that your website:
- Contains precise and complete information
- Contains answers to a wide range of questions users may ask
- Can provide details and comprehensive information about each topic.
Before you go! If you use this technique on more than 100 pages, please share your results with me after 3-4 months. I would love to see how others might benefit from this advice. Looking forward to hearing from you!