If you’ve read my Writer’s Guide to Semantic Search, you would have seen me recommend we think of themes for pages rather than building them on a number of key phrases. I’ve been asked to say some more about theming and how the two approaches differ.

In the dark ages

If you remember back more than a decade ago, there were people – me included (there, I’ve said it) – who religiously stuck to targeting each page on three key phrases. It was a kind of mechanical/shopping list approach to working with an earlier generation of search engines with much less sophisticated algorithms.

Where it went wrong was when the writer decided to use three not so closely related key phrases on a page – say, ‘camden town workshops’, ‘brass doorknobs’ and ‘government contracts’. They could be related to the same business, but they don’t fit together well on a properly focused web page.

While it may have worked for an old-time search engine looking to match key phrases in searches to those same key phrases in content, the resulting content may not have been a read that made a lot of sense. For a start, the first key phrase is about the business and its geographical location, the second a feature of some of its products, and the third something about its customers.

On most websites these days, you’d want to put each on its own page – or even on a page within a section on the site; say ‘brass doorknobs’, showing the options and explaining why you’re offering them, how and why they’re sourced, how long they are specified to last, and so on. If you have more than one page of related content, put them into a section – eg products.

Themes and thinking about the reader

Did you have a teacher who used to wander at random through concepts during lessons? I bet they were hard work, with you having to work out how the concepts related to each other and what the complete picture looked like.

aimless words

Don’t be like that teacher. Make it easy for your readers by telling a focused, structured story with your content. For a better reading experience, it’s best to group similar topics together on the same page – say, ‘brass doorknobs’, ‘victorian-style push plates’ and ‘decorative hooks’. While ‘government contracts’ would more easily fit on a page about customers alongside ‘private houses’ and ‘schools and colleges’, for example.

And – guess what? – a more closely focused, or themed, web page will make it easier for a search engine to get a grip on what the page is about, too.

(Not many) apologies for this. I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll have to say it again, because it’s a fallacy that’s become embedded in web lore – writing for the benefit of search engine results DOES NOT preclude writing for people. AND vice versa.

But don’t use this idea to cop out on having a proper content strategy by ‘just writing good content’.

Deliver content your audience wants to read

Audience. Prospects. Community members. Readers. It doesn’t matter what you call them, they’re the people you need to engage with. Find out what they’re interested in and give it to them. Do some digging. Don’t make it up.

For my purposes, the pecking order is:

  1. Key Phrase Research
  2. Questions asked face-to-face and online
  3. Problems encountered by the audience

Why that order? Because, when I’m writing for the web, the environment is online (sorry to be so obvious, but there is a point) so I tend to go for the subjects I know are popular online.

Of course, there are some cases where a subject is so important that you need to tackle it immediately. If you’re absolutely sure it is that important, do it right away. Put it at the top of your list and get writing.

Deliver content in the way they want to read it

I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned to skim online and offline content, looking for core of the information, the stuff that’s valuable to me. I appreciate it if the content is properly signposted.

It should be immediately apparent what the piece is about. Take a glance at it. There should be an engaging, easy to understand headline, subheads that add to the story or suggest the value in the subsection and graphics that support your words.

Have you covered these seven content essentials?

Here’s my Content Checklist; seven factors I try to address in every piece I write. As well as reminding you to use h1 and h2 tags correctly, and fill in description and title tags, it helps you with a structure that works well with the theming you’ve built for the piece.


From the top!

  1. Title tag – should contain the focus key phrase for the piece, or a close variation
    2. Meta Description tag – to engage with the potential reader when it is shown in the SERPs
  2. Headline, using h1 tags – contains the piece’s focus key phrase. But make the complete headline a real hook for the reader. And for clarity’s sake, please keep to just one h1 headline. I’ve written more about how many h1 tags to use
  3. Subheads, using h2 tags – use these to guide your readers through your piece, and make them more powerful by using semantically related key phrases where you can
    5. Less important headings (h3 to h6) – use them if you must, but ask yourself if you really need this level of granularity. I believe cutting a piece up too much can lower its readability, so you really need to look at your writing from the point of view of a reader. Are you creating a spec sheet or something to be read in one gulp? I very occasionally use h3 headings, but I don’t remember ever going any smaller
  4. Put your big hitters in first – consider structuring the piece like a classic press release, with the real meat up front in the first paragraph, and the less important stuff towards the end. While this is a time-proven structure, don’t sacrifice the story you’re telling (the logic of the piece) to writing in order of importance. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense!
  5. A thousand quality words is worth a thousand words – even on the above infographic, it’s the words that are really doing the work. A picture is rarely worth a thousand words in website content. A picture may help engagement, and may help support your written content, but you need to knuckle down and write, polish and edit those words so they have a beauty all of their own

Does that answer your questions about themes and theming your content?

Thank you to Quinn Dombrowski for allowing me to use your photograph.