Google SubTopics Algorithm Update Confirmed

We got word at the weekend from Google’s Danny Sullivan that there was a new ranking feature that started in mid-November called subtopics.

Subtopics were first discussed by Google in October’s Search On event and to be honest it’s largely gone unnoticed by the SEO community until Sullivan spoke about it this weekend. But we still need to know what it’s all about!

What Are Google SubTopics?

In October, Google said: “neural nets to understand subtopics around an interest, which helps deliver a greater diversity of content when you search for something broad.” Straight forward right? Oh, Googlers your level of communication does not match your level of communication. Don’t worry though, they decided to give us some more info to try to clear things up, saying: “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.” OK, I think I get it, but I’m struggling to get my head around how this is different from the way semantic variants already works – time will tell.

Danny Sullivan has said this change only broadens out the diversity of content in the SERPs for certain queries, so that sounds handy.
What they are trying to do is increase the diversity of the results for broad keywords. So you can expect this algorithm to effect higher traffic terms where the intent of the searcher is more unclear.

So we can be sure it’s not going to make huge changes to the rankings. It can’t have made too big a difference because I can’t remember anyone shouting about huge fluctuations at that time. I remember there was talk of an update in December but nothing in mid-November.
What we’ll expect to see is more blending between those top-level terms and related long-tail terms – that also provide the answer to the search query but in a different way.

How To Optimise For Google SubTopics

OK, so the thing you should be asking yourself now is what are you going to do with the knowledge.

We don’t really know how subtopics rank yet, however, my answer really is to do more of the same:

  • understand your customer;
  • know the intent;
  • do your keyword research;
  • create great content.

I think the key here is to make sure your content is even more targeted to your customer, reducing the amount of generic, filler content that you inevitably include in your content.

You can expect passage indexing to have a much bigger impact on ranking when that’s rolled out. But this is an interesting, and I expect interrelated precursor development. Passage indexing is going to change 7% which is the kind of changes we haven’t seen in about 8 or 9 years.

Get in touch if you’d like to have a chat about Google Subtopics. I’d love to hear how you’re planning to optimise your content for this algorithm update.

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