How to spot an umbrella topic

Umbrella topics aren't good SEO keywords and they won't help you build organic traffic. Here's why.

How to spot an umbrella topic

Today, I'm going to focus on SEO strategy. It's the same strategy you've learned in school: narrow your thesis. The same principle applies to individual website pages like blog posts.

Umbrella topics aren't good SEO keywords and they won't help you build organic traffic. Here's why.

These are often the most obvious major keywords in a sustainable industry or theme, like "circular economy." You may feel like you need to cover them just to cover the basics. Almost every company in your industry will write a similar page, though. These kinds of pages may serve other purposes, but they won't likely gain much organic search traffic.

You can stay true to your theme or mission, while still gaining organic traffic to your pages, if you learn to avoid umbrella topics. Finding less competitive, but oft-searched keywords is one of my favorite parts of SEO. Bypassing the more obvious "umbrella keywords" is a fun and interesting challenge.

An example of an umbrella keyword

I'm going to start by introducing some stats for the keyword "climate change." This is a keyword that has roughly 194,000 monthly searches performed in search engines. That sounds amazing, right?

Here's the catch. It has a keyword difficulty of 96/100. This means only the most authoritative sites on the topic will be able to rank for it.

Top ranking pages for the keyword "climate change" in the US:

These sites all have one thing in common from an SEO perspective. They have what's called "authority." Some of the authority is associated with the page, while some of it is associated with the website domain overall.

These sites are ranking for such a difficult keyword for many reasons. Here are some of the possibilities:

  1. These are the pages people click on most for this search query. They match the searcher's intent.
  2. These pages have the most links to them from other sites for this topic.
  3. Their website domains have authority related to this topic. They have high organic traffic, and their other pages have aligned topics and categories.
  4. The pages provide the most authoritative and relevant written content related to the topics, which the SEO crawlers have analyzed.
  5. The pages have had the authoritative content published for the longest time.

To rank for difficult keywords, your website domain and individual pages need authority, which builds over time. It grows as more and more quality content is produced and external factors like good PR and brand signals direct others to your website.

That's why umbrella keywords like "climate change" aren't a great place to start. Your page targeting an umbrella keyword will likely rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs) after several hundred other pages with more authority.

10 umbrella keyword examples:

  • climate change (194K, 96KD)
  • corporate social responsibility (23K, 75KD)
  • zero waste (13K, 82KD)
  • circular economy (11K, 74KD)
  • sustainable fashion (9.2K, 70KD)
  • ecological footprint (16K, 81KD)
  • recycling (113K, 89KD)
  • clean energy (15K, 72KD)
  • endangered species (61K, 85KD)
  • greenwashing (16K, 73KD)

3 SEO Blogging Tips

You may be looking at the list I created and feel it is unfair. It may seem like you have the right to target a keyword like "greenwashing," because that's what your audience wants to read about.

This leads me to my next point. You don't have to abandon your theme when keywords are too competitive. You just need to narrow your focus.

These are all umbrella topics because you can't cover them authoritatively in a single page or blog post. You'd need a dedicated website. Try to choose keywords or topics that can be covered fully in 1200 words or less.  Here's how.

1. Get specific

To cut your umbrella topics down to size, you can divide them into smaller and smaller sub-topics or choose synonyms to find better keyword opportunities.

Here's another umbrella keyword: "ESG investing." Its MSV is 30K and its keyword difficulty is 71 (too high!!). Don't let this disappoint you though. It's an opportunity to use your creativity to find adjacent, or more specific words your audience would search for.

For example, "renewable energy stocks," still has high volume (19K), but a bit less difficulty (48). The more casual term "ethical investing" has a lower msv (1.6K) but it's not difficult to rank for (23). "ESG reporting" has a decent msv (500) and an even lower keyword difficulty (14).

By brainstorming around the original keyword, I found some alternative topics that are better target keywords for building organic traffic.

2. Learn the difficulty of keywords using research tools

I would argue you can't do SEO well without a paid, professional keyword research tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush. Want to go even further? Use a variety of them together. You need to be able to estimate the keyword difficulty of a given SEO keyword and this is the most reliable way to get that information. The analytics information I've provided in this post is from Ahrefs, my preferred tool.

3. Choose question-format keywords

Beyond just sub-dividing your topics, it also helps to identify natural questions people would ask about that topic in a search bar. The tool Answer The Public helps you find suitable questions.

Wrapping up

To gain organic traffic, it's good to choose a specific topic without much competition. Then write the most authoritative post on that topic. Stay focused. This gives search engines the indication that your post has the most useful information related to that highly specific search query.

Thanks for reading :)

Sustainability Traffic is a weekly newsletter written by Erica Eller. I am a blog writing expert who works with sustainable companies.

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