Written by Aaron Rains March 20th 2024

Topical maps are the new popular flavor of black spam.

A topical map is an outline for content creation based on dividing your content into topics (hubs) and related subtopics (spokes.)

A thorough topical map and understanding of what is essential to user intent can create content that looks very good to systems that determine relevance via vector search.

Vector search is the technology behind Google Search. Vector search is good at finding content that is likely to be relevant. We have learned via the DOJ vs Google trial exhibits and testimonies that Google’s AI brain for ranking, RankBrain, takes the top 20-30 results of a search and re-ranks them. This number may be even higher now with their technology with Gemini 1.5. SEO content topical map

The re-ranking involves several AI systems, one of which is RankEmbed BERT. This machine learning system continually learns and improves to understand a searcher’s intent and match it with content that meets that intent.

Suppose you have a body of content that is semantically relevant to a topic. In that case, Google’s vector search systems have more opportunity to see that your content demonstrates in-depth knowledge of your topics. Covering a topic thoroughly can improve your chances of being seen as relevant.

Combine that with AI writing tools that write paragraphs containing answers that perfectly meet user intent, and you have relevant content.

When you see people posting traffic charts boasting of success using AI to help create keyword clusters and content, it’s usually because they’ve built out content using a topical map. Those clusters of interconnected content help improve your chance of being seen as relevant.

I find topical map tools fascinating. They certainly can be helpful when it comes to planning a site. But I would argue that if you create content based on suggestions provided by an AI-generated topical map, you are likely creating search-engine-first content.

Google has a lot of information on every topic. They do not need you to produce more of what they already have. They need new, fresh, helpful information. If you’re creating content just for the sake of creating content, you’re creating spam.

I’m monitoring several sites that use this method because I suspect this new spam policy was created just for topical map abusers.

If I can look at sites that use AI to generate large amounts of content designed to demonstrate topical authority, then Google’s systems can also learn to do this. It’s only a matter of time before this method of creating topical jurisdiction in ways that do not comply with Google’s guidelines stops working.

How to create a topical map in ways that align with Google’s guidelines

Here’s what I’d do:

  1. I thoroughly understand the needs of my audience

You can only create helpful content if you thoroughly understand what your audience finds valuable.

I would find everything I could from real customers and employees of this business that could help me understand what questions their audience has:

  • I’d go through all of my service emails.
  • I’d interview employees via Google Meet and use AI to pull topics from the transcript. I’d have long conversations asking what they have been discussing with customers lately.
  • I’d ask my staff who answered the phones to make a daily list of what questions they answered.
  • I’d go through comments on my website and GBP.
  • I’d note customers’ questions as I went about cleaning tanks.
  • I’d ask my customers what questions they needed help finding the answers to online.
  1. Divide customer questions into topics.

Once I’ve done all of that, I would take my notes and use Gemini or ChatGPT with this prompt:

Here are some notes about the needs of my customers. Please divide these into at most five main topics.

I know little about this business, but what might this investigation reveal? Perhaps the topics can be split up like this:

  • prices
  • how to / DIY
  • recommended products

Each of those topics would be a “topic hub.” I would then ask the business owner to write the content for these pages as if they were talking to a customer standing before them. No fluff. No words are written just to show search engines you have relevant words. Just what you would say to answer this customer’s questions. Your number one goal is to meet their immediate need. Think of your audience first, not Google.

If the business owner is unable to write the content, I’d have a video call with them to learn more about their customers’ needs and ask them to help me create it. But really, I’d want the business owner or their staff to be significantly involved in creating the content.

I would then answer specific customer questions in the “spokes” in this hub.

I would make these pages original, insightful, and unique. I would take original photos and video shots on my phone as I did jobs. If I got a question that a picture could best answer, I would immediately create that content first. I would include hand-drawn diagrams if that would help. I would draw from the experience of my staff when creating this content. I also link to other reliable resources my customers find helpful.

Create content for your hubs and spokes.

I’ve long preached using a “hub and spoke” design. Your main topics are your hubs, and each hub has spokes related to the main topic. Each spoke links back to the hub, and each hub links to each spoke. Interlink as makes sense amongst the spokes and your other content.

For example, based on the questions my audience has, my “prices” hub, along with its spokes, might look like this:

  • Hub page: Prices. This page would list the prices for the business’s primary services and link to each of these spoke pages. The topics for these spoke pages were borne out of our conversations with customers and staff.
    • Spoke page: Our team discusses the average cost of our residential heater service. (This page includes a video and transcript of conversations with employees about jobs they have done recently.)
    • Spoke page: Case study: The most giant, expensive jobs we have done!
    • Spoke page: The location of your  may influence how expensive it is the service.
    • Spoke page: Study: We went undercover to see just how much different other services in the city charge.
    • Spoke page: 5 tips for keeping your  cost down on your home heater service.

Now, I have a body of content that thoroughly meets the needs of my customers who ask me questions about pricing. When someone wants to know about pricing for heater serviec, this site is likely relevant because we have a good body of helpful content on this topic that demonstrates experience and meets the needs of our audience.

And as new questions come up, I’ll also regularly add them to my spokes.

You need no specific number of hubs and spokes for topic hubs. The idea is to produce content that genuinely helps meet your audience’s needs.

In Conclusion

I don’t recommend you go and produce a lot of content if you have not thoroughly dive into your audience’s needs. Lastly, Google will take action on the website using these strategies to create content for search to minimize search. If you have an issue with this process, don’t hesitate to contact a consultant to help you break out your content topical map.