The Topical Relevance Test for Copy

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The Topical Relevance Test for Writing Good Copy

Building topically relevant content is vital for both the user experience of the page, and getting SEO traffic. If your content is topically relevant, users will find answers causing them to shop, subscribe, link to you, and share your page or brand with others.  The trick is knowing what is and what is not topically relevant.

I created a topical relevance test for use with my contractors and my team on projects.  They asked me to publish it, so I figured why not.  Below you’ll find how the test works, and then two examples (made up topics) and how to use the test with them.

Note: You still have to do entity and keyword research, but that is a separate topic.

The topic relevancy test is:


  1. Dissect each part of the title tag into the core themes.
    1. It helps to place an | in between them if you list them out on a word or Google doc.
  2. Look at each header and section of the page and make sure they all reflect each topic, not just one or two of them.
    1. If they do, move to step three.
    2. If they do not, delete the section or modify it so all parts of the title are included.
  3. Read each paragraph and check to make sure all sections from the title are accounted for.
    1. If one is missing, how can you add it in?
      1. If you cannot add it in, then delete the content unless it is to have the internal link to a complementary post that outlines the topic in detail.
    2. If they’re all there, then you’re good to go to the last step.
  4. Read a random section to a stranger and ask what the topic of the post is.
    1. If the person gets all aspects of the title, chances are a search engine spider can understand too.
    2. If the person misses one or two, you need to work on the section.

Here’s two examples of how this content test works with made up topics.

Calories Burned With Peanut Butter

Please note this is not factual, medical advice, and has nothing to do with actual peanut butter or calories.

This topic has two sections:

  • Calories Burned
  • Peanut Butter

The person looking for this on search engines is curious about the calories being burned when it relates to peanut butter.  Most of us will naturally think it is dieting, but that isn’t always true.

The person could be looking for how long the calories from peanut butter last in your body because they’re going on an endurance fitness trip and need to store calories longer. Other people could be looking to see if the calories in peanut butter burn easier compared to other foods.  Some people are likely looking to see how well peanut butter can work within their diets, but aren’t concerned about weight loss, weight gain, or storage.

This post could have sections for how peanut butter calories:

  • Work with your body
  • Impact your ability to burn them
  • How the calories are burned differently when the ingredients in the peanut butter change:
    • Organic
    • Sugar free
    • Chunky
    • Smooth
  • Compare to popular alternatives, as long as you focus it on the way calories burn and not the calorie count.
    • Remember, it is burning calories, not how many calories.
  • Sections for keeping peanut butter calories stored longer in your body, digesting faster for consumption and energy boosts, etc…
    • Remember, this is fake, I have no idea if the statements above are true.  Only a licensed medical professional will.

And this is where copywriters and SEOs go wrong.

The most common mistakes I see in building topical relevance is when people try to hit minimum word counts, so they add filler.  And not the good peanut butter kind like in a Reece’s cup.

Examples of topically irrelevant filler for this post could be:

  • When peanut butter was invented.
    • It’s interesting, but doesn’t talk about calories burned.
  • How many calories in peanuts.
    • It is about calories, but also peanuts and not peanut butter.
  • Almond butter as an alternative.
    • This is about alternatives to peanut butter, not about calories burned and peanut butter.
    • You could say, peanut butter calories and almond butter calories are similar, but almond butter is better for XYZ and peanut butter is best for ABC, click here to read more.
  • Recipes for peanut butter.
    • The person isn’t looking to cook with it, they want to know how calories are burned with it.
  • Lower calorie options and alternatives to peanut butter.
    • This is potentially helpful, but topically irrelevant.  It could make for good side notes if you have comparisons that make sense for the post.
    • You can also turn this into complementary content like “Which burns more calories, peanut or almond butter?”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include fun facts, and there are topically relevant ones for almost all situations.  For this topic they could include:

  • Fun facts from famous endurance athletes that swear by peanut butter and the amounts they ate in training and while competing.
  • How a specific combination of peanut butter and another food causes more calorie burn and an example of less calorie burn.
  • If low calorie organic peanut butter makes it harder for your body to burn the calories compared to regular organic and the reasons why.
    • Which ingredients or processes that keep it organic but reduce calories make it harder and why.

The example above is for a two themed post.  Here’s a topic with three themes.

Are Business Loans Smart Ideas During Recessions

Start by splitting this up into the three topics.

  1. Business loans
  2. Smart Idea
  3. Recession

Every header, title and section has to be relevant to all three of these themes.  If one is business loans and recessions, you’re talking about history and excluding if business loans are a good idea during recessions.

If you talk about businesses that took loans and succeeded during recessions, that is interesting, but you’re not helping the reader learn if they’re a smart idea.  You are sharing examples, but examples aren’t always helpful information as the person didn’t get an answer.  They may have gotten some inspiration, but they’re still at ground zero.

This post could have:

  • What to look for when determining if the loan is good during a recession.
  • How to evaluate your situation and determine if a loan is a good idea based on the use of funds and your niche.
  • Why you are thinking of taking the loan and what will happen if you get hit with the recession.
  • How to forecast what you’ll need cashflow wise during the recession and apply it to your own finance sheets.
  • If there are alternative types of funding that are a better idea than a loan, specifically during a recession and the reasons or situations why.

Each of these topics has a direct talking point for all three themes.  But things can get tricky fast.

Here’s some sections that could likely appear which sound good, but aren’t topically relevant.

  • Companies that started during a recession.
    • This is inspirational and builds a feeling of comfort, but doesn’t say if it is a good idea for the reader and their situation.
  • Interest rates during recessions compared to normal times.
    • Only because this is about interest rates, not smart ideas and not loans. It is one of three topics, but if done well can be inclusive and then count.  But it’s tricky.
  • Ways to succeed in a recession with extra money.
    • This topic is about running a business during a recession, not taking a loan and if it is a good idea.
  • Recession proof businesses.
    • Just like above, you’re helping people know what is and is not recession proof.  That isn’t relevant to taking a loan or if it is a good idea.

But breaking the topics out and asking people to say what the topic is can still lead to off-topic content.  And that’s where the last test comes in.

To make this test effective, I have one strategy that drives people insane.  It is requiring a yes or no answer.  On each outline I ask the person “How is this relevant?” or “Is this relevant to all topics?”  If the person pauses before answering, then its a no and the section gets deleted.  If the question is a yes or no, and they say anything but yes or no.  That also means it is not relevant and gets pulled.

It doesn’t matter if the content is halved or reduced to a third of what was written.  If the goal is to provide a good user experience, you want the content to meet the needs of the user and for the user to find their solution.  Save that copy and build something complementary for a different piece of content.

This test works well for us, and our clients have weathered many storms while increasing conversion rates by having us use it.  Writers aren’t always happy because it results in extra revisions, and my team can tell you how annoying it is, but they’ve all seen the repeatable successes we’ve had in all niches and industries by using it.  I hope you’re able to use this test for your projects too.

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2 thoughts on “The Topical Relevance Test for Copy”

  1. A good read. Can feel the writers!

    Any example of good return you mention in the last paragraph? Any success story or case study or article? Would be great to see them

    1. Thank you for reading and the comment. I do have a case study, but don’t have time to write it up. That’s the problem with being a small agency. I can spend time working on my own projects and trying to attract business, or I can make sure clients are taken care of and have some breathing room for myself. If I have time over the holidays I’ll write it up with screen shots, but its unlikely. I want to focus on downtime and relaxing more than pushing myself right now.

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