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What is Temporal Vectorization in SEO?

I’d like to introduce you to a concept I haven’t seen anywhere else in the SEO world, something I’ve talked about a few times now on Marketing Over Coffee and the Trust Insights podcast: temporal vectorization.

What Is Vectorization?

First, a bit of background. Vectorization, in the SEO context, is the process of identifying related words and phrases using machine learning. What words or phrases statistically appear most near each other? For example, if I say “keynote”, the first words that probably come to mind are “speech”, “speaker”, or “address”. This is essentially what vectorization is, and it’s a proven, effective strategy for identifying and building out content.

Vectorization can occur in multiple dimensions and levels, from words to phrases to sentences and beyond. Machine learning tools generate vectorization analysis using popular, well-known libraries like FastText to vectorize and analyze billions of pages of text, identifying the words and phrases most likely to co-occur.

What Is Temporal Vectorization?

But the one dimension I haven’t seen anywhere in SEO yet is what I call temporal vectorization.

One of the most critical components of SEO that almost all SEO tools, software, and agencies overlook is the component of time. Time matters a great deal to actual searchers; there are periods of time when people are more likely to buy, and periods when they’re not.

In a study earlier in 2021, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s Professor John Dawes found that on average for B2B buyers, 95% of buyers are not in-market at any given period of time. This holds true for a lot of complex sales, purchases of anything that requires extensive consideration, from mortgages and college educations to server appliances and jet planes.

Temporal vectorization is identifying keywords, phrases, and topics by using the dimension of time instead of co-occurrence in text. What words and phrases occur together over the same periods of time?

Why does temporal vectorization matter? Many, many SEO tools are still linguistically based, meaning they find words that are structurally similar to each other. For example, if you type in the keyword analytics, most tools will pull up searches containing that word or variations of that word as recommendations for SEO – and that’s fine and sensible. It’s a good start.

But words and phrases that are semantically-based but linguistically unrelated will go missing. For example, if your keyword phrase is Google Analytics, web analytics might or might not show up. Google Data Studio is conceptually related, but contains none of the words that a linguistically-based tool would use. Modern, machine-learning powered regular vectorization will pick up some of these, but not all.

What we tend to do as marketers is then type in and pull together every keyword and phrase we can think of, ending up with keyword lists that are gigantic, with thousands or perhaps even tens of thousands of keywords. Again, that’s normal and natural – as you move towards the beginning of the customer journey, as you move away from buying intent, the number of topics and keywords balloons dramatically. How do we narrow them down? How do we focus on what’s important?

This is where temporal vectorization shines. By looking at our data over time, with a handful of the most important keywords we care about in mind, we can reduce the number of keywords we need to focus on at any given point in time by those that co-occur during the same period of time. This is especially useful when doing competitive keyword research, because keyword tools can and do spit out hundreds of thousands of keywords sometimes for competitive research.

Instead of trying to tackle everything all at once, we focus on the topics, phrases, words, and ideas that occur together.

Temporal Vectorization Example

Let’s look at a straightforward example. Suppose we have a flower shop; let’s call it Happy Camel Flowers. Unsurprisingly, our flower shop sells flowers. First, we should break down our understanding of our topics and keywords by intent:

  1. Branded intent. These are searches for us by name; someone searching for Happy Camel Flowers is searching for us.
  2. Unbranded intent. These are searches for the solution we offer – namely, flowers. Roses, lilies, carnations, you name it – if it’s a flower, we’ve probably got it.
  3. Precursor intent. These are searches for the problem we solve – gifts, tokens of affection, what to do after a first date, etc. Precursor intent is important because it’s a person searching for how to solve their problem, but they don’t have a solution in mind.

Next, we gather the keywords and topics for each of these categories. For this example, I’ll focus solely on unbranded intent – specifically informational intent. Our keyword list will be names of flowers and the searches for what they mean using United States of America search data.

One look at our keyword list of unbranded terms shows how important time is; without looking at any single keyword, we see distinct peaks and valleys when flowers of all kinds are of interest:

Log scale chart of flower searches

That said, there are a ton of words, phrases, topics, and ideas here. How do we prioritize? How do we use time to our advantage? Instead of trying to tackle everything, we look at what’s important in any given slice of time.

At this very moment in time, the week I am writing this post, the meanings of lilies as well as flowers in general are the most searched terms:

Lily meaning

Here’s where we get into temporal vectorization. When someone’s searching for “lily meaning”, there are two kinds of time-based information that are helpful. First, what else are they searching for right now? We see generic searches for the meanings of flowers, along with blue roses and their meanings and daisies and their meanings.

That’s helpful for what might be on people’s minds right now, and something we should consider creating content about. However, we could also take our top trend and see what else strongly correlates with it over a long period of time – this is the vectorization part, the part where we find out what things go together with this search mentally for people.

Vectorized flower searches

Here we see that roses, daisies, and peace lilies all have similar searches. Now, this is where domain expertise is essential – what do these different flowers have in common, in terms of meaning? And if there is something in common, we can start to tease out our precursor search keywords, keywords that might indicate why people search for this combination of items, which will lead us to better, more effective precursor intent capture. I’m about as much of a florist as I am a neurosurgeon, so I can Google for this sort of thing but an actual florist would be able to make better use of the information.

This is how temporal vectorization works. We take our data, add the dimension of time, and then examine what concepts naturally move together, in the short term and the long term. If our data is good and our analysis is correct, we’ll identify greater meaning to our keyword lists, understand the underlying intent, and match that intent with our marketing so that we’re not just in the right place, we’re also at the right time.

If time isn’t part of your SEO analysis, start incorporating it today. Right time, right place is essential for great marketing today, and we know the AI powering most search engines have a keen grasp of time already (and have for a while).

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