You’re probably thinking this is going to be hard or weird right? Read on and you will see how simple this foreign sounding concept really is and how relatively easy it is to execute.
Back in 2013, Google’s Hummingbird update allowed it to further understand conversational search queries like “How can I fix a leaking faucet?”
Google has been continually shifting their algorithms to get better at seeing who has clusters of content around a topic rather than who has checked all the keyword optimization boxes.
As Matthew Barby explained it, topic clusters are about showing expertise for a particular topic, not just a set of keywords.
Search for anything like “hiring a lawyer”, “small wind turbines”, “how to choose a snow blower” or “masticating juicers” and you will see lots of sites using this content marketing strategy to dominate the top ten Google results.
What are Topic Clusters Anyway?
Good question. A cluster is defined as a group of similar items located around a single core or positioned close together. In search engines, topic clusters refer to a group of inter-linked pages built around a pillar content with each page linking to the pillar content using your chosen keyword and vice versa.
The pages linking to the pillar content contain related information but on a more specific level. It could be a frequently asked question or long-tail keyword related to the core topic. For instance, ‘Insurance’ could be the subject of a pillar content, while the linked pages could be about life insurance, property insurance, and health insurance.
The topic cluster can even go a level deeper, so it’s Insurance à Life insurance à “how to choose your life insurance.”
How to Pick Worthy Pillar Content
Choose a topic that’s broad and ungated so that you have plenty of room to go in-depth with your content and all visitors can see it without signing up for your email list first. You should also pick an evergreen topic, so your efforts won’t be wasted on seasonal or time-sensitive information.
In general, pillar content could be a comprehensive landing page or website page that’s at the top level of your website so it’s easy to find.
Watch this video for more information on topic clusters:
You might think this way of organizing your website is cumbersome. That may be true at first, especially when you have to re-organize a comprehensive website with lots of articles and pages. But topic clusters actually improve the architecture of your site, making it easier to index for search engines and user-friendly for visitors.
Why Are Topic Clusters Important?
Long ago, before Hummingbird and all the other updates that followed, SEOs and digital marketers would target a few keywords per webpage. Now, with the rise of conversational search, topics hold the key to better rankings and one page can rank for hundreds of keywords.
Below are the main reasons for this:
Tailored search results affect keyword search volume
Google tailors the search results to a user’s location and previous searches, among other factors. Because of this, the keyword search volume you see on Google’s dashboard isn’t as reliable as it used to be.
Search engines have improved how they process semantic queries
New algorithms can now understand conversational and complex queries. Google can now understand context to some extent, such as when two words or phrases actually refer to the same thing so targeting one keyword can now help you rank for related queries.
Google and other search engines like consistency, not one-hit wonders
Search engines prefer websites that consistently create accurate and informative content around a certain subject, instead of one-off pieces targeted to a specific keyword. Of course, this doesn’t mean that long-form content is dead. Instead, websites with several articles that comprehensively discuss a given topic will, in most cases, outperform websites with fewer or scattered pieces on different subjects.
Comprehensive and interlinked content decreases bounce rate
Having tons of articles about your target audience’s interests or problems will keep them engaged longer. It’ll also be easier for them to go from a broad topic, and jump from one how-to article to another to find what they need because the pages are already interlinked.
Overview in Creating Topic Clusters
Check the main keyword and subcategory keywords you want to rank for to ensure they have enough search volume before you follow the steps below.
1. Choose a Core Topic for Your Pillar Page
Pick a broad topic for your pillar content that’s appropriate for your website. If you have a business, you can use your products and services as the core topic for each cluster. Or cover the pain points of your customers using this advanced SEO architecture.
From here, you can use the primary landing page for your products or services, then edit it as necessary to add more information that will then be used to link to other pages.
2. Choose Your Subtopics or Cluster Topics
Brainstorm articles related to your main topic. For example, below are the possible subtopics for a bank providing deposit accounts to consumers.
Core Topic: Deposit Accounts
- Savings account
- Checking account
- Debit account
- Money Market accounts
- Prepaid Cards
- Certificate of Deposit
- Online Banking and Bills Payment
You can even add even more branches by expanding on some of the subtopics you came up with. For instance, savings account can be broken down into several pages explaining:
- Types of savings accounts
- Interest, fees, minimum deposit, requirements
- Most popular accounts
- Tips for managing your account
- Compare different products
- Creating a savings plan
- How to setup an automatic transfer
- How to view your online statement
After brainstorming, research keywords related to the subtopics you’ve identified. Don’t limit your search to ‘exact match’ keywords, go past the first few pages of the keyword search results. Look up the subtopic keywords you find on Google as well, and then check the bottom of the search results page for the phrases that come up in the “related searches” section.
Take note of the keywords you find and their search volume. You’ll use these later for the hyperlinks to and from your pillar page.
3. Review Existing Content
You don’t necessarily have to create all of this content from scratch. Go through all your landing pages, blog posts, case studies, infographics, e-books, and everything else that’s on your website. List all of them, in one spreadsheet with the topic, keyword(s) used, and URL.
Group them together according to their topic, the landing pages may be used as pillar content while some of the articles may fall under subtopics of your different products and services.
From here you can find out which of your core topics are thoroughly covered, and which ones need new content to fill up the gap.
4. Link Up
Use the most relevant keywords with high search volume as anchor text for the links you’ll be including when editing or creating new content.
If you have several articles that cover one topic, you may want to combine them into a long form post so they can rank for the same set of keywords instead of competing with each other.
Remember, link the sub topics to the pillar content and link to the pillar content somewhere in the subtopic pages as well. Linking subtopic pages to one another also works, especially for relevant queries. For articles, this is usually done at the top and bottom of each article. Using a right-side drop down menu to display the breakdown of the main topic also works.
Don’t be afraid to remove old links or change the keywords used in them, too.
Do it One Pillar and Cluster at a Time
Okay, so this might be a bit overwhelming for you, so do it one pillar page at a time. Focus on your main product or service and then turn the landing page of that product into pillar content.
Find and create the relevant topics, and then link them up together to form your first topic cluster. Before you know it, your whole website will be an advanced SEO marvel.
Google loves long in depth content and authorities that cover a topic with numerous articles. This content marketing strategy will help you stand out from other sites that are stuck in the past, merely jamming keywords into every crevice of existing pages.
Does the topic cluster model sound like something you might try?