Too often, content creation and search engine optimization (SEO) are treated as separate elements of digital marketing strategies. After all, one emphasizes proving your value as an expert on a topic while the other makes sure that potential customers actually find proof of your business’ relevance.
While these might seem like two separate steps of the journey (engagement vs. discovery), the two are inextricably linked and should be treated as such. After all, you should know in advance whether or not the articles you publish will appeal to your audience. So, if you want to ensure that the work you pour into creating and promoting high-quality content pays off, make sure that content development and SEO work in unison to support your broader goals.
Topic clusters represent the natural meeting point for these two critical processes. Whether you’re unfamiliar with the concept and are still wondering, “What are topic clusters?” or simply want more information, this article will cover the concept and how it can improve your SEO approach.
What is a topic cluster and how does it work?
Rather than creating and publishing content on a case-by-case basis, which can leave your customer journey feeling disjointed, you want to provide a website that flows naturally between related topics so that all of your blogs and articles build upon each other.
That’s where topic clusters come in.
Topic clusters are groups of related content that combine to cover the entire spectrum of a chosen subject matter. This approach naturally connects the various material that lives on your website so that every publication supports the rest and forms a clear pathway for users to follow. To do so, a properly-built topic cluster lays the foundation for effective internal linking. This way when your audience reaches the end of any given page, they always know where to find out more about the broader subject or to get answers to lingering questions.
In short, topic clustering keeps people on your website. It offers immediate access to thematically linked content rather than releasing them back to Google to search for more information.
Why should you consider topic clusters in your marketing strategy?
Of course, if we’re going to recommend that you rethink your strategy for SEO and content creation, it’s fair to ask why and expect justification. Well, we’re not pushing for a topic cluster SEO strategy just because we like to see well-organized websites. There are tangible reasons to adopt SEO clustering as a foundation of your digital marketing strategy.
Google is changing its strategy for identifying query responses
While keywords remain a central feature of how search engines find pages that fit user queries, Google has expanded its capabilities when it comes to recognizing the relevance of different content. Rather than solely focusing on specific words and phrases that correspond to what people search for, the engine has begun to identify synonyms, subtopics, and answers to common questions related to a particular subject.
In fact, Google can even recognize the relevance of particular sections of content to a broader topic. And the platform now understands how its users tend to explore certain subjects. This includes the information they’re looking for and what prompts them to click on a page.
How does this relate to SEO content clusters?
Topic clusters help your publications fit more effectively into Google’s approach to identifying relevant content. When used correctly, SEO topic clusters will improve your ranking for less competitive keywords, which delivers short-term benefits. It will also contribute to establishing yourself as an authority on a given topic and preparing to compete for higher-priority keywords.
Topic clusters enhance context, relevance, and topical authority
By connecting related topics and concepts across different pages, you make it easier for search engines to recognize the primary purpose of your website and the relationship between various topics, subtopics, and passages. Doing so establishes the context that connects your central concept and the various subjects you intend to cover, which in turn will improve your ranking on different keywords.
Finally, by establishing the kind of connections that form a proper topic cluster model, your business can begin to build proper topical authority. Because all of the interlinked pages link back to the cluster, Google becomes more likely to see you as a reliable source on a given subject and, as a result, will push your content higher on results pages. That means more people visiting in the first place and then coming back after that initial engagement.
Clustering content drives strategic keyword use
A proper topic cluster content strategy makes it easier to group keywords based on the exact form of content you plan to produce. When planning out your blogs and articles and announcements, you can provide your copywriters with SEO guidance that drives better and more strategic writing, which will lead to a unified strategy built by the entire collection of your published content.
Topic clusters build the user and buyer experience
Perhaps most importantly, a topic cluster strategy should play a key role in establishing a clear user journey that your audience can follow through the branching pathways of your website.
Imagine yourself reading an article. When you reach the bottom, you’ve still got questions. If there’s nothing else to read and no immediate guidance, do you go looking for another article on that website or do you head back to Google to enter a new query? Naturally, you’re unlikely to stick around.
With a topic cluster model, your website offers readers related content that answers their lingering questions and keeps them on your site. Not only does this further build your credibility, it also advances potential customers along the sales journey. The more information they can access and the faster they can navigate to it, the more comfortable shoppers will be making a purchase.
Key components of the ideal topic cluster model
While every business needs to develop its own content and digital structure based on its goals and identity, there are common elements that apply to nearly all topic cluster examples. Most utilize a hub-and-spoke model built on three essential components. Let’s cover the three ingredients that you should include in any good topic cluster.
Every cluster needs a central touchpoint, a core piece of content that covers a broad topic and sets up all of its related subtopics. This pillar page will serve as the starting point from which all of your other publications will branch out. So, what are pillar pages?
Typically, this sort of content takes the form of an article between 3000 and 5000 words that covers a general topic and introduces the related themes and off-shooting subjects you wish to cover without going into greater detail. It serves as a launching point from which your audience will explore the rest of the content that relates to your core concept.
We’ve started with the trunk of your content tree and now let’s move to the branches. Every cluster page should start from a seed planted by your pillar page. So, the different cluster content you develop should each focus on a different keyword related to the central topic. Pillar pages and cluster pages are connected thematically and via the third and arguably most important universal element of topic cluster examples: hyperlinks.
The internal links that live on your content pages form the skeleton that keeps your pillar pages and cluster topics bound and effective in supporting both users and keyword ranking. Every single page within your content cluster should contain at least one link. Cluster pages should connect your audience back to the pillar page while the pillar page should also contain links that send readers directly to related pages.
The point is to create a natural pathway that your users can follow without having to leave your website. Links are the mechanism by which you accomplish this.
How to create topic clusters
So, we’ve covered the format that this approach follows and the impact it can have. That brings us to how you should go aboutcreating topic clusters SEO strategies can use to improve the user experience and keyword rankings. While there isn’t one single approach that fits every business and every set of objectives, we’d like to suggest the following steps to content clustering.
Why start building all of your content from scratch when you could take advantage of what you’ve already published? Rather than diving directly into writing and publication, go through the pages you’ve already put out there and figure out what you can use and what idea clusters they fit.
2. Create your pillar pages
It’s possible to start either with the central topic or the supporting content, but we recommend creating your pillar page first unless you have an existing article that you can optimize to fill this role. Remember that this should cover a broad theme without providing details related to the subtopics your audience should explore after finishing the initial article.
3. Create or optimize your cluster content
With the pillar page and related topics established, it’s time to start strategically developing supporting content. Every page made for this purpose needs to build off of the subject covered by the pillar page. But be sure to only select one focus for each piece of content so that pages don’t compete with each other for shared keywords. Instead, you want to make each blog or article unique to maximize their potential impact.
4. Include updated links on your cluster pages
As stated earlier, the most essential aspect of your strategy is the interconnection between different pages. Without proper links connecting the pillar page to each cluster page and vice versa, your audience will lack awareness of the related content that could answer their questions and expand their understanding of a general subject. This means that each secondary page must link to the central article at least once so that your readers never find a dead end.
5. Monitor the performance of your content
Just because you’ve finished developing all of the content that will form your topic cluster doesn’t mean that the work has ended. Instead, you’ll need to track how those pages rank once they’ve gone live so that you can determine the effectiveness of your content clusters. This allows you to adjust existing topic clusters and the way you approach future content development. You can do this with a topic cluster tool that measures essential metrics.
A topic cluster example as fine as wine
With the process established, let’s look at a real-life example of an effective clustering strategy.
The Wine Folly Beginner’s Guide to Wine is a great demonstration of the topic cluster approach. This guide begins with a central pillar page that establishes the overall subject (learning about wine) as well as the subtopics (basics, serving, tasting, etc…). In this case, Wine Folly makes the separation between different segments clear using a clean and clear design. Doing so separates distinct keywords and enables the company to provide an introduction into each subtopic without providing excessive information.
Wine Folly has therefore developed a central hub for users to explore many related topics. Anyone looking to learn more about wine naturally navigates to the pillar page before exploring the numerous content linked there. Visitors never run out of information, content, or answers to whatever questions they might think of while reading.
Even if this article has convinced you to start using topic clusters, you won’t be the first business to do so. Fortunately, that means you have the chance to learn from the mistakes made by the companies that have gone before. Here, we’ll cover the two most common errors we see when it comes to topic clusters.
Oftentimes, we see businesses deliberately choose not to link between different content clusters in an attempt to concentrate the relevance of their marketing material. However, by doing so, they miss valuable internal linking opportunities. Remember that no topic exists in a vacuum and connecting different subjects can lead to unexpected traffic gains and establish your authority on a given set of topics.
Keep in mind that by creating these connections yourself, you make it far more likely that Google will begin to recognize the relationship as well.
There’s a natural inclination for a company following a new and exciting marketing strategy to create too much content in a rush to reach its audience. However, having too many blogs or articles living on your website risks keyword clusters overlapping and losing the focus that maximizes the impact of your strategy. Instead, different pages begin to compete against each other for rankings on search engines.
To avoid this, it’s best to Google the keywords you want to focus on prior to writing your content to make sure that the results are different from other terms in your cluster.
And that’s topic clusters, or at least a strong starting point. With what we’ve covered here, you can now go ahead and start creating your own clusters of keywords, topics, and content that will guide your audience through your website on an engaging shopping journey.