The majority of online marketers are constantly looking for ways to improve their content, and I’m willing to bet that you’re no different.
But what if you’ve tried everything to get your rankings up in the SERPs – from optimizing pages using every single trick in the SEO book to going after the less competitive keywords – but nothing has worked?
What do you do then?
If that sounds like you, then it may be time to consider creating topic clusters. These are the not-so-secret ranking weapon of smart content strategists everywhere.
What Exactly are Topic Clusters and Why are they Important?
Topic clusters are simply a collection of interlinked pieces of content focused around one umbrella topic. They are designed to give you greater visibility to help the search engines identify your content and rank it high on the results pages.
Over the years, search engine optimization has evolved, and you’re probably well aware that the algorithms used by the search engines are constantly changing, which makes it virtually impossible for any digital marketers to stay ahead of the curve.
Trying to figure out how the algorithm updates work is something that gives even the most determined marketers a headache.
The good news is that there are a lot of search marketing experts who are doing all the research for us and they don’t mind sharing the wealth.
This is what’s going on:
For nearly a decade now, keywords have been the main focus of search. But times are changing – and the way keyword research is done has changed drastically, too.
Now we have voice assistants like Alexa and Siri, which are becoming more and more popular.
This means that the days of manually searching for answers to our problems are numbered.
Soon everyone will be speaking their problems into their devices in order to get the answers they need. This shift in behavior is something that search engines have taken into consideration, altering their algorithms in favor of broad, topic-based content.
So, as you can see, it’s time to re-evaluate whatever search engine optimization strategies you’ve been relying on until today. You must now focus on how you can provide content that matches new searcher intent.
Enter topic clusters!
A topic cluster begins with a generalized subject that is your main focus – one overarching topic which we are going to call your ‘pillar’ page. Within this topic, you will have a huge selection of ultra-focused pages relating back to the pillar page.
By having all these pieces of content linking back to the one main page, you’re telling the search engines that the pillar content is an authority on that particular topic and that it’s worth paying attention to it.
As with long-tail keywords and all the other content strategies that came before it, the aim of creating topic clusters is to help you better organize the content on your site so that the search engines find and understand it easily, and consequently rank it higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Basically, the more cluster topics you have, the higher you’re going to rank over time because the search engines will recognize that your content provides all the answers that users are searching for.
Your website will become a one-stop-shop, so to speak, which offers searchers an enhanced experience as they research the topic they are interested in.
They won’t have a need to visit multiple sites in order to get their questions fully answered.
What is the SEO Impact of Content Clusters?
When done the right way, topic clusters can boost your rankings in a significant way.
It increases your site authority and the overall ranking for your page and shows that your site covers the chosen topic comprehensively.
Also, if your site has large, well-organized topic clusters, it’s more likely to get enhanced listings from Google and other search engines.
As a consequence of this, on-page SEO activities are becoming more and more important.
This is great news for you and your audience, as it improves the overall user experience while giving your SEO efforts a boost.
No matter what size your site is, whether you only have a couple dozen pages on your blog, or if you’ve got thousands, a topic cluster will be a useful tool in helping you grow and rank your site in the search engines.
Of course, the potential impact of great organization will be more significant for sites with more content as more content (in theory) equates to greater coverage of the particular topic – assuming each of the posts is in-depth.
So, now that you know what topic clusters are and why they are so important to your overall content marketing strategy, it’s time to take a look at how you can create them on your site.
How to Create Topic Clusters on Your Site
Building topic clusters is not as hard as you might imagine. It’s a simple process that becomes even easier with time.
All you need is to interlink a few pages of related content using relevant keywords. You will also need a main (pillar) page that ties all the little pieces of content together and links to each post discussing a relating subtopic.
The main page plays a vital role in the creation of effective topic clusters.
It needs to be long-form and in-depth, and it should offer exhaustive coverage of the main issue with links to other pages that offer detailed commentary pertaining to specific subtopics.
As you can see, the structure is pretty simple but very effective for helping you rank for competitive terms.
If your blog already has lots of content on it, making the shift to pillar pages and topic clusters calls for a change in your thinking.
You must accept that the days of creating content to rank for a specific keyword are long gone – and they’re never coming back!
Keyword Evolution: ‘Topic’ is today’s keyword
To help make this shift more comfortable for you, it’s best to start by taking a look at the existing content on your blog.
Try and see how you can group it together into topics. Look for pages with content that is focused on addressing a central theme. These are the ones that will make great pillar pages.
If necessary, take the time to update and improve the pages to make them more authoritative and if needed, add links to the supporting pages. All your supporting subtopic pages should also be linked together as well.
From now on, when you plan new posts, start thinking strategically.
Keep a list of your pillar page topics on hand and think of ways in which you can extensively cover a particular topic. You can do this over the course of multiple posts, but don’t think of them as a ‘series’ of posts, but rather a ‘cluster’ of content.
So, it’s really very simple: One post is the main one that covers the general topic, and the other posts go deeper into the details. You can then link all the posts together as you publish.
We’re now going to break the process down into 5 steps so you can better understand how to implement it on your own site:
Step 1: Pick a Topic
What subject are you (or do you want to be) a thought leader on?
Once you know exactly what that is, it’s time to build content around that topic so that your audience can eventually grow to trust you as an authority in your niche.
The topic you choose should be one that is a cornerstone of the business you’re running and one that differentiates you from your competitors.
This is a core topic of your business, and if your blog is already live, then you probably already have a page on the subject, as well as some supporting content.
You can conduct a quick content audit to determine just how much content (on that topic) you already have in place.
Step 2: Brainstorm Subtopics
To start building out your topic cluster, you’ll need to brainstorm some subtopics. These will help you to fully cover your main topic in detail.
Ask yourself what type of content your ideal buyers look for when they are researching solutions to their problems or desires.
For example, say your main topic was ‘Weight loss routines for women,’ you might want to brainstorm a few relevant subtopics and types of content that a woman trying to lose weight would want to see when searching for solutions online.
You might come up with a blog post or subtopic page titled, ‘5-minute workout routines for busy moms’.
To help make the process of brainstorming easier for you, think of the pain points that your buyer personas have. For each pain point, come up with a question that the prospect might ask or search for, and then create content that fully answers those questions.
Using the example above, a customer looking to get into shape might ask, ‘What is the best routine to tone my body in the shortest amount of time?’
Ideally, your brainstorming for topic clusters needs to happen at the same time as your brainstorming for content ideas.
Step 3: Remember the Keywords
Just because things are changing doesn’t mean keywords have lost all their power.
They are still very important, and you still need to optimize the content you create (your pages and posts) around targeted keywords – except now you need to be able to build relationships between relevant keywords if you want to be ranked high in the SERPs.
There’s less focus on keyword research now than before, but it’s still important.
A great tool for accomplishing all this is HubSpot’s automation software. It makes doing topic cluster keyword research a breeze and gives you all the information you could need to make informed decisions, such as each topic’s domain authority score (a predictive score which is great for indicating how well your site will rank).
You also get the relevancy score.
This shows you how much of your existing content is relevant to your topic. If the score is low, it means you need to develop more content on your chosen topic.
Step 4: Build Pillar Pages
Now that your topic clusters have been developed, and you’ve finalized your keyword research, the next step involves optimizing your pages around the new topic(s) and subtopics.
Make sure that you thoroughly audit your existing site content and optimize it for any new keywords that you added.
Develop pillar pages that will extensively cover the topic you’ve chosen. If you’re a B2B business, you can make the core service pages your pillar pages.
Make sure the pages have relevant images, and high quality, interesting content including compelling headlines as well as additional resources that demonstrate your expertise on the topic.
No matter what type of business you’re in, as you create your pillar content, keep your customer personas in mind.
5. Time to Link
Now comes the fun part: creating the actual links that turn all those individual pieces of content into a topic cluster.
This will show the search engines exactly how the topics and subtopics relate to each other.
Make sure that each pillar page contains links to all the related pages.
All the subtopic topics from your brainstorming session earlier should be linked to here, such as blog posts, white papers, case studies, etc.
In addition to that, all the subtopic pages must link back to the main page (something that isn’t really necessary, but it’s highly recommended).
This is the most crucial step in creating topic clusters on your site. This internal linking of your topics and subtopic pages shows Google and other search engines that there’s a semantic relationship between the collections of pages.
In other words, it helps search engines understand that the keywords on your site are related and connected to one another.
That’s the entire process for creating topic clusters on your site!
It’s evident that there isn’t really a lot to it, but if your site already has a lot of content, you may have quite a bit of work to do sorting through all the posts and pages and figuring out how to structure your site.
The good news is that you can start small and work your way through the entire site over time while creating topic clusters in your regular publishing schedule.
Feel free to post your comment below. An email address is required but it will not be shared with anyone, put on any list, or used for any kind of marketing, just to alert you if there are any replies. Thanks and happy hunting!
Updated: Originally published March 19th 2019