These days, almost every business seeks to build an online presence. One of the best ways to do that?
Create amazing content.
But what happens when your content is not getting the kind of response you expected? What if you’re not getting the desired SEO traffic to your site? Are keywords the only strategy you can use to boost your SEO?
Enter Topic Clusters. *Cue superhero music*
Content clusters are a great strategy to help search engines easily figure out what your blog/ website is about, and send some glorious SEO juice your way. Ranking higher on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) will get you more traffic, and ultimately, more paying customers.
So what are topic clusters? And how do you use them to drive more SEO traffic to your site?
Let’s jump in and find out, shall we?
Search Engines Are Getting Smarter
Most online content is driven by organic search — that is, search results that are based on user intent, and what they type into the search bar in Google. These could be either short-tail or long-tail keywords.
Earlier, people would just type in broken search terms or short-tail keywords, hoping to find what they’re looking for on the first page of Google SERPs.
These days, with the vast amount of content available on the internet, that doesn’t work anymore. A user would have to scroll down through the SERPs page to find EXACTLY what they want.
Additionally, specific searches are made by typing in long-tail keyword or even a question into the Google search bar.
In response to the changing user behavior, search engines have adapted and changed their algorithms. Modern day algorithms are able to understand the user’s intent and topical context. They can now link it to historical search queries and find cluster topics that provide specific answers to the search questions.
Yes, Google looks for topical relevance!
Check out these significant Google updates in the past:
2009 – Google launched real time search
2010 – Google Instant launched, Google search results dictated by one domain
2011 – Google encrypts search queries that give “not provided” results
2012 – SPAM factors and keyword stuffing penalised
2013 – Hummingbird update: Google understands semantic search
2014 – Pigeon update (affects local SEO)
2015 – Mobilegeddon update (rankings given to mobile friendly sites), RankBrain starts feeding SERPs
2016 – Google’s Possum algorithm update, Penguin Algorithm becomes a part of core Google algorithm
2017 – Google increases length of snippets in search results
2018 – Google confirmed Algorithm ranking shift, rolls out broad core search algorithm update
2019 – “March 2019 Core Update”confirmed, BERT update
Google is getting smarter every day. It tries not to send users on a wild goose chase by giving them vague search results. Instead, it tries to judge the quality of each article and its links.
So how do you get Google to treat your site as a valuable resource that has quality and authority on a subject?
You organize your website into content clusters.
Which gets us to the question of the hour….
What Are Topic Clusters?
It is becoming common practice to link (both internally and externally) to related topics so that the Google Bots can crawl those links and gauge what your content is about. But like we mentioned earlier, Google is getting smarter.
By linking to loosely related topics within your blog or on other websites without proper planning, you end up creating a messy blog structure that leads readers to topics they are not really interested in.
But don’t fret, there’s another way – topic clusters.
Topic clusters are a bunch of articles that are all linked to a broader, related topic. They can be created by planning out your content and organizing your blog in a way that helps you rank better in search.
Topic clusters are therefore interlinked web pages are centered around a common pillar content. The cluster, comprising of the pillar piece and the related content pieces create a single, consolidated unit. The cluster works as a team to provide comprehensive knowledge on the main subject.
While the pillar content focuses on one major keyword with high search volume, the cluster articles work on more precise keywords (with lower search volumes) targeting specific search queries.
Example of topic cluster
Let us understand topic clusters through this simple model.
So, you’ve identified the the focus keyword as “online marketing”. With keyword research done, you know that the focus subject has great search volumes.
The next step is to identify more specific subjects that could be taken up on separate web pages, and internlink them to the main pillar content. These form your cluster pieces.
Content clusters would be branches of the pillar article and could deal with topics such as social media marketing, email marketing, or content marketing or even more specific questions based on the searcher’s intent.
Cluster articles follow a hub-and-spoke type of model. It is an SEO strategy that is built on topics rather than keywords.
So, if your pillar content extensively covers online marketing, you could take up related niche topics such as email marketing more in-depth. Examples of these topics could be:
* How to create an email marketing strategy that increases conversions
* How autoresponder emails can help engage your audience
* How to create a signup form that helps you build your email list
Following are the broad advantages of using a cluster model:
Organizes the structure of your website,
Allows you to cover niche topics more deeply,
Allows Google to relate your content with each other, and
Improves your search engine reach
Let’s now dive in a little deeper to understand how grouping your articles into clusters can help boost your SEO.
Benefits of Topic Clusters and What It Means For Your Website
Creating clusters of topics/ articles like these have the following advantages:
1. Content gets more traffic
Since each piece of content is linked to others in the content cluster, people searching for information on a particular topic will be interested in most of the content in your cluster, boosting your traffic for the cluster of content as a whole.
As users keep exploring the related topics in your content cluster, Google picks up this traffic and gets more information to crawl and index your content.
2. Higher ranking
All the information that Google gathers from your traffic ultimately helps you rank higher for search terms that are highly competitive. As time passes, Google will start regarding your website as a high authority on that particular topic, and thus rank your content higher than others.
3. Content that meets searcher’s intent
One of the most biggest benefits of grouping your content is that it makes your content more helpful to your readers and potential customers. This allows you to answer important questions that your customers may have, and address their pain points.
Using the same example as above, let’s say your customers have a specific question about planning an email campaign.You could create content that tells your readers how they can segment their email list, find out the pain points of each list segment, and then deliver relevant emails to each segment using an email campaign.
All this content together will act as an immensely helpful resource for your readers, that answers any questions they have about email marketing campaigns.
Influence of Topic Clusters on SERP
One of the main outcomes of article clusters is an organized website. This allows Google to easily find your pillar articles and all the articles related to each of them. This is very crucial because people today enter ‘how’, ‘what’, or ‘why’ questions into the search bar rather than just broken or short-tail keywords.
Google has changed its algorithms to show people content based on topical relevance. This is why it is a better practice to focus on topics rather than just keywords.
As mentioned earlier, the frequently changing search engine algorithms have forced the content to be more precise and user friendly. Most SEO specialists agree that more interlinkings result in better chances of achieving higher ranks on the SERP.
Additionally, topic clusters providing information on a broader subject along with addressing specific user queries get more impressions (views) along with higher conversion percentages.
Think about the user intent
The most important factor to consider while creating a content is to focus on the user. While every marketer knows this, it is often the ,ost forgotten aspect during content development.
The idea is to make the search journey easier for the person typing a query in Google.
Topic clusters are hence all about understanding user intent and having an in depth knowledge of the types of questions that people ask on the subject.
Let’s understand this better with our email marketing example. Say a searcher wants to find out how to make their email campaigns more effective. When he enters the broad search term ‘email marketing’ into Google search, there’s a ton of content pulled up that relates to email marketing, but it’s not quite what the searcher wants.
On scrolling down further, more results are visible, but still not quite what the searcher intended to look for.
So, even after scrolling down the first page, the results have not helped the user. If he instead searches for the long-tail keyword/ question ‘how to make email campaigns more effective’, the results (as shown in the screenshot) are more accurate and closer to searcher intent.
If you were to thus create an article cluster on email marketing campaigns, your content would start ranking higher because it matches more closely with the searcher intent.
Therefore, a short-tail keyword and broader topic such as ‘email marketing’ is best suited for creating pillar content since it is just a high-level introduction to the topic. Within this pillar article, you can link to topic clusters that focus on more narrow and niche topics related to email marketing.
Let’s take one of the search results from the Google search we did on email marketing. Here is the top result:
The highlighted links lead to articles that talk about related topics. The anchor text to your internal links is crucial as they show people as well as Google Bots what your content cluster is about. It is a good idea to use long-tail keywords for these cluster internal links.
Topic clusters don’t just help you compete for keywords and against other competitors, but also show your site as a high-authority site for the topic that you are discussing.
So up until now, we talked about what topic clusters are and how they can help you boost your website’s SEO. Let’s now take a look at the hierarchy levels (from pillar article to topic clusters) involved.
Creating a Topical Hierarchy
Understanding the topic relevancy and choosing their levels in the content bunch is an important aspect of creating a topic cluster. Following are some of the key components of a topic cluster:
- Pillar Article
- Related topics or cluster articles
Let us understand more about each of these.
1. Pillar Article
A pillar article is based on target keywords that have a high search volume, and probably high competition. For instance, if we use the example of online marketing, you’ll find that it has a high search volume and high keyword difficulty:
The search term email marketing shows similar results:
These short-tail keywords can be used for your pillar content as they are just an introduction to the topic and are going to be connected to your topic cluster of more detailed, long-tail keywords that relate to online marketing/ email marketing.
Usually, the people who search for these keywords on Google are just at the beginning of their journey and are looking for high-level answers that will introduce them to the topic. They are in need of general information that can help them understand the topic better.
However, when you connect this pillar article with more detailed topics by using hyperlinks within the content that link to relevant topics, this will help those who want to dig a little deeper and learn more.
Your pillar article, therefore, not only needs to educate your readers on the topic but also needs to stay relevant for a long time. This is something people like to call ‘evergreen content’.
Once you’ve chosen the topic for your pillar article, it’s time to start writing.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
- The pillar article must address your target audience’s pain points and solve a problem.
- It must cover the topic in a broad sense, but only on a high level (without going into too much detail – that’s what your topic cluster will help you do!).
- Aim for a word count of 3,000 words or more.
- Use many headers and subheadings in your pillar article so that it is easily scannable and interesting to read.
Let us now take a step by step journey into creating a pillar content piece.
STEP 1: Identify your target customer/ audience.
Decide what kind of people you want to target and create content for. Study them carefully and find out what their goals are, where they are located in the world, what they like and what they don’t.
The more information you have about your target audience, the easier it is for you to write content for them. Write for a person, and don’t try to please everyone through your articles.
STEP 2: Find out their pain points.
Before you begin to write something, you must find out what your target audience is struggling with. Where do they need help? What information can you provide them that will help them get closer to reaching their goals?
To do this, you can even ask your audience directly what they are struggling with. You can send them a survey in an email, or even check out their comments on social media to find out what they need help with.
Only when you find out what their problems are will you be able to create content that provides solutions.
STEP 3: Write your content.
Once you’ve gathered enough information, it’s time for you to plan and write your content. Write your pillar article in a way that is optimized for SEO. Also keep in mind that you need to make room for your topic cluster articles to be written, so do not go too much in detail in this article.
STEP 4: Analyze and repeat.
When you finally hit publish, keep an eye on your Google Analytics data to see which content is doing well with your audience. When you find out what types of content your audience responds to the most, it will be easy for you to create more of the same type.
Repeat the process for your next pillar article. Writing multiple pillar articles allows you to touch upon multiple broad topics in your niche. You can then create content clusters around each pillar article to go into more detail.
2. Cluster Articles
While your pillar article is meant to attract your target audience, topic clusters are meant to educate them more deeply in the subtopics.
When you are looking for subtopics to create your cluster articles, look for long-tail keywords with lower search volumes. They have lower search volumes because fewer people are searching for these terms. This means that although the numbers are low, you have high-quality search traffic using these long-tail keywords.
For example, if your pillar article is on email marketing, your cluster articles could be:
- – How to create an email marketing strategy that increases conversions
- – How autoresponder emails can help engage your audience
- – How to create a signup form that helps you build your email list
Now that you’ve figured out what topics to write about, it’s time to create the clusters.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
- While writing your pillar articles, you focused on covering a broad topic. For topic cluster articles, you need to focus on the depth of the article.
- Remember that your cluster articles are read by customers that are further along in their journey. Give them meatier, and more in-depth posts. They usually already have a high-level knowledge about the topic and are looking for more detailed information.
- Topic clusters don’t require heavy keyword research to bring in organic traffic. That’s your pillar article’s job. Your pillar article should be created in such a way as to drive organic traffic to your articles naturally.
- Your cluster articles need not rank high on search engine results. The main purpose of this content is to feed your audience with helpful and detailed information that addresses their problems.
So how do we create the cluster topics? Here’s a step by step process for creating topic clusters:
STEP 1: Identify subtopics within your pillar article.
Go through your pillar article and find opportunities where you can delve deeper into some subtopics. For instance, if there is a pillar article on how to come up with an email marketing strategy, try to create content on how to grow an email list, how to improve open rates, conversion rates, etc.
STEP 2: Find keywords to incorporate in the article.
An SEO tool can help you find keywords with medium search volume and low keyword difficulty (low competition keywords). This will help you rank for those keywords. You can also use these tools to figure out what people are searching for related to the topic.
STEP 3: Create topic clusters for all your pillar articles.
If you have more than one pillar article on your blog, you can create content clusters around each pillar article.
A great way to keep your audience on your website for longer is to link internally to relevant articles, such as those in a cluster. The more time people spend on your site, the more Google realizes that you are a high authority on the topic with information to help those looking for something related to your content.
These are perhaps the most important aspects of creating a topic cluster. Links help in binding the pillar page to the cluster pieces and creating a web of references.
That said, the importance of interlinking is often underestimated. Links help by:
- Building relationships between the web content pages
- Add value to individual pages
- Make the pillar page more relevant
The idea is to give the search engines an opportunity to look over your website and understand the subjects covered.
Interlinks help the audience to find their way around your blog and read more on what they’re interested in.
However, you must avoid linking to unrelated clusters, even if the topic seems vaguely related. Taking them to an article that they’re not really interested in could cause them to lose interest and leave your site.
Keep Brainstorming On The Topics
Get your creative genius to work. In addition to getting regular keyword and topic ideas from SEO research tools and Google, keep jotting down your ideas on cluster topics every time you think about a related subject. Once you have a good number of ideas in your list, score them and narrow down to the most relevant ones.
Keep identifying topic cluster opportunities that you may previously have overlooked.
Other important tips to identify new cluster topics is to look at the frequently asked questions and, well, just follow Google’s lead.
Keeping Topic Clusters Search Engine Friendly
Now, it’s not easy creating pillar articles and clusters around them. They require a lot of research and writing in order to make them high-quality articles that actually help your audience.
That being said, how do you keep your cluster articles from becoming stale? How do you keep them ranking at the top of search results for a long time?
Here are some tried and tested approaches to help you keep your topic clusters fresh for years to come:
1. Content updates
Every day, newer and more relevant content is being created all over the world. It is only natural that your posts start to grow stale with time. Keep refreshing your content so that it remains fresh and updated. This will automatically keep it ranking high in search results.
You can track your content using Google Analytics, and see whether traffic to your posts is declining over time. If you do see a steady decline over recent months, it’s time to update your post.
Here’s how you do it:
- Research and add in more updated information on the topic. This is especially important if you are in an industry related to technology or constantly changing processes.
- Incorporate more tips and ideas to give your readers more value. Add examples or illustrations and make the post more appealing and interesting. Never just bring up the word count with fluff.
- Check SEO optimization. Maybe you must have overlooked some important SEO optimization such as adding the keywords in the headers, writing a good meta description, keywords in the URL or adding relevant image alt text. Double-check these and make necessary improvements.
- Keep an eye on your Google Analytics after you make changes. If you begin to see a spike in traffic in a couple of weeks, you’re on the right track!
- Share your updated content on social media. This will give you a boost in traffic.
2. Search Trend Analysis
Keep yourself informed of recent search trends. This will show you what your audience is interested in and what they’re looking for. This way, when you spot a certain keyword becoming popular, you can easily create topic clusters around that topic to serve your audience.
Apart from SEO tools, you can also use Google autocomplete and related searches to find out what people are typing into the search bar of Google. For example, if you start typing in ‘email signup form’ in the Google search bar, you will see suggestions like these:
These suggestions tell you what people are looking for regarding email signup forms.
You can also hit enter and check out related searches at the bottom of Google search results:
Depending on your research, you can figure out what content clusters to create so that you can best help your audience with their problems.
3. Tracking the clusters
You can track the performance of your content clusters using Google Analytics. Important information you can retrieve from GA are page views, time on page, and bounce rate. These metrics will give you an overall picture of how your cluster articles are performing over time.
To do this, you can head over to the ‘Behaviour’ tab on the left:
Click on the Behaviour tab, select Site Content, and then All Pages.
This information will show you all the pages on your website and data for each page. You can change the date range on the top right corner to see changes over a period of time.
This information will show you clearly how each cluster is performing and how your audience is responding to your content.
You can try out different strategies for your article groups and figure out what works best for your blog and your audience. You can also clearly track the difference these clusters are making to your blog traffic.
We know its not easy to keep up with the constant search engine updates.
However, creating topic clusters gives you the satisfaction of serving useful and thorough content to your readers. Topic clusters make it simpler for your readers to navigate through your blog and find exactly what they need. This will automatically keep them on your blog for longer, thus improving your SEO.
Start using the strategies mentioned in the article and see your website reaching top positions on the SERP. And what’s more, earn your readers trust as you move ahead.