If you struggle to achieve high rankings for a seemingly valuable, content-rich page you put hours of effort into, the problem could be hiding in your website architecture.
Topic clusters are revolutionizing SEO and content marketing. They conform to search algorithms while providing an all-encompassing experience for their target audience. With the rising popularity of inbound marketing, more and more businesses are shifting their content focus towards topic clusters.
Leverage topic clusters to give value to your reader, satisfy search engines like Google, and generate traffic with high conversion potential.
Why Are Topic Clusters Integral to Content Marketing?
Content marketing teams have traditionally relied on keywords and key phrases to convey the topic of a web page to search engines. But when a company has several web pages on similar topics, they compete with each other for traffic on the search engine results pages (SERP).
To resolve this issue, Google rewards websites with cluster content structures. By implementing the topic cluster approach, you can:
- Reinforce your authority — Creating multiple pieces of content that relate to one topic demonstrates your site’s trustworthiness on a particular subject.
- Boost rankings through internal linking — By linking pillar and supporting pages, you build your website’s authority. The more links that point to the pillar page, the higher it will rank on SERP.
- Keep users on your website — A properly structured topic cluster keeps visitors on your website longer.
- Generate leads — Clusters generate top-of-funnel leads by exposing people to a specific subject and driving them to monetized pages.
- Meet search intent — Grouping your content into clusters improves visitor experience on your website. You can cover a variety of essential questions and address specific pain points.
- Personalize user experience — When you create a cluster, you hone in on each visitor’s specific challenge without forcing them to sift through unnecessary information.
In short, websites that feature topic clusters outperform websites with random, keyword-focussed content pieces.
What Is a Topic Cluster?
A topic cluster consists of content on a central subject and related subtopics. Let’s define some terms:
- Pillar page (Core topic) — The content on a pillar page discusses the core topic and covers related queries. It entices visitors to stay on the page and follow internal links to the related content pieces.
- Supporting content (Sub-topics) — These pages – see an example here – dive deeper into topics mentioned on the pillar page. They have a narrower focus on a specific visitor inquiry.
- Internal links — Links from the pillar page to the supporting pages, and vice versa.
Topic Cluster Example: “A Simple Guide to SEO”
An example of a core topic for a topic cluster around SEO optimization could be “A Simple Guide to SEO.”
While the pillar page would briefly discuss all the above subtopics (“How to optimize metadata,” “An extensive guide to link building,” etc.), the information would not be comprehensive because the majority of your visitors’ challenges cannot be resolved in a couple paragraphs.
That’s where your supporting content comes into play. The supporting pieces dig into each subtopic, providing a holistic solution that satisfies the search query.
The topic cluster method shown above illustrates a modern approach to content marketing. Draw visitors in with broad searches like “SEO tips,” then allow them to peruse your supporting content organically from one central repository: your pillar page.
Choosing Core Topics
A core topic is the main subject of a pillar page. It should be broad enough to attract medium-high search volume, and contain various subtopics beneath it.
Examples of core topic content ideas include:
- The Evolution of Skateboarding
- Meat Smoking
- Learn Ballet at Home
- 20th-Century Art Deco
All of the topics outlined above can be divided into multiple subtopics. Let’s say you chose “20th-Century Art Deco” as your core topic. The rest of the cluster would branch off into related subtopics.
You could choose to answer subtopic questions like:
- What was the Art Deco Period?
- What are the main features of Art Deco?
- Is Art Deco the same as Art Nouveau?
- Where is Art Deco commonly seen?
- Why did Art Deco go out of style?
Once you identify a core topic and corresponding subtopics, you can start to shape a pillar page around it.
Pro tip: Choose a core topic based on your expertise. It should be a cornerstone of your business and exhibit thought leadership about an industry concept.
Building Pillar Pages
As mentioned, the pillar page aims to keep visitors on the page and follow internal links to related content. Your pillar pages should be some of the higher ranking pages on your website, behind your homepage. They’re longer in length, and well organized with headings, tables of contents, etc. They should also highlight multiple instances for customers to consume related content (both gated and ungated).
They’re crucial because a searcher who comes to your page looking for “quick SEO tips” likely isn’t considering your products or services as a solution. Your pillar pages will help establish you as a trusted expert in your industry.
Subtopics expand upon the narrow subjects that comprise your larger, core topic.
Search volume should dictate topic selection. Subtopics usually face less competition than a core topic and are easier to rank for. However, avoid choosing subtopics so obscure that they receive negligible search volume.
For example, a relevant subtopic for our fictional SEO guide may be “How to utilize image metadata to increase organic reach.” Most websites just starting out won’t rank on Google for a broad search like “SEO tips.” However, they’re more likely to rank for a specific search term about utilizing metadata.
Although the pillar page serves to funnel traffic to relevant subtopic pages, it’s also intended as a destination for readers who landed first on a subtopic page. So, make sure to create internal links from your subtopics to your pillar page, and vice versa.
How To Build a Topic Cluster
Creating topic clusters for your website isn’t difficult. You likely already have a few pillar pages and supporting pages to utilize. Group your existing content by topic and add pages where necessary.
If you’re starting from scratch, take the following steps.
1. Choose a Topic
Identify the topic that will show off your expertise. The topic should be the cornerstone of your business and explain why you’re better than the competition.
Keep in mind your clients’ needs and pain points. The topic should be broad enough to allow for several sub-pieces.
2. Identify Keywords
The cluster content revolves around the same subject and similar keywords. You need to identify a core keyword for the pillar page content and several related terms for the supporting articles.
Pay attention to the keyword difficulty and search volume. A keyword with medium difficulty and high search volume for a pillar article can complement low search volume keywords for subtopics.
3. Create Content
Once you know which topics and keywords to work with, you can write the content. Remember to keep the pillar page information general; you can go deeper into the subject when crafting supporting articles.
The pillar page is similar to an outline: it should contain valuable, skimmable content and a catchy introduction.
Pro tip: Consider creating supporting content first to avoid in-depth repetition on the pillar page.
Streamlining Your Content Strategy With Topic Clusters
As long as you have a product that solves problems for your audience, the topic cluster model can work for you. It’s the best way to ensure:
- You shoot to the top of Google’s rankings.
- Your site visitors have a seamless experience.
- You foster thought leadership and trust within your community.
The topic cluster content approach has been around for a while, yet, only a small percentage of companies take full advantage of it. Besides improving your rankings, providing value to your clients, and increasing brand awareness, topic clusters can help you gain a competitive advantage.
The ever-changing Google algorithms tax the impeccable user experience. Implementing topic clusters is a huge step toward remedying it.