Yeah, topic clusters work—BUT only if you do them right.
Any good marketer knows high-quality content on a site bolsters your SEO potential. But this entails a lot more than just implementing the right keywords.
SEO success requires being the authority on selected topics. You want to be your target market’s go-to resource on all subjects related to your products and services.
One strategy that achieves this? Topic clusters.
Topic clusters harness the powers of the online trifecta—your target audience, search intent, and content value. Clusters get these three at the forefront of your strategy, helping you win Google’s trust and reap all the organic traffic and conversions that follow.
But as life goes, there are good/right ways to do things and bad/wrong ways. In the world of topic clusters, that definitely stands true. It’s pivotal you understand the good and bad sides to set yourself up for success.
Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through all of it. Here’s your essential guide to the what, why, and how of topic clusters.
Topic Clusters: What the Heck Are They?
Before we jump into content clusters, let’s get one thing straight. Pillar content is part of a topic cluster strategy, but it’s not the same. You’ll see why they shouldn’t be used interchangeably in just a second.
Topic clusters are groups of related site pages that all link to one pillar or authority page.
Three elements that encompass a topic cluster:
1. A pillar page: The pillar page is the central authority for the main topic you’re aiming to rank for.
- Cover the essential questions a user has on a core topic.
- Target a broad, high-level keyword.
Examples of a pillar page might be an educational resource page or a service page.
2. Cluster content or subtopics: Cluster content takes the pillar page to a deeper level—the pillar page is the parent, and the cluster page is the child.
Also called subtopics, cluster content:
- Provides additional and more specific information on your core/pillar page topic
- Targets more niche, long-tail keywords (keywords with small monthly searches)
For example, let’s say your pillar page targets “care packages.” One of your cluster pieces may cover “care packages for friends moving away” or “non-traditional Christmas care packages.”
3. Hyperlinks: Internal linking is at the heart of your topic cluster strategy. It’s what makes a collection of pages into a cluster. The cluster pieces link to and from the pillar page, encouraging readers to stay on your site. These links help search engines understand your site’s overall structure and how the pages relate to one another.
How Do Topic Clusters Enhance Your Search Rankings?
Search engines like Google love topic cluster models, and for three good reasons.
1. They Illustrate the Structure of Your Web Pages
Organizing your site’s content into clusters helps search engines easily understand:
- The structure and hierarchy of your website
- How your site pages relate to one another
This helps Google crawl and index the pages on your site, which enables them to show the relevant pages to your target users. Not to mention, when all your cluster pages link to your pillar page, this signals to Google that the pillar is the authoritative resource on your primary topic.
According to Google’s developers:
- “Some pages are known because Google has already visited them. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page: for example, a hub page, such as a category page, links to a new blog post.”
- “When a user enters a query, our machines search the index for matching pages and return the results we believe are the highest quality and most relevant to the user.”
2. They Show Your Expertise and Authority
Topic clusters help search engines understand your business’ area of expertise. Think about it—with a primary pillar page plus relevant cluster content, you’re providing comprehensive resources on a single topic for users.
As a result, users won’t feel the need to look at other sites. This will:
- Build your credibility on specific topics.
- Showcase your authority in your industry.
- Garner trust from your audience and search engines.
3. They Display Value to Your Target Audience
When you have good content that illuminates your expertise, plus a good internal linking structure, you enhance the user experience—something Google prioritizes when it comes to search ranking factors.
A stellar internal linking structure via topic clusters helps users find more interesting content on your website. This increases the average time on site, or dwell time—a signal SEO experts claim is a Google ranking factor since it correlates with a positive user experience.
Topic Clusters and SEO: Success Stories
We’ll pipe down for a moment and let these case studies do the rest of the talking.
Spoonful of Comfort
eCommerce company Spoonful of Comfort was looking to improve its organic traffic. The business bolstered its authority in the care package space by creating a pillar page that targeted specific, broad keywords. It then supported that page with 10 cluster content pieces.
Here’s what Spoonful of Comfort achieved thanks to the help of their topic cluster strategy:
- 289% boost in revenue
- 585% increase in organic sessions
- 644% jump in new users
SaaS company Canopy spearheaded its brand refresh with a topic cluster. The business began with keyword research. It used those key terms to:
- Establish and enhance pillar pages.
- Optimize the company’s internal link strategy.
In the end, Canopy was able to achieve the following:
- 600% increase in first page rankings
- 1056% increase in keyword rankings
- 25% boost in site sessions
7 Steps to Executing a Topic Cluster Strategy
Executing a good topic cluster strategy requires seven key steps. We’ve also included tips on what not to do to ensure you stay on track.
For any questions along the way, reach out to our digital marketing team.
1. Select a Core Topic
Think about the following to help you identify a relevant core topic:
- The products/services you sell. Whether you sell “natural health supplements” or “HVAC services,” your products/services serve as excellent starting points for your core topic ideation.
- Your value propositions. How do customers benefit from your product or service? What pain points do they solve? How do they differ from the competition?
- Lucrative PPC keywords. Your paid and organic strategies should align with one another. Assessing high-ROI paid keywords can help you identify the right primary topic.
2. Ideate Cluster Topics
Come up with unique subtopic ideas by:
- Meeting with the customer support team to compile the top FAQs customers are inquiring about
- Browsing through review and discussion platforms to delve deeper into customer pain points and needs
- Performing keyword research to discover long-tail keywords that are connected to your pillar topic (more on this next)
Semrush’s Topic Research Tool can be a good starting point to get subtopic ideas brewing. Its mind map feature helps you visualize potential clusters to accompany your pillar topic.
3. Perform Keyword Research
Perform keyword research around your pillar and cluster topics.
As noted earlier, you’ll need to source two types of keywords:
- Broad keywords (for pillar page)
- Long-tail keywords (for cluster/subtopic pages)
Conducting keyword research for your pillar pages can unveil long-tail keywords, which can help you optimize your cluster topics along the way.
Here are some keyword research tools to help you get started:
4. Outline Pillar and Cluster Content
Begin crafting outlines for each content page. Getting a skeleton going can help you visualize the result and ensure there are no overlaps. Cluster pages that are too closely aligned may create duplicate content concerns.
Outlines can also help determine whether the amount of keywords you have prepared for each content piece is feasible.
5. Write the Content
As you’re writing your content, make sure to:
- Keep readability in mind: Make use of white space, bullet points, numbered lists, and subheaders to make your content reader-friendly.
- Focus on quality: Rather than focusing solely on hitting your word count, prioritize making the content good.
- Be clear and concise: Ensure your content is digestible and answers users’ queries right away.
- Hit the right voice/tone: Who are you speaking to? Make sure the voice, tone, and language align with your target audience.
6. Add Internal Links
Don’t forget to add internal links to each subtopic page. These links should take the user to your pillar page. The topics of the content pieces should closely relate, so you shouldn’t have a problem naturally weaving in the internal link.
Sitebulb is a great visualization tool that illustrates the linking relationship between your web pages. This can offer a birds-eye view of your topic cluster strategy and helps you ensure everything is good to go.
7. Measure and Improve Your Content
Good marketing entails making data-driven decisions. Once your topic clusters are published, track their progress and use the data to make necessary adjustments.
Some recommended analytic tools include:
Bookmark this free digital marketing toolkit to ensure you’ve got the right tools for your topic cluster strategy.
Don’t Make These Two Mistakes
When there are dos, there are also don’ts. These two tactics are hard passes when it comes to your topic cluster strategy.
Don’t Target Niche/Long-Tail Keywords for Your Pillar Pages
We love a good niche keyword but when it comes to your pillar content, go broad. If your pillar page keyword is too niche/long-tail, you won’t be able to find enough cluster content opportunities to build out.
When we say broad, we mean the keywords should:
- Be high-level: Your keyword should be able to cover a myriad of subtopics.
- Carry a high search volume: Your keyword is competitive, and many users are searching for it.
Don’t Overlap Topics of Pillar Pages
If your pillar topics are too similar, this may cause a keyword cannibalization issue—something that can cause a dip to your rankings if not amended soon enough.
Two similar pillar topics will likely progress into two very similar topic clusters. A good rule of thumb is to conduct a quick search on your pillar topics to ensure there is no overlap.
For example, let’s consider the following two keywords:
Google provides similar search results for both. In this case, there would be no reason to create a separate pillar page for each term.
Topic clusters take an intent-based approach. Search engines love them, and so do users. When executed right, topic clusters:
- Help search engines understand the structure and hierarchy of your site pages.
- Provide high-value content for your target market.
- Showcase your expertise and authority to search engines and your audience.
- Enhance your site’s SEO value thanks to the benefits listed above.
With 92% of marketers reporting that their content is a valuable business asset, topic clusters can be an excellent opportunity to solidify your digital footprint and stay ahead of the competition. What’s on your content and SEO agenda for the upcoming year?
Create a Stellar Topic Cluster Strategy with Big Leap
Your path to a stronger content marketing strategy begins right here. Big Leap’s dedicated SEO and content marketing team can take a look at where your site stands and make practical and insightful recommendations on crafting the perfect topic cluster strategy.
The time to maximize your online potential is now. Contact us today.