The concept of topic clusters isn’t new for content creators and marketing specialists. Combining related content assets in groups boosts user engagement and pleases search engines, providing highly organized website structures.
But as a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, you can benefit from the topic clusters technique many times over.
In this post, you’ll find practical tips on creating topic clusters for better SEO and learn how to measure their results to better understand what works and what doesn’t.
A topic cluster is a group of related assets featuring content around one central subject and providing contextual support for each page within the group.
Each topic cluster has three components:
While WordPress introduced something similar to topic clusters about 17 years ago, HubSpot took it to the next level. Since 2017, this technique has continued making noise in the world of content marketers and SEO specialists.
More than that, it continues to upgrade for better and more positive results.
While we have explained the basic topic cluster strategy, today’s specialists insist on the strategic importance of interlinking cluster pages with one another, too, not only with a pillar page. This graphic visualizes the concept.
Below are some stellar examples of topic clusters for you to better understand the idea:
• The SEO’s Guide to Content Marketing by Moz
• Persuasive Essay: The Ultimate Guide by Bid4Papers
• The Ultimate Guide to the Best Productivity Apps by HubSpot
In short, topic clusters boost search rankings, traffic and conversion. They improve your keyword research and user experience and enhance your authority with the audience.
And now, more in detail:
Topic clusters allow SEOs to target keywords with high and low search volume at once, satisfying user search intent on different levels of the customer journey. Winning Google’s top with long-tail keywords of cluster pages because of low competition, you’ll also pull up a high volume keyword’s pillar page because of smart interlinking between pages.
For Google, it’s about a semantic relationship between pages to push the entire cluster higher in rankings. Ideally, your pillar page will start ranking higher for a short, competitive keyword, and your cluster pages – for their long-tail keywords.
Case in point:
Using a topic cluster model for their internal linking campaign, Ninja Outreach has reached a 40 percent increase in their organic traffic!
When practicing a topic cluster approach to website content, you start researching and organizing target keywords into groups. You understand how specific keywords work together and relate to each other, strategically moving the audience from one page to another through their customer journey.
Clusters allow you to build content around a topic that solves user pain points at different stages. It keeps them engaged and motivated to move from one page to another for more answers. And finally, when they are ready to convert, they choose you, thus impacting the ROI of your campaign.
As you know, Google is smart enough to extract meanings from on-page elements like subheadings, passages and sentences. More than that, it draws insight from anchor texts of backlinks on your page.
It helps understand the context and content hierarchy on your website:
The more related and interlinked pages that completely cover a topic, the higher the chances that Google will view you as an authoritative and trustworthy source to rank high in search results. It’s all about E-A-T that remains vital to rankings.
But wait, there’s more:
According to Google’s latest announcement, not only does its algorithm understand the relevancy of specific passages on a page, but it can also understand how users explore topics.
This means it can predict the order of user navigation through a journey. So it seems that those able to organize their content in clusters and interlink pages to reflect these changes will win the rankings.
We can almost hear you asking:
“That’s all well and fine, but what about more practical things? How can I create topic clusters that would please both users and search engines?”
Here goes your guide, step by step:
First, decide on a core topic for your cluster. Make sure it’s super-relevant to your business and super-valuable for your target audience. Also, it should be broad enough to create a few cluster pages on it.
How do you choose a topic for your future content cluster? A few rules here:
For a topic cluster, you’ll need a core keyword for your pillar page (the one with a relatively high search volume) and several related keywords for cluster pages (those with lower search volume, long-tail keywords or questions).
Feel free to use any SEO tool for this: Ahrefs, Semrush, Moz, SE Ranking or any other of your preference.
Either tool will give you tons of keywords to consider. Sort them by search volume and potential traffic and assign one for each cluster page you’re going to create.
And do your best to choose subtopics according to their relevance to your SEO and overall marketing goals.
Now it’s time to outline your pillar and cluster pages.
The pillar page comes first: It’s a broad overview of your core topic, leaving room for subtopics and backlinking to them for more specific information. Some experts insist this page should be long (3,000+ words), while others design it as a short overview of subtopics. One way or another, it’s where you’ll incorporate internal links to all subtopics of your cluster.
Also, make sure to outline each cluster page for your content team to understand what to include:
Provide the list of keywords (primary and secondary), headings, subheadings and a targeted word count. A few references to high-ranking competitors will come in handy too.
You can use the same principle when working on your social media content strategy or creating in-depth, 10x content to jump in Google’s top for a given keyword.
Once your keyword research and outlining are over, it’s time to produce content for each page of your topic cluster. Whether you write it yourself or have a content team to write it for you, take care of content quality:
You need to engage the audience so they would want to check and read all pages of your topic cluster. For that:
A few more rules here:
Do not repeat the same information in several cluster pages; each should bring something unique to readers.
Craft in-depth subtopics, each focusing on a particular keyword.
So, your pillar page and cluster pages are ready. Now you have a few options of how to publish it:
Or, you can place a pillar page on your root domain and add subtopics to your blog.
But whatever scheme you’ll choose, the most critical element to consider here is interlinking between all the pages of your topic cluster:
A pillar page should link to all cluster pages, and each cluster page should link to your pillar page. Plus, make sure to interlink cluster pages with one another.
It will help both Google and users navigate your content and understand the context and hierarchy of each page within your topic cluster.
The problem with topic clusters for SEO is that it’s not that simple to measure their results. Most metric tools show one page’s performance instead of the whole cluster’s.
Another challenge here is that it’s impossible to isolate the effect of topic clusters on your website metrics from other factors impacting it. Thus, refreshing some of your old content or increasing your website speed can boost traffic too.
And yet, with advanced web analytics available on the SEO software market today, it seems we can measure everything.
But first, you need to decide on goals and measuring tactics:
If, say, your goal for a pillar page is ranking for a potentially high-volume keyword rather than a super-high-volume one, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t expect its super-fast growth. In this case, you need to focus on improving the cluster, not on promoting it.
Also, decide what you want to measure: the whole cluster or its pillar page alone. Remember that results here depend on the intelligent interlinking and the quality of all interlinked content at your website.
Google Analytics is your best instrument to measure topic clusters’ performance.
1. Create a new Content Grouping, including all URLs and providing a rule for each one.
2. Go to Site Content > All Pages: Now, you can filter them by groups and see their performance as a cluster.
3. Add any desirable metrics to see the corresponding analytics.
Also, remember to measure a pillar page’s performance separately, especially if it’s on your root domain.
Once you see which clusters perform best, you can expand them with more content. It saves time brainstorming and creating new topic clusters. Now you know what works for your website, so why not focus on improving it for even more SEO success?
Topic clusters are worthy of investment, especially if your SEO team already spends time on content creation. It’s a great instrument to boost website traffic, increase rankings and show your target audience that you understand their needs and are ready to help them.
Search engine algorithms become more intelligent and better understand the semantic relationships between content assets on your website. By presenting them as clusters, you make it easier for crawlers to find your content and mark it as the most relevant one to show in Google’s top results.
So, are you ready to give your SEO efforts another boost?