How to Boost SEO Using Topic Clusters?

February 28, 2020 | Advanced SEO

The nature of content marketing and SEO is such that they are constantly evolving. As a marketer, you need to keep up and change your strategy with the times.

One of the recent SEO trends is the emergence of topic clusters. You can no longer create content around keywords and expect it rank well. Today, it’s about creating content around key topics pertaining to your business or niche rather than just keywords. 

Why’s that? It’s because search queries have changed. People are moving away from entering random keyword queries. They’re asking specific questions – and search engines are expected to deliver specific answers. 

So, while keywords are still as important today, what’s changed is the way they’re being used.

What are Topic Clusters?

Topic clusters are a collection of interlinked articles or pages, built around one broad topic which is called the pillar page.


Source: HubSpot

Confused? Here’s an example of a meticulously done pillar page by Cloud Elements titled, The Definitive Guide to API Integration. While the core topic is API integration, it includes internal links to over 10 relevant blog posts.

This strategy worked wonders for Cloud Elements, resulting in a 53% increase in organic search in just one month. 

Pillar pages are supposed to be comprehensive and expansive, usually over 5,000 words in length. While it needs to cover every aspect of the broad topic, it’s the individual cluster content pages that need to go into the details. 

The idea behind creating all this content and linking the topic clusters to the pillar page is to signal the search engines that your pillar page has everything searchers need to know about the particular topic, thereby establishing credibility and enabling you to rank high. 

Why are Topic Clusters Important?

Before we dive into how to create topic clusters, let’s understand the benefits of this content strategy and how it can take you closer to your content marketing goals. 

Increases internal linking opportunities

Internal linking is when you link one page on your website to another. 

When you build your content strategy around pillar pages and topic clusters, it increases your internal link building opportunities because you start producing content that is held together by a common umbrella topic.  

It’s no secret that internal linking is hugely beneficial from an on-page SEO standpoint because when you strategically insert links to internal pages, it helps spread link juice and lets search engine crawlers get a better understanding of what your website is about. 

The more you link to a certain page, the more important search engines think it to be and that helps your content appear high on the search results.

Retains visitors on your website and increases engagement

When you offer the breadth of information through in-depth topic clusters, it keeps visitors engaged and interested in your content. It retains visitors and they end up spending a lot more time on your website. That’s not all, content that truly educates people also helps build loyalty. 

So, through this strategy, you’re not only driving traffic and attracting visitors, but you also have the scope to retain and convert them while creating a community of returning visitors. 

Establishes credibility

A large part of content marketing is about building trust. Creating topic clusters lets you achieve that. It projects you as an expert on the topic and establishes credibility. 

Whether you use this content to address challenges, educate or offer solutions – building trust is paramount to engage your audience and be considered by them. 

Improves SEO ranking

All these reasons contribute to your content ranking well which drives traffic and brings in a new wave of visitors, organically. 

How to Use Topic Clusters to Boost SEO and Drive Traffic?

Creating topic clusters is a time-consuming process but when done effectively, it can help you boost SEO and drive organic traffic. Here are seven steps to adopt the topic cluster model and use it to your advantage.

Identify topics you want to rank for

Just like every other piece of content, even this one starts with identifying the right topics you want to rank for. Brainstorm a list of broad topics that are related to the products, solutions or services you offer. 

Consider your buyer personas – what kind of content would appeal to them? What are their pain points and challenges? 

You can also take cues from your top-performing pages to build content around them and look at the comments section of your blog posts to see what the commonly asked questions are. 

Remember the topic you choose for the pillar page needs to be wide enough, giving you enough potential to write multiple other blog posts under it. 

For the sake of an example, let’s say we’ve identified the broad topic to be ‘starting a podcast’.

Define the keyword’s you will target

Now that you have the topic, it’s time to get down to doing the keyword research and finding short-tail and long-tail keywords. Every cluster page needs to be centred around one or two target keywords.

You can use a tool like Answer the Public to come up with a list of ideas, questions, and phrases you can create content around. Here are the questions related to the query ‘starting a podcast’.

By the end of this step, you’re likely to be left with a long list of potential keywords that need to be organized and mapped to each content piece.

Identify the primary target keyword for the pillar page and the keywords for the various cluster content. It’s a good idea to create a content map to organize and visualize the entire content piece in totality.

So, taking this example forward, your pillar page should be along the lines of a beginner’s guide to starting a podcast, and it can address the following cluster content pieces – 

  1. Why should you start a podcast?
  2. Podcasts as a content marketing channel
  3. How does podcasting work?
  4. How to start a podcast?
  5. What is the essential podcast equipment?
  6. How do you generate content ideas for your podcast?
  7. How to launch a podcast?
  8. How to make money podcasting?

Do a content audit

Before you proceed to the content creation step, do a quick content audit to check if you already have existing blog posts that would be relevant to this pillar page. 

That way, all you have to do is optimize and update it to make it worthy of linking instead of creating it from scratch.

Doing a content audit will also help you assess gaps, helping you identify what’s missing. You can then bridge this gap by addressing them through the creation of cluster content. 

Create a pillar page and topic cluster content

The toughest portion is here – creating the content for the pillar page and topic clusters.

Let’s start with pillar page content. It’s a long-form content piece that readers need to derive value from. Make sure you keep it informative but don’t be too detailed because that needs to be reserved for the cluster content.

As pillar pages are very text-heavy, it’s a good idea to insert a table of contents to make it easier for the reader to navigate. Include as many visuals in the form of images, infographics, and videos to make it a compelling read. 

Here’s an example of a pillar page example by Stream Creative – notice the use of visuals and how they’ve broken down the text for easy reading.

Coming to the topic clusters – writing this content is similar to writing any other blog post. However, what’s important is being as detailed as possible. The idea is to elaborate on the sub-topic and dive deep into it, giving people all the information they need. 

In the pillar page and topic cluster model, there is no place for duplication. So, make sure you don’t repeat yourself because that’s certainly not going to help the reader experience and search engine rankings. 

Apart from this, it’s imperative to write quality content that hooks readers and keeps them engaged. 

Insert internal links

So you’ve worked very hard to create the pillar page and topic clusters. This is the step that’s going to tie everything together – inserting internal links. 

Every topic cluster needs to be linked to the pillar page. However, they need to be relevant, elaborate on the concept and add value. Mindlessly inserting links that don’t lend to the piece makes for a frustrating reading experience. 

Another mistake people make is having anchor texts such as “read more” or “click here”. While it’s not wrong to do so, it’s more effective when the anchor text flows naturally and is contextual. 

Measure content performance

After all the effort and hard work, it would be a crime to create all this content and drop the ball on it.  It’s important to continually measure the performance of your pillar page content so you’re able to track results and accordingly optimize it to perform better. 

You can use Google Analytics to analyze metrics such as – 

    • Sessions 
    • Total page visits
    • Average time on page
    • Bounce rate 
    • Referral source
    • New visitors

Refresh pillar content regularly

A piece of content that you published three years ago will not hold the same relevance today. Moreover, when it’s the pillar page content – the last thing you want to do is have an anchor content piece offer outdated or inaccurate information. 

This makes it crucial to regularly refresh pillar content. From updating it with fresh facts and ensuring the links are working to adding more value and inserting more relevant keywords – make it a point to update your pillar content page(s) so that people are subjected to relevant, accurate and optimized content. 

Conclusion

The pillar page and topic cluster model is an exhaustive process but a rewarding one. Not only does it have SEO benefits but it also helps deliver a useful user experience which is key to success. 

So, follow these seven steps to create topic clusters and leverage them to boost rankings and drive organic traffic to your website.

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