few years ago, web users only had to key in random keywords into Google, and relevant results would show up. Complete sentences were rarely used, and keywords were the favored option, whether the final query made sense or not. Thus began the era of keyword-based SEO strategies.
Brands would write copious amounts of content, making sure to use keywords throughout and then publish them on their blogs, which would then get them ranked higher. This strategy seemed to work for a while until Google changed their algorithm. Here’s the thing about Google’s algorithm; just when you are certain your content marketing strategy is working for you, the algorithm changes.1 Even with the changes, SEO is certainly not dead yet. You just need to do it right.
Google started to favor content based on topics as opposed to keywords and the whole game changed. Topic Clusters made an entry, and it seems that they are here to stay. Currently, web users only have to type in a question e.g. digital marketing agencies near me’, and Google will use that information to provide viable options.
Are you stuck with a keyword-based content marketing strategy that isn’t getting you any results? Here’s how you can use topic clusters to increase your rankings on search engines.
What are Topic Clusters?
A topic cluster is a combination of several articles, all related to the same topic. Think of it as a human body that comprises various body parts that make it whole.
For example, if your main topic is video content marketing, subtopics could include; content creation guides to video marketing, effective tips, and tricks, etc. In this case, video content marketing is the topic cluster, with subtopics building upon it.
Keywords aren’t the only thing that Google looks at when crawling your website; the site structure is also important. How do topic clusters come in? Well, imagine you have started a blog on a particular niche. The first thing you do is create content, but after a while, you realize that you are repeating keywords and you still aren’t getting ranked any higher.
Why? Because Google is looking to provide value to its users through topic-based content and shallow content stuffed with keywords doesn’t make the cut.
What Do Topic Clusters Look Like?
A topic cluster is comprised of:
This is the main content or the main page of your topic cluster and usually discusses a general subject like Content marketing. It is essential that the content on this page be detailed and comprehensive and preferably long, giving the reader in-depth knowledge on the main topic. Pillar content is often labeled as ‘Ultimate Guides”, and it is advisable that you make it easy to read and properly format it with subheadings and relevant links.
These are usually articles that support the pillar page. They are shorter than the pillar content, but also need to be properly formatted and easy to read. If the pillar content is Content marketing then a sample content cluster could be about blog optimization, as it is related to the pillar page. Simply put, if the pillar content is the body, then content clusters are the body parts.
This is the bow that ties all your content together and gives it to Google as a gift. Your pillar page needs to contain internal links from the cluster content to make it easy for Google to identify the related pages on your site. Multiple internal hyperlinks are one way of letting Google know that you are an authority on a particular subject2.
Think of them as the joints connecting different body parts to the main body.
How To Come Up with Effective Topic Clusters
Creating topic clusters may seem like an exhaustive process, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are two ways this could unfold; either you already have content on your site, or you are starting out. The beauty of having existing content is that most of the workload has already been done for you. If you are starting out, then you have a chance to build strategic topic clusters and build on them.
How do you create topic clusters that will boost your search engine visibility? Here are six tips for you.
- Conduct Extensive Keyword Research
The topic-based ranking strategy doesn’t entirely abolish the use of keywords.
Keywords are the backbones of every content marketing strategy, so you have to be extra careful when picking them out.
For the pillar pages, the content is based on one short-tail keyword, so it’s important that the chosen keyword has a very high search volume3.
An example of a short tail keyword is ‘Digital Marketing’.
It is a general search term that is likely to have millions of queries.
Cluster content, on the other hand, should have a series of long-tail keywords. While the long tail keywords usually have a smaller search volume, they are precise and highly targeted.
These keywords are the actual search queries that your target audience uses to look for your products or services.
An example of a long tail keyword is ‘Best Digital Marketers in X’.
This query is a bit specific and only people interested in getting digital marketing services in area X will use it. Competition on long-tail keywords is also minimal, making it easy for them to get ranked higher.
One helpful keyword research tool is AnswerThePublic4.
- Choose the Topics and Subtopics You Want to Rank For
Research is required when choosing a pillar topic. This topic has to be specific enough that it only covers one industry, but broad enough for you to come up with various articles on the subject. It also has to be something that your audience is interested in; otherwise, it won’t be effective.
What problem will you be solving for your audience? Why are they researching the topic in the first place? Pillar topics have to be related to your organization’s products and services and need to be something that your audience is interested in. Remember, one of the reasons why you are writing is to improve your conversation rate by providing value to readers.
The good news is that there are tools that can help you brainstorm, including the Semrush Keyword Magic Tool5. These tools give you a variety of keywords to choose from, and it’s up to you to pick the best ones based on research.
For example, Search Engine Optimization makes a great pillar topic as it is broad enough for you to create topics like “Top Blog Post Ideas For More Local SEO” but specific enough that only those people interested in SEO will look for it.
Here’s a tip for you; if the broad keywords you want to rank for are highly competitive, start with specific keywords first.
- Audit Your Existing Web Content
All the hours spent writing articles and blog posts will not go to waste. If your site already has content, start with a simple site audit.
Which articles are ranking highest? What keywords were you targeting in the past? Which topic is your content mostly gravitating towards? These questions will then lead you to the best cause of action to take regarding existing content. There are various ways you can improve existing site content;
This is the best idea if the existing content is ranking highly. Revising existing content can be done by updating the available information, links, title tags, and the meta description. Updating the date will let Google know that it’s a fresh piece of information.
Breaking up long content into smaller pieces
If the previous site content consisted of very lengthy articles, you could break it down into several articles. This will lead to more site content and allow you to rank for other keywords.
Deleting the content
This is an especially difficult choice, bearing in mind the resources directed towards creating content. It is, however, the best choice if the content available is hindering you from ranking higher either by being outdated or by targeting the wrong keywords.
- Interlink Your Content
Internal links bind your pillar page and the content clusters together, making it easy for the content to be ranked. Organize your hyperlinks such that they only lead to relevant content, and the readers can get all the information they need easily.
Your pillar page should always have links leading to the content clusters and vice versa, with some links connecting to cluster pages. Think about it for a moment; if a reader is going through your content and they come across a useful hyperlink in the article, they will click on it. This will keep them on your page longer and increase the page views on your site.
- Continue To Build on Existing Content
Coming up with the basic content clusters is not the end of content creation. It’s just the foundation for your content marketing strategy. Once the pillar pages are in place, come up with several subtopics in each one.
To avoid replicating content, fill in the gaps that the available content has by coming up with topics that you haven’t tackled yet.
Topic generators are a great place to start as they give you a list of viable topics based on the target keyword. From these topics, you can choose the ones you think will answer the questions of your audience most effectively.
- Analyze and Measure the Effectiveness of the Available Topic Clusters
When saving up for a future investment plan, you are not looking for instant gratification. You will diligently save, with the assurance that in the end, you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. The same concept applies to search engine visibility.
Don’t expect to rank on the first page of Google immediately after you start implementing your plan. Give yourself a couple of weeks as you consistently follow your strategy then analyze its effectiveness. Based on the results of your analysis, you could either continue using the same strategy or make changes that will help you achieve the set goals.
Ways That Content Clusters Can Boost Your SEO
You already know what topic clusters are and how you can come up with effective ones. The big question is; how can content clusters help you boost your search engine rankings?
Simplified Site Structure
As your site grows, you add more product pages and content, and in the end, it will get cluttered.it is crucial that your site is well organized so that users can find content with ease, a factor that Google also uses to index your site.
Topic clusters organize your site structure and make it easier for URLs to be indexed6.
They Increase Your Web Ranking
Your site structure is a very actionable part of your SEO strategy, and the topic clusters help you organize it. The only way that Google can determine which pages should be ranked higher is through the structure of your site. This means that you are in charge of your rankings.
They Build Authority on a Certain Topic
A pillar page is like the top of the pyramid; it links all the cluster content together.
A key method that Google uses to determine your site’s authority on a particular niche is through the internal links and backlinks appearing on your site. Since the content clusters will have links leading back to the pillar page, Google algorithms will establish your site as being an expert.
Can Topic Clusters Boost Your Search Engine Visibility?
Yes, they can! The main disadvantage of using a keyword-based SEO strategy is that the keywords are competing against each other for ranking. With topic clusters, all content works together in harmony to improve the visibility of your site.
The fact that Google is also favoring topic-based content should be indication enough that topic clusters are the way to go. With the right content creation team and well-defined topic clusters, you will be on your way to SEO heaven!
Links to resources used
- Google algorithm update history https://moz.com/google-algorithm-change
- Internal Links https://moz.com/learn/seo/internal-link
- What are shorttail keywords https://raventools.com/marketing-glossary/short-tail-keywords/
- Answer the public https://answerthepublic.com/
- Semrush Keyword Magic Tool https://raventools.com/marketing-glossary/short-tail-keywords/
- SEO Basics, what is the site structure, and why is it important https://yoast.com/site-structure/