Positioning yourself as a subject expert through the effective use of topic clusters is an excellent way to improve your website’s search visibility and lay the foundation for a strong internal linking framework.
Adopting a topic cluster model builds authority within your specialist field by providing multiple pieces of content and generating an easier way for users to navigate around the content on your site.
By following a cohesive, content-focused approach through topic clustering, you can structure your website architecture through a broadly-focused ‘pillar page’ that strategically links off back and forth to other relevant articles and pages.
What are topic clusters?
Topic clusters (also known as content clusters) are a collection of content pieces centered around a particular theme, that are connected to an in-depth pillar page. As a single unit, your topic clusters act as supporting pages to provide greater insight into a specific question raised in your pillar content.
Pillar content should cover your overall topic in comprehensive detail and is generally focused around a broad and far-reaching keyword with a high search volume.
On the other hand, topic clusters expand on a smaller segment of the main subject and hone in on more specific keywords with lower (attainable) search volumes. They are usually based on informational keywords (“How,” “Where”, etc.) that help the reader learn more about a topic, service or product.
What is a pillar page?
If you imagine a family tree, the pillar page is the parent and its offshoots (the cluster content) represents its children. The hyperlinks are the relationships between them all as they connect the content together.
The intention of your pillar page is for it to rank high as a full-bodied source of knowledge on the niche. Pillar pages are longer than standard blog posts as they should comprise all aspects of the topic you’re trying to rank for. However, they should never cover anything too thoroughly as it would deflect from the purpose of your subtopic articles.
Pillar pages hold both monetary and SEO substance as they are the cornerstone of earning clicks, affiliate commissions, leads and traffic, while also making it clear to search engines what your site personifies and its direct links with other internal pages.
At its core, a strong pillar page will provide quality content that answers questions your users might have on a specific topic.
Why do topic clusters matter?
Ask yourself, “How does the content on my site correlate to a search query”? Above everything else, topic clusters provide relevancy to your content.
Imagine if you blog about your different interests, which include football, wine, cars, and travel. A search engine won’t be able to piece together this medley of topics that you’re trying to cover, so even if your content is firing across different cylinders, Google won’t be able to understand the context, associations, and hierarchy of each page within your content ideas.
When a search engine discovers your site, it needs to determine the subject matter you’re trying to convey. Now compare that with solely focusing on wine as a subject and delving deeper into areas that clearly correlate such as health risks of wine, best supermarket wines, etc.
Google’s algorithm favours topic-based content, so publishing pages compiled around one content piece targeting a broader topic is much healthier. This also has the potential to boost organic traffic and engagement with your readership.
How do you create topic clusters?
Choosing your main topic should be your first decision. It needs to be far-reaching and have the capacity to diverge into several sub-content pieces. Aim to strike a chord with your brand and audience by providing value – this could be by providing solution(s) to a problem or matching keywords that your customers are searching for.
Carry out an audit on your existing site content to avoid duplicating your work and possibly cannibalising your rankings. Existing content can even be optimised with carefully placed links, while enabling you to exploit opportunities to fill any gaps that could form part of your topic cluster strategy. Also consider using social listening tools and brainstorming with your colleagues to generate content ideas.
Whenever you write for SEO, it is imperative you do your keyword research. Tools such as Ahrefs provide traction for you to uncover what prospective clients are actually searching for. The different keyword phrases should all revolve around one central theme, with a clear focus on keyword difficulty and search volume for your pillar article and supporting content.
Your pillar article should be based on a broad keyword of hard/medium difficulty with a high search volume, whereas your topic cluster content needs to be informed by low search volume keywords, including those from questions and long-tail phrases.
If you wish to leave no stone unturned, then analyse the trends from the SERP (search engine results page) to help you filter out the most relevant and useful content to users. What topics are being covered? What keywords are you missing? This crucial step of data accumulation can enable you to identify some quick wins in creating competitive content.
So you’ve decided on your material, but now you need to organise it and even more importantly — write it. We recommend beginning with your pillar page first, as this enables you to link everything together in a logical order. This process will also help you avoid unnecessary repetition.
You should attempt to cover the broad range of topics you’ve outlined, while still leaving room for detailed topic cluster pages that go above and beyond.
This isn’t the time to bring out your creative edge, as you need to ensure your readership can easily digest and absorb your content. Write naturally and don’t feel the need to stuff keywords as you will be covering the topic comprehensively.
Finally, we arrive at the stage where you bond your content together through internal linking.
What are internal links?
An internal link is any link on a page of your website that directs the user to another page on your site. Both your users and search engines rely on a strong internal linking agenda to locate content on your site with minimal difficulty.
Google crawls websites by following links (internal and external) using a bot called Googlebot. It’s commonly referred to as a ‘crawler’ or ‘spider’. This bot arrives at your homepage, starts to gather the webpage information, and follows the first link. By crawling its way through your pages, it’s able to configure the rapport between the various pages, blogs, case studies, and other content.
Demonstrating how content relates to other content on your site gives Google an overview of the structure of your website and enables it to detect similar subject matters across different pages. As search engines continue to advance and become smarter, search algorithms are developing to include synonyms and related keywords in search results.
When it comes to creating topic clusters, internal linking remains king. Your pillar page should include links to all your subtopic content, with the subtopic pages returning the favour. This process informs Google that your keywords are connected and related to one another.
Striking a delicate balance with the link value you place on each page and/or posts enables you to establish a clear hierarchy on your site, alongside strengthening the authority of your content. Each link should also have an appropriately descriptive anchor text (the clickable text in a hyperlink). This description enables search engines to better cognise what’s behind every link.
How do topic clusters affect performance?
Thematically grouping your content enables Google to understand your content and verify your level of expertise. In other words, is the information on your site valuable and does it match what readers are searching for?
Understanding the customer’s journey will not only impact your site traffic, but also creates loyalty by putting the needs of others first. The more confidence you amass from readers and customers, the greater the trust that Google will place in your website content, therefore ranking it accordingly.
Topic clusters also improve user flow by ensuring your content structure is clean and understandable. This helps Google crawl and index your website faster.
Examples of topic clusters
Now that topic clusters are your not-so-secret content analysis strategy weapon, we have picked out a fantastic example from PC Gamer, showing how to master a topic cluster model. Like a puzzle, every piece fits through its arrangement, relevancy and contribution to linking your content together effectively.
The magazine’s guide to building a pc covers all the different components you require to assemble a system together, with the robust internal linking structure leading the reader to other detailed posts (that are likely to be of benefit and link back to the pillar content).
Logical subtopics include exploring the importance of RAM speed, as well as recommending products for each part of the build.
When mapped out correctly, topic clusters enable you to set up a free-flowing, internal linking strategy that can help organise your website, instil trust in readers, and drive traffic to your content from the search engines.
Start small and remember to place quality content at the forefront. As you develop new content that connects to the pillar page, you’ll need to add internal links to the supporting clusters continually.
Creating an effective topic cluster requires extensive work and research. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked if you want to stay ahead of your competitors by forming an authoritative online presence and providing long-lasting value.