Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for getting your website to the top of the search ranks and boosting organic traffic. SEO is a proven strategy that has longlasting results, but there’s one issue.
SEO best practices are already changing.
If you just started to get the hang of single keywords, you are already behind the search engine algorithms.
Now, search engines are concerned with how ideas relate because this is best for delivering the results that real people want. Instead of focusing on singular keywords, it is now most important to base your content strategy around core topics.
This new strategy hits the main points of modern search engine algorithms, like latent semantic indexing, site expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT). It is referred to as topic cluster content strategy, and it can dramatically increase your organic growth.
So, what exactly is topic clustering and how will it skyrocket your SEO?
Read on to find out, as we break down topic clustering in this post.
SEO Must Adapt to Search Engines
Search engines are constantly changing and updating so that they can be more effective for users. To keep up and master SEO, companies must adapt to search engines and find the most efficient ways to show up for relevant searches.
Previously, search engines focused on fragmented keyword queries. At that time, more people were searching that way as well. Now, things are quite different. In fact, 64% of all searches are four words or more. For example, nobody would just search “dog” to find a local pet store. Instead, they may look up something like “dog groomer near me” or dog groomer in My City Name”. People submit more detailed searches in hopes of finding the most relevant information right away.
Consumers submit more conversational and complex questions to search engines, and they expect quick, accurate results. Search engines can also find connections amongst different queries and they search for search intent. Google has made many major SEO updates throughout its inception, all in hopes of helping searchers find the information they are looking for as quickly as possible.
What does this mean for you?
You need to have a well-organized site aligned with core topics and content that addresses and hyperlinks the conversational long-tail keywords people are looking for. Topic clusters are the way to do this.
What are Topic Clusters?
Topic clusters provide you with a way to organize your web pages and content into a system that fits top search engines’ algorithms. Essentially, topic clusters are “groups of related web pages that al link to one core pillar page.” By organizing your site into clusters, you make it easier for search engines to discern your genre and find a relationship between pages.
Components of Topic Clusters
Topic clusters include three main components. The parts of a topic cluster include:
- The pillar page
- Content and subtopics
The pillar page is the first component of your topic cluster. It is the main page that should be the authority for the core topic you are looking to rank for. Typically, the pillar page is a long-form piece of content like a long blog, resource page, or service page. In the pillar page, you want to go very in-depth about the topic and include different sections.
Next, you have subtopic pages or cluster content. The purpose of these pages is to appeal to long-tail search queries that relate to the core topic on the pillar page. Blog posts are the most common type of subtopic pages. You can break down parts fo the pillar page into separate blog posts to create many different posts from the original pillar post.
Hyperlinks are the final ingredient to a great topic cluster. Each of the subtopic pages must link back to the pillar page to let search engines know that that page is the authoritative resource on your primary topic
How Do Topic Clusters Work?
According to a HubSpot study, topic clusters boost your position in search engine result pages (SERPs) and impressions. The experiment also found that the more hyperlinks sites used for clustering, the better the results. Connecting your own content more tightly with internal links yields greater results for SERP.
Topic clusters provide a uniform linking structure that makes it easier for search engines to crawl through your pages. Instead of having pages that cover similar topics compete with each other, you can use a well-planned topic cluster strategy to prioritize certain pages for search engines. According to HubSpot, “ by linking all internal content within that topic to a pillar page, search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yandex can easily scan all the content and understand that there is a semantic relationship between the pages’ content.”
The two images below illustrate the difference between many typical content strategies and topic clustering.
How to Create a Pillar Page
Your pillar page is the first part of your topic cluster. The pillar page broadly addresses the specific topic, then you use cluster content to dive deeper into the individual topics. The pillar page must be longer than your typical blog post since it is covering all of the primary aspects of that topic. However, each part of the pillar page is not as in-depth as the cluster content.
You can also work backward to create a pillar page if you already have a lot of related content. All of the blogs and content that you wrote before starting topic clustering does not have to go to waste! Let’s say you already have numerous blog posts about different facets of credit cards (building credit, credit scores, fixing credit, etc). Figure out a way that some of those posts relate and how you can create a larger pillar piece of content that broadly covers credit cards. Hyperlink back to your individual blog posts to use them as subtopics for your new pillar page.
To create your pillar page, you need to figure out what topics you want to rank for (not just keywords). Remember that your pillar page must address a broader topic that you can then create many other blog posts for as cluster content.
Make sure that your pillar page answers a certain question or query that consumers may search for about that topic. This will make your pillar page more enticing when it shows up in the search results. The person will see your pillar page answering the question they searched for and then they will also obtain links to many more specific pieces of content that are hyperlinked on your pillar page.
To summarize, your pillar page:
- Addresses multiple aspects of a broad topic.
- Answers the many questions a person would have who searched for that keyword.
- Should be broad enough to serve as the core for at least 20+ blog posts.
- Does not try to rank for a long-tail keyword.
- Does not explore a narrow topic in great depth.
Let’s take a look at an example that we used here at Attract and Close. We focused on online reviews/ review management. Of course, there are many different subsets of that genre. For our pillar piece, we created The Ultimate Guide to Online Review Management for Multi-Location Businesses. We then took each heading and made an entire blog post about it that went more in-depth about that aspect of online review management. Using this strategy, our pillar piece addressed many different aspects of the broad topic of online review management and hyperlinked to subtopics.
Forming a Topic Cluster
After creating your pillar pages, it is time to form the cluster. If you worked backward and made the pillar page from existing content, then update all of the links to connect those pieces. If you started with the pillar page, then cross-link the pillar page and cluster content as you upload it. The key is that each content cluster must link back to the pillar page at least once so that search engines view it as a cluster.
You can (and should) monitor your pillar page over time. Measure your pillar page’s ranking in the search engines. Once you have a stale rank and the search engines view you as an authority on the topic, then you can broaden your chain of clusters by linking to another related topic.
The Most Important Tips for Topic Clusters
Topic clustering may seem overwhelming and difficult, especially if you already have a lot of existing content. As long as you break down the process, it is very manageable. Trying to jump into topic clustering without the proper research and planning will just lead to frustration. Instead, follow the guidelines below.
First, you need to figure out what your ideal customer is looking for. Consider your buyer persona, and figure out some of the core problems they may have. You can research online communities, examine competitors, conduct interviews, and run surveys to gather this information. If you are a jetski company, for example, one big problem your ideal buyer may have is starting their jetski for the first time.
Next, you want to group those problems into broad topic areas. Break down the typical core problems, and try to form broad topic areas that will serve as a pillar.
Once you have your broad topics or pillar, defined, you then want to use keyword research to come up with subtopics. Use this information to create a content map that connects the core topics and relevant subtopics.
Before you dive headfirst into content creation, posting, and linking, you need to make sure your cluster holds up. Use industry research and competitor analysis to validate each idea.
Then, it is time to get started. Create your content and hyperlink it accordingly to your pillar piece. Even when your topic cluster is live, you are still not done. Now, you must measure the impact and effectiveness of your topic cluster and pillar piece. Refine your strategy accordingly. Like all forms of content marketing, topic clustering is an everchanging process that requires constant monitoring and adjustment.
According to HubSpot, the categories you need to track include:
- Page URL
- Cluster topic
- Subcluster (if applicable)
- Keyword to rank for
- Is it linked to the pillar page? (Y/N)
- Is it relinked (if applicable)? (Y/N)
- Any other actions needed
- Has the other action been taken yet? (Y/N)
- Links out to pages 1, 2, 3, and/or 4
- Is it also a sub pillar page (if applicable)? (Y/N)
Here’s an example of a spreadsheet for the topic clustering tracking as well:
The Easiest way to Create Topic Clusters
HubSpot makes it easier than ever to create highly effective topic clusters. All you must do is add your initial topics to HubSpot to start creating and managing your topic clusters. Witha HubSpot account, you can just use the Marketing Hub, head to Planning and Strategy> SEO, and input your topic. Once you create your topics, you can add subtopic keywords and manage the subtopics. You can also add external URLs and link to your respective pillar pages.
HubSpot is an incredible tool for implementing the topic clustering strategy, but we know you may still need a bit more help to truly create a stellar topic cluster. That’s where our experienced team of HubSpot partners at Attract and Close comes in. As official HubSpot partners, we can help you get the most out of this incredible software, and use it effectively for your topic cluster strategy.
Topic clustering is critical for the success of any modern SEO strategy, and Attract and Close will help you master it. With our marketing expertise and HubSpot knowledge, we will help you dominate your industry with topic clustering. To learn more about how we can help you with SEO and topic clustering, schedule your free consultation HERE.