Think about the last time you performed a search on your smartphone or computer. Whether you typed in a query or used a voice assistant, you probably asked a question or spoke an entire phrase.
As technology progresses, search engines (and our talkative voice assistants) are becoming more intuitive. Sophisticated algorithms can take your long-winded question and find search results that are highly specific to your inquiry.
Looking at the way you perform your own research online, do you still think it’s reasonable to focus your brand’s content on a single keyword—or even a long-tail keyword or string of phrases?
The answer is that SEO isn’t as simple as it used to be. The truth is it was never that straightforward, to begin with. But these days, topic clusters are the next big thing, and it pays to understand and apply this new strategy to your website.
But what exactly is a topic cluster, and how is this going to boost your SEO? We’re glad you asked.
What Are Topic Clusters?
The short answer is that a topic cluster refers to a group of blog posts or pages that all link back to a central page that contains a ton of useful information for your audience. Site owners cluster content to make sense of what’s on their site and streamline information delivery.
Think of one massive, informative, central blog post or informational page on your website. This SEO content hub is the center of your website and should embody everything your brand stands for. Whatever your niche or product, every aspect of it should be covered in this “pillar post.” In short, your pillar post needs to cover a single, broad main topic in-depth.
Once you have this central page to link back to, the topic cluster can begin. By linking other, related pages or posts back to the pillar, you’re creating content clusters that build on themselves.
For example, let’s say you have a website about Aliens. Your pillar page could cover everything from the E.T. physiology and average lifespan to the modes of space travel and secretive technologies.
With this super-informative post on your site, about Aliens, you can begin building supporting (but still insightful) posts around it. So, you could write in-depth posts on conspiracy theories and abductions, then link to the central post so your audience can read more about all the other topics you’re an expert on.
How Topic Clusters Work
Internal links are your best friend when it comes to SEO (while external links are sort of a frenemy). Linking internally to your web pages shows search engines that you’re an authority and have plenty of information to offer online searchers.
Offering up external links helps build your credibility, especially if you’re linking to helpful resources. At the same time, the frenemy aspect comes into play since it’s not ideal for readers to skip off your page and visit the linked site instead.
Still, you need both types of links sprinkled throughout your site for the best SEO results. Prioritize internal link building whenever you have a valuable resource that’s relevant for your audience—and you can start reaping the benefits of improved SEO.
How Topic Clusters Boost SEO
Every individual, agency, and expert has some magic solution for SEO, which might make you feel skeptical about incorporating this new strategy for your site. Adding topic clusters can mean a restructuring of your entire site map/Information Architecture (IA) and overhauling your content strategy.
But there are clear benefits to using the topic cluster model as part of your SEO marketing strategy. The first benefit? The fact that search engines are looking for this change, regardless of what website owners are doing to accommodate.
What Makes Topic Clusters Good for SEO?
The success of your SEO depends on how search engines interpret your content. So, the more tightly woven your topics, the more you look like an authority in your niche. Interlinking and building on your content—especially on a regular schedule—keeps you more visible in search engine results.
So in the example above, the brand & website is focused on space. Because of this, we’re able to make multiple pillar pages and content hubs on different, but thematically relevant topics, like Space Exploration, Planetary Bodies & our Alien friends, which in turn dive into more in-depth topics related to the pillar.
Of course, quantity counts, too, but the quality is far more important over the long-term. Even search engines can recognize when you’re adding fluff to your site in a bid to entice readers. Not to mention, readers themselves won’t be happy to find you repeating the same keyword 100 times per post without saying anything of value.
And, a random assortment of off-topic or very loosely related posts will only frustrate users—and search engines, too. That can drop your SEO ranking and cause you to lose potential customers.
How Do Topic Clusters Help Get More Pageviews?
The answer to how topic clusters boost your pageviews is simple: give your audience more and high-quality reading material, and they’ll stick around your site.
While it’s ideal to run up the time a visitor spends on each page or post, having them bounce around all over your content is better than them leaving via an external link (and never returning). So, ensuring that you’re linking relevant topics is the first step toward seeing success with your clusters.
At the same time, a lot of our information on topic clusters is anecdotal. There’s no simple formula for SEO-boosting success. Google may want to offer web searchers the best results for their needs, but that doesn’t mean they make it easy or straightforward for site owners.
Why Do I Need Topic Clusters for Content Marketing?
You already know that content marketing and SEO meet in the middle as part of your brand’s strategy for acquiring (and impressing) customers. But how do topic clusters factor into content marketing?
You can think of your primary topic—and that pillar post—as your SEO content hub. This content hub keeps your site centered on one area of interest. But it also allows you to offshoot into related topics—things that could be helpful to your reader.
Centering your subtopics around this center post contributes to your content marketing strategy because you’re able to select topics that guide your audience toward the action you want them to take.
If a search engine user performs a query and Google decides your page provides the best answer, your page will pop up in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Then, a new visitor arrives at your site.
The visitor is sure to find the information they want upon arriving at your pillar content. But, if they have a specific interest, your site can meet that need too—with your highly relevant and well-researched subtopic posts.
Are Topic Clusters a Requirement for SEO?
While no one is going to audit your website and issue a citation for not using topic clusters, it’s worth the effort for a few reasons. Topic clusters are effective for both your customers and the search engines that deliver them to your home page (or anywhere else on your site).
Why Site Visitors Like Topic Clusters
Organizing your site in a way that’s easy to navigate and understand is beneficial to your audience. After all, your priority is offering value to them—and dropping them into a disorganized and poorly connected site isn’t very valuable.
If you’ve ever visited a website with an awful layout or broken links, you probably didn’t stick around long—more on that in a minute. But worse than your desire to scoot immediately is the fact that you didn’t get the info you came for.
You’re not going to invest in the product or service the site offers if they make it unbearable to find what you want. User experience counts, often more than arbitrary SEO measures (which is why keyword stuffing is a huge no-no).
On the other hand, if you can read an informative post with multiple link-outs to supplementary resources, it’s easier to get more info if that’s what you want. Or, you might read the pillar piece on the site and leave, satisfied with the answer you got (and possibly the intent to return). Both are good for site ranking—and customer loyalty.
Why Search Engines Like Topic Clusters
Organizing your site with the help of topic clusters shows search engines that you’re a good resource for web surfers. Tightly connected topical posts show your in-depth knowledge and an understanding of what users are searching for.
While it might feel arbitrary to pick topics in your niche and string them together, it’s one factor of your site that search engines base their search rankings on. Another factor? Session lengths per page. Session length is your visitors’ hang time (AKA dwell time) on a certain page or your website as a whole.
Preventing users from bouncing within seconds of arriving is a vital part of boosting your SEO. By linking useful information to other useful information, you’re creating longer hang time per visitor.
A boost in page session length is another metric that Google (and other search engines) judge you by, and it’s all positive on their end.
A Fantastic Example
In the real-world, topic clustering is being used by brands of all sizes and when done right, the organic results speak for themselves.
In this case, we’re going to present the Lattice Library and how they’ve turned the broad topic of people management into a fully functioning topic cluster with various pillar pages.
The Library covers a wide variety of top-level topics on people management and does an amazing job of showcasing the type of content on the main page, while also showing the reader that they can click-in further to the cluster by selecting More content.
More content leads to an inner page showcasing posts highly relevant to that cluster.
How Can I Create Topic Clusters?
Creating topic clusters involves three things:
- That all-important pillar piece.
- Clustered content that supports and links to the pillar page.
- Active and relevant hyperlinks on both the pillar page and subtopic posts to keep their connection alive.
Those three elements are only an overview, of course. Your site reorganization will involve a bit more work than slapping together some posts that seem to complement one another. Here’s a rundown of what the process involves.
1. Inventorying your current content
Figure out what content you have already and how it’s related. Hopefully, you already have keyword-rich and interlinked posts on your site, and a core topic to work with. Some tweaking may be all that’s necessary.
2. Looking for patterns and recurring themes, keywords, and long-tail keywords
If your site is already ranking on the first SERP for specific keywords, prioritize those. After all, giving the people more of what they want will only enhance your rank. Otherwise, skim your content for recurring themes, common keywords, and long-tail keywords that pop up often.
3. Choosing a set of subtopics (a dozen or fewer)
Your subtopics—the smaller pages with more in-depth info on a specific element from the pillar page—should always be relevant and helpful to your reader.
Keep in mind the search engine user’s intent when performing your keyword research on search volume and implementing search engine optimization. Think about what your ideal customer wants from you as a brand and deliver that information—tied together neatly without extra fluff or keyword stuffing.
And remember—SEO is an investment. It’s not a one-time and done strategy for ensuring your site ranks highly. Keeping your ranking requires consistent site updates, blogging and content creation, and frequent checking for broken links.
4. Reorganizing based on subtopics
After you decide which topics go together in a subtopic category, it’s time to reorganize. For many site owners, this will mean writing your pillar piece to reorient the supporting posts around it. It’s a tall order, but a comprehensive pillar piece is essential to making topic clusters work.
5. Seeking out other keyword building opportunities
Don’t stop at reorganizing your existing content and topics. Head over to Google and start expanding on your central theme or topic. Type in your main keywords—your pillar page’s focus—and see what Google has to say.
Look at “people also ask” to see what other questions and topics are popular. Then, skim the “related” section for more fodder for your subtopic outlining. Plan on continuing to produce useful content and build links, not letting your site stagnate.
6. Using the same anchor text to link from subtopics to the pillar page
Another step that seems to make a difference in rankings is using the same anchor text to link to your pillar page. If your site is an authority on water bottles and your pillar piece is about choosing the right water bottle, each subtopic piece should have anchor text like “choose the right bottle for your needs.”
Don’t Skip Out on Topic Clusters for SEO
Like other aspects of SEO, navigating topic clusters can be complicated. But in the interest of serving your readers—who are, at the end of the day, your means of survival—it’s worth investing in this content building SEO strategy.
Developing an inbound marketing strategy centers around how you can best serve your audience. Keeping with that mindset helps shape your SEO techniques and build on your topic clusters—which winds up being beneficial to you, site visitors, and search engines.