The use of topic clusters is a hot trend in the SEO and blogging world these days. If leveraged properly, this tactic can do wonders to bring in impressive traffic numbers for a website.
A blog can serve many different purposes. Whether it be to showcase industry expertise, promote products/services, or simply to satisfy your love of writing, all directions of blogging funnel into one underlying goal: get placed in front of as many sets of interested eyeballs as possible.
This is the common, never-ending mission for every single blog on the internet. According to HubSpot, more than half of marketers say that blog creation is their top inbound marketing priority!
Unless you want your blog to function as a personal diary, posts need to be optimized for the search engines. There are tons of different SEO strategies out there to do this (people have written books on this topic). One of the most tried-and-true tactics of gaining blog traffic is topic clustering.
In this article, you will learn:
What is Topic Clustering?
Topic clustering is a powerful SEO methodology that involves the creation of interlinked articles around a general, overarching topic – known as “pillar content.”
Pillar content is focused on super broad keywords with large search volumes. The subsequent articles you create should relate to this pillar content with more granular, focused information. These articles are referred to as “topic clusters.”
For example, say your pillar content is about mindful meditation. A topic cluster that falls under this umbrella might be “X Ways Mindful Meditation Helps to Combat Opiate Addiction.” Topic clusters should then be strategically linked back to your pillar content.
Why Are Topic Clusters Important?
Topic clusters serve numerous functions on a website.
For one, the way you interlink your topic clusters back to the pillar content gives the search engines a better idea of what your website is all about and the value it provides. In essence, the more well-written topic clusters you have on your blog, the more credible you are seen by the search engines in relation to the pillar content, and in turn, better ranked on related searches.
Second, it makes it easier for users to navigate your blog and get all the information they need. Always remember, Google’s (and the other search engines’) algorithms are constantly being refined to think more like human users. If your site makes life easy for visitors to find value, it will be rewarded.
Three, topic clusters are tied to specific, attainable keywords related to the pillar content. For example, let’s say you run a web design blog. You could have pillar content that discusses running an e-commerce business. Ideally, the e-commerce business is a keyword you want to rank for. However, this term is very broad and has a search volume of 22,000/month.
Side Note: 75% of Google searchers never go past page one of the results.
With this in mind, let’s Google e-commerce business and see what comes up:
To rank on the prestigious page one of Google for the term e-commerce business, your content is going up against sites like Shopify, Small Biz Trends, Oberlo, and Forbes. As amazing as your blog might be, chances are you won’t outrank these giants any time soon – if ever!
The good news is it’s not impossible!
So how should you approach the long, tedious task of ranking for super broad search terms?
Preparing Pillar Content Topics
As the name implies, the pillar content you plan out essentially holds up the entirety of your blogging strategy. These are the broad categories in which all the posts you write will ideally fall into.
In terms of keyword usage, the pillar content is where you reach for the stars.
For example, let’s say you’re a full-service digital agency specializing in numerous forms of online marketing. The goal with your blog is to show both users and the search engines that you are an expert at what you do. In turn, your site gets ranked highly on relevant searches, people see your posts, and ultimately, inquire about your services.
As a digital agency, your pillar topics might be areas like SEO, Content Marketing, Copywriting, Social Media, Pay Per Click, Web Design, etc. These topics should have large search volumes with lots of potentials to expand upon.
The keyword-focused pillar topics would probably look something like:
- What is Search Engine Optimization?
- What is Content Marketing?
- The Ultimate Guide to Copywriting
- Mastering the Art of Social Media
- Pay Per Click: Everything You Need to Know
To reiterate, you aren’t likely going to see prestigious rankings for these posts any time soon. The purpose of this pillar content is to be linkable for every piece of granular content you write that falls under these long, umbrella-type posts.
If you look at the big marketing-related websites, you’ll see the topic clustering tactic at work.
Let’s take a gander at Social Media Examiner:
You can see that their blog section is divided by pillar content around Facebook Ads, Facebook Marketing, Instagram Marketing, LinkedIn Marketing, YouTube Marketing, and Social Media Marketing.
If you click on “Facebook Ads,” you are greeted with a SUPER long-form post packed full of internal SME links to different posts that fall under the realm of Facebook Ads – or the topic clusters.
You’ll also notice that this piece of pillar content has a timestamp on it that goes back to May of 2019. Pillar content is like the mother ship for all related content. It should be continuously updated with the freshest data, examples, tips, and anything else relevant to the topic.
Ideation for Topic Clusters
The topic clusters you create are your content assets that work on the front lines of getting love from the search engines. These should ideally be very specific with clear user intent.
According to a whitepaper from STAT, there are four distinct types of user intent that determine how Google displays results on the SERPs.
- Informational – User is looking for answers to their questions at the beginning of the customer journey – blog posts that give “Tips”, “How to” information, guides, etc. Common keywords for this type of user intent would be: who, what, where, how, guide, tips, examples, learn, ideas, and so on.
- Commercial – User is digging deeper into their research on a certain product or service. In terms of a blog, this is likely going to be comparison pieces, reviews, case studies, etc. Common keywords for this type of user intent would be: top, best, reviews, compare, etc.
- Transactional – User is nearing the end of the customer journey and is getting ready to buy. Keywords for this type of intent would be: buy, pricing, cheap, discount, etc. This is the area where you’d typically see affiliate marketing-laced listicles.
- Local – User is looking for content about a certain geographical area. These posts could potentially fall under informational, commercial, or transactional user intent, of which the keywords are related to a certain city or region.
When you create your topic clusters, you need to have an idea of where each post will fall under user intent. Generally speaking, the bulk of your blog content will likely be on the informational side.
In addition to user intent, the ideation for topic clusters needs to be based on keywords/phrases with attainable search volumes. For example, let’s say you recently launched a travel and leisure blog and are writing a post about vacationing to Ireland – under your pillar content titled “Travel to Europe.”
If you look at the search volume for the term travel to Ireland, you’re looking at 12,100/month.
Additionally, you would be trying to outrank sites like The Lonely Planet, Ireland.com, Ireland Before You Die, and a few other sites like Nomadic Matt – one of the top domains in the (overpopulated) travel blogging industry.
So, this would not be a good idea for a topic cluster – at least not right now.
Instead, you need to get more specific. Starting with the term travel to Ireland, let’s look at some related keywords and phrases:
Given the search volumes, you are much wiser to create your topic cluster around keywords like:
- traveling to Ireland from USA (170/month)
- travel to Ireland on a budget (320/month)
- Best way to visit Ireland (90/month)
Or, you could get even more local with keywords like:
- Dublin guide book (70/month)
- Dublin itinerary 1 day (70/month)
The key is to start creating your clusters with the low-hanging fruit keywords.
As you start to gain rankings for the keywords and phrases with super small search volumes (typically under 100/month), you can slowly start to target related keywords with higher search volumes in subsequent posts – leading to my next point!
Working Your Way Up
Perhaps the main reason why topic clusters are so important is that they are part of a long term framework that involves calculated steps to earn higher search rankings.
Let’s come full circle with the ¬e-commerce business pillar content example (22,000/month).
Think of the progression of topic clusters like dominos. You start with a tiny domino that knocks down a slightly bigger domino, which knocks down an even bigger domino, and so on.
The first domino is a post trying to rank for a keyword with a small search volume. Let’s say it’s for the key phrase e-commerce tips for small businesses (10/month). Once your post starts to gain rankings on the SERPs, you can then try to knock over the next domino that’s a little bit bigger with the next post.
For the sake of the example, this could be a post that targets the keyword Shopify design tips (30/month). As you start to gain rankings for this particular keyphrase, your next topic cluster could target a bigger one like innovative e-commerce ideas (140/month).
These posts should ideally be linked together under the pillar content and be written in a way that holds mutual relevance to each other. From here, you can gradually knock down bigger and bigger dominoes until you are (best case scenario) a bona fide e-commerce powerhouse in the eyes of Google.
Depending on how broad your pillar content is, this will probably take a great deal of time and a huge effort to create tons of high quality, SEO-friendly content. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your search rankings!
Over to You
Regardless of your niche, utilizing topic clusters can do wonders for the SEO value of your website. Not only will it help you gain valuable search rankings, but it’s also a goldmine for topic ideation and general creative direction – even when your writer’s block is at its worst!
Hopefully, this guide has given you a good idea of how to start gaining the rankings you deserve and making sure each piece of content you create moves in the right direction!
Vishalsinh Mahida is Content Marketing Analyst at E2M. He’s adept at implementing new content marketing strategies and everything else that falls under that umbrella. He has previously assisted top brands like Axis Bank, Fox Star, IIFL, and more in implementing several customer engagement strategies. In his spare time, he prefers to explore new travel destinations. Connect with him at any time on LinkedIn!