June 8, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
When you hear the term search engine optimization (SEO), what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe Google? Possibly metrics? When many of us think of SEO, we’re focused on what we can do to get search engines to recommend our content and get people to click on it from results pages. How do we get pieces off our site and onto people’s screens? What if we told you one of the fastest SEO solutions exists right on your website? Today, we’re discussing how to create topic clusters to do just that, with information like:
Image via HubSpot
Topic clusters are hyperlinked pages that connect pieces of content on the same subjects within your website. They go by many names, including pillar pages, hub and spoke, and content hubs. These organizational structures make it easier for your target audience to find content related to their original question or search topic once they dig into your content.
There are no minimum or maximum numbers of pieces or subtopics you can add to a cluster. The size depends on the products and services you offer, the content you create, and the information your audience wants to see. There are three essential parts of a topic cluster. They include:
Pillar content is the foundation of your content marketing strategy. This section includes pieces that explain what your company does and why it matters to your target audience and clients. In a topic cluster, pillar content serves as the main idea or critical focus for your business. That’s why it’s at the center of the wheel in the HubSpot diagram above. Pillar content pieces are often long-form and in-depth to cover the meat of a topic. They answer questions like who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Cluster content contains niche pieces about each pillar content subject. These pieces can be long or short-form content, but their main defining factor is that they focus on a subsection of the main topic.
For example, at CopyPress, one of our pillar content topics is content marketing. But that’s a broad subject. There are plenty of shorter, less in-depth subtopics to discuss and relate back to that pillar. Tools to use for content marketing or how to develop a content marketing strategy would both work. The clusters better target search intent to provide answers to questions or valuable information that might narrow down what your audience is looking for.
Hyperlinks connect your cluster content to your pillar content and back again. Links are a powerful little thing. When dealing with SEO, we often consider backlinks to gain authority on search engines. But internal links are just as powerful.
Within topic clusters, the internal links make it easier for your audience to find more content on the same topic. They also make it easier for search engine bots and crawlers to see how all your content relates to each other. The more pieces you have on one topic tell search engines your site is more likely to have expert content, which can boost your domain authority.
Topic clusters help both search engines and users better understand the organization of your content and your website hierarchy. When done right, they help increase your organic search rankings quickly. It’s because you’re not just targeting one or two words with each piece. You’re not focusing all your efforts on one tiny area. Instead, you’re targeting an entire topic and spreading your knowledge and resources across the whole thing to reach a wider search audience.
Remember, it takes anywhere from six to 12 months for you to see results from your SEO work. Let’s face it, that’s a long time to be patient. And it’s a lot of potential money and strategy wasted if you find out your efforts didn’t work. But rearranging or re-categorizing your content into topic clusters helps speed up the process. With this strategy, it may take a few months, not a year, to see SEO results.
How can topic clusters do that? It’s all thanks to a 2015 Google update called RankBrain. This machine-learning algorithm works to rank content based on more than just relevant keywords. It accounts for search intent, too, or the reasons people make queries. The more comprehensive a piece is, the better it can rank in search engines because it covers the why factor of search intent. When you provide links to other content on the same topic within a cluster, it keeps users on your site longer, which increases metrics like click-through rate, bounce rate, and time on page.
If users are happy, Google and other search engines are happy too. When these services see you’re providing relevant content and people keep returning, that helps your SEO.
Use these steps to create content clusters on your blog or website:
Even if you have ideas for new topic clusters, start with the content you already have. This helps you understand the organizational structure with pieces you’ve already created. You can use that structure as a template for any future topic clusters.
Review all your pieces and look for themes. Make a spreadsheet or list where you can group content that fits together. Through a content audit, you may find duplicate pieces, which actually hurt your SEO. These copies fight for the same keywords and search engine positioning, making you your own competition. During this phase, you can optimize or update any content in need of a refresh to get it ready to add to a topic cluster.
If you’re starting from scratch and you don’t have any previous content to audit, there’s still a way to discover what types of content to add. Request your free content marketing analysis report from CopyPress. This document reveals how your current content stacks up against competitors, if you have any. But it also gives you a list of keywords that function as content gaps, or the best areas to create content to fill the need of what your audience is searching for online.
“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”
Director of SEO at Auto Revo
Whether you run a content audit or rely on your content analysis gap report, look for patterns and key themes when you group content or keywords. The overreaching themes serve as your pillar content. They’re broad and can include several subtopics beneath each one. They also have a cohesive focus so you can discuss all the main points in one pillar article.
Keyword and SERP research can help you group content if you’re trying to decide whether a theme is a topic or subtopic. Look at the data and what the competition is doing to determine if a keyword is a top-level or sub-level subject.
When using keyword research tools, pillar content often has a high search volume and high competition, like the term “SEO marketing,” shown in the screenshot from Ahrefs above. That’s because these topics are broad terms that many people look for online.
Subtopics can have search volume and competition all over the map. High search volume and low competition keywords and topics are the ones that may get you the most traction in SERPs. Look at the example keyword, “why does my search engine keep changing to Yahoo?,” in the screenshot above. It has a lot of searches, but you only need about 23 backlinks to rank for this keyword on the first page. Tech companies may find this subtopic keyword worth optimizing and promoting if it’s part of their service coverage. It could lead to better positioning and more organic traffic.
Once you’ve discovered your structure, think about a user’s search intent when looking for content online. What questions do they have about the topic? Do you have pieces that meet that need? Do you need to create new ones to better target what the audience wants?
You can find user and search intent in many ways. Talk to your customer service and sales department representatives. What are the most common questions they get from leads and customers? Search SERPs to see what competitor articles are ranking for your various subtopic keywords. Ask your audience outright—through polls, email marketing, and social media—what they’re looking for.
When you know the search intent of each piece, you can then decide which area of the marketing funnel it targets. Knowing which part of the funnel the audience is in when they find a piece of content lets you create better calls to action and conversion points to nudge them into the next stage. This ultimately gets them to make a partnership or sale with your company.
You may have done some keyword research already in earlier steps to determine your topics and subtopics. Now it’s time to use that research to help you create more content and flesh out your topic clusters. Look for long-tail keywords when creating content for your subtopics. Why? Because these are the queries more people use when looking for information, products, or services. They’re typically questions or adjectives and adverbs to get more specific about the topic.
While there are plenty of keyword research tools available, both free and paid, you don’t even have to go that far to start your search. Simply type your pillar topic into the search bar and let the predictive search give you a list of the most popular subtopics for that keyword. For example, if we search for the keyword “cluster content” predictive search gives us results like “what are topic clusters,” a long-tail keyword question. It also gives multiple results for examples and models, meaning people may want to see a visual of good content clusters.
You can also use Google’s “People Also Ask” featured snippet to get predictions of more questions and long-tail keywords that can serve as your cluster topics. Check out some of the sample questions from the same term, “cluster content.” Make a list from that research and compare the topics to content you already have. Maybe you answer the question “what are cluster topics” in your pillar content, but something like ” how long is cluster content” could serve as a cluster topic.
For topics you haven’t covered, check the search volume and competition within your keyword research tools for each one to determine if it’s a worthwhile cluster topic. After more research, the long-tail keyword “how long is cluster content” would not be a good cluster topic because nobody is searching for this question, even though it appears in Google’s “People Also Ask.” If you’re trying to target that snippet, you may instead add a line answering this question in your pillar post.
Once you’ve got your topics organized and you’ve filled in any gaps, now it’s time to go through and make all the hyperlink connections. That’s how both users and search engine bots and crawlers can work through your topic clusters. Go through each subsection of your clusters and make sure they link back to the pillar content. Choose from in-text hyperlinks, related hyperlinks, or a table of content.
When adding hyperlinks, remember to think about the words you choose for your anchor text. These are further signals for your users and search engines to understand what you’re linking. It also tells people where you’re sending them as they move throughout a topic cluster.
SEO strategy uses many interlocking and moving parts. You can’t just do keyword research and call it a day. You can’t only build a backlink profile and think that’s enough. The writing, technical, on-page, and off-site SEO all have to work together to make your content the best it can be.
Make sure when you’re working on your internal linking and structure you’re also still following other SEO best practices. Structure your content with headings and bulleted lists for readability. Write in easy-to-understand terms and share your content on the appropriate channels. These efforts supplement all your work on creating topic clusters. When pieces are easier to read and browse, and easy to find, people are more likely to spend time on the page and complete other actions that signal to search engines that your content is relevant to the topic.
Have calls to actions in your content? How do you think people will see them so they can take action if they never make it to your content in the first place or if your article is hard to read?
How can you tell if your topic clusters are working if you don’t track any metrics? Make sure you look at your data before you organize your content into topic clusters. This helps set a baseline or a control group for comparison to see if your efforts made a difference. Then, when your clusters are ready, track the metrics over time.
The data each company tracks may differ depending on goals. Some may be more concerned with things like bounce rates, while others focus on the time people spend on the page. No matter which metrics you track, they should let you see if your topic clusters are making a difference. They can also tell you if you need to reevaluate and restructure everything again.
CopyPress helps you create all the content you need for your clusters. When you work with us, you’re not bound to just one content type. We help you expand into different channels with things like blog posts, eBooks, and white papers. We create any piece you need to start or flesh out a topic cluster to target the right search intent and build your SEO status and credibility. Schedule your free 30-minute call with us today to discuss how our services work for your unique brand.
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