Topic Clusters: What Are They and How to Use Them for SEO

Sample topic cluster for cryptocurrency

As an SEO professional, you already know how challenging it is to increase organic search traffic. This challenge is made even harder by ever-changing search engine algorithms that affect page rankings and traffic volume. From keyword matching to looking for semantically related phrases, influential search engines like Google are now favoring topic-based content.

This is why topic clusters have become all the rage in the world of SEO and content marketing. With an effective cluster model strategy, you can increase your SERP clicks for one keyword by 1,500% in three months. How does this clustering model work? In this post, we’ll discuss what content clusters are and explain how to use them in creating blog content.

What are Topic Clusters?

Topic clusters are a group of interconnected blogs that all come together to cover a broad subject matter. Using a hub-and-spoke architecture, blog clustering helps organize your website’s content pages more logically and creates a seamless crawling experience for search engine robots. This cluster model has three essential components which are made up of:

  1. A pillar page
  2. Blog clusters
  3. Hyperlinks

The pillar page acts as the main hub of content for a general topic, and multiple blogs that are all linked to each other and the pillar page cover a related sub-topic in-depth. When numerous topic clusters link to your pillar content, search engines will perceive your pillar page as an authority on the subject matter. This ranks your website higher over time for the topic covered.

Why You Need Content Clusters in Your SEO Strategy

From keyword research to link building and backlink audits, you perform all the SEO best practices to optimize your website for search engines. So why should you bother incorporating topic clusters into your SEO content strategy? Search engine algorithms have evolved from looking for exact keywords to a topic focus, making the pillar-cluster model important for SEO.

The move away from keywords towards a reliance on topics started with Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013. Then came RankBrain in 2015 ⏤ Google’s machine learning algorithm that is designed to understand user intent and context of a search query. Google is investing even more in topic understanding to help users find exactly what they’re looking for.

In 2020, Google revealed that advances in AI have enabled it to identify relevant subtopics around a broad interest. And by the end of 2021, Google will release the “Things to know” feature which helps it predict the journey people go through while exploring a topic. These advances make topic clusters necessary if you want to rank high in Google’s SERPs.

How to Use Topic Clusters to Create Blog Content

A young woman sitting and typing on her laptop computer

The pillar-cluster model offers one of the most effective strategies to improve your organic rankings and increase website traffic. It’s especially helpful for small to mid-sized companies that want to rank for competitive keywords but don’t have a strong domain name. With the right content cluster strategy, you can outperform bigger rivals and land on the first page of Google.

So are you ready to start creating content using the cluster technique? You’ve probably already created something similar in the past. If you’ve developed an ecommerce category page and interlinked it with dozens of product pages, you’ve built a variation of the pillar-cluster model. Here are step-by-step instructions to help you develop the right topic cluster SEO strategy:

1. Create Buyer Personas to Decide Core Topic

The first step to developing a pillar-cluster strategy is to pick a core topic. The core topic should be relevant to your business and address audience needs. Selecting an effective core topic is essential as it will be used to create your pillar page. To pick a topic that delivers value to your brand and audience, create buyer personas for assistance.

Buyer personas use market research and real data to give you detailed descriptions of your target customers. With this information, you can better understand your audience’s pain points and craft content that is useful to them. Depending on the industry you operate in, you may need several buyer personas to understand different audience segments.

Consider these questions to help you develop successful pillar content for your topic clusters:

  • What problems does your target audience have?
  • Which of their problems can you address with content?
  • What do customers want to accomplish with buying your products?
  • What search queries are they using to find you and your competitors?
  • Which topics do you want to be perceived as an authority on?
  • Can this topic be broken down into dozens or even hundreds of smaller topics?

2. Perform Keyword Research to Find Subtopics

Now that you have your broad topics, it’s time to find content clusters for each pillar page. Every pillar page must have at least 20 topic clusters. Don’t freak out! You can use keyword research tools and Google’s autocomplete predictions to find plenty of subtopic ideas. Some useful tools to try include SEMrush, LSI Graph, Ahref Keyword Explorer, and Answer the Public.

Using any of these tools, enter the pillar topic, and you will get a comprehensive list of keywords and phrases that are related to your search. Look for keyword terms that cover different subtopics but still revolve around your pillar content. If you can write at least 1,000 words for any of these related phrases, they can become your cluster topics and act as standalone blog posts.

Note: Don’t select similar keywords. Keywords like “defining an SEO strategy” and “how to create an SEO strategy” have the same search intent. When you create content for similar keywords, you end up with similar blogs that compete with each other for SERP rankings and page traffic. Always create cluster content around unique search terms.

3. Write Your Cluster Pages

An open notebook in front of a laptop computer

After identifying your subtopic keywords and organizing them around a core topic, you can start writing your cluster pages. The ideal cluster page should have unique content and be up to 1,500 words long. Writing cluster topics is similar to crafting regular blog posts, but with one difference: You should not discuss any topic in detail that is covered in another cluster page.

Although they’re shorter in length than pillar content, cluster pages can be more difficult to write because you should go deep on the details. To simplify the process of writing cluster pages, develop a hierarchy of all the subtopics and write the foundational content first. When you have a good understanding of the basics, you can better explain the specifics to your target audience.

4. Write Your Pillar Page

And here comes the fun part: Writing the pillar page! A pillar page is a comprehensive piece of content that broadly covers a subject matter while linking to in-depth cluster topics for more specific information. Pillar pages should be at least 2,000 words long. Google loves long-form content ⏤ the search engine’s average first page results contain 1,447 words.

The pillar page demonstrates your mastery of a topic, so it’s crucial to follow Google’s E-A-T guidelines to write the highest-quality content you can. You may be tempted to write the pillar page before finishing the cluster content. Not only does this make your job harder but you also run the risk of going too deep which can affect the search rankings of cluster pages. 

5. Add Internal Links Between Pillar and Clusters

Topic clusters get their power from a solid internal linking structure. Internal links are hyperlinks that connect two pages on a website. These links provide search engines with more context about your content and share PageRank value among the pages in the network. So when your pillar page gets tons of backlinks, it shares that value with all the cluster pages that it links to. 

After you publish your pillar page and topic clusters, you should go back and link them all together. Go to each cluster page and link to the pillar content where appropriate, then go to the pillar page and link to all its cluster pages where they’re the most relevant. This internal linking strategy can boost your website’s organic traffic by 40% in a few months.

6. Track and Analyze Your Results

A laptop screen displaying charts and graphs

Now that you have finished creating cluster content, you need to measure the results of your hard work. One of the best ways to track your results is to use a traffic analysis tool. These tools provide engagement metrics, inform you of the number of site visitors, and tell you if visitors are coming to your site from desktop or mobile so you can optimize the content for that device.

You can use these analytics reports to improve content quality and boost your organic rank. Keep in mind that results take time to show, so you should wait at least a month before you analyze data on your topic clusters. Tracking and analyzing progress helps you determine which topic is performing well so you can create more content that your audience loves.

Get More Help With SEO Content Strategy

Creating content clusters can take quite a bit of time and resources, but they are worth the investment. When done properly, the pillar-cluster model can be your most powerful SEO weapon as well as help you appear as an industry leader. While you may not get the #1 SERP spot, creating topic clusters is a step in the right direction that can improve your rank over time.

If you need more help with planning an effective pillar-cluster strategy, look for an SEO partner that specializes in content marketing. We provide a comprehensive list of the top SEO agencies to simplify your search. Check out our rankings of the best SEO service companies to find an ideal partner that can take you to the top of SERPs.