Google launched its RankBrain algorithm in 2015 to deliver more accurate search results. This algorithm uses machine learning to determine the searcher’s real intent. To produce more accurate results, RankBrain takes into account factors like personalization, location, and the words of the query.
Topic clusters is an SEO strategy that focuses on fully covering a topic and establishing relationships between keywords. When you structure your content in clusters, Google understands that you are a reliable and trusted source on that topic. This article reviews the basics of topic clusters and how they can drive more traffic to your website.
What is a Topic Cluster?
A topic cluster is a group of interlinked web pages. The cluster revolves around a single pillar page targeting a broad topic. More specifically, a topic cluster composed of three components:
- Pillar page — A pillar page is an authoritative resource on a specific topic.
- Subtopic page — A more narrowly-focused content that covers related topics. Subtopic pages are based on a long-tail keyword and dig deeper into a specific topic.
- Internal linking between all pages in a cluster—internal links pass authority from the pillar page to subtopic pages. Linking from a subtopic page to the pillar pages signals search engines that the pillar page is the most important in the cluster.
Why Are Topic Clusters Important?
Before RankBrain, marketers targeted a single keyword per page. However, this is no longer the case. There are numerous examples of websites that leveraged clusters to outperform competitors.
The main benefits of this approach are:
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- Provide authoritative and reliable results—creating accurate and useful content around a topic, instead of targeting a single keyword, build your online authority among users and search engines.
- Topic clusters bring more traffic—authoritative content makes you rank higher on search results. Thanks to increased rankings, more people will visit your site. This creates a positive feedback loop of increasing traffic and conversions.
- Reduced bounce rate—visitors tend to stick around on your site when you have lots of content related to their search intent.
- Mutual success—if a certain cluster page ranks high, all other pages in that cluster often also improves their ranking. Sometimes this can result in ranking for multiple SERP positions for a single keyword.
Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters
If you want to make it easy for search engines to understand what your website is about, you should use both pillar pages and topic clusters.
One of the most effective ways to attract organic traffic is to build pillar pages which serve as main hubs for your content. By making your pillar pages detailed informative and authoritative, you can pull in organic traffic from multiple keywords. Then after those pages attract links and gain SEO authority, you can link to other less important pages and drive traffic to them as well.
Pillar pages are designed to attract and engage the visitor. They hold most of the important information, such as the products/services on offer and their benefits.
Pillar pages and topic clusters are a way of organizing your content as it relates to a single topic. It also helps Google better understand what your content.
How to Create Topic Clusters
Topic clusters can improve your marketing efforts by creating an organized and high-quality content hub. The following section covers the necessary steps for creating topic clusters.
Choose your main topic
The main topic should be the cornerstone of your business. It must showcase the unique value your business can provide compared to other competitors. After picking the main topic, you should conduct a content audit on your site to find existing pages on that topic. Considering that this is a core topic, you should already have content on that subject.
Perform keyword research
Although the idea of topic clusters is based on search intent, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need to optimize your content for keywords. Keyword research can help you identify your target audience. Follow this process to find the best search keywords, and better define your target audience:
- Collect keyword ideas from different teams, including sales, marketing, development, and support. Search for additional keyword ideas on your competitor sites using different web analytics tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs.
- Make a list of keywords that seem relevant to the main topics you chose. Focus only on keywords with monthly search volume above 100.
- Review the keywords with a panel of experts from your company – marketing, product, management, and sales.
- Understand what keywords are relevant to your audience by checking the top search results for each keyword.
- Classify keywords by relevancy – spot on for your product offering, relevant, or irrelevant.
- Categorize keywords into groups. Each group should represent a relevant topic cluster.
Map topics to existing content
Review the list of keywords, and identify keywords that are a good match for content you already have on your site. A good match would be a page that ranks in the top 20 for a specific keyword.
In some cases, you might need to adapt that page to the search intent of readers by adding more relevant content or fixing outdated information. You may also need to make the page more attractive by adding images, or videos.
Identify content gaps and start a topic cluster project
After going through the previous steps, you will have a clear idea of which topics and keywords are covered by existing content. Now highlight the remaining keywords that:
- Are highly relevant to your business
- Have a high search volume, but are not overly competitive
- You do not have a current page on your site that is directly relevant
For each of these keywords, create a page that answers the search intent. Make sure to write a high quality content that provides a good answer to the search query, and supports your marketing objectives.
Internal linking is the most important step in building topic clusters. Internal linking between your pillar and subtopic pages shows search engines that your keywords are related to each other, and the content has a semantic relationship. The pillar page should link to all subtopic pages, while the subtopic pages need to link back to the related pillar page.
How to Measure Topic Cluster Results
Now that you have created quality content, you need to determine how to measure the topic cluster results. A good way to measure the performance of your content is by monitoring metrics like the number of unique visitors, sessions, engagement metrics, and mobile versus desktop traffic ratio.
These metrics can help you understand whether your content is optimized, and which clusters your visitors are viewing the most. You can then expand the most successful clusters with more relevant content. This gives you an idea about what works for your business. As a result, you should reduce the time invested in developing new content ideas.
If you create topic clusters for SEO, it can be a huge benefit for your site when implemented correctly. Not only do they adapt your content to the most recent Google algorithm updates, but they also can help you create a more clear site architecture.
Organize your existing content and look for potential content gaps. Optimize your content and build internal links to other related articles on your website. Before long, you’ll have a content library with high-quality, organized content that makes it easy for both search engines and users to find your content.
Additional Content Cluster Resources
- Why (& How) Topic Clusters Are Your Most Powerful SEO Weapon – Search Engine Journal
- What is a Content Cluster? – Power Digital Marketing
- How to Drive Traffic With a Powerful Content Cluster Strategy – Social Media Explorer
Author: Eddie Segal is an experienced web analytics specialist and technology writer. In his writing, He covers subjects ranging from cloud computing to agile development to cybersecurity and deep learning. He also specializes in SEO, link building, and content strategies for technology brands. To find out more go to his website Webdataguide or reach out to him on LinkedIn