In the digital era, having a deep understanding of SEO tactics has become an essential skill for companies and bloggers looking to improve their SERP (search engine results page) positioning. Most digital users visit search engines as a first step when seeking information about services, products, or content that they want to know more about. Your SERP positioning could be a valuable source of traffic, and eventually revenue and conversions. The first step toward getting more clicks is improving your site’s SEO.
When it comes to SEO strategies, no approach seems to be more popular now than topic clusters. The topic cluster model was introduced to the SEO world by HubSpot back in 2017. Since then, this content interlinking tactic has risen to the occasion as an effective way of boosting a webpage’s SEO.
What are topic clusters?
Put simply, a topic cluster is a way of organizing your site’s content pages by employing a clean and organized site structure and interlinking content that revolves around a similar topic.
These groups of ideas and topics are formed using keywords. Due to their effectiveness, topic clusters are usually used to improve branded content marketing like sponsored blog posts or onboarding tutorial videos.
The concept behind topic clusters is fairly simple: if one page does well, every interlinked content site will end up doing better too. Additionally, creating content around a topic often improves the search rankings of other similar content, giving your site multiple SERP positions for a single keyword or search.
Although topic clusters are extremely effective SEO tools when used properly, a poorly constructed topic cluster can be as damaging to your page as website downtime or any other form of webpage failure. When applied incorrectly, topic clusters can lead to internal competition and to content cannibalizing itself, making your interlinked sites compete with one another.
If you’re interested in using a topic cluster or your current topic cluster strategy is not working as you expected, do not despair. This short guide will give you the tools to make the most out of your topic clusters and unlock the full potential of your SEO strategy.
1. Understand your users’ intent
Although they used to be regarded as the only way to effectively utilize SEO, individual blog topics and specific keywords are slowly but surely losing their effectiveness. Nowadays, sadly, the quality of the content is not the most important aspect in a site’s popularity.
If you want your content to be successful and easily found by leads online, you need to build your posts and sites around a single and all-encompassing question or topic. The idea here is to understand what users are looking for.
When leads first search for a topic online, they usually type generic things like “business call app”. However, the train of thought behind that simple search is far more complex than a mere three-word sentence.
In this case, “business call app” comes with many questions. What leads really want to know is:
- “What are the best business call apps?”
- “Can business call apps be used on my device?”
- “Are business call apps free?”
- “Should I install a business call app?”
- “What features does a business call app include?”
- “Are business call apps suitable for web conferencing?”
As you can see, choosing your core topics and the surrounding topics around them is essential to building a robust topic cluster strategy. It would help to keep in mind what leads would be searching for, the kind of information they would be seeking and the motivation behind these searches, and where they stand on the consumer funnel. Additionally, having a deep understanding of commonly used keywords is vital if you want to develop an efficient topic cluster.
The best way to cover your bases is to create a library of content that answers all the questions your leads may have. A comprehensive approach helps address not only the informational needs of your leads, but also builds the strength of your library. These resources will help you create a better-structured topic cluster.
As you may have guessed, the only way to make such a vast list of potential keywords is by using automation tools to analyze common searches and popular related topics.
2. Purge your content when necessary
As we previously mentioned, topic clusters are a complex interconnected network of pages that revolve around similar keywords and topics. However, sometimes having an excess of content comes with complications.
Put simply: over-information is as damaging as a complete lack of content. For this reason, it’s important to conduct a content audit every once in a while. Getting rid of outdated, redundant, or contradictory content is a tedious but necessary task if you want to build a strong content strategy. These types of content tend to occupy unnecessary space, as well as take a toll on the credibility of your page. Making sure that the content you have is relevant, timely, and value-adding ensures that your content strategy is impactful and credible to any audiences who access it.
Using a cluster topic to organize your content is an excellent way of keeping things tidy whilst using the exact tool you’re looking to improve. Additionally, you can list your pages using a spreadsheet to have a visual sitemap of your content.
3. Update pre-existing content
Getting rid of outdated content is a good way to go about this, but keeping your content updated and relevant at all times is even more important. When it comes to topic clusters, brands tend to make the mistake of thinking they can only be used to boost new content.
This “recency bias” affects SEO effectiveness, since older content gets left behind, dragging your site’s SERPS to the ground. If you want to keep your content fresh and make the most of your topic clusters, consider clusters to re-optimize content quickly.
4. Boost underperforming content
Topic clusters can be used to give underperforming content a push too. You can use them to redirect blog readers and site users toward underperforming or overlooked pages.
This can be applied for multiple platforms and a range of websites. In the case of eCommerce platforms, for example, you can build a logical pathway for visitors to follow, so they naturally progress down the sales funnel in a way that’s easy to navigate.
In relation to topic clusters, it’s important to understand that you can create related cluster content in the form of external guest posts, in order to generate more relevant links to your low-performing content, consequently giving it a push and boosting your advertisement impressions and CTR (click-through rates).
5. Test your topic clusters
If you want your clusters to work the way you intend, you must test them so you can tweak and change things accordingly. Topic clusters work like any other digital marketing and SEO strategy – the more you test them, the better they’ll perform when they have to. Determining the clusters that are successful and the clusters that are underperforming can help you readjust your approach accordingly. Through testing, you can identify the strategies that work and the strategies that don’t, and how to replicate successful results.
If you’re invested in making the most of your topic clusters, consider using a crowd test approach to make your site user-ready. Crowd testing provides pages with fast and useful feedback regarding their functionality.
If you want your sites to be well interlinked and your topic clusters to be as user-friendly as possible, add crowd testing to your SEO process ASAP.
6. Avoid common mistakes
Because search engine optimization is such a nuanced and crucial part of a digital strategy, there are several common mistakes that many don’t often identify until it starts taking a toll on their SEO. Some of this mistakes may seem like the right step initially, but when other factors come into play they become counterproductive to your SEO objectives.
It may be hard to believe, but many so-called “SEO experts” use keywords wrong. The vast majority of digital marketing newcomers tend to only target the most popular phrases, which it’s almost impossible to rank for.
Others focus on hyper-specific long-tail keywords that ensure hits but come with low search volume. Although they may rank well – due to low competition – the content ends up overlapping and cannibalizing itself when it’s overly specific.
It’s also common for website owners to forget how specific keywords relate to each other, moving potential page users through the site’s content. When this happens, websites end up becoming incoherent and inefficient.
Try to avoid all of the above. Being aware of these common mistakes enables you to watch out and avoid them, allowing you to focus on other measures that actually drive results instead of counterintuitive measures that might seem to make sense at first. It’s about moderation, logic, and having a mind to cause and effect anytime you make an SEO decision.
7. Leverage the power of interlinking
As we explained at the beginning, topic clusters help content creators and website owners to organize their site’s structure and group topics, interlinking content that revolves around a common pillar or theme.
When you start grouping your content, you can present users with an organized list of keywords, arranged by blog page, topic cluster, and/or site category.
Once you begin to interlink content, remember that keywords do not exist in a vacuum. Interrelated themes and keywords operate side by side in ensuring a consumer’s understanding of the topic, and this behavior is something that also influences the way they interact with related content. This influences the type of content they search for, the pages they choose to visit, and the related links they follow once on a page. Cluster topics can only reach their full potential if the ideas and topics are expertly related. Let’s use an example to illustrate this essential aspect of topic clusters.
If you’re a VoIP expert and you want to write a blog post about parallel ringing, you should start by using synonyms in your keywords like “simultaneous ringing”, as well as related topics like multi-line phones.
The next step when interlinking pages is having your pages’ relevance and added value in mind, in order to understand how to link your previous content. Concerning our current example, you could look for pages that talk about other topics like business call forwarding or auto-dialers.
Now we’ve gone over some tips detailing how to make the most of your topic clusters, let’s run through a quick step-by-step breakdown of how to get your cluster topics up and running:
- Understand what topic clusters are and how they work.
- Decide what your pillar or core topics are.
- Conduct an audit to understand and organize your content.
- Add hyperlinks and keywords.
- Map your existing content.
- Identify and link topics and subtopics.
- Measure SEO results and adjust accordingly.
When done right, topic clusters can be considerably beneficial not only for a page’s SEO results but also in how audiences understand subjects that relate to a brand’s business or services. Having a clear and logical content strategy that yields quantifiable results is a victory in and of itself, and this victory is amplified when it adds to brand credibility and enhances a customer’s experience and interaction with your content strategy.
Now you know how to develop a robust cluster topic and what it takes to keep it sharp and effective, go out there, boost your SEO and SERP positioning, and establish credibility and authority in your own digital space.
Jessica Day is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, a modern business communications platform that takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts, for both company and client campaigns.
Hero photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash