Topic Clusters: How to Create Them to Improve Your SEO

Topic Clusters: How to Create Them to Improve Your SEO

In the fast-evolving world of digital marketing, staying ahead of SEO trends is crucial for success. One advanced strategy that has gained traction among seasoned SEO professionals is the implementation of topic clusters.

This method not only refines the way content is structured but also enhances how search engines assess and rank your blog posts. In this thought leadership article, we delve into the concept of topic clusters, exploring how they differ from traditional keyword-focused approaches and how they can significantly improve your website’s SEO performance and content strategy.

Understanding Topic Clusters

Topic clusters are a method of organizing a website’s content by creating a network of interlinked articles or pages centered around one overarching theme, known as the “pillar” content.

This central pillar page broadly covers a topic, while multiple content pages related to smaller, specific keywords or queries branch off, known as “cluster” content. These clusters link back to the pillar page and to each other where relevant, creating a cohesive understanding of the primary topic.

Pillar Page

A pillar page serves as the core hub of content for an overarching topic and typically covers all aspects of that central topic in a comprehensive manner.

Cluster Content

Cluster content, however, dives deeper into one of the aspects introduced on the pillar page. Content clusters not only help users find information more efficiently but also allow search engines to easily link connections between related content, thereby boosting SEO performance and increasing organic traffic.

Content Hubs and Topic Clusters

A content hub is a centralized digital platform or section of a website where content is aggregated and organized around a specific theme or subject area.

A content hub can be seen as the practical implementation of the topic cluster strategy. The content hub basically acts as the pillar page in a topic cluster, providing a broad overview of the topic and linking to various cluster pages that delve into related subtopics.

This arrangement not only helps users navigate through related content and relevant topics seamlessly but also enables search engines to crawl and index content more effectively.

how content hub and topic clusters work together

The Evolution of Topic Clusters in SEO

The shift towards topic clusters represents a move away from traditional, single-keyword-focused SEO, as search engines like Google have become more sophisticated in how they understand topics on a broader level.

Search engines today, particularly Google, evolved and began to prioritize user intent and the context of search queries over sheer keyword frequency. This shift led to the development of semantic search technology, which aims to understand the intent behind users’ searches and the relationships between words. With these advancements, the focus moved from individual keywords to topics and high-quality content.

This approach of putting content into topic clusters for search engine optimization acknowledges the complexity of user queries and caters to a more conversational search pattern. It enables a deeper dive into entire topics and provides more in-depth content improving the overall content marketing strategy. 

Traditional vs. Topic Cluster Strategy

Traditional or organic SEO strategies typically focus on individual, competitive keywords and ensure high keyword densities in single pages to improve search engine rankings.

In contrast, a topic cluster strategy looks at the relationships between various content pieces, building a network that signals to search engines the breadth and depth of your website’s comprehensive content on a specific subject.

The Impact of Topic Clusters on SEO

Topic clusters are adaptable to changes in search engine algorithms, which are increasingly favoring topic relevance and context over isolated keyword optimization. This makes them a more future-proof strategy.

By organizing content into clusters, websites can guide search engines more effectively through their content, showcasing the range of topics covered and their relevance to the main subject. This enhanced understanding can lead to higher rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs).

They enable more efficient distribution of link equity across articles, improving the authority of the entire cluster as well as the pillar page.

6 Key Steps in Building Topic Clusters

Topic clusters are an SEO strategy designed to boost a website’s visibility and authority by organizing relevant content around core topics, known as “pillar” pages, linked to and from more narrowly focused “cluster” pages. These content clusters help search engines better understand the relationship between related content, potentially leading to improved search rankings.

1. Identify Core Topics

Begin by determining content ideas that align with your business goals and what you aim to be known for. These topics should be broad enough to develop multiple pieces of content but specific enough to remain focused on the subject matter. You should also be able to rank for them realistically.

For example, “intermittent fasting” could be a core topic for a health-related site, under which various aspects like diet plans, benefits, and schedules could be clustered.

2. Develop a Topical Map

Once a core topic is selected, create a topical map that outlines the pillar page and its associated cluster content. A topical map is a strategic blueprint that organizes and visualizes the relationships between a main topic (pillar content) and its subtopics (cluster content).

Utilizing tools like Google’s related searches and keyword research tools to identify relevant subtopics and competitive keywords is a good place to start.

However, to spearhead your strategy, try a topic cluster tool like Semrush. All you need to do is to enter some seed keywords relevant for you and the tool will generate closely related keywords that can be grouped into clusters.

A nice representation of your new topic clusters can be seen in the Mind Map tab, alongside keyword count for each topic, search volume, and ranking difficulty.

what a topical map for topic clusters in seo looks like
Source

3. Create a Pillar Page

The pillar page should provide a comprehensive overview of the subject matter, serving as the main hub from which cluster pages branch out. It should be well-organized, using headers and a table of contents, and rich in relevant, organic keywords to enhance its discoverability.

Your pillar content should address a core topic comprehensively and be broad enough to generate multiple cluster topics. It should answer the fundamental search intent your target audience might have about the topic.

Here is an example of Healthline’s pillar page about diets, part of its diet content cluster.

It provides an overview of different diets and links to the full in-depth articles about each of them.

Healthline pillar page example
Source

4. Develop Cluster Pages

Each cluster page should address a specific aspect of the core topic, focusing on detailed content that supports the pillar page. These should be interlinked appropriately to ensure seamless navigation and distribute link equity across the cluster.

While you are writing your cluster pages, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize them for SEO. All your standard practices apply:

  • Include the target keywords naturally in the text, especially in the title, meta description, headers, and the first paragraph, but avoid keyword stuffing.
  • Use internal links to connect the cluster pages to the pillar page and each other, using appropriate anchor text to strengthen the topic cluster.
  • Optimize images with alt text that includes relevant keywords.
  • Remember to check for regular updates since search engines like Google frequently have algorithm updates to improve content audits and eliminate poor-quality content.

5. Implement Effective Linking Strategies

Internal linking among cluster pages should be strategic, using descriptive anchor texts that help search engines understand the context of linked content. Internal links not only aid in SEO but also enhance user experience by providing relevant additional reading options to other comprehensive articles.

topic cluster linking example
Source

6. Monitor and Optimize

To maintain an effective topic cluster strategy, it’s crucial to monitor your current content performance using SEO tools and adjust your strategy based on the insights gathered. This might involve updating your topic-based content, adding new cluster pages, internal links, or adding semantic keywords.

Understanding how users interact with your content can provide insights into potential improvements. Analyze the paths users take through your site, focusing on navigation from the pillar page to cluster pages and vice versa.

Tools like Hotjar or Crazy Egg can show where users click, scroll, and spend time on your pages, highlighting areas that capture interest or are ignored.

Further Reading: Off-Page SEO: What It Is, and 15 Tips to Take Advantage of It

Examples How Topic Clusters Improve SEO

How do topic clusters improve search engine optimization? Let’s take a look at some real-life example.

Improving Topical Authority

    Successful implementations of topic clusters can be seen in various models like the Hub and Spoke, popularized by topic cluster champion Hubspot. A central hub page links to several in-depth spoke pages on related topics.

    This model is particularly effective in establishing topical authority and improving SEO outcomes by covering a broad topic comprehensively through interconnected content.

    Hubspot central hub page on email marketing
    Source

      Another example is the content library approach, used by platforms like The Guardian. This model organizes a wide array of content under categorized parent pages. For example, readers may browse content in music, media, and books categories, navigating between both fresh and evergreen content, effectively contributing to an equal distribution of link juice between articles.

      The Guardian homepage distributing link equity example

      Enhancing Site Structure

        Finally, comprehensive topic clusters contribute to a cleaner and more organized site architecture, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index pages but also aiding in user journey.

        clean and organized site architecture through topic clusters example
        Source

        Utilizing Topic Clusters to Maximize SEO Benefits

        Let’s look at some ways ti utilize topic clusters to maximize search engine optimization benefits.

        Monitor Effectiveness

          To track the success of your topic clusters, monitor SEO performance metrics such as page views, bounce rates, and SERP rankings. Tools like Google Analytics and Ahrefs can provide valuable insights into how well your clusters are performing.

          Choose the right channels for distributing your content, focusing on those where your target audience is most active. Combining organic and paid media strategies can be particularly effective for content creators in building and sustaining audience engagement​.

          Further Reading: What is SEO Marketing? 9 Tips to Make It Work For Your Company

          Update Topic Clusters

            SEO is not a set-and-forget strategy. Regularly update your pillar and cluster content to keep them relevant and competitive in the SERPs. This includes expanding existing clusters, updating outdated content, and potentially adding new clusters as the topic evolves.

            Analyze low-performing pages and optimize or repurpose content to better meet user needs and improve engagement metrics​.

            Not to mention, regularly updating and expanding your topic clusters ensures your content remains relevant and competitive, giving your readers a comprehensive guide on key topics. Revisit your pillar and cluster pages periodically to update them with the latest information, integrate new keywords, and improve their comprehensiveness. This not only aids in maintaining a high SEO ranking in SERPs but also keeps your content valuable to users.

            Further Reading: What is SEO Analysis? Improve Your SEO With These 4 Strategies

            Utilize Linking Strategies

              Effective linking is topic clusters’ bread and butter. Links from cluster content to the pillar page and between cluster articles help distribute authority and guide visitors through your website, enhancing user experience and SEO.

              There are various linking structures how you can do it:

              • Pillar to Cluster Links: Each cluster page should link back to the pillar page, usually with a contextual link that uses relevant anchor text. This helps reinforce the relationship between the detailed content and the broader overview provided by the pillar page.
              • Cluster to Pillar Links: Conversely, the pillar page should link out to each cluster page. This not only helps users navigate to more specific content based on their interests but also spreads the SEO value around the cluster.
              • Interlinking Cluster Pages: Where relevant, cluster pages should also link to each other. This is beneficial when different cluster pages relate to each other more directly. This type of linking helps guide visitors through your content and encourages them to spend more time on your site.

              Remember, placing links within the body of your cluster content where they most naturally fit is a best practice. Use descriptive anchor text that provides clear context about what users can expect when they click the link, enhancing both SEO and user experience.

              Further Reading: Voice Search Optimization for SEO: 10 Things to Implement TODAY!

              Adapt Topic Clusters

                As search engines evolve, so too should your SEO strategies. Topic clusters, by their very nature, are adaptable—allowing you to expand or refine your content as trends change and new keywords emerge.

                To stay ahead, periodically review your topic clusters for opportunities to incorporate emerging keywords and update information. This not only keeps your content relevant but also signals to search engines that your site is up-to-date, an important factor in search rankings.

                Moreover, by predicting changes in user queries through machine learning algorithms, you can preemptively create content that meets future needs, thus staying one step ahead in the SEO game.

                Finally, enhance the user experience and boost engagement by incorporating multimedia elements such as videos, infographics, and interactive tools into your pillar and cluster pages. These elements can make complex information more digestible and engaging, encouraging users to spend more time on your site and interact more deeply with your content.

                Further Reading: What is Schema Markup, and 4 Ways How It Improves Your SEO

                Conclusion

                Topic clusters are not just a fleeting SEO trend; they are a strategic approach that reflects the natural evolution of search technology and user behavior. By effectively implementing topic clusters, digital marketers can not only improve their site’s structure, search engine visibility, and SEO performance but also provide a richer, more engaging experience for their audience.

                When executed correctly, topic clusters can lead to significant gains in traffic and authority and improve conversion, proving their worth as a powerful tool in any SEO professional’s arsenal.

                Author Bio

                Alise Zaiceva is a content marketing manager at Setupad. Having worked in the adtech industry for more than three years, Alise has developed a strong attention to detail and research, as well as a passion for technology. Her work with content is aimed at helping publishers scale their businesses through powerful digital marketing strategies. Alise believes in the supremacy of holistic website optimization for incremental revenue gains.

                Hero photo by Markolf von Ketelhodt on Unsplash

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