To survive in today’s competitive digital landscape, businesses need to focus on their content strategies now more than ever.
You need to understand how your target audience consumes content and figure out what they’re looking for. It’s not effective to produce random content at a high rate if it’s not valuable.
Everything you publish across all your distribution channels needs to benefit your audience, or it won’t be successful.
In addition to producing high quality content, you also want to make sure it’s SEO-friendly.
The key factor of your content production needs to be relevancy: 78% of consumers say relevant content increases their intent to buy.
Your content must be relevant to your brand and relevant to your audience while still appealing to Google.
Blindly producing content without a strategy won’t help you. You need to keep up with the latest trends and see how other brands approach content marketing and SEO.
Today, and in the future, marketers must have a content strategy compatible with the way people discover new content. Creating content that doesn’t drive results is expensive and inefficient.
That’s why you need to get familiar with topic clusters.
Surprisingly, many business owners and marketers I’ve spoken to recently don’t know anything about this. That was my inspiration for writing this guide.
This is the perfect opportunity for you to gain a competitive advantage.
You can learn how to implement topic clusters today and use this tactic moving forward before your competitors have a chance to catch on.
As a result, you’ll be able to produce high quality engaging content. This will help you improve your SEO strategy, drive more traffic to your site, and increase conversion rates.
I’ll explain everything you need to know about topic clusters and how they are revolutionizing the marketing industry.
What are topic clusters?
Before we proceed, let’s start with the basics.
You may have heard that topic clusters are the future of content marketing and SEO strategies, but that doesn’t explain what they are.
Truthfully, this isn’t a very complex topic. If you guessed what a topic cluster is just based on its name, you probably wouldn’t be far off.
The idea here is you want to create a deeper penetration of certain subjects relevant to your brand, audience, and search engines.
Start with one basic topic, then branch off to similar ones. You’ll create content about all of them, with the main area of focus as the nucleus.
Here’s a visual representation of a topic cluster template:
Clusters can be broken down into two segments.
The image above refers to them as core topics and subtopics. However, they are also commonly referred to as pillar content and cluster content.
Your pillar topics will be broad. The clusters will be more descriptive.
For example, let’s say your company sells workout supplements. You can create a topic cluster using “workout routines” as the pillar.
Clusters related to this pillar would be:
- home workout routines
- workout routines to build muscle
- workout routines to lose weight
- outdoor workout routines
- bodyweight workout routines
- workout routines with weights
Each cluster takes a keyword and transforms it into a long-tail keyword.
When you publish such content on your website, you’ll be able to generate lots of internal links, ultimately improving your SEO ranking.
The pillar will link to each cluster, and each cluster will link back to the pillar with internal hyperlinks.
Here’s another example of a topic cluster using “GDPR Compliance” as the pillar:
As you can see, each cluster includes the pillar.
All of these subtopics are more specific segments of the broad subject. That’s how your audience will search for topics online. These topic clusters will increase your site visibility in search engine results.
Optimize your website architecture
The application of your topic clusters will be related to your site architecture.
You need to make sure this structure is optimized for SEO purposes. Whether you realize it or not, how you design your architecture can determine whether your site is SEO-friendly or not.
You need to think about the user experience.
Make it as easy as possible for website visitors to navigate your site and find what they’re looking for in as few steps as possible.
If your site is structured properly, you won’t have as many bounce rates, and your dwell time will be improved as well. As a result, your search ranking will increase.
Let me show you what I mean.
If you Google Quick Sprout, here is how it appears in the search results:
Check out the section I highlighted above. These are called sitelinks.
Sitelinks are subpages of a website that appear in Google SERPs. This will help a user navigate to a more relevant portion of a site, directly from the search engine.
These sitelinks create fewer steps in the conversion funnel. Users can click one of these hyperlinks instead of having to navigate to your homepage first.
Sitelinks are great for SEO purposes. However, you can’t contact Google and choose which site links get displayed unless you’re running paid campaigns with Google AdWords.
For organic search results, Google’s algorithm decides what to display. Your site structure will have a major impact on this.
You need to establish a logical hierarchy of pages and links on your site. Topic clusters will drastically improve these efforts.
Let’s look at an example. Here’s a basic outline of the HubSpot’s website:
From its homepage, you can navigate to its blog.
Once you reach the blog, you can navigate to three different topics:
All the blog posts fall into those three categories. It’s a typical architecture with a hierarchy that makes sense, but it can be improved with topic clusters.
Now, let’s take a look at what this looks like with topic clusters:
This format follows the same template you saw earlier.
Each cluster has a pillar and related cluster content.
Now, when people search for long-tail keywords related to these subjects, the site’s content will be more likely seen as sitelinks in the SERPs.
Some of you may already have content published for your topic cluster strategy, but it’s not organized properly in terms of your site architecture.
You need to make the proper adjustments so that the flow follows the format of the second HubSpot image above as opposed to the first one.
Choosing the right topics
Now that you understand the basics, it’s time for you to start building topic clusters.
But before you can start producing content, you need to choose the right pillars that will drive results.
Where do you start?
Everything should begin with your target audience. Look at your current and prospective customers, and ask yourself questions such as:
- What are these people looking for?
- What problems do they have?
- How does your business help solve those problems?
If you don’t already know the answers to these questions, it’s very helpful to start outlining a customer persona to give you a better understanding of your target audience.
If you need further assistance with this part of the process, I have a complete guide on how to develop a customer persona that improves conversion rates.
Another way to come up with topics is to analyze your existing content.
What have you already published that has the most engagement? Your site visitors are clearly interested in it the most.
To determine your top-performing content, look at metrics such as traffic, page views, etc. and see what has been shared the most by your audience.
You can also look at which pages on your site have the highest search ranking. Topic clusters can help improve those rankings even more.
I recommend making a list of at least five main topics to start with. Those pillars will be enough for you to produce tons of content once you branch off into clusters for each one.
Conduct keyword research
Now that you have your pillars established, it’s time for you to come up with clusters.
The best way for you to approach this is by conducting keyword research.
Don’t just guess what long-tail keywords are related to your pillars. Find out exactly what people are searching for.
Many different tools and resources can help you with this task.
Here’s an example of how you can conduct basic keyword research with Wordtracker, which is free to use:
Let’s say your business is in the financial industry. You reviewed your website and saw that content relating to bad credit had the highest performance metrics.
You plan to use “bad credit” as a pillar.
Once you enter that term into this tool, filter the search for SEO purposes and look at the results.
Everything on this list would be viable to use for your topic clusters:
- credit cards for bad credit
- bad credit loans
- personal loans for bad credit
- installment loans for bad credit
- unsecured credit cards for bad credit
Don’t be afraid to create longer titles for your clusters.
Just look at the average keyword length distribution based on a study of over 1.4 billion keywords:
Over 64% of searches contain at least four keywords.
Producing topic clusters related to these keywords will not only improve your SEO ranking but also help ensure your traffic comes from qualified leads.
Create content based on these themes
Your keyword research is complete. Your pillars and subtopics have been defined for the clusters.
Now it’s time to create the supporting content.
You have many different options to choose from. I recommend using a diverse approach to creating highly relevant content.
Create landing pages that would be available in the learning center or resources section of your site. Something like this could be used as a hub for pillar content. You’ll use that to link to supporting clusters.
Write blog posts. Produce videos. Build infographics.
All of these will help you create more relevant content geared toward the specific needs of your target audience.
If you can’t do this effectively, your audience won’t find your content useful.
This will defeat the whole purpose of your strategy. That’s why I’ve emphasized the importance of high quality content throughout this post.
Build your pillar pages
Once all your content has been produced, it’s time to publish everything.
Start by building your pillar pages. This will be the main spot where you’ll link to the supporting clusters.
Take a look at this example from Typeform:
This landing page follows everything I talked about so far in terms of linking, keywords, site structure, and relevant content.
Brand awareness is the pillar.
Each topic cluster on the right side of the screen links to a more specific subtopic of brand awareness.
The landing page is very simple, which is perfect.
Don’t feel you need to design a complex pillar page. A simple approach will be very effective.
Distribute your content
As you now know, your topic clusters will help SEO.
However, that doesn’t mean you should be publishing content without doing anything else with it.
You need to focus on your distribution strategy. You can approach it in several different ways:
You should be taking advantage of all three different types of media.
This will help you distribute your content effectively across multiple channels.
Digital marketing is constantly evolving. Your business needs to keep up with these changes if you want to be successful.
Looking toward the future, it’s important for you to start improving your SEO strategy today.
One of the best ways to do this is with topic clusters.
First, you need to find the most popular topics relevant to what your audience is searching for. Then, you need to conduct keyword research to determine your cluster subtopics.
After you produce and publish your content, you need to make sure your site architecture is formatted for SEO purposes and sitelinks.
Once this process is complete, distribute all your content across as many different channels as possible.
Topic clusters aren’t re-inventing content marketing, but they are revolutionizing the way marketers create new content.
What types of topic clusters is your business using to improve your content strategy?