Remember the days when blogging was as easy as coming up with a topic idea, finding relevant keywords, and then publishing and promoting your blog? You’d write up your post, publish, and then move onto the next core topic on your calendar.
In 2020, SEO has evolved to the point where you have to be an ace blogger and an ace online marketer. And if you really want to stay one step ahead of the curve, you need to become acquainted — and a bit of an expert — with something called topic clustering.
If you’ve never used this technique before, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll take a look at what topic clustering is and how you can use it to drive more traffic to your website in 2020 and beyond.
What are topic clusters?
Picture this. You’re an app developer working on a new blog for your SEO company. To get potential customers to discover your site, you’re wanting to create a series of pillar pages for them to view.
So, first off, what is a pillar page?
A pillar page is a page based on a generalized subject and it ranks for a high-volume keyword.
Because the app you’re working on helps businesses improve their SEO, one of the pillar pages will be based around the fundamentals of SEO. Think of a pillar page as a content page around the main topic. And once you have the main topic, there will likely by other offshoot topics that I can create separate pages for.
For example, one of my offshoot pages might be:
- How to find long-tail keywords
- How to perform keyword research
- Backlink SEO strategies
- What is on-site SEO
And so on and so forth!
My offshoot pages — otherwise known as topic clusters — should all be relevant to the pillar page in question. All of these pages should all be interlinked, and they should all link back to my pillar page. Why?
Because this will show Google that my pillage page is an authority on a particular topic.
All websites have hierarchies. And most of the time, they look a little bit like this:
- Top level categories
- Detail pages
Search engine crawlers begin to lose some interest as they probe further and further into your website’s architecture, which is why it’s key that you have topic clusters that lead crawlers all the way back to your pillar pages.
Topic clustering, lets you organize your content and pages in a more strategic way. It lets you rank better for more keywords, it allows you to drive more traffic by targeting specific customers, and it gives you the chance to improve your internal linking game.
How to create topic clusters
1. Choose a topic
Topic clusters all start with an umbrella topic area, which will form your pillar page. An umbrella topic must be a generalized topic that you want to position yourself as an expert on, and it should be a key topic for your company.
If you run a social media marketing company, one of your umbrella topics will be social media marketing. If you run an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software company, you’ll want to target ATS software as an umbrella topic. You get the picture.
As you start to brainstorm, you might even find that you already have a few pillar pages published on your website. And that’s awesome if you do!
Take a look at your current content and see if you can spot any. Then…
2. Come up with a few subtopic ideas
To create topic clusters, you need to come up with a few subtopic ideas. These subtopics will help you flesh out your umbrella topic, providing more value to the reader and allowing you to get super specific and highly relevant with your content.
If you know your industry and your audience really well, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with subtopic ideas. Just try to think of topics that are contextually based around your umbrella topic.
If you’re stuck for ideas, you can use a tool like Answer the Public to help get the creative juices flowing. Just enter your umbrella topic into the tool and see what related questions people are asking.
You could also use Google’s Related Searches feature to help you come up with more subtopic ideas (technically called LSI keywords). To find these topics, enter your umbrella topic into Google and scroll down to the bottom of the first page of results:
And to get a further list of topics, type in your query into the Google search bar but don’t click search. Look at the resulting list of items that appear on the screen:
3. Research keyword ideas
Topic clusters won’t be as effective if you don’t optimize your pages with long-tail keywords. In fact, one of the reasons we create topic clusters in the first place is so that we can use more keywords and thus drive more high-quality traffic from your targeted buyer persona.
While you will be using short and long-tail keywords for your pillar page, you should look to focus on only long-tail keywords for your subtopic pages.
Once you’ve got your subtopic ideas, run them through your keyword research tool (such as Ahrefs or SEMRush) to gauge their search volume, popularity, and ranking difficulty. Alternatively, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest, which are free. It’s important to see how effective your long-tail keywords will be, as well as what the competition is like.
Moreover, your keyword research tool can help you to come up with more keyword ideas that you can add to your content.
The whole point of topic clusters is to drive more traffic, which means it’s super important that you use the keywords your audience is using.
Make sure that the keywords you use for each related page are all related — as your aim is to show Google that they have a semantic relationship. In other words, you need to signal to Google that you’ve covered a certain topic extensively, and it’s your content and your keywords will allow you to demonstrate this.
Related keywords combined with valuable content tells Google that you’re the expert on a particular topic and that you’ve covered all the bases here.
4. Flesh out your topic clusters and pillar pages
Your pillar pages won’t be worth much if you don’t flesh them out so that they provide lots of value and extensively cover your umbrella topic.
A good pillar page must contain valuable, helpful content that educates and informs the reader. It should include both internal and external links, high-quality images, and — whenever possible — infographics, case studies, and solid research. All of this will help to position your pillar page as the go-to resource in your niche.
Here’s a great topic cluster example from Hubspot of this tactic at play:
Rather than writing a series of articles on seemingly random topics, HubSpot strategically selects high-value topic clusters and builds SEO landing pages loaded with long-form copy, downloadable assets, and links to contextually related articles.
5. Link internally
Once you’ve nailed your pillar pages and drafted up your subtopic pages, you need to then interlink your pages. All your subtopic pages must link back to your pillar page, while your pillar page needs to link out to your subtopic pages.
It’s this internal linking that makes topic clustering so potent, as it shows Google that your piece of content and your keywords are related.
Be careful when linking via anchor text, though. While it will be tempting to use the same anchor text over and over again, Google might penalize you if you abuse this. Mix things up. Use optimized anchor text sparingly, but use non-optimised anchor text other times.
6. Measure and improve
Once you’re up and running, you’ll need to wait a few weeks before the results start to come through. At that point, use your SEO tracking tool to track your results. The idea behind topic clusters is that, once one page starts to rank better, all your pages will follow suit.
Monitor, measure and make any necessary tweaks so that you keep driving more traffic.
As you can see, topic clustering isn’t actually that hard at all. The main thing is that it’s going to take some time and effort on your part to execute. Put together a small but dependable content marketing team, work out a keyword and content marketing strategy, and then start pumping out the content.