Google’s 2013 “Hummingbird” algorithm update had a major focus on conversational search.¹ A couple of years later, Google debuted RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm to help Hummingbird parse search results.² RankBrain evaluates websites for ranking factors, from title tags to bolded search terms, loading speed and domain authority.³ The algorithm learns from each search result, homing in on similar ranking factors during subsequent searches.
Keyword research is still critical to guiding your SEO strategy. Taking your SEO content strategy to the next level is planning related content at the same time. This is known as creating a “topic clustering” or “content cluster strategy.”
But how do these updates relate to topic clusters, and why are content clusters important for SEO content marketing?
What are topic clusters for SEO?
Understanding the concept of SEO topic clusters is fairly intuitive. Not only are content clusters important to your overall content strategy, but they are also a way to organize website content to make it more user friendly. By leveraging an internal linking strategy to link all your relevant content by using related keywords as anchor text, you are sending valuable signals to Google. Google looks for interlinking pages and anchor text to tell them what a page is about, and more user engagement influences your website’s rankings. By not taking advantage of linking your relevant content to one another logically, Google can’t crawl the pages as easily and therefore won’t rank them as well as it could.
Say you run a fishing goods company. If, on your blog page, you just have a never-ending stream of posts that don’t link to one another or to other site pages, your site structure will spread like a cobweb until it’s disorganized and complex.
Instead, what you’d want to do is organize your pages by a central topic. You’d start with pieces of “pillar topic” content that serve as the main hub. Each pillar page will support related content, known as “cluster” pages. The pillar content covers the main topic broadly, while each cluster page focuses on specific aspects or subtopics of the main topic. These cluster pages are linked back to the pillar content through internal links, creating a cohesive, interconnected index of information.
Creating an SEO Topic Cluster Strategy
If your customers find your site because they’re searching, “what are the best trout lures to use for small rivers?” You might organize your pages like this:
Pillar page: “Trout fishing 101.” This page would link to a bunch of other pages, each of which discusses a specific aspect of trout fishing. The pillar page would link to each sub-page, which might look like:
- Best trout fishing setups
- Best trout fishing season
- Greatest locations to trout fish
And so on. Each of the subtopics clusters around your pillar page, “Trout Fishing 101.” Every cluster page should link back to the pillar page and a few of the other cluster pages, when appropriate. The blog pages can also link back to products in your shop or product search pages.
When it’s time to create content about a new topic, like bass fishing or whether to fish in lakes or rivers, or whether to use a fly reel or not, you can create a new pillar page and a topic cluster around it.
Researchers found a positive, albeit slight, relationship between the number of internal links and search results placement on Google’s results page.4 Topic clusters will help readers and potential customers navigate your site better and help them find your site via search in the first place.
Benefits of Topic Clusters for SEO
How do SEO topic clusters help your content organically rank in SERPs?
Topic clusters help search engines understand the relationship between different pieces of content on your website. When you link your cluster pages to your pillar content, you’re telling search engines that there’s a semantic relationship between these pages. This can significantly improve your content’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Moreover, topic clusters help distribute link equity across your site. When one page performs well, the linked pages also benefit. Linking the pages in thoughtfully developed content/topic clusters can lead to an overall boost in your website’s domain authority, a major ranking factor.
Can I use existing content to build topic clusters for SEO?
Building topic clusters doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. You can leverage your existing content to create effective topic clusters. Start by conducting keyword research to identify the main topic and related subtopics that your content covers. Your main topic should be broad enough to generate multiple subtopics, and these subtopics will form the basis of your cluster pages.
You may have already written a blog post with all sorts of tips and tricks for trout fishing. That’s great and means you don’t have to write a fresh pillar page. You will have to spend some time linking that page to others in your blog archives or other pages, but at least the challenging part of decided what content pillars to use and how to create them is done.
Once you’ve identified your main topic and subtopics, group your existing content accordingly. Each piece of content that covers a subtopic should be linked back to the pillar content that covers the main topic. Remember, internal links are crucial whether you’re creating content from scratch or reusing existing content — they help search engines understand the relationship between your content.
Should I organize my website by topic clusters and pillar pages?
You may be able to take some fishing advice to heart when crafting pillar pages. Casting a wide net over a narrow tributary to snag trout is likely to be a disastrous outing. Instead, you need precise tools for the job at hand: line, reel, rod, lure or bait hook and weights. SEO content marketing is the same. Each content pillar page can be fairly broad, but it should also stick to the relevant topic. You wouldn’t fish for trout with a net just as you wouldn’t write about other types of fish on a trout-fishing page. Pillars should be comprehensive and high quality, covering the main topic in depth.
Your pillar content should also include links to all the cluster pages that cover the related subtopics. Each cluster page should focus on a specific subtopic and link back to the pillar content. This creates a network of internal links that helps search engines understand the semantic relationship between your content.
By conducting thorough keyword research, creating high-quality pillar content and cluster pages, and effectively using internal links, you can leverage the power of topic clusters to boost your content’s visibility in SERPs. Before you start fishing through your list of keywords for SEO initiatives, stop and think about how everything fits together.
The TL;DR is, “yes,” you should, when possible, organize your website using content clusters and pillar pages. It’s a great way to make sure you, your readers and search algorithms all swim downstream together.
If you’re curious about what more you can do to boost your SEO results, let us know. We’d be happy to chat.
Or take a look at our step-by-step guide to SEO content marketing for a primer on everything you need to know to get your site to rank.