Master Topic Clusters for Ultimate SEO Success

14 September 2023
11 minutes

In short

Topic clusters (also known as content clusters) are a major trend in content marketing. They are becoming increasingly important in the age of AI-driven search tools, like Google’s Search Generative Experience and semantic search. Content clusters transform your website into a valuable source of information.

They create a logical context in which related information is interlinked. This encourages users to spend more time on your page, engage with your content by clicking internal links, and explore topics in depth. All of this boosts your domain authority, which will become more and more decisive as online search becomes increasingly AI-driven and semantics-based.

image of a man with a graphic visualizing his mind mapping

The cluster content strategy is on a lot of digital marketers’ minds right now. Many experts predict it will be an effective way to maintain a strong SEO performance and high SERP rankings once Google fully rolls out its new, AI-driven Search Generative Experience (SGE).

Now topic clusters are becoming such an important trend for content marketers, we thought it would be the perfect moment to brush up on the latest, most effective tactics that you can use to implement or streamline your own cluster content approach.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The ins and outs of the topic cluster strategy for content marketing
  • How to create your own future-proof content cluster strategy
  • Examples of content clusters across various industries
  • How content clusters improve your content’s SEO performance

What are topic clusters?

The topic cluster (also known as the content cluster) strategy is a content marketing strategy that divides your content into two types:

  • Pillar pages: These pages contain a broad, general overview of a topic. They serve as landing pages that give visitors an introduction to the topic and help guide them to internal links where they find more information that is relevant to them.
  • Cluster pages: The cluster pages are further pages on your website where visitors find more relevant, detailed information. Each cluster page covers a smaller, more specific subtopic that’s related to the general topic introduced by the pillar page. These pages are linked not only to the pillar page but are interlinked to one another, encouraging users to spend more time on your domain and explore your content in more detail.

So, in short: pillar pages introduce a general topic and contain links to cluster pages, which cover smaller subtopics in great detail. All pages are interlinked using internal links.

Clustered content is a smart way to organise your blog content, as we’ll explore in detail below. It can also be used to structure product-related content.

For example, most product-related websites are divided into product categories. The category page serves as a landing page (or pillar page) and links to subcategories (cluster pages).

Infographic about topic clusters used for content strategies

Why are topic clusters important for SEO?

Clustering content has been a trusted SEO strategy for years. But it’s even more important today, as domain authority will increasingly determine which sites secure coveted mentions in Google SGE’s snapshot.

Google SGE is expected to increasingly curate the online experience for people using Google Search in the near future. It will serve as an interactive, chatbot-style platform that collects information from various sources to provide users with answers to their questions. Google has said that SGE will prioritise content that is “helpful, reliable, [and] people-first”, just like its algorithm has done for years.

What’s new is that Google’s featured snippets – those high-performing pages that currently occupy Google’s “position zero” – will soon be replaced by SGE’s interactive “snapshot”. This is a section of the SERP that summarises the best, most authoritative content related to the user’s search query.

The user can also ask follow up questions and narrow in on more specific topics that interest them. The snapshot will also direct them towards the best websites where they can find the information they’re looking for.

So, what does this mean for content marketers?

  • The most visible content will be the pages that offer helpful, reliably and people-first answers
  • Authoritativeness and depth of information will be more important factors for SEO success
  • Since search will become more interactive, content will need to answer questions from multiple perspectives, also integrating more lifelike language (that means integrating long-tail keywords).

The good news is: content clusters help you tick all these boxes. They arrange your content in ways that answer a broad range of questions and cater to your audiences’ needs.

They encourage visitors to spend more time exploring your content and clicking your internal links. This establishes your website as an authoritative domain where users can go for answers to detailed questions.

5 steps to create a topic cluster

Now that you’re up to speed with why content clusters are so important – and such a hot trend in content marketing right now – here’s a 5-step guide to creating an effective content cluster and introducing a content cluster strategy in general.

Step 1: Select a pillar topic

Cluster content starts with a strong pillar topic. It may sound fairly obvious. After all, you’re going to need a topic if you want to create a cluster of content around it. But choosing the right topic is a challenge. You’ll need to consider a number of factors, including:

  • What goals do you want your new cluster to achieve?
  • Which persona or stage of the buyer journey are you targeting?
  • Which business need do you want your new cluster to support?
  • Which customer needs do you want your new cluster to address?
  • How are your competitors handling this topic in their own content?
  • Is the topic big enough to serve as a pillar and support multiple subtopics?

Gather input from your company’s sales and customer support teams. Assess how your existing content and competitor content on related topics are performing.

Identify any gaps in your existing content offering. Always let your customers’ needs and interests play the lead role in choosing the topic for your new pillar page.

Step 2: Divide the topic into subtopics (cluster pages)

Next, it’s time to break that big topic into all the relevant subtopics that you can think of. This can become as complex as you want it to be. But there are some practical factors to take into consideration:

  • Which subtopics are most important to your customers? Start with those.
  • How much time and budget do you have to devote to creating each cluster page?
  • How often can you realistically publish a new cluster page?
  • Is each subtopic detailed enough to warrant having its own cluster page?
  • Are the subtopics too big? Should they be further divided into even more subtopics?

It can help to use a mind map or spider chart at this point to map out all the links between the various subtopics.

Practical matters like your content calendar and budget may ultimately determine how many cluster pages you create. These factors can also help you decide which subtopics to prioritise.

Above all, remember to align your subtopic choices with your audiences’ interests and pain points, as well as your content marketing goals. The key is to provide holistic information that addresses all aspects of the pillar topic from as many different angles as you can think of.

Step 3: Research keywords

Next up, you’ll want to turn to your favourite keyword research tools and do a deep dive into which keywords will make the biggest impact for your pillar and cluster pages. Remember to focus on long-tail keywords here, as they offer more specific clues into what niche audiences are looking for.

Step 4: Start creating and publishing content

With your goals and keyword focus in mind, it’s time to develop ideas for how you want to present each subtopic. There are many different options for this, including:

  • Uniform cluster pages: Each cluster follows the same format. This can be useful for content like product pages, where you want to offer your audience a predictable, consistent experience from one page to the next.
  • Mixed cluster pages: With this approach, you can use slightly different formats for each subtopic. For example, you might use an ultimate guide as your pillar and then a listicle format to explore one subtopic in detail, while using a quick guide format to explore another subtopic. You might also use multiple blog posts (with multiple formats) to explore the same subtopic but from different angles.

When choosing formats, look to your analytics to see what your audiences prefer. Which types of content have performed well for you in the past?

Once you’ve decided on the ideas and formats, it’s time to do the time-consuming work of actually creating the content. This can be done either in-house or with support from professional SEO content creators, like the Contentoo talent network.

It’s helpful to create a publishing schedule to ensure you’re regularly publishing content. This is important for establishing a readership and building domain authority.

It takes experience to establish a realistic publishing schedule, so allow yourself some time to experiment until you develop a workable routine for publishing content at more-less consistent intervals.

Step 5: Monitor and update your internal links

Since internal linking is integral to your cluster content’s success, it’s important to keep links up to date. That means adding new links as new cluster pages come available. It also means using a link tracking tool to monitor and update internal links, so you avoid broken links.

Your clusters can continue to expand. There’s virtually no limit to how many additional cluster pages you can add. Just be sure to keep interlinking cluster pages to other relevant cluster pages, so you guide your audiences through your content and encourage them to spend more time on your domain.

a graphic of a brain/mind visualizing mind mapping and topic clusters

Examples of topic clusters

To give you a clearer picture of what a content cluster might look like, here are some examples from different industries that rely heavily on content marketing to achieve many of their business goals: SaaS, e-commerce, FinTech, healthcare, and travel & tourism

Topic cluster example for SaaS companies

Pillar page:

The ultimate guide to SaaS implementation

Cluster pages:

  • Key benefits of SaaS for modern businesses
  • XX steps to a seamless SaaS integration
  • Overcoming challenges in SaaS adoption
  • Training your team for a successful SaaS implementation
  • Data migration strategies for a smooth transition

In this example, the pillar page gives audiences a comprehensive guide to SaaS implementation, addressing various aspects. Each subtopic explores specific aspects of the main topic, providing in-depth insights and practical advice.

This topic cluster not only caters to user intent but also demonstrates the SaaS provider’s expertise in guiding businesses through a successful adoption process. The cluster uses a mix of different blogging formats to examine the subtopics from different angles.

Topic cluster example for e-commerce businesses

Pillar page:

Mastering e-commerce marketing strategies

Cluster pages:

  • The power of personalisation in e-commerce
  • SEO tactics to drive organic traffic to your e-commerce store
  • Leveraging social media for e-commerce success
  • Email marketing best practices for e-commerce businesses
  • Conversion rate optimisation: Turning visitors into customers

Here, the pillar page is a comprehensive guide to effective e-commerce marketing strategies. Each cluster page explores a different subtopic that is introduced in the pillar content. The pillar topic is sufficiently broad that it could generate potentially a very large number of cluster pages.

Topic cluster example for financial tech (FinTech) firms

Pillar page:

How FinTech innovations are transforming the banking landscape

Cluster pages:

  • The rise of mobile payment solutions in FinTech
  • Exploring blockchain’s role in revolutionising finance
  • AI and machine learning applications in financial services
  • Ensuring cybersecurity in an evolving FinTech ecosystem

In this example, the pillar page provides a broad industry overview. Each cluster page explores a different trend, technology or challenge, showcasing the company’s expertise. This cluster addresses user queries, while positioning the business as a thought leader in the FinTech industry.

Topic cluster example for healthcare providers

Pillar page:

Telemedicine: Revolutionising healthcare access

Cluster pages:

  • The benefits and challenges of telemedicine adoption
  • Telehealth platforms: Choosing the right fit for your practice
  • Ensuring patient privacy and data security in telemedicine
  • Telemedicine’s role in rural healthcare outreach
  • Integrating telehealth services into specialised medical fields

In this example, the pillar page opens up the topics with a broad overview of how telemedicine is changing healthcare. Each cluster page explores a different aspect, addressing specific questions and pain points that a buyer in this industry might have on their mind.

Topic cluster example for Travel and Tourism companies

Pillar Page:

Best European weekend trips for 2023

Subtopics:

  • A weekend in Paris: Enjoy Paris on a budget
  • A weekend in Rome: A foodie’s paradise
  • A weekend in Prague: Going off the beaten path
  • A weekend in Oslo: Architecture, art and coffee

This is an example of a more uniform approach to clustered content. The pillar page may offer a broad overview or simply a set of attractive links to all the clusters in this series. Each cluster page has a similar format and offers a quick guide to a different city, with all the latest top recommendations for where to go and what to see.

image of a magnifying glass on google logo

The role of semantic search in topic clusters

Another major SEO benefit of the cluster strategy is that it aligns your content with semantic search, which is the way Google understands and ranks content on the internet. Semantic search looks at entities, terms and subtopics found throughout your site to determine how valuable a source of information your content is.

Google’s search increasingly relies on AI-based natural language processing (NLP) to process language found on websites. Because they’re AI-driven, Google’s NLP systems are capable of understanding language while continually learning more about language as time progresses.

As a result, Google is getting better at identifying the broader context in which a single web page offers information. So, if it detects that your single web page is part of a broader, interlinked cluster of information found on your site, it’s more likely to view your website as authoritative – and display you more prominently in search results.

Topic entities and search queries

Cluster content marketing is also closely linked to search entities on Google. Search entities are specific individuals, places, or things that Google recognises. When users search for a particular entity, Google aims to deliver the most relevant and detailed results.

Google’s algorithm values content clusters because they provide comprehensive, context-rich information that connects the dots between entities. By utilising cluster content strategies, marketers align with Google’s approach, enhancing their chances of ranking higher for entity-related searches. This synergy between cluster content marketing and search entities strengthens your content’s visibility and authority within a specific subject area.

Futureproof your SEO with a content cluster strategy

As search becomes more and more AI-driven, it’s going to be increasingly important for digital marketers to design content not just for search engine optimisation, but more specifically for semantic search engine optimisation.

This means placing your content within a broader context, so your website becomes more easily identifiable as an authoritative resource.

The content cluster method used to be about arranging content and making sure you don’t leave out any important topics. Today, it’s much more about making your content as visible as possible to Google.

This is a powerful method that offers many benefits for digital marketers. Just remember above all to align your clusters with your audiences’ actual needs and interests, so you’re creating the helpful, reliable, people-first content that Google prioritises.

FAQs

Why are topic clusters important in content marketing?

Topic clusters are vital in content marketing as they enhance your website’s visibility and authority. By organising content around central pillar topics with interconnected subtopics, topic clusters signal expertise to search engines.

This improves your content’s search engine results page (SERP) ranking and boosts user engagement by providing comprehensive information on related subjects. In the context of evolving search algorithms, topic clusters offer a strategic edge, making your content marketing efforts future-ready.

What is the primary purpose of a topic cluster content strategy?

The primary purpose of a topic cluster content strategy is to enhance website visibility and authority in the digital landscape. By grouping interconnected content around a central pillar topic, you build domain authority, which leads to improved search engine rankings.

The topic cluster approach also addresses user intent by offering comprehensive information on related subjects. This encourages visitors to engage more with your content, click your internal links and spend more time on your pages. So, in sum, a topic cluster strategy enhances your SEO performance while catering to your audiences’ needs in a strategic and effective manner.

Is there any difference between topic modelling and topic clusters?

Yes, there is a distinction between topic modelling and clustering. Topic modelling, often used in natural language processing (NLP), identifies underlying themes within a set of documents. Clustering, on the other hand, groups similar data points together based on certain characteristics.

While both involve organising data, topic modelling reveals underlying themes, whilst clustering is about grouping similar data points into a logical context, so information is easier to find.

What are topic clusters and pillar pages?

Topic clusters and pillar pages are content marketing strategies that boost website visibility and domain authority.

A pillar page is a comprehensive piece of content covering a broad topic, while topic clusters consist of related subtopics linked to the pillar page via internal links. Pillar pages provide an overview, and topic clusters offer in-depth insights, catering to user intent and improving user engagement.

This strategic approach establishes your website as a valuable source of information which boosts your domain authority. Since Google priorities authoritative, helpful, people-first content, the content cluster approach boosts your content’s SERP rankings.

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