- Higher rankings, traffic, and conversions.
- Greater authority with your audience.
- Improving the results from every piece of content you publish around a given topic.
What Are Topic Clusters (And How Can They Boost Your Traffic)?Click To Tweet
Download Your Free Topic Cluster Keyword Research TemplateBuilding effective topic clusters requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. With so many different moving pieces in the process from idea to implementation, you’ll likely find yourself looking for help along the way. With these free templates, you’ll be able to create everything you’ll need with ease. Download this bundle now and you’ll get:
- A Topic Cluster Keyword Research Template to store your topical ideas and keyword data.
- A Marketing Calendar Template to plan out all your content.
- A Latent Semantic Indexing Infographic explaining how to use secondary keywords to create content that thoroughly covers a complete topic.
What Are Topic Clusters?A topic cluster is a group of interlinked web pages. They’re built around one piece of pillar content targeting a broad topic, linked to several related but more narrowly-focused pages. Seem complicated? It’s more simple than it sounds. Here’s a visual guide to what a topical content cluster might look like: For further explanation, watch this excellent brief video from Hubspot:
Why Are Topic Clusters Important?Once upon a time, marketers could win by targeting a single keyword per page. Now, targeting entire topics is the key to success. There are a few primary reasons for this:
- Personalized search has made keyword rankings more fluid. Since Google tailors search results to individual users, keyword ranking positions are harder to calculate across the board.
- Search engines are better at understanding semantically related concepts. Advanced search algorithms are now better at understanding when multiple search terms are actually about the same thing. This means a piece of content targeting one keyword may rank for several other related terms.
- Google (and other search engines) want to provide users with authoritative and trustworthy results. One way to show your authority to people and bots alike is to consistently create useful and accurate content around a topic, rather than one-off pieces targeted to particular keywords.
Here's why (and how) you should target topics over keywords:Click To Tweet
- They keep audiences on your site. If you have tons of content related to your visitor’s interests, they’ll be more likely to stick around (and potentially purchase from you).
- When one piece does well, every interlinked page does better, too. Creating content around a topic often improves the search rankings of other similar content that’s already on your site. In some cases, this can lead to owning multiple SERP positions for a single keyword.
- They help bring in more traffic. As a result of increased rankings, you’ll bring in more visitors. And as we’ve established, they’ll be more likely to stick around on-site. This builds a positive feedback loop of increasing traffic and conversions.
What Do Real-World Topic Clusters Look Like?It’s easier to emulate something you can actually see, right? So, let’s take a look at two examples of sites applying this principle so you can learn from their approach.
Example 1: Jeff Goins Guide to SEOJeff Goins is a highly successful writer and marketer who understands how to present content in a way readers and search engines love. His beginners guide to SEO is a great example of this. First, we’ll look at the URL of his pillar content. It’s targeting a nice, broad topic (SEO guide): The body content is crisp, concise, and well-written. It summarizes the main topic and touches on some basic high-level questions a reader might have: Then, at the bottom, he has internal links to several pieces of related content targeting narrowly-defined subtopics around his pillar content: Each of these pieces of sub-content is internally linked to one another, too:
Example 2: Moz Beginners Guide to Content StrategyThe Moz brand is synonymous with search engine optimization and content marketing itself. They’ve spent years establishing themselves as a leading industry authority. So, it’s no surprise to see them utilizing topic clusters effectively on their site. Take a look at their Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy. It’s similar to the example from Jeff Goins above. Instead of being a series of interconnected blog posts, though, it’s built with a collection of pages directly on their website. The first page targets a simple question: “What is content marketing?” That’s a common query. Using Moz’s own Keyword Explorer, it looks like it gets a decent amount of search volume: The page is comprehensive (over 2,000 words—while word count doesn’t matter too much, it does indicate this is an in-depth piece). It also links to other relevant pages that help answer the searcher’s question: Near the bottom, each page in the guide makes it easy to navigate to the next one (the internal link in the button also shows search engines that each of these pieces are related): At the very bottom, you can easily access every chapter in the guide. Again, those internal links help show search engines these are all connected, with topically relevant keywords on each page covering an entire subject (content marketing): If you read the title of each chapter, you’ll notice each one tackles a different piece of one core topic. Many of those pieces also ranks well in organic search. Here’s an example of a search for “content ideation” (which is chapter 5): This illustrates a clear benefit to building dense topic clusters: when one piece succeeds, it pulls up the rest of the cluster with it.
When one piece in a topic cluster succeeds, it pulls up the rest of the cluster with it.Click To Tweet
Getting Started: Selecting TopicsLet’s get down to business and figure out how you can build topic clusters yourself. The first step is to identify topics that are relevant to your brand and audience. These could include:
- Problems your audience faces. What do your potential customers need help getting done?
- What you want to be known for. What topics do you want to be the Internet's top authority on?
- Things people use your products for. What do customers buy your product to accomplish?
Brainstorm Topics Like a GeniusIf you need to generate tons of ideas fast, try our simple three-step brainstorming process. Here’s how it works:
- Gather your team and spend ten minutes writing down as many ideas as you can think. Don’t worry if those ideas are good (yet). Just get them out there.
- Spend another ten minutes scoring those ideas. Nominate one team member to gather everyone’s responses and read them aloud (while keeping the original contributor anonymous). Then, have everyone on your team rate each idea on a three-point scale. 3’s are awesome ideas you need to act on, 2’s are okay (but need some work), and 1’s are duds.
- Spend the final ten minutes of your meeting narrowing down unanimous 3’s. These are your very best ideas and the ones that should get top priority for consideration.
Next, Start Doing Keyword ResearchIf we’re targeting topics, does that mean keywords no longer matter? Not at all. Keywords remain as important as ever. When it comes to building out topic clusters though, the key is to create multiple pieces of content with different keyword phrases that all revolve around one central theme. To do that, we’ll need to select a core keyword topic for our pillar content, and several related terms for other pieces of supporting content.
Build topic clusters with a core keyword + several supporting terms:Click To Tweet
Use Keyword Explorer in AhrefsThis is quickly becoming one of our favorite keyword tools here at CoSchedule. For the purposes of this post, there’s one specific feature that’s super helpful, too. That’s the ability to identify parent topics related to specific keywords. You can probably see where this is going. If you have a paid Ahrefs account, find the Keyword Explorer, enter a topic, and click the magnifying glass button: Next, you’ll see a variety of different data for your keyword (including search volume, difficulty, and other things typical with most keyword research tools). However, you’ll also see the parent topic for that keyword: Let’s dig in even further to find more related keyword ideas: Based on this quick research, we now have:
- A primary topic (identified as the parent topic in Ahrefs). This could be something we’d consider building a piece of pillar content around.
- Tons of related keywords. These are all more narrowly targeted sub-topics we could create related pages for and internally link them together around our pillar content.
Use LSI Graph and the Adwords Keyword PlannerThis tool makes it quick and easy to spin off tons of related keywords from one topic: This gives a good list of keywords. However, it doesn’t tell us how often people search for each of these terms. So, swipe all these ideas and paste them into the Google Keyword Planner: Now, you’ll be able to get a loose estimate for how often each term gets searched (this can help you prioritize which ones to target): Next, you can find even more ideas in the Keyword Planner by clicking on Ad Group Ideas:
Group Keywords Together Around TopicsYou should now have plenty of keywords to choose from. To use them for building effective topic clusters, we’ll need to group them together by topic. This involves:
- Identifying a core keyword.
- Listing related keywords around sub-topics.
- The core topic. This is a broad keyword spanning an entire concept.
- Subtopics sorted by search volume and difficulty. This is one way we can prioritize which content we’ll create first, second, third, and so on.
- How to save for retirement? <<< This offers a solution to a problem
- Which types of retirement plans are available? <<< This provides consumer information
- When should Millennials start retirement saving? <<< This answers a common question
Start Planning Topically-Themed ContentNow you know what topic you’ll be creating content around. Congrats! You’re on your way to outranking your competition and being known as the authority in your industry. But first, you’ll need to actually create that content. So, we’ll start by determining which types of content you’ll produce. This could include:
- Website pages. These might include articles within a resource hub or learning center.
- Blog posts. Commonly, this means one core post with several interlinked posts.
- Microsites. An entire mini-site dedicated to one topic could be successful (if microsites are a part of your strategy).
- Videos. This could potentially be a series of videos tackling all aspects of a topic.
- Social campaigns. Coordinated messaging across channels can help spread your content and reinforce your message.
- Email. With 4,000% ROI (no, really) email promotion is a no-brainer.
- PPC and social media ads. Depending on the type of content you’re creating (and your budget), paid promotion might make perfect sense.
Map Content To Your Marketing CalendarYou’ll need to plan one piece of content per keyword you’ll target within your topic cluster. To do this, it helps to map out each piece on a marketing calendar. First, figure out how long it’ll take you to create each piece. This will help you set realistic deadlines. To this quick, follow this process:
- Determine how long it takes your team to complete an average piece of content. You can ballpark this if you’re short on time. Alternately, consider using a time-tracking tool like Toggl to determine average time per task and team member.
- Plan out each task that needs to be completed to produce each piece of content. It might help to list these tasks on a checklist that includes the team member responsible for each item, and the time each should take. In CoSchedule, you can build checklists called Task Templates and save them to reuse later:
Effective Content Structure for Strong Topic ClustersBefore you can publish all the awesome content you’re creating, though, you’ll need to know how you’ll structure your topic cluster. There are several ways to do this, but they all revolve around the principle of internally linking several pieces of content around your topical pillar content. Let’s think back to the examples from Jeff Goins and Moz that we looked at earlier. One was set up with a series of blog posts, and the other was a set of website articles. Both are examples of two approaches that can work. Which one you choose will depend on:
- Whether you have a blog (separate from a business website). Not every company has (or necessarily needs) a blog. You almost certainly have a website, though.
- The capabilities of your CMS and development team. Do you have the power and authority to create new pages directly within your marketing team? Or, will you need the help of a designer and development team to build these pages? This may impact how elaborate your topic cluster can be.
Now Create More Authoritative Content Around Key TopicsUtilizing topic clusters sounds more complex than it really is. If you’re capable of planning several pieces of content around one idea, making it presentable, and linking it all together, then you’re capable of putting this principle into practice. To recap what you learned, let’s touch on a few key points:
- Topic clusters haven’t replaced the need for keywords. Rather, they’ve pushed marketers to rethink keyword research, going beyond lone terms and thinking more broadly about topics as a whole.
- Creating multiple pieces of high-quality content around one topic helps establish authority. This one may seem somewhat obvious, but having multiple pieces of content targeting different aspects of a single topic shows people and bots alike that you’re a useful resource. That leads to more rankings, traffic, and conversions.
- This isn’t difficult stuff to implement. Sure, creating several pieces of longform content will take time. So will all the planning and research phases involved. But, if you were going to create multiple pieces eventually anyway, why not build them all around one topic, and completely own it on the web?