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What do you think when you hear “topic clusters”?
Your initial thought might not be “the future of SEO and content strategy.”
That’s okay. It’s probably not the first thought your competition has, either.
And that’s where the opportunity lies for you and your brand.
In this post, we’re going to cover exactly what topic clusters are and how you can leverage them for your brand. A few key benefits here include:
Building 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:
Grab your freebies quick, and then let’s get down to learning.
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:
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:
Collectively, this means sites that feature multiple pieces of content thoroughly addressing a given topic will generally outperform those with fewer, less authoritative pieces. As a result, the implications of this for marketers are clear.
You need to be focusing on the big picture (and that means thinking topics).
The benefits to this approach are numerous, too. Here are just a few:
Sounds too good to ignore, right? That’s because it is (and fortunately, we’re here to show you how to achieve these benefits yourself).
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.
Jeff 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:
The 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.
Let’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:
These are a few simple examples.
If you need to generate tons of ideas fast, try our simple three-step brainstorming process. Here’s how it works:
This process will consistently yield tons of great topics in a short amount of time.
If 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.
Here are a few different ways to start this process:
This 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:
But, how do you do this research without a tool like Ahrefs? Never fear! There are a lot of different approaches you can use (and the best process may differ depending on what kind of content you’re creating—website resource pages, blog posts, or something else entirely).
This 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:
You 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:
Let’s start by building out a spreadsheet and setting up columns like this:
Next, fill in each column with the keywords you’ve uncovered (plus their search volume, difficulty, and anything else you’d like to sort them by):
In this hypothetical example, we’ve prioritized keywords by:
While we touched on this a little bit earlier, you may still be wondering how to identify a core or parent topic. Since it might help to look at some more concrete examples, we’ll start there.
Let’s say you work at a marketing agency. Your top client is in the financial services industry. After meeting with them, you learn they want to promote their retirement saving services.
So, you start brainstorming content you could create around that topic to help establish their authority.
In this case, your parent topic might be “retirement planning.” This is a broad topic that’s likely highly competitive. However, it’s a core piece of anchor content you need before you can start targeting content toward more detailed subtopics (which might be less competitive and easier to rank on).
Once you’ve created this content, those subtopics might include things like:
And so on. These are all more narrowly focused subtopics related to your primary topic.
Now 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:
Each piece will need a promotion plan to raise awareness of your content too. That could include:
We won’t go into the nuts and bolts of content creation in this post. For that info, we’ll direct you to the following posts and resources:
You’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:
Next, start planning all your content on your calendar. Create one entry per piece of content. To do this in CoSchedule, start by clicking a day (which should be your deadline) on your calendar:
Then, select the type of content you’ll create.
Once you’ve selected a content type, give it a title and select a team member to “own” responsibility for that content:
Click the “Create” button and apply a Task Template:
Then, once one has been applied, it’ll look like this:
Then add the rest of your content to the calendar on the appropriate deadlines:
Eventually, you’ll have the content for your topic cluster planned and organized all in one place. This makes it easier to intentionally create the content you need to keep your entire team on the same page.
If you don’t have a CoSchedule account, you can grab a free content calendar template here (or use the one included in the template bundle included in this very post you’re reading). You can also make your own checklists using Word, Google Docs, Evernote, or even pen and paper.
Before 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:
Utilizing 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:
Hopefully, we’ve been able to clarify a somewhat new (and somewhat murky) topic for you. If you have questions, though, other people probably do too. So, drop us a comment below and help get the conversation started!
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