During day 5 of our Free SEO Course we talk briefly about the importance of structuring your content around a “pillar” article in Topic Cluster format.
As a recap, topic clusters are the consensus most effective way to rank for many keywords at once, but not only are most businesses unfamiliar with the concept. Implementing one for the first time can become overwhelming.
This article outlines not only what a Topic Cluster is and how to implement one, but how to do it the right way, using data that gives your content strategy the absolute best chance for SEO success.
It’s one thing to know how to plan a topic cluster. It’s a whole other thing to plan one using data: the bread and butter of your long-term SEO efforts.
What exactly IS a topic cluster?
A topic cluster is a strategy to structure your content using a pillar article and a cluster article, each connected by internal links to one another.
The idea behind this technique is that you have a central page that has a good summary of the topic, and then you have other pages that go deeper into each aspect of the topic. So if someone knows they want to learn about a certain concept, they can go to the pillar page for all the basic information, or if they want more in-depth information they can read the cluster page.
What makes this technique really powerful is that there are also links from the cluster back up to the pillar article. So someone reading a cluster article could click on them and be taken directly to the related sections of the pillar article. This way you can make sure that no matter what page they land on, users will see all of your content related to each aspect of your topic.
For example, if you were starting a website about Las Vegas, you might write an article called “Things to do in Las Vegas.” That would be your pillar article. You’d use it as your landing page, and also as an entry point for other articles on the site.
The cluster articles are related to your pillar article. They should be more specific than your pillar article. For example, if your pillar article is about things to do in Las Vegas, then some good cluster articles might include “Gambling in Las Vegas”, “Eating in Las Vegas”, “Shows in Las Vegas”, and so on. You’ll want to make sure that all of the cluster articles link back to your pillar article; ideally, they will link back more than once.
Why do topic clusters work so well for SEO?
Topic clusters are super useful for SEO because they help you plan an efficient content strategy around a single theme, making it easier for Google to understand what you’re an expert in and what to rank you for. Let’s explore:
Topic clusters help you plan an efficient content strategy
Topic clusters help you plan an efficient content strategy by reducing the number of decisions you have to make while feeling confident that you’re making the right choice.
We’ve all been there before. You sit down to write a new post and you know you should be writing about something, but you can’t decide what. You’ve written posts on topics related to it before and the posts did well, but they didn’t do great. So maybe this isn’t such a hot topic after all. Or maybe it is and people just didn’t realize it yet. Maybe if I take a different approach, I can make it work better. Maybe I should wait until I have more data. But I don’t want to look bad by writing about this when everyone else says it’s a bad idea…
Each of these questions is reasonable in its own right, but each also represents a decision point where differing opinions could cause a writer to change course in a way that might cost time and money. If a writer decides not to write about a topic because they don’t have enough data, that’s one thing; if they decide not to write about it because their gut tells them that it won’t work, that’s something else entirely. Topic clusters help writers avoid these sorts of quandaries.
Topic clusters make it easier for Google to understand what you’re an expert in and what to rank you for
As part of its 2021 “Medic” update, Google has made it a priority to prioritize subject matter experts in their algorithms. This is an important concept for any business looking to rank well on Google. If you are not the subject matter expert in your industry, you will have a hard time ranking well in search.
If you want to be seen as an expert on a given topic, it helps to publish high-quality content on that topic. But publishing high-quality content is not enough; you also need to make sure those pages are related to the topic in the center of your cluster and linked to one another appropriately.
This practice, called “Semantic Clustering” gives Google more context for understanding what your page is about and helps them to begin to view you as an expert who deserves to be ranked highly. So if you write about one main topic with lots of closely related offshoots, Google can easily guess that this is really one topic with some related but still distinct semantic subtopics.
This makes it much more likely that they’ll find something specific enough that they can actually answer someone’s query when they crawl your site. Remember, Google wants an experience that is most useful for its users. Create a site that solves their problems thoroughly and you’ll be rewarded.
The easiest way to plan a topic cluster
The simplest way to plan a topic cluster? It’s simple. Write an Ultimate Guide to a subject and use that as your Pillar Content. It can be a guide to anything. Think of that Pillar Content as a 101 class on that subject.
If you were teaching someone all about “beer” in a 101-level class, what would you talk about? It’s natural that Pillar Post on a subject as simple as “beer” could entail a lot of things. The history of beer, different styles of beer, flavor profiles of beer, different beer styles from around the world, etc.
Naturally, you don’t want that pillar post to be an encyclopedia, however. A typical blog post is 1,500-2,000 words – I’ve seen much larger ones in the 5k-7k variety, but they become very long and arduous for a reader. The best advice I’ve got is to think of your Ultimate Guide as being the highlights of the 101-level class.
If someone wants to read each subject more in-depth, they can click a link within the article to read the guide to THAT subject in a new tab. That new tab article should then link back to the central article (at least once) to create a natural way for someone to satisfy their curiosity on the subject, resulting in a positive experience for the user that Google will love.
1. Start with a pillar post – an ultimate guide 101 level overview of a subject
2. Naturally see what needs to be expanded upon within that post and write cluster posts that can be linked to from there.
But That’s Not All…
It’s one thing to understand that Topic Clusters are good. But just because you build content around a Topic Cluster doesn’t guarantee you’re going to find success. For that, you’ll need to know keyword research data to ensure you’re creating content that you stand a chance of ranking on page 1 for.
How using keyword data helps find topics that are most likely to produce the best results
The best keyword research data is the data that helps you find the topics which will be most likely to produce the best results. The point is that by spending the time to understand the correct keywords ahead of time, you will give yourself the best chance of success – either by purposely targeting easy-to-rank-for low-hanging-fruit keywords or by actively avoiding highly saturated, difficult terms that you’ll never have a chance at ranking for.
It’s well-documented that if you are trying to increase your ranking on Google with your current website, then you should be targeting keywords. If you’re not, then you’re more likely to be spinning your tires endlessly while barely seeing improvement in your marketing efforts.
Two ways to find keyword data
If you’re looking to invest in your SEO and content game, you’ve got no choice but to seek out and understand keyword research data. There are three ways to go about it. One free, one affordable, and one expensive – each with its own pros and cons.
Free: Learn a tool yourself
The top keyword research tools that SEO pros use are Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz. Others exist, but these are the most comprehensive and accurate. The pros of learning them yourself are clearly that a) you’ll understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it b) you’ll learn a new skill c) you’ll sound really interesting at parties. The cons of learning a Keyword Research tool yourself is obviously the time it takes (and it won’t be free after you’ve exhausted their free trials. Ahrefs begins at $99 per month). I’ve been learning Keyword Research personally for over 6 years now. It can take a while to fully understand the nuance of how to do it (that said, if you ever want to lead a marketing team, you have to learn this skill.)
Expensive: Hire us to do it for you
If you’ve got the money and you’d instead hire a professional to uncover literally tens of thousands of keywords that your online competitors rank for – including opportunities to create content that helps you overtake them in the search results – hire us today. We charge $1,499 and include a custom-made video explaining how to actually USE the data we uncover going forward.
Forget having to hire a marketing team – this product lays out your next multiple year’s worth of content FOR you.
Sneak Peek: How To Put It Into Practice
A few articles ago, we showed you how to use data to find a good article to write about. But say you’re not looking to just write ONE article. Maybe you want to plan out your actual long-term strategy around a topic cluster, or even plan out an entire content calendar for your business or a client’s.
In this short video, I explain the two-step process of how to use the very same data set to easily plan a highly effective topic cluster around as many articles as you need. 👇
The difference between an amateur content creator and a professional is that they not only understand how keywords work when Google determines who to rank on page one for, but they understand the semantic relationship between terms that creates a more comprehensive, expert-level authority site that they would WANT to rank.
By organizing your content in Topic Cluster format, you signal to Google that you deserve to be there. By taking it a step further and adding the data element to each article you create, you give yourself an almost unfair advantage that you can feel confident in your abilities to perform at a high level going into the future.
If your goal is to grow your business and reputation online, SEO offers you the potential to change your life. If you haven’t yet taken our Free SEO Course, this is hands down the best level of support we can offer someone without them hiring us.
We’ll see you on the inside!