Topic clusters are a great way to please both your web visitors and search engines at the same time. But what are topic clusters, and are they worth the effort?
Here’s everything you need to know about the topic cluster model, from how it can boost your SEO and content marketing results to how to create clusters for your site or blog.
- Topic clustering is a strategy to improve your rankings on search engine results pages by creating content clusters (aka individual blog posts) on related topics that revolve around a hub called a pillar page.
- A pillar page is a long-form web page that provides an overview of a specific topic. It serves as a cornerstone for other more focused content (content clusters), creating an information hierarchy with the pillar at the top.
- Pillar pages answer general questions and provide an overview of the concept, while cluster pages give more detailed information about related topics with links back to the pillar.
- Benefits of the topic cluster model include increased topical authority and relevance, greater search visibility, improved user experience, and intuitive interlinking.
Topic Clusters Defined
A topic cluster is a group of blog posts that each cover a topic that relates back to a pillar page. The pillar page serves as an introduction to a broader subject, while each topic cluster page covers one related topic in-depth. The supporting cluster content links back to the pillar page, which not only helps with search engine rankings but also provides readers with an easy-to-follow structure for exploring in-depth information about the subject.
You’ll use keywords on these pages, just as you do the pillar page, but they’re more specific to the niche. If someone doesn’t find your page by searching a cluster term, they can still find it from the pillar page.
Still don’t get it? Picture a pillar page as the sun and topic clusters as orbiting planets. By connecting them together, they’ll all work in unison to skyrocket your rankings.
Pillar Pages Defined
A pillar page focuses on a broad central theme related to your business or industry. It’s a long-form piece of content because it’s a static page that directs visitors who are searching for more information on specific sub-topics. You’ll answer general questions on the pillar page, but most details come from internal links to cluster pages.
How Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters Work Together
Let’s look at an example of a cluster content strategy. Say you have an insurance business and want to create in-depth content as a resource for potential and existing customers. Your pillar page would cover insurance broadly and wouldn’t delve too deeply into any one topic.
Instead, you’d map out cluster pages that would cover related insurance topics extensively, like car, home, life, disability, and pet. These pages should be high quality, thorough, and designed to satisfy search intent. Then, you’d put a link back to the pillar page in each cluster page to boost search engine optimization (SEO) and keep traffic on your page for longer.
Benefits of Topic Clustering
What are topic clusters good for? Topic clustering has many benefits to your marketing strategy, including topical authority, relevance, and interlinking.
When you provide relevant and useful content using topic clusters, users begin to recognize your website as an authoritative source on specific topics — which leads to increased credibility and trustworthiness among potential customers. This is because they know they can find reliable information on your website regarding their queries quickly and easily, rather than trying their luck elsewhere online, where information may not be as reliable or accurate.
Google and other search engines see your keywords, quality content, and internal links as verification that you explore the information in-depth. As a result, your website may get a boost thanks to search engines recognizing the authoritative content.
Greater Search Visibility
One of the most obvious benefits of topic clusters is greater search visibility. Topic clusters involve interlinking web pages on a certain topic to one another — including an overarching “pillar page,” which links out to multiple subpages with individual topics. This practice helps Google better understand what each page is about, thus making it easier for them to rank your pages higher in organic search results.
Improved User Experience
If you want people to stay on your website for longer, then having cohesive content that is easily navigable helps immensely. By grouping related topics together in a blog post or article series using topic clusters, visitors can easily find what they’re looking for without having to sift through unrelated topics or pages. This makes it much more likely that visitors will stick around and explore other content related to their interests on your site.
Interlinking allows you to connect the pages of your site so visitors spend more time on it, boosting your SEO. Most search engines also use internal links to verify your authority. A site that links to more detailed pages ranks highly in search results because Google acknowledges that you answer the search query and provide relevant follow-up information.
When you’re working from a central topic on the pillar page, you’ll have an easier time generating new content. Each time you publish an article or blog post, you can quickly link it on the pillar page and improve your SEO with further information.
Struggles With Topic Clustering
In general, topic clusters are a straightforward way to improve your SEO. It’s a necessary part of any marketing strategy, but that doesn’t make it simple to establish.
Brainstorming new pillar and cluster pages is tedious, and grouping them and internally linking fresh content takes time, effort, and repetitive steps. While topic clustering may improve your SEO for now, it might not be a priority in the future. Google constantly comes up with new ways to rank pages, so you don’t want to spend tons of time on tedious tasks.
Potential for Keyword Cannibalization
Topic clusters give you multiple pages where you can use keywords and boost your SEO. But you’re also at risk for keyword cannibalization. This situation may happen when you use such similar keywords that Google doesn’t know which page you’re trying to rank for, so they don’t rank any of it. Ensure you’re targeting different keywords that relate to the pillar page theme but aren’t so similar that it confuses search engines.
Examples of Topic Clusters
Take a look at the sample topic cluster models below to get an idea of how you can boost your search rankings. These examples cover topic clusters for e-commerce, content marketing, and travel sites and can serve as inspiration for your content cluster strategy.
E-Commerce Topic Clusters
One significant topic cluster model example is an e-commerce clothing site. You’ll have broad categories with subcategories, such as:
You can create cluster pages based on fashion information, like trends, how to style certain accessories, the best clothing items for each season, and how to dress for specific events. You can link to the e-commerce category page and blog posts on each cluster page.
Content Marketing Topic Clusters
For a content marketing page, you already have a topic for the pillar, and you can build out content ideas for your cluster content from there.
- Developing a Content Marketing Strategy
- Instagram Marketing
- Facebook Ads
- Pinterest Marketing
- Pay-Per-Click Advertising
These clusters all relate to the broad category but give you plenty of chances to dive into the specific topic and provide quality information.
Travel Site Topic Clusters
A travel site is an ideal concept for topic clusters. You can have a homepage, a blog with information about specific trips, and informative articles that help others plan their vacations. For example, you could structure your cluster in this way:
- Travel Tips
- Top 10 Tourist Destinations
- When to Travel and Avoid Crowds
- Most Affordable Airlines
The topics still focus on your travel site but give you plenty of opportunities for internal linking and sharing detailed information about each concept.
How to Create a Topic Cluster
Now that you understand topic clusters and have seen examples of pillar and cluster pages, you’re ready to create your version. Your cluster marketing strategy should start with brainstorming and planning before you jump in.
Follow these steps to create a topic cluster and boost your search engine optimization efforts.
Choose a Core Topic
Brainstorm the main topic you plan to cover on your site for your pillar. It should relate to your business, brand, or page so it will organically bring traffic to your site.
Consider asking questions like:
- Who is my audience? What information do they need?
- What background information do people need for pillar content and clusters?
- How can I break this topic into smaller, informative sub-topics?
As you brainstorm your broad topic, make notes about potential cluster pages. You can take one concept within the topic cluster and pull it out to center on a page in more detail. Write down any idea that comes to mind, even if you’re not sure you can create an entire page about it. You want to have as much content as possible, so keep every idea on the table at this stage.
One of the easiest ways to brainstorm your pillar pages and cluster pages is to use the appropriately named cluster map. Put your main topic in the center of the page or whiteboard and write related ideas around it.
Conduct Keyword Research
Brainstorming your core topic and pillar pages gives you an idea of possible keywords you can use on your site. Related keywords show you what people search for related to your chosen topic. You want to ensure your idea aligns with your audience’s needs. You’ll also want to look at competitive keywords to see what others in your industry are targeting.
Aim for low-competition keywords with decent search volume. If you aim for high-competition keywords with high search volume without having a high domain authority, your site won’t have a great chance of ranking well.
Determine Pillar and Topic Cluster Structure
The keywords will help you flesh out the framework you created in step one. You can use your pillar and cluster topics, along with the keywords, to create an outline. The ideas and phrases should help you see how you can structure pages in a way that allows logical internal linking.
It also helps to take your cluster map from step one and find your structure for the core topic. Some of your cluster ideas will relate to each other, either by including the information on one page or breaking it down into smaller topics with more internal linking potential.
Keep your pillar pages as broad as possible. Remember that anything you need to explore in-depth can become a separate topic cluster page. The more information you attempt to cover on the pillar page, the more internal links you can produce. While the pillar pages cover general information, topic cluster content should have detailed information about a specific topic. You want to give your audience plenty of knowledge about the subtopics, so they feel like your page is an educational authority source.
Write the Articles
After all your foundational brainstorming work, it’s time to produce the content you’ll host on your website. Use the keywords you research to create page titles, headings, and subheadings. This approach ensures you use the keywords that rank highly and improve your SEO. It also helps potential visitors find your page and easily access the information they need.
Before you generate content, think about your competitors. You already closed the keyword gap with your research, so you know that your SEO beats theirs from that step. However, you also need to ensure your written content is engaging. If your audience has trouble understanding your pages and posts, they’ll leave your site and visit a competitor instead.
Write articles to sound natural. If you use too many keywords, Google thinks you’re keyword stuffing and will penalize your page, negating all of your SEO work. If you use keywords as headings, you’ll easily integrate them without stuffing them into your written content, so it’s a win-win solution.
In addition to natural language usage, explain the concepts clearly. You can use high-level terminology if experts in the field are your intended audience, but using simple sentences and defining each term helps you reach a broader sector of the population. Write a clear, concise, high-quality article. It’s better to write until you explain all necessary topics instead of using fluff to reach a word count. If every sentence adds value, your audience will engage with the content.
Link and Publish
After you have the written your topic cluster content, you’ll need to add a link to the related pillar page. If you have existing content that can serve as a topic cluster, also link that to your pillar page. Freshen up existing content before doing so to ensure it’s still relevant and as high quality and in-depth as possible.
While you might think creating and linking the pillar and cluster pages is all the effort you need, remember to stay on top of good SEO practices. Continually update and refresh your website content as part of your content marketing strategy.
You might need to update content based on changes or new developments in your selected industry. You might add new sections or remove others that are no longer relevant. People use different search terms as time passes, so you want to use keywords that continually direct visitors to your page.
Regularly researching keywords helps you stay above your competitors. They’ll continue refreshing their content, too, so you want to keep an eye on what they’re doing and ensure you’re doing it even better. You can also look for less competitive keywords to keep your content unique.
Topic clusters help you organize your content and improve your SEO ratings. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What are topic clusters?” you know they can help improve your click-through rate and keep readers on your site longer. Give cluster content a try and see if it works for you.
Raymond Li is known for his deep understanding of SEO and ability to develop successful client campaigns. His technical expertise and creativity have helped businesses of all sizes to improve their organic search presence. Ray enjoys playing ultimate frisbee and exploring the local cuisine when not dominating the SERPs for a wide array of juicy keywords.