Topic clusters are a staple for any content that you want to rank for your keywords and website.
As you're developing your content strategy, you need to determine how to maximize the return on investment, enter topic clusters.
Every day, Google is getting smarter. Google is learning how to recognize the relationships between multiple pages and the overarching ideas between them.
Including ‘topic clusters’ in your content strategy is becoming more and more critical. It will aid your website in gaining more authority for the goods or services you’re providing.
Enter topic clusters. Topic clusters help Google get a deeper understanding of the overall subject and not only how your website relates to it but whether or not Google can trust your expertise on the topic.
You should be creating clusters related to one key topic, developing a pillar page for that topic, and then subpages on related topics. For example, cardiovascular disease would be the pillar page, and subpages would be Afib, Tachycardia, Cardiomyopathy, etc.
Good content writers structure their content in this way; with pillar pages and topic clusters to attract organic web traffic, you have a more organized approach to content creation.
In this guide, I’ll cover the basics of topic clusters and how including them in your content structures can improve your marketing strategy and drive an ROI on your content marketing, turning content into an asset that continues to reward you day after day.
The key to a content cluster strategy is strategic internal linking.
Topic clusters are a group of content that revolves around a central topic and use a pillar page to link to and from.
In short, topic clusters are centered around a single topic and offer multiple internal linking opportunities to keep readers on your site.
Your content cluster should start with a robust pillar page and then include links to all related topic cluster pages. Specifically, a topic cluster looks like this:
Pillar Post. This is your hub for a specific topic. Pillar pages are generally broad and link to multiple topic cluster pages for the topic cluster. A pillar page should be about a general category. It should then have internal links to subcategories (topic clusters) that detail each more specific topic. Your ‘pillar’ page should be a topic that is one or two words and has a high monthly search volume,
Topic cluster. It’s essential to work on a topic-focused strategy. Spend some time working out exactly your main ideas and the clusters they need to go with them. Topic pages are a more in-depth page that answers a specific question about your broad topic, linking back to the main pillar page. An example is afib linked to cardiovascular disease.
Topic clusters have many benefits, including:
Organized content. Pillar pages allow your organization to organize your content. Pillar pages are designed to organize your blog around topic cluster pages.
Improved SEO. Linking topic cluster pages to pillar pages will eventually improve your SEO by giving your content and blog authority over a particular topic.
Increased content production speed. By investing time and effort in creating a pillar page, topic cluster pages are easier to create. The bulk of the research you do for your topic cluster will be used to generate the majority, if not all, of your content.
More comprehensive content. Topic clusters help you avoid overlap or gaps in your content. For example, suppose you are writing about cardiovascular disease and mention Tachycardia on your pillar page. In that case, the cluster pages can include details about what Tachycardia is, its symptoms, and how it is treated. Treatment options, pharmaceuticals, and so forth. This allows your original blog post to be broad-based and cluster pages deep on the sub-topic, such as Tachycardia.
The pillar-topic cluster model enables companies to streamline content creation, produce better more relevant content faster. The goal of clustering your content is more than traditional SEO strategies. Content needs to be planned, well researched, and repurposed into multiple content formats.
Regardless of your organization's industry, you can boost your digital media marketing efforts by delivering thoroughly thought-out content.
How to create topic clusters:
Step 1: Decide On Your Core Topic
Start by deciding on the core topic.
Keep in mind that pillars are organizational and conceptual. Keyword data do not always drive them.
Ask yourself two questions when defining pillars:
1. Does the pillar map back to your product/service?
There needs to be a direct line between your pillars and your product or service. We'll use these pillars to create "cluster" topics perpetually, so ensuring our content has economic value to the business is critical.
For example, let's say we were selling pet products, we decided on five pillars that were aligned with and critical to the brand's content marketing success:
- Pet health
= Pet training
- Local guide (aka discussing pet recommendations in local markets they operated in "best dog groomers in Sarasota")
- Veterinary services
- Pet meds
Each of these five pillars gives us a multitude of content to create underneath each cluster and maps back to the brand's core service of providing at-home veterinary care.
2. Does your business have the right authority to be talking about those topics?
Google wants to rank content that experts create. This helps them ensure they're providing web searchers with in-depth and helpful content on their search engine.
They believe you shouldn't start creating content on topics unrelated to your area of expertise — because publishing content on unrelated topics would drive more traffic to your website. It also says that you have no real expertise in what you're creating content about, so you can't educate or help people with it.
If you want to be viewed as an expert in the eyes of search engines, then increase your content depth, and implement topic clusters on your website. This will show search engines that your content pieces have the depth of knowledge and expertise.
The concept of topic clusters and how you use them is not one-size-fits-all; it will change depending on what you sell or the service your offer on your website.
Ultimately, you want to interlink your pillar and core service pages.
Your core service pages might not rank since they target highly competitive keywords. Interlinking them with your cluster and pillar pages will help path potential buyers through to (the core) pages that will convert them into paying customers.
In addition, interlinking helps you demonstrate to search engines that you know your product and market deeply, and that will help your site rank better for keywords related to your product or service offering.
Whether your company creates and publishes blogs about health and well-being or specific disease states or administration of healthcare, you can use this topic cluster strategy to create a very curated topic strategy and plan.
Regardless of the topic you choose, the topics should fit into the subject matter that is core to your business. By doing so, you showcase the value that your company can provide to potential clients.
This step is essential, as it is the cornerstone to create your pillar page. From there, the content is broken down into subtopics, which form your topic cluster pages.
Coming up with content ideas requires an exercise in brainstorming.
Start brainstorming topic cluster ideas around what fits into your business. Working with product and sales team members to generate ideas for your content can effectively develop relevant topic ideas. Keep a written list of your topic ideas.
While brainstorming topic ideas can feel overwhelming. Don't put too much pressure on yourself and instead consider these tips:
Using a sheet of paper, whiteboard, or google spreadsheet, put the central topic in the center.
Then, surround that topic with other related topic ideas. You can draw lines from the main topics and develop supporting subtopics for each topic cluster with your initial starting points.
Research and compile content that you find insightful and helpful. Look at what others in your industry have created can help you determine the gaps as to what is missing, critical gaps or can be improved or enhanced with current research. Websites like Pinterest and even Google Sheets are accessible places to collect and refine your ideas.
Take time to clear your head, take a break from brainstorming by going on a walk or bike ride. Some of the best ideas often come in low-pressure environments, like the famous "shower moment."
Once you have general topic ideas, consider how they can be used to develop quality content. When choosing topics for your content, it’s important to keep in mind your business’s goals so that your content can reflect that.
Consider these questions to ensure that your topic options reflect your team’s goals:
- What does my audience want to know? What does my audience need to know?
- Can I build from this topic?
- Am I able to break this topic into smaller topics?
- Are there other variations of this topic that I can use to develop more posts?
- Will I need to explain one key topic before moving to the next? For instance, will someone need to understand tachycardia before breaking into pharmaceutical or surgical treatment options?
Step 2: Do Keyword Research On Your Core Topic
Now you to research the right keywords for your topic.
Before you start researching your topics and writing them, you will need to ensure that you're on the right track with your topics.
Using a Keyword Gap Tool, you can analyze and identify keywords that your competitors fall short of.
This is a critical step to ensure that you're not running in circles wasting your energy and time is to look at keyword gaps and reap the benefits of creating quality content.
You should research what your competitors are writing about and what makes their content successful. Some additional insights provided by a Keyword Gap Tool include:
- "Missing" keywords show where your competitors are ranking, and you are not ranking for
- "Weak" keywords, you'll find keywords, where you're competitors are ranking higher than you are
- "Strong" keywords show where you have superior rankings over competitors
Using all of this information together to quickly identify where you can find some quick wins with topic clusters instead of where rankings might prove to be more of a marathon and not a sprint.
Not only do you need to research keywords, but you will also need to develop outlines for each pillar and topic cluster.
First, your pillar page needs to be a priority, as the topic clusters will link back to it.
When outlining pillar pages, you want to cover a broad range of topics while leaving the ability for in-depth subtopics.
Topic cluster pages go a step beyond and will go in-depth on more nuanced details of the topic.
When creating the outlines of topic clusters, you need to develop relevant topics that can be linked back to the pillar page.
Your content outlines should be the content briefs of each piece your content team will write.
Every outline needs to include the headings and subheadings, targeted word count, lists of keywords (primary, secondary, and related), references to high-ranking competitors, and research articles that you can link to.
Step 3: Produce Content
You need to combine your topic ideas from the ideation phase, researched keywords, and outlines. Now it's time to create quality content for your target audience.
To create quality content, you need to ensure that it will educate, or entertain and engage your target audience. Your audience should want to read about your content topics; it should address their needs, wants, concerns, questions, and fears depending on your market segment.
If your competitors are writing about similar topics, if not the same, you need to find the gap and develop appealing and outstanding content. You need to avoid rewriting what others have written and have unique, authoritative content.
A quick way to do this is to read your competitor's content and write about what they did not cover.
Inevitably, you have to reference other articles. You don't want to copy their work and develop better content than what already exists that covers the gaps in their content.
When producing content, consider these tips:
Write naturally: When writing a topic cluster, don't stuff keywords or use industry jargon since you will be covering the topic in-depth. Write like you are talking to a friend.
Focus on quality: Producing quality content, you will hit your target word count. Writing to hit 2,000 words is not a ranking factor. Clear and concise is better than long for the sake of hitting a word count.
Improve the content you want to write the best article for your audience. Look at competitor content and see what is missing. Fill in the gap.
Focus on the search intent: SEO content focuses on answering the search intent and question. Be clear and concise. This isn't the time to be a creative writer. You want to make sure that your content answers the search intent and question in an easily digestible, conversational manner regardless of who is reading your article.
Several things you should think about when drafting your content:
Do not overuse keywords. Their use should feel organic and natural.
Use keywords that are relative to one another and are what your audience expects.
Add alt attributes to all images on the topic page to ensure they contribute to your content's SEO.
Ensure that your content is readable and understandable for your audience, including those who may not be experts on the subject matter.
Do not use concepts and jargon that your audience is unaware of, and avoid industry jargon, long words, long sentences, and long paragraphs. Don't talk above them; you want to write like you are conversing with the reader.
Step 4: Publish Content and Add Internal Links to Supporting Topic Clusters
Even after you've published content, your work isn't finished.
As you add new content related to the pillar page, you must continually add internal links to the supporting topic clusters.
Even if the content is ranking well on search engines, there is always room for improvement. Keep your content updated.
Updating content regularly will keep you ahead of competitors and give your content a boost in relevance in your industry and over competitors.
Now that you have created and distributed quality content, you need to measure the topic cluster results.
Use this data to improve your ranking and the quality of your content. Keep in mind that measurement tools focus on one blog post-performance and not on the topic cluster as a whole.
An excellent way to see how your content is performing is using a Traffic Analytics Tool. These tools allow you to discover insights from the number of unique visitors, engagement, mobile versus desktop traffic ratio to ensure that your content is optimized for where your audience is and how they read it.
Once you know which clusters had the most success, you can expand and develop more content for the cluster.
Another benefit of topic clusters is that they reduce the time needed to brainstorm developing new content. You will have an idea about what works for your company and audience.
Use Topic Clusters to Show Authority
Creating rich content requires organization, ensuring that you spend your time and energy writing great content to showcase your industry expertise.
Fortunately, you can cut back on time by using topic clusters to produce standout content.
Finding suitable topics can easily be achieved by using the right tools.
Topic Research Tools help you develop engaging content for your audience. A Mind Map Tool enables you to visualize a pillar/cluster model for each topic.
Developing high-quality, relevant content is a great way to increase your website's reach to specific audiences that will continue to reward you with organic traffic for years to come.
The analytics from topic clusters can help your company dial in on topics that will attract your target audience and engage them.
To ultimately reduce the time spent researching new content
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Carol Forden has written for multiple health care entities ranging from BCBS, The Center for Cardiovascular Research, Modern Healthcare, HealthLeaders, Aetna, and more.