Topic Clusters: The Next Evolution of SEO
October 20, 2018
One of the most exciting things about being in the business of social media or digital marketing is that things are constantly changing and evolving. It is certainly not a dull career, and staying on top of new technologies and trends is not only a fun challenge but a key to success in growing your brand or business online.
An area of digital marketing that has been going through many changes lately is SEO. The future of search engine optimization is undoubtedly changing, meaning that brands are having to adjust the way they create and organize their content. The newest strategy being adopted by brands in order to help customers find their content and improve overall SEO is a strategy called the topic cluster model.
In this article, I’m going to be taking you through what exactly a topic cluster is, and how this new content strategy can help increase engagement with your brand’s content and bring in more page views to your website.
What is the Topic Cluster Model?
The topic cluster model essentially focuses on core topics that are directly related to a brand’s buy persona rather than the more traditional SEO strategy of focusing on keywords. There are many reasons why SEO is shifting to this new model, not the least of which is because of the increase in voice search.
The increasing popularity of mobile and voice search has meant that search queries have come much more conversational. People are using mobile personal assistants like Siri and Alexa to ask questions and find information, and these questions are most often phrased using full sentences when performing a search.
This new way of searching has led search engines to change the way they rank content. For instance, Google used to rank content by the relevancy of keywords and exact phrase matching, Now, Google filters content by the intent of the material offered. Google’s updates over the past 2-3 years have focused on understanding the new way consumers perform search queries through more natural language processing,
Now, when someone searches on Google, their inquiry goes through an interpretation model that applies factors like the location of the searcher, past behavior of the searcher, and which words of the query actually reveal the searcher’s true intent. This is designed with the purpose of better organizing and showcasing the content Google thinks would be helpful to the searcher.
For brands, this means that SEO content strategies need to focus on using topic cluster and pillar pages if they want to work within the parameters of new SEO algorithms and rank on Google.
Topic Cluster Methodology
There are a few key terms that have to be understood before you can implement the topic cluster strategy to your own brand’s marketing practices.
Topic Cluster Architecture is how content is organized under this strategy.
The Core Topic – or Primary Pillar Page is the content that you are trying to rank for on search engines. The core topic is content that answers a user’s question, solves a client’s problem, or otherwise provides value to the client. For example, workout routines could be a core topic.
A Topic Cluster is composed of several relevant subtopics, and is the next thing you must identify after determining your core topic.
A Subtopic must be a strong enough topic that it can stand alone in the form of a blog post or video, but when combined with other like-themed subtopics, it should be relevant enough to support your core topic. For example, subtopics for your core topic of workout routines could be Workout Routines to Increase Strength or Workout Routines to Lose Fat.
To complete this content pillar, which aims to satisfy both the searcher and the search engine, you must connect everything through a series of Hyperlinks. By linking all of your relevant subtopics to the core topic (i.e. pillar page), you will be successfully funneling all of your traffic to the main resource hub on this topic.
What This Means for SEO
The Topic Cluster Methodology marks an exciting change in the way that content marketing is adapting to changes in SEO. The goal in using this methodology is to organize your website’s content around core topics (i.e. pillar pages) and topic clusters (i.e. content clusters).
While this method will help with your SEO, it will also improve user experience. Subtopic pieces will bring people to your site, and then the subtopics link back to the pillar page, thereby increasing engagement more deeply with your content. This linking strategy will encourage visitors to follow internal links, which will improve your overall page views and engagement on your site.
It also allows website crawlers and the updated search engine algorithms to give your website a higher ranking. The cluster method of linking also means that if one of your cluster content pieces performs highly, all of the other pages that are linked to the same pillar will also receive elevated search rankings and more page views.
Your website will be easier to navigate, and search engines will be able to see that your website, and therefore your brand, is an authority on topics relating to your niche. By rethinking traditional SEO tactics and focusing content on the needs of the consumer, this strategy is changing the way that agencies create and organize content for their clients.
How to Create Pillar Pages
There are two widely used formats for pillar pages that use different types of links and content.
Resource Pillar Page focuses on internal and external links. This format connects the reader to the most relevant sources on a specific topic, even if it sends them off your site. Normally, you never want to send a visitor away from your site, but this type of pillar page is focused on solving a problem for your reader, NOT your business.
Since inbound links are a key benefit of resource pillar pages, you need to develop an outreach plan to the sources you’re linking from so that they can link back to your pillar page. This also gives you a great opportunity to network with others in your niche.
10x Content Pillar Page is made up entirely of your own media, like an ebook or guide. This format solves the search engine problem because it recognizes the clustering of themed content on a specific subject and the visitor is able to view your content before deciding to download it.
How to Create a Topic Cluster
The first step in creating a topic cluster is to ask “What are the 5-10 most common problems that brand’s ideal customer has that we help them with?” This is how you identify what your clusters are.
You probably already have content on your website that was created before you had clusters in mind. The good news is that this content can easily be used to assist with the strategy. Go through your top performing pieces and organize them into different ‘buyer’ problems that your ideal customer would experience. These pieces will be your pillar content, which you can them connect to all subtopic content related to that topic that you created going forward.
Another great page to use as a pillar page is any tool page you have. Tools work particularly well for pillar content because they’re often evergreen content and get shared a lot.
Once the pillar topic has been chosen, you want to create cluster topics (blogs or other pieces of content} that branch out of your pillar topic via internal hyperlinks in both pages. Though keyword research will no longer be the primary foundation of your SEO strategy, it can still come in handy during this step, as it is a great way to determine which content is best suited for your cluster.
Make a list of subtopics related to your pillar topic and keep track of the cluster you’re creating. If your website is already rich with content keyword research tools like Ubersuggest and Serpstat, you will easily be able to find related content and keywords that link back to the pillar topic.
Once you implement topic clusters on your website SEO lead generation will start to take effect immediately. The future of SEO and inbound marketing is in creating content that your ideal customers really want to see.
Ultimately, this transition in how search engines read and rank content is giving search power back to internet users. That means that past strategies like creating content designed to be read by web crawlers won’t work anymore. Once you adjust to this switch, your website will rank better and your visitors will be happier.
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