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How Topic Clusters Build Website Authority and More

6 min read

If you’ve been creating content for a long time and not getting much traffic, there may be a reason for that. It may lie in how your content is structured.

If you have a library of one-off topics that don’t relate to each other, it could be hurting your chance to rank in SERPs. The best content strategy now is to build several blog posts around a central, broad topic, called topic clusters.

As Search Engine Journal explains, search engines have become more sophisticated and no longer rely on matching keywords. Instead, they use topic modeling to understand entities and concepts. They can determine what a user is searching for based on a series of search terms, both past and present.

Search engines like Google want to serve up rich, in-depth content that fully satisfies search intent.

In response, content creators have started creating topic clusters that completely address a topic and all of its alternate and sub-topics. By doing so, they’re signaling to search engines that they are a quality site with a solid content structure that matches user intent.

In this post, we look at what topic clustering is and how it helps all of your marketing channels.

What is Topic Clustering?

When you create a topic cluster, you’re structuring your content around one central, or pillar, topic. That core topic is a competitive one that has many subtopics. The subtopics are covered in other, smaller pieces of content that link back to the pillar piece.

The pillar piece contains a call-to-action (CTA) that drives users to your conversion goals.

According to data from Hubspot, by using the cluster model, their organic sessions increased 13 percent week over week, and they saw a 1500 percent increase in clicks from SERP on one keyword.

Subtopic pages can support the pillar piece in one of five ways:

1. Content on Interrelated Topics

The posts help each other and invite the user to dig deeper with internal links, the goal being increased engagement and extended visits. Supporting pieces should eventually drive the user back to the pillar piece and the CTA.

2. Content Targeting Related Phrases:

While your central piece tackles the most popular or competitive phrase, your support pages target more specific phrases and phrase variants. Together, they form collections of interconnected key-phrase, user-intent-targeted pages.

3. Content in Different Formats

Look beyond blog posts. Consider repurposing versions of your central topic, including infographics, audio, video, and commentary.

4. Content on Other Websites

Be careful not to target the same keywords. External pieces and guest posts addressing adjacent topics create support via more powerful pages.

5. Content Created With Other Influencers

Use influences to create an overlapping strategy within a cluster and with other sites.

Topic Cluster Example

Let’s say you are an eCommerce site for men’s custom dress shoes. You’d like to gain a reputation as an expert in custom shoes and rank on SERPs for that topic. In that case, create a topic cluster.

Start with your pillar piece: How a dress shoe should fit. This content is your larger piece that will link out to related, supporting blog posts. It will cover various kinds of dress shoes and how they should feel on the foot. It may also include the best type of dress shoe for different foot shapes and strides.

The CTA will call on users to talk to a representative to find the best shoe for them or download a sizing chart to choose the right size.

Your pillar piece will also link out to your related, supporting pieces. Those pieces may include ten tips for finding the right shoe, an infographic illustrating different kinds of dress shoes and their fit, and an article on how much toe room there should be.

These supporting pieces will link back to your pillar piece on finding the perfect-fitting dress shoe and may include their own CTAs for the sizing chart or customer service help.

How Does Topic Clustering Help Your Marketing Channels?

Increased site authority is a benefit frequently associated with topic organization. However, topic clustering can help other marketing channels. Here’s how:

1. Search Engine Optimization

Ever seen a website outrank a big brand? Usually, it’s because the big brand is ranking by accident. Sure, it has a relevant page to a given search topic, but it also has a very powerful domain. Building up authority through a topic cluster leads to long-term success against this type of competitor.

2. Social Media Benefits

Your social streams are a curated list of topics. Why not curate with a specific focus in mind? You will win more consistently if you build content that illustrates that you share the interest of an expert on key topics.

You will gain followers and attention from people who share a common interest in your topic. Your following and share/post success rate will grow, and you will make friends with relevance, creating more opportunities to collaborate with influencers and place content on other sites, as we mentioned above. Instagram marketing may have more uses than just branding after all!

3. Email Marketing Benefits

The center of the hub often has gated content or conversion focused opportunities. Visitors are willing to share their email to access this information. Other pop-up and subscribe options are easy to create to improve conversion rates when the visitor is engaged within the content hub.

When you build up a solid email list and send members of that list with frequent, relevant topical content and driving them back into the hub maintains your status as a topic expert.

4. Engagement

When a user comes in to learn about one topic, and they are given the opportunity to learn more, they are more likely will dig deeper.
As long as your pages are structured to support common user intent profiles and related topics, you will see an increase in average pages per visit and average time on site. Give them more, and they will say longer and stay top of mind when they are thinking about the topic.

If you’ve been having trouble ranking on SERPs and attracting organic traffic, it could be your stand-alone content. Creating content around clusters increases linking opportunities, deepens your topic coverage and establishes your brand as a thought leader or expert.

Look at your content, find related topics and see if you can restructure them into clusters.

Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher College.  Her work includes the development and execution of content strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including marketing and audience research, content calendar creation, hiring and managing writers and editors, and SEO optimization. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.