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How Topic Clusters Build Website Authority (With Examples)

10 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, based solely on individual keywords 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. Think of topic clusters as the next generation of keywords. 

Building topic clusters is a small but powerful nuanced action versus targeting keywords. If it seems confusing, we will review topic clustering and how it builds website authority – which in turn can boost all of your marketing channels.

So what is a topic cluster? It is pieces of content grouped by a shared topic and related subtopics. As a whole, these pages offer comprehensive coverage of a specific subject. This enables visitors to satisfy their search queries while visiting your site. Correctly implemented, topic clusters can have a significant impact on SEO results. Building topical authority increases your website authority and overall page ranking.

As Search Engine Journal explains, search engines have become more sophisticated and no longer rely on simply a relevant keyword. 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. 

Google, for example, uses machine learning to determine page ranking and search results, updating their algorithms on an almost daily basis. In their guidelines, Google talks a lot about high-quality content. A trusted website is one whose content displays EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). They want to see statements of fact backed up by quality sources. They want to see in-depth blog posts that fully address a topic. 

Search engines like Google want to serve up rich, in-depth content that fully satisfies search intent. By having a rich collection of assets around a given topic – each blog post just slightly nuanced, you are demonstrating expertise. Your deep understanding of a topic, providing useful information and answering your reader’s questions will boost your SEO ranking in Google and other search engines.

The more people trust you, the more Google will trust you. In response, content creators are building seo topic clusters that thoroughly  address a topic – and all of its alternate and sub-topics. By doing so, they’re signaling to search engines that they are an authority site with a solid content structure that matches user search intent.

Building a Topic Cluster

When you start to build 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 post.

The pillar post can contain a call-to-action (CTA) that drives users to your conversion goals. 

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

This type of SEO strategy provides a reading experience that is broad and deep. Related content is linked to the core topic, creating a path for readers to follow as they navigate internal links between relevant content. Content creation that is based on providing an in-depth experience for the reader will improve your website authority more sustainably than simple keyword research.

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

1. Content on Interrelated Topics

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

It’s important to define content goals around what users seek. Connecting search intent with content clusters tells you what to write about. This is the type of content that engages readers in an area that also serves your business goals.

2. Content Targeting Related Phrases:

While your pillar piece tackles the most popular or competitive phrase, your support pages target more specific phrases and phrase variants. Together, they form collections of semantically linked key-phrases and user-intent-targeted pages. This cross linking between the support pieces and the pillar post creates topic authority for your site, and increases your search engine ranking.

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 influencers to create an overlapping strategy within a cluster and with other sites when doing content marketing. Your website alone, with local seo will only reach so many readers. Using digital marketing to expand the reach of your existing content can bring more interested traffic to your site than just another internal blog post with the correct keyword.

Topic Cluster Example

Let’s say you are an ecommerce site for men’s custom 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.

Do Your Research

Choose Research on MarketMuse and type in “custom shoe”. A topic model will appear. Other topics closely associated with custom shoe are custom sneakers, sneaker, order status, footwear, accessory, and shoe design.

MarketMuse Topic Navigator

If you look under the Questions tab, you can see a variety of topics that are closely related to Custom Shoe.

MarketMuse Questions

By the way, let’s compare this to the keywords associated with custom shoes, which is something digital marketers are interested in. In the far right hand column, select Variants – and now you can see all the keyword variants around custom shoes. 

MarketMuse Topic Model with variants

You can see that just using the same words with different spellings or making things plural – is not going to establish you as authority.

Select a Pillar Page

We want to create a pillar page around Custom Shoe. If you are selling them, maybe you want it on a page that talks about your custom shoe process, or the best type of shoe for different foot shapes and strides.

There are no set rules. Normally, the pillar page will take you to a call to action (CTA) – to find out more or how to buy, etc.

This content is your larger piece that will link out to related, supporting blog posts. But more importantly, any blog post about Custom Shoes – will link back to this pillar page. Make sure you use the topic of your pillar page as your anchor text when you are doing linking.

Create Topic Cluster Content

We have our pillar page, now let’s create a number of articles that answer the questions we found:  “How to Make Custom Shoes?” “How to Make Custom Sneakers?” “Where to Buy Custom Shoes?” “How Much Do Custom Shoes Cost?”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.

Map the Buyer Journey

This is a crucial step (pardon the pun). Remember, when Google is assessing your site’s authority, it is looking to see that you are answering a variety of user intent (search intent) questions.

If a person is looking for What are the Benefits of Custom Shoe – the intention is to learn what it is all about, or Informational Intent

If a person is looking for “What to Look for When Buying Custom Shoes == they aren’t ready to buy – but there is a Commercial Intent – an interest in buying. 

If a person is looking for “Who Makes Men’s Custom Dress Shoes” – this is your Transactional Intent.  

If you are selling B2B products, you will likely have different members of the buying group. Make sure your topic cluster includes content that answers the intentions of each different persona.

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 name, giving it domain authority. Building up authority through topic clusters 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 your content marketing strategy in mind?. 

You will gain followers and attention from people who share a common interest in your topic, perhaps even experts in the field that also cover your topics. Your following and share/post success rate will grow, and you will make connections around your related topic, creating more opportunities to collaborate with influencers and place content on other sites, as we mentioned above.

3. Email Marketing Benefits

The center of the hub often has gated content or conversion focused opportunities. With careful content marketing to point to your main topic, visitors are more 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 frequent, relevant topical content that also drives them back into the hub, this 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 with an internal link to a related post, they are more likely to dig deeper into your content clusters, by following your internal links from page to page.

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 stay longer. This in turn will improve your google analytics since time on the website is one of the seo metrics Google tracks. 

If you’ve been having trouble ranking on SERPs and attracting organic traffic, it could be your stand-alone content. Creating content 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 topic clusters.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

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.

Diane Burley has three decades experience creating high-impact content at scale. As a published author and seasoned technologist, she translates complex concepts into clear, engaging messaging that connects with audiences. She can help you build a content factory that drives results.