Behind the scenes, SEO has been shape-shifting again. And this time it’s all about topic clusters. Huh? What? Pardon? Is this some kind of snack?

Search engines continue to get more sophisticated and users’ search behaviour is ever-evolving. As such, relying on first-class, keyword-rich content alone just won’t cut it anymore. In fact, there’s fresh new demand for brands to deal in topics, not keywords.

To put it in another way, there’s lots to be said for grouping our content into relevant and structured topics in order to demonstrate our E-A-T characteristics, and compete for the top spot in the search engine results pages (or SERPs). If you’re not familiar with E-A-T, it’s Google’s Holy Grail, and refers to a site’s Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness.

Make no mistake – keywords are as important as ever, but they’re working at a more intricate level now. A level that’s blanketed or ‘umbrella-d’ by broader topics.

Though SEO experts have actually been talking about topic clusters for a while, we’re yet to see lots of brands nailing the topic cluster strategy. In this post, we’ll explain topic clusters for SEO performance, and explore how you can incorporate them into your content strategy. Les-go…

What are topic clusters?

In a nutshell, topic clusters are groups of interlinked web pages. The topic cluster’s model works with one page acting as the broad ‘parent’ topic – commonly referred to as a pillar page. This pillar page should feature content with a high search volume keyword. It’s then hyperlinked to lots of different supporting ‘cluster’ pages. These cluster pages will feature content that’s related to that of the pillar page, but it’ll narrow in on more specific elements. These cluster pages are used for targeting lower volume, more specific keywords in the way that we’re used to.

The beauty of the topic cluster set-up? If one cluster page is performing well for that particular keyword, then so will all the pages in the cluster, as the search engine bots recognise the relationship between the pages, finding the content quicker and pushing them all up together.

Ok, it may sound a bit messy, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Here’s a diagram to demonstrate the relationship between the pages…

Why should I use topic clusters for SEO?

Put simply, the topic clusters strategy helps the search engines’ web crawlers establish connections. It’s also really good for us as content creators.

Typically, content creators decide to target a particular keyword, only to find there are thousands of long-tail variations out there. They’d get to work writing post after post, article after article, in order to capture the traffic specific to that keyword. And, in the process, the website would become overpopulated, clogged and badly organised. Meh.

The topic clusters content method is a hell of a lot cleaner and way more thoughtful. So, for the more compulsive content strategists among us (hiya!), it’s good news. More importantly, as we touched on above, it keeps the search engines smiling.

Now, we already know that website interlinking is great for SEO, and the topic clusters strategy takes this one step further. Internal linking helps search engines to understand the relationship between your pages and how valuable and relevant they are. With topic clusters, the cluster pages use interlinking to make the pillar content more authoritative. Think of it in the same way that brilliant team members can make their manager look really good.

Topic clusters will greatly improve your site architecture, and the linking method among the pages says to the search engines that there’s a relationship between your cluster pages and your parent or pillar page. This then signals that the latter carries authority on its particular topic because of the content depth. All in all, it improves your traffic and your visibility. #winning

How to create topic clusters on your website

Getting started with your own topic clusters can feel like a mammoth task. But keep calm, because we’re going to show you how to approach it with a clear head.

Structuring your topic clusters

You’ll need to bear in mind that your pillar page is the main content ‘hub’ of each topic, and it should tick off all the different topic elements or sub-topics. You then use the cluster pages to do the deep-dive on those particular elements. While your pillar page can introduce the topic in a broad way, your cluster pages can target the specific keywords for whatever in-depth element of the topic they’re focusing on.

Let’s use a travel blog and take the parent topic of ‘Canary Islands’, as an example. Your pillar page could be ‘Your Ultimate Guide to the Canary Islands’, and your cluster pages might be as follows…

• A guide to: Tenerife
• La Palma – what’s the story?
• A spotlight on Gran Canaria
• Travel guide to Lanzarote
• Fuerteventura – a sports island
• Our pick of Tenerife’s luxury hotels
• Which Canary Island is best for what?
• La Palma: the untouched Canary Island
• Gran Canaria’s hidden gems
• 10 things you didn’t know about Lanzarote
• El Hierro’s tropical gardens: a showcase
• Why Fuerteventura is brilliant for families

Your sub-topics or cluster pages are all super detailed, but still relate to the content on your parent or pillar page. And once all these pages are nicely linked up, that’s when the magic starts to happen.

Developing your clusters

Organise your existing content into topic clusters

Kick-off this approach with an audit of all the pages on your site. Hopefully, your existing pillar pages will emerge really naturally. It’s helpful to do this as a team, within a spreadsheet or perhaps by grouping around a whiteboard for brainstorming. You can then identify your cluster pages with ease and, finally, get on with the all-important business of linking and optimising.

If you’re having difficulty or you’re getting lost in the detail, there are a few rules to determine the difference between a pillar page and a cluster page. Here’s how to differentiate…

Pillar page characteristics:
• Does this page explore lots of aspects of a broad topic? E.g. the different Canary Islands
• Is this page broad enough to act as the parent page for up to 20 or 30 child posts?

Cluster page characteristics:
• Is the page exploring a narrow topic in detail – e.g. Fuerteventura’s suitability for families?
• Are you using this page to target a keyword specific to the narrow topic, as opposed to the broader topic – e.g. family holidays in Fuerteventura?

Create new topic clusters from scratch

To create new topic clusters, you’ll need to begin by selecting the topics to focus on. To do this, you can think about the products or services you sell and the benefits that your customers get from them, the values or identifiers you want to be associated with as a brand, and the type of problems your customer might have and the solutions you can offer. You can do this by researching your buyer persona and trawling your data buckets – for example your social media channels, customer interviews, online analytics etcetera, etcetera. All your topics need to be broad enough to ‘umbrella’ lots of sub-topics.

Keyword research

You’ll need to do keyword research to establish your pillar articles ‘core’ keyword and then establish related keywords for your supporting cluster pages. At Bubbl, Ahrefs is our go-to, but there are loads of SEO tools out there to choose from. It’s as simple as putting your topic in, assessing the results and then choosing your sub-topics from here.

Keyword difficulty and search volumes are important. If you’re using a board keyword with high search volume and a high difficulty level on your pillar page, then your cluster pages need to be targeting low search volume keywords.

The point of all this? To close the gap between what the user is likely to search for and the content you’re serving.

Here are some top tips for approaching cluster content writing…

• Your pillar pages should be lengthy – say, 2,000+ words and not go into any detail on your sub-topics/cluster pages
• The structure of your pillar page is up to you – this could be a table of contents-style piece, for example, that links out to your sub-topics
• Your cluster pages need to be in-depth and unique, not repetitive of content on other cluster pages

Measuring the performance of your topic clusters

Like any content marketing activity, you’ll want to track the effectiveness of your topic clusters once you’ve implemented them. The goal? Your pillar pages will be ranking higher for a hard short-tail keyword, while your cluster pages are ranking higher for the less difficult long-tail keywords. Be sure to measure both types of content. For the topic clusters strategy to take off successfully, you’ll want to see improvement across the entire content cluster.

A final word

All in all, we’d label topic clusters as a win-win from both an SEO perspective and for your site structure and user journey. Yes, a new strategy is always a bit daunting, and if you’ve got an extensive amount of content to organise initially, this will be a bit of a task. But persevere and, trust us, this new strategy could send your traffic and rankings sky-high.

Want to explore what else we can do for your SEO strategy? Get in touch with the Bubbl team.

Elle Hammond, Senior Copywriter
SEO