In this article we are going to explain to you what topic clusters are and how topic clustering works. Topic clustering is an innovative way to build your content in an organised way. It ensures that you have a logical arrangement of content and not just have all your articles mixed up. A more logical website and content structure contributes to your SEO and thus to your ranking. We take you through the following four topics and questions:
After you have read this article, you are ready to start with your topic cluster strategy.
For many people a search engine seems like magic, you search for something and within no time there are relevant topics. More and more often it seems like results are popping up that may not directly use your keyword in the title or even in the whole content. This is because Google focuses more on topics and entities these days. If you can show Google that you know or have written everything about a main topic or core topic, they are more likely to consider you an expert. When you cover a complete topic cluster on your website, the chance that a search engine user will find the answer to his search term is greater. Let's dive in a bit deeper again. What is a topic cluster and what is pillar content?
The image above shows it pretty well. A pillar content page is an umbrella page that covers the main topic and often introduces sub-topics. The pillar page links to the sub pages and these sub pages link back to the pillar page and also to each other. Under the pillar page hangs the cluster content that deal with parts of the main topic. The whole forms a topic cluster. By structuring your content in this way you give search engines insight into your knowledge and expertise. You organize your website a lot clearer and cleaner, which in turn helps with crawling the website.
Where does such shift towards the pillar content hierarchy come from and why is it important? Often, a changing search behaviour is the cause of new content methods or models. Not because websites necessarily want it, but because the consequence of not complying is a lower ranking. So the algorithms of search engines actually determine such shift as a result of the behavioural changes of searchers. Searchers are becoming more specific in their searches and also expect a more specific answer. This causes search engines to have to get better at understanding the topic and its context also called topical context. A major shift towards topic clusters and entities occurred in 2015 when Google implemented an update called RankBrain. Rankbrain is a machine learning algorithm from Google that was created to better understand the context of people's keywords. The algorithm learns how to link entities and better understand what someones keywords actually means. The algorithm learns which results are opened and which are not. Google also looks at the content that can be found on the pages, which aids in understanding how a keyword is connected to your page content and therefore whether or not it is part of a topic. You are thus also rewarded for a clear website structure through higher rankings.
The next question is of course how to apply such a cluster strategy. The following five steps are important here and we will explain them further:
This is where it all starts, determining the topic for your pillar page. Think about the topic you want to cover and not only about the keywords you want to use. Imagine you have an online shop around everything related to coffee. Then you might want to choose coffee beans as your pillar page. You could then hang the following cluster content below.
We could probably expand the list a bit more. Other examples of pillar content could be: Buying a coffee machine, Coffee machine maintenance, etc. Keep in mind that a pillar page should be wide enough to cover all sub-topics. Since, you are going to tie all the cluster content together on the pillar page. A good trick to determine if something could be a good topic for a pillar page is answering the following two questions:
Example search term: Which coffee beans are best for a cappuccino? The answer to this question could definitely be a content page in this topic cluster. What other questions might this person have and can you also place them in the Coffee Beans cluster?
The next step is to collect relevant keywords for the pillar content and for the cluster content. Of course, collecting keywords can be quite time consuming. Especially if you are going to make them all up yourself. Moreover, you and me think differently and will not think of some keywords. Therefore, there are quite a few tools for this. For a more detailed explanation of how this process works, you can read our article on this topic: How to perform keyword research?
How can you turn a list of keywords into a topic clustering? Clustering topics is a tedious task that takes a lot of time. Some SEO specialists have written neat scripts for this task in their Excel or Google sheets. Often they base these formulas on language comparison and therefore only keywords containing a specific word will appear in their clusters. With KeyWI you can cluster your keyword list based on Google SERP (Search Engine Rank Page) in minutes. This approach allows you to analyse any language and actually cluster directly based on RankBrain logic. So how does it work?
For each keyword, we retrieve the SERP, also known as the results you get when you type a search term into Google. Then we compare each keyword and determine relationships between them. For example, if Google feels that two search terms are very similar, they will show similar results for both. We can do this for thousands of keywords in no time, which we can then cluster into topics based on these relationships and not based on language.
KeyWI converts the clusters into a visualisation, as shown above. With this visualisation you can start your content blog, which happens to be the subject of this example. A cluster blog in this case consists of a cluster of blogs on the topic of blogging formats. Inception... 🤯 As you can see in the image, the cluster content consists of four keywords within the pillar content theme "Blog".
Next, you can start building your pillar page. Again, make sure the pillar content is the "umbrella" page of all content clusters below it. This means you need to introduce them on your pillar page. It's generally a fairly extensive page where all subtopics are covered, not in depth but enough to already know if one of the subtopics can answer the question of the visitors.
Last step, almost done. Make sure your site structure is ordered correctly and setup the internal links between the pillar content and the cluster content. That's how it becomes clear to the search engine crawlers how topics are related and they will reward your website for that.
If you want to take it one step further, you can also do your marketing strategy based on clusters. This is something we can really recommend. You will find out which search intention someone has in a topic cluster. And you will think about what the search intentions are per cluster, which will allow you to write much more specifically for the target group you want to attract. So it is important to think about your content in a marketing way, who do you reach and how and what is their goal. So with this you create a cluster strategy or a cluster marketing strategy. It could well be, for example, that you will write about two almost identical topics with a different intention and therefore a different set of keywords.
Curious how to find out what the intention of a user is? Then take a look at our search intent article.
We hope you enjoyed our article. If you have any questions, please let us know. If you are looking for a tool that enriches your keywords with data, automatically clusters them and predicts search intent, check out KeyWI.