How To Create Topic Clusters & Improve Search Visibility

Christian Carere
Jul 15
12 min read

Whether you’re developing your site from scratch, or your website has been around for years, if you’re not using topic clusters, you’re missing out on a major aspect of your website’s performance.

Companies who have adopted this content structure have experienced massive increases in conversions. 3PL is one company who realized an almost 200% increase in conversions by shifting their content structure to topic clusters.

The implementation of topic clusters isn’t just good for users, but for is an ideal strategy for pleasing the search engines as well. Topic clusters also lead to more search visibility through improved rankings.

The explanation is simple; Websites are rewarded with higher rankings when they can demonstrate expertise, authority and trust in any given topic.

Search engines made a major shift from ranking according to keywords to ranking according to the topical relevance of a page.

This change in search has made topic clusters a necessary part of the development of your website for increased search visibility in keyword-related searches.

What are topic clusters?

Essentially, a topic cluster consists of a central page (pillar page) that links out to a number of related articles (cluster content). In turn, the clustered content links back to the pillar page. Cluster content is also linked to other relevant content within its topic cluster.

A pillar page will address a broad keyword theme, that represents a major topic on your website. A pillar page is optimized for a broad keyword topic. It will, therefore, cover the topic in breadth and serve as a hub of general information that links out to related articles that have a narrower focus.

The related articles (or clustered content) cover a specific topic with more attention to detail. Clustered content will typically target long-tail keywords to provide a specific solution for a specific search.

As a whole, this content structure forms a topic cluster by grouping together content that shares a central theme.

Image source

What are the advantages of topic clusters?

Topic clusters connect ideas and subtopics. They connect users (and search engines) to related articles within its cluster, which encourages users to learn more and acquire a greater understanding of the topic.

Demonstrate E.A.T. (Expertise, Authority & Trust)

Search engines have the ability to determine the content quality and the value it represents to a user. This fact alone places a tremendous emphasis on E.A.T. when determining the rank of a website.

Content clusters contribute to the expertise, authority and trust a website is able to demonstrate through the depth of its content. By connecting the user with related articles that they would naturally be interested in, a series of positive events take place.

Higher user engagement

When more visitors go through more of your pages, they spend more time on your site learning about a specific topic. Three truths are at play here: 1) higher click-through rate 2) Longer dwell time and 3) More confidence and trust in your company.

The first two bonuses are user engagement statistics that will ultimately contribute to a better ranking. If you haven’t heard, improved rankings lead to higher volumes of traffic. Increased traffic typically means more leads, new clients and increased revenue.

Wait. There’s more.

Another advantage of building an effective topic cluster is that you are educating your visitors about your business. Visitors are more likely to purchase from your company if they trust your brand. Publishing content that is in touch with the needs of your clients builds trust and increases conversion rates.

Create an effective blueprint for keyword and content strategies

The process for establishing topic clusters will clarify your keyword strategy and solidify your content strategy.

Keyword research is a major function of creating a topic cluster. By identifying the keywords that drive the most relevant traffic, you set your content strategy into motion.

Topic clusters are essential to strategic planning and provide a blueprint for the development of your website for major keyword themes.

How to create topic clusters

The beginning of a topic cluster is anything but glamorous. It’s simply brainstorming the most important keywords to your company.

You can use a spreadsheet, a piece of paper or word processor to create a list of keywords you would want your site to become well known for. This initial list is typically options for your pillar content, which will usually be represented by broad keywords.

A dentist, for example, might brainstorm their initial topic cluster like this:

Treat each keyword as a bucket and fill each bucket with the topics and subtopics that your visitors would want to know about. As you drill down into the broad keywords, you should start coming up with long-tail keywords to target.

A good way to identify these potential subtopics is to ask the following:

What are the most frequently asked questions about this topic?

What are the greatest challenges faced that my product or service can solve?

What solutions are people actively searching for?

Applying some of the answers to these questions would then advance this cluster to look like this:

You can add to your list of potential keywords/articles by exploring a number of sources that will confirm the popularity of your search phrases.

Analyze the SERP

Whenever you are considering a keyword or phrase to target, the best source for information is the actual search engine result page. Search for your keyword to see what Google is displaying as an answer to search intent. Add to your list of keywords grouping together the keywords with similar intent.

Google autosuggest

Google autosuggest automatically populates a drop-down box with phrases people are using as you type your keyword search.

You can find similar results at the bottom of the first page under the Search related to [your keyword] section.

Featured snippets

Another place to look for valuable hints on what keywords to target are within the SERP features themselves. If a featured snippet is triggered, it’s an automatic consideration to take into account because they provide more opportunities for traffic.

It would then make sense to optimize for the featured snippet within your content or dedicate an entire article to the topic of the snippet.

People Also Ask Boxes

Write down any relevant phrases you find in the People Also Ask Box. You can find dozens of questions and phrases to include that will contribute to the relevance of your page and add to the depth of your clustered content.

If Google has deemed these phrases worthy of displaying, there is obviously a demand for the answers that are being featured.

Answer the public

This site will speed up your SERP analysis by generating a list of keywords that are commonly searched-based on Google autosuggest. The most recognizable feature of this site is its visual display of the data it generates.

If you’re not into straining your neck and your head doesn’t rotate upside down, you can also opt for the list view to read the keyword options a little more comfortably.

Keyword tools

Eventually, you will need the assistance of a keyword tool. You need to confirm that there is an acceptable volume of traffic that is actually generated from the keywords you’re considering. If not, there are a lot of other suggested options that a keyword tool provides.

The most popular tools are Ahrefs, Moz and SEMRush. You can use any of these tools to get keyword metrics and alternative options.

Type in your keyword in the appropriate section to receive a summary of the metrics your keyword produces.

Click on the keyword suggestions to see what other options you have available.

Keep in mind that although you may think your keyword is the most popular choice, there are many different ways of searching for the same thing. Your way of phrasing search terms may not be the most popular way-or more importantly, may not drive traffic that converts.

Finalize your decision on keywords

By this point, you should have a list of keywords based on popular searches. Group your keywords together based on intent and choose the phrases that hit four major points as best as possible:

1)   The keyword best represents what your audience is searching

2)   The volume matches your criteria/strategy

3)   The level of competition is acceptable

4)   There is value in the traffic your generating

Map Existing Content to match your keywords

The final decision on keywords creates an outline for your topic cluster. Each keyword represents an article in your cluster which forms a tangible blueprint for your content strategy.

Your next step is to map existing content to answer the search intent behind each of your keywords.

The best option to accurately assess your content is to export the pages and posts of your site to a spreadsheet.

Assign a target keyword to each post and page.

Create fresh SEO content for keywords that remain in your cluster without a content assignment.

Publish 10X content

Prioritize your content schedule around the remaining keywords that are most important to your site. Create content that is 10 times better than anything already published on the first page of search results for each of the target keywords in your cluster.

Creating top-notch, optimized blog posts that rank comes down to providing the best answer to search intent.

So despite the keyword research already performed, you’re going to do some more digging.

Analyze the competition

For a deep understanding of how search intent is being answered, reverse-engineer the top ranking websites. Pinpoint the style and content included to meet and exceed the quality of the sites competing for the top 10 spots on the first page.

Identify content type

The first major clue to look for is to identify the type of content that websites are using to rank. The top five sites should be your main focus to see what similarities exist between them.

Are they using list styled content?

Have they published ultimate guides?

Do they all incorporate multimedia? You will most likely need to mirror a similar style of content in order to outrank the competition.

Educational content contributes to higher conversions.

Look to educate your audience in a persuasive manner. Use logic and reason backed by research, stats, facts and quotes from experts. This is the very definition of persuasive essay writing, which you can use to heavily sway your audience to see your perspective.

Content gap analysis

It’s important to address the major topic points that your competition has included in their top-ranking content. You can find out why Google is ranking their page by looking at the keywords they rank for on the first page.

Use the tool of your choice (Ahrefs in this example) to perform a competitor keyword analysis. identify ranking keywords that point to the content that is working to satisfy user intent.

Here you can see there are 1.8K keywords that Crest ranks for in addition to the term “How to stop nerve pain in your mouth”

If a page is ranking for additional keywords that you haven’t optimized for, there’s a strong possibility you haven’t addressed the topic either.

Outline your points

Create a rough outline to give your article shape and direction. Incorporate your major keywords in the expected places and make use of your secondary keywords in your subtitles.

Make your content scannable

Your outline ensures your article is scannable and tells a complete story when users skim through. Keep in mind that 80% of online readers will skim through articles rather than actually take the time to read from beginning to end.

Here is the WordPress summary of an article written by Medical News Today:

Your subtitles should not only be optimized but also be descriptive. Take the time to create interesting titles and subtitles to keep visitors stimulated and your article enticing.

Cluster your content with an internal linking strategy

The internal linking strategy is what binds your topic cluster. All cluster content will link back to the main central hub, or pillar page. The pillar page will link out to the clustered content. You should also include interlink clustered content wherever it makes sense and seems natural.

Topic clusters improve user experience and understanding by connecting a range of related topics to your main keyword theme. Lead your users from one article to the next by connecting ideas with anchor text hyperlinks.

Use optimized anchor text links where it is natural. Use long-tail keywords as well to mix up the anchor text if you have a lot of pages to link to internally.

The number of links that point to your pillar page signal the importance of your topic. The interlinking strategy promotes link equity thereby lifting the visibility of your topic in keyword-related search results.

Track your results

In order to improve on any aspect of your website’s performance, you need to measure the results. Google Analytics allows you to group pages together to see how the group does as a whole and not just as individual pages.

  1. Go to Analytics.
  2. Select Admin.
  3. In the far right column select Content Grouping. 
  4. Then click create a new group.

Choose the way you want to group your pages together (tracking code, extraction, or by a rule set). You can get more details on the methods of each way in Analytics Help.

Conclusion

Driving organic traffic has always been considered a long-term strategy. Long-lasting results are achieved through the development of quality content that answers user intent.

There are no quick solutions that replace the development of high-quality content assets.

To put it plainly, topic clusters improve search visibility, which is why they have become a large part of the SEO strategy implemented by SEO and content marketing agencies.

A well-developed topic cluster leads to improved click-through rates, longer dwell time, increased rankings and traffic.

Whether your site is early in its development, or it’s been around for years, incorporating topic clusters will improve the performance of your website in every aspect.

Written by Christian Carere on July 15, 2020

Christian Carere is an SEO consultant based out of Toronto and the founder of Digital Ducats Inc. Christian is a regular contributor to the digital marketing community and takes pride in making a positive impact on the lives of small to medium-sized business owners.

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