Done right, topic clusters can help boost your pages’ organic rankings in record speed.
Take NinjaOutreach, for example. After grouping its content into specific topic clusters, it saw its site traffic grow by 50% in just three short months.
The topic cluster model has also helped me generate 5x times more qualified traffic to my site within the same time frame.
In this article, I’ll be teaching you the steps on how to organize and link your site’s existing content into topic clusters so that you can also boost your organic rankings.
What are topic clusters?
Topic clusters make use of hyperlinks to put different pieces of content relating to a broad topic together. This makes it easy for your target audience to find your posts, boosting organic traffic and engagement.
How do topic clusters help increase your search rankings?
To better understand how topic clusters help increase your search rankings, we’ll have to go back to 2015. That was when Google launched RankBrain.
Although RankBrain was an add-on to Google’s core algorithm, it had a profound effect on how Google ranks websites.
That’s because RankBrain’s primary function is to help Google rank your content based on search intent.
Moz’s Rand Fishkin explains in great detail how search intent works in the video below.
As you can see, Google’s algorithm now puts more emphasis on the quality of information your content provides rather than keyword density.
In fact, this is one of over 200 different factors Google considers when ranking your content on its search engine results pages (SERPs).
One study shows that the more comprehensive a piece of content discusses a specific topic, the higher it ranks on search engines. At the same time, you establish your brand as an expert in your industry to both users and Google.
Google explains that this is tied to its mission to provide you with content that’s both relevant and useful based on both the target keyword you use and your search intent.
The internet today is heavily saturated with content about everything under the sun. Since 90% of people only view the first link in Google’s SERP, Google wants to make sure that the sites it includes here are those that’ll give you the most relevant and helpful content.
And that’s why organizing your content into topic clusters work.
By organizing your content into topic clusters, you’re ensuring that the information you share is high-quality and in-depth.
How to create topic clusters
1. Understand the essential parts of a topic cluster
A topic cluster consists of 3 parts: the pillar article, content clusters, and hyperlinks.
The first step in building your topic cluster is by identifying what you want your blog or brand to be known for. This would serve as your topic cluster’s primary focus.
The topic should be general, as it will be broken down into different subtopics later on.
Make use of sub-headings and links to pages that relate to the topic to keep your article organized.
My Email Marketing Made Easy: The Complete Guide + Examples is a perfect example of a pillar article.
Content clusters are subtopics of the pillar article and are usually “shorter” blog posts and other kinds of content.
Each of these content clusters discusses a particular subsection of the pillar article in more detail. They also always link back to the pillar article.
Here are some of the content clusters I’ve written for my pillar article on email marketing:
- 20 Quick and Easy Email Marketing Segmentation Strategies
- Best Email Marketing Service Providers for Founders
- How to Build an Email List from Scratch [Tips + Strategies]
Hyperlinks are essential in topic clusters because they connect the pillar article to the content clusters and vice versa, making it easy for visitors to navigate your website. This helps encourage your visitors to explore your site further.
Linking your pages internally boosts your search rankings because it shows Google that you have lots of content on a particular topic and that you are an expert on it.
2. Conduct a Content Audit
The best way to start seeing small, but tangible, results in your organic rankings with the help of topic clusters is by starting with what you already have.
This is where conducting a content audit helps.
Running a content audit gives you a detailed list of all the content you’ve already published on your website. You can then group content pieces that talk about a particular topic and then link them to each other to create a topic cluster.
By organizing your content this way, your visitors can find related content more easily. This encourages them to keep on reading. As a result, they not only stay on your website longer but also keep coming back for more.
A content audit also will help you find and address duplicate content you may have unknowingly published. This is critical since duplicate content hurt your search rankings.
3. Identify the main topics and subtopics
Choosing your main topic is crucial when you create your content. It should be broad enough to give you several subtopics to talk about. At the same time, it should be narrow enough that you can comprehensively discuss all the critical points in your pillar article.
Using a tool like HubSpot’s content strategy tool helps. It’ll provide you with a list of topics and subtopics based on your existing content.
What’s great about using this tool is that the content strategy tool also gives you an insight into how many are currently searching for these topics and subtopics.
That way, you can be sure that you’re creating topic clusters that your target audience wants to find.
At the same time, it also allows you to organize your existing content based on the content audit you’ve done earlier.
4. Strategize your subtopics
When it comes to choosing the subtopics, think about all the questions your buyer persona will have about your chosen topic.
Ask your support team on what questions they usually get. Read your customer reviews to get to know how your audience thinks. Also, ask questions on your social media pages to get customer feedback.
You can also directly send out surveys to your email list to get more customer insight.
Forums like Reddit can supplement this.
You can also use tools like AnswerThePublic. Here, you can get a list of the most asked questions about your chosen topics based on a search done on Google and other search engines.
Source: Answer the Public
Focusing on your readers when choosing your subtopics ensures you’re creating content that’s relevant and helpful to them.
This will help in establishing yourself as an authority in your industry and build relationships with possible clients.
The more users find content that is beneficial to them, the longer they stay on your page, lowering bounce rates and higher engagement rates while boosting traffic and conversions rates on your website.
When doing your research, input your topic ideas into HubSpot’s SEO tool. This helps you discover subtopics you’ll use for your topic clusters.
5. Conduct your keyword research
Even though Google now prefers topic-based content, that doesn’t mean that you should ditch keywords altogether.
The reason? 93% of people use long-tail keywords when searching for products, services, or information online.
So if you want to increase your search rankings, you need to choose your keywords carefully.
Doing a Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keyword research can help you with this.
You can quickly do this by conducting a Google search. For example, when I type in “affiliate marketing” on Google, I get a list of keywords that correlate to the searched topic.
To find out more pages and keywords that this search points to, scroll down and check Google’s “Searches related to” section.
LSIGraph is another tool you can use. All you’ll need to do is type your targeted keyword in the search bar, and the system will create a list of related keywords for you!
Also, make sure that you come up with a list of negative keywords you’ll be using, especially if you’re planning to use paid advertising as a way to promote your content.
These are the keywords that you don’t want to rank for.
Now, you may be thinking: Why on earth would I not want my content to rank for specific keywords?
The reason is that it’ll help you narrow down your audience so that only those that match your buyer persona sees your content.
For example, if you own an accounting firm that services only US-based clients, your negative keywords will ensure your ads and organic content won’t be seen by someone living in Australia.
6. Map your existing content into your topic cluster
In this stage, you should have a visual of your topic cluster. This will guide you so that nothing is overlooked.
Mapping out your existing content into topic clusters organizes your posts so that visitors to your website can easily navigate through it.
Use internal links to help you achieve this.
Linking related content not only guides your readers but also signals to Google that your site is an established expert in your industry or niche.
People clicking and staying on your website shows to Google that people like your page. It also shows that you provide your users with high-quality, comprehensive, and cohesive content.
These are the things that Google takes into consideration when ranking pages and are critical to your search rankings.
Linking your content correctly benefits both your readers and your sites’ performance.
More activity on your site will increase your organic traffic, conversions, and organic search rankings.
Continue to do this to get your posts noticed and ultimately get on the highly coveted first page of search results!
7. Identify Content Gaps
At this point, you’d eventually find subtopics within your topic clusters that you haven’t created content for.
For example, you may have a pillar article on social media marketing, with content clusters on Instagram and Facebook marketing, but still no posts on Twitter marketing.
Filling these content gaps give your site more credibility on the topic of social media marketing.
One way to identify content gaps is by looking at questions asked on Quora about your chosen topic.
Take note of questions that have been repeated several times, but never got any answers. These would make perfect subtopics that you can include within your topic clusters
Be sure also to consider what kind of formats searchers prefer.
A great tool to gain more customer insight is Buzzsumo. This tool helps you discover which content types are trending and on what platforms they are performing best.
You can also get a great insight into the format style that works best for your subtopic, niche, and audience. It even lets you know the optimal word count and time to post based on what has worked for your competitors in the past.
8. Create a content creation strategy to fill the gaps
You’ve identified gaps in your content. Now it’s time to fill them!
When creating content, focus on how your brand adds value to your audience. Come up with a few core topics on what you are known for or what you want to highlight.
Mapping out your content ensures that you create content that matters to your audience. For budding brands, be realistic.
When creating content for your topic clusters, make sure that your content doesn’t only push your site visitors to take action.
You need to make sure that each piece of content is packed with information your visitors will find helpful.
Start by looking for the questions that your target audience is asking.
Here are some places where you can find these questions:
Once you type in a keyword, Quora will then show you a list of the questions its users are asking.
Ideally, you’d want to choose those suggestions that start with the word “Topic” because you’re going to get all of the questions that Quora already found that’s related to the keyword you used.
Most would go through the answers Quora presents the moment the page loads.
I recommend clicking on the Answer tab on the top part of the page instead.
The reason is that this is where you can find the top questions that people are asking that you can answer through your content.
This is also where you can find a list of other related topics you can use to create your topic clusters.
Studying your competitors’ pages and their content helps as well. Knowing which of their posts perform well can help you find ways in which you can provide more value and a better experience for your users.
Google’s search results page (SERP)
There are two different sections in the Google SERPs where you can find content gaps. The first is the “People also ask” section.
These are the most common questions that your target audience asks about your chosen topic.
The second is the “Related Search” section.
This section is located on the bottom part of SERPs.
Here, you can find a list of the different keywords you can use to optimize the content you’ll create for your topic clusters.
Industry-related social groups
Facebook and LinkedIn groups give you another platform where you can collect questions that you can use to create content for your topic clusters.
Also, some members would share links to their latest published content.
You can then check these pieces of content and find gaps and areas that you can further expound upon.
After you publish your content, you can then reach out to the ones who created the content and offer your content as a supplement to what they’ve already published.
By doing this, you not only create quality content for your topic clusters but also open the doors for you to build valuable backlinks to your website.
9. Optimizing content for humans and search engines
Google continually updates its algorithms to ensure that they provide their users with high-quality, relevant, and helpful content.
So, you need to follow fundamental SEO best practices to make it easier for Google and other search engines to find your content and display this in their search result pages (SERPs).
At the same time, you need to make sure that the content you’ll include in your topic clusters is those that’ll resonate with your target customers.
Because at the end of the day, it’s people—not search engines—whom you need to convince to buy your products or services.
Here are some ways on how to make sure that the content appeals to both humans and search engines.
Properly structure your content
Before publishing any type of content, seasoned marketers would carefully plan and outline this using a specific copywriting formula.
The copywriting formula most marketers use is the AIDA model.
Source: Smart Insights
As you can see in the diagram above, this copywriting formula helps you structure your content so that your readers are convinced to take the action you want them to do.
Write your content just like how you talk
This is crucial for three reasons.
First, it makes your content easier for your readers to understand what you’re trying to tell them. Otherwise, your readers won’t know what action you want to do next.
Second, it won’t turn off visitors to your site.
With so much content available on the internet, your visitors won’t waste their time deciphering all those complicated words and industry jargon you use in your content.
If they can’t understand what you’re trying to say in your blog and web pages, they’ll opt-out and go elsewhere.
Third, it’ll be easier for you to repurpose your content as a live video.
Over half of customers today prefer consuming video content over blog posts.
Not only is video content easier to consume than blog posts, but it also does a better job when it comes to establishing trust among your target audience.
Of course, that only can happen when those viewing your videos would feel like you’re having a conversation with them.
Use the same words your audience use
Your leads and customers use specific words to describe their pain points and goals.
Adding these words within your content tells your target audience that you’re listening to what they want and need. It’s also another way for you to help you build a relationship with your target customers.
10. Monitor your results
Even though creating topic clusters can boost your organic reach and site traffic, you still need to keep a close one on each content you publish.
That’s because, despite all the planning you’ve done, some of the content you’ve published will perform better than others.
There are several analytics tools you can use to monitor your content’s performance and see if you’re hitting the goals you established.
Databox, for example, collects analytics from the different tools you’re using for your business into one dashboard.
It also allows you to create scorecards that’ll update you on the most critical KPIs you’re monitoring on your desktop and your mobile device.
That way, you can quickly make adjustments to your topic clusters so that you further improve your content’s search rankings.
This guide gives you all the basics to help you organize your content into topic clusters.
Of course, this is only half of the equation. It’s still essential to make sure that your target audience finds your content helpful, informative, and entertaining.
That way, your visitors are encouraged to stay on your website longer. This, in turn, will boost your SEO rankings, drive more organic traffic, and increase conversions.
Continue using this strategy, and search engines will begin to recognize your page as industry masters as well, bringing your site to the front of search pages.