How to boost your content with topic clusters

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One way to drive traffic to your website is to provide amazing content that is relevant and useful to your target audience.

To come up with this content, you’ll need to sit down and figure out what topics your website will cover. When brainstorming about the content that potential customers may be interested in, our minds often tend to jump around from one idea to the next in random succession. By the end of the session, you’ll probably have a list of ideas that cover a broad range of topics.

While these sessions are very important for finding new, untapped sources of value that your website can provide, you don’t want to just crank out content by moving down your random, unorganized list. Instead, you’ll want to take some time to organize your ideas into a content strategy.

Content strategy helps put intention and order behind what you post on your website. It will help create a more cohesive  and well-organized website, which will in turn improve the user experience. Believe it or not, a quality content strategy will also improve the search engine optimization of your website.

One method of content strategy that we’ll be looking into today is topic clusters. Read on to learn about what topic clusters are, how they can improve your site’s SEO, and how you can start fitting topic clusters into your own content strategy.

What are topic clusters?

A topic cluster consists of one pillar page that is focused on a certain topic, and it is supplemented by other pages along the same subject lines that link back to the pillar page, and to each other.

What is a pillar page?

Think of a pillar page as the overarching post for the chosen subject; it hits on many aspects of a subject without getting too bogged down into the details of any one area. The pages that are linked both to and from the pillar page are where the particular subject areas are broken down into the nitty gritty details.

How long should a pillar page be?

While there’s no specific word count for how long a pillar page should be, they are typically longer than the average blog post. The reason being that pillar pages should hit on every important aspect of the topic it’s covering. There’s no need to go super in-depth on each aspect (that’s what the surrounding linked blog posts are for), but the page should be comprehensive.

If you’re a huge numbers person, our suggestion is to keep your pillar pages between 1,800 - 5,000 words. This is a wide range, but it’s due to the differences in topics that you may want to cover.

How many pillar pages should you have?

The number of pillar pages you should have on your website depends on the number of relevant topics that your target customers would like to read about.

Consider your audience and why they come to your website. What do they want to find, or learn? What other topics may they find useful or interesting? Think about common questions you are asked by customers, and which subjects they may try to prod you about.

Pillar page examples

Let’s say your web sells painting supplies. Here are some examples for pillar pages that your audience may find on there:

  • Learning to paint: A beginner’s guide
  • Styles of painting: a comprehensive list
  • Successful modern artists: 10 case studies
  • What is that one for? A complete guide to paintbrushes

These pages will each give an overview of the given topic, such as learning to paint or modern artists, with the opportunity for more specific pages to hone in on certain details, such as a particular technique that beginner painters may use, or a bio of a certain modern artist.

Why topic clusters matter for SEO

So how does this site architecture help your website’s SEO? There are multiple reasons, and one of them lies within the backlinks that are created through the topic cluster method. The backlinks to the pillar page signal to Google and other search engines that the pillar page has authority on its topic of focus, and thus influence its ranking on the SERP to be higher for search queries on that subject. Search bots will be able to tell there is depth and breadth on your website about the subject, further increasing the authority of your pillar page.

Pretty amazing how simply the way pages are organized on a website, the architecture, can actually boost your rankings!

Another reason that topic clusters will improve your website’s SEO is that search engines will be able to easily scan the topic cluster and quickly identify the semantic relationship between the pillar page and its linked pages in the cluster. You can thank algorithms like Google’s RankBrain for this advancement.

There has been research done to back up these claims as well. HubSpot conducted a series of experiments in 2016, and their findings showed that the more interlinking between pages in a topic cluster there was, the rankings of pages in search results AND impressions both improved.

With this in mind, you’re probably wondering how you can start fitting topic clusters into your own content strategy.

How topic clusters fit into your content strategy

Besides the improvements to your website’s SEO listed above, topic clusters can have even more benefits to your website.

Greater efficiency in content planning and production

Even though topic clusters are not a complicated way to structure your content, they will help leaps and bounds during the content planning and production process. You should start a new cluster with the pillar page, with the bulk of the research on the topic being completed up front. Then, you can move on to creating other content pages that will require further research.

After your pillar page is created, you’ll never be stuck wondering where you should go next; your content pages will emerge naturally from areas you recognize your audience may want/need more information on.

Denser, richer coverage of topics

With this style of content organization, you will be able to cover so much more than a random one-off blog post would on the subject. The topic will be broken down into many pieces; no part of the picture will remain fuzzy or unclear.

Topic clusters won’t be the only SEO method you’ll want to incorporate into your website, they are to be used in conjunction for other SEO best practices. Topic clusters are one part of your overall site architecture, an aspect of your website that isn’t as obvious as the keywords you use or the content you post, but it is incredibly important to pay attention to and optimize as much as possible.

If you want to learn more about structuring your site for SEO, you can read our post about it here.

How to define your own topic clusters

Topic clusters start with pillar pages, and then build from there. To start defining your own topic clusters and building a list of pillar pages to create, ask yourself the following questions.

  • How can my website be broken out by topic?
  • What else does my target audience want to know?
  • What subjects will capture my audience’s interest?
  • Which topics will help my audience understand the purpose of my business better?

Once you have a particular topic in mind, it’s time to think about these questions.

  • Does it make sense to have a group of posts centered around this topic?
  • Can I build more content from this topic?
  • Can this subject be broken down into smaller pieces?
  • Are there closely related topics that could be used for more content?
  • Are there concepts in this subject that must be explained before other concepts may be discussed?

How to turn your topic clusters into pillar pages

If you’re starting from a website with a lot of individual, detailed posts that are not linked together in any deliberate way, don’t fear! You can easily adapt this content into topic clusters by creating pillar pages.

Take a look at the complete list of pieces on your website. Then, start grouping the posts up that are related. Think about the broader, more high level subject matter of each post, and then identify the posts that have the same subject matter.

Posts that you grouped together will then be the content in a topic cluster that surrounds the pillar page. The pillar page will be based on the high-level subject matter you identified the original posts to have in common. When building that pillar page, take the most important points of each piece of detailed content and string them together in a comprehensive overview of the subject. You may need to do some extra research and writing to ensure the pillar page flows in a logical and complete manner.

This may be working backwards from how we recommended topic clusters to be created, but it still works! When it comes to content organization and production, every website starts from a different spot.

Wrap up

Pillar pages and topic clusters, when you think about it, are actually a very simple way to organize the ideas and information on your website. However, they can make a website go from completely unorganized and sloppy to polished, easy to navigate, and comprehensive. When it comes to your website, you want to make sure your website falls into the latter list of attributes.

Topic clusters will give your website great SEO benefits by improving the internal linking structure and quality of the content you’re creating. They will help both search engines and users have a better experience on your website.

So get grouping, and see for yourself how topic clusters will improve your content strategy.

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