Whether you’re building a site for your technology company or blogging about gaming, there are a few things more important than learning how to use content to your advantage. A good content strategy ensures you can capture the attention of your audience, as well as boost your chances of ranking in the search engine result pages.
While strategies for how to stand out online have evolved considerably over the years, one thing seems to always remain the same: keywords are crucial to any content campaign.
Lately, however, how companies and bloggers use keywords to stand out online is beginning to change. Notably, there’s a growing focus on “content clusters” to help build thought leadership and speak to the search engines.
Simply put, a topic cluster is a new way to think about keywords. Traditionally, Google associated specific web pages with relevant keywords when those keywords were used prominently in the page’s content and its metadata.
Today, however, Google’s algorithm has become sophisticated enough to “understand” the semantic meanings of published content, so that if your website is going to rank well for the keywords that matter most to your business, your content strategy needs to be focused on establishing authority by iterating with rich resources that explore niche topics – not just isolated keyword matches.
Structurally, topic clusters are interlinked pages on a website about a specific subject. There are three components to any successful cluster:
- A central page focused on a primary topic
- A “cluster” of pages covering related subtopics in depth
- Internal linking between all of the pages
Using topic clusters is a good way to help the search engines understand the hierarchy and structure of your website, as well as your overall realms of expertise, boosting your chances of being seen as an authority in your industry.
Laying out your website’s architecture also makes it easier for customers to find the information they need quickly too. It’s much easier for a customer to see a term they’re interested in and click on the interlinked anchor than it is for them to search for extra information on your website.
A topic or content cluster doesn’t have to be as complex as it seems. With a little patience and the right tools, you can break the process down into a few simple steps.
1. Choose a Topic
The first step in developing your cluster is picking the topic you’re going to build additional content around. The topic you pick needs to be focused enough to concentrate on a single concept, but broad enough to allow you to produce a large amount of content.
For instance, a central topic might be “How to use Firefox more efficiently,” while cluster topics could discuss things like blocking unwanted tabs in Firefox, clearing cookies, and establishing privacy settings. You don’t need to overthink this too much to get started.
Start with something simple, like the service areas your business covers. Ideally, all the topics you choose should satisfy informational search intent, have search traffic potential, and be broad enough to generate new subtopics.
2. Research Your Clusters
Once you have a core topic for your content, you can begin to research options for “cluster” pages. A keyword search tool can help with this process, by showing you semantically related words to the primary term you want to rank for, as well as the pages that your competitors have published which are currently ranking for those terms.
Other options include doing topical keyword research with Wikipedia and clicking through subpages connected to the central topic you’re interested in to find more talking points. There are also tools that allow you to track down topics missing from your content that other competitors have already covered.
You can even look into the “People Always Ask” or “Related Searches” sections on Google to help you expand your ideas.
3. Creating Your Topic Cluster Plan
Once you’ve got a topic idea and a handful of cluster sub-topics to cover, you can begin to look into how you’re going to organize your content. Start by focusing on your pillar page – the central page all of your subtopics will link back to. What kinds of talking points are you going to cover on this page, and how will it link out effectively to your other pages?
As you list the sub-topics for your pillar page, you might notice some of them are more connected than others, which may require more internal linking between these individual pages. Remember, to create quality content, you need to make sure the information you’re covering is relevant and interesting to your audience.
Don’t just cover the same things your competitors have already discussed. If competitors are writing about similar topics to yours, look for ways to make your writing different and more valuable. Here are some quick tips to help you:
- Write naturally: Don’t try to stuff your topic cluster with keywords. Write in a conversational tone, focusing on communicating with a human audience.
- Focus on quality, not quantity: Fill your content with actionable insights, like how-to guides and step-by-step instructions.
- Be clear and concise: Answer questions your readers might have quickly and concisely. Though it’s fine to be a little creative with your content, don’t go off on a tangent.
With your content created, the next step is publishing your pages and adding the internal links. As you develop new content connected to the pillar page, you will need to add new internal links on a continuous basis.
Focus on frequently expanding your site architecture and ensuring everything on your website is aligned and connected.
Remember, as you’re going back and adding new links to your cluster and pillar pages, you should also be looking for new ways to improve the quality of the content you share.
Keyword research isn’t what it used to be, and we’re all better off. Whereas optimizing your blog posts to surface on Google was once all about ranking for specific search strings, today, it’s about establishing domain expertise. This calls for strategic research into topic clusters and creating rich resources that offer value to your audience.
With the right research approach and website structure, your cluster pages will help your site’s rankings holistically and will keep visitors clicking around and engaging with you.