Link building, good content, strong site authority: these are a few of the buzzwords you hear when it comes to SEO talk—and for good reason. Google looks at these factors to determine your rankings on their SERPs. And lucky for site builders out there, there’s an SEO strategy that combines all three. Topic clusters are an SEO method that can boost your rankings and give your page visitors a great experience—which keeps them coming back for more.
Here, we’ll break down the mystery of topic clusters, show you how to build them, and explain why they’re the most powerful SEO weapon to date.
What Are Topic Clusters
In short, topic clusters are interlinked pages related to a general topic that you’re trying to rank for. Your topic clusters are created to provide more specific information about your general topic, usually referred to as the pillar page. In order to better understand topic clusters, we’ve got to understand what a pillar page is and how the two work together.
Your pillar page is your main focus and is a generalized subject. The pillar page is going to be the place where you provide basic information about a topic your users are searching for. These pages are going to be designed so that you rank for popular keywords with the end goal being high rankings for high-volume industry keywords. Now, it will take a lot of time and effort to get there, but if you know the end goal, you can structure your pillar pages to help get you there.
So now you know what a pillar page is, but why are they so crucial to topic clusters? Essentially, a topic cluster exists to point back to the pillar page. The topic cluster is a very specific offshoot of your main topic on the pillar page. For example, if a user wants to build their brand awareness, a pillar page targeted toward them might give some general information about what brand awareness is and why it’s important, and it would include links to articles or pages—topic clusters—giving more focused content with a more specific keyword focus (for example, “how to measure brand awareness,” “how can brand awareness benefit your company,” etc.)
Your topic clusters allow you to provide specific information to your users while at the same time pointing them to your pillar page. Having the topic clusters linked to the pillar page shows search engines that you site is authoritative and should be ranked high on the SERPs. And in addition to the SEO benefits your topic clusters offer, they enable you to provide searchers with a great experience. Your site becomes a one-stop-shop for their inquiry because you provide a varied wealth of information relevant to their search.
The topic cluster SEO strategy is, at its root, a very strategic link-building method. The topic clusters are linked to your pillar page to boost its authority and legitimacy in the eyes of Google’s web crawlers.
How to Create Topic Clusters
Now that we know what topic clusters are and how they function within a site, how do you get started?
Let’s begin with keywords for your pillar page. Keep in mind, your pillar page is going to be high-ranking and high-traffic. If you don’t have a pillar page already created, look at your existing content. If you’ve already done keyword research and have created pages based around your target audience’s needs, you’ve almost certainly got the makings of a great pillar page. If necessary, make a few edits and update your content.
Where To Start With Cluster Pages
Now that your pillar page is established, you can focus on your topic clusters. Start with keywords. Unlike with typical keyword strategies and your pillar page, your topic clusters aren’t going to rank for popular-level keywords or phrases. These pages are much more focused and specific.
Look at your analytics to determine which keywords you’re already ranking for. Think about the questions your consumers are asking themselves, and what they’re asking of you. You can also take advantage of the People Always Ask tool to get real data on the queries Google receives related to your main topic. As you determine your audience’s needs, you can then build your topic clusters, linking the pages to your pillar page.
What to target in your clusters
The first clusters you build should be for very low-ranking keywords. Once those topic clusters built around low-volume keywords start ranking, create more clusters focused on keywords that rank slightly higher, linking them to your pillar page. Continue this until you’ve got a hierarchy of pages that are linked together and to your pillar page. This shows Google that you are a legitimate authority on the topics you cover. The search engine will recognize you as an expert on the low-ranking keywords and, in turn, will do the same with higher-ranking words and phrases.
Search Engine Journal compares topic clusters to a line of dominoes, with the dominoes increasing in size as the line grows. Once the first domino is knocked down (symbolizing your first topic cluster with a very low-ranking keyword), it knocks down bigger and bigger dominoes, which in this case are your pages with higher- and higher-ranking keywords. Few SEO methods have as much power behind them as topic cluster building.
Why They Work for SEO
As we stated above, topic clusters are a very deliberate link building strategy. And link building is one of the best ways to legitimize your site in the eyes of Google. As you’ve got links from one page to another on your site, you’re signaling to Google’s crawlers that your pages are important and provide information people are searching for. Topic clusters exist to do the very same thing.
With each topic cluster, you have a very specific (and hopefully helpful) page that addresses specific queries of Google’s users. When these pages are linked to your pillar page, Google sees that you have the answers to questions their users are asking—and even those they haven’t thought to ask. And because Google wants to put its best, most authoritative and relevant results at the top of the SERPs, you should soon find yourself there if you execute your topic clusters effectively.
As you create content built on higher volume keywords, you’ll start ranking for those as well as for the less popular keywords around which you initially built your topic clusters. Think of topic clusters as a snowball. You start small with low-volume searches. As time goes on, you gain momentum with Google’s crawlers, and you begin to rank for higher and higher volume keywords. Utilizing topic clusters is a long-term strategy that, once you execute it, continues to grow into an almost unstoppable SEO force.
Utilizing topic clusters is a great way to take your site from good to excellent, and both you and the user benefit from this SEO strategy. You win because your content links together to boost your expertise and authority, which means better rankings for your site. At the same time, users get what you could call a “full-service” solution to their query. While the process might sound intimidating, you’re simply building pages and linking them together. As your pages gain momentum, you’ll see that your rankings for low-volume keywords grow, and then your rankings for popular keywords and phrases will follow suit.