In the fourth part of our 2019 Organic Search Trends webinar series, Earned Media Manager Amanda Haxton teaches us how to leverage a topic cluster strategy to organize your website content.
To view the previous video in this webinar series, check out Greg’s Rise of the Devices: SEO Opportunities for Smart Speakers & Digital Assistants recap post.
Date: April 23rd, 2019
Time: 11am PST
Full Webinar Recording + Q&A Recap: 2019 Organic Search Trends Webinar Recap
Topical Content Clusters: What Are They & How Can They Drive Traffic?
Topic clustering is a strategy for organizing and architecting your content into a group ‘cluster’ structure, which focuses on topics instead of keywords.
Topical content clusters have grown in popularity for the last couple of years, and in 2019 businesses are really starting to adopt the idea.
Since the 2013 Hummingbird update, we have seen Google shift away from keywords to favor a topical focus, and content strategy is finally catching up with changes in the SERPs.
The growing popularity of this strategy is good news for your overworked content teams. That’s because this strategy focuses on content quality, not quantity. It cuts down on the creation of excessive, or siloed content which targets individual long-tail keywords. Clustered content is great for readers who want to explore a topic in-depth and easily find related content. They can stay on a page longer and view more pages.
However, for this strategy to see its full SEO value the internal linking structure of your topic cluster matters just as much as the content. Topic clusters center around a central page which provides an overview of the broader topic. This page is known as the ‘Pillar’ page, and it’s depicted in this diagram with a big blue circle.
Smaller ‘sub-topics’ are known as cluster pages and shown here in the grey circles. The Pillar page will link to all the other pages in the topic cluster, and they, in turn, will link back to the Pillar page, creating a spider’s web of internal links that show the connection between the pages.
When a backlink comes into any of your cluster pages it benefits the entire topic group. This linking structure shows a semantic relationship between each page, catering to Google’s latent-semantic-indexing algorithm, which is used to discover how a term and content work together to mean the same thing.
Your cluster topics don’t have to focus on long-tail variations of the same keyword, but they should be thematically related. In this example, If our pillar topic was ‘the ultimate guide to on-page SEO’ our cluster sub-topics could be: internal linking, content, keyword research, etc.
What Does a Topic Cluster Look Like in the Wild?
So, what does it look like in the wild? There are several ways to present a topic cluster experience to users. One great example comes from The Atlantic, who collaborated with Athena Health on a project called Population Healthier.
In this example, the Atlantic created a rich Pillar page, with an article menu, seen here on the left, that allows you to break out into sub-topics. In addition to an article menu, relevant anchor text links to cluster pages in context throughout the pillar page content. Both linking layouts work to create clustered content.
If you want to look at more topic cluster examples you can check out HubSpot’s blog. HubSpot implemented the topic cluster strategy and championed the trend using their own blog as a case study.
Here are some takeaways if you’re thinking about adopting this strategy.
What is a Pillar Page?
- We can think of Pillar pages as the main content hub for an overarching topic.
- There should only be one pillar page for each topic cluster group.
- The pillar page covers a topic broadly, touching on each of our subcategories or cluster topics, but without going into depth.
- The pillar page will target the broad high-volume keywords for your chosen overarching topic but should focus on writing naturally about a topic and not just keyword stuffing.
- The pillar page links to each and all the cluster pages.
What is a Cluster Page?
- The cluster page will cover a sub-topic that relates to our overarching theme and will provide in-depth content on that subject.
- The cluster page should link back to the pillar page and can link to a limited number of other pages in the cluster.
- For example, if the topic cluster is organized as a series of learning material, you can link to the course overview (the pillar page) the next topic in the course series and the previous topic.
Meet Our Expert:
Amanda Haxton has spent 10 years in the digital content space in SEO, content marketing and social media. Amanda’s experience spans across both hands-on editor roles and strategic consulting for some of the world’s most well-known brands. As a Manager of Earned Media at The Search Agency, Amanda is responsible for planning and implementing SEO and organic audience-generation strategies for clients across a range of industry verticals.