When Google decided to have conversations with its users, everything we had known about SEO and digital marketing changed.
Google’s new algorithms, with Hummingbird and RankBrain being the most talked about, have learned to dig into content and search for more accurate results to people’s queries.
Everybody’s favorite search engine doesn’t stop at keywords anymore. Machine learning and artificial intelligence allow Google to go beyond the keywords you type in the Search bar and capture the intent behind your search.
You ask Google where to go for dinner, and it shows you restaurants and food delivery apps. You want to know how old Madonna is; Google gives you her age, her birth date, and details about her career.
What does this mean for marketers?
It means that keywords alone (and keyword stuffing) can’t stay at the heart of a solid content strategy anymore.
It’s no longer a secret that content should delight prospects and customers. Every piece you create for your brand should add value to your website visitors. Google’s new strategy encourages and promotes ‘content for humans’ -- useful information that generates positive user experience and builds trust.
How do you make your content appealing for both your readers and the search engines? The answer is simple: topic clusters.
What Is A Topic Cluster?
A topic cluster is an SEO strategy that focuses on topics instead of the old, less efficient keywords. In plain English, it’s a method of reorganizing your content in a way that allows search engines and their crawlers to scan pages and find the connections between them more easily .
At the same time, topic clusters delight your customers because they put all your related information in one place. It’s easier for visitors to navigate on your website and find the information they need.
It doesn’t mean you need to take your old blog posts and articles and publish them under a new name. Instead, you'll rearrange your content into the new structure, updating and curating it to make it relevant to your audience.
Hubspot explains topic clusters:
Let’s recap the elements that define an effective topic cluster:
- Each grouping covers a single topic
- There’s a central piece of content (the pillar) that outlines the subject
- Around the pillar, there are several pieces (cluster pages) that target long-tail keywords
- The pillar links to each of the cluster pages using as anchor text the long-tail keyword covered in the article
- All cluster pages link back to the pillar using the same hyperlinked keyword
In essence, topic clusters signal to search engines when there are semantic relationships between various pages inside your website. When you connect cluster pages to your pillar page, you're telling crawlers that your pillar is important.
When one of these pages ranks higher in search results, the entire cluster performs better. And Google (or any other search engine you target) recognizes you as an authority in your niche.
Topic Clusters Help You Improve User Experience
A topic cluster includes everything your team knows about a topic -- and that’s a lot of stuff, as topic clusters should be closely related to your usual activity to maintain relevance.
When visitors arrive on your website with interest in what you have to offer, you’ll be able to provide them with all the details. The cluster gives accurate answers to many questions related to the subject, plus relevant articles to support the core topic and a series of pieces that treat subtopics and add more value to your readers.
A useful topic cluster has anywhere between 6 and 20 cluster pages that treat subtopics and give in-depth information about the subject. Visitors spend more time on your website because there's more to read and engage with after they get the information they need.
To take advantage of topic clusters, plan and group all the information you publish to make it easy to read and scan. Organization is vital for your topic cluster.
To make the process as easy as possible for your visitors, you must include the following elements in your pillar page:
- A table of contents - it allows readers to scan the article fast and jump to the part they’re interested in reading
- A back to top button - it improves user experience, as your visitors won’t have to scroll up and down on a long page to get to the section they want to read
- Links to related content - they guide visitors inside your website to get all the information they need
- Downloadable content - it allows readers to download the information on their computers and read it when they’re ready
An effective pillar page is downloadable! Research by HubSpot has revealed that as much as 90 percent of their visitors prefer downloading a PDF to reading a web page. Ungated content allows you to create a stable relationship with your audience and can be the foundation for a long-term business relationship.
A Topic Cluster Creates A Conversion Path
A pillar page is more than an efficient method to drive more traffic to your website. It’s a valuable resource that your prospects and customers can use to get more value from engaging with your brand.
By giving free access to valuable information, you get to hold the hand of every visitor that arrives on your website. You guide every person that gets in touch with your brand on their journey to becoming customers.
A topic cluster allows you to communicate effectively with your audience. When you provide valuable information, visitors who find it are more likely to come back for more later. Your content offer becomes an active conversion path; you use it to attract visitors, convert and sell.
As you grow your business, you can play with various forms of content to make your pillar page more attractive. You can add new subtopics and find ways to keep people coming back.
You can also test various CTAs -- what trigger words to use, where to place them inside the structure of your article, whether to use a button or not.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to see what works best for your audience and use it to build trust and help people grow.
Keep Creating Content for Humans!
The most critical element in your topic cluster remains the quality of your content. The information architecture and the hyperlinks are useful only when the information inside the topic cluster is valuable and engaging.
You need to put in all the effort to deliver relevant and fresh content. Identify what your readers want and need, and decide on the core topic of your cluster with your audience in mind.
Do in-depth research on the topic. See what others have written on the subject and whether there’s any gap that you could cover to bring more value to the table. Your content should be not only useful but unique to reach your goals.
Back up all the data you use with relevant sources, interview industry experts and rely on case studies to illustrate your cause. Build your articles to help people. Add advice, tips, or tricks to make your content actionable.
Think, "how will my content help people"? Your answer to this question can help you to plan, create, and promote your articles and blogs. This way, you make sure you're writing for humans, not search engines.
Your content should show your readers how to use the information you provide. Otherwise, your articles will be nothing but long and boring pieces that people don’t engage with.
Give instructions and use clear call to actions to guide your readers. Don’t be afraid to tell people what to do! In most cases, they’re on your website looking for solutions, not blocks of text.
Topic Clusters Are Here to Stay!
Topic clusters have brought a revolution in how marketers think about SEO. Keywords are still at the foundation of your content strategy, but they don’t deliver the same results anymore. You now have to build a web of content based on long-tail keywords, instead of merely writing blog posts and articles.
This makes blogging a little more complicated than it used to be, but it can be done. Once you build a plan and start optimizing your content, your investment pays off. Your pages get noticed by search engines, your website shows up in SERPs, and you reach a broader audience.
With more people on your website and more valuable information available, you’re more likely to increase conversion rates, boost engagement and grow your revenues.
To get started with topic clusters, analyze how your content performs at the moment and start looking for opportunities to create your first cluster with the resources you already have. As you move forward and create new content, you can apply what you learned and poise yourself for content marketing success.