Topic Clusters: A Strategic path to high Google rankings

Author: Isabella Magnussen

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If you work with SEO or have an agency affiliated with you, you may have already come across the concept of “topic clusters”. But what does it really mean? And what does it involve working with topic clusters? Read on below for help building the best structure for your website.

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SEO

What are topic clusters?

Topic clusters are a way to structure your content where you delve deep into a given topic and answer all the questions users may have. A topic cluster consists of a pillar page covering a broad topic, as well as several subpages covering a single angle of the overarching topic and delving deeper into it.

Example of using topic clusters. The center represents a pillar page, while the surrounding figures represent supporting pages.

Why you should work with topic clusters as part of your SEO strategy.

Before 2013, one could “get by” by stuffing a bunch of keywords into a text, after which the page would most likely start ranking on Google. But then Google introduced Hummingbird, which marked the beginning of a new algorithm – and thus also a new way to get content to rank.
Now Google began to match the search intent behind the keywords, where the method now had to organize knowledge and help Google understand how multiple topics were related. Topics were organized into a vast network consisting of topic clusters, which brought together all topics and subtopics.
Since Google began to understand the intent behind the search, they could now also present better content to the user. Ever since, many SEO experts have actively worked with topic clusters to create better visibility for the pages they work on.

When you work with topic clusters, you are telling Google that you have a handle on a given topic and are willing to share your knowledge. It’s a long-term strategy and not low-hanging fruit when you work with topic clusters, but can nevertheless still be part of a strategy that also yields short-term results. But how?

If it’s a new website, it will have a low Domain Rating/Domain Authority and will have a very hard time ranking for competitive keywords. Even if the content is of very high quality.
Topic clusters can therefore help the site rank for long-tail keywords and less competitive keywords, so traffic begins to flow to the site, which helps build the site’s authority, allowing it to rank for better keywords with higher search volume.

With topic clusters as part of your SEO strategy, you can therefore:

  • Achieve traffic based on long-tail keywords and keywords with low search volume.
  • Improve the performance of your pillar page(s) so they can rank for keywords with higher search volume.
  • Build authority within specific topics, so Google will consider you an expert in the field.

In addition to helping build your site’s authority, topic clusters are also a way to help Google read and understand your site more easily.

Topic clusters are related to E-E-A-T

E-E-A-T is an extremely important concept that you should work intensively with when working with SEO – and topic clusters are actually a small part of E-E-A-T.

A stands for “Authority” and consists of being the go-to place for users when they search for information on a given topic or product. “Authority” can be divided into two ways; on a personal level and on a page level. The latter entails that your website builds a strong authority, but this can be difficult if it is a newer website or if the keywords are competitive with high search volume. But this is where topic clusters come into play.

With topic clusters, you can build what is called “topical authority” or “content topical authority” within SEO. This can be achieved by covering all aspects of a given topic on the website, using properly structured topic clusters, and ensuring that this content is regularly updated and published, as well as answering all the questions that users have. Google will thus see the content and the sender as authoritative and may reward it with better rankings.
Content that is regularly updated and published, and also answers all questions about the topic, also tends to receive more external links, which Google also sees as authoritative, as others want to share and link to your content.

What do topic clusters consist of?

Topic clusters consist briefly of three parts:

  • A pillar page
  • Several supporting pages
  • Internal links

Pillar page

A pillar page covers the overarching topic, also known as the “core topic”. Your pillar page is the foundation on which your entire topic cluster should be built and is therefore the core.

Supporting pages

A supporting page is an individual page within a topic cluster that elaborates on a single aspect of the overarching topic. A supporting page is thus thematically related to your pillar page and is connected to it through an internal link.

Internal links

The internal links are an extremely important part of a topic cluster, as they connect your supporting pages to your pillar page and thereby tell Google how the topics are related.

The importance of internal links in topic clusters

When building a topic cluster, you must not underestimate the importance of internal links, as they help tell Google how the pages are related and which pages are supporting pages versus the pillar page.

Your supporting pages should be linked to your pillar page. This way, supporting pages live up to their name and support your topic cluster’s pillar page.
It’s crucial that you link the pages together in this way, but many mistakenly believe that it’s also a requirement for your pillar page to link to all your supporting pages. This is not the case. However, you can certainly link from your pillar page to individual supporting pages if it makes sense, but not all supporting pages need to be linked.
You can also advantageously link across your supporting pages where it makes sense.

A topic cluster can consist of many different types of pages, such as category pages, product pages, and articles, and therefore does not necessarily reflect your website’s navigation structure. Therefore, you should think beyond your navigation structure and link the pages in a way that makes the most sense for both your SEO and the user experience.

But what about outbound links?

While it’s crucial to work on internal links in your topic cluster, you shouldn’t overlook the value of outbound links.
When it comes to outbound links, these are links that point away from your own website and towards other websites.

Everyone naturally wants to keep the user on their own website, but you shouldn’t see your website as a “final destination”. If there’s an opportunity to help the user find useful information that you don’t cover yourself, you can benefit from using outbound links that refer to good, authoritative sources.
When you use outbound links to external pages with very high relevance from both your pillar page and supporting pages, you can further strengthen your topic cluster by connecting it to a multitude of other related topics.

Be mindful of the keywords in your topic clusters

If topic clusters are built correctly, there will be an increase in the number of keywords driving traffic to your website. But, like so much else, an incorrect structure can do more harm than good.

If topic clusters are not optimized correctly or if the topics in your supporting pages are too close, you may end up with pages cannibalizing your keywords.
If there is cannibalization, it is because Google has difficulty understanding your content and figuring out which page is most relevant to a given keyword.

You should have a clear plan for the structure of your topic cluster before you start, as this will save you a lot of cleanup afterwards.
If it still happens that your pages and keywords are cannibalizing each other, you can start by looking at the following:

  • Is your pillar page perhaps better optimized for long-tail keywords than you thought?
  • Are your H1 headings and page titles written so that the topic is clear to Google and the keyword is used correctly?
  • Check the use of your internal links. Maybe you are sending too much value to your supporting pages rather than your pillar page.
  • How do your backlinks to your content look? Take a look at your off-site strategy, where the focus is on creating links to your pillar pages.

Here's how to achieve success with topic clusters:

Topic clusters are created by uncovering all subtopics related to a given overarching topic.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Brainstorm: Identify all relevant topics for your website, service/product, customers, and business. The best topics cover specific problems, goals, or relevant information your target audience is searching for.
  2. Gain an Overview: Categorize your topics. This is the starting point for creating topic clusters.
  3. Research the Topic and Identify All Relevant Subtopics: What else are users searching for? Find related subtopics, for example, by looking at Google’s “related to this search” section and categories in image searches.
  4. Conduct Keyword Research and Analyze User Search Behavior: Perform keyword research for your pillar page and all supporting pages. Use tools like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Ahrefs, Semrush, AccuRanker, etc.
  5. Create a Prioritized Topic List: Select your most important categories and start with them. For each topic cluster, focus on one pillar page (your core topic) and a handful of supporting pages (your sub-topics).
  6. Content is King: Focus on creating quality over quantity. Produce high-quality content that people want to read and interact with.
  7. On-page SEO: Optimize your content – both new and existing content in your topic clusters.
  8. Utilize Link Building: Promote your pillar pages and other content through PR and link building to gain more links from external sources.

DO YOU NEED HELP ON HOW TO BEST APPROACH SEO AND WORK WITH TOPIC CLUSTERS? FEEL FREE TO CALL, AND WE CAN DISCUSS HOW WE CAN ASSIST YOU.

DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY

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