Why SEO experts recommend topic clusters for creating content

The topic cluster model isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a logical way of organising and planning your content by focusing on one key topic at a time. Read why SEO experts are recommending it to get the best results from your content creation.

Has your SEO specialist mentioned using the ‘topic cluster model' to get more juice from your content? If not, they should have.

You might have heard about the topic cluster model if you’re a content marketer whose goal is to improve SEO with the content you’re creating. If not, we're here to tell you all about it. The good news? It’s not rocket science. It’s simply a logical way of thinking about, organising and planning your content around one key topic at a time. What’s relevant for your business and readers and keeps them on your website, also makes sense to Google's algorithms. That means you win at content marketing by getting overall excellent SEO results.

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But, like, what are topic clusters?

The topic cluster methodology is about having a central topic and exploring everything relating to that with a bunch of different articles. It's what documentary series have been doing for decades. Get it right, and you'll streamline how you organise and plan content marketing – and (this is the best part) you'll never run out of blog or article ideas.

How it works comes down to two elements:

- Your pillar piece – content in long-form, covering a big, overarching theme

- Your cluster topics – all the smaller pieces that link out from your pillar piece

Building your pillar content

These overarching topics are most relevant to your reader, written in long form, most commonly as an online guide. There's a lot to say, and you'll want to cover the whole topic in small, summarised sections that allow readers to click out to an article with more detail. You can expect your pillar content (ebooks or guides) to be between 2000-4000 words.

Adding your cluster topics

When you’re writing your pillar piece, you’ll see lots of opportunities to go deeper into specific areas – those are your cluster topics. For these, you can produce separate articles, link out to case studies or create how-to guides like this one: "Plan your way to writing success". Anything you can create that might be useful to the reader and delivers value, will keep your audience engaged and on your site.

How topic clusters boost SEO

The latest Google algorithm doesn’t care as much about keywords anymore.

It looks more closely at what people do on your site. Do they spend ages? Do they click around heaps? If done well, content planned and written around the topic cluster model keeps people engaged, sending them deeper and deeper into your content. If your content is relevant to the audience, engaging and comprehensive, with applicable hyperlinks between the pillar and cluster content, you can’t lose.  

Own a single search area

That has to do with how Google's algorithms can understand and identify related keywords – Google will know that ‘hotel owners’ and ‘hoteliers’ mean essentially the same thing. It means that lots of your cluster-topic blogs will have a shot at popping up for a single search result. You can start to ‘own’ a topic area – no matter what people search for in your niche, you’ll be there. That creates a positive domino effect. Better ranking means more users across your whole cluster and a longer time on site, which equals better ranking and boosts your credibility in areas outside your cluster topics.  

How to design your first content cluster

Creating your content using the cluster-topic model is a much more organised way to plan your regular flow of content (also crucial to SEO) than coming up with wide-ranging, unrelated topic ideas each month.

Here’s how.

1. Come up with your pillar topic

Unsurprisingly, the first step is to define your broad pillar piece, which should tick all these boxes:

- Delivers something of value to your potential customers

- Lets you showcase your expertise

- Educates customers about buying from you

- Broad enough to allow for lots of subtopics

2. Research your keywords to decide on cluster topics

I know we've said keywords don't matter much anymore, but if you have any keyword research, then it can be helpful when planning your content pillars and topic clusters. Looking at what people are searching for will help you understand what information they want and guide your thinking when defining sub-topics. Alternatively, understanding your audience and what you offer them will provide you with these key target areas also.

3. Publish cluster topic articles first

Following SEO best practice, write up some content for each cluster – each should target a keyword or term that's different from the others, so you're not making them compete. Try to focus less on SEO 'rules' and more on what the reader will find interesting and valuable. Part of that should be hyperlinking them to your other cluster topics and back to the pillar piece. Make sure those hyperlinks are super-informative – instead of hyperlinking the words 'click here', trying explaining what content they'll get once they click like, learn how to add hyperlinks super fast.

4. Publish your pillar content article last

While your readers will probably start with your pillar piece and shoot off to the cluster articles, you'll create and publish them in reverse. Mainly due to the fact that if you publish the pillar piece first, then links out to cluster topics won't work if they haven't been published. It also makes finding natural places to link out from your pillar piece to all the cluster topics a lot easier.

5. Link up your pillar and cluster articles

Now it’s time to get linking – your cluster articles should have natural links to the pillar piece, and to any of the other cluster articles that would be useful to the reader.

Cluster-topic model – an example


- Your puppy and you, the ultimate guide

Cluster topics:

- 100 greatest puppy names of all time

- Designing the perfect puppy pad – how-to, must-dos

- Five ways to better bond with your new puppy

- The five first steps for responsible puppy ownership

- Ten things your dog must never eat

- The best dog food brands

- What to ask before choosing a vet

- Puppy training – the basics

- Toilet training your pup – what you need to know

- Socialising your new dog – the ins and outs

- Home alone – separation anxiety and your puppy

- Puppy speak – what’s their behaviour telling you?

- Training your dog to be left alone

Pillars and clusters – the run-down

Using the cluster topic model for content marketing makes a lot of sense – it's a logical way of organising content that lets readers dig into detail where they want to. It works for the reader and therefore works for Google, boosting your search rankings and domain cred while giving audiences the information they need to trust you.

Winning at the cluster topic model is multi-pronged – you first need to get your pillar and cluster topics organised so they meet your business goals and provide value to potential customers. Then you need to ensure the articles you're creating are comprehensive, easy to read and on-brand.

If that sounds hard, remember very few businesses are making the most of the system – getting amongst it and loading those clusters up could give you a real first-mover advantage. Then, of course, you need to get to the writing part.

Need help with regular content writing? We’ve got some handy packages on offer – to see our rate card, get in touch.

Rowena Allsopp

Director Sales and Marketing