topic clusters header

Topic Clusters: A 5-Step Guide to the Best New SEO Strategy

If you stay on top of the latest in SEO strategies, then you’ve probably heard the recent buzz about topic clusters.

And I know what you’re probably thinking:

Oh, great, yet another new SEO approach for me to learn.

Look, I get it. Google’s search ranking algorithm changes all the time and that makes it tough to know if your content strategy actually works.

But here’s the thing:

Topic clusters are the new best way to organize your content and boost traffic to your site.

Which means if you’re not already using them, now’s the time to get started.

And that’s why I put together this post — to show you 5 steps for how to:

  • Develop “pillar” content based on important keywords for your target audience
  • Organize topic clusters around your pillar content
  • Interlink content for best possible SEO results
  • Access a workflow template you can start using on Zapty for free

But first, let’s get this exactly right:

What are Topic Clusters?

It wasn’t long ago that developing a content strategy focused exclusively on keyword research.

You’d spend all this time uncovering the perfect set of search terms without any real guarantee that Google’s algorithm would actually pick up your content and help you rank higher in organic searches.

But then, Google began shifting its focus from specific keywords toward more phrase-based search recognition (a.k.a. “long-tail” search phrases).

And it didn’t take too long for SEO experts to recognize that creating groups of content around a central topic is now the best way to boost your content’s rank in Google SERPs.

Chelsea Trautman from Matrix Marketing Group does an awesome job explaining why:

“Consumers expect search engines to understand their intentions, rather than just recognize keywords…Therefore, web crawlers may no longer be looking for specific keywords as much as they are looking for topics as a whole. Sites that demonstrate authority on a broad topic are more likely to provide an answer to a query than sites that are stuffing their pages with keywords. As a result, marketers need to rethink how they are structuring their website architecture in order to establish topical authority, instead of isolating web pages based on specific keywords.”

So, the idea of “topic clustering” came about to help organize that new approach to structuring site content.

Here’s How Topic Clusters Work:

If you read our recent post about the best blog writing process for creating killer content, then you already know keyword research is still an important part of your content strategy.

(That’s why we put together this free keyword research template based on Adam Sherk’s blog)

But, those keywords really only give you the first piece of the puzzle.

With your keywords in place, there are three key components of any topic clustering strategy:

#1. Pillar pages 

Like the name indicates, pillar pages act as the central hubs of your content strategy. After you’ve completed your keyword research and know the terms you want to focus on for your target audience, you’ll create pillar pages for each overarching topic.

It’s not too far off from how you probably have developed content in the past, only with one big difference:

In the past, that’s where your content strategy might have stopped. But today, that’s just the beginning.

#2. Related content pages

Topic clusters need a range of related content pages to help build authority for your pillar content.

Here’s a great visualization from MindTouch to help you see the relationship between your pillar pages and related content in a topic cluster:

an example of topic clusters

(image source)

Notice that in addition to the pillar content and range of subtopics, there’s one other critical component to topic clustering:

#3. Interlinks

It’s a simple fact:

The more internal links you build between your content, the better you’ll rank on Google SERPs.

So, that’s why the third piece of a successful topic cluster is how well you link together your related content pages and your pillar content.

As Izzy Witts over at Babelquest explains it:

“By linking the content together it shows the search engine that you have authority on a topic and over take should rank higher and higher for the topic it covers. It effectively weaves your content together and creates a site architecture that is easy to crawl.”

And that’s the ultimate goal of topic clustering — to set-up your content so that it’s easy-to-read by Google’s algorithms.

So, let’s go through how exactly you can do that:

Follow These 5 Steps to Build Successful Topic Clusters

#1. Start with Steps #1 and #2 of Our Blog Writing Process Template

Before you can start to build your topic clusters, you need to know two things:

  1. The content topics that really speak to your target audience
  2. The best keywords to focus on while developing that content

Luckily for you, I’ve included instructions on how to do both in my 11-step blog writing process template.

So before you get started on creating your own topic clusters, make sure you check out that post and learn how to find the right topics and keywords to really drive the right traffic to your site.

#2. Brainstorm Your Related Content Topics

You’ve researched competitor blogs…

You’ve done your keyword research…

That means you have the framework for your pillar content…

So now it’s time to put together the subtopics for related content pages. You can go about this a number of different ways, including:

  • Surveying your current customers
  • Talking with your team to generate ideas
  • Leverage LinkedIn groups to find relevant discussions on core topics

But, my personal favorite solution lies right within Google itself — the “related searches” to your pillar keywords.

Let’s say, for example, your target keyword is “blog writing.” Well, when I plug that into Google and scroll to the bottom of page 1, here’s what I get:

related searches to the term "blog writing"

Right away, I’ve got at least five different subtopics for related content pages here, such as:

  • The Right Format for Blog Writing
  • The X Best Sites for Becoming a Blog Writing Expert
  • A Step-by-Step Guide for How to Write a Blog Post
  • X Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Profitable
  • How to Make Your Blog Writing More Personal

If I wanted to take it further (which you definitely should — Leslie Ye, who lead the topic clustering effort over at HubSpot, says each piece of pillar content should be able to support 20-30 related content pages), I could run a search for any one of those topics and repeat the process.

Once you have your entire topic cluster complete, you’re ready to start mapping out the content:

#3. Build Your Content Roadmap

If your creating 20-30 pieces of content for every single pillar page, chances are it’s going to take you some time.

And that’s okay. Like many of the SEO strategies you’ve probably used over the years, building organic traffic is a long-play that takes time, strategy, and patience to find success.

But the key thing there is to actually have a strategy.

Here’s how to build a successful content map for your topic clusters:

  1. Start with your pillar pages. Because you’re likely only starting off with 5-10 different pillar pages, build these out first. (Afterall, you can’t really write your related content until you put the pillars in place.) 
  2. Schedule your related content in your workflow management tool. Every team has their own process, but if you want to see what works for us here on the Zapty team, we built a free template of our content marketing workflow that you can check out here. Here’s how our schedule looks on the platform:

zapty editorial calendar

#4. Interlink Content as You Go

Once you’ve started actually writing the content, don’t forget:

Interal links are everything. 

gif of woman saying "yes"

Not only should all of your related content pages link up to their pillar page…

…They should also try to all link to one another. 

That’s why interlinking isn’t just something you do when you write the post.

Interlinking requires constant revision. Previously completed pieces of content need to be revisited and updated with new related content links.

And while you’re updating those links, it’s important you also track a few key metrics to be sure your topic clusters actually work:

#5. Continuously Audit and Revise Topic Clusters

I’m sure you’ll agree with me on this: no true content strategy is ever fully-complete.

And topic clustering is no exception.

It’s important you continually review the performance of your pillar content to be sure your strategy works. Here’s what to track:

  • Google SERP ranking
  • Number of backlinks to your content
  • Clicks/views
  • Time-on-page
  • Conversions

Each of these measures gives you an idea of how the content is performing and whether the topic speaks to your audience. And while building an organic audience takes time, don’t be afraid to abandon a topic if you feel like you aren’t getting any traction on one or all of these measurements.

Now It’s Your Turn

Topic clusters help organize your content strategy in a way that speaks directly to how Google’s search algorithm promotes relevant content. With these five steps, you’re ready to start building your own topic clusters today.

And here’s the best part:

You can start using this exact template in Zapty today for free.

We’ve already built a preset template for topic clustering based on this blog post and we’re giving it away completely for free.

Click the link below to get started:

<<Link to Template>>