Topic Clusters may be the latest trend in content marketing, but are they the next evolution in SEO? Many articles have referred to topic clusters as “the new keywords,” and in some cases, they’re referred to as an “earth-shattering” evolution of search engine optimisation.

So, with all this buzz around topic clusters, you’re probably wondering what exactly they are and whether they are worth your time. This article will take you through everything you need about topic clusters and why you should care.

What are topic clusters?

In basic form, a topic cluster is a way of grouping content. It consists of a core topic, known as a “pillar page” and related subtopic content pages. These content pages then link back to the pillar page (core topic) and each other.

What is a pillar page?

A pillar page is a long-form content page that covers a broad topic and is packed with information. This article, for example, contains a pillar page topic of “content marketing”. The cluster content pages then cover more detailed content and topics that fall under the umbrella of that specific pillar page. So, in our example, the content pages could include things such as “content planning”, “blogging”, and “buyer personas”.

This is a brilliant way to group content and helps to organise concepts, but the reasons it’s very effective go beyond just that.

Google RankBrain, Keywords and Machine-Learning

The evolution of the cluster tactic resulted from a shift in how search engines function. Over the last decade, we’ve seen how Google has begun to shift its focus to machine learning. This means that a computer teaches itself how to do a task, rather than a person or program showing or prompting it. Google, using its machine-learning artificial intelligence system known as RankBrain, now has the power to pull better search results based on abstract concepts, synonyms, and natural languages. Below, we consider this in action.

Let’s consider a simple query from a music fan of Dua Lipa. This fan may want to know her age, so “Googles it” for the answer. As users of search engines, we’ve learned to ask questions in fragmented and short phrases. So, the individual may type in “Dua Lipa age”, and the search result could be:

dua lipa

However, Google has become even smarter. So, it will produce the same search results, even if the question is asked in a more natural language way. This basically means the individual could type something in which they would normally “speak,” such as “How old is Dua Lipa?” Thanks to Google’s smart algorithms, it can result in the same correct search results.

But what does this mean for content marketers?

This means they need to focus on becoming the most relevant content resource for a specific topic rather than just on keywords. Ranking for a specific keyword is no longer enough, as Google can now understand the intent behind natural language search queries. This means they will show results based on the website with the most credible information sources.

This is a good strategy because it allows us to respond to the evolution of search engines but in a very smart way. Some tactics are more effective than others in content marketing, but topic clusters incorporate many of the most effective content marketing tactics into one beautifully cohesive strategy.

Creating a content strategy that builds topic authority

Content marketing isn’t very effective unless you’ve implemented a proper strategy. That’s why it’s important to structure content efforts into quarterly strategies that allow our clients to centre around a specific topic. Writing a series of specific blog posts that relate to a more general topic tends to help clients build more authority around that topic.

For example, a motorhome company campaign may focus on a general concept such as “Purchasing a motorhome.” In this case, individual blog post topics may include “What are the benefits of owning a motorhome?” or “A guide to buying a used motorhome”.

Using the topic cluster model takes this campaign one step further. Topic clusters mean you would still write the same blog posts as normal but also create a pillar page on “buying a motorhome". Then, you would link all the related blog posts to that one pillar page.

This is a brilliant method of building topic authority on your website. Organising your content in this form allows Google to crawl through your content much more seamlessly and quickly. They will be able to recognise and understand the relationships between the topics, which will increase your authority.

Showing Expertise with long-form content

Marketers tended to focus their content on optimising for an exact keyword. This resulted in an influx of articles online in an attempt to rank for a specific search query- but the problem is, most were unhelpful.

Since search engines have become smarter, marketers have had to evolve and grow to create genuine content that actually provides useful information to a searcher's query.

Marketers are now focusing on their content's quality and usefulness to an audience - and that’s what Google cares about. This typically results in longer-form content. The most effective length of a blog post is around 2,100 words and should take approximately 7 minutes to read. This is a lot longer than the previous 800-word rule of thumb. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you should ramble on to up your word count. We need to have the interest of the people reading in mind and adapt to create content that is a genuine help to our potential audiences.

Topic clusters prioritise long-form content with a weighted pillar page. On the pillar page, you should cover the main topic in great detail—the richer and more helpful the content, the better.

Broadening search visibility with long-tail topics

Addressing more niche topics that are less competitive presents you with a great opportunity. Optimised blog posts about the right long-tail topics can gain extremely impressive website traffic.

Long-tail topics are a vital component of the overall topic cluster method. Content pages need to focus on narrow topics, as this improves the visibility of your website for specific terms while still providing visitors with relevant information.

Building your internal link strategy

Your internal link strategy will greatly influence how search engines can and will make sense of your content. By linking one page to another, you’re letting them know that this page relates to another. By creating a solid internal linking strategy, you bring structure and order to your website, which helps boost your overall website. So, if one blog topic succeeds, it can reward linked topics with a higher placement in search engines.

Content pillars have an internal link strategy built in. All the various content posts will link back to the pillar page using one hyperlinked keyword. The effect of this would look like this:

  • Search engines would see that content within a website has a semantic relationship to each other.
  • Search engines would also see that the website contains lots of knowledge about that specific topic.

Of course, this will boost the position of your website as it provides a wealth of information.

A side benefit of the topic cluster strategy is that it will keep your blog posts in the centre and focused. This is because they are linked to the pillar page, so they won’t get lost in the website's blog section. This, in turn, increases your blog efforts as the content is exposed more.

The final verdict

So, is the topic cluster method a good one? Yes! It helps with content marketing strategy organisation, uses marketing best practices, improves your position in search engines, and organises a wealth of information that can only help your visitors. This is an evolution of how smart marketers should respond to search engine updates.

Remember that topic clusters are only as good as your content strategy. To see success, you need proper research and organisation.

If you have questions about developing a content strategy that drives your company's results, click here to arrange a FREE Content Marketing Assessment, call 01376 51 66 86, or book a meeting with Alex, our content director, online!