4 Reasons All Content Marketers Should Be Using Topic Clusters

By Rhonda Bradley / 10 July 2018

Find out what topic clusters are and why they have such a strong impact on search engine rankings.

Topic clusters are a specific way of organizing and interlinking your content marketing to better serve your website visitors and search engines. They’ve been described as “the future of SEO,” “the next evolution of SEO,” and even “the new keywords.”

A topic cluster is a content planning strategy that groups 1 “pillar” piece with 5-20 “cluster” pieces. The cluster pieces all link back to the pillar piece

Here’s how the different types of content work together:

  • A pillar piece of content is an in-depth article or guide that covers a broad topic.
  • The cluster pieces are additional articles that support subtopics of and link back to the pillar piece.

An in-depth experiment run by HubSpot team members showed remarkable improvement in search engine rankings and increased organic traffic with the use of tightly-woven internal linking structures such as topic clusters.

The more internal linking they did, the higher the content ranked on search engine results pages. Here’s an image of one of that data charts from HubSpot’s experiment, which shows that impressions also increased with interlinked content.

HubSpot experiment results data
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In this article, we’ll explain why topic clusters work and offer 4 reasons why all content marketers should be using them. 

It’s proven that topic clusters:

  • Improve search engine rankings and drive organic traffic
  • Keep your readers onsite longer
  • Establish your authority and expertise
  • Give your team direction

1. Topic Clusters Improve Search Engine Rankings and Drive Organic Traffic

As search engine optimization evolves, so do the ways in which Google ranks your site. Topic clusters improve SEO by establishing semantic relationships within your content and strengthening your relationship with Google.

Establishes a Relationships Between Posts

According to digital marketing expert Neil Patel, Google likes it when you establish a clean website where the hyperlinks make sense and tell Google exactly what your content is about.

In his article, Pillar Pages Explained, Patel says, “A major reason Google ranks one website or piece of content over another is that it can determine exactly what it’s about.”

For example, imagine you’re creating a topic cluster about candy-making. You start with an in-depth article, titled “How to Make Candy.” Like any good in-depth piece, it’s 3000 words in length and includes a table of contents. 

Then, you publish 6 shorter, supporting articles with titles like “The World’s Best Chocolate Candy Recipes” and “3 Mint-flavored Candy Recipes for Beginners.”

Without the topic cluster structure, Google doesn’t know that your candy recipe articles support the main “How to Make Candy” in-depth piece.

So, the recipe articles get grouped in with all the other content on your site, like “Dinners for 2” and “How to Cook Healthier.”

In the example below, HubSpot illustrates what this type of series might look like to Google. You’ll notice that they have 3 main topics, but all supporting articles are grouped together with no clear path to their corresponding topics.

HubSpot unorganized topic clusters
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But, when you structure your chocolate candy series in topic clusters, it creates a clear path from supporting articles to pillar pages. 

The in-depth article becomes your pillar page, and the supporting articles are your cluster pieces. The cluster articles all link back to your pillar page, and this tells Google what your content is about.

Here’s another HubSpot illustration showing how topic clusters organize your content for Google.

Proper topic clusters
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Helps Google Crawlers and Builds Page Authority

The structure of topic clusters also allows Google to crawl your site faster.

The internal linking structures act as signals that explain the architecture of your site. This helps build authority for your pillar pages.

So, the more internal content you link to a pillar page, the better it may rank in the search engines.

2. Topic Clusters Keep Your Readers Onsite Longer

The internal linking structure of topic clusters encourage the type of engagement that has a positive influence on your search engine rankings.

If a reader is interested in reading more about a topic, he or she will engage by clicking on the internal links contained within an article. This brings them to another piece of your content and increases the amount of time they spend on your site.

All of this contributes to a positive website engagement rate, which can have a strong impact on your search engine rankings.

For example, Moz found that for a particular keyword niche, sites with low bounce rates (defined as below 76%) were more likely to appear in positions 1-4 on search engine results pages.

The internal links of topic clusters help users better find the answers they need on your website specifically, dissuading them from bouncing elsewhere.

3. Topic Clusters Establish Your Authority and Expertise

When you offer a collection of articles on a specific topic, it helps to establish you as an authority in your industry.

Topic clusters show off your knowledge by using your own articles as a source of reference. The additional internal links showcase your expertise and further inform your readers.

In an example offered by CoSchedule, Jeff Goins wrote a high-level pillar piece of content titled, “The Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (for Humans).” 

Example of pillar content piece
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While this piece in and of itself is helpful, he furthers his authority on the topic by publishing more niche, cluster articles. Titles of these articles include “The Basics of Writing SEO Pages” and “More Advanced SEO Writing Tips.”

By expanding your content with pillar and cluster articles, you can offer readers a variety of knowledge and build your expertise.

4. Topic Clusters Give Your Team Direction

Finally, topic clusters give your team a creative direction, a common goal, and greater efficiency.

They let you pool your team's efforts into one topic at a time so you can increase productivity. 

Instead of coming up with an entirely new topic for each of your articles, you can create one “pillar” piece and then dive into specifics for a group of cluster articles. 

As your knowledge pool grows, your content begins to offer greater value. 

Topic Clusters Improve the Experience for Both Search Engines and Readers

The main goal of any content marketing strategy should be to offer quality content that serves a specific audience. Topic clusters help you do this better by offering an easier way to connect your readers with the content they want to see.

Topic clusters improve your search engine results and organic traffic. They make it easier for search engines to crawl your site and establish connections between your content offerings.

A topic cluster strategy is easy to plan and simple to follow through on. Be sure to check out a good how-to guide so you understand how the link and structures are set up. 

You can learn more about how to set up topic clusters at blogs like CoSchedule or HubSpot.

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