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Can Topic Clusters Help to Build Authority on Your Website?

Written by Angela Tempest

February 26, 2019

There are lots of ways to get around the dreaded bloggers’ block (yes, I just made that up).  You know, when you have your regular blog post spot coming around and no idea what to blog about.  Planning ahead, a content calendar, a blog post topic list, these are all great ideas.  Another approach is to start building topic clusters around the subjects you want to build your authority on.  Let’s check out what that’s about.

Where topic clusters came from

The idea of topic clusters was first discussed by HubSpot back in 2017.  The idea was simple – you have a piece of pillar content (or cornerstone content if you like) and you use this as the centre of a topic cluster.  You write a series of posts that link to and build on the topic of that main pillar content.

So let’s say I write a post about Pinterest marketing – one of those ultimate guides, a big chunky piece of content that covers all the basics from setting up a business account to using Tailwind.  It’s like a course but in a blog post.  It is epic.

And then I start writing around this topic to create a cluster.  I write an in-depth review of Tailwind, I look at how to use group boards, how to create a Pinterest strategy and what the latest best practices are for Pinterest images.  I take the ideas discussed in the pillar post and go into more details, perhaps even two or three pieces of content for each topic.  Or more, depending on how you want to break it up.

The end result would look a little like this:

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Why they can work

So why did HubSpot, CoSchedule and others come up with the concept and how has it worked for people since then?

The core idea behind the topic cluster model is due to a series of updates that Google made and have continued to make where user intent becomes more and more important.  If someone searches for Pinterest marketing, their intent is to find out how to use Pinterest for their business, not to find the latest kitchen designs on Pinterest.

And by building topic clusters on our blogs, we can provide not just the answer to that basic question of what is Pinterest marketing but also a host of other related topics that we know the reader will want.  We can help them build their knowledge – without leaving the site.

Link juice

Another reason that topic clusters work is link juice or that SEO principle of internal interlinking.  It is solid practice to link to your own content multiple times in each blog post with the aim of keeping people on your site and lowering that bounce rate.

But when you interlink to other content within the topic cluster, people are more likely to follow the link.  This means that all pages in the cluster will rank better and this, in turn, brings in more traffic.  And most importantly, it builds that truth and authority with the reader who realises you know your stuff.

Pillar pages or cornerstone content

So if this sounds good and you think that you can easily write a whole series of posts on a topic and create that topic cluster, the first place to start is that pillar page or cornerstone content (that’s what Yoast calls them and there’s an extra tick box to get additional pointers for one on their plugin).

The important thing with a pillar page is that it is a high level, comprehensive and well-written piece of content.  They almost resemble a mini-eBook, according to Neil Patel:

They are in-depth enough to provide real value to your audience but general enough to allow for “cluster content” to do more of the specific explaining

Finding the topic

To find what your pillar page should be about, take a step back and look at the topic.  If you didn’t know anything about it, what would be the things you would need to tell someone to give them a solid, basic understanding.  The aim is to find a topic that isn’t too narrow or too broad, related to the topic of your website (or is the central topic) and has a keyword that you can rank for.

BuzzSumo is a handy tool to look at what competitors are talking about and using this as inspiration for your own pillar pages.  Check out three competitors, get some ideas then see how you can give the topic your own unique spin.

Next, do your keyword research.  We all have our own systems for this but let’s just say that you find a core keyword and a series of latent semantic keywords that relate to it to help Google understand your content.  Now you know those phrases that need to be naturally included in the piece.

Pillar page tips

When it comes to making the pillar page, it can be a good idea to create a table of content for it that breaks down the major headings and lets people skip to where they need to be.  There are a few plugins for this.  I haven’t used any personally yet (on the job’s list) but there are some good plugins reviewed here in this article by Source WP to help you find one.

As well as headings to break up the content, including images and graphics to help make it user-friendly.  Remember, big walls of text put people off and cause them to bounce away.  Depending on your topic, you could use maps, quote graphics, photos, illustrations and any other form of visuals to help make the content more reader-friendly.

How to create your topic clusters

It is ideal to plan your whole topic cluster alongside the pillar page or at least the next series of articles you will include.  Identify your topics and aim to have 20-30 related blog posts that can link to the pillar post and other posts in the cluster.  You can even use tools like Answer the Public and Google’s search results to help find questions and queries around the topic.  Do your keyword research provisionally for these topics so you know you have different keywords for each one.

Then it is over to your editorial calendar and creating the content.  You don’t have to work exclusively on the cluster – in fact, you can work on a number of them and add new content to each one on a rotation basis.  Remember to interlink to other posts in the cluster and back to that pillar page in every article.

Don’t forget to think about repurposing the content as you create it.  Can you make that list of 7 points into a quick video?  Could you create an infographic from that how to posts?  Could you make each of those 9 recipes into images for Pinterest and posts on Instagram?  Get the most exposure for your topic cluster by using the content in as many ways as possible.

Do you have to only write cluster topics?

I get it, sometimes being driven and writing about those topics can be a bit boring.  But there’s nothing to stop you creating content that is outside the topics – as long as it is relevant to your blog categories.  For me, I’m not going to start adding recipes here because this is a digital marketing blog.  But I might include content about planner reviews because I use a planner to manage my working life and other business owners do something similar.  It would fit under my ‘Being Organised’ category.

Topic clusters are a simple but effective way to increase the SEO position of your blog.  It helps Google’s search bots to understand what you are an expert in and what kind of content you know the most about.  And this helps it to send people to your blog who want that particular knowledge.  And it can be great to help with those blogger’s block moments too!

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