Introduced by HubSpot, topic clusters are an extremely effective way to optimise not just a single piece of content, but an entire content campaign. As HubSpot say themselves:
The key is to start thinking in terms of topics you want to own, not just keywords. This allows you to own a ‘sphere of influence’ on the internet.
With the introduction of Google’s algorithm updates like RankBrain, a search engine user is no longer shown results based specifically on the keywords they type into a search bar, but instead is shown results based on search intent.
Because SERPs (search engine results pages) now show related content, not exact content, we can optimise more than one piece of content at the same time using topic clusters. Here’s how.
Come up with a topic idea
First things first, you need something to write about, and it needs to be something you can write about in depth. For an SEO consultant like myself, I might choose topics like:
- Content campaigns
- Writing skills
- Technical SEO tactics
- Social media strategy
- Personas and tone of voice
- Website SEO
Now we’ve selected a topic we want to write about, we need to produce an overarching piece of content that acts as the core for the topic cluster.
Produce a pillar page
A pillar page is a piece of content that acts as your ultimate how-to guide. It’s an ‘everything under one roof’ post that provides value to the reader and explains all there is to know about a topic.
A pillar page must be broad in scope to be effective. The idea is to produce an overview piece of content and then write more in-depth supporting content that links back to this overview. It must therefore be easily relatable.
Here’s a great example from HubSpot:
The core topic is sales qualifications, and the sub topics (supporting content) all relate back to the overarching theme.
But how does a pillar page and supporting content connect to one another?
Hyperlinks are your greatest tool when it comes to building a topic cluster. When you write your supporting content, ensure that you include a link or two to your pillar page and vice versa. This way, search engines can identify what content on your website relates to one another.
If, for example, a supporting blog post performs particularly well in the SERPs, Google will not only rank this piece of content well, but your entire topic cluster will be rewarded with good SEO scorings.
Theoretically, topic clusters are like link building, except that we’re linking to our own content on our own domain, not trying to link to content elsewhere and receive a link back to us in return.
Some great examples…
Many forward-thinking digital companies are deploying this tactic to own a ‘sphere of influence’ on the internet. Here are some great examples:
This piece of content had eight chapters to it. It’s a mission to read through in one sitting. But, this pillar page is creative, intelligently written and includes multiple examples on link building.
Take note of its use of chapters and banner images to separate the content. The more digestible the content, the easier it is for Google to understand and consequently, the better it will perform in the SERPs.
This ‘nearly everything you need to know’ guide to brand awareness is similar in structure to Backlinko’s guide. It has chapters, uses anchor text to let the user jump down to the chapter they want to read and identifies almost everything there is to know about brand awareness.
Search engines will scan through this and deem it a highly authoritative piece of content that those searching around brand awareness will want to read.
This interactive piece of content is the definitive piece of knowledge on how America can reshape its healthcare system. It’s an out-there article that, besides its design genius, should be noted for one reason: it’s use of calls to action.
At the end of each part of the story, there are links away from the pillar page and to other news articles that are about the American healthcare system (A.K.A. this pillar page contains links to supporting content that relates to this page).
Pillar page: the checklist
A pillar page is normally ungated (ie it isn’t placed behind a form). However, a great method to gaining leads on your site is to convert a pillar page into a PDF and offer it up as a gated piece of content, too. This way, you can gain the SEO benefits of topic clustering and write a killer piece of lead-capturing content.
Ideally, a pillar page acts like a landing page in the sense that it should include a form to a gated piece of content. It should also:
- Include the core topic in your page title and URL (ie it should be keyword optimised).
- Unlike traditional landing pages, this page should have a top navigation.
- Define the pillar page topic immediately under the H1.
- Include conversion-focused landing page elements like bullet points.
- Feature an anchor-linked table of contents for easy navigation.
- Be sure to add images with the core topic referenced in the alt text tags.
- Link internally to relevant resources.
- And link externally to useful pieces of information.
One last thing: don’t forget to include a back to the top button!
Ready? Great, now it’s over to you.
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