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What is a Topic Cluster & How to Leverage them for SEO

Apr 4, 2022
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In the latest episode of Hack my Growth, we're looking at what topic clusters are and how we can leverage them to create a more comprehensive SEO strategy.

 

Video Transcript: 

As I said in the opener, we're taking a look at topic clusters and how we can leverage them to create a better SEO strategy that not only helps our users but also make sure that our site gets indexed properly.

What is a Topic Cluster?

A topic cluster is a method of structuring your content and organizing it in a way that better informs the search engines what you know about a specific topic.

topic cluster example

Typically, we organize a topic cluster around a core page, pillar page, product page, or main entity page that clearly defines that concept. Then, we create supporting topics around it that cover it from different angles using related or subtopics that help inform the search engines that you have a good idea of what you're talking about.

We also want to make sure that we're adding internal links to all of this content to make sure that we make crawling easier for the search engines, but we also help the user's journey. As they look deeper into your site, they get a more clear picture that you know what you're talking about. This helps improve topical authority, trust, and your view as an expert in this specific field.

A topic cluster is a method of structuring your content and organizing it in a way that better informs the search engines what you know about a specific topic.

Why are Topic Clusters Important?

One of the things that we have in the world of SEO today is called E-A-T; Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, and topic clusters help inform the search engines that we are authoritative, experts, and can be trusted because we're fully covering a topic from all angles and are better informing our users and the search engines that we're answering the questions that people are asking right within the search results.

To build out a topic-based SEO strategy, we have to understand our core concepts or topics, what do we want to be known for?  Google's looking for sites that understand topics completely.

If you're just out there publishing a bunch of content for the sake of publishing it, you might see a little bit of a bump, but in the long run, it's not going to be very helpful. The content needs to add value, but it also needs to be connected in a way that makes sense for your site as a whole. We have to build these relationships. Each core topic has subtopics and these are related terms that help define that core topic. When you cover these well, you will be showing Google that you are an authority in this space.

topic cluster infographic

If you look at 'SEO', we've got to talk about a few more things than just 'SEO'.  We may also need to talk about agencies. We may need to spell out 'SEO' out and say, 'search engine optimization'. We also know that Google has an impact on SEO and that ranking is about SEO and maybe people want to learn what SEO is or how they can do it themselves.

As you can see, when we start talking about the concept of SEO, we can go in a number of directions and we have a lot of subtopics that we need to cover in order to better inform our audience, first and foremost, and the search engine secondly.

How to Create Topic Clusters?

How do we go about creating a topic cluster so that our sites can be better and more informative? Well, you want to start by asking some specific questions about your site or the site you're working on.

Step 1: Know the Who, What, and Why

  • Who is your target audience?
  • Who is your competition?
  • What are you promoting? (product, service, app, bring and mortar location)
  • What problem does your company solve?
  • What terms are used to describe what you or your product does?
  • What questions is your target audience asking?
  • Why should a user visit your site?
First off, you have to know who the core audience is because that audience is going to have a language that they use to describe what they're looking for. Every group has kind of their own words and own concepts that they're going to use, and you have to know who they are and what they're looking for.

You also want to look at your competition and understand the words and phrases they're using right within your market.

You need to have a deep sense of what you're promoting. What's the product? What's the service? What's the app? What's the brick and mortar location?

What are you doing? And what are you trying to get people to?

Then, you also need to know what problems do your company solve? What are you achieving for somebody?

An SEO company, you're not solving the problem of needing SEO. You're solving the problem of visibility, traffic, growing their business, and having more people come to their business. Maybe sometimes people are hiring SEO because they need to generate more leads.

So you're not always solving the product. You're solving a problem. And you must know the outcome of your solution because that's going to inform how you talk about your product on your website.

Then you need to think about those terms that are used to describe what you or your product does. I see this a lot of times where companies come up with terms to describe their product, but their end users are not using those terms. And if your end-user isn't using those terms, they're not going to be searching for those terms. You have to understand what the market says when describing what your product does or what your service does. And you can do this by looking at the questions your target audience is asking, what are they looking for help with?

And at last, I like to look ask these questions; why should somebody visit your site? Are you the best? Are you the fastest? Are you the cheapest? Are you the most expensive? Which one are you? What sets you apart from others that someone would say, "I need to go to your website?" After this, you should have a number of questions and terms that you can start to look through.

Step 2: Narrow Your Focus

One of the problems I see again in a lot of businesses is that they're trying to focus on too many things. The reality is you probably only have three to five core things that you do, and those should be the main topics that you start with. You're not going to be able to rank for every single term, but you can start to look at the topics and you can look to see where the opportunities are there. Look back at those terms, look back at the topics you wrote down, and look at the questions. Are there themes? Do any of them fit together? And you can start to create some buckets in order to do this.

If you're doing this within a spreadsheet and you're just writing this all down, you might have a way to run that within Excel or run some kind of code there, but there are also some pretty cool tools that can help you with this.

Keyword Grouper Pro

I'm going to show you one of the tools and it is called Keyword Grouper Pro, and this is a great way to get started. Let's say you've done a bunch of keyword research. You've written all these questions down. You just go ahead and paste them in here. We can go over here and say, okay, this is the smallest group that we want to make. You can go through the list, figure this out, run this a few times, and see which one meets your best needs.

You can also exclude lists. You can put in things that you want to exclude from grouping them. But once you've set this up or pasted your terms in here, you process the keywords.

As you can see very quickly, they had 451 keywords and they've created 16 groups with at least five words in each of those groups. I can see that we've got 'SEO' and 'search engine optimization'. I also see 'organic search'. I see 'SEO training', 'learn SEO', and 'courses'.

Based on this right here, I see a few buckets that I could start to work with. If you've just got a big list of terms and you want to organize them quickly, this is a great start to help you do that just to see quickly what's going on with the group of terms that you're targeting.

We can do things like 'search strategy', 'results', 'ranking', etc. Each one of these could either be a subgroup of 'SEO' very easily, but they could also be their own clusters as well.

Check out Keyword Grouper Pro, it's a free tool. A large number of SEO tools are starting to catch onto topic clusters as well. One of those is SEMrush. I'll show you quickly how you can do it.

SEMrush

SEMrush has a tool under topic research, which can be found over here in the content marketing tools that will start to pull these topics for you. When you run a query, it's going to give you these different cards and show you related concepts to web design.

So 'graphic designs' related, 'search engine optimization', 'UX', 'web browser', 'social media', 'develop', 'company'. All of these things are somehow topically related, in one way or another, to 'web design', but it also has this cool tool called the Mind Map, which helps you to this visually.

If you zoom in on this a little bit, you can see that we've got 'web design' and we've got all these other things, these subtopics that we can look at as well, 'creating', 'responsive', 'visual design', 'coding language'.

We also have headlines over here. Then we've also got questions that we're seeing in search, and we're getting related searches. If you want to use a tool like Semrush, you can as well. Take these, start to see the ones that make sense for you, and you can start to build out those terms for the topic cluster that you want to create.

Step 3: Build the Cluster

Now that you've narrowed your focus, you know the term and subtopics that you want to go after, you need to build a cluster based on your website. This is where you're going to look at your content, see what you're covering, and what you need to cover.

The Core

It starts with a core and an anchor. A lot of times this would be something called a pillar page like HubSpot talks about that a lot, or it could be a service page. It could be a product page. Whatever the correct intent for your end-user. You need to have this core topic and you need to be broad because this is where you're attracting as much broad traffic as you can.

'What is SEO?' SEO in general terms. Then we look at that research we just did, and we find the terms that speak the most to our business and the concepts that make the most sense for our users and we start to attach those.

The Cluster

This is where you would start to connect the concepts together. We have 'SEO', 'search engine optimization', 'What is SEO?', 'How to learn SEO', 'Google', all those different things that we're starting to attach, and as you can see here, the visualization of that cluster.

Connecting the Content

From here, we need to connect our actual pages. This is where we want to look at, okay, do I have a page that talks specifically about searching and optimization? Do I have one that talks about agencies? Do I have one that gets into, what is SEO? Do I have one about ranking and how to learn SEO? This is important to look at the SERPs for these terms as well because we need to make sure that we're matching intent. Searcher intent is a huge thing when it comes to SEO today, and Google's looking at that. We need to make sure that these pages match the intent of the end-users.

With this term, it just says, Google, honestly, we'd probably go after Google ranking factors would be a better target here for this specific page. Let's say we want to cover another core concept, but we don't have a page for it. Well, we would call that a gap. And now you know the content you need to create in your content strategy to fill that gap.

Let's say, I didn't have the term 'search engine optimization'. We could say this is a content gap. And we could put that on our content strategy to know that we have that here and we need to talk about it.

And each one of these lines, we can start to look at internal links. We also may want to link these pages together as well, where they make sense. And we can go much deeper into that internal linking in order to help create a better sense of connection through our content, helps the crawlers understand what we're talking about, and helps us go even deeper as far as that optimization.

Once you're done and you've got all these pages together, the content you need to create, then you're going to go and optimize your pages. You're going to optimize your content. You're going to optimize the technical side of search. And you're going to take this even further to make sure that you're following SEO best practices.

But as you can see, by creating these clusters, you're creating hubs on your website that talk about very specific things, they help inform your users deeper, and they help inform the search engines even more.

Adding Structure Data

If you want to take this even further, you can start to add structured data to these pages. You can add guide structured data to your pillar pages. If it's a service or a product page, you can add service and product market to it. And you begin to make this content machine-readable, which pushes it even further towards being indexed correctly in the way that you want to and helps Google inform that you are an expert about what you're talking about.

If you want to learn more about structured data, I highly recommend you take our course Mastering Structured Data at schema.org for rich results. This will work on WordPress sites and non-WordPress sites. We teach you how to do it, whether using WordPress tools as well as how you can do it using Google tag manager.

If you want to check that out, we'll give you 25% off using the code, YouTube. And again, if you've got any questions on what we talked about today, or any questions even on structured data or anything else we've talked about on this channel, please comment below, we'd love to continue that conversation with you. And until next time happy marketing.

Mastering Structured Data

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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