The traditional approach to SEO has always been very keyword focused. Even as the value of keywords have waxed and waned, the goal has always been to create content that focuses on attaining a high page rank for specific, highly trafficked keywords.
But, those days are numbered. That approach is being phased out by evolutions in the search engine development and usage. Google and other top search engines are getting better at identifying and connecting semantically related content and pushing it to the top of search results.
What does that mean exactly? Well, think about how you use your phone. When you want to find something, do you still type in a very abstract and specific phrase like "records stores, Burlington, Ontario” or do you just throw "record store” into your phone’s search bar? Probably the latter if you’re like most people. What about the result you get? A list of music stores in your area, warnings if they’re close to closing time, and the option to touch a button and instantly receive directions to any one of them.
Google is so good at discerning intent and personalizing search results these days that the value of simple keywords isn’t as high anymore. Instead, you need a more holistic approach to SEO. A way identify yourself as trusted authority on a topic so when Google gets a search request that falls in that general field, it brings up your pages.
That’s what topic clusters are all about.
How topic clusters work
Topic clusters are designed to connect your related content and have each piece elevate and boost the other pages. Instead of creating several pieces of isolated content, you want to bring it all under one net.
For example, let’s say you want to write a guide series for your site about what you do. Instead of having the guide all be one download, or broken into several individual blog entries, you’re going to want to create a central page that introduces the topic broadly. From there, you’re going to link to all of the related pages that focus on small, more specific sub-topics, which in turn link back to the main page and each other where appropriate.
This way, you’ve created a mini-network of overlapping semantic connections. Not only does this help establish you as an authority, it serves another important technical function which we’ll get to shortly.
An easy way to structure this is with a simple, broad overview page, with links to "where you can learn more” at the bottom. Or a menu with different "chapters” or "classes” for a guide. While topic clusters are a powerful tool, they are not that difficult to set up and organize!
Getting started with topic clusters
Building out a topic cluster takes a bit of elbow grease, but is well within the capabilities of most content producers (provided you have a CMS that is easily accessible or are working closely with your web developers).
Start with identifying your core idea. This is the main field you’re going to be discussing that is most relevant to the product or service you sell. From there, brainstorm as many related and sub-topics as possible. Write them down as a list and then review what you’ve come up with. Pick the best sub-topics, the ones that seem the most useful to your audience and the most interesting, and make sure you have a solid four or five topics to create content for.
Now, we’re going to do some keyword research. I know, I know "but, you said keywords weren’t important anymore.” Well, not quite. They are still a useful indicator of interest and a worthy target to pursue when climbing pagerankings.
Take your main topic, and throw it into LSI Graph, a free service that identifies latent semantic keywords related to that topic. This will give you an excellent idea of how people search for information about your topic. Take those results and feed them into a keyword ranker to identify which of those phrases are the most popular and you’ll know which ones to prioritize!
The whole idea behind topic clusters is to have each related page lift the rest. Take your anchor page, it will no doubt revolve around a keyword that is hugely popular, but also highly competitive. But, then you link it to another page (that also links back) about a related, but someone less competitive keyword. As you attain a higher pagerank in the sub-topic, because they are related and linked, it will also raise your pagerank for the main page as well.
Instead of banging your head trying to find a way to replace a very dominant page for a single particular keyword, you can target easier to beat related keywords which will eventually have the same effect!
Building your topic clusters out
After you have written your high quality, fully informed, and specifically targeted content, you’re going to need a place to put it. For a topic cluster strategy to work, you need to be a little more selective about this than you normally would with regular content.
While you can (and should) make use of a variety of mediums when working on a topic cluster (such as articles, videos, infographics, etc), it’s likely that the majority of the work will be similar to blog-like posts, articles, and guides. That’s fine, but we don’t want to display this content in a typical blog roll.
We want to build a central hub for this content. This can either be a specific landing page on your site with its own pathing (so you’d want the address to looking something like www.examplesite.com/maintopic/) or you could even design it as it’s own micro-site. This is why it is very important to either have an easy to use CMS, or work closely with your web development team when pursuing a topic cluster strategy.
A powerful and easy way to optimize your SEO
At the end of the day, building a topic cluster isn’t difficult to do. If you already frequently create content in and around the same general topics, you’re already halfway there. All you need to do is organize that content, place it under one umbrella of a central hub, and make sure it is cross linked appropriately. That’s the basic idea of using topic clusters to boost your SEO.
But of course, there is also so much more! For starters, you can run multiple topic clusters for different aspects of your business! This way you can raise the overall brand and authority of your site while still pursuing specific markets and top keyword rankings. You can also support and reinforce your topic clusters with a well organized social media campaign, encouraging sharing and backlinks to further solidify your site as an authority in Google’s eyes! You can even use your topic clusters as the eventual launching pad for a webinar series or online course as part of a marketing package!
Topic clusters are a powerful way to elevate your brand. Be sure to catch on to them now, because in a few years, THIS will be the way everyone thinks about SEO!