Your Next SEO Strategy: The Topic Cluster Model

Search engine optimisation is one of the most rapidly-evolving facets of online marketing. Google’s search algorithm is constantly changing (an estimated 500-600 times each year), with the simple mission of providing a better experience for their users.

This staggering rate of change can present some real growth opportunities for businesses with their fingers on the pulse. However, for most everyday marketing teams, it's an uphill battle where getting found is simply getting harder everyday. Worse, it can mean spending considerable time and resources on outdated SEO strategies that simply don’t work any longer. 

Thankfully, Google’s metamorphosis doesn’t just impact the search visibility of smaller organisations. No business (no matter how large) enjoys waning organic traffic, which is why some of the brightest SEO minds in the industry are dedicated to finding ways to fulfil Google’s stringent search requirements. 

Meet the Topic Cluster Model, your next SEO strategy.

What are Topic Clusters? 

As described by HubSpot, the topic cluster model is based on the idea that search visibility across a topic is better than ranking for a specific keyword. 

It aims to develop an “area of influence”, where the cumulative sum of searches for longer-tail keywords relating to a topic outweigh the sum of people you attract by targeting the broader keyword. These longer-tail articles then fuel the performance of the pillar piece, driving organic visibility of the broader keyword.

This takes the shape of a topic cluster, consisting of two elements:

  1. The “pillar” content is the core content asset in the ‘content ecosystem’. It is based on a broader topic, and functions as the go-to piece with a mission to convert visitors to leads. 
  2. The “cluster” content is the smaller supporting content in the content ecosystem. It functions to gain greater search visibility into the topic by ranking for long-tail keywords. It also fuels the pillar content asset by funnelling visitors to the broader piece with hyperlinks and calls-to-action.

Why Use the Topic Cluster Model?

The topic cluster model was developed in response to two primary things:

  1. a) Algorithmic updates that favour topic-based content
  2. b) Changing searcher behaviour that uses increasingly long-tail keywords

Traditionally, web users would search using broad and fragmented keywords. Today however, searches are becoming increasingly specific, meaning that traditional SEO practices of keyword optimisation are proving ineffective. 

Mobile search, in particular voice search, has fuelled this movement to longer-tail searches. 20% of mobile queries are now voice searches, meaning keyword phrases are now as diverse as the people speaking them. Voice search has disrupted our traditional understanding of keywords, and are now expanding the playing field for SEOs to one where targeting a specific keyword to rank for is no longer the most effective way to drive organic traffic.

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The topic cluster model is a way to consolidate these diverse long-tail searches, addressing them with shorter, “cluster” content that funnels visitors to the pillar asset.

How Do Topic Clusters Improve SEO?

The cluster model has a number of SEO benefits:

  • Greater search visibility in one topic from long-tail targeted cluster assets
  • Research found that tightly interlinking cluster and pillar content improved organic traffic
  • Funnelling visitors from cluster pieces to pillar pieces increases time on site, page views per session and reduces bounce rate; all currently significant ranking factors identified by SEMrush.

Despite Google’s staggeringly sophisticated web crawlers, it doesn’t hurt to give them a helping hand in finding your website. Organising your content in logically arranged clusters makes it easier for search engines to determine the content of your website.

Not only is this arrangement easy on the engine, it’s easy on the user. If your visitor lands on a cluster article from a specific long-tail search, pointing to the pillar asset throughout the post will encourage that all-important second click. You pillar asset should be a centralised location from which your visitor can find all the information they need relating to their search.

But What About Semantic Results?

Some of you may be asking, “why would targeting a broader range of keywords help if Google can already recognise intent and display semantic results?”

Great question.

Thanks to semantic search, your page can rank for keywords that it doesn’t even include on the page. Because of this fact, you may be wondering why targeting a broad range of long-tail searches in your cluster content would be worthwhile.

The merit of the topic cluster model is not just in targeting longer-tail searches, but in bolstering the authority of your pillar content asset. A swathe of related articles all hyperlinking to the comprehensive pillar article is a great thing, but only if that pillar content meets the needs of your audience.

When push comes to shove, websites that provide valuable information in a useful format will succeed in the SERPs. The topic cluster model provides a great framework for improving the linking structure of your content and directing visitors to a location that meets their needs.

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