SEO: Why topic clusters are the new keywords

Jennifer Hall, Thursday 8 June 2017
6 min read time

The word SEO surrounded by clusters of crumpled paperContent is what makes the modern world go round. The amount being produced on a daily basis is just staggering and for B2B marketers, it’s something you just cannot afford to ignore.

Finding the piece of information you want online is a task we’re all familiar with and Google continues to lead the way when it comes to online search.

The tech giant is using increasingly sophisticated methods to improve its SERPs - search engine results pages – and present us with exactly what we’re looking for.

Semantic understanding and ‘deep learning’ are just two of the methods that aim to figure out what we want to know, when certain words are typed into the search bar.

In the old days, search engines would simply take the exact words and phrases entered and find the webpages that contained them. The more of the words being used, the better a page ranked, and the more pages that linked back to it, the more authority it would hold (because this was taken to show that it must be useful).

 

Keywords

SEO is the art of optimizing a page so it will show up ‘top of the search’ on Google – reaching the top of page one being the Holy Grail for online marketing. While the methods being used have evolved to keep up with Google, they’ve always been based around one basic concept - keywords.

Again, in years gone by a list of relevant keywords would have been pulled together and articles then written that contain them. The more these articles were aligned to the keywords people were searching for, the better the results they would get.

But this just isn’t working so well anymore, because the nature of search has changed.

Search engines understand us all so much better these days. They get what we want to know and because of that, simply having content that contains keywords just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you want to be found on search engines, you need to understand the way it now works and play the new game.

The way we search is also changing and that’s having an impact too. 20% of searches are now done via speaking a query into a mobile device. As a result, searches have naturally become more conversational in tone. Plus, advances in artificial intelligence continue to be made, which is an area all marketers needs to keep an eye on.

 

So, what is the solution for today’s content marketers who want to encourage organic traffic?

The answer - topic clusters.

Importance has shifted from the exact words you use, to the overall authority you hold on a specific topic and all the related keywords and long tail keywords associated with it.

Nowadays, to be successful you need to set up your blog in such a way that you can cover topics in detail, while making it easy to find related content.

And that’s the idea behind topic clusters – they are basically a collection of articles and sub topics that are centred around a core content piece and all linked together.

On our blog, we focus on creating content in this way and have seen an immediate and very visible growth in our organic traffic that continues to increase every month.

 

How to build a topic cluster content structure

Create pillar content and sub content 

You need to start with a core piece of content that summarizes the entire topic and is focused on generating conversions. Around that core content piece you then need to create a couple of subtopic pieces that are focused on generating traffic.

 

List core problems of your buyer personas

To decide what your pillar content should be, begin by listing out the core problems of the audience you wish to attract. Out of these issues, your main topics should be easy to spot. 

Remember, this is about your audience and not about your business. If you feel there is too much of a mismatch, then perhaps your buyer personas haven’t been worked out properly and you need to go back to the drawing board.

For example, we talk a lot about B2B sales and lead generation on this blog because people who have questions around these topics will naturally be interested in our product. But we talk about many topics and subtopics that have nothing directly to do with our software.

This article is a great example. Our software won’t solve the problem of creating cluster topics, but if you are someone who generates leads online and who wants to be more pro-active in contacting those leads (aka someone interested in our software) you will also do some form of content marketing. In which case, being found on Google and figuring out how to structure content around core topics will be of interest to you.

The idea being if you found this article via a search engine and find it interesting, you may then be inclined to look into who wrote it and perhaps investigate further.

 

Group them into broad topics 

Once you have the list you should start to refine it by grouping several topics together under one broad topic.

 

Find subtopics

Next, take each topic and brainstorm the subtopics that may sit naturally around it. One simple but effective way to do this is to type your main topic into Google’s search bar and look at the suggestions that come up.

You may also find tools like Answerthepublic.com and keyword.io very useful.

 

Map out your content ideas

Once you have lots of ideas for blog topics, start to fill out an editorial calendar, with timings for when you will produce and share each piece. This will help you spot any gaps and refine your planning.

 

Publish, track, refine

It goes without saying that once you get started with your content, you need to constantly be tracking your results, analyzing them and enhancing your strategy.

 

What to do with existing content

When you’re doing your planning, it’s also a good time to do a thorough audit of your existing content library. See our Content Audit Checklist for some practical tips: 

Free Checklist: Content Audit Checklist

Create a list of all your content and look for possible content clusters within it. Here are some key things to think about:

 

  • Which articles are, or could be pillar articles? These are the ones that very broadly talk about a topic without going into too much detail. Mark them down and then pinpoint all the other articles that fit with it.
  • Check the interlinking. Do you link forth and back, to help the search engines understand the context? If not, get adding them in.
  • Can you see any gaps that need filling?
  • Take a very critical look at your topic clusters, are they truly going to be of interest to your audience? Are you hitting the mark with your buyer personas, or is there room for improvement?

 

Accurate analysis

You need to be extra careful when you’re looking at single blog posts. They may not get a lot of new leads in by themselves, but they may be giving authority to other pieces due to the link backs. As such, they could be elevating an entire cluster.

It’s therefore important to look at the performance of an entire topic, not just blogs posts in isolation. How the entire cluster is performing is the most important thing.

Within any cluster, there are likely to be posts that are performing exceptionally well and others that aren’t doing so great. Overall, however, they will all work together to give authority to the entire topic.

 

How to write for cluster topics

Search engines today have semantic understanding – that means they understand what you are saying in your articles, even if you never explicitly mention specific keywords.

So, you can relax a little. You don’t need to worry too much about whether you are using the exact phrase or keyword regularly in your copy.

The best SEO advice any B2B marketer can follow is to stop worrying about the machines and instead, write for the people searching. Make good quality content they will be interested in. Your content will be enjoyable if it is high quality, clearly structured and fits within a logical content hub.

 

Content counts

The key thing to remember from all this is that content can be hugely effective and very valuable for a B2B business, especially when it comes to lead generation and growing sales.

But it’s about playing the long game.

Yes, the more content you have the quicker the results may start coming through, but it’s not just about quantity, it’s about understanding your target audience and delivering high quality content that they will really want. 

 

Hungry for more? Then here are some other blogs you may also find interesting:


 content marketers success guide

 

 

Topics: Content marketing, B2B marketing, Drive Traffic

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