It might sound like a delicious chocolate bar, but topic clusters are actually the best new way to meet SEO challenges, create an effective digital marketing strategy to generate leads, and position your business or digital marketing agency at the top of the search queue. We take a look at what they are, and why they are so effective.
As we discussed in a recent blog on the SEO facts you need to know, Google is constantly changing its search algorithm to determine the best results for its users. While Adwords works for the internet giant, creating great content is still the best way for businesses to rank highly. Making sure that content across your entire website and online platforms is optimised is essential to you being found by consumers looking for relevant and useful information about their challenges and the solutions to them, but it can be hard to keep up with what the search engine giant is looking for. It’s harder still to implement the type of content strategy that will increase your visibility and push you to the top of the pile.
Retuning the search engine
Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically in recent years, and search engines are trying to keep up, which means that digital marketers need to also keep up not only with the likes of Google, but with those changing trends themselves.
We all used to search the internet using specific words to find the content we needed, but over the years we have tended towards phrases, complete and complex sentences or questions, and still expect to see relevant and informative results. Search engines have become smart enough to recognise the connections across these queries to understand the context behind the intent and provide results accordingly.
The emerging trend in SEO is topic clusters, responding to Google’s leaning towards topics rather than individual words or phrases we used to know as keywords. According to an in-depth research paper on topic clusters by HubSpot, the big switch from keywords to topics may have come with Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013, evolving further with its RankBrain update in 2015 that incorporated machine learning to understand context.
What this essentially means is that rather than simply matching the keywords you used in your search with a site that contains those words, search engines are looking across the entire internet for authoritative and helpful content that contains links to other relevant sources and content to give you the results you want.
Interlinking content using a main pillar and off-shoots to other relevant content means, as this blog from SEMrush tells us, you are giving Google the information it needs to understand your relationship to and authority on a topic, issue or subject. If Google can more easily find you and verify your relevance and authority, the higher they will rank you in their results. The higher you rank in search, the better it is for you as a business or digital marketing agency trying to attract an audience or customer base to your content and generate the leads you need.
With Google crawling across the web looking for the right results to answer a query, helping them out with a structured content map that prioritises a main topic and its related off-shoots means they will reward you.
Now that we know we need to set up topic clusters, how do we go about it?
Firstly, you need to take a look at your existing content and group it according to topic. If you don’t already have one (and you probably don’t), you need to create a pillar page that broadly discusses all of the various key aspects or sub-topics associated with that pillar content that you have in your current content assets.
For example, if your main pillar content is all about blogging, it should include a broad discussion of the following (and many more):
- Content creation
- Writing process
- Blog writing
- Marketing mistakes
- Buyer Persona
- Buyer’s Journey
- Video Blogs
- Social Media and blogging
- Content creation tools
- Blog topic brainstorm tips
After you have created or updated this pillar page, you will need to update the links in all of the related content pages you have identified and included as a sub-topic or cluster page around it. Every post in this group needs to be linked to the pillar page and other posts within the group at least once, using the same hyperlinked anchor text, so that search engines can recognise it as part of the cluster.
A little pain for a lot of gain
I won’t lie to you. The two steps above are arduous, bordering on painful tasks, especially if you have several years’ worth of blogs and loads of web pages, but they are not thankless, and you should see your pillar page rise up the search rankings, carrying with it the sub-topics in your cluster on its coat-tails.
From there, you can expand out further to link other relevant pillar topics such as lead conversion, and before you know it, you will see your business or agency enjoy much better rankings in the likes of Google, meaning you will attract more visitors and have the chance to generate more leads and convert them into customers, which means more money for your business.
With HubSpot not being the type of company who stands there describing the water as you drown, it is only a matter of time before their COS develops topic cluster features for its users (it is already in beta mode and available to HubSpot partners) so you can better manage the process.
Until then, you will need to do some groundwork and creative planning to get your topic clusters in order, but once you do, your content strategy will see a dramatic rise in effectiveness, and your business or agency will rise in the search rankings to get you noticed.
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