SEO

October 24, 2022

Joy Youell

Joy Youell is an expert copywriter and content strategist.

Putting Together an SEO Topic Cluster

An SEO topic cluster is a sophisticated on-page SEO strategy. Most SEO experts would agree it’s a pretty reliable way to get results.

Essentially, a topic cluster strategy is structured like this:

  • A well-researched keyphrase that forms the pillar of your strategy. Thai is used as the H1 in a pillar piece, which refers to a long-form piece of content jam-packed with related keywords and phrases.
  • A series of related blogs that cover subtopics branching ideologically off of the pillar and linguistically related to the same.

That was an oddly formal way of wording it. Here’s a visualization:

(Note, I can’t remember where I got this image but I’ve been using it for years — if I stole it from anyone, don’t trip, just tell me).

Putting a topic cluster strategy together just requires a little know-how and a lot of math.

(If you’re like, back up! What? Read this first: What is Search Engine Optimization? — assuming you’re good, let’s roll on.)

What Goes Into a Topic Cluster Strategy

Same disclaimer on this graphic — here’s what you need to deploy a good SEO topic cluster:

I would say that this is an apt visualization because those petals do illustrate the weight given to each of those areas:

  • Search data, which you find in SEO tools
  • Competitive data, which you find on the internet
  • Current performance of the site, which tells you what’s really achievable
  • Experience - sometimes, you just have a gut instinct because you’ve done a million of these

On that note, if you want to hear from someone who HAS done a million of these, go read this from Stacy: 

Why Topic Cluster Strategies Fail or Succeed

Ok, so that’s loosely the foundational concept and how you’re going to skin this cat.

Here are the steps:

1. Find a Keyphrase

Yes, just that. Get a couple of keyphrase ideas together. Then, you’ll vet them.

Here’s how you vet them:

Question ONE: Does it have enough traffic?

Find the answer using SEMrush SERP Analyzer (or similar).

Question TWO: Is the search intent relevant?

You can look on Surfer SEO to find the categorization, but you can also just Google it in incognito mode and see what turns up - what other sites rank for it? What kind of content turns up?

Question THREE: Is it achievable for this client/site?

Use an SEO tool to compare SERP metrics. You can also just evaluate on Google - if you’re up against incredibly high authority sites and the client’s site is a peanut, be smart. Some things aren’t possible.

After that, you should have a shortlist together. You may need some approvals to cross-check the word you’ve vetted with search intent. You’ll see in SERP results whether something has commercial or informational intent, obviously, but you want to make sure the search intent is right for the website itself. In other words, don’t go for something that doesn't make business sense. That’s doing SEO in a vacuum which is wasteful.

2. Put the Plan Together

Once you’re validated and approved, you’ll start the real research and content production.

A. Create the Pillar

You can manually start research that will help you put the pillar outline (or table of contents) together.

  • Using Google, pull the URLs of the top 10 ranking sites for the keyphrase you decided on. Scrape them using SEMRush, Spyfu, or similar, to generate a list of all the keywords that URL ranks for. 
  • Pull all of those keyphrases onto a spreadsheet, alphabetize it and get rid of duplicates.
  • Use that list of ranking keywords as a foundation for what the pillar should be, choosing the H1 and creating a rough outline of H2s that you must include. That list of H2s is your foundation for the cluster.

Then you’re going to add in some creativity/CRO/sales enablement sensibilities. Where will your CTA off-ramps be? Where do you have product feature callouts? Where does it make sense to do a competitor table?

Almost invariably, pillars will be like an “Ultimate Guide to” or “Comprehensive” treatment of something. You’ll want to really thoroughly cover the topical area. This means quantity AND quality and it’s a ton of work.

Note, I’ve written SEO pillars that are 10k words. Most will be between 3k-5k these days, but it really does depend on the SERP you got from the keyphrase research. The internet sets the terms of the game and you have to play by them. Otherwise it’s a heckuva lot of investment for something that won’t work in the real world.

B. Create the Cluster of Blogs

There are a few sources used to create your list of 6-12 supporting blogs for your pillar:

  • Related keyphrases, determined by your initial competitive analysis
  • Related keyphrases, determined by an SEO tool (Surfer SEO is best for this)

Create each blog outline, being careful to not cannibalize as you go. Keyword cannibalization is probably your biggest risk here, as is getting crazy repetitious. You’ll have to get creative. You may be writing multiple blogs that address variations on a keyword, which means you want to bracket those with phrases or qualifiers that shift the nature of the content. It’s a balance and you don’t want to end up with a bunch of fluff.

3. Execute the Plan

All said and done, you’ll be ready to write:

  • Write the pillar first, using the SEO editor checklist and being liberal with internal and external links.
  • Write and optimize the blogs, adding all of the metadata and images, not forgetting CRO as you go.
  • Reciprocally link the pillar and blogs thoroughly. 
  • Create some device or mechanism to track - this will vary. For instance, HubSpot has an internal device for tracking topic clusters. You may also wish to create custom tracking in Google Data Studio to watch the keywords and phrases you’ve written up.

Result Expectations for SEO Topic Clusters

Sophisticated = yes. Fast = not really.

Innumerable factors impact how quickly you start to see traction take off with this strategy.

What you should see is an increase in keyword ranking, both in volume and position. It can take some time.

I’d say reasonably the goal is three months fully complete content and indexing and six months to see the keywords ranking and traffic increase.

If you haven’t dipped your toe in this yet, I can assure you it’s worth your time to learn and try. If you need help, connect with Hire a Writer.

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