Why your competitors are creating content in clusters (and why you should too)
When it comes to search engines, we all know that keywords are crucial - but focusing too heavily on keywords alone can lead B2B marketers to become blinkered.
Over the past decade, search engines have changed the way they rank content, which means that simply choosing a random keyword to base your next blog on is no longer the best approach to search engine optimisation (SEO). Growing numbers of B2B businesses are realising the value of focusing on search intent and topics as well as traditional keywords - and topic cluster models are helping organisations to rise up the search rankings.
What are topic clusters?
A strong topic clustering content strategy is built on 3-4 pieces of pillar content. A pillar content page focuses on a topic that your organisation would like to rank highly for - if your organisation is an energy supplier, for example, you might choose ‘energy efficiency’ as one of your content pillars. On this pillar page, you cover the topic of energy efficiency as broadly as possible.
The pillar page then acts as a central hub for your topic clusters - a group of content pages related to the main topic of your pillar page. Topic clusters should work together to give your audience comprehensive insight into the pillar content topic, so each topic cluster page takes a narrow, in-depth focus on a particular element of the topic.
If your pillar page focuses on the overarching topic of ‘energy efficiency’, for example, then your cluster pages might explore areas such as ‘how a smart meter could improve your energy efficiency’ or ‘five ways to reduce the amount of energy you waste’.
How do topic clusters boost SEO?
Topic clusters have become a crucial part of B2B marketers’ SEO strategies because of the way that our search engine behaviours - and as a result, their algorithms - have changed in recent years. While many of us once used keywords to search for what we were looking for online, over time our search queries have become longer and more conversational.
Where we once might have searched simply for an ‘IT support provider’, for example, now we’re more likely to search for something along the lines of ‘which are the leading IT support providers in the UK?’.
There are a number of reasons for this change in our behaviour. Firstly, as the sheer volume of content online has increased exponentially, we realise that we need to be more specific in our searches in order to find exactly what we are looking for quickly.
We’re also skimming content more often, which means that many of us are keen to be clear on what we’re looking for so that we can find results that closely match our search and get the answers we need within headers or the first few paragraphs. And the rise of voice search (20% of mobile Google searches are now conducted via voice search) is also contributing to the increase in conversational queries.
As our behaviour has changed, search engines’ algorithms have evolved in response. Developments like Google’s machine learning algorithm, RankBrain, are enabling search engines to understand the context behind our search queries better than ever before. They can now associate our searches with similar searches that have been made in the past to deliver results that best answer our queries.
This is where topic clusters come in. By clustering your content and creating strong, clear links between related content, you’re giving Google a clear signal that there is a semantic relationship between your clusters. This helps crawlers (the eyes and ears of search engines) to understand what your pages are about and how they can help to answer users’ queries.
Topic clusters can also help you to demonstrate a breadth and depth of knowledge across your chosen pillar content topics. Your topic clusters should be focused on specific long-tail keywords with smaller search volumes, which should enable you to rise up the rankings for these keywords. As you begin to be ranked more highly for long-tail keywords, search engines will gradually see your site as more credible for the pillar content, which means that over time you should be able to rank more highly for the high-volume keywords you’re aiming for.
Three tips to get started
If you’re looking to boost your site’s SEO through topic clusters, here are a few tips to help you hit the ground running:
1. Pick your pillars carefully
When it comes to choosing the pillar topics you want to focus on, it’s important to consider which areas you want your audience to see you as an authority in, rather than zoning in on particular keywords. If you’re struggling to choose pillar topics, then think about your audience’s pain points, and what type of content they might be looking for as a result. If your content can help them to overcome their challenges, you can establish your organisation as an expert in their eyes.
2. Use keyword tools to generate content ideas
When you’re creating your content clusters, tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush can help you to identify the long-tail keywords that you should be focusing on in order to boost your cluster. If you’re just starting your topic cluster content strategy, aim for the keywords with the lower search volumes first, as you have a better chance of ranking highly for these keywords than for high volume keywords. Save those high-volume keywords for your pillar content - if you’re successful in your strategy, you’ll eventually rank higher for these keywords too!
3. Don’t forget to add value
It’s easy to get caught up in keywords, clusters and pillars, and lose sight of what your audience actually wants to get out of reading your content. So, while you’re planning keyword-heavy headlines and calculating which aspect of your pillar topic to home in on next, make sure you’re still creating content that is valuable, timely and relevant to your audience!
Topic cluster content strategies take time - you’re not going to significantly increase your ranking for your pillar keywords overnight. But by steadily boosting your site’s credibility and crawlability, you’re taking a long-term approach to SEO that’s sure to help you to rise up the rankings and increase your organisation’s visibility amongst its audience.
Why not check out Propolis, our exclusive community for B2B marketers to share insights, learn from industry leading marketers, and access our best content. Propolis includes a Hive (group) specially dedicated to brand and content strategy.