Growing organic traffic is an endless pursuit.
There’s never enough time to produce in-depth, well-researched content.
But a lack of time isn’t the reason content marketers aren’t generating results with SEO.
It’s because they repeat the same, tired process, yet expect a different result.
For example, they:
- Create pages for individual keywords
- Don’t have a content strategy to guide their efforts
- Focus on quantity, not quality
- Never improve old content
If you’re struggling to increase organic traffic, it’s time to make a change.
The topic cluster model can energize your content strategy and provide the clarity you need to drive real organic authority.
Table of Contents
- What is the topic cluster model?
- What content clusters look like
- Why are topic clusters important?
- How content clusters boost your site’s visibility
- How to brainstorm and create topic clusters
*2022 Update: I’ve added more detail and some visual topic cluster templates! I hope you find them helpful as you build out your clusters!
What Is the Topic Cluster Model?
The topic cluster model is an SEO strategy centered on building authority for topics rather than ranking for keywords.
First coined by HubSpot in 2017, this strategy focuses on creating clusters of content that satisfy the intent behind a search topic.
Instead of pumping out tons of thin content to see what sticks, you’re creating content with a purpose — to cover all the questions users would have about the subject.
Through internal links, you can point helpful, supporting content to your topic page (also known as pillar page) to signal its authority to search engines.
With the topic cluster model, you create fewer, longer-form blog posts and package information in a way that’s most helpful to users.
The Breakdown: What Content Clusters Look Like
Creating a topic cluster strategy involves grouping related pages into content clusters.
But what does it look like in practice?
A topic cluster consists of the following:
- Pillar Page: Your pillar page is at the center of your cluster and reflects a broad topic you want to be known for. This long-form piece of content covers the high-level information a user would want to know. Keep in mind that each topic must be unique to avoid creating overlapping or competing pages.
- Subtopic Page(s): Your subtopic pages represent medium-tail queries that relate to and support your topic. Each subtopic should be unique to avoid creating overlapping or competing content.
- Internal Links: Linking from supporting subtopic pages to your pillar page signals the authority of that content to search engines. Every link serves as a vote of confidence for the destination page. Interlinking between pages also helps search engines understand their relationship.
Why Are Topic Clusters Important?
Unlike most SEO fads, the topic cluster model is here to stay.
The objective of topic clusters directly aligns with Google’s mission: to deliver the most accurate results as quickly as possible.
To fulfill this mission, Google continually improves its algorithm to gauge a page’s expertise, authoritativeness and trust (E-A-T).
But search engines don’t just evaluate an individual page when surfacing results anymore — they consider the authority and trustworthiness of the entire website.
The topic cluster model helps you build sitewide authority by creating content that covers the full scope of a topic.
As search engines become savvier at evaluating page quality, traditional keyword-stuffing strategies won’t cut it anymore.
That’s because search algorithms understand the meaning behind words and how various concepts relate, known as latent semantic search indexing.
As a result, rich, relevant and research-backed content is now the new gold standard for earning organic rankings.
How Content Clusters Boost Your Site’s Visibility
Cover More Search Queries
Content clusters can lead to higher organic visibility partly because the model forces marketers to focus on topics rather than individual keywords. By targeting search queries on a larger scale, you increase your chances of ranking in Google’s top results for a given topic.
Organize Your Site Architecture
Defining linking relationships makes it easier for search engines to understand your website’s core themes and better surface your content to interested readers. Essentially, when Google can easily understand how pages on your site are related, you create a crawler-friendly structure that’s easier for bots to interpret.
Create a Better User Experience
Since it’s easier to find related content on the same topic, site visitors don’t have to jump from site to site to gather the information they need. This increases time on your website, which helps with SEO.
Eliminate Overlapping Content
With the topic cluster model, each page of content you produce serves a specific search intent, resulting in less content and potential search engine confusion.
Producing content is a time-intensive process. The topic cluster model guides your content strategy and saves you time from writing content that won’t generate results.
How to Create a Topic Cluster
So, you’re ready to take on the topic cluster model. But where do you start?
Follow these steps to develop a topic cluster content strategy that gets results:
1. Define Your Content Topics or Themes
Selecting a topic starts with one simple question: what do you want to be known for?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Your products or services
- Pain points your product or service solves
- Benefits you help customers achieve
- Existing keyword rankings
Of course, you want to be certain the topic you choose has search value (meaning people are searching for it).
Always research your topics to find the variation with the highest or most attainable search volume.
You can quickly confirm your content themes or find new, related opportunities in SEMrush.
Start with one or two of the most critical topics to your business. Make sure your topic isn’t too narrow or you’ll quickly run out of subtopic ideas.
2. Strategize Your Subtopics
When compiling subtopic ideas, you’ll want to address all related questions a searcher would have.
Here are some sources of inspiration to discover angles for your subtopics:
- Frequently asked questions from sales or customer support
- Buyer persona research, including reviews and forums like Quora or reddit
- Keyword tools
3. Get Organized With a Topic Cluster Template
Managing your topic cluster content strategy is half the battle. Rummaging through multiple spreadsheets wastes precious time that could be better spent building great content.
Using a free, guided topic cluster tool like Blueprint SEO can help you save time, organize and implement your content clusters faster.
Organize your topics and subtopics in Blueprint SEO to visualize your topic cluster strategy and linking relationships between cluster content.
Here's an example of a completed topic cluster:
4. Categorize Existing Pages into Topics
To leverage the work you’ve already done, audit your existing content to see which pages fit into your topic cluster strategy.
Tools like Blueprint SEO can crawl your pages and allow you to categorize them quickly into topics.
From there, you can document the goals and purpose for that piece of content, identify potentially overlapping content and make plans to update or 301-redirect low-value pages.
In the end, you’ll have a clear idea of what content needs to be improved and what gaps to fill with new content.
5. Implement a Linking Structure
Links are the threads that hold a topic together.
Linking from subtopics to a topic page signals the authority of the topic page. Without them, search engines can’t determine the relationship between your pages.
So how can you quickly determine whether a link exists?
Tools like Blueprint SEO alerts you about subtopic pages that don’t link to your topic page, so you can quickly triage those issues.
6. Prioritize and Produce Your Content
By now, your website content is neatly organized into topic clusters. You should have a firm grasp of what exists and what should be improved.
From there, prioritize your content optimizations and new content creation ideas in a content calendar.
Use these criteria to evaluate which topic or subtopics to start with:
- How important and relevant is this topic to my business and audience?
- How likely is this topic to drive qualified traffic?
- What is the search volume potential?
The next step is producing your content — the most critical phase of earning E-A-T.
Publishing thin, surface-level content won’t help you build organic authority.
Evaluate top-ranking competitors, and note where they fall short.
Strive to produce in-depth, context-rich and well-organized content that best addresses the search intent.
7. Measure Your Content
Ongoing improvement is critical for competing in organic search.
But to know what needs improvement, you need to know how to measure content performance.
Organic rankings and traffic are telling indicators. Rankings reveal movements up or down the search engine results page while organic traffic indicates how many visitors a page produces from those rankings.
But measuring performance across topics also provides a new layer of insight. You can learn about the popularity and engagement of a topic and where you might need to drill in further.
For example, say you find that users spend more time on pages within a certain topic.
As a result, you prioritize more of this type of content.
Blueprint SEO tracks metrics like organic traffic, time on page and bounce rate across topic and subtopic pages to expose these critical insights.
8. Optimize and Improve!
To build topic authority, your content needs to be accurate and updated.
Routinely optimizing your content keeps the information fresh and allows you to identify alternate search intents you didn’t consider before.
Here are some indicators that a page should be updated:
- The page isn’t ranking on page one for its target keyword or lost page-one rankings
- Organic traffic trends have flattened or declined
- The page has an abnormally high bounce rate or low time on page
There’s no quick-fix to SEO mastery; hundreds of factors affect organic search engine rankings.
Executing the topic cluster model takes time, patience and persistence.
But staying laser-focused on delivering value and earning real search authority is essential for building a lasting online presence.
Want more step-by-step tips for building and executing topic clusters? Download our complete guide: Converting to Topic Clusters.