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Topic Cluster Model Defined: How to Build Content Clusters That Rank

Topic Cluster Model Defined: How to Build Content Clusters That Rank

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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 why so many content marketers don’t generate results with SEO. 

It’s because they repeat the same, tired process and 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. 

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 purpose — to cover all the questions users would have around 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. 

Breaking Down Content Clusters

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:

  • Topic Page: Your topic 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 topic 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 site-wide 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 will become the new gold standard for earning organic rankings. 

Here are more ways the topic cluster model can improve search rankings: 

  • Eliminates overlapping content: With the topic cluster model, each page of content you produce serves a specific searcher intent, resulting in less content and potential search engine confusion.  
  • Organizes 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. 
  • Saves time: 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. 

Google is making visible strides to reward sites with high authority and relevance, and the topic cluster approach is the best strategy to generate results. 

How to Create a Topic Cluster

So, you’ve bought into 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 more 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 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

Use SEO tools like Moz Pro or Ahrefs to gauge search volume and prioritize your subtopics. 

3. 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 quickly categorize them 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.

4. Implement a Linking Structure 

Links are the threads that hold together a topic. 

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?

Blueprint SEO alerts you to subtopic pages that don’t link to your topic page so you can quickly triage those issues.

5. Prioritize Your Content Ideas 

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. 

Evaluating top-ranking competitors, and note where they fall short. 

Strive to produce in-depth, context-rich and well-organized content best addresses the search intent. 

Learn our process for writing search-friendly content.

6. 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.

Read the 12 most critical blog performance metrics to track.

But measuring performance across topics also provides a new layer of insight into the popularity and engagement of a topic and where 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. 

7. 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 1 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.