It’s a fact well known that Google is constantly keeping SEOs on their toes with increasingly sophisticated improvements to its search engine results pages (SERPs).

The regular adjustments to algorithms and ranking systems are largely intended to improve the user experience – Google is forever striving to better understand what users are searching for and to make that information as readily accessible as possible. But for those hoping to keep their website relatively near the top of search result pages, a vigilant eye on algorithm updates and a willingness to test drive new SEO strategies are the key to success.

It’s these efforts to provide a more nuanced interaction with users’ search terms that will change how keywords shape our approach to SEO. Previously, Google pulled up pages that were most relevant to the keywords listed in a user’s search. As they fulfil a more advanced role in the page-selection process, keywords will continue to require careful management, but they’re not necessarily the biggest kids on the SEO block anymore.

There are a number of contributing factors behind this. To start with, users are increasingly comfortable with asking questions of Google in the same way that they might ask a human friend. For example, “how many days in the month November?” rather than searching “number of days in month November”. This kind of dynamic has only been exacerbated by the fact that 20% of searches are now done via speaking a query into a mobile device, making the questions considerably more conversational in tone.

Google is then keen to establish a trustworthy relationship with its users by delivering a connected selection of relevant material from authoritative sources, rather than a random-seeming collection of pages in which keywords appear to crop up. Targeting entire topics is therefore where it’s at now.

So, what can content marketers do to encourage organic traffic now that keywords alone are no longer enough? The answer is Topic Clusters.

What are Topic Clusters?

They might sound like a whole new world of pain, but the good news is that they present exciting opportunities for developing your SEO and content strategy.

A Topic Cluster is a group of interconnected web pages that are organised around a single piece of ‘pillar content’ which addresses a broader topic. The surrounding ‘sub’ pages contain information relevant to the central pillar, but might examine aspects of it in more detail or might provide information on related subjects.

How can I take advantage of Topic Clusters?

The simple answer is to restructure your website so that it’s organised as a Topic Cluster.

Define what the focus of your pillar content will be, and then create it accordingly. You want this content to summarise your chosen subject in its entirety (i.e. a broad description of what you’ll cover throughout the site, although it doesn’t need to be painstakingly comprehensive), and it should be aimed at generating conversions.

The subtopics then follow. Here you want a series of satellite pages which, as described above, are packed with high quality content focused on related subjects, and which serve to generate traffic. Ideally, you’ll also liberally sprinkle the content in these subtopic pages with plenty of keywords to maximise their SEO potential – this is where keywords still matter in a big way.

What will this mean for my website’s SEO?

If you go about this the right way, Topic Clusters can lead you such Holy Grails as:

  • Greater impact from each piece of content you publish around any of your chosen topics
  • Higher rankings, more traffic, and more conversions
  • An improved authority with your visitors

Other benefits include the fact that when one piece does well, you can expect to see performance on interlinking pages improve too – their shared and related content means they’ll pull each other up the rankings chart, owning multiple SERP positions for a single keyword. Plus, if the content on your site is almost entirely centred around its principal topic, audiences will stay on your pages for longer, browsing and potentially following through with purchases.

It’s true that creating topic clusters can be a slow process – it may take as long as six weeks to start seeing results. But it’s a logical way to structure your site, and with the right mix of proactivity and patience, you’re bound to see significant SEO ranking improvements.

Phil Crothers

Phil Crothers


Phil Crothers, SEO Director, Found