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What Are Topic Clusters and How You Can Use Them to Improve Rankings

16 March 2019 Polina Smith Leave a comment CONTENT MARKETING, KEYWORD RESEARCH

Google loves good content – this is the truth we all have to accept. Every line you write and every topic you choose can put a web page to the top in Google Search or… dig your website under the piles of search pages. At RankActive, we don’t believe in luck when it comes to building an SEO strategy. But we do believe in a good plan.

topic clusters scheme

When someone works with content every day, the term “topic clusters” might sound familiar. How will this model help you improve website content? That is the question we’re going to answer today. A pinch of theory, a bunch of practical tips – and you’ll be ready to conquer the new approach to content planning.

The Topic Clusters Theory Explained

A topic cluster is a list of articles, web pages, or similar materials that cover the main topic. Simply put, this main topic and materials connected with it are similar to the sun and its beams. Something like that:

topic clusters to organize your content


The trick here is to link all of the subtopics with the core source. If you do so, you send a signal to a search engine that this page has the biggest authority, and the number of subtopics demonstrates that you’re good at the subject. Let’s look at this structure more closely.

How It Works: 3 Elements of Any Topic Cluster

The image above provides a general overview of the topic cluster. Not to get lost in the terminology, we will explain the main 3 elements crucial for this concept.

Pillar page
This is a page of the core topic. You have to create a solid article where you list all the basic terms, provide their short explanation, maybe add some infographics. Depending on the topic, this article is usually around 3 000-5 000 words long, so take your time and put all the crucial information here.

Cluster content
Let’s say you have a paragraph on the pillar page which requires some more explanation. A separate article connected with the pillar page is the cluster’s part, that’s why it’s called “cluster content”. Each of these articles has a targeted keyword in its core, and they are always linked with a pillar page.

And this is how the beams are tied up with the sun. On one hand, we all know what hyperlinks are and how to use them, on the other, this is the most important component of a topic cluster. It binds a pillar page with cluster articles and, at the same time, connects cluster articles with each other.

Why It Matters: How Topic Clusters Impact Your Business

Why would marketers opt for topic clusters? They clearly see the benefits for their positions in Google Search. Let’s figure out how SEO and topic clusters collaborate in the long run.

  • From Google’s Perspective
  • It’s all about the hyperlinks we’ve just mentioned. For example, you have a list of pages about physical exercises, but you don’t link them together. Google perceives it as separate pieces of information, i.e. your blog or website looks like an attic with lots of stuff inside. HubSpot gives a visual interpretation of it:

    website content with no links

    But if topic clusters do take place, the situation changes. Google crawlers check your web platform faster and give more authority to every pillar page. The links provide a clear representation of your website’s architecture, and all of it improves your image and rankings in Google.

    website content with topic clusters
  • From the Users’ Perspective
  • Web visitors see your platform differently, but they also prefer surfing from one page to another using helpful internal links. If a user appears on the pillar page, he would like to know more and click on the cluster article. If he finds a cluster article on the web, he’ll have an opportunity to read a subject’s overview on the pillar page or learn more about other aspects on cluster pages.

    What we’re trying to say is that topic clusters improve the engagement rating, and, subsequently, make readers stay longer because they can find most of the information on one website. As a result, bounce rates become lower and you rankings grow faster.

Do It Yourself: How to Build a Topic Cluster in 5 Steps

After some explanation, building topic clusters makes sense, right? The question is how to do it wisely and consider every detail. There are 5 basic stages you need to keep in mind.

1. Pick the Pillar of the Cluster

This step is the simplest: you can get the first pillars through brainstorming. If you know the business, you must be aware of the customers’ needs. Write down some ideas with people’s intentions in mind.

Some websites already have several articles in their blogs that can become a part of the cluster – they also give you a hint on the pillar topic.

Or you can start with ideas for cluster articles:

  • Prototyping in Sketch
  • 7 Must-Haves for Your Portfolio
  • 10 Podcasts for Designers

These topics could become a great cluster for the “graphic design” pillar if you write for a digital agency. You can pick several pillars at once and grow them together or choose the most suitable one.

2. Conduct a Keyword Research

We’re mentioning keywords almost in every article regarding on-page SEO. If you get your head in the SEO game, you must know how keywords work and where to get them. In our case, keywords are necessary to make a decision on the clusters’ topics.

You type in a pillar and get long-tail keywords that can potentially become an inspiration for new articles. As always, you can go straight to Google Search and ask there:

google search graphic design

This option helps a lot when you’re in a rush and need some answers right now. But if you’re going to create lots of clusters in the future and want to build a solid strategy, use professional SEO tools.

We strongly recommend using RankActive as your assistant in the keyword research. Our Keyword Finder might surprise you with the list of advanced features. For instance, you’ll be able to see the keyword lists of your competitors or use AdWords Keyword Planner right from the tool.

Plus, there are 4 subsections for you to try out: Related keywords, Keywords suggestions, Similar keywords, and Ranked keywords.

keywords suggestions rankactive

There’s a big temptation to use every keyword as a separate topic, but you should be careful with it. Some of the keywords may sound differently, but they have the same user intent in its core.

In our case, such keywords as “where do graphic designers work” and “graphic design jobs list” definitely have the same intent. At the same time, “graphic design software for beginners mac” can be transformed into a separate blog post.

3. Create a Pillar Page

This is where it all begins. Here you’re giving a general overview of a huge subject you’ve chosen as a pillar. Don’t forget about the best on-site optimization practices and keep in mind these 2 points:

  • This is not a place for detailed descriptions or case studies. Give readers a general understanding of the term, its main characteristics, maybe a short review of the term’s evolution (e.g. the history of the World Wide Web) – not more than that. If you notice that you’ve gone too far in a certain paragraph, make a note to create a separate article on this topic.
  • This is a long-form work. How much information can you provide for a general understanding of graphic design? Yes, there’s a lot to tell about. As we’ve mentioned before, pillar articles are usually over 3 000 words long, so spend some time and thought to create this kind of article.

4. Create Cluster Content

In other words, write new blog posts according to the keywords list. These articles are opposite to the pillar page and here’s why:

  • Don’t give any detailed information about something mentioned in another article. This will confuse readers. If this is not the first article that they read on your website, repetitive information won’t do any good for the article’s understanding.
  • Find as many details as possible and avoid general information. Do you remember where we put all the general information? Right, on the pillar page. When writing about software for graphic design, there’s no need to mention what graphic design is or how to start working in this sphere. Instead, focus on the pros and cons of every software tool you’re describing.

So, these remarks lead us to the conclusion that every cluster article should be unique in every way: for the global web, other cluster articles, and the pillar page on the website.

5. Add Internal Links

And here’s the final step to create a new content galaxy on your website: you should connect every cluster article with the main star (pillar page) or with each other where it’s necessary. Of course, you can make it on the go while creating subtopic posts one by one.

Linking back to the pillar page is a mandatory condition. Strictly speaking, this is the main point of the topic clusters model. Here’s a simple version of what you should eventually create:

workout routine search topic cluster


Now everything is in order, and Googlebots will crawl and index all of your content with ease. Moreover, this approach will be helpful for you too: it allows building content strategies faster and it gives a better representation of the work that has been done so far.

Topic Cluster for Better Marketing and Pleasant Reading

One of the Google trends for 2019 is all about high-quality content, especially if it concerns people’s health and wellbeing. It means good content is a big part of the business reputation on the web, and marketers should be careful and creative at the same time.

Today, we’ve gathered all the basic information about topic clusters to help you keep up with the pace of competition and improve your positions on the market. The pillar page, cluster content, and internal links – a simple structure that works miracles in skilled hands. And RankActive is always here to deliver the biggest list of keyword ideas to you (along with a large number of other features).

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