Intent-Based Topic Clusters For Smarter Content Strategy





Blog Date

June 6, 2024


UK, Manchester

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Intent-Based Topic Clusters For Smarter Content Strategy

You do the keyword research. You write quality content regularly. Your blog posts are less than 1,000 words and your titles are catchy. Heck, even your metadata and title tags are pristine. And yet … your organic website traffic is flat. Something is not working. You’re not alone. It happens to all companies – even the big guys, like HubSpot, Unbounce, and Wordstream.

The problem is that Google has fundamentally changed the SEO game. Having great content and choosing the right keywords are both still important. But with so much content available online, Google now wants to know that you are an authority on your topic. And the best way to demonstrate this authority is to structure your content into pillar pages and topic clusters.

What, you ask, are pillar pages and topic clusters? A pillar page is a website page that provides a comprehensive overview on a topic. A topic cluster is a collection of interlinked articles and website pages centered around one umbrella topic. The pillar page links to topic cluster content, and the topic cluster content links back to the pillar page. The result is an interconnected content experience that delivers tremendous value to the reader and firmly establishes to Google that you are an authority on the topic.

In this guide, I’ll show you everything you need to know about creating your own pillar pages and topic clusters. (In fact, what you are reading right now is actually a pillar page!)

Understanding Intent-Based Content Strategy

Prior to 2015, keywords were king in SEO. But today, searches have become more specific and contextual. The vast majority of searchers now use long search phrases – 64% of search queries contain four or more words. Google rationalizes that if searchers are using such detailed search terms, the content served up should also be detailed.

Additionally, many searchers don’t even use a keyword in their search! This is in large part due to the popularity of voice search devices like Siri and Alexa. If you’ve ever asked your phone, “Siri, where should I eat dinner tonight?”, you’re part of this change.

Fortunately, Google has updated its algorithm to recognize the intent behind searches, even when no keyword is present. It’s clear that thin content and keyword-focused SEO strategies aren’t enough to meet the needs of today’s searchers. This is where topic clusters and pillar pages come in.

Understanding Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages

A topic is a broad umbrella concept, while a keyword represents a component of that concept. It’s very similar to the way a grocery store groups relevant food items into aisles. Within each topic are a handful of subtopics, and within the subtopics are the keywords.

Organizing your content with a topic-first approach means structuring your content into topic clusters. A topic cluster is a collection of interlinked articles and website pages centered around one umbrella topic. Creating a topic cluster allows you to dive deeper into a core topic while creating an efficient site architecture.

A pillar page is a website page that provides a comprehensive overview on a topic. A pillar page should cover every aspect of a topic generally, but link to separate articles on your website for more detail.

The pillar page links to the topic cluster content, and the topic cluster content links back to the pillar page. This specific structure tells search engines that your website covers this topic broadly and in-depth, establishing you as an authority.

Building a Successful Topic Cluster Strategy

To adopt a topic-driven approach, you’ll need to take the following steps:

  1. Define your topics: Identify your largest addressable qualified audience (LAQA) and the core problems they have that your business solves. These core problems will form the seeds of your topic clusters.

  2. Map your topic clusters: Do keyword research to refine your topic phrase and map out the specific keyword phrases that will make up your cluster content.

  3. Audit your existing content: Evaluate your current content to identify gaps and opportunities within your topic clusters.

  4. Create your pillar page: Plan, outline, write, and design your comprehensive pillar page, using your topic cluster map as a guide.

  5. Promote and measure: Clean up your internal links, submit your website for re-crawling, and execute a promotion strategy focused on driving traffic to your pillar page. Measure the success of your efforts.

The process can be complex, but by focusing on intent-based topic clusters, you can create a content strategy that truly delivers value to your audience and demonstrates your authority to search engines.

Defining Your Topics

The first step is to identify your LAQA and the core problems they have that your business solves. Think about your buyer personas – what are their pain points? Try to find five to ten core problems that your customers rely on your company to solve.

For example, let’s say you’re the Marketing Director at a fictional accounting software company called Book Balancers. You primarily sell to freelancers and small agencies, and you’ve created two personas: Freelance Fiona and Agency Andrew.

Through your buyer persona research, you know that Fiona and Andrew primarily use accounting software for invoicing, automation, and payment processing. These core problems could form the seeds of your topic clusters.

Next, use keyword research to refine your topic phrases and map out your cluster content. The topic phrase is the umbrella term that describes your topic, and the cluster content are the specific keyword phrases you’ll create content around.

For example, for the “freelance invoicing” topic, your cluster content might include keyword phrases like “freelance invoice templates”, “how to create freelance invoices”, and “freelance invoice software”.

Auditing Your Content

Before you can start writing new content, you need to know what content you already have and what content you’re missing. That’s where a content audit comes in.

Review your existing content and identify any particularly strong paragraphs, definitions, or examples that you may want to re-use in your pillar page. Also look for content gaps – areas of your topic that you haven’t covered yet.

Using a spreadsheet, document details about each piece of content, including the URL, word count, focus keyword, and content type. This will help you keep track of your existing content and plan your internal linking strategy.

Creating Your Pillar Page

Your pillar page should be a comprehensive “A-to-Z” guide to your topic, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 words. Use your topic cluster map to outline the page, ensuring you cover every aspect of the topic.

As you write, embrace elements like chapters, section headers, and a table of contents to make the content easy to skim. Consider using a question-and-answer format to optimize for Google Featured Snippets.

Enlist an objective proofreader to provide feedback before publishing. And don’t forget to design your pillar page for readability, with elements like navigation tools, images, and a PDF download.

Promoting and Measuring Success

Before promoting your pillar page, be sure to clean up your internal links. All links from your cluster content to the pillar page should use your exact topic phrase as the anchor text.

Then, submit your website to Google for re-crawling so they register your changes. To promote your pillar page, leverage your social media channels, guest post on relevant websites, and link to it from any new cluster content you create.

Measure the success of your pillar page and topic cluster strategy using metrics like organic traffic, time on page, and leads generated. Also analyze your topics as a whole to identify opportunities for improvement.

Shifting your SEO strategy to a topic-driven approach takes work, but the benefits are clear. By creating interconnected pillar pages and topic clusters, you can demonstrate your authority to search engines and deliver tremendous value to your audience.

Whether you need help with content auditing, topic research, or pillar page creation, the team at Manchester SEO is here to assist. Contact us today to get started.

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