Melinda Miley

By now, we all know that content is king — ahem, or queen — and plays a critical role in digital marketing strategies. However, with great content comes the need for great organization. What we mean is your digital strategy should not only focus on creating an engaging content piece, but also organizing it in ways that enhance user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO). Specifically, we’re talking about creating content clusters — also known as topic clusters — and pillar pages.

What Is Content Clustering?

By definition, content clusters allow marketers to categorize website content around a related core topic. The clusters play a critical role in SEO by helping marketers:

  • Optimize a website’s structure.
  • Create internal linking opportunities between different web pages.
  • Enhance UX.

To better visualize what content clustering means, imagine you’re reading a book on how to improve wellness. The book contains different chapters, and each chapter is dedicated to a specific wellness topic, such as maintaining a more nutritious diet or the importance of physical exercise. You can think of each of these chapters as content clusters — they provide comprehensive insight into the main topic.

However, instead of book chapters, content clusters are landing pages on a website. And rather than flipping through the pages of a hardcover book, people can access these topic cluster landing pages by following the internal links on a pillar page.

But wait — what’s a pillar page? This is a content marketing term that refers to a piece of content that supplies a broad overview of a topic. You can think of a pillar page as the umbrella that all of your supporting content (content clusters) relate back to.

Since they cover so many related topics and keywords, pillar pages are long-form pieces, usually at least 2,000 words. You’ll host the pillar page on your website and link all of your cluster pages throughout the pillar page content. The interlinking makes it easy for users to veer away from the pillar page, explore more specific subtopics and move down your marketing funnel.

Inbound Marketing Starts With Clusters

Which comes first — the clusters or the pillar content? While the pillar page hosts the main subtopics that become your content clusters, you need to perform some basic SEO research to first define what keywords you must target.

Think of it this way: Your pillar page is a decadent dinner plate filled with delicious offerings, but your content clusters are the meat and potatoes — they’re what’s going to fill your appetite. Or, in the case of inbound marketing, get granular on a particular topic.

How Do Topic Clusters Influence Your Search Position?

Search engines like Google want to understand the content and structure of your website. Why? So they can determine which users will find your content most valuable. Therefore, the more Google knows about your website, the more people it can send over. The result? A higher search position and more website traffic for your business.

Can Topic Clusters Increase Web Traffic and Conversions?

While your pillar page will include and seek to rank for short-tail keywords, your topic clusters will center around long-tail keywords. And while long-tail keywords — which generally consist of specific keyphrases — get less search traffic overall (since they’re so specific to a user’s search), they typically yield higher conversion rates.

But first, let’s back up and make sure we’re on the same page regarding what exactly constitutes a long-form keyword. Here are a few examples that you may have seen — or searched for yourself — on Google:

  • “Fast food restaurant near me.”
  • “Best walking shoes for women.”
  • “Vitamin and health food store.”
  • “Bulk wholesale office supplies.”
  • “Residential emergency 24/7 plumbing services.”

Since these phrases are so specific, users who find your website using a long-tail keyword are more likely to purchase your product or service. With less competition, marketers who turn long-tail keywords into topic clusters tend to get better conversions than websites that focus solely on ranking for short-tail keywords.

Why Do You Need Content Clusters for Content Marketing?

In addition to beefing up your SEO game, there are a few other key benefits to utilizing content clusters on your website:

Build Digital Authority on Specific Subjects

In addition to helping Google better understand what your website is about, content clusters also help you gain digital authority.

By creating subtopics for the keywords related to a particular subject, your website can provide answers to all potential searchers at every possible stage of the buyer’s journey. So as long as you’re creating quality content that is well-researched and thorough, topic clustering allows you to provide comprehensive information on a variety of subtopics.

In the eyes of Google, this will make your site come across as an authority in this particular subject. And when Google categorizes you as an authority, you’ll receive higher search engine rankings that lead to more organic website traffic and better lead generation.

Improve UX

It’s true that creating content clusters can increase search engine rank and optimize lead generation. However, a topic cluster also makes life easier for those who visit your website — AKA current or potential customers.

Google and other search engines prioritize websites with an optimal user experience: clean, organized and easy to navigate. When you create content clusters, you make it easy for users to find the information they need. And if you utilize interlinking strategies — meaning that you create an internal link between the topic cluster page and the main pillar page — you make it easy for users to jump around and get the answers they need fast, which enhances UX.

When UX improves, not only will your site likely receive more organic traffic, but you’ll also notice an increase in the amount of time people spend on your website. And the more time users peruse your site, the better opportunity you’ll have to increase brand awareness and turn those visitors into customers.

Enhance Top of Funnel Marketing

Content clusters have the power to grow top of funnel website traffic to create better lead generation. By building valuable and easy-to-find content, you’ll be able to:

  • Bring people to your site organically.
  • Provide expert answers to questions from your customer base.
  • Expose more prospects to your business and enhance brand visibility.

Once you’ve introduced visitors to your brand and demonstrated the knowledge you have on a specific topic, you can start to implement other tactics — like presenting gated content or prompting newsletter subscriptions — to move prospects down the marketing funnel.

How to Execute Your Content Strategy Using Clusters

Alright, so now that you’re up-to-speed on what content clusters are, let’s talk about creating them yourself. When developing clusters for your website, follow these four steps:

1. Determine Your Pillar Page Content

First things first, let’s talk content pillar page strategy. You’ll want to make sure you’re choosing a pillar topic that aligns with your business goals and the buyer personas you’re targeting. You want this topic to be specific to your enterprise, but broad enough that you can generate a decent amount of keywords to form your cluster pages. Think of your pillar page as being your content cluster HQ, as this is where all of your content cluster pages will link to and from.

A prime example of a pillar page done right would be this HubSpot’s page about the future of content strategy. Not only does this topic align with HubSpot’s business objectives — assisting brands with inbound marketing — but it’s also broad enough to make generating content clusters easy-peasy.

2. Research Keywords

Okay, so you’ve got your pillar page topic ready to go. Now it’s time to determine what your content clusters will be. And to do so, you’ll need to conduct some keyword research.

For this portion, you’ll want to use a respectable keyword research tool — such as Ahrefs, Semrush, Google Search Console or Moz Keyword Explorer — to develop a list of ideas. When researching, you’ll type your pillar subject into the tool’s search bar, then select the keywords that align with the subtopics you want to expand upon.

What if Your Website Already Has a Lot of Content?

If you’ve been hard-at-work creating content for your website, your approach to constructing content clusters will be slightly different. Instead of researching what content you need to produce, you’ll want to perform a content audit. To do this, you’ll take inventory of all of your existing content and determine:

  • If the content needs any updating or refreshing.
  • Different categories you can use to group your content.
  • If there are any essential content pieces that your website still needs.

From there, it’s time to channel your inner Marie Kondo and get organizing. Start by grouping your content into clusters, making sure you include internal links back to the overarching pillar page. Additionally, you should still do some keyword research to ensure you’re covering all of the necessary subtopics and if there’s anything that your website is missing.

3. Create Internal Links

Once you have a comprehensive pillar page and the content clusters to support it, it’s time to add that finishing touch: internal links. You’ll want to make sure all of your keywords on your pillar page are hyperlinks that send users to the supporting content cluster pages. Likewise, all of your cluster content should also link back to the pillar page.

4. Measure Your Results

If you’re putting in the work to create killer content pages, make sure you’re also collecting and analyzing the appropriate metrics to see what kind of results your content clusters are generating.

However, this can be a bit tricky because there isn’t a tool that tells you exactly how many leads or sales were generated from each content cluster. Instead, to get an idea of how your content is performing, you’ll need to use more advanced systems — like Google Analytics — to evaluate KPIs like:

  • Clicks: Are website visitors clicking on your internal links and navigating through your site?
  • Goal completion: The goal of your content could range from contact form completion to finalizing an online sale. Regardless, you’ll want to use digital tracking to determine how many goals were completed and if any can be attributed to your content.
  • Website traffic: Remember when we said that Google — and other search engines — like a clean and organized website? That means that using topic clusters should help your SEO strategy. Therefore, you should be seeing a gradual increase in website traffic as your search engine rankings improve.

#Winning Content Cluster Ideas

Now comes the best part: applying everything we’ve reviewed about topic clusters to your content marketing strategy. While generating content cluster ideas can be a little tricky at first, just remember that once you have your foundation down — AKA your pillar content — you’ll be able to generate some killer clusters to support it.

If you’re still feeling a little stuck, here are a few jumping-off-points to get those creative juices flowing:

Brand Awareness Pages

A great pillar page doesn’t have to be complicated — it can be as simple as discussing your business and what you stand for. By creating a general brand awareness page, you can generate content that sends users to specific landing pages that outline your services, products, mission, values and more.

Imagine you own a camping store. Your related content could be a lengthy page discussing your brand. But within that content, you would include keywords like:

  • Outdoor gear.
  • Camping supplies.
  • Sleeping bags.
  • Campsite equipment.
  • Hiking supplies.

These keywords become your content clusters, and each one should link to an internal page that goes more in-depth about the specific product or service.

Comprehensive Guides

Creating an in-depth guide is content cluster creation 101. Within your guide, you can touch on related concepts, which then become your content clusters. A few examples of exceptional pillar pages that mask themselves as guides include:

Organized Content Leads to Conversions

With all of these great examples of content clusters in action, are you itching to start creating your own? Hopefully, the answer is yes. But if you’re still a little fuzzy on what content clusters are all about or you need some help organizing your current content, we’re here to help.