Using topic clusters and pillar content instead of trying to rank for a short list of keywords will boost your search engine rankings and improve user experience.

This week, in our ongoing Writing for SEO series, we’re looking at topic clusters and pillar content. Our previous two posts explored how search engines are changing, and how people are changing the ways they search.

I’ve been hinting — more like, emphasizing — in our recent Writing for SEO series that trying to rank for certain keywords in each blog post you publish is a practice on the way out. You may have been wondering what you’re supposed to do instead. Today’s post on topic clusters and pillar content is your answer.

Before we dive too far in, it’s important to understand the key terms at work here.

  • Core topics are the several ideas/phrases/value propositions that most closely align with your brand. These are the categories that define your business and the knowledge you have to share with internet users. You want users searching the for these phrases to find your business. For Fronetics, content marketing and social media marketing for the supply chain are two obvious examples.
  • Pillar content is your evergreen content that covers those topics at a high level. For Fronetics, an example would be: Why Supply Chain and Logistics Businesses Need Content Marketing. Pages with pillar content are typically longer, offering a broad overview of the subject and linking to other webpages (cluster pages) that offer more in-depth information about related subtopics.
  • Topic clusters are the subtopics that cover a particular aspect of a core topic. For example, writing for SEO, blogging, and content strategy are a topic cluster that falls under the core topic of content marketing.
  • Cluster pages are webpages that contain content covering topics from your cluster. Each topic cluster page focuses on providing more detail for a specific keyword relating to the core topic. For example, Instagram Stories: How the Supply Chain Can Use Them to Engage Prospects and Customers (core topic: social media marketing) was one of our most popular topic cluster pages last year.

How to structure your pages

Your pillar content page should contain links to each related topic cluster page, and each cluster page should link back to the pillar content, with the same hyperlinked keyword. This allows visitors to move seamlessly between the pages to find information that is most relevant to them. It also helps search engines better understand the content of your website so it can drive appropriate traffic to your content.

Topic cluster pages should focus on driving traffic from specific queries (e.g., “How do I use Instagram Stories?”). Pillar content pages should include broad information about the core topics, as well as opportunities for website visitors to convert to leads. This sets up your website so that traffic comes in through your cluster pages and converts on your pillar content pages.

As HubSpot puts it, “The beauty of this model is that you can spend a lot more time optimizing your pillar content for conversions and your cluster content for traffic. This saves a lot of time compared to the traditional model of optimizing each individual post.”

Why topic clusters and pillar content

Using topic clusters and pillar content lets you organize your internal linking more efficiently, boost your search ranking, and provide a better user experience.

Because search engines are getting better at understanding semantically related concepts, this structure allows them to recognize your authority on a certain topic — rather than assigning you a ranking based on an exact word or phrase. It shows you have real depth and breadth on a topic, which is important to users searching for information about it.

As I say all the time, search engines are constantly evolving to bring the most relevant content to people who are searching. So if you can show search engines that you have breadth and depth on a topic, they will assign more authority and higher search placement to your website pages.

What’s more, one high performing cluster page can elevate search rankings for all the other pages linked to the same pillar. That means more users will find your content. That means more effective content marketing for you.

So, rather than writing around a short list of keywords for which you’d like to rank, you should focus on developing topic clusters and pillar content that align with your brand to drive organic traffic.

Want to learn more about writing for SEO? Make sure to read the other parts of our series: part 1, Writing for SEO: Search Engines are Changing, part 2, Writing for SEO: People Are Changing How They Search, and part 4, Writing for SEO: Measuring the Success of Your Content.

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