Content Clusters: How to create topic-based content to boost your organic traffic
Major search engines like Google have made fundamental changes to their algorithms to favor topic-based content. As a result, most content marketers & SEO’s are forced to shift focus to creating content under the “Content Cluster” model.
Search Engine algorithm updates & how they affect your content strategy
Google makes minor changes to its algorithm every single day. Most major search engines roll out 500-600 updates a year and release 2-3 major named updates. With Search algorithms evolving to the point where they can understand complex search queries and also the connections between searches (similar search queries), SEOs and Content Marketers need to adapt to these changes ever faster.
One of the major shake-up related to this change occurred with Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013. The search algorithm began parsing out phrases rather than focusing on keywords. Many established SEO professionals see Hummingbird as Google’s official switch from a keyword to a content cluster focus.
Another algorithm update, named RankBrain was launched in 2015. This update heavily relies on machine learning to understand context of your search query and shows results based on multiple keywords or phrases associated with your search query.
Let’s have a look at the Search query “How to bake a cake”
As you can see, Google interprets your search query and shows up a featured snippet along with related search queries under “People also ask”. This tells us that Google is not just giving you results based on your query, but also trying to provide results that are contextual or are similar.
What’s the key takeaway to these algorithm updates that serve contextual results? It’s simple. Publishers now have to restructure their content to produce topic-based content. Keyword-based content is now passé.
What are Content Clusters?
Content clusters are a group of pages that revolve around a central topic. They are similar to a Hub-and-Spoke model used in transport, telecommunications, freight or distributed computing. To simplify my analogy, we need to create a central page that acts as the “Hub” for the content cluster and several “Spoke” pages that are related to the central hub page.
All of the spoke pages are interlinked to the hub page and the hub page links back to each of the spoke pages. The hub-spoke interlinking action signals to Search Engines that the “Hub” page is an authority over a topic.
Anum Hussain and Cambria Davies launched content cluster experiments in 2016. The findings from their extensive research tell us that the more interlinking we do, the better we are placed in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for a set of keywords related to a topic.
Source: Anum Hussain, Topics over Keywords
How to create Content Clusters to boost Organic traffic!
Creating content clusters for your website is a huge task. Not only would you have to restructure your website or your existing blog, but you would also have to build a lot of internal links from spoke pages to a hub page and vice versa.
Let’s get started with “Weight loss” as our central theme for creating a content cluster. The typical way of creating a content cluster is to start with a piece of content that covers the core topic and then branching out.
Listed below are the steps you need to follow to build your content cluster and rock your SEO!
Identify Core Topic:
You need to identify your core topic using keyword research. There are multiple tools out there – you can use Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMRush.com’s Keyword Tool or KeywordTool.io. AdWords Keyword Planner will also do the job. Simply plug in your core topic and a few variations into any tool to find our search volumes, competition, CTR Opportunity and other relevant metrics.
As you can see above, the core topics “weight loss” or “lose weight” have ~9 Million Searches worldwide every month!
Analyse SERPs for topic competitiveness
This is more of a qualitative analysis of your competition on Search. Type in the core topic in Google or Bing and find out which websites are ranking for your topic? Will you be able to compete with these websites? Are you up against giants or can you easily rank for these keywords? Take a good look at all search results. Visit each and every competitor’s website and understand the depth and quality of their content marketing strategy around the topic you have chosen.
A search for “weight loss” on google.co.in gives the following results. One can see that we are up against giants like webmd.com and health.com. Do you really want to take on the challenge and create content around such a broad topic? Or would it be sensible to tighten our topic and go niche. You should take an educated call and proceed.
Identify supporting topics around your core topic
The key to finding supporting topics to your chosen core topic is to go back to your keyword research tool. A quick glance will tell us that there are a few supporting topics related to weight loss including “tips”, “supplements”, “diet”, or “food products”.
Now it’s time to turn to your favourite content recommendation tool. If you are clueless, you might want to look at HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator or Portent’s Content Idea Generator. By the way, these tools serve as “Hub” pages for HubSpot and Potent and generate a ton of leads / brand awareness for both companies.
Type in a few variations to your core keyword and start generating topics! I was able to generate these topics in just under 2 minutes!
Identify content publishing platforms
By now you have figured out your core topic and have a list of supporting topics for which you need to create content. Before you go ahead and start churning out content, it is imperative to identify where you would be publishing the supporting content.
My recommendation would be to use a hybrid approach. Publish few content topics as blog posts on your website and also publish to external platforms in the form of guest blogs, Slideshare presentations, answers to Qoura questions, YouTube videos and so on. By publishing content on your website, you will be able to interlink spoke and hub pages. On the other hand, publishing content externally will help you strengthen off-page SEO and back links to your website.
Create content and link all content
It’s time to start your content writing machines (I wish we had these). Loop in your content partners – whether it’s a content creation agency or your team mates. Now is the right time to let your content engines run on full steam! Please note that content creation in the form of presentations for Slideshare or videos for YouTube might take a lot of your time. Choose wisely between multiple content publishing channels and the format of content as per the resources you have on disposal.
Once all your content is created, ensure that before publishing, it’s all linked together. What we want to do is create a hub-and-spoke “spider-web” model of our content allowing search engines to easily crawl through and see how our content across a topic is connected.
Analyse. Rinse & repeat.
Don’t you want to see whether your content cluster strategy is reaping rich dividends? Why not? Turn to your favourite analytics tool and dive into your organic traffic reports.
Here is a chart that show’s how Briefkase’s Organic traffic has grown by 66% ever since we have focused on a content cluster model.
Our Search Engine Optimization service page acts as the “Hub” page for other allied SEO Services we offer.
You can also go to the Search Analytics report available in Google Search Console to see how your topic-related queries are performing.
Businesses and publishers need to shift focus from creating content on a keyword basis and move towards owning topics related to their Industry or business. A content cluster strategy will not just increase your organic traffic, but will also help you work towards creating valuable content that people want to see. Not only will topic-based content help you gain visibility in search engines, but also it will help you provide a more holistic, positive experience for your consumers.