What Are Topic Clusters & How To Use Them For Better SEO

Topic clusters are a group of web pages that focus on different aspects of the same topic. They allow you to cover a topic in depth by using each page in the cluster to focus on a particular sub-topic of the main topic.

They help your readers to better understand a topic. But they are also a valuable SEO tool because they help to build your website's authority for particular topics.

topic clusters mind map

In this article I’ll explain:

  • What topic clusters are
  • Why they help with SEO
  • How to create them

Let’s dive in!

1. What Are Topic Clusters?

A topic cluster is a series of interlinked articles or blog posts clustered around a particular topic.

Content clusters are a bit like ‘Category’ pages in WordPress. A category page contains links to all the pages or articles that cover that same category.

The difference between the two is that a category page is simply a list of sub-pages whereas the central page in a topic cluster is usually a lengthy article that gives a broad overview of a particular topic.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say I have a website that deals with outdoor sports.

And on that website, I have a web page that covers rock climbing.

My rock climbing page links to a series of related pages, each of which deals with one of the following topics:

  • Crampons
  • Ice picks
  • Harnesses
  • Carabiners
  • Ropes & Cords
  • Rappel devices

The rock climbing page and the pages it links to are a content cluster.

example of a topic cluster

You can think of a topic cluster as a central page surrounded by satellite pages.

A key aspect of content clusters is internal linking.

Ideally, every satellite page should contain links to every other page in the content cluster.

2. Topic Clusters and Pillar Posts

The page at the center of content cluster is often referred to as a pillar post.

Pillar Posts

It’s called a pillar post because it’s usually one of 5 to 10 key content pages that define the focus of a website.

Pillar pages are often long-form content. They typically give a broad overview of a topic.

In my example above, the rock-climbing page is a pillar post.

Pillar posts often have titles such as:

  • The Complete Guide to SEO
  • Email Marketing – the Definitive Guide
  • Guest Posting – Everything You Need to Know

Satellite Pages

The satellite pages surrounding a pillar post go into particular sub-topics in more detail.

For example, the satellite pages for a pillar post about 'email marketing' might be:

  • How to Segment Email Lists for More Opens and Click-Throughs
  • 22 Simple Ways to Grow Your Email List
  • 13 Best Email Marketing Services
  • 7 Email Marketing Metrics You Need to Follow
  • How to Create Email Marketing Funnels

Pillar Posts and Satellite Pages

The pillar post on email marketing plus these 5 sub-topic posts would together form a topic cluster.

A key characteristic of a pillar page is that it broadly covers a given topic. In that sense, it acts as a gateway to the pages that cluster around it.

Those satellite pages deal with sub-topics of the main topic. And they cover those sub-topics in much more detail than was possible in the pillar post.

If you’re like me, and many other bloggers, you may not have many pillar pages.

The reason?

We’ve been so busy chasing long tail keywords that we rarely, if ever, write broadly-focused articles.

After all, an article about 'email marketing' is going to be much harder to rank on Page #1 of Google than an article about ‘email marketing funnels’.

But when a pillar page has a series of sub-topic pages linking to it, it has a much better chance of ranking on Page #1.

Why?

Because it’s at the center of a topic cluster and that means it has topical authority.

3. What is Topical Authority?

In 2013 Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm and semantic analysis.

This algorithm allows Google to recognize that certain keywords cluster together in predictable patterns.

That in turn allows Google to map out the sub-topics that make up any topic.

And that means that Google is able to measure the topical authority of a piece of content.

In other words, Google is able to measure how well a piece of content covers a particular topic.

And that’s where topic clusters come in.

It’s difficult for a single piece of content to cover a topic definitively.

But what about a series of articles, each of which covers a different aspect of that topic?

That’s going to have topical authority.

And topical authority is now a ranking factor.

So the pillar post at the center of that topic cluster is going to rank well in Google.

4. Topic Clusters vs Keyword Optimization

Topic clusters are beginning to replace keywords.

Ten years ago, people used to focus on individual keywords.

But with Hummingbird and RankBrain the focus now is context, not isolated keywords.

Increasingly, Google is trying to understand searcher intent, and that means the algorithm is trying to understand context and meaning.

Gone is the era when you could optimize a page for a single keyword.

5. Topic Clusters and SEO

When you create an interlinked cluster of pages around a pillar page, you signal to Google that there’s a semantic connection between these linked pieces of content.

And that’s exactly the kind of content that search engines are now favoring: semantically-related content.

Also known as topic-based content.

Search engines are favoring sites that cover a particular topic with authority.

Why?

Because the search engines realize that visitors to a website that has topical authority are likely to find all the answers they need in one place, instead of having to visit multiple websites.

The result?

The website with well-organized topic clusters is going to rank better in the search results.

But there’s another reason why content clusters perform well in the search results.

Because the pages in a content cluster are interlinked, when one page gets an SEO boost it transfers link juice to the other pages in the topic cluster.

6. How to Create Content Clusters from Scratch

Here’s how to create a content cluster:

Take the head keyword for your main topic (e.g. ‘email marketing’, ‘seo’, ‘rock climbing’) and type it into Google.

Quickly scan through the first ten articles that appear in the search results.

Look at the headings and the sub-headings.

Make a list of the sub-topics that your main topic divides into.

When you’ve finished this exercise, type your head keyword into Google again.

This time look at the ‘Auto Suggest’ topics.

See if there are any additional items that you can add to your list of sub-topics:

Google Auto Suggest

Then scroll down to the foot of the page and look at the Google ‘Related Searches’.

Again, check to see if there are any additional sub-topics you can add to your list:

Google Related Searches

Now take your list of ‘email marketing’ sub-topics and write 200 to 300 words on each of the sub-topics.

You’ll end up with long-form article of 2,500 to 5,000 words.

Of course, 200 to 300 words is nowhere near enough words to cover any of the sub-topics.

That’s where your satellite pages come in.

Each satellite page will address one of those sub-topics.

And that’s your content cluster!

Watch this Video: 'Topic Clusters: The Next Evolution of Content Strategy' (1 min, 39 secs)

7. How to Create Content Clusters from Existing Content

To create content clusters from your existing articles and blog posts you first need to do a content audit.

Specifically, you need a spreadsheet of your articles so that you can examine the titles and see which of your articles would naturally fit into a topic cluster.

You can do this with a simple plugin called Export Post Info.

After installing and activating this plugin, enter a name for your download file, click ‘save Changes’, and then click on the download link:

Export Post Info WP plugin

The plugin creates a CSV file with the following columns:

  • Date
  • Title
  • Number of words
  • URL
  • Category

Open the CSV file in Microsoft Excel and create a new column titled ‘Topic Clusters’.

In the new column you just created, make a note of the broad topic of the article. Then sort the spreadsheet by the column titled Topic Clusters.

You’ll find small groups of articles that share the same broad topic. These are your topic clusters:

Export Post Info WP plugin

In each topic cluster there may be an article that will serve as the pillar post for that topic cluster.

If not, you can easily create one using the process I outlined in the previous section.

When creating topic clusters from your existing content, remember to remove all the previous internal links that lead to other pages on your website.

You want the search engine bots to clearly recognize that this is a self-contained topic cluster.

And that means that the internal linking should be restricted to the cluster itself.

8. How to Create Internal Links Within a Topic Cluster

There are various ways of doing internal links in a topic cluster.

Here are some examples.

Topic Cluster Example #1 - The Anatomy of a SaaS Marketing Site

This topic cluster uses a Table of Contents at the top of each of the cluster pages:

topic clusters

At the foot of each page, it provides a link to the previous page and a link to the next page.

topic clusters

This is a great linking strategy:

  • a Table of Contents navigation ensures that every cluster page links to every other page
  • the top navigation gives the reader an overview of what the topic cluster consists of
  • the bottom navigation encourages the reader to follow a sequence of pages

Topic Cluster Example #2 - Moz Guide to Content Marketing Strategy

This topic cluster uses the same two kinds of navigation as the previous example: ‘Table of Contents’ navigation as well as ‘Previous and Next’ navigation:

topic clusters

Topic Cluster Example #3 – Moz Beginners Guide to SEO

This topic cluster, also from Moz, uses these same two internal linking techniques:

topic clusters

From an SEO point of view the vital linking strategy in all three examples is the ‘Table of Contents’ linking:

  • It tells the search engines that this is a topic cluster
  • If one page in the topic cluster gets a ranking boost, the benefit will be passed on to the other pages in the cluster

The 'Related Articles' panel at the foot of this blog post is another example of internal linking within a content cluster.

9. Using ‘Related Article’ Blocks To Create Topic Clusters

A few weeks ago, I sat down and tried to work out how to create content clusters out of my existing content.

I knew that Google is now using clusters of semantically related content to decide how relevant your content is to a given search query.

And I wanted to make sure that my content was organized into these kinds of clusters.

So, I decided to place a ‘Related Article’ block at the foot of each of my blog posts. These blocks would contain links to 3 to 5 articles on semantically related topics.

But I needed a way to group my 70-odd published articles into semantically related clusters.

In short, I needed some software that would rank my online content into thematically related groups.

The kind of software I needed was the software used by ‘Related Posts’ plugins. But where could I find such software? And how much was it going to cost me?

I started Googling it.

And then it hit me...

I had the best topical relevance algorithm in the world, staring me in the face!

Google had already indexed all of my online content. So, I would get Google to tell me what my content clusters were.

Here’s how to do it:

Take any article that you have optimized for a particular keyword.

Then go to Google and type in inurl:yourdomain +keyword

The keyword is the main keyword you optimized your article for.

Google will list the blog posts on your website that share the most topical relevance for that keyword.

In the example below, I'm calling the article that contains the 'Related Articles Block' the host article.

how to find topic clusters

Then create a box at the foot of your article and title it 'Related Articles'. Copy and paste the titles of your related articles. Insert links to those article and you have a topic cluster.

Conclusion

Organizing your content into topic clusters will help rank your articles higher in the search results. This is because search engines are now focussing on context and topical authority, rather than single keywords.

In this article I’ve shown you how to create new content clusters from scratch and also how to organize your existing content into content clusters.

A vital aspect of content clusters is internal linking.

Each page in the cluster should be linked to every other page in the cluster, preferably using a ‘Table of Contents’ linking strategy, as outlined above.

If you’re looking for a single SEO strategy that will lift your rankings in the search engines – this is the one!

This post was most recently updated on July 10th, 2020

Rob Powell
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22 thoughts on “What Are Topic Clusters & How To Use Them For Better SEO”

  1. Hello Rob! Wow, I loved the content! Very informative and practical. Congratulations!

  2. Hey Ryan! Thanks for stopping by – good to see you here. I hope things are going well in your neck of the woods.

    All the best, my friend 🙂

    Rob

  3. Hey Rob.!
    Thanks for sharing these awesome tips. Just one question though, if I change the URL of one of my related articles, will the plugin update it automatically or do I need to do it manually?

  4. Hi Samm,

    Good question. The process I use for adding related articles is manual, so if you ever wanted to change the URL for one of the links in your ‘Related Articles Block’, you would need to do that manually.

    Hope this answers your question.

    Best, Rob.

  5. Great content as always -and extremely helpful. I wasn’t aware of the content clusters but I’ll keep an eye from now on.
    Thanks, once again, for writing such an in depth article, Rob.

  6. Thanks, George. I love your website, by the way (and your ‘About’ page). I can relate to what you say. All the best, Rob.

  7. Hi Rob,

    Great content as always -and extremely helpful.
    I have a question for you.
    How to create a box at the foot of your article and title it ‘Related Articles’ like your posts?

    Thanks,

  8. Hi Trung, thanks for your question. I created the ‘Related Articles’ box in Thrive Architect, which is a plugin from the people at Thrive Themes. I’ve made a short video showing how I made the ‘Related Articles’ box: https://vimeo.com/347890803

  9. Hi Rob,

    Thank you so much for your video.
    It is extremely helpful.

    Thanks and Best Regards,
    Trung

  10. Hey Rob great post. I googled topic clusters and found this post. Thank you for teaching me about topic clusters. This post has given my content real direction. Thank you for writing it simply but informatively.

  11. Hi Rob,

    I have one more question.

    Do you know any other free ‘Related Articles’ plugins that have similar features?
    Can you recommend that plugin?

    Thanks,

  12. Hi Trung,

    Thanks for your question.

    Here’s a list of all the ‘related post’ plugins that I know of. Most of them are free or have free versions:

    – Jetpack Related Posts
    – Bibblio
    – Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)
    – Related Posts for WordPress
    – Contextual Related Posts
    – Related Posts by AddThis
    – Similar Posts by Shareaholic
    – Better Related Posts Widget
    – Related Posts Pro
    – Related Posts by Maria Shaldybina
    – Related Posts by Taxonomy
    – Inline Related Posts
    – Related Post By PickPlugins

    The problem with ‘related post’ plugins is that they put a heavy load on your server response time and so they slow down your website. Page speed is now a major ranking factor and that’s why I don’t use a ‘related posts’ plugin (I just manually create a block at the foot of each post containing related posts).

    However, there is one related posts plugin that apparently doesn’t slow down your site: Bibbilo. The makers of this plugin say: “The heavy-lifting is handled on our side, and our modules load after your page does, so nothing slows down”. But if using Bibblio (or any other Related Posts plugin) I would test your page speed (using Pingdom Tools) before and after, so you know for sure what impact its having on your page speed.

    I hope this answers your question.

    Regards,
    Rob.

  13. Hey Rob,

    As usual a great article.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a question. I am organizing my content into silos following your suggestions. Therefore i have a category page (which is my silo page) and under this page a list of posts that all link to each other and to the silo page.
    Now, can i create a topic cluster around a single page under the main silo page? For instance, let’s say my silo page is Tennis Rackets and the supporting pages are Slazenger, Wilson, Head. Can I create a topic cluster around Slazenger? Would that break the silo structure?

    Thx

  14. Hi Luca,

    Thanks for your question.

    If you have at least 5 articles on Slazenger rackets, then, by all means, you can create a new cluster around Slazenger (those articles would link to “Slazenger” and not to “tennis rackets”). The rule here is that once you have at least five articles or blog posts on a sub-topic (Slazenger) you can turn the sub-topic into its own cluster. You would then start earning authority for “Slazenger” and that authority for Slazenger is going to feed into your overall authority for “tennis rackets”.

    I hope this helps.
    Rob.

  15. Thanks Rob once again for a great piece of content.

    On our website, we publish product reviews. As a test, we tried to follow tips in this article to optimize 2 reviews that were doing fine but we needed to boost them even more.

    We improved internal linking toward the review and we attempted to create topical authority. Therefore, for each product, we added 5/6 cluster articles on topics related to the main product.

    Immediately after the test started, both product reviews have lost ranking as many keywords started to lose positions. It is 3 weeks now that the negative trend continues.
    It looks like the creation of cluster content has generated a keyword dilution issue.

    Any idea on what could have caused the issue and why the topical authority content didn’t work in our case?
    What went wrong?

    Thx a lot for your comments.

  16. Hi Matt,

    It sounds like you may have inadvertently diluted the strength of your existing content. Also, with topic clusters, make sure you have at least 5 ‘satellite’ pages for every ‘hub’ page. Less than that and you weak topical authority for the hub page.

    Best, Rob

  17. Hey Rob, Great article. Would you suggest making the pillar pages static pages and the satellites could be posts? Thanks

  18. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your question.

    Yes, that would certainly work. However, pages are usually reserved for content relating to the site itself (e.g. ‘about’ page, ‘contact’ page, ‘services’ page, etc.) In other words, pages are best for content that doesn’t change. My preference is to use posts for content that is about the actual topics you cover on your website.

    I hope this answers your question,
    Regards, Rob.

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