Topic Clusters: the New Wizard of SEO

Original photo collage by Scott Evans


I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore


Just when you think you’ve mastered the perfect strategy to rank for search results, the rules have changed again. Now, rather than favoring keyword optimization, Google has changed its algorithm, giving the nod to topic-based content, or more specifically, the topic cluster model.


Clusters and pillars and links, oh my!


So, what exactly is the topic cluster model? It’s a group of topics that all relate and link back to a pillar page, which is a single page that provides a comprehensive overview of a specific core offering. It acts as the hub for all topics relevant to that primary offering. Along with a broad overview, it provides hyperlinks to the “cluster” of relevant associated blog posts, allowing the reader to drill down into greater detail for each topic. In turn, each associated blog post links back to its pillar page as well.


Simple as a click of the heels


Put simply, a pillar page addresses all related topics in broad strokes, while cluster content is specific, keyword-related, and delves into much greater detail on a single topic. Like a bicycle tire, the hub is the pillar page, the spokes are topic clusters, and the rim/tire is your target audience.


For example, say you’re in the creative services industry, specializing in three specific areas—website design & development, video production, and motion graphics. Your topic cluster would then begin with three pillar pages, one for each of your core specialties.


You would identify all topics and keywords you want to rank for within each specialty area. This becomes the basis for your topic cluster. Go about creating relevant content for each specific topic, making sure to hyperlink everything back to its pillar page. Make sure your pillar page is also linked out to each topic’s blog posts and voila! you now have an optimized site using the topic cluster model.


Just follow the yellow brick road!


By evolving keywords into topics you want to rank for in search results, then writing multiple topic-specific blog posts that are hyperlinked—both to and from the pillar page—you’re telling Google you’ve focused a considerable amount of time on this topic. Therefore, you’ll be seen as a dependable source when users conduct a search on that topic, giving you an inside track to ranking well in the eyes of the Great and Powerful Google.


That said, topic clusters aren’t a foolproof guarantee of gaining a top spot in Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) forever. If there is one constant when it comes to the Google algorithm, it’s change. But organizing your content in this manner will set you up for more blog traffic and, together with sound SEO practices, provide a framework for better rankings, now and in the future.