Why Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages Matter for Your SEO Strategy

The nature of search is changing, and marketers must adapt to remain effective in their SEO strategies. Google continues to refine their algorithms to better identify user intent as search behavior shifts dramatically. People today are submitting longer and more conversational search queries, expecting to find exactly what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds – a trend that will likely continue due to the increased use of voice-activated search. This fundamental change to search behavior has influenced modern marketers to optimize their online content in new and innovative ways. And while there are many tactics to boost search engine rankings, topic clusters and pillar pages have emerged as two of the most promising.

What Are Topic Clusters & Pillar Pages?

Topic clusters are a collection of interlinked pages centered around one over-arching topic, or pillar page. All cluster content links back to the pillar page and vice versa. The pillar page typically provides a broad overview of a core topic, linking to the cluster content including in-depth information on related sub-topics. Put simply, it is a method for grouping content in a way that is both easy for a user to navigate and preferred by search engines.

In the example below, “SEO” serves as the pillar page while the topic clusters are labeled in green. Presumably, the pillar page would provide a comprehensive overview of SEO while including links to cluster content focused on important sub-topics (e.g. website architecture, measuring ROI from SEO, etc.). Check out this video from HubSpot breaking down the basics.

Why Are They Important to SEO?

Google favors websites where the content is organized, accurate and the subject matter is clear. If Google can pinpoint what your content is about and easily make connections between your pages and links, this will have a positive effect on your rankings. When crafting your content, a good suggestion is following Google’s search quality guidelines which are based on three pillars: Expertise, Authoritativeness, & Trustworthiness (E-A-T).

So why does site structure matter to Google, and how does it work exactly? By building your content structure around core topics and linking to only related subjects, Google’s algorithm can better understand the depth of your expertise. All content should be impactful and support your topic, including the links that you choose to utilize. In fact, including links to content that deviates from your topic will actually hurt your SEO ranking.

As discussed in our previous SEO blog post, behavior signals such as time on site, pages per session and bounce rate also heavily influence website rankings. Each of these factors will be improved by enhancing your user experience through effective topic clusters and pillar pages. If executed correctly, readers will be able to easily navigate your website, accessing content related to their interests.

Getting Started

Are you ready to give this a try? The first step is selecting your topics. Think about the type of content that already resonates with your target audience and where you want to improve your ranking. Use this information to then build out a framework of relevant core topics and sub-topics. A core topic should be broad enough that it leads to impactful cluster content, but not so broad that it’s impossible to provide a comprehensive overview on the pillar page.

Once you have selected your topics, begin researching keywords to target. Every pillar page on your website should have its own set of keywords associated with it, along with the related cluster content. Essentially, a pillar page and its respective cluster content should contain the same set of keywords around a selected topic (we recommend 7-10). When crafting the cluster content, it’s important to link back to the pillar page when hitting on your keywords.

Topic clusters demonstrate expertise, create a better user experience, and allow Google to recognize your website as a trustworthy resource – all of which improves SEO performance. When you’re ready to get started, we recommend checking out the following tools to help organize your keywords and create effective topic clusters:

•  Answer The Public: Keyword Phrase Research
•  Hubspot Content Strategy: Structure Your Website in Clusters
•  SpyFu: Keyword Grouper



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