topic clusters

Topic Clusters vs Keywords: A New Era of SEO and Content Marketing

Learn how to utilize topic clusters to make the most of your content marketing strategy. Topic clusters improve SEO and customer engagement.

Keywords have long been the foundation of a successful content marketing strategy.

However, due to the growth in popularity of content marketing and ongoing search engine algorithm changes—keywords alone are no longer enough to ensure your content ranks on the search engine results page (SERP).

Topic clusters are now more than ever a critical aspect of creating an effective content marketing strategy. ~Hubspot

Topic clusters help you identify the key topics prospective customers are interested in reading and learning about. They also allow you to determine which types of articles or blog post formats resonate best with customers throughout their buyer journey. This information can be used to improve future content creation efforts as well as optimize existing pieces of content.

Image Source: Hubspot

Here we will discuss the benefits of topic clusters and how to use them in conjunction with your keyword strategy for navigating this new era of SEO and content marketing.

What B2B Marketers Need to Know About Keywords in 2021

The way in which keywords factor into SEO has evolved a lot over the years.

It used to be that as long as a piece of content had a specific keyword stuffed into the body of content, the title, and the metadata—it was practically guaranteed to rank.

However, with each update to the Google algorithm, the role of keywords continues to change. Ultimately, the algorithm updates strive to improve the user experience. Therefore, the most quality relevant content is typically ranked highest on the SERP.

While this of course is good for users looking for relevant solutions to their problems, it tends to add a level of complexity to a content marketer’s role.

So, while keywords are still important, they are important in different ways than they were in the past. Therefore, your keyword research and content marketing strategy should be updated regularly to reflect new algorithm changes.

Use Search Intent for Creating Effective Keyword Searches

To use keywords effectively, content marketers must understand and make use of search intent.

Search intent is the motivation or “why” behind a search engine user’s search query.

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For example, someone might simply search for “hamster cages” on Google. How do we determine this user’s search intent?

  • Are they looking to buy a new hamster cage?
  • Are they wanting to know what are the best hamster cages?
  • Do they just want to know more about hamster cages, like what should be included in the cage?
  • Or maybe, they want to know where to buy a new cage?
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These four questions regarding the search intent of “hamster cages” represent the four types of search intent.

1. Informational

The user wants to learn more information about hamster cages in general.

Informational searches do not always mean that the person searching for the term is interested in purchasing said item. The ‘ultimate guide style article is a good example of a page where someone who has performed an informational search might be interested in a topic but not interested in making a purchase. Sometimes these searches are not framed as a question, instead, they will just be searched as a phrase.

Search modifiers that are common in informational searches include who, what, when, where, why, how, resource, guide, how-to, ideas, tips, examples, and learn.

2. Commercial Investigation

Commercial investigation searches originate from people who haven’t yet made up their minds about a purchase. They are looking for more information before pulling the trigger.

Search modifiers used in commercial investigation searches include top, best, review, and comparison. For example, if a user wants to know what the best hamster cages on the market are–they might simply input, ‘best hamster cages’ into the search box.

3. Navigational

The user wants to know where to buy a hamster cage.

Not only does navigational suggest looking for where to acquire something, but it can also include searches for a specific website. Search terms that suggest navigational searches include brand names, site names, and names of a specific product or service.2.

4. Transactional

The user is ready to buy a new hamster cage.

The transactional search intention comes from an individual who is looking to make a purchase. In this case, the person already knows what they would like to buy.

Search modifiers to look for that suggest a transactional search intent include buy, order, purchase, coupon, cheap, pricing, and price.

Understanding the type of search intent helps and the search modifiers that accompany them content creators create content that resonates with their audience. If you’re writing informative content, then you’ll need to include terms related to the product/service being sold. But if you’re creating navigational content, then you may not need to mention products at all. Instead, focus on providing useful tips and tricks to solve problems.

So, how do you use search intent to help improve your SEO strategy?

Aligning Search Intent with SEO Strategy

Simply creating content that appeals to each of the four types of search intent, isn’t the best strategy. This approach is too broad and there are ways to make better use of search intent.

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Four tips for incorporating search intent into your SEO strategy:

1. Check the SERPS

By checking the SERPS of your relevant keywords, you can understand the search intent behind the search terms. You can also use keyword tools such as Ahrefs to accomplish this.

Look for patterns in keyword rankings. This will help you decide where there is an opportunity to create content based on search intent.

2. Work within the 3 C’s of search intent: content type, content format, and content angle.

Content type is the form of the content. This includes blog pages, landing pages, and product pages. When checking the SERPS for a keyword, keep an eye on the content type that is associated with that keyword. This is the type of content that should be created to correspond with that keyword.

Content format includes how-tos, guides, reviews, lists, and opinion pieces among others. Just like with content type, keyword SERPS will help identify what the best format for a piece of content will be.

Content angle is how the top-ranking pages for a keyword are framed. If the top pages for “hamster cages” are framed as the “best,” “healthiest,” or “cutest” then the content being created on the topic of hamster cages should include these selling points.

3. Look to top-ranking pages for inspiration

Take the time to visit the top-ranking pages to gather inspiration. You can also use the people also search for box for ideas.

Why are Topic Clusters a New SEO Content Strategy?

Topic clusters are simply a group of related topics that share common characteristics.

These topic clusters are often formed around a single theme such as travel, health, education, etc., but they don’t necessarily need to be tied together. They may also include subtopics within those themes.

At the center of a topic cluster, is a long-form pillar piece of content. Your pillar content serves as an anchor point for all related content within the topic cluster and subtopics. It contains the most essential information about the topic, including its name, description, image, and links to external resources.

The cluster content branches out from the pillar content making an interconnected web of content. Not only does this make your content more navigational for readers it also makes for more natural internal linking.

How do Topic Clusters Improve SEO?

Topic clusters work to improve SEO by improving the use of keywords.

With topic clusters, content that utilizes many keyword variations can naturally be produced.

For example, if we were creating content about traveling to Europe, we could write one article about visiting Paris, another about Rome, and yet another about London. Each article would have different keywords, but each article would still relate to the same main topic.

This more naturally fits the way people use search engines therefore these pages are more likely to be ranked higher on the SERP.

How To Get Started with Topic Clusters

Follow these steps to get started using topic clusters in your content marketing strategy:

1. Identify your target audience and preliminary broad topic ideas.

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Knowing your target audience is always essential in content marketing.

This will help to make sure that what you are creating will reach the readers that you are looking to connect with based on your content marketing goals. For example, one of your goals may be to connect with existing clients and customers or another one may be to reach a new audience.

Starting with broad topics is the best strategy in the beginning to build a baseline foundation for each topic.

The next steps will help your narrow in on your exact topics. Plus, working with topic clusters allows you to create content for far-reaching topics in a way that will connect with readers and improve your SEO blog content simultaneously.

2. Perform keyword research.

Once you have your topic and audience identified, you can begin performing keyword research. This is where those search intent tips above come in handy.

Put together a list of short-tail and long-tail keywords that will be incorporated into your content.

3. Create the topic clusters content first.

You might be thinking of diving right into crafting the pillar content, but wait!

Topic clusters work best when the cluster content is written and published first. This is because you will be providing internal links to the cluster content within the pillar content. So, you will need the content that will be linked to already published.

While writing your topic cluster content, use the keywords that you identified in the previous step. Remember when using keywords make sure they fit naturally within the content. You want your readers to enjoy the content, spend time on the page, use your links, and see you as a helpful resource.

4. Write your pillar content.

Your pillar content should include everything related to your topic. This means that the pillar piece of content should be structured in a way allowing for natural linking to your cluster content.

Keep in mind that pillar content is usually exhaustive long-form content, between 3000-5000 words total.

Final Thoughts on Topic Clusters

Topic clusters really have ushered in a new era of SEO allowing businesses to write about far-reaching topics without having to worry about the content having too broad of an appeal to reach the target audience.

Topic clusters also allow content marketers to build and use a keyword strategy that is much more effective not only for readers but for ranking as well. It also gives the opportunity to link back to other content so traffic is not lost from one piece of content to another.

All in all, topic clusters are a key component to creating an effective content marketing strategy because they improve the user experience for the reader.

Partner with the Topic Cluster Experts at WriteForMe

The team of content experts at WriteForMe understands that each business has unique content marketing goals and how to achieve them.

If you are looking to make the most out of your content strategy, see what the experts at WriteForMe can do for you with a free content marketing playbook.

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Andy Steuer

Andy Steuer

Andy Steuer is the Chief Marketing Officer at WriteForMe. Andy has been CEO, CMO, VP of Product for 8 fast-growing companies in his career. 3 of those companies became Top 10 Internet companies. Content Marketing has always been at the core to differentiate these companies from their competition. You can always schedule a 1 on 1 meeting with Andy by grabbing some time on his calendar here. List articles below that have Andy on the byline on the rest of the page. Here’s my calendar link: » More blog posts by Andy Steuer

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