Topic Clusters

Topic Clusters are a Key Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy

Topic Clusters are a key part of your content marketing strategy and your marketing mix.

You competitors are pushing and you need to have a strong content marketing tactical approach. Topic Clusters are becoming a big part of every content marketer’s plan.

Getting the right content plan laid out and seo optimizing it for maximum content marketing results is a growing concern for a lot of companies.

Max Cohen from Hubspot and Andy Steuer from WriteFroMe.io unravel the intricacies of content marketing and discuss how you can use Topic clusters to boost your content marketing efforts.

Topic Clusters are a Key Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy

Topic Clusters and Your Content Marketing Strategy

Below is a transcript of the conversation with Max Cohen from Hubspot and Andy Steuer, Chief Marketing Officer at WriteForMe:

Max:

Hey Andy, how are you doing?

Andy:

Hey, good to see you, Max. Thanks

Topic Clusters – Let’s Get Into It

Max:

Good to see you as well. Hey well, thanks for taking some time to chat with me today. I know that you and me wanted to get together a little bit and talk to the people about the Topic clusters tool and the SEO tools within HubSpot. So happy to sit down with you today and do that. For anyone who’s new to this or hasn’t seen our videos yet, can you tell people a little bit about yourself and then I’ll introduce myself as well?

Andy:

Absolutely. I’m Andy Steuer, I’m the head up marketing for WriteForMe. WriteForMe is a content marketing company where we build content marketing teams for our clients and help them execute on the content marketing strategy. It’s all designed around inbound marketing and best practices that HubSpot has outlined over the past several years. We help make it accessible and a very straightforward kind of a process, so to speak. Content marketing is one of these areas that oftentimes falls through the cracks or falls off the plate in the media mix because it’s hard to consistently produce content. Everybody’s busy. We help make it easy and there’s so much value in creating content to engage your customers, help them learn a little bit more about what your business is. So it’s essentially what we do and I’m excited about what we’re going to dig into today.

Max:

Yeah, absolutely. For those of you don’t know me, my name is Max. I’m a product trainer on HubSpot’s learning and development team. I teach new HubSpotters how to HubSpot. Basically in a nutshell, that’s what I do. But yeah, today and I’m glad you mentioned content, right? Because we’re going to talk about what’s formerly known as the content strategy tool, but today is known as the SEO tool within HubSpot. It’s a tool that really, really helps you kind of frame up and think and plan, and also execute on your content strategy. It does a ton of different things, and I’m so glad I have you on the call with me today to walk through this because you were a content mastermind and you’ll be able to add a lot of flare to what we’re digging into, right? So let me share my screen. I have my portal hooked up here and let me just make sure. Andy, can you see that?

Andy:

I can, yes.

Max:

Okay. Sweet. All right. So for those of you who haven’t used the SEO tool before, let me just zoom in a little bit here, just so it’s easy for everyone to see what I’m sharing on my screen here. What you’re to want to do is you’re going to want to go up to the Marketing tab at the very top of the page, and then you’re going to go down to where it says Planning and Strategy. Remember content is nothing without a strategy. That’s why this SEO tool is kind of stuffed under this Planning and Strategy tool. You’re going to go to SEO and then real quick, I just want to stop right here.

Max:

So there was a lot that’s going on within this tool, right? But there’s two big things you need to know. The first is this Recommendations tab right here. This is going to take a look at the domains that you have hooked up to your HubSpot portal, and it is going to give you search engine optimization recommendation. So if you need something like quick hit things on a few things that you can do to improve your search engine optimization across your site, you can click and view the recommendations here. I’ll let you all figure that on your own. What we’re going to talk about today is the Topic clusters tool. All right. Now, before we actually dive into the tool, Andy, I want to hear from you, when you are coaching your customers through this idea of topics, how do you introduce it to them? How do you start that conversation often and where you try to lead them?

Andy:

Yeah. It’s an interesting thing. So many people look to chase keywords and they start there. Yes, keywords are very important to your strategy, but that’s not really how Google’s algorithm works any longer. The Google RankBrain algorithm works more around delivering the right kind of content to the user at that right time based on what their query is. It’s focused more on topics than it is necessarily on particular keywords. There are a number of criteria that go into it. But what I’ve found is that when aligning around a topic and building out subtopics and also relevant keywords within that, what you do is you end up claiming the higher ground in the discussion. We’d to talk about that upfront because it’s important to align around this idea of building out topics and subtopics than necessarily along list of keywords that you’re going to chase for your strategy.

Andy:

So the first area that we’d to do this with is identifying who your ideal customer profile is. Let’s start there, let’s start with who your buyer is. And from there, what are their challenges? What are they looking for? Because what we find a lot of times when we go through this exercise with our clients is that they think one thing that the client might think, I really want to rank for these keywords, for example, and then they find out that those keywords get under 100 searches a month, and there’s a recalibration that needs to happen.

Andy:

So what we’re going for is essentially what your customers are searching for, and then we want to provide content that’s going to help them through that search process so that the content provides value for them. And then ultimately that becomes a great way to generate leads from that content. So starting there is a really important orientation in this process.

topic clusters are a key part of your content marketing strategy
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Max:

Yeah. I love that. You touched on a thing that I always to say in training, where you have to create what people are actually looking for or else they don’t have a reason to find you in the first place. You really have to be thinking about your buyer persona, you were saying, and really focusing on what’s going to add value to them? What are they actually searching for before they even know they need your product, before they even know they have some sort of problem, right? You’ve got to help them figure out what those problems are. A way that I to approach this too, especially when I’m trying to explain it very quickly to someone who doesn’t understand the idea of building things around topics, what I always tell people is like, let’s start with what you want to be known as an expert in, in general, right?

Max:

What do you want to be seen as the thought leader in? There’s got to be one, two, maybe three big themes around your content that you want to position yourself as a thought leader in and start with that, right? So maybe we can take everything that we just talked about and go in and actually start building one of these topic clusters. Then we can talk about all the cool things it’ll do once you have one setup, right? So the way you get started with this, everybody is you’re going to want to choose where it says research topics here. Okay? Now HubSpot is going to scan your site if you have the tracking code installed to try to get an understanding of what your content is about. So here you can see it suggesting some topics for my websites, such as Apple, Apple devices, personal devices, Mac App Store, things that.

Max:

My original new hire project was about being a Mac and Apple consultant for hire, right? So it sees that stuff on my site and it wants to think, “Hey, maybe you want to be a thought leader around one of these topics.” We’re just going to go ahead and just put a general one in here for inbound marketing. So I’m going to go ahead and type in inbound marketing. Let’s say, that’s the topic I want to be an expert on, and then I’m going to hit done on the bottom right hand corner. All right? Now, what happens when you do that is it provides you with this spider web. Now Andy, when you have your customers going into this for the first time, and they see this and they go, “Oh my God, how do I make sense of this all?” Like, what are the soundbites that you use? How do you coach them through it? Like, what’s immediately going through your mind the second you sit down in front of a fresh one of these?

Andy:

Great question. We talk a lot about, again, let’s identify who your buyer personas are and then what are they searching for? So if inbound marketing is the topic, because let’s say that you’re an agency specializing in inbound marketing, what are people looking for? They’re looking for best practices in content marketing. What is inbound marketing, using inbound marketing for lead generation, scaling my business, looking for solutions to write content consistently. So starting with the personas for inbound marketing, for example, probably marketing professionals, right? CMOs, VPs, directors of marketing, marketing managers. So getting in their mind a little bit and thinking about what are their challenges that they’re faced building a content calendar, for example, getting tactical about these things. So taking this concept of inbound marketing and breaking it out into all these different subtopics is how we typically approach that with our clients.

Max:

Yeah, right? So you’re starting with this core topic in the middle, and then you’re breaking it out and do a number of different related things. Now, the one thing that I want to call out on this little interface here and what this tool is doing, this tool’s doing like a million different things at once, which can kind of be overwhelming if you let it be overwhelming, but it’s actually pretty simple. It’s doing a couple of things. One it’s helping you plan out your content, right? So thinking about what your core subject is, and then what you’re going to write about with those different related subtopics, right? But then it’s also helping you organize your pages and the structure of a lot of your content, and more importantly telling you when it’s all linked together in the right way. And we’re going to demonstrate that a little bit later on, because all of these lines mean something.

Max:

All of these boxes mean something. Let’s start with this little thing in the middle, right? So this little thing in the middle, where it says, attach content URL. This little box actually represents a web page on your site. And the one in the middle is specifically called a pillar page. I was choking as I said that. So the whole idea here is that you start your topic cluster by having this one central page that tells you everything you need to know about a certain topic, right? Not a subtopic. It has information about those subtopics on the page, but it’s the ultimate mega, mega page about this one specific topic that you’re trying to talk about. The example I was going over with Andy earlier, before we started that I to use is like, think about whenever you search for just a general topic inside of Google, there’s a certain website that comes up over and over and over again, and that’s Wikipedia, right?

Max:

So for example here, if I go and do a Google search for the word ants, all right? What’ll happen is I’ll find Wikipedia’s page on the ant, the insect. The ant. This is a page that tells you everything you need to know about the ant. All right? There’s a lot nest construction, ant navigation, ant food, relationships with other organisms. There’s tons of information here about ants, right? But across Wikipedia, there’s also plenty of pages on ant eaters, carpenter ants, ant hills, ant infestations, all these different things that have to do with ants and in one way, shape or form, all of those different ant related pages link back to this page about ants and vice versa, right?

Pillar Posts Are a Key Tactic in Your Content Marketing Strategy

Max:

This is a classic example of a pillar page, and this is why Wikipedia performs so freaking well in search engines. Besides the fact that a lot of people link there and they have a ton of authority on things, their whole idea is structuring their content around pillar pages, right? So we come back into here. What you want to think about is what’s going to be our ant Wikipedia page about inbound marketing. Now I’ve built an example page here to kind of show you how this works, but let’s assume for a second, that we’ve already built a pillar page that has a ton of information that we plan on continuing to add to that has to do with inbound marketing. I’m going to go ahead and attach a content URL here, and I’m going to search for pillar page because I built one and I have this pillar page example that I’ve created.

Max:

All right? So it shows the page that I built here in HubSpot. You could of course add just another URL if you want to do that, but it’s basically connected to the page and I’ll see the internal page name here. So it says pillar page example. But the question is where do you actually go from here? So Andy, curious to hear your thoughts here. In terms of the order of stuff, if a customer were to ask you like, “Hey, once I kind of understand the topic that I want to go after, do I start by building a pillar page first? Do I start by writing blog content first?” What’s the best order of operations and the way to go around it?

Andy:

Yeah. What we do is we break out the topics into several subtopics. Actually, if you click the ant tab, I’ll show you what I’m talking about. In this box right there, where it says content, that’s what I’m talking about. Is that you take this concept, whatever it is that you’re talking about, and you unpack the subtopics that are related to it. So you know, this is a perfect example of what you end up with through this exercise. So if it’s inbound marketing, what we would do is we would take several subtopics around inbound marketing and unpack them in very much a structural kind of approach this. And then each one of these numbers becomes a subtopic in the spider map that you showed before.

Max:

Got it. Yeah. So like you’re white boarding it basically at the beginning, and you’re saying like, “Cool, here’s the main topic before we do any work in HubSpot, let’s write out what we think those subtopics are actually going to be and then we go and add them into the tool.” Cool. So let’s say you come up with those, right? So you go and you think of all the different things that are related to inbound marketing, right? The next thing that you want to do is start adding these subtopic keywords. Now, the way that you actually do this is when you come up to the top, it says, add subtopic keyword. You can’t just click on here. You have to hit add subtopic keyword, and then you’re going to go ahead and put in what your subtopic is.

Max:

So for example, inbound marketing, let’s think of some things related to that, right? We could have best practices for inbound marketing. That’s one we could do, right? So we hit research. It’ll let us choose one, or it’ll give us other ones that we can do. I’m just going to hit, and it goes and adds that in here. Now, you can work your way around here. I can’t remember the total amount that you can add here, but you can add more than you see. It just starts to add like little spokes as you go along there is a limit there. I’m not sure. Andy, are you familiar with the limit?

Andy:

I don’t know. But you can put a lot in there. There’s quite a big [crosstalk 00:15:13]

Max:

Yeah, you can put a lot. Don’t worry too much about the limit. And the other thing too is you don’t want to put too many because then you start to confuse the algorithm and you don’t want to do that. Anyway, you have this subtopic attached now, right? And again, it’s giving you the option to add your content URL here. Now, when you click on this, you can do a couple of things. One, you can either add some other website page that you already have built that’s about this topic. You can search one of your existing HubSpot pages, or you could even create a post. The whole idea behind this, and you don’t have to do it this way, but HubSpot recommends that these are going to be blog posts on the edge, not like HubSpot. HubSpot the tools, just assuming you’re creating blog posts for all these because this is the quickest and easiest way to get this content out here.

Max:

You don’t have to just add blog posts to it, right? But it gives you the ability to create a new blog post right from here. But what I’m going to do is I’m going to actually bring up an example page that I already had set up. So I want to bring up this blog post here that says pillar page blog post, boom. Now this is a blog post I already wrote inside of HubSpot, but I’ve basically said here, hey, blog post your sub topic should be about whatever it is this topic I just put in. So this blog post should theoretically be about best practices for inbound marketing. What you’ll see is now that I’ve actually posted the page on here and associated the page with the subtopic, this line here becomes red.

Max:

What these lines represent are these pages linking together. Okay? Now this is really important for Google because Google looks at the pages on your site. It looks at the structure of your site and it tries to understand how all the contents relate. So when it starts to pick up these pages that have a lot of other pages from your site linking to it, and it starts to analyze the words and the verbiage and the themes and what is actually written on the pages, it starts to develop a much deeper understanding of what your content is actually about through this topic cluster model. All right? So what we actually need to do here is we need to make sure these pages link to each other.

Max:

Most importantly, we need to make sure that there’s a link from the blog post to the actual pillar page, and then we’ll see this red line turn to green, which is what we want. All right? The way that I was kind of thinking about this is, it’s almost an inbound linking strategy internally versus an external inbound linking strategy to build authority. What are your thoughts on best practices around that and how people should be thinking about what pages to link to and structuring all that?

Andy:

Yeah. When writing for topics this, what we recommend is you end up building out these subtopics and then within each one of these subtopics, you’re going to build several articles around each one of these subtopics to build density within that. What are the big benefits of approaching content marketing in the structural way is if one of these articles breaks out for whatever reason and gets maybe people link to it more than others, or somebody picks it up and-

Max:

Goes viral.

Andy:

… Goes viral, somebody loves it in social media, whatever. What happens is that the whole topic has a rising tide lifts all boats kind of effect because you do this proper interlinking. So not only will that page get lift, but all the other pages that are linked to it we see that that tends to also get lift

Max:

Yeah. So that page gets more authority and then links passed on from that page carry a much higher weight, thus lifting the other one?

Andy:

Correct. Yeah. And so that’s part of the beauty of this structural approach in doing it this way. We recommend a few things interlinking through your website is key, and linking back to this pillar page is key. There are tools like related posts that you can use in your… If you use WordPress, for example there’s some good plugins like that, that can surface up some content that way. Certainly using the tool here and creating your interlinking throughout this tool, we recommend doing a couple of those things.

Max:

Sure. So let’s actually show everybody how we can get these pages linked up. So if we were to go now that we have our structure set up, and obviously you would kind of work your way around here, adding subtopics as you go. So you have a good roadmap for the content that you actually need to create. That’s another reason I love this tool is it helps you visualize your actual content strategy, which not a lot of tools help you do. Besides just making sure it’s linking and telling you how many views the keywords are getting, there’s a lot going on here, right? But let’s actually go and find this blog post and let’s go edit it, right? Now we could probably just click on that and find it there, but for those of you who don’t know, let’s go to marketing, let’s go to a website, let’s go to a blog.

Max:

And then I’m going to find my blog here, and here’s our pillar page blog post example. Okay, so I’m going to go and edit this. Now, I just have a bunch of Lorem Ipsum here, right? It’s a whole bunch of just garbage texts [inaudible 00:20:41] for a fact, right? But here’s the cool thing. Remember how before, when we were in that content strategy tool and we created the subtopic for inbound marketing best practices or best practices for inbound marketing. One of the two. What’s cool is that, that actually told this blog post, “Hey, blog post, that you are supposed to be about this topic.” Whatever topic we had connected. And we could have done it in here too, but we kind of did it the other way. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat and HubSpot.

Max:

But if you go to the Optimize tab of your blog post, you’ll actually see these topics that we actually set up in that topic’s tool within the SEO tool. Now, if we scroll down here, you’re to find it because there’s a lot of stuff in here. There’s one thing where it asks you that the page is linked to the topic pillar pitch, right? This is basically saying, “Hey, you need to make sure that you’re linking from this page to the pillar page. That’s what’s going to give us the green line and show us that association.” All right. Now, do we want to link from the pillar page to this page? Absolutely. But this is the really important one that we want to set up first.

Max:

Now, the other thing I want to mention here is that this Optimize tab shows up on every single page that you can build within HubSpot, whether it’s a run at the mill, a website page, or a landing page or a blog post, you’re always going to get this little optimize tab here. And then the other thing that you see on the left, you have all these different just general search engine optimization suggestions that it gives you.

Andy:

I love this tool for this reason.

Max:

Yeah, talk to me about how you use this a little bit.

Andy:

Well, you know, it very clearly tells you, these are tactical actionable steps that you need to do, and it serves it up for you right there. So it just turns it right into a little project for you.

Max:

Yeah. So you don’t have to be an SEO mastermind to be able to build a very well optimized page. As you make updates this little to do list on the side will update in real time. So let’s actually go ahead and copy the pillar page URL. So it already knows what URL we want to be sending people to because we associated that pillar page to it. So I’m going to go ahead and click on this. It copies it to my clipboard and then what I would want to do, obviously I’d want to do this in a natural way. But wherever in my article, maybe the first time or the first couple of times, you don’t want to do it too much. But when you mention your core topic, because undoubtedly, if I’m talking about the best practices of inbound marketing, I’m going to say the word inbound marketing somewhere in this article.

Max:

When you do mention the word inbound marketing, right? I’m just going to pretend this is part of a sentence, because again, this is all Lorem Ipsum. What you want to do is you want to hyperlink that. And you want to make sure that you’re hyperlinking text to a page and make sure that page is about that text you’re linking to. You wouldn’t want to hyperlink the word hotdog to the inbound marketing page because hotdogs have nothing to do with inbound marketing, right? Google really looks at the quality of these links and they make sure that the text that’s being highlighted is a good representation of what that person’s going to see on the other end when they click it. So you want to make sure you’re not saying it’s linking to one thing and then linking to something completely different. Google’s going to pick that up and kind of penalizing you for that. Andy, I see you shaking your head up there.

Andy:

Yeah. Another thing about that is that at the same time, you don’t also only want to use the word inbound marketing when you link back to the pillar page because that’s unnatural. So you have other things in the pillar posts that you mentioned, like building a content calendar or other benefits of this kind of inbound strategy or whatever it might be, and you want to also use those as anchor text as well, because if Google just sees inbound marketing is the only link back it, you want to create some variation so that it feels natural.

Max:

Yeah, and Google is good at understanding the variation. It’s also good to understanding synonyms and things that too. So let’s actually go ahead and make a little link here, right? So I’m going to take inbound marketing, I’m going to click on the little insert link button and then I’m going to paste in… Paste. Oh, it didn’t copy it. Let me go ahead and just find one of my pages here. So I’m going to choose my pillar page example, and I’m going to hit insert. So now we have a link on this page to the pillar page example, right? So I’m going to come back into optimize, I’m going to go down and we can see that the page is linked to the pillar topic page. All right, so it sees that connection. I’m going to go ahead and update this post here. Update blog posts. Here we go. And then what we’re going to do is we’re going to go back into planning and strategy, go into SEO, go to topics.

Max:

We can go find our inbound marketing one and bam, the line is green. So it sees that connection and it knows that we connected at all properly. So, that’s just like one of the things that it’s going to let you do it. Andy, did you have anything you wanted to add here? The one last thing I wanted to show people was the reporting side of this because the reporting stuff is pretty extraordinary.

Andy:

Yeah. The one thing I wanted to just add to that is that what this also shows is that as you have more ideas, your website becomes interactive. It becomes a way for you to be able to continually update content on your website, which is great for… You don’t want content from 2017 to only be relevant to 2017. So this is a great way for you to update your content to be relevant in 2020, for example.

Max:

What are your thoughts on how people should be updating that pillar page as subtopics get added, right? You have your general pillar page laid out at the beginning when you start, maybe you have two, three blog posts in there. But it’s pretty common that people would continue adding subtopics one of these topic clusters, once they write the blog post, should they then go back to the pillar page and add a blurb about that subtopic and link it back and think about restructuring it or adding to the table of contents?

Andy:

Absolutely yeah, because Google, when they recall your website, they go, “Oh, there’s something new here that’s relevant.” And it starts to build more into the RankBrain. So you want to be part of what we’re doing with content marketing is we’re being explicit to Google to say, this is what this page is about. And from there all the domain authority and page authority carry this through. So absolutely if you have a more current information on that topic go ahead and update it.

Max:

I love that. Cool. So yeah, keep your pillar pages up to date as you continue to add subtopic content, that’s the biggest thing to think about. The last thing I want to show you here is the actual reporting that comes with this. So if you go into reports up in the top left or top right hand corner and go to the analytics tools, there is a page called Traffic Analytics. And if you go into Traffic Analytics, what traffic analytics typically shows you is it’s going to show you where your traffic’s coming from, right? But what’s really cool is, like this first page is showing you your entire website in general. But what you can actually do is you can just take a look at your topic clusters and see what content is coming from where.

Max:

Now I just set this one up and I don’t have anything in there, but what’s going to be happening is going to show your topic cluster and then break down your traffic, your conversion rates, all that fun stuff based on those different topics that you have set up. So as people start to visit your site through those pages, you’ll see how those topic clusters are actually performing individually. So Andy, what are your thoughts around how to measure the success of these different topic clusters that you’re building and what are some things people should be looking out for when they start to build these and start to measure their success going forward?

Andy:

Yeah. One of the things in the SEO tool is that as you start typing in a particular topic or subtopic, it’ll give you an idea of search volume that is related to that. What you want to do is you want to identify what your goal is within that search volume. It’s going to take some time for you to get there. I was going to suggest actually looking at this in your reporting, because this will start to tell you over time how the topic is performing. If you see that a topic is starting to break out and you’re starting to get some good traffic there, you might want to also look at where there might be opportunities or content gaps within that particular topic where others are ranking for that you’re not and see if there are areas that you might be able to add more value.

Andy:

So if you look at the one, two and three ranking websites for that particular topic or relevant keywords around that, take a look at what’s going on, on those pages and what content they’re writing and see if there’s something that you can add to that so that you can get your website to start ranking for those keywords as well. The value of the structural approach again, is that rising tide lifts all boats. So if you’re starting to get traction on a particular topic, add more density to that topic and use this content gap kind of strategy to be able to get your website ranking for those keywords.

Max:

Yeah, that’s sound advice. And Andy, is there any other parts of the tool do you think we should get into with the people that relate to this topic cluster model or you think we’ve pretty much covered it at this point?

Andy:

I like the UTM parameters only because it also tells you where traffic is coming from throughout the site. And it’s a really helpful tool to separate out individual pages or even parts of the page where traffic is coming from.

Max:

Yeah, absolutely. For anyone who doesn’t know what UTM parameters are, UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module, right? And Urchin Tracking Module or UTM, you’ll probably see these at the end of really long URLs, whenever you visit a website from social media or from Google or from anywhere else. You generally see the domain at the front and you see all this crazy stuff in the back, right? And then all that crazy stuff in the back after a question mark essentially gives some sort of analytics tool HubSpot or Google Analytics, a much deeper understanding of where specifically that traffic came from versus just a certain site in general.

Max:

So it’ll help you to see where someone comes from certain ads or certain posts that you have specific emails. It could be a bunch of different things, and this helps you track that in a much more granular level. So don’t sleep on UTM parameters whatsoever.

Andy:

And special geek propeller head here, urchin. Where does Urchin come from?

Max:

It wasn’t Urchin the company that originally invented it, and then they got bought by Google? That’s the story I heard. Is that correct?

Andy:

That’s originally Google Analytics they…

Max:

So Google analytics came from Urchin?

Andy:

Yes.

Max:

That’s wild. I didn’t know that. Yeah, that’s really cool. When did it become a standard? Doesn’t every single analytic system kind of understand it? Like the standard kind of set of parameters that are in there or?

Andy:

Yeah. Now they do, because it’s become an industry standard, but I think that was 1997 or something. Somewhere around there.

Max:

It’s going back and they still have UTM in there. Love it. Do you have any parting words for anyone who’s just getting started with this, but maybe they’ve like… well say someone who’s doing it on their own, right? They haven’t really gotten anything… Maybe they’ve attempted content creation. Maybe they’ve started blogging a little bit, but they see this idea of topic clusters as this just big daunting task. What sort of advice do you have for that person just starting out with this stuff.

Andy:

Yeah. Start really simply and open up a Spreadsheet. Just start there in the Spreadsheet, identify who your profiles are. Start there. So let’s say you have three profiles. You got a marketing director is one profile. You’ve got a CXO type of person, somebody in the executive management team who will release funds for a project this, and then maybe you have a VP of marketing is here, your different profiles. So identify those profiles and who they are and what challenges each one of them have and what responsibility each one of them have. Who’s managing the budget in this case? And really identify who these buyer personas are. Give them a name, even.

Max:

Start with the personas, I love it.

Andy:

Start with the personas, right? Because that’s who you’re writing content for. And then from there, think about what their challenges are. So if your topic is inbound marketing, in this case, your customer profile is likely going to be marketing professionals. So what are their challenges? Where do they go for information? What are they looking for? Start to think about those kinds of things. Then within inbound marketing, as this example, think about that Wikipedia example, unpack it, put it into an outline kind of view. What are the subtopics that support this kind of concept and be open with it. Have an open mind, have it be a really good brainstorm session, and put your ideas out onto that Spreadsheet. Some of those ideas will naturally cluster together as topics and subtopics. Some will stand on their own as individual subtopics around inbound marketing. Just simply go through that exercise as the first step, because it’ll allow you to have some flexibility and freedom to be able to just write whatever comes to mind.

Max:

Love that.

Andy:

Then go to Google and start doing some searches around some of these keywords and see what’s there. Look at who’s ranking number one, two, three, and four and look at their content. On Apple you do a CMD + F or Ctrl + F to do a find on that page and entering that keyword and see how many times that keyword shows up on the page, for example, and what they’re writing about. Some of these tactical kinds of things to look at these pages that are ranking well and why they’re ranking well and start there. That’ll give you some ideas to unpack the topics and subtopics that are relevant to your buyers. And then that naturally starts to…

Max:

Get a little list.

Andy:

Yeah, but a list really simply there, and then I would take that list and go into the HubSpot tool from there, and it’ll start to return back to you, what are the search volumes for those particular topics? And then you can start to work with in the tool there.

Max:

I got one more question for you and this will be more of like I think, the advanced folks that have been building pillar pages already. When you think of the structure of the pillar page itself, I’ve seen two schools of thought around this. One is like the page that also has all the information, right? So they almost have little mini blog posts written about each one of the subjects, like how we saw with the ant page, right? And then I’ve seen people who just view the pillar page as a table of contents page that is basically just a link burn if you will, to all the different page. What they have and linking back to this one page. What do you think is the best approach for the content of the pillar page itself? Like, should there be a lot of words on that page, about all those individual subtopics or should it be very minimal and just a table of contents with links? Is there a balance you want to strike? Like, what do you think about that?

Andy:

Yeah, so structurally the way I think about this, as I think about the pillar page as that initially table of contents kind of organization of your information, but a pillar page is typically 4,000, 5,000 word kind of a post. It’s in depth. So if you have 10 sub topics around a particular topic and you’re writing 4,000, 5,000 word article, you have room now to fill out the concept of what each one of those subtopics is all about. The idea again, you want to make content valuable for the reader, right? So, that’s what this is about. So it’s not just going to be a warehouse page of table of contents that doesn’t have supporting context around what those subtopics are.

Andy:

You want to fill that out with some information, but the idea is, think of it a teaser. Like little preview of what’s going to happen with the subtopics, so that you break that out. When you start to write the subtopic articles, you can really get into some detail on those pages, but the pillar page on its own has value. It orients around the topic, gives you some information. And enough depth of information that satisfies you at that moment, but it’s a preview into more depth as you break that pillar page out.

Max:

Because hopefully someone reads that preview, gets real interested in that subject, clicks on the link to go to the blog post, reads the blog post, hopefully fills out the call to action. It’s like, clicks the call to action, fills out the form, becomes a lead, then they buy from you, right? So there’s a long game here that we’re trying to get to for sure. Last thing before I let you go, what’s the one biggest mistake that you see people make when it comes to topic clusters?

Andy:

They get keyword focused more than they do around topic focus. So it’s chasing keywords, and when you chase keywords, what you ended up doing is you’re never going to win when you chase keywords, because there’s so many long tail variations of what a particular keyword is. Yes, keywords are important and you want to integrate those into your content. But as you’re doing your planning, don’t start with a granular approach and stuffing keywords into topics. Think about what is the overall problem that you’re solving, and then break that out into topics and subtopics. And then from there, identify keywords that support those topics and subtopics. Oftentimes what we find is that when people miss the boat, they’ve jumped all the way to the very granular keyword level and then try to pack that into a topic.

Max:

Yeah. I think what a lot of people forget these days is that Google knows more about each one of us than we know about ourselves. And when I Google search something and you Google search the same thing, there’s no guarantee that the same thing’s going ranked number one, because it knows we’re very different people, right? So the idea of, I rank number one for this key word is no longer a thing because it’s like, “Okay, number one for who?”

Andy:

That’s such an important point.

Max:

That’s why HubSpot got rid of the little keyword ranker thing and said, you ranked number of whatever four, because it’s just not the way it works anymore. Like you can’t rank number one for pizza, because if you Google pizza, you’re going to see pizza places near you. If I Google pizza, I’m going to see pizza places near me. So that goes the same for any other words, you know what I’m saying? So yeah, I totally agree with you. Can’t be so keyword focused. You really got to think about what it is, you were trying to be an expert in. And then think of all the stuff that you can write about that has to do with that thing, and then structure it and structure it as a topic cluster and you’ve got a great roadmap for the content you need to create.

Andy:

I love it Max.

Max:

Cool. Awesome. Well Andy, this is a great talk. I’m going to go ahead and end it here. How can people get in touch with you though if they want help with this?

Andy:

Yeah. Send me an email [email protected] Go to our website, writeforme.io. We’ve got a team of people that are happy to help you out.

Max:

Cool. Awesome. Well Andy, I’ll cut it out there. Have an awesome week and I’ll talk to you soon. Bye everybody.

Andy:

Thanks Max. Bye everybody. Thank you.

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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:https://meetings.hubspot.com/andysteuer » More blog posts by Andy Steuer

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