Topic Clusters — a Topic is the Sum of its Related Topics

Using topic clusters, a brand can increase organic traffic and visibility as a whole rather than for low hanging keywords. Keyword-driven SEO strategies are noticeably to lose momentum with every single new update to Google algorithms.

  • On 20/05/2018 by @lazharichir
Topic Clusters — a Topic is the Sum of its Related Topics

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The way SEO is going to unfold over the next months, and years, is by shifting the effort away from literal keywords, and over to topic clusters. Meaning, instead of focusing on specific phrases and words, content editors should plan a topic-centric content strategy. Writing more about subject matters pertaining to their core expertise.

Using topic clusters, a brand can increase organic traffic and visibility as a whole rather than for low hanging keywords. This is a more wholesome and comprehensive approach that search engines are now rewarding. Keyword-driven SEO strategies are noticeably to lose momentum with every single new update to Google algorithms.

Topic Clusters Aren’t Keyword-Driven

The problem for smart search engine optimizers wanting to move away from keywords is that the concept of “topic” is difficult to grasp. After all, one could say that a topic is the sum of its keywords. We all know the famous and sought-after two-word keywords which could also be considered as target topics (e.g. dog food, or health supplements).

Yet, defining every single concept using keywords is a wrong reflex to have for the future. With the rise of voice search, the user intent is more explicit, and the search queries a lot more precise. it is not uncommon to see in the search console full-on sentences and questions used to land on your website. And because visitors are, nowadays, using many more words, search engines must clean that input to understand the true meaning behind a search query, not just the words themselves.

New user behaviors have forced search engines to move away from keywords and get into true natural language understanding. What was impossible a few years ago is now already in action thanks to huge progress by Google and Amazon on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Our platform at topicseed uses Google’s very own Natural Language API to understand the text better.

Incredible NLP algorithms give search engines the power to beat black hat SEO and other keyword stuffing marketers. Now, Google can almost instantly know, without focusing on specific keywords, how many articles your blog has covered a given subject matter.

A Topic Is Not Alone

A mistake many content writers make when getting accustomed to the idea of topical authority is to write a gazillion articles about the very same narrow topic. While this is important especially to build pillar pages and sub-content, topic authority works only if you also offer an in-depth coverage of related topics, too. If your brand makes coffee machines, you must absolutely cover all types of coffee machines but also coffee as a whole. Torrefaction, beans, roasting, grounding, and so on.

Therefore, most new-age SEO adepts prefer to use the words topic clusters, rather than simple topics. A cluster is a group of closely related subject matters and concepts that would naturally be mentioned together, at some point. Obviously, these topical relationships are not binary and can score more or less than the next one. A good way to think about topic clusters is by visiting the Wikipedia page that represents the most your business, brand, or expertise. Read through the first few paragraphs and write down the pages linked from there.

topic clusters on wikipedia

Use your main topics’ Wikipedia pages to build topic clusters around them.

The important rule when working with a universe of related concepts is to not get lost and confused during your topic research phase. Do not go down the rabbit hole that we all went down: one topic leading to another one, and another one, and it never ends. A good rule of thumb is to only cover direct connections. If you take the example of the Wikipedia page above, any blue link is part of this cluster while the main topic is Machine Learning for our hypothetical brand blog. If I visit these pages, there will be more related topics. So depending on how broad your subject matter is and how large your content team is, you should put suitable limits on how many concepts you want to cover.

The idea is not to become an expert or a topical authority in all of these related concepts, instead, you want to mention these topics in order to reinforce your domain-specific expertise on the main subject (Machine Learning in this example). Like the title suggests, a topic is the sum of its relationships, not of its keywords.

Pick Your Battles Carefully

If you lead a content team of dozens of writers, you can go broad, deep, and write about the same topic a dozen of times. And you would still nail it! But realistically, most content marketers or content writers can only write so much every month. Therefore, choosing the most relevant subjects does matter to avoid scattered effort.

Generally, if your website and blog have been running for a while, you should know what articles perform the best. Build around these top three articles. Find one, two or three specific topics each article was about and start creating clusters around them. Do you have some related topics overlapping that come up several times? These are your priority! It’s common sense, really. Such topics are second-citizen in your best-performing articles and seem to reappear in several pieces of content, so it is worth digging a little deeper and write a couple of new blog posts about them as first-class citizens.

Trial and error is your best friend. Some content editors follow metrics and traffic stats while others follow their guts. Generally, the latter type of marketer will win in the long run but may not see mind-blowing results right away. Just like back in the days, people targeted long-tail keywords to rank high and fast, while short-tail keywords often took years to catch.

Going narrow and going broad are not incompatible in your overall content schedule. Plan for both and the broader you go, the longer the content should be while tackling very precise and narrow problematics can be solved in a shorter form. Use different writing styles when covering the same topic several times, add videos, infographics, and link to resources in the same domain. All of that shows to search engines that you have a depth of knowledge but also a breadth of styles that can appeal to all personas (newbies, experts, and so on).