If you’re reading this, chances are that you are already familiar with the “content cluster” marketing strategy and are ready to actually build out your first content cluster or are looking to further improve upon your current content cluster strategy.
Regardless of where you stand in the content clustering process, there is one question that always seems pops up: how many topics do I need to include in a single content cluster? Well, luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place!
In this blog post, we’ll be covering what exactly a content cluster is, why they work so well, how to make and measure the success of your own content cluster, and finally answer that all-consuming question of how many topics you actually need to see success.
What Is A Content Cluster?
Before we dive into the nitty gritty, let’s start with the basics and discuss exactly what a content cluster is. (Because who doesn’t need a quick refresher every once in awhile!?)
Put simply, a content cluster is a content marketing strategy in which multiple blog posts or content pages are created around one overarching topic. Each of these blog posts are linked to each other as well as to a main “pillar page” (aka the page we actually want website visitors to go to).
Let’s use Power Digital as an example. We are a full-service digital marketing agency who wants to get our Content Marketing Services page on page 1 of Google. Sure, one way to do this is to perform some keyword research, analyze the competition, bulk up the content on the page, optimize the content for those keywords, and wait and see what happens in 5 to 6 months.
And while you should definitely do this, there is a way to fast-track and further support these efforts. You guessed it – through a content cluster!
Related: What is a Content Cluster?
By writing new blog posts or optimizing existing blog posts about content marketing and linking them all back to the Content Marketing Services page with the same anchor text, we should start to see some traction and lift in rankings over time.
Why Do Content Clusters Work?
Trying out a new strategy is always a little risky. Why spend hours, days, even months executing on a strategy that you aren’t sure even works? Trust me, we’ve all been there.
Fortunately for you, the content cluster strategy is extremely logical and there is data to back it up. So, why exactly do content clusters work so well? In order to understand this, you’ll need to understand how search engines work these days. Because, when it all comes down to it, content clusters were born as a result of the ever-evolving search engine algorithm updates.
Search Engines’ Shift to Semantic Search
Search engines such as Google and Bing become more and more sophisticated each year. Think about it – ten years ago when you needed an answer to something, you Googled it, but instead of asking an actual question and expecting an accurate, helpful, and in-depth answer, you would type in a fragmented string of keywords hoping that you could find something even semi-related to the question at hand.
Long form blog posts generate 9x more leads than short form blog posts. [Source]
However, through constant algorithm updates and machine learning, search engines have evolved to become extremely smart – so smart in fact that they can actually understand the topical context behind a user’s search intent, connect it to similar searches they’ve seen in the past, and provide search results with web pages that best answer their search query.
After all, the ultimate goal of Google and other similar search engines is to provide searchers with the most valuable, relevant, and in-depth content possible. And they do this by analyzing and understanding a searcher’s intent – something we digital marketers like to call “semantic search”.
So, where does the content cluster tie into all of this? Let’s go back to our definition of a content cluster above:
A content cluster is a content marketing strategy in which multiple blog posts or content pages are created around one overarching topic. Each of these blog posts are linked to each other as well as to a main “pillar page” (aka the page we actually want website visitors to go to).
Like we said, Google is going to put web pages on Page 1 that offer the most valuable, relevant, and in-depth content there is. To do this, they look for websites that are considered “authorities” or “thought leaders” on the topic. For example, PetMD is probably going to rank higher for an article on anxiety in dogs than a blog post on the same subject by a small pet supplement company. So, how do you compete with the big guys?
…Once again, by creating a cluster! Creating a content cluster and diving deep into a specific topic signals to Google that YOU are an authority or thought leader on the subject. By creating a ton of content around a specific topic, linking them all together as well as to a pillar page, and gaining valuable links back to that page from other high-authority sites, Google and other search engines will start to associate your pillar page as an authority on that specific topic.
This is because linking all of your related content together to that main pillar page allows search engines to easily scan all of your web content and understand that there is a semantic relationship between the pillar page as well as the supporting blog posts.
This also signals to Google that you have covered this topic in-depth and have really worked to provide as much context and value around the subject as possible. This, in turn, also gives the pillar page more authority on the topic. As a result, Google and other search engines will reward you for logical and orderly linking as well as your valuable content with higher rankings in the SERPs.
It all comes back to thinking about Google’s (and consequently your) end goal: to provide searchers with the most relevant, helpful, and informational content possible.
How To Create Your Own Content Cluster
So, by now you should be pretty convinced that the content cluster works (I mean, come on, how much more logical can it get!?) and are ready to make your own! Creating a content cluster is fun (especially when you see the results), but does not happen overnight. Here’s how it works:
Audit Your Existing Content
Before creating any new content or starting to structure your content cluster, it is very important that you take the time to audit your existing content. Not only does this give you a more holistic view of what topics you’ve already covered and allow you to identify gaps, but it will also save you A LOT of time creating new content on topics that you may have already covered in the past.
Related: How to Audit & Improve Your Content
When you audit your content, the first thing you want to do is start grouping your blog posts together by topic focus. After a while, you will begin to see a pattern emerging. For example, at Power Digital, we cover everything from SEO best practices to e-commerce news to management tips on our blog. So, when auditing our content, we would naturally group all SEO articles together, all e-commerce articles together, and so on.
Create or Optimize Your Pillar Page
After auditing your existing content and grouping them together into related “clusters”, you will want to ensure that each of these clusters can be connected to an existing pillar page (aka the transactional page that you really want website visitors going to).
68% of consumers feel more positive about a brand after consuming content from it. [Source]
If you notice that you don’t have a pillar page for a specific overarching topic, make one! When writing these pillar pages, keep in mind that you want to keep the subject matter broad. That way, it will make sense when you eventually link all of the supporting blog posts to it.
If you have a pillar page, but are not feeling great about the content on it, take some time to update and optimize it! There is always room for improvement.
Link Your Existing Articles Back to Your Pillar Page
Now that you can easily connect each topic cluster you’ve identified from your content audit to a pillar page, you need identify the anchor text you want to target and link each article in that group back to the pillar page.
For example, if we wanted to rank for “content marketing agency”, we would optimize each of our content marketing blog posts for that keyword and link that anchor text back to the Content Marketing Service page. This way, search engines will understand that that specific article is part of a cluster.
Form Your Cluster
Now it’s time to actually create your cluster. This will most likely be a combination of updating existing content (as we did above) and filling in the gaps with new content! When we create our clusters, we really want to be answering the who, what, where, when, and why about a specific subject.
For example, let’s say we are forming a cluster around dog anxiety. It may look a little something like this:
Once you’ve formed your cluster, it is time to begin writing! When you write each blog post, make sure that they cover the topic in-depth and provide as much value to the reader as possible. It is also wise to mention other topics in your cluster in order to ensure that you are covering the topic as contextually as possible.
Link Your Cluster Together
Now that all of your content is written, you need to link them all together. This is key to a successful cluster. In addition to linking each of these articles to the main pillar page you are trying to drive traffic to, you also need to link them to each other.
This way, you are forming an interconnected web of content that will signal to Google and other search engines that you have indeed covered this topic in-depth and are worthy of being considered an authority on the subject.
Get Backlinks From High-Authority Sites
Even though your cluster is now complete, your job isn’t done yet! In order to bolster your SEO and content efforts, you should take some time to develop relationships with top publications in your industry in an effort to get them to link back to your site.
Related: What is Link Building?
One backlink to your cluster from a high-authority website such as Forbes, The New York Times, or Huffington Post will work wonders for your marketing efforts. One link from a high-authority site to an article in your cluster will transfer authority to all pages in your cluster (most importantly the pillar page) and help your business compete in the SERPs.
For ultimate success, don’t stop at one round of outreach! Continue to build and foster these relationships over time in order to gain even more backlinks from reputable sites and watch your cluster begin to flourish!
Monitor Your Clusters Over Time
Typically, it takes websites about five to six months to rank for a target keyword. With clusters, we’ve seen this time cut in half – taking only around two to three months to rank for a target keyword on average.
52% of B2B content marketers report measuring ROI as among their top challenges, suggesting more than half of B2B content marketers are failing to properly measure ROI [Source].
However, some topics are more competitive than others, which is why it’s important to constantly be monitoring your rankings and site traffic and making optimizations as needed. For example, you may notice that one cluster isn’t gaining traction as quickly as another. Try creating even more content around that subject and adding more blog posts to the cluster.
Clusters are pretty self-sustainable, but as with all digital marketing strategies, need to be constantly monitored, measured, and optimized in order to achieve the best results.
So… How Many Topics Do I Need In My Cluster?
Now to get to the real question you came here for: how many topics do I need in my cluster?
The answer? As many as you can possibly think of! There is no limit to the amount of topics you can cover in a single cluster. And as long as they aren’t too similar to each other and continue to provide value to the reader, they will continue to help your website compete in the search engines!
Some websites only need four or five long-form blog posts in a cluster in order to rank on Page 1, while others need thirty to forty topics in a single cluster – it all just depends on the authority of your site, how well you are covering the topic at hand, and how competitive that subject is.
Creating content clusters is a great way to fast-track and bolster your SEO efforts as well as help establish your company as a thought leader in it’s industry. However, forming a cluster is no walk in the park. It takes time, effort, and (if you don’t want to write the content yourself) a little bit of money. However, the results are unparalleled. Have fun clustering!