Most marketers know it's critical for firms to get their search engine optimisation (SEO) and content marketing strategies right. However, with Adobe predicting that more than 50 per cent of high-tech sales will be made through digital channels by 2020, it's becoming even more important for B2B tech marketing professionals to use the latest techniques. The topic cluster and pillar page model is the new kid on the block when it comes to content creation methods, but it's already been embraced by many SEO experts.
So, what are topic clusters and how are they reshaping tech marketing? How can you use them in your content marketing strategy to help your business grow? At Beyond Media, we're committed to sharing our knowledge with our clients, so we've created this practical guide to the subject to help you get up to speed.
Topic Clusters – The Basic Facts
If the idea of getting to grips with a new technique terrifies you, don't despair. This new marketing model isn't as complicated as it may sound. In fact, as the video above shows, it's just a logical method for organising your website content in a way that search engines – particularly Google – like.
Until recently, digital marketers have tended to take a scattergun approach to producing content. You might have started with a well-structured, user-friendly website and may even plan your content in advance to ensure you discuss current issues, product launches and events. You might also organise your blog posts into categories and tag them accordingly. However, most of us probably haven't given much thought to how our websites have developed over time or how the pages on them work together.
The topic cluster model requires web content creators to take a more holistic approach. Essentially, it involves identifying key topics relating to your business and creating a pillar page or post for each one. Pillar posts are long pieces about broad topics and act as hubs for clusters of topics. Each one should provide the reader with information about a wide range of aspects of the topic that it covers and link both to and from other pages on that topic on your site. By doing this, you create a topic cluster.
Why Are Topic Clusters So Important and How Can They Encourage Business Growth?
The topic cluster model is big news at the moment, as there's evidence to suggest it could be the key to achieving high positions in the search engine results pages (SERPs). In fact, one business saw a 55 per cent year-on-year increase in organic traffic in the first three months after they'd implemented the strategy. Digital marketers have long been aware that getting your website to rank well on Google for relevant terms is essential if you want your business to flourish. As nine out of ten SERPs users only view the first page of results for a given term, it's not surprising that SEO proficiency is a specialised and highly valued skill.
Search engines have prioritised authoritative and relevant content for years but, until recently, they couldn't contextualise words and phrases. Therefore, it used to be vital to include the exact keywords and phrases that your target customers would search for in your content in high enough quantities to satisfy the search engines' algorithms. The more general the keyword, however, the more companies would try to rank for it, making it time-consuming and expensive to compete. Therefore, marketers often focused on including longer and more specific phrases (or "long-tail keywords") so that their website ranked highly for those instead.
However, the way in which we use the internet has changed and search engines' capabilities have improved. Search engines have begun to utilise machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to perform "semantic searches", contextualising questions and taking users' search histories into account to generate more accurate results. Thanks to the popularity of intelligent assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, half of all internet searches are set to be performed vocally by 2020, so they'll be more conversational in style. Additionally, as the chart below shows, people now use multiple words for their searches, making it harder to predict which long-tail terms to use. Therefore, traditional content optimisation strategies aren't as effective as they used to be and SEO experts are being forced to find alternatives.
In 2016, researchers discovered that interlinking content on a website could result in that website ranking higher in the SERPs and, as a result, they developed the topic cluster model. If you link content about the same topic to relevant pillar posts, search engines find it easier to identify semantic links and are more likely to view each pillar page (and your website as a whole) as an authority on that subject. The more authoritative your content appears to be, the higher your website is likely to be placed in the SERPs, increasing your traffic and, as a result, your sales. What's more, using this method will allow you to streamline your content, so you won't have lots of pages that focus on the same long-tail search terms. That means that your pages won't be competing against each other in the rankings, which could also boost your site's performance.
Creating Topic Clusters – Where to Start
If you want to try this strategy, firstly you'll need to identify the topics that you want your business to be seen as an authority on. Each topic should be broad enough to be broken down into around five to thirty subtopics, allowing you to create enough content to form a cluster which answers all the questions your prospective clients might have about the matter. For example, if you're a tech marketing professional for a company that provides an online accountancy platform, you may want to talk about topics like "VAT for business owners" or "accounts receivable". Next, use traditional keyword research methods to determine which subtopics to include. Potential subtopics for a "VAT for business owners" cluster could include "Should I register for VAT?", "VAT record-keeping tips" and "How to complete your VAT return".
Create a pillar page for each of your main topics. Pillar posts should be somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 words long, present the reader with an overview of the topic you're discussing, and briefly mentioning the subtopics you've identified. Consider using relevant keywords in your subheadings, and use images and videos where relevant to make your content more engaging.
You can then create a piece of content for each of your subtopics. You might already have some content that's suitable on your website; if so, you'll only need to create enough new pieces to fill in the gaps. The content can be in the form of web pages, blog posts or white papers, but remember that you need to build links (using the same anchor text) to a relevant pillar page and back.
If you're still not sure what to do and want to take advantage of our content creation expertise, just get in touch. We can make switching to the topic cluster model a breeze and help you get your content marketing strategy on track.