What are Topic Clusters? (How They Improve SEO)

What are subject clusters and how do you use them?

Topic clusters are collections of linked content that cover a big subject area. Contextual support is provided for all pages within a group through content clusters. They also create the groundwork for an effective internal connection system.

Why are subject clusters important for SEO?

Pay attention to subject clusters if you handle content production or search engine optimization (SEO), because they influence the KPIs we report on. If you want to learn more about the benefits, check out this Twitter thread I made in collaboration with Semrush.

Important points

  • Topic clusters are collections of linked content that cover a big subject area.

  • Contextual support is provided by content clusters for other pages within a group. They also build a solid internal linking system to assist users (and search engines) in finding your content.

  • Topic clusters allow you to cover a wide range of topics while dominating keyword categories in organic search.

SEO fads can appear and generate quite a fuss, but they eventually fade away. Do you remember LSI keywords? What about the Skyscraper Method? Although you may be tempted to group topic clusters in with these fads, don't dismiss them completely.

Topic clusters are set to resurface in a big way.

Later in this piece, I'll explain why. But first, for those who are unfamiliar with the topic cluster concept, here's a quick refresher. Also, be sure to download my subject cluster template here.

The topic cluster concept is based on a hub-and-spoke structure, with each cluster consisting of three basic components:

  • One broad-reaching pillar page

  • Several in-depth cluster pages

  • Internal connections strategically placed

SEO topic clusters are not a new concept.

WordPress, in fact, introduced something similar over 17 years ago with categories. Hubspot, on the other hand, took subject clusters to the next level in 2016. Since then, the concept has permeated the language of content marketers and fueled effective SEO methods.

However, since its inception, the subject has matured significantly. As a result, visuals like the one below aren't as useful as they once were:

Don't misunderstand me. The figure above, from Hubspot, is a good example of a simple subject cluster strategy. However, it fails to demonstrate the significance of internal linkage, which we will discuss momentarily.

I prefer the following diagram since it demonstrates how to strategically connect cluster pages to one another as well as to the relevant pillar page. Gillian Schneider is to be commended for her design, which is shown here.

Do you track keywords, traffic, or conversions? What about engagement or the number of pages per session? The subject cluster concept improves the efficiency of both your SEO programme and your content calendar, allowing you to get the most out of your digital marketing efforts.

Want proof?

Stridec examined the beauty business to see which companies were dominating the organic search market share. If you're anything like me, you'd expect major beauty brands like Ulta, Sephora, L'Oral, Neutrogena, or Dove to dominate search results.

It's not even close. In fact, Dove and L'Oral weren't even in the top 20 for the nine industries we looked at. So, which companies were consistently successful?

Online publishers.

We discovered that Allure, Byrdie, New York Magazine, and Good Housekeeping owned more than 40% of the organic market share in different industries. Take a peek at Byrdie's organic traffic growth in recent years:

How do these publishers outperform billion-dollar retail businesses like Amazon on a consistent basis? Clusters of topics.

Byrdie alone has 66 different blog posts regarding piercings that rank for over 26,000 keywords and receive over 1.4 million monthly visits (according to Semrush). The full Byrdie SEO case study can be seen here.

Google is putting money into understanding topics and passages.

We now grasp subtopics related to a particular interest. For example, if you search for home workout equipment, we can now identify key subtopics such as budget equipment, top picks, and small space suggestions.

Google has delivered several huge SEO bombshells. First, they reported a breakthrough in ranking technology, which assists the algorithm in determining the relevance of individual portions within the entire page. Second, they improved their ability to understand subtopics related to a broad issue by using neural nets. Here's Google's announcement, which I strongly advise you to read.

Third, in September 2021, Google claimed that they now understand how individuals frequently study particular topics. Take a moment to absorb that. This extends beyond simply recognising similar topics. It means that Google can anticipate the sequence in which users will frequently go through a journey. Things to know, a new search function, makes it easier for users to discover and comprehend new topics. It will be available near the end of 2021.

Does this sound familiar? Topic clusters excel at making these kinds of advancements. They group material into broad categories and connect to more comprehensive information from pertinent texts.

Google is ecstatic about these developments, and they believe the technology will significantly improve user experience. When Google invests in anything that drives search and enhances user experience, you should pay attention.

The use of topic clusters improves context, relevance, and authority.

Assume you have a page on your website dedicated to the hue of jaguars. How will Google know if your page is about the paint colours of the new F-TYPE, the men's basketball team's jersey colours, or the quantity of melanin in the fur of the South American panthera onca?


Google obviously derives meaning from on-page SEO factors such as the page title, URL, subheadings, paragraphs, and phrases. However, Google takes into account the elements on the pages that link to your material, as well as the anchor text of those links.

As a result, topic clusters are similar to concentrated buckets of significance. They assist search engines in understanding the context, relationships, and hierarchy of each page within a content family. And this is especially useful if your pages are more complicated than the jaguar example above.

Furthermore, content clusters highlight the breadth of your coverage (or lack thereof). For example, if you have ten related, interlinked pages on your website that completely cover a topic, Google will consider you to be a more authoritative source than if you only have one piece of information about the issue.

In many industries, expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T) are critical to search rankings. As a result, it's a good idea to invest in a content strategy that emphasises those intangibles.

Free topic cluster template

Keyword research is aided by content clusters.

Many SEOs conduct incorrect keyword research. Some only target the most competitive terms with high search traffic. They do not, however, evaluate how certain keywords link to one another or how they function together to bring potential buyers along the buyer's journey.

As a result, their websites become disjointed and fail to rank effectively for anything. Users are left wanting more when one problem is solved at a time without considering the overall trip.

Other SEOs, on the other hand, focus on long-tail keywords with low search volume that overlap heavily. Because of the little competition, they may initially score well. Duplicate, low-quality material, on the other hand, will eventually cannibalise their rankings and drive away their traffic. Worse, the few visitors they do get will lose interest as a result of the duplicate information.

Needless to say, both approaches are incorrect because they exist in a vacuum.

When you use a subject cluster method to keyword research, you automatically begin to categorise terms. Rather than handing over a long list of keywords to your content team, you may present them with a well-organized list of keywords sorted by blog post, topic cluster, and blog category.

As a result, your current content strategy will be more coherent, and individual pieces of content will resonate with customers more effectively. More significantly, your content staff will appreciate it.

Topic clusters increase user experience and conversions.

For answers, people turn to Google. Perhaps they want to know an SUV's average MPG rating. Perhaps they're debating whether it's best to buy or lease a new car. Or perhaps they simply want to know which VW models have a CD player.

You can tie your personas' inquiries to their pain areas and intents after you understand why and how they search. You'll understand where they are in the conversion funnel and how to move them forward.

Topic clusters enable you to develop content predictively around a core topic that solves many pain points for multiple buyer personas at various phases of the funnel without cannibalising your own keywords.

As a consequence, you'll be able to anticipate your users' follow-up queries and give the appropriate content at the precise correct time. Instead of sending consumers back to Google for answers, this keeps them engaged with your content.

Think of it like this:

Users should access your website at one point in the funnel and exit at a later point in the buyer's journey. When you consistently answer potential clients' concerns, they'll start looking for you when they're ready to convert.

An example of a topic cluster

There are numerous variants of the pillar-cluster model. An ecommerce category page that arranges products into subcategories and connects to those pages is one example. Another example would be a content hub page that categorises different types of life insurance and provides connections to blog pieces or guides on those subtopics.

Here's an example of a topic cluster we created for our Advanced Guide to Ecommerce SEO on the Stridec website.

In two portions of this pillar post, we discussed product and category pages, and in both cases, we linked to a more in-depth blog post about those topics.

We linked to our SEO checklist cluster page in the section about developing a checklist.

The handbook is really comprehensive. Keyword research, competitive analysis, on-page SEO, link building, and other topics are also covered. We linked to the related blog item within each subsection. In exchange, we included a link back to the ecommerce SEO blog post on each cluster page where it made appropriate.

What is the best way to construct a subject cluster SEO strategy?

Begin by creating a solid subject cluster template.

When developing an SEO strategy, it's critical to keep organised, and content clusters force you to do so. Here's how to get going. You may also get my personal subject cluster template from the link provided below. It helps me organise keywords, summarise volume, and prioritise content authoring.

Create buyer personas and a path plan for your customers.

A buyer persona is a fictitious depiction of a potential consumer. Personas are used by marketers to fine-tune their marketing messages and generate more tailored campaigns.

Personas allow you to categorise your audience based on common characteristics, allowing you to create content that tackles specific pain points. Depending on your sector, you may need to build multiple client profiles. If you need some inspiration, look at these buyer persona examples.

You can more successfully steer your audience from awareness to conversion once you know who they are. Customer journey planning allows you to eliminate friction points and stay top-of-mind at every stage of the decision tree. Then, using cluster pages, you can fill any holes in the workflow and avoid missing out on huge chances.

Conduct keyword research on relevant topics and search intent.

The ultimate power of topic clusters comes from dominating whole keyword verticals in search engine results pages (SERP). While volume is essential, it is not the only factor to consider while conducting kyword research.

Consider the difficulties that potential customers would desire to tackle and how they could look for solutions. What actions are they likely to take at each level, and how do their inquiries vary as they go down the funnel?

Top-of-funnel queries are more broad and informative. Searches in the middle of the funnel become more comparable. Bottom-of-funnel search phrases are usually related to companies, products, or services, as well as reviews.

So don't get too hooked up on volume. Instead, use keywords with varied search intent to pique the customer's attention along the buyer's journey. More about ToFu MoFu BoFu can be found in our post here.

After you've determined your top keywords, group them into buckets. Although time-consuming, I propose Googling Google for each term and mapping it to a head term. This allows you to group long-tail keywords together around a single parent term, which symbolises a blog post or cluster page. After that, assign each cluster page to a single pillar post. Finally, you may want to combine several topic clusters into a single blog category.

Here's a look at the topic cluster template I use to organise keywords into blog posts, clusters, and categories.

Construct your cluster pages.

The good news is that all of the hard work has been completed! However, do not simply give your keyword groups to your content team. The order of execution is critical.

Consider the structure and start with the core content. You'll know exactly how to refer to the most thorough cluster pages throughout your clusters if you start with them. In contrast, if you design higher-level pages before you grasp the fundamentals, those pages and sections may feel like placeholders that don't give users with actual value.

Contrary to popular belief, cluster pages are typically more difficult to produce than pillar pages since they require more in-depth attention to detail. So, if you're stuck, read our post on SEO copywriting.

Although it is preferable to plan clusters properly in advance, you can always go back and undertake a content audit around a certain topic to hunt for chances. As you uncover fresh search queries on related topics, come up with new content ideas and develop web pages to fill the gaps.

Create the pillar pages.

You'll be tempted to start writing your pillar content before you finish your cluster pages. That's understandable given that it's the high-volume, gleaming thing.

But resist the impulse!

When you lay the foundation first, you'll be shocked at how much easier it is to build a comprehensive pillar post. More importantly, you won't risk delving too deep and jeopardising each cluster page's search ranks.

(Read my advanced guide to pillar pages to learn more about them and why they're the motor that drives topic clusters!)

Maintain a wide range of pillar content. Cover all of the subtopics and include your most memorable sound bites. However, don't go over anything too thoroughly. Instead, use CTAs and appealing internal links to direct users to your cluster pages for more information.

If you need assistance creating your pillar pages, download Stridec's content brief template below.

Add internal links in a strategic way.

Take a breather.

This is an important step. Internal linkages give topic clusters their potency. As a result, the more strategic your clusters are, the more internet traffic and conversions they will generate.

I've already written extensively on internal linking technique. If you wish to avoid certain frequent traps and disinformation, I strongly advise you to save that post. If you don't have time to read it right now, here's the short version:

Internal links have several purposes in SEO. When it comes to subject clusters, though, they have two extremely significant jobs. For starters, they give search engines more context about your material. Second, internal links distribute PageRank among the URLs in a cluster. As a result, if a few pages receive a large number of backlinks, they will pass the value along more efficiently to the other pages in your clusters.

When establishing internal links between pages in a topic cluster, the most important thing to remember is to place them where they are most relevant. If you mention a term numerous times on a page, but have one devoted section to that subtopic, that's where the link should go.

Again, I go into a lot more depth in the piece above, so go read it if you want the entire shebang.

Errors in topic clustering

When it comes to subject clusters, the two most common faults are content flooding and siloing.

Let's begin with linking silos. This occurs when SEOs purposefully do not link between different topic clusters in order to focus relevancy. The issue with this method is that it misses out on key internal linking possibilities that transmit PageRank and context along.

Aside from that, topics do not exist in a vacuum. Everything is interrelated, and tangential topics aid Google in understanding the relationships between various groups.

Another blunder to avoid is content overload. This occurs when SEOs publish an excessive number of blog entries that target extremely similar keywords. For example, they could create a pillar page centred on the phrase email marketing. Then they'd make cluster pages like this:

  • 7 Efficient Email Marketing Techniques

  • You Can't Ignore These 10 Email Marketing Methods

  • In 2019, here's how you perform email marketing.

  • Methods of Email Marketing in 2020

Each of those pieces focuses on the same broad topic, how to execute email marketing. As a result, these pages will compete for rankings, a process known as keyword cannibalization.

Always create cluster pages around unique search phrases with a range of different search intentions to avoid content flooding. Before you write the content, Google your keywords to ensure that the SERP is distinct from other terms in your cluster.

Check out my Clearscope webinar below for more information on recommended practises and faults to avoid when developing subject clusters.

Finally, some thoughts

Topic clusters are worth the investment if your marketing team already spends a substantial amount of time blogging. They assist search engines in understanding your website, and they demonstrate to buyers that you understand their demands by offering relevant material throughout the buyer's journey.

Your content marketing plan becomes more organised, efficient, and smart when you completely embrace a subject cluster model. Long-form, high-quality pillar content captures searchers at the top of the funnel. In the middle and bottom of the funnel, cluster content pages target related keywords around more precise topics.

Furthermore, search algorithms are becoming more adept at comprehending the semantic links that exist between subtopics and core topics. As a result, if you invest in topic clusters, your search engine optimization efforts will benefit as well.

Finally, pillar subjects connect your website's content to your inbound marketing objectives, providing consumers with a more holistic brand experience that just feels right.

FAQs grouped by topic

What is the definition of a topic cluster?

Topic clusters are collections of linked content that cover a big subject area. The topic cluster concept is based on a hub-and-spoke architecture that contains pillar pages, cluster pages, and internal links.

What's the best way to make a subject cluster?

1. For your topic cluster, select a broad subject area.

2. Conduct keyword research to determine the full market opportunity.

3. For each cluster page, organise keywords into buckets.

4. Begin with the cluster pages. Then, finally, write the pillar page.

5. Create internal linkages between all of the cluster's pages.

What are the benefits of topic clusters?

Topic clusters are essential for a variety of reasons, including:

1. They provide more context about your material to search engines.

2. Topic clusters increase internal linking by allowing PageRank and relevance signals to be passed between URLs.

3. They demonstrate your breadth of coverage, boosting your authority on a subject.

4. Topic clusters enhance the user experience by predicting a searcher's future moves and delivering the correct content at the right time.