Topic Cluster Research

How to Conduct Research to Discover the Best Topic Cluster

Updated 5.18.2022

Search engines reward website content that is organized by topic, not keywords.

The advantage of embracing topic clusters is that it can significantly increase organic search traffic for your primary keywords and phrases. Even subjects with lower search volume are essential to demonstrate topic expertise. Ideally, effective clusters build a site’s credibility and drive traffic that supports a business’s end goals.

Content clusters provide contextual support for other pages within a website. The use of long-tail keyword variations has evolved and become more useful within a sub-topic in a topic cluster. In particular, B2B websites are now largely ineffective if they remain primarily based on keyword prevalence. Gone are the days when marketers could simply publish great B2B content to increase website metrics and conversion rates.

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Table of Contents

The Basic Concept behind Using Topic Clusters

In today’s semantic environment, a content marketing plan that misses this tactic can see sharp ranking declines. New or low authority sites may obtain meaningful rankings by adopting the topic cluster model into an effective overall marketing strategy. Because Google is looking at whether or not a topic expert wrote the article, its node relationships, and domain topical trust, topic clusters build authority – even if you are a small business.

They are particularly of value for small- to mid-size businesses. It is possible to rank for competitive keywords even without lots of inbound marketing. It’s time to move on from keyword-relevant strategies. Revise your content marketing plan to subject-related results. It’s about context-inspired SERPs!

What is a Topic Cluster?

A topic cluster is made up of related content pieces with a shared topic ontology that includes related subtopics. As a whole, these pages provide in-depth coverage of a specific query group. This website structure helps site visitors quickly find answers that satisfy their search intent. It also informs search engines of a business’s core expertise and subject authoritativeness.

Topic clusters can be thought of as content clusters. However, knowing what is the parent topic, how subtopics relate to it, and how to add node relationships by interlinking are necessary. You will benefit from a well-planned strategy before writing and publishing. Organic search growth needs the correct information architecture of a website’s content.

What is a Pillar Page?

Effective ways to reach your target audience have refocused from largely a keyword-oriented content to a topic-centered content marketing approach. This begins with a pillar page that is comprised of comprehensive content where every word adds meaningful value and avoids repetitiveness. Different content pieces can then build out this pillar page by adding new and related information.

Pillar content is most effective when the subsets of a topic are well structured. The pillar is the foundation for creating additional, specific content around a related entity; but the subsets are important for adding depth and expounding on the pillar.

How do Topic Clusters Improve SEO?

Your content marketing strategy and SEO may see significant improvement when you graduate from assessing individual keywords to being strategic about topic clusters. Topic clusters take time and expertise to develop, which is why in the end they are a great testament to owning niche knowledge applications.

A site’s SEO content strategy helps to structure content into clear categories. Your content pieces shouldn’t feel siloed or disjointed to the reader as well as search engines. Content clusters make it easier for readers to read supportive articles that answer further questions. They help search engines better catalog a site’s content for matching to both typed and voice-activated search queries.

The growing body of voice-activated search consists more of question-based search queries. “Talking” is easier than typing a query and so it flows past a keyword and uses natural conversational language. The result is more advanced query matching, which requires more advanced Search engine optimization.

By building topic clusters, you indicate to Google what you are an expert about. By optimizing page headings and subheadings, you are designating what the major topics of each article are and how they are structured to easily find and read.

Why is Initial Topic Cluster Research Important?

In the future, you can go back and change your topic structure; however, it saves time, brings clarity, and adds trust if you do so first. Once selected, it is a commitment to building out content on related topics and covering every angle thoroughly. It can be very time-consuming to restructure your content at a later time.

In rapidly expanding ecosystems of content–disparate, siloed systems are the reason behind massive wasted efforts and laborious, often off-track content writing processes. Organizations relying on multiple content systems often end up unable to even find and use or repurpose content constantly. Without proper topic hierarchy, businesses struggle with content targeting and personalization across marketing channels.

Take control of your content clusters with topic models and mapping that create a flow between otherwise disparate content systems. When research informs your planning, each content piece will start with a purpose and add unique value to your readers.

How to Research and Decide on a Topic Cluster

Here’s a 6-step guide on how to research and identify effective topic clusters to boost your website in search rankings.

1. Understand how Topic Clusters Work

Topic clusters are comprised of three basic elements:

  • A pillar page that is about a head topic. This page should cover a wide range of user intents. Your readers need sufficient value in order to click through to the next step in their buyer’s journey.
  • Subset pages that cover related topic entities more comprehensively. A subset cluster page can have a more specific focus on a narrowly defined user intent. This tactic requires going in-depth on a particular topic.
  • Internal linking that ties pages and concepts together. You are informing search engines that your pillar page is the most important in the topic group when you cluster pages link to it. Links generated from an authoritative pillar to related cluster content pass authority to those individual pages. There is also a skill involved to craft descriptive anchor text that informs search engines of the link relationship.

You can think of a topic cluster as similar to how a category is used to group content in WordPress. Categories and topic clusters accomplish much the same thing. If you create a new category you have made a topic cluster; however, if you create a topic cluster it is not a given that you’ve made a category. For example, on a website that sells hand-blown glassware, we may choose to make a category for “Kitchen Serveware”, while keeping “Kitchen Lighting” and “Holiday Gift Sets” as a cluster.

You have to know your products or services, how they are used and how buyers find them. There are no one-size-fits-all rules for using topic clusters. You need applied logic for your context. Start with a plan for publishing multiple related content items in a topic cluster; publish them at a steady pace that fits your processes. The “publish it and they will come” approach to blogging is inefficient, ineffective, and severely outdated.

You may think that you don’t have time to get the early research done. But truly, not doing it is more work than a solid strategy based on topic cluster research.

2. Research to Choose the Best Topic Cluster

Initial research identifies what is typical in a niches’ query clusters.

Research what is more relevant to your brand and what topics provide the most value to your audience. Even if you discover the ideal topic cluster format, you need a complete set of impactful features. But this form of marketing research is a solid start.

You can earn the top spot on SERPs if you complete the necessary research upfront that identifies the right topic clusters.

a. List your core concepts.

b. List your core competence.

c. List your audience’s core needs.

d. List the problems your brand can solve.

e. Identify your audience’s search intent at each stage.

f. Identify how your competition is creating effective topic clusters.

g. Refine and establish your topic model.

Before recent algorithms, inbound marketing was a stable way to get a web page to rank. Traditionally content strategists sought to identify search queries by popularity and search volume. This informed future blog post writers of the topics to align with those keyword phrase lists. Individual pages were crafted to rank for a unique keyword. This no longer works as it did before. You must see how each page fits the site as a whole by identifying how it introduces a subject, relates to, and/or supports other pages.

Without a strategy, the risk of producing pages of too similar content occurs.

While we never suggest copying a competitor, competitive research keeps you informed and may generate ideas that can be tailored to your company. Researching what your competitors are writing about can be a source of inspiration to get your expertise better organized.

Content hierarchy is the strategic ordering of information on a website and a specific page. It places the most important topic where it can receive the most emphasis, and the supplemental information to emphasize the website’s parent topic while going into more detail.

A site’s ontology identifies and distinguishes concepts and topic relationships; it describes content and entity connections. Site taxonomy formalizes the hierarchical relationships among concepts and specifies the best word or phrase to be used to refer to each; it prescribes structure and terminology.

3. Identify your Ideal Pillar Page

A pillar page is an overview of one broad topic that interests your audience.

First, You want to select topics that align with your business, serve your audience’s needs, and have a good probability of ranking well in the search results. Modern search engine methods identify and catalog content to match search intent. Topic clusters and pillar pages help them accomplish this. While it should introduce that subject well, readers gain in-depth information through the page’s linking to its cluster pages which explain subtopics in richer detail. This content strategy effectively builds an authoritative advantage that demonstrates niche expertise.

How people search for answers has changed; likewise, semantic search technology must advanced to keep up. How you organize your content has an influence. One thing Pillar Pages do is provide a clear signal to search engines about the site owners’ expertise on a given topic. We also see a significant switch from our long-held traditional Keyword Research to an additional need to understand what entity search means and how it encompasses a broader scope in one sense, and yet empower the content writer to expound with specificity on a narrow subtopic.

Your pillar page will be strongest if it has evergreen content that will hub the topic you choose. For some sites, an evergreen content hub may have over a hundred pages designed to work together. Evergreen web pages help to rank for keywords that actively gain organic traffic, gain backlinks to it without effort, and support an evergreen sales funnel. This means that additional market research time to add an evergreen-spin on your pillar content could save you days of work in the future.

An evergreen page can also be a pillar page and 10x content. In this case, your evergreen page would be classified as the hub page/pillar page and the main head term for a topic cluster. These pages strengthen the architecture of a site and help to gain rank for competitive terms.

4. Identify your Subset Pages; Research Your Subtopic Keywords

Find subsets of pages that you can improve using methods of probability and by understanding their unique intents.

Most of our SEO thought processes have been rooted around simple keywords. So a new research approach is needed to be based on targeting topics with a question-answer orientation instead. The expanded Pillar Content concept plans for secondary content that takes the core content further. In this way, a website can become a mini Wikipedia that covers all aspects of a topic.

“Seed keywords” on the pillar page can sprout into more specific query phrases that form subtopics. “Specificality” is the quality or state of being specific. Here our pillar topic is “Marketing Research”, and this subtopic page is less broad (and less competitive) – “How to conduct research to discover your best topic cluster”.

You demonstrate alignment to your readers’ needs as well as your ability to meet them with interrelated content. By comprehensively covering a topic and it subsets within your owned content (website), you are building your E-A-T. This represents your Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. or hard-earned right, to speak on the topic.

Enrich the elements on these pages with video clips, compelling images, comparison tables, a related pdf document, infographics, e-books, podcasts, or step-by-step picture galleries. The intent of each page will suggest the best ways to build comprehensive articles. They can also support your email marketing.

5. Mine Customer Intent at Scale

Find high intent key terms that matter to your audience.

Topic clustering is strategic to determine what query intent we can target with a specific web page, what searcher intents should drive a content hub’s strategy, and how informational and transactional intents can be managed between blog pages, category, and product pages. The value of having strong topic clusters is that it helps to maximize market share by being recognized across all aspects of a topic entity. Answer every question that solves your audience’s search intent at each stage in their journey to make an informed decision. In this manner, you are building contextual support to dominate a particular niche.

Google’s algorithm places greater emphasis on the quality of information your content provides rather than keyword density. Deep Learning understands your Information Architecture and assists Information Retrieval when matching search context and intent. This helps more searchers quickly find the specific information they want.

Traditionally people typed words into a search box; often the keywords used still left their intent too vague. When someone was looking for “hand-blown glassware near Woodstock, Vermont”, they would type “hand-blown glassware Woodstock” and sift through search results to eventually find the nearby Windsor location. As the search engines became more intelligent, even if people didn’t use longer, better-defined searches, Google can “guess” better. BERT and MUM AI algorithms use Natural Language Processing to make that job easier, faster, and more accurate.

Effective user intent mining with unsupervised word representation models and topic modeling of AI Chatbot data.

For business sites also using AI Chatbots, it is possible to gain a better understanding of users’ intentions by researching unlabeled customer service textual data. Due to the significant increase of Internet use by individuals from different cultures, dialects, and educational backgrounds e-commerce has come to rely more on text conversations with customers.

Mine AI Chatbot data and gain conversation intents:

  • The customer service data set can train unsupervised text representation models.
  • You can develop an intent mapping model to decipher and rank the predefined intents based on cosine similarity between sentences and intents.
  • Then these Topic-modeling techniques may be used to define consumer intents by involving site experts involved to interpret topic modeling results.
  • Add this added understanding to your user intentions research to better define you topic cluster hierarchy.

6. Add Internal Linking to Demonstrate Topic Cluster Relationships

Well-formatted linking between the web pages of a site helps define the content cluster. Internal linking also helps distribute PageRank, which in turn can increase the SERP performance of pages that need a boost.

Most often these linked passages to supplemental readings use long-tail keywords. Meaning, the anchor text explains the page it is linking to using identifying phrases more often than just one key term. An example: “How to prepare content for consumers on mobile devices?”

Many outreach SEO campaigns are refocusing and finding the value of an internal linking campaign. Internal links are essential in the topic cluster method. Make the most of placement by adding this linking where you have a full section of content that relates. Place above the fold and in a subheading – if the fit is natural.

As you build out your cluster with fresh content, go back and add new interlinks. Interlink to the most relevant articles; use anchor text to help explain the topic relationship.

“We’ve taken our existing Knowledge Graph—which understands connections between people, places, things and facts about them—and added a new layer, called the Topic Layer, engineered to deeply understand a topic space and how interests can develop over time as familiarity and expertise grow. The Topic Layer is built by analyzing all the content that exists on the web for a given topic and develops hundreds and thousands of subtopics. For these subtopics, we can identify the most relevant articles and videos — the ones that have shown themselves to be evergreen and continually useful, as well as fresh content on the topic. We then look at patterns to understand how these subtopics relate to each other, so we can more intelligently surface the type of content you might want to explore next.” – Google

 

Google continually seeks to improve its system for generating a cluster of correlated content from a primary online content object.

Google announcements and patent applications help us understand the direction it may be taking. By researching how your existing internal content is interlinked and related, you can drive how it understands your content hubs.

Internal content audits can analyze a domain’s web pages to develop intelligent associations between various content pieces with one another.

The purpose is to extract the best associations and deliver an increasingly context-based or personalized type of on-site searching environment. Assess pieces of content for possible features including question classification; document retrieval; passage retrieval; answer processing; and factoid question answering research. Then build your topic cluster with internal linking to these related pages. Take a look at the pending Methods and systems for a content development and management platform Google Patent.

”More personalized, context-dependent search engine operations are departing from traditional absolute metrics for ranking search results. Instead, search results may be further dependent on the identity, demographic, location and online history of a person making a search query. More sophisticated search engine systems and methods are required to give an advantage to a promoter or marketer in such a search environment so as to push the marketer or promoter’s subject matter to the top of the search engine rankings.”

 

How to leverage your existing content includes this analysis and presentation of information indicating cross relationships between topics. Insights gained may further be applied to add subtopics to aid consumer decisions. Senior content managers can thus make content hubs maximally engaging to the right audience at the right time along their consumer journey.

Now, let’s step back and look at the big picture of what this marketing research accomplishes for the task of creating subject clusters.

4 Things Your Cluster Topic Research Should Identify

Focused topic research will shape your “Content Library” by identifying the following:

  • The type of content your audience looks for.
  • Their chief pain points that your content can answer.
  • Which search queries they use to find answers that satisfy them.
  • The various intents behind them.

Don’t pick a topic cluster going off of guesswork. Proper research, including a review of your buyer personas, will assure that you’re headed in the right direction. When your need one overarching topic – the common thread that unifies all of your key bullet points – make sure you’ve selected a great pillar topic.

When building a Content Library in the healthcare niche, you have to consider what YMYL means. Your head topic and secondary articles need to have proven Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) to rank well. Check your reading score to ensure that the reader can easily understand what it says. Provide factual content that assures a person with the intent of finding critical medical information that you are accurate. Offer various vantage points on each topic. Research popular, related articles and learn how others overcome presenting challenging content subjects.

What does MeSH mean in healthcare topic research?

“MeSH” represents Medical Subject Headings. The Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) thesaurus is a controlled and hierarchically-organized vocabulary produced by the National Library of Medicine. It is used for indexing, the cataloging of topics, and facilitating the searching of biomedical and health-related information.

It is an excellent example of “topic ordering” for well-structured document filing and information retrieval.

Now let’s step forward and learn where Google tells us it’s going with related topic understanding.

Google Predicts the Order in which Buyers Commonly Seach

Google’s new search feature called “Things to know” makes it easier for people to explore and understand new topics. It leads them in a more structured manner through the “information sea” to gain search answers by contextual understanding. Contextual Search is searching on the web-based on the different contexts around a specific topic. Question-formatted queries lead to specific answers that help searchers; conversely, search engines understand that it’s important to gain the right angle of a topic query.

2022 will be a crucial year as artificial intelligence (AI) advances in its ability to comprehend human languages.

“Using MUM, we can even show related topics that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the video, based on our advanced understanding of information in the video. In this example, while the video doesn’t say the words “macaroni penguin’s life story,” our systems understand that topics contained in the video relate to this topic, like how macaroni penguins find their family members and navigate predators. The first version of this feature will roll out in the coming weeks, and we’ll add more visual enhancements in the coming months.” – Google 9.29.2021 – How AI is making information more useful

 

Search intent is what inspires a search query. If you want to rank in Google, creating topically organized content that aligns with search intent will increase your site’s value. You can improve your topical authority by preparing today for what’s rolling out tomorrow in Google Search.

Keyword Research Tools to Find Cluster Families’ Search Volume

A list of research tools for trying this topic cluster content strategy:

  • The free version of keyword tool.io lets users gain a list of search volume for up to 1000 keywords in a single request.
  • The Google Search Console API identifies keyword clusters per landing page.
  • Grepwords.com API.
  • Google Analytics (regex) supports regular expressions “so you can create more flexible definitions for things like view filters, goals, segments, audiences, content groups (keyword clusters)”.
  • U.S. Cluster Mapping Project, Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, Harvard Business School.
  • Ahrefs – export your list from ahrefs and combine using with Keyword Insights.
  • Semrush’s Topic Research Tool includes “variation total volume” or “seed KW” and offers information as to the size of a niche.
  • Enter topic ideas into HubSpot’s SEO tool.
  • Use a personalized spreadsheet with your own topic segments and filters.
  • Use tools like AnswerThePublic when researching for lists of the most asked questions around your chosen topics. Your answer-rich content may display in People Also Ask boxes.
  • Majestic’s Topical Trust Flow to reveal categorizes.

– Ahrefs Keyword Explorer ToolAhrefs keywords explorer tool finds a keywords' parent topic

– SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool
SEMrush's Keyword Magic Tool shows search phrase intent and volume

It provides immediate search intent discovery insights right beside the keyword. Members can check keyword intent in bulk, up 100 keywords per run. It helps search marketers uncover new target keyword’s intent by the following filters: transactional, commercial, navigational, or informational keywords

– AnswerThePublic

This open source research tool lets you input an specific overarching topic and it will provide a visualized list of long-tail keywords to inspire your cluster ideas. It’s insufficient to target keywords and them study their search volume while searching for low competition phrases. Today, knowing how keywords relate to one another is important, too.

Topic Clusters Help to both Refine and Broaden Search Context

“To help you further explore ideas, we’re making it easy to zoom in and out of a topic with new features to refine and broaden searches.” – Google

 

While Google may do this with menu refine bubbles and other rich features in search result pages, you are helping onsite readers do the same with Topic ontology. This includes the questions of how topic entities are grouped into basic categories and which of these entities exist on the primary and secondary levels. I conduct research to know what people are searching for around a given topic and be able to recommend the best opportunities to our clients.

With most individuals relying on Google Search, when searching for a specific topic, now they can count on obtaining relevant results in less time. It’s no longer necessary to use the “right” keyword. Google knows a person’s search history, likes, relational connections, and online patterns. Meaning, it knows a lot more than just what you typed in!

Summary Insights on Pillar Content and Topic Cluster Modeling

Similar keywords need a keen content marketing strategy that identifies the same user or search intent. Identify which phrase will likely lead to the same content piece. Group these terms into the same cluster to satisfy Google’s algorithm. Grouping your keywords by intent saves time for the entire content marketing team. It improves your SEO and ensures a focus on what the searcher actually wants.

What is your end benefit? By providing semantic search engines original and creative thought leadership within writings surrounding your web page’s head topic, you can increase your site’s authority and become the go-to when consumers look for expertise like yours.

Schema Markup is essential to further enhance your most important topics, products, and services. Call 651-206-2410 and request a Schema Markup Audit and Optimization Services