What are Topic Clusters?

A topic cluster is a group of content focused on a core topic, connected through internal linking. Usually, one primary page addresses the broad topic, touching upon the various related topics in the cluster. The supporting pages go deeper into those topics than would be possible on that pillar article.

Creating multiple pages addressing various aspects of the pillar topic, combined with internal linking, makes the cluster model such an effective SEO strategy. It’s good for both humans and search engines.

For humans, it provides easy paths to explore ideas related to the core topic. The links and anchor text explicitly state the relationships between the multiple cluster pieces, simplifying the search engine process.

Topic Clustering as a Content Strategy

Topic clusters are a simple and effective way to create and execute a content strategy. The approach provides focus to your site. Instead of having many pages that say very little about many different subjects, your site content guides the audience to explore topics deeper. The end result is greater on-page time and increased pages per visit, both of which are good for SEO and business too.

Pillar pages never dive deep into a particular topic. But although they may cover a broad topic, the links to further details keep readers satisfied. They won’t leave your site feeling that the content is too shallow.

For those used to a keyword-based approach, the main topic usually covers a broad keyword. The subtopic page, which is the supporting content, will focus on a long tail keyword.

Topic Cluster Example

Imagine we’re planning to create an article on how to start podcasting. Very quickly, you’d realized that it’s a pretty deep subject. I don’t know much about podcasting, but I imagine the major sections would address:

  • Creating a podcast script
  • Recording a podcast
  • Editing a podcast
  • Publishing a podcast
  • Promoting a podcast
  • Podcast performance analysis

That’s a lot of ground to cover in one blog post! There’s no way we could cover all those topics in any detail in just this one article. That’s fine as long we link to other articles that allow readers to further progress in their journey.

For the section on recording a podcast, I immediately wonder what equipment is used. I imagine that the options are vast, so I could probably create a slew of equipment reviews. 

Given the number of potential equipment reviews, I probably would have a “best of” page summarizing my reviews. That’s the page I would link to from my recording, a podcast pillar page. 

You can already see how this topic cluster model is starting to build out. One piece of pillar content introduces the audience to the basic concepts and allows them (and any search engine) to delve deeper into a specific topic. 

You can hit any buyer persona no matter where they are in the buy-cycle. But this information would be far too detailed to incorporate into one article. 

How to Create a Topic Cluster Manually

The example I used was created just off the top of my head based on my general knowledge of the content process. Though podcasting is a different medium, it does share some common characteristics.

But what if you know nothing about the topic? What then?

Let’s go to Google, hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button, and see if we can find a random topic.

Nebulae sounds good! Like most people, I know nothing about them.

A natural inclination might be to grab the people also ask questions (PAA), and use those as sections in pillar content and as subtopic pages. That usually doesn’t turn out very well. 

Here’s why.

An excellent topic for a supporting page is not only highly relevant; there has to be enough there to flesh out one or more additional articles.

Let’s drill a little deeper to refine the PAA.

Okay, so there are different types of nebulae, and apparently, some are famous. A quick search in Wikipedia confirms four types of Nebulae, each with its own page. So there’s probably enough there to create a cluster. Many famous nebulae are mentioned on the main nebula page, along with links to individual articles. Once more, we can probably put enough material together for another cluster.

Nowhere near complete, but it’s starting to come together. Poke around Google and Wikipedia long enough, and you’ll get some inspiration. 

Don’t take what’s on Google’s PAA at face value. Doing so can lead you seriously astray.

bad paa example

In the example above, only one question addresses the intent of the search query. Use the others as material for supporting pages and you’ll miss the mark.

Using MarketMuse to Create Topic Clusters

Now let’s turn our attention to how MarketMuse can help you create a content cluster. The simplest way is to use the Connect application. Enter your article’s topic, and MarketMuse will return a list of suggested anchor text and internal pages to which you can connect. 

Instant topic cluster building! The magic is in the way MarketMuse generates the suggestions.

When you enter a topic, MarketMuse analyzes thousands of pages of web content to determine how experts talk about the subject. It creates a model of the most relevant topics and examines your website to see which are the best fit. 

The suggested anchor text comes from the model’s topics, while the individual page suggestions come from your site. There are ten anchor texts with a maximum of ten URL suggestions each. So you’ll want to use your editorial judgment to determine which page is best for each anchor text.

Typically, you’ll have up to ten internal linking suggestions. That’s usually more than enough for most articles!

This works great when you have a lot of existing content to link. But what if you don’t have any content to which you can connect? That can happen when your site is young, or you’re branching out into a topic that you’ve never covered.

In that case, use the Research application to map out your new content. Like the Connect application, it will create a topic model based on a topic you provide. Plus, it returns 50 of the most relevant topics.

Running through this list, I can immediately see several topics that would make great supporting content for the topic “photo editing software,” such as:

  • Free photo editing software
  • Photo editing apps
  • iPad (maybe photo editing app should be split into Android and iOS)
  • Online photo editors
  • Collage makers

See the column that says variants? The number shows how many variants there are for each topic. Variants are created by adding phrases to the front and end of the topic. Many keyword research tools label these as related topics.

Clicking on one of the numbers opens up a list that you can inspect. In this case, it yields some more topics around which we could build a topic cluster.

  • professional photo editing software
  • astrophotography editing software

Now our content cluster starts looking like this.

Just remember to link all that related content!

Last Words

The principle of creating a content hub remains the same, whether it’s done manually or with the help of technology. Content marketing tools can help you do more, faster, and better. Just remember that they aren’t a substitute for human judgment.

Want to use MarketMuse to build your own Topic Clusters? Sign-up using promo code wordagents20 to receive 20% Off their Annual or Monthly Subscriptions!

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Stephen Jeske

Stephen Jeske

Stephen Jeske is a senior content strategist at MarketMuse, the AI Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform that transforms how you research, plan, and craft your content.