In the field of content marketing, quantifiable results are the name of the game. To appear in search results and boost that sweet online traffic, marketers utilize the almighty power of search engine optimization (or SEO).
As text becomes a more natural conversation tool, everything about our usage of the web has evolved, including how we search for information. With the prevalence of speech-oriented search queries, it's become common practice for writers to target keywords and phrases to line up with search algorithms. Including a few common search terms is the most natural way to do it.
But still, the web is ever-changing, as is how we market on it. Keywords alone stopped being enough when Google rolled out Hummingbird in 2013—and so came the innovation of topic-based content clusters, bringing search optimization to a whole new level.
Clusters and links and connections, oh my!
Topic clusters were initially documented by HubSpot in 2017. Rather than only honing in on keywords, this method focuses on articles whose content revolves around a central topic and link internally to one another. Google's algorithms count those internal links towards your site's overall quality.
The blueprint of a content cluster can look a bit like a wheel, with spokes leading out to related articles. Or if you want to get a little wild with it, maybe it looks more like a massive forest of spiderwebs. (We'll explain that some more later.)
Whatever the shape, at its center is the pillar page: the posts of all posts, the symphonic saga within which each overture and concerto exists. A great pillar content page extensively covers a core topic, and features links to other on- and off-site sources of related information. Those in turn can link back to even more posts, and suddenly you have your own “Wikipedia Hole” phenomenon!
Welcome to Wonderland, Alice; here's a key phrase that says "click me."
Now that we know what a content cluster is, let’s take a look at some examples of companies that have clustered their way to success in organic rankings and lead generation thanks to their awesome topic cluster content.
HubSpot (of course)
How could we possibly list exemplary topic clusters without mentioning the O.G.? HubSpot is arguably the top dog of inbound marketing, given that cofounder Brian Halligan coined the term himself in '05. It comes as no surprise that their whole blog is strategically laden with links to their other posts—telltale signs of SEO best practice.
Weighing in at a whopping 4,700 words and an estimated 22 minutes of reading, HubSpot’s Ultimate Guide to the Best Productivity Apps pictured above starts with a beautiful above-the-fold design. This critical aspect connects with our image-loving brains to keep us on the page—and conveniently suggests a free guide to download.
The article begins with a handy table of contents linking to each of the six sections, organized by app category, for the sake of user-friendliness (which search algorithms love). You’ll notice it’s missing “back to top” buttons in each section, which can really add value to readers looking to navigate quickly. We recommend including these in your pillar pages.
In this pillar, the only internal links are prompts to download HubSpot's related productivity guide in the header section as well as the end of the article and in an unobtrusive popup in the corner of the page the same guide. Including a downloadable resource multiple times on one page is understandably proven to increase downloads of such resources, so keep that in mind as well as you build your pillar pages.
Similarly to our example from HubSpot, this content managing platform takes a pillar page approach that focuses less on a slew of internal links. Instead, GatherContent makes only a couple of subtle moves to get both your clicks and your interest.
Their guide to UX design and content strategy is a long document of subtopics, with a table of contents linking to different parts of the page. If you look next to the table, you see a link to download a free PDF version of the guide. Unlike HubSpot, though, it doesn't stop there.
Further down, there's a link to another guide on their website with yet another free download, along with the link to the online version. Then guide number two has another downloadable guide linked at the end.
This chain of hyperlinks not only feeds the reader a procession of long and informative guides, but also encourages you to download them for later. It’s free, so why wouldn’t you? All it asks for is your name and email address!
Mailshake is an email outreach tool with a focus on cold emailing. Being a brand related to content marketing, one would expect it to know its stuff when it comes to clusters, and it doesn't disappoint.
In the above article alone, readers come across six internal links—judging by that, it's a safe bet that this article about making sales over the phone is the cluster’s pillar. Those links each go to another post, some of which are closely related to the topic at hand, while others just go to fairly general sales tips. Spokes on a wheel, rolling its way to the top of Google's search results.
CBD For Life
CBD For Life is a provider of cannabidiol-infused health and beauty products. With the help of PubLoft's own innovative cluster strategy—not to humble brag or anything—CBD For Life has built up a hefty stock of interlinked blog posts. Remember that SEO spiderweb we alluded to earlier? Told you we'd get back to it.
The post pictured above includes various internal links that expand on topics that touched on in the broader article. Not unlike the simple wheel model, right? Now here's where it gets fun.
Those focus articles in the cluster don't stop there—they then link to even more posts, which link back to the other posts. Then all of the aforementioned cluster posts at some point link back to the pillar article. So no matter where a reader starts in the cluster, they can always find their way to all of the other posts via pre-planned and retroactive links.
After four months of regularly uploading articles outsourced to PubLoft, CBD For Life ranked number two on Google's search results. Furthermore, as of January 2019, overall traffic on their blog had gone up by 230 percent since October, and continues to rise exponentially. Like we said, quantifiable results are the name of the game—and well designed clusters are the way to win it.
It takes finesse to weave a web
Content marketing means drawing the consumer in, and that requires a variety of technical and interpersonal strategies. The content cluster technique is one such strategy that can take many forms, from in-article hyperlinks to suggestion carousels integrated into the web page itself.
Whatever its form, it's sneaky and effective, putting up a flare for search engines while pulling in readers with the ease of a single click. And then another click. And another, and another...
In the current market, this strategy is the key to directing traffic to your brand's blog and getting the exposure it deserves. If you want to take full advantage of this masterful technique, PubLoft's team of writers and industry professionals are here to help! Connect with us through our website live chat and ask some questions—or if you're already raring to go, inquire about one of our paid plans!
Our goal is your success, and we can't wait to weave a web of engaging content with you.