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If you’re new to the concept of content clusters or simply want to know how they might help your business, we recommend checking out our previous article on the subject.
To summarize our previous article, content clusters (or topic clusters) are a strategic way to organize your website that helps users and search engines better understand your content. By utilizing content clusters you improve the user experience of your site, build authority, and ultimately – rank higher on the search engine result page.
At the most basic level, a content cluster is simply a linking strategy that helps users find relevant content related to their interests. Since this helps users, it goes without saying that it also helps search engines. If you string together two pages on your website via an internal link, it makes it easier for users to explore and categorize your content.
For instance, let’s say you are a purveyor of fine medieval battle weapons. You could, and should, create individual pages for each of the weapons you sell. This individual page may entice someone searching for a specific item to visit your site but, if they want additional information and you don’t link to a broader topic page (aka pillar page), then this is likely where the user journey begins and ends. Instead, a topic cluster helps organize your content around a specific topic that offers additional resources and content to explore more about the topic.
What if someone is interested in medieval archery, and more specifically medieval crossbows? They search for a term like “medievel bows” and happen to land on a page within your website that promotes medievel bows and arrows. Once there, they realize that this page doesn’t really satisfy their search interest but are able to quickly navigate to a page that provides links out to all of the websites medieval archery related items, called a pillar page, which directs them to their desired destination.
A pillar page is simply a hub for a specific topic and is typically more broad in nature. The pillar page links to multiple, more specific, pages on your website. So, in the silly example we’ve been following, after landing on the wrong page, the user is led to a broader archery page that also includes a link to the crossbows they want to explore.
I know what you’re thinking. “I’m sure glad this guy isn’t a web designer.” That’s fair, but I think the point is pretty clear, organizing content into clusters leads to a better user experience and a better user experience leads to more conversions. Furthermore, it actually makes it easier for search engines to understand your site, thus improving SEO.
Several years ago, a search engine might not make the connection between medieval archery and medieval cross bows but, today, with the heavy focus on user experience, search engine crawlers actually follow the links you provide to better understand the category and provide more relevant results for a prospect’s search queries. To learn more about how search engines like Google have updated their software to better serve users, check out our article on the subject.
For some of those reading this, the idea of topic clusters may still feel a little unclear. For others, it may seem a little simplistic and the fact is… it is. Many websites today are built around topic clusters, whether they realize it or not.
So, where do we start? How can you make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to content clusters? Let’s unpack it a little.
The idea behind content clusters is more than just adding a few links to pages that may share similar content. It’s a strategic way to organize your content to better inform and delight the users of your website. As such, your content should be well planned and intentionally created. This begins with deciding what content you want to display on your website and how it should relate to other content on the site.
To start, you need to know what your website’s structure will look like and then plan your content accordingly. When designing your structure it’s important to keep in mind the topics your website will revolve around. Some good questions to ask at this stage are:
Once you feel like you’ve got some clarity on the questions above, it’s time to start deciding on the core topics you want your website to focus on. This is important as it literally defines the structure of your website.
Once you’ve decided on a topic, you can follow up with subtopics, articles, and other resources that will help users better explore the topic. For example, on the PHOS website, we have a category for inbound marketing, which would be considered a pillar page. From that page, users can explore different subtopics of inbound marketing such as search engine optimization, social media marketing, digital advertising, and content marketing.
When we write blog articles, we actually tag them based on these subtopics. Our hope in doing this is that if a user has a specific search query, like… Oh, I don’t know… let’s say “why should I use content clusters?”, they will be led to an exquisitely crafted page related to their search query and then invited to explore the subtopic of SEO and even browse other inbound marketing services.
Furthermore, this tells search engines like Google that this article is connected with SEO and inbound marketing in general so, if someone searches for a broader query like “topic clusters for inbound marketing,” (inbound marketing being the pillar page for this content) the search engine will know exactly where to send them.
Remember the spider web diagrams teachers used to have us create in middle school to help consolidate ideas and organize notes on a particular subject? Well, they’re about to make a come back.
When initially designing your site, start with a piece of paper (or a online diagram maker). Write down all the ideas you have for potential pages on your site and the subtopics they are connected to, then connect those subtopics to the main topics you’ve already decided upon and – BAAM! – content clusters.
Once you get all your ideas out in the open, a few things will become apparent. You’ll notice connections where you may not have realized them before and you’ll notice that not all of your ideas should make it on to the final website.
I recall a client requesting that we put a page for a secondary side-hustle they were working on, on their current business’s website. In their mind this would be a great way to promote and grow their side-hustle with their current audience but, in reality, it would likely just confuse their users and search engines and have a negative impact on their primary business. That’s not to say the side-hustle webpage doesn’t have a place, it just doesn’t have a place on another business’s site.
This organization of ideas can also be helpful if you already have a website and would like to better organize your content. First, run a report of all the pages on your website, then get them on paper and start making connections. You may come to the conclusion that you are crushing the cluster game or you may realize how disconnected and difficult your website is to navigate. If it’s, the latter, our team are experts at creating an unforgettable user experience and would love to help.
Once you’ve decided on the topics you want to incorporate into your website and how you want to organize them, it’s time to start creating content. Remember that all content should lead back to a pillar page. So, whether you are writing content for a website page displayed in your navigation bar, or a blog article, make sure it connects seamlessly with the topic it represents.
There are a lot of great ways to ensure that your content leads users back to the main topic. We’ve already talked about internal links and to reiterate it’s important to provide relevant links throughout your content that point back to the pillar page they relate to. Be careful with links though. You can cause challenges for web crawlers if you link too frequently. This is why a cluster strategy can be helpful as it creates an intentional connection to pages that precede the page (ie. pillar pages) or pages that relate to it (ie. similar pages) on your website. Ultimately, the goal of every link is to provide additional value to the user of that page.
Another way to ensure that the site is well organized is to make sure that your page path showcases the user’s journey. To bring back our example from earlier, a page path like medievalstuff.com/medieval-weapons/medieval-bows/medieval-crossbows/ is far more organized that several disparate page paths (such as medievalstuff.com/medieval-crossbows).
Another way to display this, especially if your website is already established, is to guide visitors and search engine crawlers using breadcrumbs. If you are utilizing a content management system, like WordPress, this is as simple as downloading the right plugin and taking the time to set them up.
Hopefully, this article will have sparked some interest in organizing your content and providing a few key steps to get started. Remember, better content organization means a better user experience for your customers and that’s who you built the site for in the first place, right?
If this still feels unapproachable, or you don’t feel comfortable with some of the steps above, we’d love to hear from you. We have helped numerous organizations create strategic, organized, and intentional website and we can help you too. Whether you just need someone to bounce ideas off or you’d prefer to have someone rework your site from the ground up, we’d love it if you considered us to be that someone.