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Topic Clusters in SEO

You may sometimes hear reference to ‘topic clusters’ as part of a search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy, but what are they and how different is this technique to a well written and designed website that provides visitors with a good user experience?

Because the competition to get found in search engine results is getting more intense these days, the influential search engines like Google have changed their algorithm to favour ‘topic-based content’. That’s why many SEOs are exploring new ways of linking related content together under the “topic clusters” model.

SEO practices have evolved to this new model being developed by many content-focused websites, but how different is this to a well designed website structure? The idea of these topic clusters is that a single ‘pillar’ page acts as the main hub of content for a primary topic theme, and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic then link back to the pillar page and to each other.

This linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page may rank higher and higher for the topic it covers. The topic cluster model is used as a way of organising a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture because search engines have changed their algorithms in response to consumers’ behavioural changes.

Nowadays, searchers who want a specific answer not only use relevant keywords, but may also use many different phrases in their queries. Search engines have become smart enough to recognise the connections across queries and so their ranking algorithms have evolved to the point where they can understand the topical context behind the search intent and tie it back to similar searches they have encountered in the past. Therefore the results being produced now respond to contextual phrase topics, rather than just keyword searches.

This began with Google’s Hummingbird search algorithm update in 2013, which parses out phrases rather than focuses solely on keywords. Then Google’s RankBrain update was launched in 2015 in which its machine learning algorithm was designed to understand the context of people’s search queries.

So now, to achieve a good search ranking, a more orderly, thoughtful website structure is needed – i.e. one that tells search engines what page should be prioritised and displayed for a main topic and then organises all the pages related to that topic in one interlinked cluster.

By linking all internal content within that topic to a pillar page, search engines such as Google or Bing can easily scan all the content and understand that there is a semantic relationship between the pages’ content. The cluster setup also signals to search engines that there is real breadth and depth in the content, which gives the pillar page more authority on the topic. Algorithms like Google’s RankBrain reward this orderly linking with higher search placement.

This means that as part of an effective SEO strategy, it’s now important to think in terms of the broader topics for which to rank well, rather than just keywords and to structure the website’s content in relevant topic clusters. And like most aspects of SEO, this shouldn’t differ from providing your website visitors with a good user experience and the content they may be looking for, organised in a useful way.

If you want to know about how focusing on topic clusters could help your business’s SEO please get in touch.