SEO evolution: Topics Instead of Keywords with Topic Clusters

Are you writing SEO copy the same way you did 5 years ago? If so, you might want to check out this evolution in SEO strategy using topic clusters instead of keywords.

SEO evolution: Topics Instead of Keywords with Topic Clusters

A new SEO strategy based on topic clusters, using topics instead of keywords, has great potential for top rankings. Hand in hand with a well thought-out content strategy, marketers and SEO specialists can combine the best of both worlds and develop content that is not only convincing but also demonstrably provides more visibility.

Classic keyword ranking has had its day

Inquiries to Google via voice search are becoming increasingly common, for example via Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri . Not least because of this, complete questions have become firmly established in Google search instead of individual combined keywords and are becoming more and more common even in written searches.

With the help of artificial intelligence , the top dog also recognizes synonyms and correlations among the search engines and wants to open up the intention behind a query in order to deliver contextual results. For this reason, not only local references, but also question words such as where, when, how, etc. play a decisive role in the answers that the search engine outputs.


This makes the results more precise and more personalized. There is no longer just one search results page for the one keyword, but an abundance of hit lists that are adapted to the particular concerns of the searcher.

In order to be represented in the respective results as broadly as possible, marketers and SEO experts have been using so-called long tail keywords for some time, which consist of a combination of words and are more precisely aimed at a specific aspect around a central keyword. This enables them to achieve a good ranking for an inquiry that matches this aspect.

However, it is also important to consider here: you might achieve good results for such a long-tail niche, but it is difficult to achieve broad visibility. Many companies end up getting bogged down and producing tons of content that degenerate into a content jungle. In the worst case, even individual contributions compete with each other and cannibalize themselves in this way.

New ordering principle: topics instead of keywords

But how do you manage to increase the ranking beyond long-tail queries even for more competitive keywords? In an experiment, SEO specialists from HubSpot were able to show how important internal links and the associated compression of content are for the ranking on the search results pages.

In short: the more internal links, the higher the placement. So it is crucial to build a clear structure.

This is where the topic clusters come into play. They mess things up and help Google to better understand the page and develop its content. The content bundling also helps marketers and SEO experts optimize content planning and act strategically.

With this approach, each topic cluster is dedicated to an overarching topic and deals with this in an overview article – the “pillar content”. It forms the nucleus of the cluster. Further aspects, secondary topics and additional content are discussed in subordinate content contributions, so-called “cluster content”. On the one hand, these refer to the Pillar content and on the other hand they are linked from there. This creates a structured topic, the content of which Google can better grasp.

In addition, links not only represent the relationship of the content to one another for Google, but they are also a central criterion for the assessment of websites by the search engine. They are an indication of a high level of authority, which in turn has a positive effect on the ranking.

In addition, website visitors can find their way around more easily and benefit from an optimized user experience.

Instead of losing track of dozens of posts on longtail variants, companies can use this principle to bundle all content around a subject complex and thus achieve good visibility for a more competitive keyword. Because every single contribution from the topic cluster helps to improve the ranking for the entire complex.

At a glance: what is pillar content?

The core of a topic cluster is called pillar content. It presents the central topic in as much detail as possible, so that detailed questions, secondary topics and sub-areas can be meaningfully linked from here. At the same time, these secondary topics also refer to the pillar content in order to map the cluster in both directions. Due to the depth of content, Pillar content can consist of several thousand characters. It can also take different forms and can be placed in any area of ​​a website.

Topic cluster and content strategy go hand in hand

With this approach, a company’s website takes a structured form. As a rule, marketers and SEO specialists set up several topic clusters in order to achieve a good placement in the search results for different subject areas. In order to identify the right, important topics for which such a topic cluster is worthwhile, one should develop a strategic content plan .

Criteria for setting up a topic cluster:

  • Is it worth the effort for the potential search volume of the subject area?
  • Can an existing content element act as pillar content?
  • Would you like to describe the topic in detail or is it particularly relevant for the buyer persona?

When setting up a complex of topics, you should view and categorize the existing content, for example blog posts, white papers, guides or general pages on the website. If you already have a suitable overview article on a topic, it can be used as pillar content. It may also be worthwhile to expand, update and use an existing contribution. Relevant articles can be linked to the overview article and, if necessary, refer to these subtopics from the Pillar content.

Best practice: design pillar content for information

HubSpot itself applied this principle when restructuring its own website and has already built up numerous thematic complexes. The topic cluster “The Future of Content Strategy” provides helpful knowledge about strategic planning and the use of content marketing. For this, the Pillar content is divided into the following sections

  • How have search engines changed?
  • How do users and their search queries change?
  • How does a content strategy have to be structured today?
  • What is a topic cluster?
  • How do you create a plan for a topic cluster?
  • How do you measure the success of a topic cluster?

Each of these paragraphs introduces the topic and uses explanatory illustrations such as screenshots or diagrams and references to respected sources. In addition, the pillar content also links at appropriate points to other aspects and related areas, including evergreen content, search engine optimization, keyword research or featured snippets.

The topics of the cluster content are dealt with, for example, in current blog posts, videos or infographics, so that new, multimedia content continuously enriches the construct. The cluster content also refers to the central pillar content, so that a complex network of internal backlinks is created. Each new contribution keeps the topic cluster up to date and raises the ranking of the entire complex. At the same time, the user can navigate through the topic more easily and go on a journey of discovery.

Through HubSpot’s own experiments with the topic clusters, some criteria for successful complexes have emerged that marketers and SEO experts should take to heart.

Tips for successful topic clusters:

  • First-class content: As the heart of every topic cluster, pillar content must be of absolutely high quality and offer users added value.
  • Assign correctly: General topics are suitable for pillar content, partial aspects for cluster content.
  • 1: 8 ratio: A topic cluster should gather around eight pieces of cluster content around one pillar content. Over time, more cluster content will be added.
  • Up up-to-dateness: So that the content not only retains its value, but is also classified as current by the search engine, Pillar content should be updated as required, but at least every nine to twelve months. Regular cluster content on the latest developments also guarantees topicality.

At a glance: what is cluster content?

Cluster content supports the central pillar content. For this, he should cover a sub-area, secondary topic, detail aspects or current developments and refer to the more general pillar content. Typically, cluster content targets a long-tail keyword with less traffic. Cluster content can take different forms, a blog post is often useful, but videos or infographics can also be suitable. In order to rank well with a topic cluster, new, up-to-date cluster content must regularly enrich the complex of topics.


Track record: An insight into the changeover at HubSpot

With the topic cluster on “Facebook Marketing ”, HubSpot has already managed to achieve a significant increase in visibility. Before the reorganization, HubSpot ranked above 50 with the optimization for long tail keywords for ”Facebook Marketing ”. After the structured redesign of the topic complex in the form of a topic cluster, the company now ranks fourth with its content – and not in the longtail -Niche, but for the highly competitive `Facebook Marketing”.

This enormous improvement is based, on the one hand, on the sophisticated networking of the internal content, and, on the other hand, on the high quality of the content. The Pillar content is so detailed and informative that the length of stay is above average and many external pages link to the high-quality article. Shortly after the restructuring, the Pillar content generated around 10,000 views per month and 1,500 backlinks within two months.

This referred to him six to eight times as often in just 60 days as a normal blog entry throughout its life. These numerous backlinks continue to contribute to the Google ranking. This enabled them to break out of longtail existence and achieve excellent organic visibility even for such a large range of topics.

In view of these new findings, marketers and SEO experts should structure their website accordingly and strategically align their content. This way you can not only secure your content a top ranking, but also optimize the user experience for the demands of modern users.