Though creating quality content has been a crucial digital marketing strategy for many years, 2020 has seen brands invest more than ever in creating content that connects with their audiences in meaningful ways. So, what can you do to ensure your content stands out among the ever-increasing amount of noise?
Enter, content clusters. This strategy combines the best of SEO-focused content marketing with a structure that encourages your audience to engage and stay on your site for longer periods of time — establishing your brand as a SERP-crushing thought leader in the process.
Before we dive in, let’s first understand what content clusters are and how you can incorporate them into your digital marketing strategy?
What Are Content Clusters?
To put it simply: Content clusters are a group of related pieces of content that internally link to each other, creating a clear — often educational — path for the reader that also sends a clear signal to crawlers what a website is about.
Typically, content clusters will consist of one pillar piece of content (usually a long-form article) that serves as a broad overview of the topic at hand. This pillar piece of content acts as a hub that links out to supporting (typically shorter) pieces of content that each explore a specific aspect of the parent — or pillar — topic.
For example, a credit union looking to create a content cluster may create a pillar article titled “What is a Credit Score?” that provides basic education about credit scores and their uses. From there, supporting articles (i.e., clusters) can be created to explore specific aspects of credit scores, such as:
- What Causes Your Credit Score to Change?
- How to Improve Your Credit Score
- What Credit Score Do You Need to Get a Loan?
- How Debt Affects Credit Scores
The pillar articles may touch on these topics briefly as it provides exhaustive information about the parent topic, but it will also link out to each individual supporting articles to give readers a way to easily continue on a path to learning and information gathering. Each supporting article will link back to the pillar article (and to each other), creating a natural flow of information from any touchpoint in the cluster.
What Makes Content Clusters So Powerful?
Careful SEO Research & Strategy
Though all content marketers worth their salt will conduct SEO research during the ideation and content planning process, successful content clusters take this strategy to the next level by using strategic topic modeling and hierarchies.
The first step of content cluster creation involves identifying which high-level topics are most relevant to your audience. Going back to our credit union example, high-level topics could be:
- Credit scores
- Financial planning
These topics will be associated with keywords that have a high (and consistent) monthly search volume, and typically a higher degree of difficulty for ranking in the top spot of a SERP (search engine results page). Creating a long-form, definitive piece of content that is rich with internal links will give your website the best chance at ranking for those more competitive keywords.
Because supporting content tends to focus on a single aspect of the parent topic, the associated search volumes for these keywords will naturally be smaller — and the more specific (or, long tail) you get, the easier they will be to rank. Supporting pieces will likely be the first to rank as long-tail keywords are typically less competitive and less saturated, building SEO momentum that will make it easier for your website to rank for higher volume and more competitive keywords.
Here is an example content cluster for a credit union following this type of hierarchy:
- PILLAR ARTICLE: How to Make a Budget
- Keyword: how to make a budget
- Monthly search volume: 1100
- Keyword difficulty: 77
- CLUSTER ARTICLE: How to Keep Track of A Budget in Excel
- Keyword: how to make a budget in excel
- Monthly search volume: 2800
- Keyword difficulty: 19
- CLUSTER ARTICLE: What Categories Should Your Personal Budget Have?
- Keyword: budgeting categories
- Monthly search volume: 1000
- Keyword difficulty: 21
- CLUSTER ARTICLE: How to Build a Spending Plan for Your Budget
- Keyword: spending plan
- Monthly search volume: 450
- Keyword difficulty: 14
- CLUSTER ARTICLE: How to Build a Realistic Budget for Low Incomes
- Keyword: how to budget money on low income
- Monthly search volume: 300
- Keyword difficulty: 18
- CLUSTER ARTICLE: How to Keep Track of A Budget in Excel
Internal links serve as the framework by which Google’s (and other search engines’) crawlers explore and understand your site. According to Google:
“Google must constantly search for new pages and add them to its list of known pages. Some pages are known because Google has already crawled them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.”
Through a phenomenon called link equity, ranking pages are able to share that authority with pages they link to both internally and externally. This is why it becomes easier for a site to rank for more competitive pillar topics as supporting content targeting less competitive keywords gains SERP momentum.
User Experience & Customer Journey
Creating a logical structure of related content not only helps search engine crawlers better understand your site, it also helps your human users as well. A clearly defined structure and path to learning more about specific aspects of a broader topic creates a natural flow of content that encourages your audience to stay engaged on your site. It also will help to build trust by demonstrating your authority in the space, leading to an organic relationship with your audience that encourages customer retention and brand evangelism.
Are Content Clusters Right for Your Business?
The short answer? Yes!
Content clusters are a valuable part of any content marketing strategy but may be leveraged differently depending on your specific business, industry, and goals. Here are a few examples:
B2C & D2C eCommerce
In the eCommerce space, creating a compelling brand universe is crucial to stand out in crowded industries — and capture increasingly fragmented audience attention. Content clusters are an excellent way to establish a brand’s niche in its industry and to win traffic away from competitors for high-traffic keywords.
For example, a D2C luggage company can leverage content clusters to establish themselves as an authority (and give themselves the best opportunity to appear in competitive SERPs) in the packing and travel space. To showcase its products in a way that builds trust and encourages conversions organically, its marketing team could create a pillar piece of content focusing on how to pack a suitcase, supported by content that gets into specific types of packing (i.e., how to pack for a weekend away, how to pack a carry-on, how to pack a suit). This strategy will effectively capitalize on high-traffic keywords and will establish the brand as a viable educational resource for both current and prospective customers.
Leveraging organic search to build large sustainable audiences can be a difficult task for B2B marketers, which makes crafting a careful content strategy all the more important. Because content clusters allow you to effectively funnel your audience (and search engine crawlers) into a specific niche, they can also help B2B brands capitalize best on the SEO opportunities presented in their particular industry.
For example, a risk management company leveraging proprietary technology will likely need to educate its readers on the value of its new technology. Utilizing a content cluster strategy, this brand could create pillar content that discusses risk management tools, supported by content that specifically discusses the use cases and benefits of new technologies in the space. This strategy will help them rank for higher-traffic terms (e.g., risk management tools), introduce those audiences to new solutions in the space that builds trust, demonstrates thought leadership, and allows for ownership of lower-volume, highly branded keywords.
Ready to Level Up Your Content Marketing Strategy?
When carefully planned and executed, content clusters are a powerful way to bring the best of SEO and content marketing together for your brand. The content cluster strategy is designed to help supercharge your organic audience growth while positioning your brand as a trusted leader in your industry by providing valuable content resources to those who land on your site.
Interested in learning more about how content clusters can take your digital marketing efforts to the next level? Reach out for a free consultation today!