How to Use Topic Clusters to Increase Topic Authority
What is content authority? Simply put, it's having expertise in a subject matter. But why is that important? Well, now more than ever before, being an authority is critical to having a successful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. Both search engines like Google and online content creators want to be seen as the go-to source of information. Google’s Helpful Content Update made it crystal clear that the website user having a positive experience was the ultimate goal, and that helpful and insightful web content would need to be prioritized over ranking high on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs).
So, now the question becomes, how do we build content authority? The answer... slowly. In an online world full of misinformation and clickbait, people are rightfully skeptical of anyone claiming to be a thought leader right off the bat. Even if you have the subject expertise, you must demonstrate it to gain your users’ trust. Fortunately, there are tools that can help us build content authority faster. One of those tools is topic clusters. Topic clusters are organized groups of content centered on the same subject, and they can help a content creator explain a topic in significantly more detail while simultaneously building content authority and boosting SEO.
A Cluster of Ideas
Topic clusters, also sometimes known as content clusters, work to build out content creation strategies and are effective aids when it comes to ranking higher on a SERP. A topic cluster is made up of several parts, the pillar page, cluster content pages, and the hyperlinks connecting them to each other. Picture a topic cluster like an atom or a planet with rings in outer space. The pillar page is in the middle and the cluster content circles around it. Topic clusters are structured this way to demonstrate to Google that your site has an in-depth understanding of this topic and to offer as much relevant information as possible for as many search queries related to the same topic.
The Pillar Page
Pillar pages serve as the foundation of the cluster and will generally cover a topic. Pillar pages are supposed to be broad in their coverage, linking to the more detail-oriented cluster content pages. While the pillar page is the gateway to more specific answers, it is important that it still be insightful and useful to the page visitor. If the pillar page fails to convey the general topic in an interesting way, then the traffic to the cluster content pages decreases, causing your content authority and SEO ranking to decline.
It is mission-critical to guarantee the pillar page for every topic cluster on your site has an interesting hook and covers the topic just enough to leave the user both satisfied with what they’ve seen and eager to learn more. It’s a delicate balance, but if a content creator can pull it off then they will start to see their position as a potential thought leader grow.
The Content Cluster Page
A content cluster page works to highlight your expertise on a topic. These types of pages allow content creators to flex their creativity, showing how much knowledge they truly have on the topic and how many unique angles they can use to cover the topic without being repetitive or uninformative.
Each cluster content page should be optimized with subtopic keywords that refers to something covered by the pillar page.
There is no specific number of content cluster pages for a topic cluster to have. Every page should be detailed and beneficial to the viewer in some way, so if you find that your content clusters are lacking or repetitive, prune the unnecessary content and focus on strengthening the cluster content pages that provide added value to the user and your credibility.
Linking Back and Forth
Topic clusters, when it comes to improving SEO, are specifically geared towards improving backlink strategies. A backlink adds to SERP visibility by linking pieces of content to one another. A powerful signal to Google’s site crawlers is the number of backlinks on independent, third-party sites that link back to your website, specifically your pillar page. The more mentions, the more indication to Google that your content is credible and useful. As a result, your SEO ranking is likely to increase.
Like building credibility, link building can take some time. It’s important to note that if you wish to build content authority, it’s important to link to credible sources. Having a wide variety of credible sources to link to may seem counter intuitive when it comes to building your own credibility. However, knowing how to cite reliable, relevant sources shows that you know how to discern insightful information about the topic from useless information.
Just linking to other sources won’t be enough either. Content creators can build their presence in their fields by linking to others and then can build their credibility by building intelligent, useful content to go along with other credible creators. Certain types of cluster content, especially ones that contain original data and documented research, can help build backlinks to your site.
Backlink building strategies may take some trial and error, but a good goal is to try and establish yourself in the community centered on whatever topic you’re covering and generating content that can referenced by others while you reference scholarly sources as well. This creates a back-and-forth link building relationship that will elevate you as an authority.
The Future of Content Creation
The future of content creation is geared towards the website user, not the search engine. What that means is that creating content for the sole purpose of appeasing Google’s algorithm will have the opposite effect. While people will still need to follow SEO best practices, we will now have to put more emphasis on Google’s EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness).
Topic clusters can help us establish our authority by highlighting and organizing quality content, but how we choose which topics to cover will matter too.
When searching for topics it helps to know what’s trending. Tools like Google Trends can offer us some insights into important topics that people are searching for, and resources like Answer the Public can give us multiple iterations of potential search queries centered on a topic. People may search for the same information differently; understanding how they go about searching for that information can help us format the cluster content pages within our topic clusters.
A good method is to try and find some common ground between trending topics and topics where your expertise can provide value. If you are set on covering a topic you are only somewhat familiar with, your credibility will take longer to grow organically. That said, don’t be discouraged to cover new topics, just as long as you take the time to cite credible sources and learn with your audience.
Becoming a Thought Leader
No matter what your goal is, whether you’re trying to sell a product or service or if you’re blogging for fun, becoming an authority will become necessary to grow your online visibility. It may sound unnecessary but consider that as a thought leader you can provide valuable and educational information to those with questions that need answering. Taking the time to build your credibility around a topic will provide a better experience to your site visitors and ultimately lead to greater success for your site.
Take the steps to set yourself apart from other sites and work towards building the authority you will need to have as content creation looks towards the future.