Content clusters are a newer concept in SEO content strategy that goes beyond merely inserting keywords in content and hoping Google will bite. Instead, a content cluster strategy uses topic modeling and internal linking to improve the user experience of your content and boost your search performance. Over the past couple years, our team has implemented this strategy for many clients, which is why we\u2019re excited to share the in\u2019s and out\u2019s of how content clusters work \u2014 and explain how they strengthen your SEO efforts. Table of Contents: \t \tWhat Are Content Clusters? \tThe Origin of Content Clusters \tThe Rise of Google RankBrain \tHow to Build Content Clusters \tGoals & Keyword Research \tContent Audit \tPillar Pages \tInternal Linking \tMaintaining Content Clusters \tContent Gaps \tAre Content Clusters Right for My Website? What are Content Clusters? The best way to explain what a content cluster does is to illustrate the difference between a site with content clusters and a site without content clusters. Without content clusters, there\u2019s a good chance that your SEO content creation efforts involve shooting in the dark and hoping something will stick. Perhaps you come up with a vague content idea or an aspirational keyword you want to target in a piece of content, and just go for it. And you do that again and again and again for different ideas and keywords. Before you know it, you\u2019ve amassed a vast, unorganized archive of blogs on all different kinds of topics tangentially related to your services or industry. If you could physically scoop them up and lay them out on a table, it'd probably look like this: Even without a cohesive content strategy directing their focus, there are undoubtedly quite a few gems in there. And yet, Google still doesn\u2019t seem to recognize as an authority in your industry or reward you for the high-quality content you've produced. Meanwhile, a site using a content cluster model has a significantly more intentional and impeccably organized approach to SEO content generation: In the diagram above, you can see that there are three main components: \tPillar page \u2014 a broad, comprehensive piece of content that serves as the \u201chub\u201d of your cluster \tCluster content \u2014 any piece of content internally linked to and from a cluster\u2019s pillar page \tInternal links \u2014 the glue that holds your clusters together When they're working together in a content cluster model, these three components allow you to cultivate an impeccably organized and high-quality collection of content that is useful to your customers and is extremely easy for Google to crawl. Those internal links, in particular, are what indicate to Google that there is a relationship between all the linked content. And when all of that linked content is brimming with high-quality content, it demonstrates to Google that you possess a breadth of expert knowledge on a particular topic. That kind of authority and quality is what gives you a boost in search rankings. Before we dive further into the specifics of how our team plans and builds out content clusters, I think it\u2019s important to highlight the \u201cwhy\u201d behind choosing this strategy in the first place. The Origins of Content Clusters It\u2019s no secret that Google\u2019s algorithm is always changing \u2014 it\u2019s a reality that keeps SEO professionals like myself on our toes at all times. But over the past several years, there has been a seismic shift in the evolution of Google\u2019s algorithm. This shift boils down to the following: If you\u2019re not putting users first, Google\u2019s not putting you first, either. In the early days of SEO, search engines would return results based solely on keywords. Unfortunately, this keyword-focused algorithm eventually led to some bad SEO behaviors (commonly referred to as \u201cblack hat\u201d SEO). Keyword stuffing is probably the most well-known examples of black hat SEO practices. While it\u2019s essential to include keywords in your content so that users can find relevant, high-quality content, the practice of recklessly stuffing keywords into content typically means you\u2019re not writing for the user \u2014 you\u2019re writing for an algorithm. And generally, that type of content is The Rise of Google RankBrain Returning search results full of low-quality and keyword-stuffed pages flies in the face of Google\u2019s goal of bringing the best and most relevant search results to their users. That\u2019s why Google has spent years tweaking its algorithm to reward content that prioritizes user experiences and anticipates user intent. One of the most groundbreaking ways they\u2019ve accomplished this is with the introduction of a new machine learning technology called Google RankBrain, which expands the scope of how Google indexes and evaluates pages for ranking. Keywords do still matter, but now they are just one piece of the pie. In Moz\u2019s excellent primer on Google RankBrain, they explain how this technology has completely changed the SEO game: \u201cPre-RankBrain, Google utilized its basic algorithm to determine which results to show for a given query. Post-RankBrain, it is believed that the query now goes through an interpretation model that can apply possible factors like the location of the searcher, personalization, and the words of the query to determine the searcher\u2019s true intent. By discerning this true intent, Google can deliver more relevant results.\u201d This means that if you want your site to perform well in search engines, you need to be prepared to help Google in its mission to provide relevant, high-quality results. At Southern Web, we\u2019ve helped our clients do just that by working with them to roll out a topic modeling strategy that we call content clusters. Content clusters use strategic internal linking to connect topically related content on your site. These connections are one of the factors that Google RankBrain analyzes when it evaluates the quality and authority of your content during a crawl. How to Build Content Clusters Now that you understand why we recommend this type of topic modeling strategy as part of our SEO strategies, let\u2019s dive a bit deeper into the step-by-step process for planning out and building a content cluster strategy. 1. Analyze goals & conduct keyword research Before we touch any content, we perform a thorough analysis of the client\u2019s business goals and conduct keyword research to align with these goals. \tWhat are they hoping to accomplish with a more targeted SEO content strategy? \tAre there specific keywords or services areas they want to focus on more than others? \tWhat conversion goals are most important to them? Once we\u2019ve established those goals, we have a solid foundation to start our content audit and build out our clusters. 2. Perform a thorough content audit If we\u2019re working with a website that already has a fairly extensive archive of content, performing a content audit is critical. During this audit, all existing blog content is inventoried and \u2014 taking into account the client\u2019s goals \u2014 we group them all by topic. These topics we identify become the clusters, and any the content pertaining to a specific topic becomes the topic\u2019s cluster content. 3. Establish pillar pages Now that we have identified the cluster topics, the next step is to designate a pillar page that will connect all the content within a cluster together. To recap, a pillar page is essentially the cornerstone or hub of a cluster \u2014 it serves as the map that connects all other content in the cluster. Unlike the rest of your cluster content, a pillar page is much broader in scope so that it can adequately link to and touch on every facet of the cluster. Sometimes you might need to create a pillar page from scratch, but sometimes you can revamp an existing article in your cluster that already possesses some of these \u201cbroader\u201d qualities. Trying to choose the right pillar page from your existing cluster content? A search volume analysis can help you identify high-performing posts that would be great candidates for pillar pages. 4. Implement internal linking With your clusters and pillar pages established, it\u2019s now time to put the pieces of the puzzle together \u2014 using hyperlinks. All cluster content should include a link to the pillar page, and the pillar page should be naturally interspersed with links to cluster content. As we mentioned earlier, one of the key ways Google\u2019s algorithm evaluates the authority and quality of a page\u2019s content is through links \u2014 both internal linking on your site and external linking to\/from other sites (also known as backlinks). So this part of the process is essentially where the magic happens. Maintaining Content Clusters So you\u2019ve audited your content, identified your cluster topics, established pillar pages, and implemented all those internal links. Now what? Are you done? Nope! Now comes the vital work of maintaining your content clusters. This includes adding new content regularly, but it also means treating your pillar page as a living document. Each time you publish a new piece of content for one of your clusters, you need to make sure to appropriately link it to and from the cluster\u2019s pillar page. This iterative, ever-refining approach to maintaining your pillar pages helps keep your site\u2019s content fresh. "Mine" the Content Gaps Ever feel like you\u2019re running out of blog post ideas? A content cluster strategy not only helps boost your search engine visibility \u2014 it helps you come up with fresh ideas for future content. That\u2019s because a topic-based content cluster strategy allows you to identify any content gaps within your cluster easily. Think back on the overarching goal of your cluster. You\u2019re trying to build a comprehensive collection of content around a specific topic. While you might assume that the larger a particular cluster becomes, the less you\u2019ll have to write about, we\u2019ve discovered the opposite is true. As you write more and more about a topic, you\u2019d be surprised to see how many new questions or ideas pop up. And that\u2019s just for one cluster. If you have multiple clusters, that\u2019s numerous opportunities to identify content gaps within those clusters. Are Content Clusters Right for My Website? If you\u2019re regularly publishing new blogs or already have an extensive content archive, then yes, implementing a content cluster strategy is an excellent idea because it will help you refine both your existing and future content. At the very beginning of your content marketing journey? Don\u2019t yet have an extensive archive of content? Don\u2019t worry. A content cluster is still for you! Everyone must start somewhere, and mapping out a content cluster strategy before you even embark on a dedicated content marketing campaign is a great way to hit the ground running and make sure your content hyper-attuned to your strategic goals. The one thing to keep in mind is that the initial steps for creating your content cluster strategy will differ a little bit from the process we outlined above. While documenting business goals and conducting keyword research are still critical steps, an extensive content audit and search volume analysis may not be necessary if you have very few blog posts (or none at all). If you have any additional questions regarding whether a content cluster would be beneficial for your SEO strategy, don't hesitate to reach out to our expert content strategy team. Ready to get started with content clusters? Interested in implementing a content cluster model for your SEO strategy? The content strategy team at Southern Web are ready to help. Contact us today to learn more about our Atlanta SEO services.