SEO in content marketing: Of pillars and clusters

Keywords have served their time as the sole guideline. It is now about being the authority on a topic.

SEO in content marketing: Of pillars and clusters

Search engine optimization today begins with topic development. When applied correctly, SEO can even help to set up a content plan. Because Google values a meaningful site structure just as much as its readers do. In addition, both people and search engines like to find credible, helpful and exhaustive content on a question.

On the other hand, anyone who proceeds with their content unplanned will soon find themselves in a muddle. A content jungle emerges that hardly anyone can keep track of anymore. At worst, articles with the same keyword compete for the attention of users and search engines.

Topic blocks instead of keywords

SEO experts therefore recommend thinking in terms of topic blocks instead of individual keywords and keyword combinations. In this model you develop central content that gives a comprehensive overview of an important topic. This is often referred to as a pillar. Terms such as “skyscraper content” also appear here. The thought behind it is always the same: create a trustworthy and comprehensive point of contact for readers and search engines.

Around this central pillar you group further content. This “cluster” deepens the topics and questions that are addressed in the main article. The important thing is to ensure a clear link between the central article and the cluster articles. This signals to both people and machines how important the pillar content is.

An experiment by Anum Hussain and Cambria Davies at HubSpot showed that this method really does help with the Google rankings. HubSpot ultimately used the findings to optimize its own website and, above all the corporate blogs. A hodgepodge of content thus became pillars and clusters that are now specifically linked to one another. In its own words, this also helped the company to plan more carefully and keep track of its own content activities.

Also helpful for voice SEO

This method is also important for the growing field of voice SEO. Users are increasingly asking complete questions instead of entering individual keywords. This not only applies to communication with an assistant like Alexa or Siri, but also for the classic web search.

Search engines like Google are reacting to this by increasingly incorporating the overall context of a topic. This goes far beyond simple synonyms, which Google etc. have known for a long time. If you are looking for an actor, for example, you often get the best-known films and TV shows the person has appeared in, too. The “Knowledge Graph” helps here, as this can establish such links. At the same time, systems like Google’s “RankBrain” learn more about the nuances of voice and can assess the intention behind a search query increasingly effectively.

All of these are arguments in favor of detailed content on a question: Google understands better today than it did a few years ago whether an article handles a topic comprehensively or not. Targeted internal linking and a clear content structure help to bring the content forward.

Tips for the first steps

How should you proceed? The first step is to define the topic areas it should be about. The focus here is on how relevant they are for the intended target group and also what search volume is expected.

If you already have a lot of content on the site, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel in the next step. Instead, you should capture the content in an audit. This should show, for example, when the content was last updated, who is responsible for it, how extensive it is, how often it is called up, etc. With a little luck you will find some pearls here that you can improve, expand and emphasize methodically. If not, a plan is created for the missing pillar and cluster content. As a rule of thumb, HubSpot states that there should be about eight matching, supplementary items of cluster content for each item of pillar content. Of course, this can be increased over time.

Finally, it is important not to regard the content as finished afterwards. A fixed routine is needed to check, improve and update content.

The bottom line

According to its own statements, HubSpot has been able to achieve considerable success with this approach. With such a highly competitive term as “Facebook marketing”, it used to be beyond search result 50 and thus lost in the Google abyss. After optimization, it is now in fourth place. And since the content is also well received by users, it continues to collect external links.