Is Your Brand Being Ignored By Google? Introduce Topic Clusters—and Watch Your Site Rise

Google's updated algorithms favor topic-based content over long-tail keywords. Here's how topic clusters can give your site an edge in this new environment.

boost your search ranking with topic clusters
There's a new content strategy in town for establishing your brand's authority online—topic clusters.

Say Google runs a code update. If you’re like, well, any internet user, this has virtually zero impact on your life—you sleep (or search or read or “Google”) straight through it.

But rest assured, change is afoot. Turns out, Google updates its core search algorithms 500-600 times a year—that’s nearly twice daily. Most of the time, these updates go blissfully unnoticed by searchers (aka everyone). After all, 64% of searchers input just four keywords into the search bar, and bam! Up come pages of results. How are we to be any wiser?

But for brands and businesses that rely on organic search to gain business, search ranking is everything. Every Google algorithm update carries the potential for a heavy hit on—or a boost to—your bottom line.

That’s why it’s important for marketers to know that with the 2013 Hummingbird algorithm update (yes, an eon ago in internet time), Google gradually began its journey to favor topic-based content over so-called long-tail keywords. As a result, SEOs—and the brands they service—have found themselves in a tumultuous “adapt or die” environment.

Where brand survival hinges on getting found, many brands are approaching the race in a new way. Repeat after me: Topic. Clusters.

What on earth is a topic cluster?

92% of people trust a brand that’s a topic expert over a brand that’s not.

In short, topic clusters—the current successors to long-tail keywords—reward websites with the status of ‘authority’ on brand-relevant topics, based on the depth and breadth of the information they provide on said topic.

To effectively use topic clusters, the bad news is you might need to reconfigure your website. The good news is that it’s not hard. Topic clusters hinge on three components: the “pillar”, the cluster content, and the hyperlinks.

The “Pillar”

The “pillar” is the main hub for each cluster. It can be as simple as a 3,000 to 5,000 word article on your niche content, or an informative homepage on your website. The article is specific to your business interests, but it’s still broad enough to allow for your cluster content to answer any questions that your readers might have. A pillar might be “birds of North America,” and the clusters “songbirds,” “landbirds,” “ducks,” and “birds of prey.” Get it?

“Cluster” Content

If the pillar is the scaffold, cluster content are the ledges. Without the pillar, clusters won’t carry their (SEO) weight. These content pages relate to the overarching topic spelled out in the initial pillar article—but they focus on a narrower sub-topic, hinging on a specific keyword. These keywords help rank the page. Finally, a link bridges readers back to the pillar page.


In short, hyperlinks are the glue that bind pillars with clusters, and clusters to one another. The act of linking clusters to the pillar tells Google that the pillar page is the main authority.

Think of a wheel. The center of the wheel is the pillar article, the spokes are the hyperlinks, and the outer rim are all of your cluster content articles, each linked to one another, and ultimately linked to the pillar.

Putting it all into practice

Simply isolate your topic and make that the pillar article of your website. After you do that, determine your keywords and content cluster pages. 5 to 10 is a good start, and if you need help thinking of good topics, go ahead and use AnswerThePublic.

Once you have your topics, do an audit of your current website. If something doesn’t pass muster, cut it! That way, you have a website that focuses on the specific content you want yourself to be known for, and helps you come up with new ideas.

Finally, wrap it all together! Link your content pages to each other, and to your pillar page. If you’re lacking the proper links, you’re missing a valuable bridge for your readers—and a signal to Google that you’re in on the scheme.

Using this model allows for a facilitation of knowledge sharing. When you switch your website over to a broader topic-based algorithm, you give your audience the ability to quickly search for specific answers to topics, without digging through poorly maintained architecture. This generates your desired clicks, which boosts your website in the search engine.

Like these ideas, the answer to all your problems is super simple. Why don’t you reach out to the ‘Smiths. We’ll help get your wheel moving in the right direction.

(Thanks to Lindsay Hysler for pitching and writing the first draft!)

Jean Tang

Jean Tang

A champion of high-end content, Jean is a living tribute to copywriting for humans. In 2012, at a TEDx talk, she declared her now widely viewed “War Against Bland.” The visionary founder of MarketSmiths, Jean leads her growing team to captivate, inspire, and motivate readers. She has helped thousands of global clients generate revenue from words (up to 12,000% ROI), and transformed the writing of hundreds of seminar attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival (2014 and 2015), SXSW V2V (2014), the Small Business Summit (2014, NYC), and other venues.

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