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How to Create and Plan Topic Clusters

Posted by John Aikin
on June 5, 2022

One question we hear a lot is about SEO and content creation: "How much content do I need to put out? I need a lot more organic leads and traffic, so how much content will bring that in?"

It's a bit of a nightmare to field that question over and over again because everyone believes you have to produce a lot of content about a variety of different topics, themes, and keywords.

That used to be true ten years ago: You had to write blog articles that contained different variations on the same keyword or phrase. If you had a coffee shop, you would write separate articles about "Best lattes in Traverse City," "Traverse City's best lattes," and "best lattes found in Traverse City."

You don't have to do that anymore.

Instead, you only have to think about topic clusters. By grouping your content into smart clusters, you're able to do so much with so little.


Part of that is because Google doesn't think in keyword phrases anymore. You can write about lattes and Traverse City, and as long as those keywords appear in the article together, you'll be fine. That's because you're writing topic clusters about coffee shops, lattes, and Traverse City (where we live).

Topic clusters are going to be the organic traffic creators for your website. How are you going to generate new visits over time organically? What we want to do is own the search results page.

Let's look at our own company. If someone is looking up SaaS marketing agencies, we want them to find blog articles we have written about SaaS marketing. We want them to find our home page and a series of videos we produced. They can also find a Wikipedia article on SaaS marketing and a HubSpot article, but we really want visitors to find our blog posts.

Let's look at another example, like athletic shoes. When you type "Nike shoes" into Google, you get a whole list of related keywords that people have already searched for. You get additional searches for men, women, sales, girls' basketball, soccer cleats, and so on. What Google wants to do is find the best option for you and give you the best results so ultimately, you'll continue to use Google for other searches.

That means Google will show content that is similar in nature to what they're looking for. That allows the person to search more deeply when they're ready. If someone searches for "Nike shoes," they're presented with an overwhelming number of results — when I searched, I got 557 million results. That means people will dig more deeply and use more specific keywords to narrow down the results and find exactly what they want.

If someone is searching for "marketing," again they're going to be overwhelmed with results: 8.3 billion in this case. So they narrow the search to "SaaS marketing" (27 million), and then to "SaaS marketing agencies," which shows 7.3 million results and starts showing some localized results on a Google map.

Now we're getting somewhere!

What we want to do on our end is organize content in a way that helps people move in a natural buying cycle — awareness, consideration, and decision — without being over-the-top salesy. That means grouping our content together in pillars or topic clusters. Think of a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles; that part in the middle? That's our core topic.

Your core topic will be around a problem that your clients have or a need they have to fulfill. Your product or service is going to solve that problem or fill that need, and you're going to market around that need/problem. 

Next, you're going to find subtopics that are relevant, but maybe not as heavily searched as the core topic. It's a little more secondary than the core topic. For example, inbound marketing for SaaS is a core topic for our company. So we have clusters about inbound marketing services and inbound marketing agencies, all centered around SaaS.

Secondary topic clusters might include digital marketing, content marketing, and so on. We'll write about blogging, podcasts, and videos — and we'll create blog articles, podcasts, and videos.

Or let's switch back to our Nike shoes example. Our core topic is around running shoes. We're not worried about other sports, just running. So we'll come up with subtopics like running a marathon, trail running, running track, men's running shoes, women's running shoes, and so on.

They don't have to be exactly about running shoes, or only running shoes, but they have to be relevant, pertinent to the topic, and then tie back to the original core topic. We could even write about diet, hydration, and training methods for runners.

We can write blog articles or create podcasts and videos about the best women's running shoes of 2023, runners who try to run a marathon in every state, or three gear secrets to improve your trail running. We want to use these subtopics to generate content around our running shoes topic cluster.

Then we'll repeat the process for other topic clusters. For Nike, they might do topic clusters around different sports, and subtopics about team uniforms, sports training, workout and practice methods, accessories, etc.

From there, they can create an editorial calendar or publishing calendar to figure out how much content to create, what it's about, and when they'll publish. At Web Canopy Studios, we use the SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool to do a lot of heavy lifting for us, which shows the search volume for a keyword and the difficulty of ranking for that keyword. It can also tell us the similar keywords people are searching for and how well they're performing. Then, we just make a list of the topics and subtopics to explore and make a master spreadsheet of all that information.

With this information in hand, we can begin planning your editorial calendar and come up with our list of blog articles, videos, and podcast episodes to cover.

What Should a Topic Cluster Strategy Look Like?

To start with, write the majority of your blog articles around your top-of-funnel (TOF) content because that's how people are going to find you. Spend a lot of time and energy in writing this content — easily 60% of your content should be TOF. This is introductory content that gets people interested in your topic cluster: best women's running shoes for 2023, gear secrets for trail running, what SaaS marketing is, etc.

The next 30% should be middle-of-funnel (MOF). This is where people start getting interested in your product or service. This is where you write case studies, share past client testimonials, and so on. Share strategies, tactics, and tips for a more advanced or knowledgeable user.

The final 10% of your content should be bottom-of-funnel (BOF), it's only a small percentage of your total content because only a small percentage of the people who entered the funnel made it this far. This is where you start teaching people about how to use your product or solution for their problem: Here's why we're better than another SaaS marketing agency. Here's how we can save you money on your SaaS marketing. Here's why outsourcing to Web Canopy Studio is cheaper and better than doing this in-house. 

To recap:

  • TOF: Introduction to the topic in general, quizzes, checklists; 101-level stuff.
  • MOF: Tactics, strategies, and tips. Case studies and testimonials.
  • BOF: Teaches about working with you and your product/service. Individual engagement: actual phone calls and Zoom calls, product demonstrations.

Topic Clusters Need Pillar Pages

Each topic cluster should also have a pillar page. This is a very long, exhaustive page that really covers the entire topic. It's not an 800-word article, this is a 3,000, 5,000, or even 10,000-word page. (That's the length of some novellas, so that should give you an idea of how involved this is.)

Pillar pages are extensive, very resource-heavy, and should answer nearly every question a person should have a topic. It should be the go-to guide about what it is you offer. You'll want to describe the What of your cluster topic, but more importantly, the Why of the topic. You can also talk about the How, such as how to get involved, how to become active, and how to do the thing. 

A good way to come up with pillar topics, or chapters on the pillar pages, is to look at the subtopics that you've chosen and that get a high search volume already. Then, not only do the subtopics act as a chapter for your pillar page, you have more information to write about in your blog articles.

As you write more blog articles in the future, they should all link back to that pillar page.

Final Thoughts

To recap, you need to get the right kind of traffic to your website. You don't want to be creating stuff all the time, just willy-nilly or without a direction. You need to do things in a smart way. We no longer write articles about individual topics or keyword phrases. We need to create core topics about what it is we do. You'll have a few of those.

From there, you'll create sub-topics, things that comprise the core topic, such as "trail running" and "marathon running on the core topic of "running shoes."

You want to create most of your content (60%) toward the top of the funnel as a way to get people interested in your site, some of your content (30%) toward the middle of the funnel to start teaching them about how your product or service works, and the last bit (10%) at the bottom of the funnel to teach them how they will use your product/service.

Finally, develop pillar pages about your core topics, writing 3,000 – 10,000 word pages that exhaustively examine each of them. Use your sub-topics as the chapters on those pages.

Web Canopy Studio can help you do all of that and more with your website. If you haven't already, please go and take the website conversion assessment. It's a 30-question quiz that will help you evaluate your website and how it's performing. You'll be given a score on each section and an idea of which items you should address, and how to fix things in the short and long term.

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