Dos & Don’ts of creating topic clusters and pillar pages for better conversion

Topic clusters and pillar pages may be the content strategy that could turn the game around for you and your website, but getting it right is tricky. The goal of a constant stream of organic traffic is something that all sorts of companies in various fields try to achieve, using all kinds of content marketing strategies. Companies in e-commerce, travel, services, and more always try to appeal to Google’s content preferences to rank high on the search engine rankings. They want to ensure that their content:

  • Follows a specific brief of high standards
  • Is easy to understand and informative
  • Is valuable to the readers, making them want to revisit it and stay longer
  • Positions them as an authority on the subject matter.

All of these things can happen with the use of topic clusters and pillar pages. 

What Is A Topic Cluster?

But what is a topic cluster or a pillar page?

Essentially, topic clusters are the result of an evolution in the way people search. When people search for a topic or answer a problem, they ask it in a more conversational string than just the keywords. If they were looking for a specific store or a restaurant, they wouldn’t just type in the words “supermarket” or “café” into the search engine. Instead, they would specify the search in a way a person might ask a question. They would type in “organic food supermarket near me” or “café with live performances.”

Search algorithms have changed to take this shift into account. Now, not only does the algorithm look at the keywords of a topic—it goes as far as to consider related topics or queries about it. Different types of supermarkets, restaurants, features, and geographical locations will all fall under that topic. And that’s where topic clusters come in.

A topic cluster is a collection of knowledge under a single umbrella. If the website, for example, had a category for IoT, it would have sub-pages and content dedicated to its different aspects. Everything from connectivity to embedded security, in this case, would all fall under the same topic cluster. 

Suppose a user were to search for an IoT management platform. In that case, the search engine would go into the topic cluster of the website and bring back search results specifically for the management topic, along with other related pages.

How to build topic clusters

Step 1: Choose a topic (content marketing)

Step 2: Identify & choose your keywords

Step 3: Choose your topic titles and ensure they match with search intent

Step 4: Identify your Pillar page topic#

So taking a look at our example below, we can see a potential pillar page for “content marketing” with 4 relevant sub-topics forming a cluster which can all be internally linked to from the pillar page.

topic cluster example

What Is A Pillar Page?

On the other hand, a pillar page is the central hub of that knowledge that forms a topic cluster. Take a SaaS website, for example. A pillar page would be software for retail. The surrounding pages that would branch out from this pillar would form the topic clusters with their sub-categories – e-commerce, CRM, and so on. 

Imagine that the pillar is the trunk of a tree—the clusters would be the branches coming from it, creating smaller units of their own. Pillar pages are often much broader than the topic cluster. And this pillar should cover the core topic or concept in your website. This pillar will be the cornerstone of creating better authority for the site.

How to build a pillar page

Your pillar page needs to be decided when you’ve carried out your initial keyword research.

Your pillar page needs to be your overview of the main broad/core topic. Generally, this means a long (3,000+ words) piece of content without going into much detail about its sub topics. This is where you can internally link to all subtopic pages of your cluster.

In our case, this could be “The Complete Guide To Content Marketing”. Touching on the key aspects of strategy, different types etc without going into the level of detail that each individual sub topic blog would.

The advantages and disadvantages of the topic clusters and pillar pages

So, is this the right content strategy for your brand or your company? It could be if done the right way. As with any strategy, it has its upsides and downsides. Understanding what those are could give you a better perspective on whether it would be useful for your site.

The Pros

  • Better, improved SEO

The improvement in SEO and rankings is the primary motivator for many companies to leap towards topic clusters and pillars. The strong interlinking, authority building, and content relevance all add to a far better search engine ranking than before.

  • Better content

Content also improves throughout the whole site. It’s interesting, informative content that is lined with other similar types of knowledge. Better still, because it’s linked to one another, users could go on a content binge, reading through clusters and staying on the site longer.

  • Boosts content creation

The clusters and the pillar act as their roadmap—it allows your content team to come up with topics and information faster than if they were just trying to develop something new. By diving as comprehensively as possible within a topic cluster, it allows them to focus and keep creating since they know what should come next.

The Cons

  • They take time to construct.

As you might imagine, trying to build a truly comprehensive database of information and knowledge about a single topic (just about any topic) could take a great deal of time to put together. A pillar page will need a lot of content to put together.

  • They use plenty of resources.

All that information on one site will take up a lot of space. It will need page after page of archives and interlinked content. With each page in the cluster spreading out into others, they will add up fast in site size.

  • There’s no guarantee for you.

Just as with any strategy, there’s no definitive guarantee that it will work for your business. So, you might go through all the effort and find that topic clusters and pillar pages don’t work for your business model.

Making the matter work: How topic clusters and pillar pages can work for you

The benefits of topic clusters and pillar pages are substantial, however, and there’s a reason that so many companies are making the shift towards it.

It organises your site.

Instead of being a clutter of pages on various topics and content, likely categorized only by tags, the site becomes more organized with this strategy. Information is sorted according to related clusters, and most of all, it’s a lot easier to navigate through them.

The site slowly and steadily becomes an authority.

Because your site is now filling up with informative, knowledgeable, and comprehensive content about the topic, it will build up a reputation and build its authority in the Google algorithm. As a result, it will rank higher and appear more prominently.

Link building increases.

Authoritative backlinking is another way to Google’s heart—and topic clusters create those by the handful. Every article about one topic will link back to another informative page and so on. Once again, it’s a significant boost to rankings.

It offers a better user experience.

Users love finding precisely what they are looking for. And with the extensive amount of information on the topic on your site, they’re likely to find it there, along with similar, related topics that they might want to read through as well. It translates to a better user experience. That means more traffic and more returning visitors to the site.

Google understands your site better.

Using topic clusters and pillar pages helps Google understand your website since it’s now more organized. Apart from recognizing your site as an authority with high-value content, the site structure is also cleaner and more understandable. As a result, Google will be able to crawl and index the pages a lot faster. That, along with the internal linking, can do wonders for organic traffic.

The power of the pillar and the cluster

Ultimately, the strategy is a gamble on high-value content. True, using topic clusters and pillar pages as a strategy won’t be the easiest method to get to your goals. It will take a lot of time, a lot of content, and resources to restructure and reorganize the site, bringing it to optimum performance. But with the big gamble comes a big payoff. The benefits include a substantial increase in organic traffic and better search engine rankings. There’s also the organization, authority, and better user experience through a complete upgrade throughout the site.

They say that nothing worth having is ever easy to get. But if you plan your pillar page content strategy just right and see it through, you might be surprised at how easily the traffic and the clicks come in for you.

This guest post was written by Manuel Fornillos

Has your site considered switching to topic clusters for your content? Is it a viable strategy for your enterprise? Let us know in the comments below.