SEO is evolving – and the digital landscape is following suit. Gone are the days of people typing fragmented queries into search engines to find answers. Nowadays, users type vague, complex questions and expect search engines to pick up on them and provide fast, accurate results.

Marketers are trying to keep up with this shift by producing more content in hopes of being favored by search algorithms; the reward being a spot on the first page of results. This makes sense considering 90% of people don’t browse past the first page of Google results – making it integral to achieve first-page status.

But producing more content doesn’t guarantee a higher search ranking. If content is already underperforming in search, creating more of it won’t boost the rest – it will just lead to the same underwhelming results.

In 2017, HubSpot announced that they had found the key to SEO. They claimed that rankings had just as much to do with content structure as the content itself. Their research showed that by organizing website content into grouped clusters, they could boost overall SEO. They called it the “Topic Cluster Model.”

Illustration of Topic Cluster Model

 

What Is a Topic Cluster Model?

The Topic Cluster Model focuses on organizing website content by topics instead of keywords. It uses content hubs, called “pillar pages” to tie related content together, forming an SEO-friendly content web.

The pillar page acts as the main content hub for an overarching topic. It’s a lengthy web page that provides a user with everything they would want to know about the topic at hand. These pillar pages link out to other related content, called topic clusters.

Topic clusters can include blog posts, web pages, landing pages or any other digital collateral. These pieces of content link back to the pillar page and to each other, creating a linking action. The intertwining of content signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, which boosts search rankings.

While pillar pages are helpful, they shouldn’t be created on any old topic. Your pillar topics must be highly relevant to your products or services and broad enough to act as un umbrella page for 20-30 subtopics. A good pillar topic for a digital marketing agency would be “Content Marketing,” since it’s highly relevant and sufficiently broad. A poor pillar topic, on the other hand, would be “Influencer Marketing for Lawyers.” This is far too narrow to be an effective pillar page and likely doesn’t have the search volume to matter in the long run. Instead, this would be a good subtopic for a broader pillar page.

Benefits and Drawbacks

There are pros and cons to every marketing tactic and the Topic Cluster Model is no exception. Here’s what you should know before jumping in:

The Benefits

  • Boosts SEO

This model allows search engines to easily crawl your content and identify the relationships between your posts, pages and collateral. This, in turn, boosts your search ranking.

  • Establishes Authority

This model proves to both search engines and users that your website is an authority on your pillar topics, boosting credibility and rankings.

  • Repurposing Opportunities

This model also allows your company to repurpose pillar content into sales resources, blog posts, infographics, social posts, and other digital mediums.

  • Meets Business Objectives

Your website has the potential to boost KPI’s and meet business objectives with The Topic Cluster Model. In fact, HubSpot experienced a 13% increase in organic sessions and a domain authority boost from 40 to 60 by adopting this model.

Screenshot of Typeform's pillar page about social media marketing

 

The Drawbacks

  • Internal Competition

Pillar pages can gain so much clout that they outperform product pages, meaning you’d be competing against yourself. If pillar pages start showing up higher than your product pages, your target audiences might not make it to the key pages where they’d make a purchase decision.

  • Time and Resources

The Topic Cluster Model requires more time and resources than traditional content structures. For instance, pillar pages are often 20,000+ words long, and require consistent updates. The creation and management of this model can quickly become a full-time job.

Screenshot of topic cluster model menu

 

  • Long-Term Strategy

As with most SEO strategies, it can take 6-12 months before you start seeing results and reaping benefits.

So, Is It Right for You?

The Topic Cluster Model is the key to success for many companies, while it may not be practical for others. Here are some instances to consider:

YES, it’s right for you if…

Your company has a large content team with the bandwidth to take on a content restructure.

Your company has found success with organic traffic and is looking to boost it with better SEO.

Your content team has immediate bandwidth but is forecasted to be booked up in a few months. (They can repurpose content from Pillar Pages later.)

NO, it might not be right for you if…

You don’t have the time to invest in the upkeep and maintenance of your pillar pages.

You’re looking for immediate results.

Lucky for you, there is no right or wrong decision. However, it’s important to weigh every aspect of The Topic Cluster Model to understand whether or not it’s the right fit for your company. Make a pros and cons list and take time to visualize how this model would work for your company – now and in the future.