The Shift from Keywords to Key Topics
Google Search algorithms are constantly changing to match the needs and behaviors of consumers. Throughout the years, search terms have evolved from disconnected, unnatural terms, such as “restaurants Denver,” to long fully-formed sentences or questions like, “Where should I eat in Denver tonight?” Consumers expect search engines to understand their intentions, rather than just recognize keywords.
Because of the shift in behavior, search engines have learned to determine the meaning of the posed questions and offer results that more closely match a searcher’s intent, rather than providing results that mirror the language used in the query.
Therefore, web crawlers may no longer be looking for specific keywords as much as they are looking for topics as a whole. Sites that demonstrate authority on a broad topic are more likely to provide an answer to a query or sites that are stuffing their pages with keywords. As a result, marketers need to rethink how they are structuring their website architecture in order to establish topical authority, instead of isolating web pages based on specific keywords.
While having a keyword strategy is still important for each separate web page, it’s equally important to organize your content to communicate your expertise on the themes and topics you’re hoping to rank for.
The below graphic illustrates how many websites are currently structured. Each shape represents a different piece of content, with the same shapes representing the same topics. As you can see, there is no rhyme or reason to how the content has been organized. It has simply been uploaded and forgotten, which can create a chaotic user experience that ends in a quick exit.
Continue reading to see how designing your website with organization in mind can help you develop topical authority.
How to Build Topical Authority
Becoming an authority on topics is not a difficult process, just one that takes time and strategy to ensure your site is well-organized and thorough. We recommend using a cluster content strategy to restructure your site and develop your topical authority.
A cluster content strategy uses topic clusters as a way to develop your website architecture by establishing your credibility around main themes or topics and then building out subtopics within each of your main groups. See the below graphic from HubSpot, which displays how to develop your overall website structure. The larger circles represent your pillar content - the main themes you want to become an authority on, and the smaller circles represent your supplemental content that provides more granular information about your pillar content.
The easy-to-navigate pathways within each topic cluster improve the structure of your website and enables readers and web crawlers to easily maneuver through your pages to find what they need, when they need it.
Steps to Develop Your Topic Clusters
Defining your Pillar Content
When beginning your website overhaul, it’s best to perform a content audit. Review everything you have in your database and keep an eye out for overarching themes and various angles on the same topic. These themes will become your pillar content.
If you’re just getting started and you don’t have a lot of content in your bank, simply decide which topics you want to become an authority on. These topics should be broad, similar to short-tail keywords, so you have plenty of opportunities to build out granular content within each cluster.
Populating the Topic Cluster
Once you have defined your pillar content, it is now time to determine the subtopics within each cluster. Brainstorm ideas based on long-tail keywords associated with your main topics. These subtopics should focus on one specific area of the main topic. For example, if a car dealership wanted to implement a cluster content strategy, it may choose to use “Buying a Car” as one of its main themes. The dealership could then populate its content cluster by adding in articles about the specifics of buying a car.
Subtopics for the cluster could include:
- How to Get the Best Deal on a New Car
- Buying New vs. Buying Used
- How to Finance a New Car
Once the dealership has established its authority on the pillar topic of buying a new car, it can then begin building out content around its subtopics. The Buying New vs. Buying Used topics may open up a door to a whole list of content focused on used cars, such as:
- Your Car’s Dirty Secrets: The Value of History and Damage Reports
- What to Know about Extended Warranties
- Internet Tools for Buying Used Cars
You can continue to build out each subtopic, so that eventually all of your original subtopics become pillar topics as well.
To get the most value out of your new website structure, each subtopic article should link back to its pillar content using the same words in the hyperlinked text each time. This will create well-defined pathways that make it easier for readers and web crawlers to make their way through your site.
After all, the whole point of developing your website architecture is to build authority by helping web crawlers recognize the relationship between all of your content. You are demonstrating to search engines (and readers) that you are the industry expert on your pillar content by providing quality, educational content surrounding the subject.
Soon enough, you will have created an entire connected network within your content library that naturally leads readers to the solutions they seek. You also establish yourself as a credible, trusted resource and will begin making your way up the search results page.
Tips and Tools for Creating Topic Clusters
While restructuring your website architecture may be tedious, there are tools available to guide you along your way to building an interconnected content library.
Content Strategy Template
In the beginning stages of your website restructuring, things could get pretty messy as you sift through what could be years of material to unveil your pillar content.
The best way to combat the chaos is to stay organized by using spreadsheet templates that allow you to categorize content by topic and assign various subtopics within. You can continue to use these templates as you build out your topic clusters, making sure to note what pages you have linked back to your pillar content. See below for HubSpot’s suggested template for tracking topic clusters.
Keep in mind that when you are generating subtopic ideas, an SEO keyword strategy should still play a significant role in the topics and wording you choose to include in your cluster. If you haven’t yet, check out our On-Page SEO Template, which will help you formulate your SEO plan, coordinate pages and keywords, and allow you track changes and results all in one page.
HubSpot Strategy Tool
We have been using a HubSpot tool, which is currently in its beta testing stage, that helps you generate and organize subtopics around your pillar content. It allows you to input your desired main topic and then provides a list of suggested topics to use as cluster content. If you already have a few ideas, you’re also able to add them into the diagram.
Structure Your Site With Purpose
When it comes to structuring your website, the stuff behind the scenes matters just as much as a beautiful design. Take the time to organize your website with user experience in mind. It should be easy to navigate so readers can easily make their way through your content pathways to educate themselves and find answers to their questions.
Not to mention, clear, connected pathways also allow web crawlers to effortlessly explore your site, deeming you a credible expert on your pillar content and pushing you ever closer to Google’s first page.
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