Podcast: Boosting organic traffic with topic clusters

By Alexander Evjenth

Podcast: Boosting organic traffic with topic clusters

Increasing the share of website traffic from organic search is essential if you want to reach new prospective customers and grow your business. However, using Google's algorithms to your advantage is tricky, and you're competing for those top-ranked positions with hundreds of other companies around the world. But with the topic cluster content strategy, you'll have a better chance of winning the top spot.

For a long time, we've said that high-quality content is the key to be getting found online. The more content you have available, the more opportunities your target groups have to find you when they search for solutions and answers online.

However, pumping out huge numbers of articles and hoping for the best isn't the right approach. By structuring, organising, and interlinking your content, you can provide both wide-ranging and detailed knowledge on your most important topics in a way that both readers and search engines appreciate.

This is known as topic cluster strategy, and we've been experimenting with it at Zooma for almost a year. We focus on a range of topics related to what we work with - for example, social media, customer relationship management, and content creation. For each of these core topics, we have an in-depth 'pillar page'. Pillar pages are broken up into chapters, and they focus on providing general, high-level knowledge on the main aspects of each topic.

Surrounding the pillar pages, we have 'cluster content' - typically articles that detail relevant issues related to each topic. For example, in the 'social media' cluster, we have articles focusing on the LinkedIn algorithm, the best ways to drive traffic from Instagram, and how to create a social media plan.

Both the pillar page and the cluster articles share the same URL structure, and they're all internally linked to each other - this contributes to a collective effect on search, where each element in the cluster gives a ranking boost to all the others. Additionally, this structured approach ensures we have a good depth of information about each of our core focus areas and makes it easier for readers to navigate and find relevant information.

That's the standard description, but things will become clearer in this episode - Anders and Stellan give a great explanation of what the topic cluster strategy is, why it works to boost your organic performance, and what kind of results we've seen after working with it for a while.

Enjoy! You can watch the video version below, or listen and subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice with the links further down.

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AE: [00:00:00] So hello, Anders and Stellan!

SB: [00:00:02] Hello, Alex.

AB: [00:00:03] Hello, Alexander.

AE: [00:00:05] How are you, Stellan?

SB: [00:00:07] Very well, thank you, Alex. And you look refreshed!

AE: [00:00:11] Thank you. Thank you very much. And Anders, you look very proper with your shirt.

AB: [00:00:16] Yes, I'm actually exercising because in a while we will record our financial report. So I don't have the tie on yet. But as you can see, I would say I look very proper today. And Alexander, I'm thinking of one thing. Didn't Stellen forget to say something when you asked how it was?

SB: [00:00:41] So you think you had the weather report?

AB: [00:00:46] I'm just thinking about how you are. And then usually that is included.

SB: [00:00:50] Yes. No, I'm very well. I have. I have sunshine bleeding down on my solar roof. It's just fantastic.

AB: [00:01:02] Is that because you know Putin and he's been taken away the clouds, or?

SB: [00:01:09] I think it's just general coastal weather. So it's a bit like in Halmstad, though, you know, without the beach.

AB: [00:01:15] Yeah, without the beach, there is only one beach in the world, and that's Frösakull, Halmstad.

AE: [00:01:21] So in today's episode, we're going to talk about topic clusters, and I want to start with asking you Stellan, when did you first hear about topic clusters?

SB: [00:01:32] Time flies, but I guess 2017, 2018. And yeah, sort of circulating as Google, having changed how they weight content by looking at not just the links in and out and various other aspects of the algorithm the way it's been before, but actually looking at, you know, is it part of a broader topic that is talking about similar similar subjects? And that sort of caught my eye. And then a while later, it was sort of an established methodology called topic clusters.

AB: [00:02:24] Yeah. Imagine now Stellan, what problem do you have given Alexander, if the next question was "what is a topic cluster?" Because you did answer that as well.

SB: [00:02:36] Yeah, partly at least. I guess that could be an episode by itself. Yeah, but essentially a topic cluster consists of a core topic, which is the overarching theme. And then you have subtopics around that theme. And so what you want to do is you want to create relevance for the reader to go in-depth into various aspects of the theme. But the good thing is that search engines will also recognise and understand your expertise within the theme or within the field if you approach it like this.

AE: [00:03:18] And Anders, what was your first thoughts when you heard about this methodology?

AB: [00:03:26] The first time that Stellan described it, I said, "Who the hell is interested in Wikipedia content?" Meaning online you find a lot of rubbish content that people publish with the purpose of getting traffic. That was for a very long time my main fear with topic clusters. And I think also Stellan, you need to describe this sort of three main components with the pillar pages and so on to really, really understand it, even though it's just sort of our voices that you can hear now.

SB: [00:04:04] Yeah, yeah, sure. So at the core of this theme is what's called the core topic. And what you want to do is you want to create what's called the pillar page for this core topic. And there you want to go as broad as possible. So you want to cover all the different aspects of this topic, basically, but you don't go in-depth. So this is for someone who's looking for, you know, an entry point, someone who is perhaps not sure that they should look at a certain aspect of a topic. And there you provide them sort of the smorgasbord of the topic. And then what you do is you go in-depth into the different sub-topics, and that you do normally in a blog post, but you can also do it on a regular website page or in a knowledge base article, for example, but typically you go with a blog post.

AE: [00:05:03] And so why is it important with topic clusters? You mentioned that Google changed something in 2017?

SB: [00:05:11] Yeah. So it is important because Google wants to function like humans function, ultimately. And when we get interested in something, we tend to want to go deeper into that subject and understand it fully. And that is, you know, both in private and in professional life. And so if we create content that way, then then we're doing something that both our target audiences want and also something that search engines are aiming to understand. And that gets you a benefit basically in organic search if you do it well.

AE: [00:05:53] At Zooma we have created topic clusters for a while now. Anders, what's your experience so far with creating topic clusters?

AB: [00:06:04] For one second, I'm going to take an internal perspective in my answer, and Stellan will take an external perspective on it. I think it's very valuable for companies to need to think through what are the sort of basics, and what are the key things that that we can support and help customers and potential customers to gain an understanding of, to get curious, to get advice, to get support. And so and when a company like Zooma, and I would guess most companies in the world, needs to think that through mapped to sort of where is the buyer right now, who is the potential buyer, what are their drivers, what's the difference between if you take it from a financial perspective or if you take it from a sort of commercial perspective, I think it's very, very valuable. And I think one of the main learnings so far is if you are forbidden to describe things in text, how do you explain them? If we would redo the last couple of years with both thinking around this and doing things around this - use voice and use visuals. Don't always go to the video part or the text part. But I would say an advice based on spending a lot on creating pillar pages is to start with the visual part, and then do the textual part, although so far it's the text that drives the visits. Do you agree, Stellan, with that? I would say for our customers and our friends, it's a very important advice. But begin like it was a couple of years ago, do you focus on the article or the content offer? If you focus on the content offer, make sure that you become visual if you're text-driven in the article, so to speak.

SB: [00:08:13] I think we're gradually moving towards much more of a voice-based environment in general, also when it comes to search. We ask our smart assistants on our phones and in our homes and so on. So this is the landscape and it is going to keep changing, and also the rise of pods like the one we're recording now, you're going to have like a transcript so you can see the page of the transcript, and you could have the pillar page recorded and you could have people talking about it. So what would bring you in could be what's written, but then what you actually consume could be the visual or the video or the voice. So I think that's clearly a direction we're heading in.

AE: [00:08:57] So Stellan, Do you think that topic clusters are here to stay, the methodology of actually working according to a core topic?

SB: [00:09:10] Yeah, I think in general, nothing when it comes to online and digital is here to stay. It's going to constantly change, and Gary Vaynerchuk, a fairly famous guy, I think, said very well at one point when he said that 'marketers ruin everything'. And so we're going to ruin podcasts. We're going to ruin topic clusters. We're going to ruin everything. But it's going to be replaced with something better, something different that people want at that time. So the only thing you can be sure of is that for the foreseeable future, this is what's going to work well, what's going to drive results. And then in a while, it will be replaced by something improved.

AB: [00:09:54] I would say another thing, that I believe that the first time that Stellan started talking about topic clusters, the sources that Stellan went to sort of get his first knowledge, it was described sort of as the next step of SEO. I believe that that's a huge mistake that you can do with content generally and with topic clusters specifically. It's very easy to get traffic from sources that you are not interested in if they convert. So, so relevance is still key when you create, you put time and investment on creating a new type of content or format, do it to become more relevant. As the idea was when you provide knowledge and when you provide articles and provide content offers, it's very fair, if someone converts and gets back to you and converts again or buys from you or talks to you or books you or whatever it is, if you're relevant, yes, if you're not relevant, you're throwing out the money out of the window. And I believe that what we touched upon right now, it's very seldom that sales and the customers understand marketing content generally. The relevance of the content produced from marketing departments, if they do topic clusters right, both the customers and sales will understand why topic clusters are relevant because it will affect conversion.

SB: [00:11:36] Yeah, there's the, I think, most important component of all because a million things can be said about search and search engine optimisation. But the one thing that people can agree upon is that the number one thing is to focus on your ideal customers. Who is it that we want to reach and what do they need? And then sort of the rest will follow from that. But if you focus on it as a tactic, you're going to end up doing the wrong thing

AE: [00:12:02] And Stellan, you have analyzed our work so far with clusters. What are the figures so far? Do you see that it actually works with topic clusters?

SB: [00:12:13] So we're roughly six months or so into some of this from Zooma's perspective, and we're starting to rank for topics that we did not rank for before. And so our part of our experimentation is to sort of see how clearly can we see the patterns. And if we try to compete in areas where there is less competition versus where there is more competition and so on, what can we learn from it? And ultimately, of course, we want to leverage this to teach more people how they can think about topic clusters. So the results so far are super encouraging. And I know also Doug has now started to follow up on a monthly basis for 2021, so we can actually follow our progress and see how we gain ranking and how we gain traffic, and also how we gain conversions in the different topics.

AE: [00:13:13] So Anders, if you would share one tip for our listeners who don't do topic clusters yet but want to start, what would be your tip?

AB: [00:13:25] I have two today. The first one - stop questioning it. We already know that it works. Start doing it. Prioritize to do it. That's my sort of always advice. And if you feel unsure, just have a chat with any of us and get going. But the other part, maybe it doesn't sort of relate to a tip regarding this directly, but that is, you all know the question that all salespeople hate the most, right? That is an old mannish colleague who comes up, taps you on the shoulder, and asks you, "have you sold anything today?" And you do know what marketing hates most? That is an old mannish colleague coming, tapping them on the shoulder and saying, "Have you converted anyone today?" You can think about why the marketers and the salespeople hate those two questions. One of the roles is certain about that is their task. One of the other roles doesn't think or believe that it is their task, and that needs to change in cooperation between them and in cooperation with two other parts, potential and existing customers.

SB: [00:14:39] I want to touch upon what Anders was saying, saying they think the cost of doing nothing is often greater than the cost of doing something. So as Anders was saying, it's like, OK, if you don't believe in it, well, then test it and see if it works. It's a much lower cost than to not do it, be wrong about it, and have someone else steal your traffic and your leads,

AE: [00:15:03] Then I think which goes for most things when you ask us about tips Alexander, maybe it was when we were about to start with this pod. Then you said, "Yeah, but we're not going to launch anything until I have 20 episodes," or whatever it was you said, which I thought, "Oh, come on." But it's a very good advice. But in this case with topic clusters, make three and launch them. One by one. And meanwhile, you do one cluster per week or one cluster per month, and then you launch them and then you add the articles and you add the content offers and everything else related. Stop planning, start delivering

AE: [00:15:44] With those words. I want to thank you both for participating in this episode.

SB: [00:15:50] Thank you, Alex.

AB: [00:15:51] Thank you, Alexander.

Alexander Evjenth
Alexander is a content creator who has a great interest in learning new things. What he enjoys even more is creating knowledge content.
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