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A New Way to SEO: Content Clusters

October 18, 2017 Chandler Smith


After perusing the several sessions' notes from this year’s INBOUND 2017 marketing conference, it was tough to pick out just one topic to explore in greater depth. From the sudden craze around account-based marketing (ABM) to the clamour over video content and Facebook advertising, it’s clear to see that the face of inbound marketing has changed drastically within the short span of merely three years.

That said, there is an overarching new trend within inbound marketing that will play a massive role in how inbound agencies produce and deliver content for their clients — a concept better known as content clusters.

While older content marketing strategies loosely followed a cluster format, they were overly focused on content quantity and exact keyword matches. Now those old strategies from 2015 are starting to show their age and agencies, including our own, must adjust accordingly. 

Not Your Father’s (Or Your Older Brother’s) Google

The difference between a Google search in 2007 and a Google search in 2017 is almost indistinguishable. The search engine giant works diligently to update its search algorithms to give users a more intuitive search experience while also thwarting companies attempting to game their system.

Today, a Google search will take into account:

  • Localization
  • Time of day
  • Format of query
  • Device type
  • Other context clues to make sense of the search (eg. “vegetarian Thai food near me.”)

Not long ago, searches had to be far more specific to give users the results they wanted. Information as specific as the city and the street was necessary to spit out anything meaningful. In order to help clients gain more visibility, marketing agencies focused heavily on including exact keyword matches in all of their content, sometimes even resorting to “black hat” (not recommended) search engine optimization (SEO) tactics like keyword stuffing or link building.

Today, Google can use context clues, not just keyword matches, to deduce the topic of a site or individual piece of content. In an attempt to give users content that’s more relevant to their individual search, Google will place far more weight on a site with some established authority on a topic, not simply a slew of URLs with the exact search terms written verbatim. 

The Art of the Cluster; Owning Every Corner of a Topic

Though traditional SEO strategies (i.e. including keywords in URLs, titles and body copy) are by no means passé, they aren’t going to cut it as a standalone practice.

Instead of focusing exclusively on keywords, topics are now the focus. More specifically, topic clusters are the most effective way for a company to establish authority in the subject matter they want to “own” as a business. This starts with creating a piece of content that serves as the “core topic," and then branches out to several related subtopics linking to the page.

As an example, a manufacturing company that wants to own the topic “welding” will do so by creating a core page that covers a list of welding best practices. Subtopics might include different categories of welding, such as MIG or TIG welding and a rundown of various welding equipment. It’s important that all the welding material links back to the core page and it’s easy for a website visitor to navigate from piece to piece if they want to continue to explore the subject of interest.

By housing all of these topics in one area, companies have a better chance of ranking on the first page for topics in Google searches while still delivering quality content. 

Bringing Down the Gates

Inbound marketing in the recent past relied heavily on gated content to generate leads for clients. That is, before anyone could read a piece of valuable content, they had to fill out a form with contact information at the very least. This would open up a window for inbound marketing to nurture leads into customers over time.

While forms and gated content still work to an extent, they’re not as effective as measuring the engagement of people on your site. Gates can turn people away from great content because they don’t have the time or they’re not comfortable giving out their information right away.

Instead, inbound agencies are measuring user engagement to qualify a lead and determine if there is potential to convert that person to a customer.

Most importantly, this enhances the user experience on a site and gives people a better window into a company and what they do. By giving users a breadth of content consolidated by topic and linked intuitively, there is now greater incentive for visitors to engage and reengage with a site.


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