Topic clusters to meet customer needs

Use Topic Clusters to Boost Your SERPs

As search engines become more sophisticated in serving up results — called SERPs (search engine results pages) — they are looking beyond keywords and rewarding websites that use topic clusters. These are pillar topics with a clusters of subtopics relating to the core topics.

In crawling your site Google and other engines will view you as an authority if they detect these clusters. That’s assuming, of course, that the content is original, well written and adds value for your readers.

How Clusters Work

HubSpot gives a simple description and visualization in this video:


Keywords Still Matter, But…

Keywords still matter, but in context. Several years ago I wrote a guest post describing semantic search in which I explained, “In simple terms, semantic search uses machine intelligence to determine the intended meaning of words so searches become more relevant. Google and the other major search engines are aiming to be more precise in delivering content that people really want.

“As search has become essential to our lives, we have become better in defining our search terms. Instead of searching for the generic “French restaurants,” we might type in “Looking for French nouveau cuisine on the west side of Manhattan.”

Blog and website owners must become acutely aware of the importance of phrasing and not just keywords. In developing topic clusters it’s more important to write in the conversational language of your readers than to stuff your content with keywords.

What Do Your Customers Want?

What do your customers want and what are the words and phrases they use in looking for the information they need?  Will they type in “athletic socks” or are they more likely to ask, “where do I find socks that cushion my heel but aren’t too thick for my sneakers?” I’ve worn heavy socks that made my toes pinch when I jammed my feet into my shoes.

Sometimes the words our customers use aren’t the keywords and phrases we include in our content and ads. The biggest companies use research and focus groups to find out what those words are. But even small companies can learn by doing a little digging.

Consider picking up the phone and have a conversation with several trusted customers. Ask them to describe, in their own words, their concerns and problems, and how you can help solve them.

Evaluate your website’s analytics to discover the content that draws the most visitors and then build topic clusters around the most popular posts. We’re in a new world now where keywords are no longer king but pay service to topics and subtopics that Google rewards by increasing traffic to your site.

Leave a Reply


  1. We need to know exactly what our customers want otherwise they will look for a product/service elsewhere. It is our job to identify how we can best meet their need. The more specific keywords we use the easier potential customers have of finding us.

    • Phoenicia — It’s true that keywords are important but Google is searching for more than than keywords. Google is looking for the sense of a post and how it relates to other posts on the same topics.

  2. This is the direction I’m starting to go in with my site now that I’ve cut the post categories down to writing, editing, publishing, and marketing tips. That’s still broad, but more contained than it used to be. From one category, I’m branching out into a series of related posts and being more aware of what key phrases will drive traffic.

  3. Very useful post, Jeannette, thank you! I am new to blogging so am on a steep learning curve trying to incorporate a lot of the advice that is out there – but this is succinct, pertinent and to the point. I haven’t quite got my head around SEO and google analytics etc but I am keen to keep my blogging authentic and I think this validates that. Thanks again.

  4. Very interesting Jeannette. I ran a small survey toward the end of last year that had to do with content and topics I write about and intentionally set it up so people had to fill in the blanks rather than use multiple choice. It was fascinating how they described some of the topics and I think goes to prove your point about changes in the way people search for information online. Thanks for the fascinating read!

    • Marquita — I’ve always found the open-ended questions and answers in surveys I’ve conducted to be the most interesting and revealing.

  5. Jeannette, thanks for the good information–kind of goes with my blog this week about wordpress. There is so much to learn–and to stay current on. We have to keep educating ourselves and adjusting.

    • Rosemary — I just read your post. Thanks for all the excellent advice. There is still an ongoing debate about the length of posts. I’ve seen statistics that say posts of 2,000 words pull the best. And then other experts say short posts work just as well. I’ve decided to write what it takes to cover the subject and publish. You will go crazy following the advice of all the experts.

  6. Am sure topic clusters are a good idea. However, at the moment I am so involved with academic tasks I don’t worry about SERPS for my blog. If my blog becomes important to me again I will look at topic clusters.

    • Catarina — I have to admit I no longer write to attract more traffic. I write for the audience that will come to my blog because they know me and are interested in my writing portfolio. We each have to decide what the purpose of our blog is and not worry about what other people are doing.

  7. As someone relatively new to blogging and the whole internet thing, I sometimes get frustrated.
    I just seem to be comfortable with an aspect of it, like keywords, only to have something new come up, like clusters.
    I wish they would slow things down, so luddites like me can catch up. Thanks for the information.

    • William — I, too, wish they’d stop inventing new things for six months so we can all catch up. We think we know it all and the next day everything changes!

  8. Great! This makes SO much sense!
    I am working within a smaller niche, and doing a topic cluster on my blog around that niche would be perfect!
    I’ll definitely download the templates when I get home this evening. Thank you!!