Heard of keyword clustering? Here’s how grouping keywords can work miracles for your SEO stategy

Keyword clustering is probably something you’ve already stumbled upon.

If not keyword clustering, then maybe keyword grouping, topic clustering, pillar content, cornerstone content, umbrella content, or content silos.

This tactic has a lot of different names, and they all rotate around the same principle.

Are your eyebrows making contact with your hairline right now?

Fair enough.

In a second I’ll start at the very beginning and tell you what keyword clustering is.

After that, I’ll tell you why topic clustering is such a potent vitamin shot directly into the veins of your SEO strategy.

Once you see what a great opportunity this is for improving your rankings, you’ll want to get started right away.

Therefore, by the end of this article, you’ll get a super simple guide to getting started with keyword clustering. This guide won’t take away your courage. That’s a promise.

Also, I’ll point you in the direction of a handful of simple, free tools that you can try out if you want.

What is keyword clustering?

Keyword clustering is a method for organizing keywords and structuring content.

So here’s the idea:

After conducting your keyword research, you sort your findings into groups of related keywords.

Each group must have a central article – what HubSpot coined “pillar content” a couple of years ago. The main article is an exhaustive piece that includes everything anyone could possibly want to know about this topic. But the article is broad. It targets a high-search-volume, high-competition generic keyword.

Around each main post, you have in-depth cluster articles relating to the generic keyword. You create each cluster article around a long-tail-keyword with a lower search volume and less competition. In this article, you go for depth instead of breadth.

Each in-depth cluster article in the cluster links back to the main article with the same anchor text (the hyperlinked text). And the main article links out to all the cluster articles using relevant anchor texts.

An illustration to the rescue:

Keyword clustering

Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

OK, so you have an online business.

No matter the size of your business, you want to rank for that shimmering bunch of keywords with super high search volumes and massive traffic potentials.

Sounds easy enough.

It’s not.

Because unless you pay up or play dirty there’s no such thing as getting on top fast. You need an overview and a strategy. Not only to make sure you will eventually get to the top but also to make sure you stay in place once you get there.

Enter keyword clustering.

With SEO Score you can easily group keywords together and track the average position of the group. This way, you always know which keyword clusters are performing well and which ones need a little more attention (and mindblowing content).

A great way to explain keyword grouping further is to compare it to the tactics of ye olden days of SEO.

Back when Google was just a toddler

Back then people wrote an article for every keyword they wanted to rank for. Sometimes even for each version of every keyword.

So if your business was to sell swimsuits, you’d write one article about “ladies’ swimsuits”, another about “swimsuits for ladies” and yet another about “women’s swimsuits”.

One keyword per page stinksKinda sickening – both for the owner of the swimsuit shop and for its readers.

The reason for this ridiculousness is that Google was an infant search engine that matched search queries and results by keyword strings (strings of letters).

In other words, the search query had to be an exact match to the content in Google’s database to turn up in the SERPs.

The complete guide to …

Today, (thank whatever deity is out there, if any) Google has moved on.

Google knows that a search for ladies’ swimsuits is also a search for women’s swimsuits and swimsuits for women. Thus, no need to create three pages about the exact same type of product.

Here’s what you should do instead: Create one extensive article about swimsuits for women.

Then fill it with everything your customers could possibly want to know about this topic. Write about the different styles, fits, and sizes. Go nuts about materials and decorations. Include something about swimsuits for summers and winters. Jot down a few differences between spring break swimsuits and professional swimmers’ swimsuits.

Make it a broad article that includes a little something about every aspect of swimsuits for women. This article, of course, also includes every variation of the phrase “swimsuits for women”.

When you’re done, you have your main article. The one that will eventually earn you a great spot in Google SERP.

You could call your main article something like this:

  • The complete guide to …
  • The ultimate guide to …
  • The last guide to (…) you ever need
  • The only guide to (…) you ever need
  • All you need to know about …

Pillar articles also come in the form of how-to guides. Choose whatever shape you prefer.

Cluster articles

Of course, you know a lot more about, for instance, swimsuit fits than the fact that there are 27 (or 6 or 85?) different swimsuit models in existence.

Cluster articlesThat’s great because this knowledge is the perfect material for a cluster article about what characterizes those 27, 6, or 85 types of ladies’ swimsuits. Another cluster could be about plus size swimsuits and yet another about swimsuit designs through time.

When you have your big, broad answer-it-all article and a bunch of in-depth, long-tail-keyword articles in place, you have your cluster.

Now, you need to link back and forth between the main article and the cluster articles whenever it makes sense.

Are we there yet?

Is keyword grouping a timeconsuming process?

Yes, it is.

I’m guessing you don’t have an army of content creators at your disposal?

Me neither.

But with patience and tenacity, it can be done. Like with a LEGO tower, you build your content one brick at a time. Keyword clustering is the long, but safe way to the top.

No mines, no dirty tricks, no risk of penalties, no dubious quick-fixes, and no PPC costs.

Just elbow grease.

There is one thing I feel I have to say before we move one.

An annoying but important point:

Working with keyword clustering doesn’t mean you can demand less of your content. Grouping tactics alone won’t get you anywhere if your content sucks. It only works if you have tempting and well-written posts to flaunt.

Smells a little like wise-ass and fingerpointing, I know. But you can’t turn hogwash into yummy content just by grouping articles and keywords.

There. I said it. Let’s move on to the really interesting part.

Why is topic clustering good for SEO?

We all want our SEO efforts to pay off.

But why exactly is keyword clustering good for your SEO?

Well, back in 2013 Google launched Hummingbird, a core algorithm update.

In an instant, Google outgrew strings and moved on to things (or topics). Since then, Hummingbird has allowed Google to understand semantically related words and phrases.

Why do search engines through the trouble of rebuilding their foundation?

Because they’re dying to know the search intent of its users. As for Google, RankBrain joined the party in 2015, making Google even more competent in the field of calculating user intent.

Thus, it’s crucial for you and me to go along with Google’s way of operating. We need to do everything we can to help the bots understand what our websites are about.

Search intent and long-tail-keywords

There is a logical relationship between search intent and the way people search. The more words people use, the easier it is to guess what they want to find.

Today, a huge number of searches contain 4 words or more. Long-tails tend to convert much better than their short-tail cousins precisely because people know exactly what they’re looking for and are ready to act when they find it.

By concentrating on topics, you make it easier for Google to find a good match.

Broad articles allow users to get familiar with a topic, while you make it clear to Google which of your posts is the best one to rank for general searches.

Your in-depth posts are perfect matches for the millions of long-tail searches. They allow users to dive into the branches that really interest them, and you demonstrate to Google that you know what you’re talking about.


Points for meaningful internal linking

Each cluster article targets a long-tail keyword related to the general high-search-volume keyword. The interlinking strategy of keyword clustering ensures that you send both SEO value and traffic between your articles.

On top of that, it makes it easier for bots and people to find related content.

And the best part?

The better ranking the cluster articles get, the better ranking the pillar will get. And since it’s much easier to rank for long-tails than for the highly competitive generic keywords, you’ll soon have a pile of cluster articles constantly working to improve the ranking of your main article.

You might think this method of internal linking is messy.

But the mess is organized.

Thanks to that, when one page performs well the entire group gets a boost because of the internal linking.

That is so cool!

Now let’s take a look at a couple of other, but equally irresistible reasons why you need to start organizing your keywords by topic this very afternoon.

What other benefits come in the wake of keyword clustering?

Yep, there’s more. Besides acting as a ginger shot to SEO, topic clustering comes with a range of other delicacies.

Grouping keywords boosts creativity

Have you ever felt the bite of writer’s block?

So many ideas swimming around in your head that just refuse to come out on paper. You know a ton about your products and services, but you’re unable to come up with a sensible headline, not to mention the post itself.

It stings.

The great thing is, there is a remedy.

Working with your keywords and sorting them by topic gets your creativity going. You realize how much there is to write about each topic.

Writing your main articles, you’ll constantly feel tempted to explain, to go deeper.

But remember, your pillar post is just a sketch.

Every time you want to explain further, write down your idea and move on to the next thing that has to go in the main article. By the end, you have a list of 10-20 things you’re dying to explain.

By the way, the sorting process can be quite tricky because you have words, phrases, and topics that overlap. But the sorting gets you thinking about the best and most intuitive way of categorizing your content.

How do you make it easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for? What do your customers need to know at different stages of the shopping journey? How do you make sure you answer all their questions?

As you get started, you’ll find yourself constantly thinking ‘oh, I really should write an article about this‘, or ‘those keywords should not be two but three articles‘, or ‘a combination of those two phrases could be an interesting post‘.

Try it out. You’ll be surprised.

Topic clustering is the key to a strong content strategy

I like things neat, tidy, and well planned out.

Still, I’m a horrible strategist.

That’s why topic clustering helps me arrange my content calendar so I always know what article I need to work on.

No matter if you want to publish once a month or every Tuesday, you never have to come up with an idea on the spot. You know the direction. You know which pillars and clusters are missing content. It takes away stress to know that the missing pieces are planned and will go online eventually.

And if you’re running campaigns or get questions from users, you can easily find the most relevant cluster for a new article answering the question and make room for it there.

Keyword groups make the empty screen seem less daunting

I tend to make content writing a mammoth task when, in fact, it doesn’t have to be.

Pillar articles for topical breadthWhen I set out to write a post on something, I have a massive piece in mind. I mean ebook length stuff.

Needless to say, that weighs me down a little bit.

For me, one of the biggest benefits of thinking along the lines of keyword clustering is that I only have to write one piece that size: the pillar piece.

The “supportive” pieces don’t have to be nearly as long.

It helps to zoom in on a specific problem, question, or angle of the main topic and stay there. No need for 3000 words since you’ve already been to all the nooks and crannies of the broad spectrum. The blue whale pillar post is sitting there for anyone to read who wants to know all there is to know about the breath of the topic.

So if you’re a little anal-retentive like me, clustering your keywords before you begin writing will soothe you a lot. It’s highly recommendable.

Clusters fit right in with Google E.A.T.

Acronyms are cute as rusty nails, right?

Topic clusters signal expertiseE.A.T. stands for expertise, authority, and trust. Three concepts that are very important to Google.

It’s not that difficult to write content that simply scratches the surface of a topic. Everybody does it.

Writing in-depth content is the perfect way to show search engines that you’re an expert in your field. The more in-depth the more value you can provide for readers who want to learn more. Odds are that they can’t find your explanations and answers anywhere else. Implementing the keyword clustering strategy ensures both topical breadth and depth.

Remember to update pillar content once in a while. Add new data, post surveys, and update graphs to let Google know you’re keeping up.

How to group keywords – a painless quick start guide to keyword clustering

SEO content writing is much more than just choosing central keywords.

Take a step back and think about what topics you want to rank for. Your main article has to be broad enough to have a handful of subtopics that you can go deeper into. But it can’t be so broad that you need 10,000 words to cover the subject. If you do, split it into smaller parts or write an ebook.

When you have a list of core topics, you can begin researching for specific keywords.

Step 1: Keyword research

You need to do keyword research to know what exact words and phrases people use when they search for what you offer.

Also, you need to know that your favorite search term has a decent search volume. If nobody is searching for it, don’t optimize for it. On the other hand, a search volume of 50 or maybe even 10 shouldn’t discourage you. A low search volume means less competition, and the user is super determined. You have an outstanding chance of making this person very happy – and probably a future customer.

When you’ve decided on a number of topics, start keyword researching. Jot down everything people search for in relation to each main topic. These things go into your main article and some of them will become cluster articles.

FREE tools for keyword research:

  • Google search
  • Google autocomplete
  • People also ask (close to the top of Google SERP)
  • Related searches (bottom of Google SERP)
  • AnswerThePublic  (to find questions)
  • keywordtool.oi (free version doesn’t have stats like search volume and number of Google results but you can find those in the SEO Score app)
  • Competitors

Step 2: Keyword analysis

Now it’s time to sort your keywords into groups of topics and subtopics.

Using Google to conduct keyword research you’ll find several keyword modifiers that you probably never thought of before.

Put simply, modifiers are words that make your generic keyword more specific. In other words, modifiers in combination with a generic keyword make up a long-tail keyword.

Don’t forget to include the modifiers when you sort your keywords. Many of the long-tail combinations will serve as cluster articles while others will only go into your main article.

If you have a gigantic wheel barrel full of keywords, you might feel the need for some assistance with the sorting. If so, check out these free tools:

FREE tools for keyword analysis:

Step 3: Plan content

When the sorting of keywords is done, you’re ready to plan your content.

How many pillar posts you need is up to you. You also get to decide how many cluster articles go into each cluster and how closely related to the main article they have to be.

This all depends on the size of your business, the amount of time you want to spend on content creation, and how the competitors do.

But where to start? Should you begin crafting pillar articles, or is it better to begin with the cluster articles?

Again, it’s up to you. However, if you have a limited amount of time (or money) to spend on content creation, I do have a suggestion. And it’s actually quite a smart way to go.

Let me end this article by telling you about it.

Topic clustering on a limited budget

There are many ways to begin grouping keywords and making topic clusters.

This method is good for owners of small businesses who don’t have the content creator army we talked about earlier.

Since it is much more of a struggle to rank for generic keywords, you’ll want to start by creating cluster articles. You know, the ones about long-tail searches.

Pick a central topic and write down everything that absolutely has to go into this article to make it an exhaustive one. Then pick a couple of subtopics with decent search volumes according to your line of business) that you would like to explain in-depth.

For motivation, start by writing cluster articles for long-tail with the lowest search volumes and hence the least competition. These articles will rank much quicker. When your article finds it’sway into the SERPs, you can move on to long-tails with higher search volumes.

Remember that your cluster articles are your secret weapons that help and protect the main articles. By using this method, these weapons are already in place when you get around to writing the master article.

The days of one keyword per page are over.

With keyword clustering, you get much more value for all your hard work. Look forward to seeing one single page to rank for hundreds, maybe even thousands of keywords.

It feels gooooooood 😉

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