Topic Clusters: The Impact Internal Links Have on Your SEO

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Google thinks internal links are important: Where you link within your own website is an important part of the SEO formula because it shows what your site cares about, and where it tries to guide visitors. Too many internal links is cause for losses in page ranking these days, as Google doesn't like to see any site try to artificially control its links or where people go – it also doesn't seem to care for sites that give special preference for internal links within content.

Many, many brands are in a holding pattern where they require throwing in 1-3 internal links in every article, not really for any particular reasons but because it's an easy rule to make. But that's sloppy, especially when there's SEO to think about.

Topic clusters were created to add more structure and intelligence to internal linking. If your website includes a lot of blog posts or articles, and you frequently update content, then you should probably be using topic clusters as well. Here's your topic cluster FAQ to help out!

Okay, What's a Topic Cluster?

It's a way of thinking about how content on your site is related, and using that to fuel your internal linking practices. Don't worry, it's not complicated either – it's just a simple diagram made of two different parts, the Topic or Pillar, and subtopics.

  1. The Pillar: The Pillar is a primary topic or general heading, a broad look at a particular subject that's important to your brand.
  2. The Subtopics: These topics branch out of the pillar. Each big topic Pillar typically has at least several subtopics about related material, but much more specific in nature. For example, a Pillar about Healthcare Technology could have subtopics about new mobile devices for nurses, a news story about hacked healthcare data, and so on.

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So Where Do I Start if I Want a Topic Cluster?

The Pillars are pretty easy to identify. Look to the primary landing pages your site uses to make conversions and explain your services or other important information. These should probably be your Pillars, your central topics.

Subtopics are a little trickier. It's usually a good idea to hold brainstorming sessions around the Pillars and create lists of subtopics that are related to the general subject, but focus more on specific news, tips, details and analysis. From the brainstorming list, pick the best options to complete your topic clusters.

How Do I Pick Out the Right Subtopics After Brainstorming?

A very efficient method is to use keyword searches to find out which brainstorming topics and phrases pull up the best results for your brand across the long tail. A little analysis can go a long way here, but we recommend you keep some veto powers to disregard subtopics that may show lots of promising according to keyword analysis but don't really fit into your business.

Keep in mind that subtopics are usually designed to keep on shifting and moving in new directions with your content. Keep the list of good ideas somewhere! Even if you only want a couple subtopics per pillar, you should have plenty of backup options when the time comes to create new content.

With the Topic Cluster Created, How Should I Use It For Internal Linking?

Each subtopic should become a new blog post or article. Every subtopic should 1)link back to the Pillar and 2)link to related subtopics within the cluster. Other linking choices are up to you, but this keeps your internal link practices focused, Google-appropriate and good for your SEO without going too overboard. We don't suggest you add many more internal links beyond this, in case it looks like you're link stuffing.

Keep in mind that topic clusters are also a great training tool for teams. Even if you don't want to adopt it as a required practice, it's still a healthy exercise when practicing strong, SEO-friendly content in the marketing department.

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Sarah Hayes

Project Manager at 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. A self described life long learner that thrives on detail, I love bringing these skills to the table to help others succeed.

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