Why you should be using topic clusters in your SEO strategy

Keywords aren’t as important as they used to be due to Google becoming more sophisticated in determining the underlying intent of a search, and it’s important to understand the concept of topic grouping when thinking about your keyword strategy.

SEO is based on a simple premise - when a user searches for a specific keyword within a search engine, they’re actively interested in that topic and in a literal sense, they’re ‘buying what you’re selling’.

In the early days of search engines, content was largely indexed relative to the degree that the relevant elements of the page (H1, page title, etc) were a semantic match to the keyword which was being targeted.

And whilst it’s true that you can still have some degree of success with this, search engines have long since moved on from this way of indexing content and have become increasingly sophisticated in understanding exactly what users are after when they enter a search. Ever since the introduction of Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013, they have been learning how to understand natural human language at a remarkable pace and can now identify similar terms for related search queries.

Keywords are still very important (after all, you can’t do SEO without them!), but search engines are now able to make connections between fragmented queries and understand that they basically mean the same thing. This is recognising user intent, which we’ve previously touched on, and as important as this is - there’s another step to take, and that’s where topic clusters come in.

How do topic clusters work?

On the face of it, topic clusters are exactly what they sound like - taking relevant keywords which can be targeted on the same page and grouping them together.

These keyword groupings - which are made up of keywords which are semantically different but convey the same meaning and intent - give a much better indication of the core keywords the page is likely to rank for, which in turns gives a much better indication of the overall opportunity.

For example, let's say we’re a real estate agent entering the Glasgow market, and our Glasgow properties page is targeting ‘houses for sale in Glasgow’ which gets over 12,000 monthly searches. This seems like a decent opportunity, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Once we factor in synonyms and keywords with the same intent, such as ‘property for sale in glasgow’ and ‘homes for sale in glasgow’ which get over 5,000 searches between them, the opportunity gets much bigger.

In 2018, Google and other search engines aren’t just looking for semantic keyword matches - they’re looking for the concepts behind the keywords. As a result, when you’re doing keyword research and forecasting, you should be identifying opportunities by keywords groups, rather than by single, solitary keywords.

Approaching SEO from this angle will improve it, period. Rather than judging a page’s success or failure by its ability to rank for one keyword, you should be targeting a collection of relevant keywords on each page. Moreover, creating keyword groupings forces you to think more about the questions users have and their expectation of what is to be covered on the page. Overall, it will give you a much better understanding of these ideas than you would have if you hadn’t followed through on the process.

Whilst this approach is nothing new per se - we’ve been following this approach at Equator for years - it’s becoming more and more important. And whilst single keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, keyword groupings are as relevant as ever and as long as we’re using words to search, keywords will have a role to play.