Let's be honest, every article explaining content cluster strategy says the same thing. Focus on quality over keyword quantity - optimize and reorganize existing content - choose topics that demonstrate your expertise. These talking points are essential, but they are frustrating to new businesses or ones trying to grow. Each example always includes a website with a large content library. And it does not show how these success stories scaled their investment from nothing.
These articles don't address this need because they haven't invested in solutions that can jumpstart a website with little to zero traffic. And it's because it's easier to simply use two years of data to pull the right content levers.
So, we wanted to provide a content cluster road map that tackles the challenging obstacle that small businesses face both domestically and internationally, starting with no platform.
But before we provide this road map, we need to explain what content clusters are and why this strategy emerged.
Content Cluster Strategy Defined:
Content cluster strategy is a new SEO framework that marketers use to organize niche topic pages under unifying pillar categories.
This new approach to content marketing is thanks to advancements in voice search and AI. We are asking Google questions the same way we talked to our 8th grade English teacher. A little long-winded and a bit sassy. As a result, search engines are changing the way they prioritize content. Instead of matching results to specific keywords, they connect a search phrase's broader topic to an expert source. And they do this by looking at the number of related questions answered by the same website.
Take this very article, for example. It is a niche topic because it is aimed at explaining content clusters to a narrow audience - new business owners. And we wrote it to answer one among many questions under the umbrella category of digital marketing. Our content cluster strategy communicates expertise by linking all similar topics to a pillar page, the ultimate guide to digital marketing See what we did there? This internal link and others like it are the critical elements that tie a cluster together.
Why Internal Linking Is Critical For Page Rank
A content cluster strategy starts to increase page rank once there is a strong network of internal links. But hyperlinking niche articles to content pillars isn't all it takes to communicate that expertise. There are a multitude of SEO factors that we will cover in another article. But the most important indicator of internal linking performance is the traffic from one link to the next.
For example, our most recent content cluster strategy was aimed at channeling traffic to a construction company's ADU (accessory dwelling unit) resources. Within 7 days of posting an article on House Hacking, 10 of the visitors also visited related ADU resources. One of these posts was a brand new page about how to permit an ADU in Los Angeles. After the initial spike in internal sessions, the blog saw a jump in rank from 88 to 17. That same day, we received a click on a search results page that submitted a lead for a bathroom remodel.
Keep in mind that this brand new page had 0 external backlinks and 0 social shares. The company didn't have a platform with an existing following. It climbed in rank and captured a conversion because of its strategic placement within a content cluster. And the strategy wasn't random. We started the content cluster plan by setting clear conversion objectives, social listening, engagement planning, and keyword optimization.
Step 1: Align Your Content Cluster Strategy With Conversion Objectives
Determining conversion objectives is a whole endeavor in and of itself - especially for new businesses. If you don't have the data to determine your sales funnel needs, I recommend using competitor data. At RTB Consultants, we have teams that can dig into the tactics of your competitors. Learning from their success will help you determine the type of conversions you want to prioritize.
But once you know what is needed to move prospects through your funnel, we recommend creating a goal flow chart. This way, they can be shared and communicated throughout your marketing org.
Each objective needs a compelling why. For example, if one objective is email subscribers, then everyone should understand why your target audience needs to subscribe. All future content then needs to serve as supporting evidence to that reason:
Supporting Arguments: If you want to increase brand awareness with demographic X, you should check out our ultimate guide to choosing the right marketing platform. If Instagram is the right platform for you, check out our post on how increasing engagement drives IG visibility.
Reason for Subscription: If you want to increase engagement on your Instagram stories, then you should subscribe to our monthly report of influencer tips and secrets.
Internal links aren't just ahrefs (a well-known toolset for backlinks and SEO analysis) coded onto a webpage. They are a value proposition. And if it doesn't have a supporting argument for its proposition, then visitors will not click. Of course, the content needs to be well written, entertaining, and easy to understand. Unless someone is studying for their SATs, they aren't going to read a series of proofs.
Step 2: Listen to The Conversations Between Your Target Audience and Competition
All content marketing is a conversation. Unlike traditional media, online target audiences are also online contributors. So, each post, podcast, and YouTube video either contributes to an existing dialogue or starts a new one. Now that you have a solid argument, you need to figure out how to contextualize it by engaging your audience. And if your business is starting to engage in these conversations for the first time, it needs to practice the first law of conversation: listening.
Social listening is a well-recognized step to the content marketing formula. We use popular tools like Buzzsumo and Answer the Public all the time. But I think most miss that learning is a crucial component of this step. We waste so much energy by assuming that we know everything there is to know about our industry. In order to truly demonstrate expertise, we need to learn from our competitors, deeply examine their claims, and dare to challenge them.
If you haven't already noticed, we framed this piece of content marketing as a response to our competitors - the very websites search engines have deemed experts on content cluster strategy. But of course, we can't simply reply publicly to the competitors at the top of search listings.
So how do we engage?
We do so by proxy.
Step 3: Find Opportunities for Social Engagement
In a space where everyone wants to speak, we engage by offering our shared audience a platform. Social media managers understand that every public post can be a platform for others, no matter the medium.
It seems too obvious to miss, but the vast majority of content articles shared on social media fail to offer this. Too many attempt to attract views with content summaries and clever hashtags.
Someone will only be willing to engage, if the post invites a conversation by challenging a common assumption. For example, if the post is just "check out this article," then people will keep scrolling.
In order to do this right, it first requires reading and engaging the posts of your target audience. This will reveal their motivations, pain points, and learning opportunities. It will also reveal how you can challenge the assumptions shared with your competitors.
Our recent ADU campaign successfully engaged in the popular conversation around house hacking. We researched the most common assumptions people were receiving from the competition and compared it to our own perspective and industry knowledge. We found a way to insightfully challenge popular beliefs, and as a result, it attracted over 800 unique visits within 10 days of posting.
Once you have discovered multiple similar opportunities to engage, then you can begin mapping the topics and pillars for your content cluster.
Step 4: Optimize Pillar and Topic Clusters For Keyword Rank
The first three steps focused on your audience. In the last step, we need to think like a search engine. You need to use keyword research to strategically frame each topic and pillar category in a way web crawlers will trust. But to be honest, this process is too detailed to include in this article. Fortunately, we are still offering these resources for free and we offer a variety of step-by-step digital marketing guides. How to navigate keyword research tools, use competitor data to determine the best questions for your content cluster, and optimize the site architecture so that it is a step above your competitors.
If you'd like to explore how your website and content are ranking, find a time on my calendar, and we'll see what is happening regarding traffic, content, how to optimize, and how content clusters could be beneficial for your business, whether you’re a new business, new to Los Angeles, or looking to grow.