A turning point in SEO was the Hummingbird update on Google algorithms, in 2013, which made it possible to identify the intent behind the search query based on semantics. From that point on, the focus switched from individual keywords to the relations between them and the meaning they build. In other words, with this upgrade, Google was just taking its first significant steps in using natural language processing to understand the query's context and better sort the results.
The trend intensified two years later, in 2015, when voice search was launched. Today, voice search counts for 20% of the total searches made on mobile.
Through stories. No kidding. There is no way to create enough context for Google to identify you as a relevant answer to users' queries other than to create content around an idea, concept or topic.
Topic clusters are the new keywords in Web 3.0 era.
A topic cluster model consists of building several pieces of content around a key theme.
A content pillar page should broadly approach the key theme and link to other pages, built around sub-topics (related to the main topic). By using the topic cluster model to develop your content, you enable Google and its NLP mechanisms to apply its recent semantic search algorithms optimally.
Topic clusters require more time planning but will be more time-effective in the execution phase.
The main advantage of a topic cluster is that it enables you to re-use content in multiple ways. Say you have organized several blog posts as a topic cluster. You can go further and re-purpose the whole content or parts of it into an e-book, social media posts, articles in external publications, email campaigns.
If you have already developed tens or hundreds of web pages, that is good news. You have plenty of material to use in restructuring your content around key themes. Find common points between the various pieces of content and ways to bridge them. Fill in the gaps with new pieces of content. Remove any of the content hazards that may get you penalized according to the latest Googles upgrades (e.g. keywords stuffing).
What changes does topic clusters model require in content management?
Focus shifts from quantity to strategic thinking.
Say goodbye to massive amounts of content created based on high keywords density. It's time for planning content that helps you assert your authority on the chosen topic.
What are the topics my users could be interested in?
Will these themes enable me to build several blocks of content around them?
Will the topic be interesting long enough to enable me to create all the relevant content in time?
These are just a few of the questions you need to raise when applying the topic cluster model.
Write for users, not for search engines.
It's not about writing well for search engines anymore. It's about writing for users, for real. In a language they easily understand, using words they resonate with.
A new generation of content specialists.
Organizing your content based on the topic clusters model requires a whole paradigm change, including a new profile of content specialists, who have writing skills doubled by strategic and planning skills.
Hired by Google in 2012, when the whole strategy around NLP and semantic search emerged, Ray Kurzweil described in big lines the upcoming changes that content marketers would need to face: “When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions”.
Future is already knocking at one's door, what once sounded like a nice dream is now the reality our eyes face when googling something. The topic clusters model is one of the solutions to welcome future. Strategic thinking and ability to sustain relevant and high-quality content for one's audience make for the new mix of skills that new generation of content marketers will need to acquire in order face the new SEO challenges.