If you want to show Google that your web pages are relevant to specific keywords and more authoritative than your competitors, topic groups are one of the best ways to do that.
That’s because Google no longer just looks for keywords on web pages when determining rankings.
It looks up synonyms, subtopics, and even answers to common questions users ask when researching your industry.
As a result, topic groups are becoming a larger part of many SEO professionals’ content strategies. It shows Google that your website has industry expertise and features a wide range of useful, in-depth content on key topics in your industry.
Although it takes time to create topic groups on your website, it can help you project topical authority in the eyes of Google and your users, resulting in higher overall keyword rankings and more organic traffic in the long run.
What are subject groups?
A topic group (or content group) is a group of content assets on a website that are all centered around a related topic.
The subject group content explores a broader topic in more detail, nuance, and specificity.
As a single unit, the topic group serves to answer all the questions users might have about a specific subject area in your area of expertise.
Each topic group is built around a piece of core content (or a core page). Primary pages focus on broader topic areas and tend to target general industry keywords with the highest search volume.
The accompanying group content explores subtopics or FAQs, usually targeting less popular (and less competitive) keywords that have a semantic relationship to the primary topic.
Let’s look at a more specific example. Let’s say your company offers resume templates and writing services. One of your core pieces of content could be optimized for the keyword “resume writing services” ($12,000/month).
Within the long tail content, you will have content targeting longer tail, but related keywords such as:
- “Executive CV writing service” (900 / month).
- “Professional CV writing service” (250 / month).
- “Help with my resume” (200/month).
Subject matter, these pieces still fall under the larger umbrella of “resume writing services,” but they’re narrower in focus.
For example, one focuses on the type of resume (ie, “resume”) and the other on the type of applicant (ie, “executives”).
The number of theme groups on the website will be determined by the total products or services offered by the brand.
The same resume business could create another content group on the larger topic Resume Templates (188000/month).
Why adopt a content block strategy?
So why is topic clustering an ideal long-term strategy to get broad and comprehensive keyword search rankings?
Well, most startup websites have less than domain authority and cannot rank for more competitive keyword phrases, even if their content is of high quality.
So topic groups can help you rank for less competitive keywords and start driving traffic in the short term. Once you build your site’s authority, you can rank for bigger and better keywords.
The SEO goals for topic groups are threefold:
- Get search traffic for long tail, low search volume keywords through block content.
- Increase the performance of your pillar content for more competitive keywords.
- Build credibility in specific subject areas so Google sees your site as an industry expert.
How topic groups help Google understand your site
Not only do topic groups help Google see your site as authoritative in specific topic areas, it helps Google understand your website’s hierarchy and how your content is interconnected.
The truth is, most brands have more than one area of expertise. Thinking about developing your website around these major subject areas (rather than individual keywords) is a great way to start thinking about grouping topics.
Let’s look at a website for an HR software product.
Above is an example of a page targeting a high value keyword: Employment programs.
Most likely, the ultimate goal of this brand with its core content is to earn Page 1 Rank for that generic keyword with high value and high search volume.
As a result, their primary content provides a comprehensive, in-depth overview of their recruitment software product and answers the most common questions asked by users.
Support group content explores relevant ideas or subtopics in employment in more detail and nuance. Below are some of the blog content that enhances the Employment theme group.
Because of all of its recruitment-focused content, Google knows this particular site has an objective authority in that area.
And since all content links to the Employment Programs home page, Google knows that of all the pages in this group, the home page is the most important.
How to build a topic group
So how do you define your subject groups?
Start with the core content and build from there.
For example, let’s say you run a social media agency. You might have a pillar page that targets the keyword “Social Media Marketing Strategy” (SV 1800, $15 CPC) and provides a high-level overview of that topic.
To start planning your group, you’ll need to do some additional keyword research.
The simplest way to get ideas about your topic group is to go to the Google search bar and see what other people are searching for in relation to your column content.
Or use your favorite keyword tool
Most keyword tools make it easy to find relevant keywords, questions, or autocompletes and discover potential target keywords for your group content.
Keyword tools can help you be more strategic about what type of content is actually worth adding to your collection.
Because even though your group content goals will likely have lower search volume, they should still be meaningful enough to drive some traffic to your site.
They should also have strong search intent and some conversion potential.
From these two small examples, we can identify some target keywords to help us build our portfolio:
- “Social Media Marketing Strategy for Small Business” (50/month).
- Examples of Social Media Marketing Strategies (50/month).
- “Facebook marketing strategy through social media” (20 / month).
- “B2B Social Media Marketing Strategy” (20/month).
So, in this scenario, your topic group layout might look like this:
- column page: How to Develop a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy (SV 1.8K, KD 81)
-> Guide to Social Media Marketing Strategy for Small Business (SV 50, KWD 63)
-> 15 Social Media Marketing Strategy Samples in 2021 (SV 50, KD 55)
-> B2B Social Media Marketing Strategy Tips (SV 20, KD 28)
The set of topics should be guided by the core content. Smaller search volumes, less competition, but relevant search intent are ideal targets for block content keywords.
As you gain keyword rankings for those keywords that are less competitive with your group content, Google will begin to see your brand as an authority in the larger subject area of your social media marketing strategy.
Over time, Google will then start promoting the canonical pages targeting those keywords that are most popular and competitive in your industry.
The role of internal links in topic groups
So, after creating the pillar content and cluster content, what brings the topic group together?
The answer: internal links.
The internal link structure helps Google understand several things:
As you link your content, remember that the column content should remain at the top of the linking hierarchy.
This confirms to Google that of all the content in this group, the home page is the most important. Therefore, Google should promote that page more often.
While there may be some exceptions, it is important to ensure that your group content does not link to the canonical pages of other topic groups.
This practice helps Google understand the structure of your site and propagate PageRank more effectively across the topic group.
Again, the number of topic groups you publish on your website will ultimately be determined by the range of your services and products.
As you create your theme collections, your website will eventually look something like this.
No matter what your industry is, there are probably hundreds to thousands of ways users search for products and services like what you offer on Google.
So even if your products or services are limited, you can probably create multiple theme groups on your website.
Topic groups and keyword disassembly
When done right, grouping topics should increase the total number of keywords that drive traffic to your website.
But when group content is not optimized properly or is too similar in theme, it can lead to keyword cannibalization.
This means that Google does not understand which content in the groups is most relevant or important.
It is likely that your canonical pages will start ranking for the keywords you targeted in the group content and vice versa.
So if you are noticing this result on your website, follow these steps to try to resolve it:
- Check your pages’ content scores in the content tool. Your Pillars page is probably more optimized for long-tail keyword targets than you realize
- See your headlines/h1s. Make sure you write both in such a way that the intent of the keyword and topic are clear to Google
- Check your internal links: You may be sending a lot of PageRank to group content rather than to canonical pages. Column pages should be linked in places like your site’s navigation menu or footer.
- Build links to the column pageBacklinks are also a major ranking signal to Google, so your offsite strategy should focus on building links to your pillars pages.
Understand the big picture of topic groups
The topic group framework is an ambitious content strategy.
Ideally, it should be ongoing for as long as your website has existed and until you have finished answering every question your users might have about your products, services, or industry.
If done right, your theme combinations will work together to be your most powerful SEO weapon.
In the long run, Google will see not only certain pieces of content as relevant to industry keywords, but your entire website as a leading industry authority.
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