A topic cluster is a content strategy that uses audience research, comprehensive topic and keyword brainstorming, and internal linking to organize your site architecture, support higher search rankings, and satisfy your audience’s intent.

You wouldn’t explore a new destination without a map, right? Similarly, you can’t take your audience or Google’s crawlers on a ride through your content without any structure, direction, or context.

That’s where a topic cluster content strategy comes in. Clusters bring customers, or dare we say… clustomers!

We chatted with Austin Lewis, HawkSEM’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Digital Marketing Team Lead about topic clusters. We’ll cover how they affect your search engine rankings, why they’re a must to power up your content strategy, and more.

Ready to see your website content at the top of the search engine results page (SERP)? We’ll show you how to get there, one cluster at a time.

What is a topic cluster content strategy?

A topic cluster content strategy is a marketing method that lays out your brand’s content to cover broad topic categories and more specific sub-topics relevant to your niche, products, and audience interest.

A traditional topic cluster model looks like this:

  • Pillar page: A web page that serves as a content hub on a broad topic, often centered around 1-2 broad keyword matches, with internal links to supporting content.
  • Cluster pages: Relevant subtopics on separate web pages, linked within a broader pillar page.

Take HawkSEM’s blog as an example.

Digital marketing is a wide umbrella. Naturally, we want to capture our audience’s interests wherever they are on their journey. So if they’re interested in pay-per-click (PPC) marketing as a whole, they could check out our PPC marketing pillar page:

ppc marketing topic cluster

(Image: HawkSEM PPC marketing pillar page)

Scroll down and you’ll see a comprehensive page that broadly covers specific topics within PPC. Now check out the section on remarketing below.

remarketing hawksem blog


This pillar page isn’t dedicated to remarketing benefits, but it links to a topic cluster page for readers who want to dive deeper into those benefits:

remarketing page links

(Image: HawkSEM article, remarketing benefits)

So in our case, this is what our topic cluster for PPC marketing looks like:

  • Topic: PPC marketing
  • Cluster subtopics: Remarketing, display ads, keywords, PPC Google campaigns, PPC examples, PPC agencies

But how do you know which topics to create pillar pages for, and where to direct all that juicy internal linking?

Read on for our roadmap for a topic cluster content marketing strategy that ranks and converts.

5 steps to create a topic cluster content strategy

A successful topic cluster strategy starts with marketing goals, develops with keyword data, and flourishes with insights from performance monitoring.

  1. Create topic clusters based on audience pain points
  2. Find subtopics based on keyword research and competitive analysis
  3. Create a content calendar that maps out keywords, channels, and timelines
  4. Interlink your content across relevant web pages
  5. Use metrics to inform optimization tweaks

Step one?

1. Create topic clusters based on audience pain points

Many marketers go straight to Ahrefs or Semrush to conduct keyword research, but that’s not always the best practice. Why? You might brush over potential pain points if you dive deep into metrics right away on those platforms.

Instead, we suggest you start more broadly.

Think about why your customers trust you. Your business solves specific problems for them, and your content should clearly demonstrate your expertise in resolving those problems.

These are your audience’s pain points, and they’re the perfect way to inform your cluster core topics.

Take our client 686, an ecommerce retailer for outdoor winter apparel. Some pain points they solve for their audience include:

  • Cold weather preparation
  • Dampness or leaky clothing
  • Limited styles
  • Limited agility in winter sports
  • Dehydration while participating in winter sports
  • Affordability in winter apparel

From there, we could map out these main topics as topic clusters:

  • Style in winter wardrobes
  • Outdoor apparel quality
  • Innovative tech for winter apparel

These act as great topics to launch your topic cluster content strategy.

But does this work similarly for other business niches? Absolutely.

Topic clusters for SaaS brands

Just like we identified topic clusters for an ecommerce brand, we can do the same with SaaS brands. For example, a finance SaaS company might support clients with budgeting, investing, and saving, and have pillar pages for each one.

Lewis points to a client example in the SaaS field, sera.tech, a business operations and organization software company for trade service providers:

“We are building topical authority for six separate content clusters to drive an organic lead gen strategy,” explains Lewis. “The clusters are field service software, HVAC software, plumbing software, electrician software, employee experience, and customer experience.”

Here’s an example of an HVAC software pillar page from sera.tech:

sera.tech example

(Image: sera.tech)

From there? You can map out your subtopics.

2. Find subtopics based on keyword research and competitive analysis

Here’s a question we often hear from our clients: How do you know what content to write about?

Or more specifically, how do you create what content will:

  • Pique your audience’s interest
  • Appeal to Google’s crawlers
  • Set you apart from your competitors

The answer is plentiful web pages for topic cluster subtopics, aka cluster pages. And Lewis says the best way to find them is through robust keyword research:

“Typically, I like to cross-reference the goals of the client with the keyword data to then make informed recommendations that architect clusters in order of importance,” says Lewis.

Keyword research helps you identify the organic search queries your audience types into Google. So for 686, examples of related subtopics under the “dampness” topic pain point could include:

  • Waterproof jackets for men
  • 686 waterproof technology guide
  • Product pages with waterproof features highlighted

As for the SaaS example? Check out this cluster subtopic article linked from the HVAC pillar page:

But how do you identify the keywords necessary to inform subtopic pages? Here’s how HawkSEM approaches keyword research:

  • Audience research: We dive deep into your target audience and study their every move through purchase history, social media activity, and website behavior to create audience personas that inform our marketing strategies.
  • SEO tools: Semrush and Moz help us identify short-tail and long-tail keywords with high search volume and purchase search intent.
  • ConversionIQ: Our proprietary tech that attributes key marketing tactics and specific keywords to revenue and conversions across multiple channels in easily accessible dashboards.

But the sweet spot for subtopics comes from both keyword research and competitive analysis.

Competitive analysis for cluster subtopic research

High-volume target keywords don’t always mean your content will thrive, especially if the competition has already covered those subtopics. Competitive analysis helps you see what keywords (or subtopics) your competitors rank for, and where you can fill in the gaps to outperform them.

For example, you might notice a competitor’s existing content falls short in breadth or credibility. So you’ll take inspiration from the topic but enhance it with updated stats, first-person expertise, or a more appealing user experience.

Or, you might capitalize on cluster subtopics your competitors weren’t ranking for altogether.

Got your pillar topic clusters and subtopics? Great. Let’s organize them.

3. Create a content calendar that maps out keywords, channels, and timelines

Every one of our seasoned marketers will tell you that we don’t publish anything without a plan. That’s why we lay out our clients’ content schedule in a detailed content marketing calendar that includes:

  • Marketing channels: Will we publish on their blog, website, social media channels, or Google Ads?
  • Formats: You can cover a topic with written content like long-form blog articles, images (like product photos), videos (like YouTube tutorials), user-generated content (like testimonials), and various content formats.
  • Keywords and specs: Note the keywords covered in all content pieces, including specs like volume, competition, match type, and audience intent.
  • Date and frequency: When will you publish the content, and how often?

Content calendars protect your content and marketing strategy from duplicate posts, inconsistent schedules, keyword mistakes, budget misallocation, and a host of potential setbacks.

But the content calendar isn’t the only thing gluing all your content together.

4. Interlink your content across relevant web pages

Your pillar pages and cluster pages are separate organs in the body of your digital marketing strategy. But your hyperlinks to each page act as the nerves that keep everything together, making it easier for search engines to crawl your content.

Hyperlinks are links you add to anchor text (the text you highlight and add a web link to) that bring your audience to new web pages, in this case, web pages within your topic cluster.

HubSpot always recommends a content audit that covers your linking structure before you add more internal linking to your content, and we agree.

Assess where your existing content links to and which pages are left out.

Notice any pages lacking in organic traffic? This might be a sign to either update your content with more related keywords, improve your user experience, or add more internal links to this page across your website.

All these tweaks will contribute to high-quality content that search engines will want to crawl and rank.

5. Use metrics to inform optimization tweaks

The most important performance indicator for cluster content? Search rankings, says Lewis:

“Did we improve the rank of the target pillar page to #0 or #1 of the SERP?” asks Lewis. “If the answer is no, we may need to reevaluate the cluster’s design.”

Other useful metrics to keep an eye on include:

  • Average session duration: The length of time a potential customer spends on a web page
  • Organic traffic: Clicks that come from your SERP content
  • Keyword rankings: Your SERP position for specific keywords compared to competitors

Don’t be afraid to test out different topics and keyword combos. For instance, we used A/B testing to measure changes in conversion rate and ranking position for our finance SaaS client TimeWarp Trading. The insights helped us generate a mega 471% return on ad spend (ROAS).

But does every brand need a topic cluster content strategy? If you want your content to work for you, and not against you, then yes.

Why you need a content cluster plan

Say you have a well-educated audience who already knows the ins and outs of a particular topic. Does that make subject-matter content less valuable, and less worth investing in?

Lewis says this presumption contributes to a common mistake brands make in disregarding the importance of topic cluster content.

“The fact of the matter is, we can tell that users are entering the longtail queries (questions) to search engines, and we need to provide those answers if we want search engines to consider our client to have topical authority,” he says.

And if you don’t accompany your pillar content with updated cluster subtopic pages? Lewis compares search engine algorithms’ treatment of clusters to Aristotle’s famous quote:

“The sum of the whole is greater than the parts. The more supporting pieces of content that you have internally linking to your pillar page, the more comprehensive your cluster,” explains Lewis.

“As clusters become more comprehensive, typically the rank of each page/post in the cluster improves, because search engines view you as more topically authoritative.”

So without a topic cluster content plan that accounts for all relevant, specific subjects per cluster, you miss out on:

  • Topical authority: This is the ranking boost search engines give sources with in-depth topic clusters.
  • Traffic opportunities: The more questions your content answers, the greater proportion of your audience you’ll attract to your website.
  • Inbound marketing leads at every stage of the funnel: Pillar content pages attract bottom-funnel audiences ready to buy, but cluster subtopic pages help you establish yourself as a reputable source of information for potential customers down the line.

The takeaway

From social media reels to how-to blog articles, content marketing opportunities are endless. But what type of content will rank highest on Google search results and please the powers that be (we’re looking at you, search engine crawlers)?

A topic cluster SEO strategy will show you the way to the top of the SERP. The catch? This is no trivial task.

Brainstorming content ideas for pillar pages, subtopic pages, and an all-encompassing linking structure can eat up a good chunk of your schedule. And if your pages don’t perform, it can easily feel like you’re losing that prized ROI your content was shooting for in the first place.

As an award-winning, Google Premier Partner, HawkSEM boasts a team of seasoned PPC and SEO marketing experts with a proven track record of audience-converting content strategies. The results? An impressive average 4.5X ROI.

B2B, B2C, finance, education, ecommerce—we’re well-versed in all of them. No matter your niche, HawkSEM’s skilled strategists are ready to tailor your strategy to get you the marketing revenue you deserve.

Ready to create content that satisfies your customers and crawlers? Let’s talk.

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon is an entrepreneur and writer from sunny SoCal. She leads Lyon Content, a tight-knit team of bold creatives, and crafts engaging written content that helps brands sparkle and scale.