As a content writer, there is an imperative to find the perfect balance between what search engines will rank and what the end user will actually read, engage with, and take value from. High-ranking, poor-quality content is like an empty shop behind a stunning window display; people might stop to look, but when they realise what little is on offer, they are unlikely to hang around. On the flip side, there is no point beautifully crafting carefully researched content if nobody can find it to read it.
One way of improving search rankings while allowing you to demonstrate your expertise with carefully curated content is the use of content clusters and core topics.
What are core topics and content clusters?
Core topics and content clusters are pretty much exactly what they sound like: you take a core topic, for example Holidays in Greece, and create a pillar page outlining the basics. From this page, you will link a host of pages – content clusters – surrounding the pillar page. These clusters will be a mixture of keyword-lead and information-lead i.e. what the search engines want to hear, what your customers are searching for, and what you want your clients to hear. From your Holidays in Greece pillar, your cluster content might include: temperature in Greece; winter sun in Greece; child-friendly holidays in Greece; self-catering holidays in Greece; adult-only holidays in Greece; sailing holidays in Greece. The list can go on and will be largely influenced by three aforementioned factors:
- What search engines are looking for,
- What your customers want to read,
- What you want your customers to read.
Why are content clusters useful?
The importance of content clusters really depends on who you ask. If you ask Tim, head of SEO at Bravr, he will say that they allow you to drill down into niche audiences and leverage long-tail keywords to attract customers with an intent to buy. Tim will probably talk to you about E-E-A-T and how large volumes of relevant content will allow your site to rank for multiple keywords, building topical authority.
If you ask a content writer, they are more likely to say that content clusters are useful because humans like to buy from people that they trust and who they believe have in-depth industry insight. Creating a range of engaging, compelling content demonstrates expertise and proves to your potential customers that you can be trusted.
Plus, of course, the use of clusters allows you to build a cohesive site structure that will help to improve user experience which will help to improve rankings as well as conversion rates.
Choosing your core topics
Unless you specialise in one thing and one thing only, the process of choosing your core topics requires patience and discipline. You need to think about what you do best, you need to think about which keywords are 1) popular and 2) achievable, and you need to stick to it. For a travel client, they may decide to focus on specific markets that they know they can offer a great service on, as well as being confident that they can engage the audience e.g. sailing holidays, walking holidays or climbing holidays.
It helps to brainstorm a list of everything that you do. From that broader list, you can create a short list based on:
- Strategic direction: where do you want your organisation to go in the short and longer terms?
- Capacity: do you have existing content that you can develop upon?
- Relevance: what do your customers want?
- Previous success: what has worked well for you in the past, and what hasn’t?
- Competition: what are others in the industry doing, and to what degree of success?
In the context of our Holidays in Greece example, if an agency only sells holidays in Greece, the core topics might be the walking, sailing, swimming holidays, or specific location pages. However, if the agency provides holidays around the world, Holidays in Greece might be the core topic, and Greek Island Holidays, Mainland Greece Holidays, Sailing Holidays etc might be the cluster content.
As a content writer, arriving at the core topics is about volume; you want the topic to be broad enough that you can create a range of useful content, but not so diverse that there are infinite content opportunities, which could lead to the topic becoming wishy-washy and jumbled.
Creating the content
Once armed with the core topics, a content manager will pick a handful (four to five) different pieces to build in around the core page. The advantage of provisionally selecting the topics before writing the core page is that you can add references into those pages when you are creating your core topic page. The SEO team, of course, provide a host of data, including keywords. It can help to paste these at the top of the working document so that you can keep track of their use to make their integration into content organic.
A customer-focused approach
From a content writer’s perspective, it is important that every word is in the right place and has its relevance. Of course, writers have to obey the SEOs with regard to keywords, word counts and internal links but for the writer it is all about the customer. A content writer writing for a travel clientshould not be writing for that client; they should be writing for their client’s customers. People who are dreaming of their perfect holiday; of azure skies and pristine beaches; of that first sip of retsina sitting in the sultry heat of the Greek post-siesta lull. The writer needs the reader to relate to their words, and in doing so they are eliciting the reader’s trust on their client’s behalf. The use of keywords shouldn’t jar with the content; they should fit effortlessly into the content so that the customer is engaged and already tasting the moussaka, while the search engines are equally content with the volume and use of appropriate short and long-tailed keywords.