The Principles of Online Search Haven't Changed, but the Technology Has
Although the primary objective of search engines -- to deliver the most relevant content results as quickly as possible, in response to online search queries -- hasn't changed, much of how those search engines (Google, in particular) evaluate the "relevance" of content and use technology to map and crawl content online has changed.
In response to voice search, the rise of mobile devices, and how much more conversational and complex our search queries as buyers have become, a new content strategy framework involving topic clusters and pillar content has emerged, and the old ways of doing keyword research no longer apply.
In the following video (length, 12:30) from IMPACT Live '18, IMPACT Director of Web and Interactive Content Liz Murphy explains how exactly search has changed in recent years, why our old ways of doing keyword research are broken, what topic clusters and content pillars are, and why this new framework is the future of building content strategies:
Watching this video will be critical to your understanding of what's to follow. Do not skip over it.
How to Implement a Topic Cluster & Pillar Content Strategy
- Select the broad keywords you will target for your topic clusters, with the understanding that it will be the focus keyword for your content pillar. Your selections should be guided by the most important products and services you sell -- for example, our first topic cluster was centered around "website redesign." (You can build them one at a time, but at least begin the planning for between three and five clusters.)
- For each cluster, you will need to select between eight and 22 related subtopics that will be bidirectionally linked to your content pillar. Audit the content you've already created first to see if any can be connected. From there, if you still have gaps, use The Big 5 as a guiding principle when brainstorming new subtopics. (While the HubSpot SEO Tool can be helpful for planning, you can also use our Pillar Content Workbook to complete these initial steps.)
- Write your content pillar, using the process outlined in this article -- How to Write a Content Pillar Page. (This article not only covers how to develop a pillar strategy, how to create the perfect outline, and guidance on word count, it also provides more insight on how to pick your core keyword for your content pillar/topic cluster.)
- Track the performance of your new content strategy. Note that there is no single metric that will tell you the success of your new pillar strategy -- much of it will depend on the goals you set for each, and there are numerous ways to track how much traffic your strategy is attracting to your website and how much revenue you're generating from it.
- Continuously improve your content pillars with new information and updates over time. We recommend an agile approach in which, once a quarter, you review a select number of your pillars to see what changes need to be made, and how you can improve the content, design, or user experience.
Also, we've mentioned a few times in this playbook step that we need to rethink how we perform keyword research. But what's actually changed?
Keword Research: Then vs. Now
It used to be that we would create content strategies from a list of arbitrary long-tail keywords we thought search engines would like. Then we'd retrofit content topics to those keywords. It was a robots first, people second approach.
That no longer works.
Whether we're talking about The Big 5 or the topics you choose for your topic clusters and content pillars, marketers must now embrace a people first, robots second approach to keyword research.
Using your products, services, and business goals as context, your keyword strategies need to be hyper-focused on the needs of your buyers first -- the questions they're asking, the topics they care about the most, and so on.
For example, going back to our pillar on website redesign for businesses, we knew we wanted to focus on that as a business, because we sell website redesign services. However, from there, our attention turned to our audience. Before touching any keyword research tools, we brainstormed the most important questions our buyers have about that service for subtopic content in our topic cluster, as well as the base content for the pillar itself.
Only then, with that understanding, did we turn to keyword research to validate and optimize those topics for search. (We highly recommend SEMrush for keyword research.)
For more information on how to do keyword research the right way, read our How to Do Keyword Research guide, which outlines what's changed and how you need to adapt your processes.