How to Do Keyword Clustering and Pump Up Your Rankings
Keywords are the bedrock of search engine optimization.
They are the tools that people use to find the perfect content online for their needs. With that known, how does Google help match the ideal page with a person’s actual search intent?
This article will explain how keyword clustering attacks this problem directly. We’ll help you gain an understanding of the strategy, its myriad SEO benefits, and how you can perform keyword clustering for your website.
What is Keyword Clustering?
Keyword clustering is an SEO strategy in which website owners group, or cluster, related keywords based on their implied intention. Google is able to better understand your content based on these relationships, and, therefore, helps your page gain visibility with the correct audience.
For example, let’s use a car dealership as an example for our business website. Our main focus is “automobiles.” However, this keyword is too vague and can apply to a wide variety of related queries that include that keyword. Therefore, we need to examine that list of terms and cluster them into related groups.
From there, we might ask what is important about the automobile business. It provides both automobile sales and automobile repairs. These can serve as the pillar pages for other keywords that end up looking something like this with “automobile as our pillar”.
From there, you can then begin to choose which keywords are important for your business. You’ll also want to be mindful of the keyword’s search intent before including it in the cluster.
In the above example, certain keywords like “automobile definition,” and “automobile insurance” do not fit into our grouping. While our auto dealer can certainly speak about either topic, the cluster is focusing on “automobile sales,” a transactional keyword.
“Automobile definition” is likely unnecessary, while we would only be able to speak about auto insurance from an informational perspective, which would be better suited as a different pillar within a blog.
Be aware that clusters themselves can become pillars for other clusters as your website expands. “Automobile parts” alone can bring up a slew of related terms that would direct users to content that helps them either purchase specific parts or learn more about their vehicle. Both of which present new content options for your site and new opportunities to boost your SEO.
The Benefits of Keyword Clustering
Keyword clustering is the best way to boost the overall SEO benefits of your website. When you build your website, you should plan all of your content around using related terms that support similar search intent.
When you do so, your website will benefit in the following ways:
1. You’re More Likely to Rank Higher Overall
Google is no longer necessarily interested in the volume of a particular keyword on a page. SEOs and content creators used to look for as many opportunities to cram a word or phrase onto a page to boost their rankings.
Now, Google’s crawler is able to understand the bigger picture. Instead of simply matching a keyword with a query, it wants to find different, but related terms that help solidify the true intention. In other words, Google wants to help users who want to buy a product do so. Likewise, it wants to provide unbiased information to a user just looking to browse.
By working with Google’s needs in this way, you help ensure that all of your content gets a visibility boost. When the search engine is confident that your content will satisfy a user’s full needs, the more likely it is to recommend your brand.
2. It Helps Attract Better-Qualified Traffic
This is an inevitability when using keyword clustering and gaining more visibility overall.
When it comes to your bottom line, what matters is your return on investment. If your optimized webpage gets 1,000 clicks, but only 10 purchases, it’s underperforming. If it receives 100 unique visitors but converts 100 sales, it’s a success.
Keyword clustering helps website owners avoid the mistake of chasing vanity numbers like impressions or clicks. While it’s important to boost your traffic, it’s more important to make sure your content gets seen by the people that are most likely to engage with it.
When you take the time to keyword cluster, you naturally begin to segregate your keywords by the user’s search intent. By prioritizing that ahead of time, you can plan content topics that focus on the keyword AND intention to maximize your performance.
3. Boosted Rankings for Additional Search Terms
Including related terms on your pillar page will help that main keyword rank higher in search results.
The added benefit is that the high-ranking page can also help your site get additional clicks for the related terms. This is most common with long-tail keywords that typically net a lower search volume, thus leading many to avoid them.
The truth is that long-tail keywords are a hidden SEO superpower as they tend to exhibit better engagement due to the strong search intent. Because we already value user intent when clustering our content, we have an easier time getting those important clicks from our secondary or tertiary terms.
4. It Will Boost Vital SEO Metrics
A higher engagement rate with your website content will also boost your most-tracked SEO metrics across the board.
As Google is better able to match the right visitors with your content, your bounce rate will decrease. These qualified leads want to explore your offerings making them less likely to leave. Meanwhile, your average session duration, page clicks, and custom goals will see a boost as they spend more time on a page.
You can leverage even more of an SEO boost by using the best techniques like internal linking. Take advantage of these clusters and their intent to show new customers around your brand while you already have their attention.
5. It Futureproofs Your Website
By structuring your website around pillars and clusters, you’ll have an easier time adding new pages and content in the future.
Many site owners will make the mistake of creating new pages to help rank for certain keywords as time passes and the site grows. This makes sense as new information, techniques, and guides become available every day. The newest, latest information will benefit from the highest rankings.
The issue arises whenever you already have a page ranking for that keyword. By adding new pages that rank for the same keyword, you end up suffering from what’s known as keyword cannibalization. Two of your pages are fighting for the same authority as opposed to having one super page that could outrank your competitors.
With keyword clustering, everything is better organized for future content additions. Similarly, you’ll have an easier time referencing existing content and simply making the necessary updates to those pages. In short, keyword clustering sets you up to make smarter choices for your website’s SEO.
How to Perform Keyword Clustering?
Keyword clustering is not necessarily a difficult process as much as it can be a time-consuming one. This will vary depending on how specific your niche is and how many industry-related terms are actually relevant to your brand.
To get started with your keyword clustering strategy, follow these important steps:
1. Start Compiling a List of Keywords
No matter what your strategy is, SEO content creation begins here.
The best strategy is to take advantage of whichever SEO tool or keyword finder you’re most accustomed to using. We make frequent use of SEMRush, but tools like Moz or Ahrefs are excellent alternatives.
Don’t forget about any existing keyword data you have on hand. You’ll want to consider how you’ll organize any existing content into your clusters to avoid common errors like keyword cannibalization.
Next, follow the tried-and-true SEO strategy of directly examining your closest competitors. You’re not necessarily looking at the top of the ranks, but the websites that are closest to your actual position. Determine what keywords they’re using, how they group their content, and what type of content they provide to support their efforts. Then, differentiate yourself and determine how you can do it better.
You’ll also want to save time by pruning out any unnecessary keywords. Many of the keywords yielded may have tangential relations to your industry, but many will not have anything immediately to do with your core offerings. Avoid adding queries like this to your clusters to avoid confusing search intent.
2. Identify the Core Term to Create Your Groups
After you compile your list of terms, you’ll want to begin the process of grouping or clustering your keywords.
You do this by looking for the words or phrases that appear most frequently throughout the list. This can turn into a tremendous time-sink, making it much more reasonable to seek out a service that specifically offers clustering assistance. Thankfully, all of the tools we recommended above offer clustering and segmentation tools to help you identify the most commonly-appearing terms.
When you observe your keywords by frequency, you should naturally begin to see similarities. The constant term in each is your core, allowing you then further segment your keywords into distinct clusters.
Going back to our first example in this article, “automobile” was our core, while we went on to create cluster pages for “automobile sales” and “automobile repairs.” Both are extensions of automobiles and relate, but ultimately serve two distinct purposes for our audience.
3. Plan and Create Pages for Each Cluster
With your groups made and the search intent identified, you can begin the process of creating the actual content. We started with the grouped content as it will play a significant role in building up your central pillar page.
These cluster pages are crucial for content marketing as it allows your writers to explore topics in greater depth. They should aim to fully understand the user’s search intent while satisfying every need they have.
You’ll want every cluster page to expound on precise topics with at least 1,000 words, if not more. Do your best to keep unrelated topics to their own page, while internally linking to those topics whenever relevant. This not only helps create a beautiful network of information but helps you maximize your SEO benefits for each website URL.
4. Assemble the Pillar
Finally, you can begin creating a pillar page that helps deliver all of the information available on your core topic.
Many sites already have pages that serve as a pillar, whether it be the home page, a product categories page, or a service page. The mistake many make is failing to provide it with any meaningful content outside of linking to the cluster pages.
Instead, the pillar page ought to be the go-to page that someone can use to find any answer on the core topic. You should create content that effectively walks readers through the subject while taking every effort to link out to your clustered content when relevant. Then, the user has the opportunity to open the new link or bookmark your different site pages for later viewing.
Repeat the process of creating a pillar page for every cluster group you made during step two. Double-check to make sure all of your clustered content helps to support your pillar.
Common Keyword Clustering Mistakes
While keyword clustering is an important SEO strategy, it doesn’t grant automatic results. Critical mistakes may prevent your site from seeing any rank increase.
Be mindful of these everyday SEO mistakes when planning your website’s pillars and clusters.
1. Keyword Cannibalization
Keyword clustering generally helps to avoid this particular issue. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for site owners to inadvertently cannibalize their keyword rankings, especially as your page number count and content library grow.
It makes sense for you to add content when you want to improve your rankings for that keyword. The problem with creating two unique pages is that Google’s crawler wants to index one page per domain as this is the ideal practice. When it sees the request to index two pages for the same keyword, it’s unable to pick the “right” one. You end up hurting your ranking efforts rather than helping them.
Instead of creating a new page, consider adding new sections of content to the existing page. As long as the old information is still relevant, it can remain while benefitting from the updated data.
Likewise, if the older page has outdated, irrelevant content, consider replacing all of the content or deleting the page entirely. There is no one correct option and your strategy should be based on your current keyword rankings.
Keep a map of all the content and keywords used throughout your site. Before creating a new page for your SEO, look back to your map and act accordingly to avoid cannibalizing your progress.
2. Keeping Your Pages Static
Another mistake website owners make is believing that creating a web page is a one-and-done endeavor. Injecting updates of new content to your site is the best way to keep your pages modern and eligible for higher rankings.
Most site owners will try to do this by creating new pages weekly with strategies like creating a blog. While this is highly recommended, your pillar and cluster pages also need regular updates.
The reason for this is that Google’s crawler is always looking for the most reliable, up-to-date data. The crawler is likely to favor a brand-new page with accurate data as opposed to a page that was last edited three months prior.
It’s best practice to check in on your website pages at least every few months. Of course, this frequency can change depending upon how often your industry goes through changes that could affect your content and the accuracy of the information within.
Even if your core content is still valuable, it’s healthy to check in on your site and see if changes can be made to improve or merge content. You should also honestly reassess your old content for readability, grammar mistakes, or general structure errors. Completing these quick fixes is a great way to refresh the page for crawlers.
3. Failure to Implement Internal Linking Strategies
This critical mistake causes many site owners to lose out on easy boosts to their overall site performance.
When we create our keyword clusters, we are laying the template for how all of our ranked keywords relate to one another. They all feed into the core topic, the pillar, but their shared nature also allows for countless internal linking opportunities that should come naturally.
For example, when a user looks up our example website for automobile sales, there’s room to explore that intention. While the core intent is to find a vehicle to purchase, you may be able to leverage that intent to explore your related content. You might want to show off different types of vehicles, vehicle parts, or specific vehicle brands.
You should ensure that each page focuses on the topic at hand. However, capitalize on natural opportunities to share your additional content with the reader as it pertains to their immediate interest. You’re simply presenting them with an option to engage with more content and making it easy for them to do so.
4. Your Pillar Page Contains the Bare Minimum
This is another common mistake that is a result of misunderstanding the pillar page’s purpose.
Because the pillar page is the foundation that links out to cluster pages, site owners mistakenly think the pillar page requires little content. After all, it’s the cluster pages that delve into the deep minutiae of specific products or services that your brand offers.
However, your pillage page still requires content for crawlers to understand its purpose and how it relates to other content. While you should leave the fine details for cluster pages, the pillar page is ultimately meant to provide the user with all the information they need about the core topic. The cluster pages are there if they want to expand their knowledge on the related topics.
Ideally, your pillar page should have enough content to satisfy users and crawlers, but leave enough intrigue to motivate additional clicks. By providing quality content even on your pillar page, you solidify a cornerstone of your site’s foundation, hence the name “pillar.”
Structure Your Site Around Keyword Clustering
The old manner of mapping your keywords isn’t enough to keep up with Google’s changing algorithm.
By implementing keyword clustering, you get to put a greater emphasis on delivering high-quality content without placing as much stress on keyword frequency. Instead, you bolster your content by smartly segmenting keywords into clusters to explain their relationship.
Not only will clustering help you rank higher, but it will also help you boost your key SEO metrics across the board. Be sure to cluster intelligently, avoid cannibalizing your keywords, and make use of smart internal linking whenever possible to take your results further.