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Wendy Johnson

Topic Clusters: How to Create More Content with Less Research

Wendy Johnson
Topic Clusters: How to Create More Content with Less Research

How do you currently come up with ideas for articles and content? Most content creators take one of two approaches: they either brainstorm a whole list of topics at one time and then take a couple of months to work through the list, or they write articles as they think of topics one-by-one. Let me suggest a more efficient method: topic clustering.

What is a Topic Cluster?

For the purposes of creating content for your site, a topic cluster is a group of content pieces that each relate to a single, finite central topic. A topic cluster might be a stand-alone, miniature content hub. Or it could be part of a larger content hub.

And unlike repurposing content (finding new ways to present and reuse previously created content) you are going to create 7 unique pieces of content from the beginning. Technically, you could eventually repurpose each of those 7 pieces of content and end up with a total of 18-25 pieces of content, but the goal of this strategy is to end up with quality information and not just quantity.

Benefits of Creating Topic Clusters

Saves Time: Research once and create seven times! The research you do will apply to all pieces of content in your cluster. You will also save huge amounts of actual writing time. As you write each piece of content in your cluster, you will be able to write faster and better.

Great for SEO: For most web sites, topic clusters form on their own...eventually. But this approach allows you to proactively create content around a topic cluster and that is the key to its SEO power. You are proactively giving Google what it needs to understand your relationship to and authority on a topic.

Showcases Your Expertise: One great article isn’t necessarily going to show your deep level of understanding. But if you can create seven high-quality pieces of content that stem from a single topic, you are creating a path to becoming a thought leader.

Helps You Reach More Readers: Your readers do not read 100% of your content. Your mom might say that she does, but I bet that even she doesn’t read every piece of content you create. By creating a topic cluster, you ensure that most of your readers will read at least one piece of content in the cluster. And if you do it right, you can leverage topic clustering to reach new readers (via guest posting on other sites and creating a piece of incentive content).

So how do you actually create a topic cluster?

Generate Ideas for Your Topic Cluster

Your topic cluster should start with a single idea. This is not brainstorming! Start by researching that first simple idea. As you research and write, related ideas are going to start popping up in your mind. As you read others’ content, you will also start seeing different points of view and spins on the topic. Figuring out these connections and perspectives is what helps you create a tight topic cluster.

Capture your ideas immediately: As you research and write your first article, create a place in your document to capture your discovered topic ideas.

To help you think of relationships within the topic, keep these questions in the back of your mind. They will help you identify topics that belong in your cluster.

  • What does my secondary audience want to know about this topic?
  • What other points of view/perspectives apply to this topic?
  • What other variations can I find for this topic?
  • What is the dissenting arguments against this topic?
  • Can I make this topic bigger?
  • Can I make this topic smaller?
  • What can I teach my readers about this topic?
  • Is there a knowledge gap that I need to fill as a result of my original idea? For example, your first article might explain “c” and now you need to explain “a” and “b.”

Research and Validate Your Topic Ideas

You need to do some research to make sure you are on the right track with your topic cluster. The following are three ways you can research your topic. Pick the research method(s) that are right for you and your topic.

What does Wikipedia think about your topic? Wikipedia entries show up at the top of Google search results for a reason – their topic articles are typically well researched and in depth. Use Wikipedia to your benefit. Reviewing the Wikipedia entry for your topic can help you validate your ideas (are your ideas relevant to your topic?) and help you generate more ideas around your topic (what have they discussed that you haven’t thought of?).

What does Google think about your topic? Use the Google Adwords Keyword tool to look up your topic. Look at the related words and the suggested categories. Also, use the Google Autocomplete to further your topic research. What does Google suggest when you start typing your topic into the search bar?

What do you see on social media? For topic research, Pinterest and Twitter can provide wonderful insight. What kind of content are people sharing about your topic? What are they saying about it?

Deliver Your Topics in Multiple Content Formats

Unlike repurposing content, topic clustering is when you create seven unique pieces of content about a single topic. You may choose to write seven blog posts for your site – that is completely valid.

In fact, the highly successful website AuthorityNutrition.com intuitively follows a topic cluster concept. They quickly publish articles based on a single topic. SEO analysts theorize that part of Authority Nutrition's success is due to their intuitive topic cluster approach. Here is a recent example of one of their topic clusters:

  • 6/14/2015: What is Intermittent Fasting? Explained in Human Terms
  • 6/21/2015: 6 Popular Ways to do Intermittent Fasting
  • 6/28/2015: How Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight
  • 7/12/2015: 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

But you don’t have to just create articles or blog posts to fill out your topic cluster. There are many great formats that can help you create a topic cluster that is filled with a diversity of information. Sometimes just presenting the content in another form adds a whole new layer to the topic (for example creating a PDF worksheet from a blog post gives the topic a whole new slant).

  • Blog posts (create a series of posts like the Authority Nutrition example)
  • Guest blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Instructographics
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Courses
  • Ebook
  • Content upgrades
  • PDF checklists and worksheets
  • Email drip campaigns or email-based classes that link to a pdf on your site
  • Slideshare presentations
  • Writing an article for social sites like Quora, LinkedIn, or Medium
  • Webinars

Example of Topic Clusters

Here is a peak at the current topic cluster that I am creating for my site. I want to give you a quick glimpse into my process. Here are all the pieces I created in the order that I created them:

  1. Add Power to Your Content with Storytelling (blog post)
  2. 28 Day Website Writing Challenge (28 pdf lessons that are delivered via a link in an email)
  3. How to Avoid These Top 3 Colossal Writing Mistakes! An Expert’s Easy Advice (blog post)
  4. 5 Ways to Create More Engaging Content (Guest post)
  5. Seduce Your Readers: The Proven Emotional Power of Words (Guest post to be published at Score.org)
  6. In production: Checklist for Creating Content that Engages Your Readers (PDF download with a short introductory blog post)
  7. In production: A webinar “writing class.” The webinar recording will later be repurposed as an incentive to attract new email subscribers.

The first article I wrote was an average length blog post (it wasn’t a huge “cornerstone” type of article). Any piece of content from a tiny 300 word blog post to huge ebook can be the catalyst for a topic cluster.

The topic for my first article was “how to create content that will connect with your reader.” During the writing process, I found four additional variations of the topic and then I came up with two more after some research.

From the research of the first and second pieces of content, I was able to generate all the remaining content pieces with no additional research time.

Next time you buckle down to research a topic, make the most of your time and effort. Creating content clusters doesn’t just save you a handful of further research sessions – it also helps each piece of content add value to the others. It creates cohesion that will increase your reach to your current audience and help expose your expertise on a topic. It increases your organic search power and, most importantly, saves you a little sanity in the process.

Wendy Johnson

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Wendy Johnson is a sought after messaging and content strategist, she helps companies connect with customers via targeted content and social media. She shares how she does it at KapowContent.com, where you can join her 28 Day Writing Challenge. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
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