Topic clusters has been a hot topic in the SEO community lately. They move the emphasis in SEO away from individual keywords to broader categories. Instead of optimizing a page for a keyword like “reduced fat mozzarella cheese”, the goal is to create valuable content for a strategic category such as “cheese”. By focusing on multiple topics within categories and linking these pages to the main topic page, businesses gain authority and performance for the entire topic cluster.
I agree that it’s a great idea, I’m just not so sure that it’s a “new” one. Organizing by topic clusters is old news for Drupal; it has had this capability for years. If you have a Drupal website, you may be ahead of the trend and well positioned for changing SEO strategies. Even if you haven’t designed your website around content categories, your Drupal website already has the tools you need to organize around topic clusters.
What are Topic Clusters for SEO?
Topic clusters for SEO really got its start with the Hummingbird update to Google search in 2013. In this release, Google began to pay more attention to the context of content. Instead of focusing on individual words in a search for content, Google began to pay more attention to the intent of what the person is trying to find out. This began to push the focus of SEO strategy to content not just keywords.
The first article I remember written on the subject, was at moz.com: "Building SEO-Focused Pages to Serve Topics & People Rather than Keywords & Rankings." In this whiteboard Friday blog, Rand Fishkin wrote about how SEO is more effective when focused on a topic.
"With updates like Hummingbird, Google is getting better and better at determining what's relevant to you and what you're looking for. This can actually help our work in SEO, as it means we don't have to focus quite so intently on specific keywords.... And this is why we're seeing this big shift to this new model, this more modern model, where SEO is really about the broad performance of search traffic across a website, and about the broad performance of the pages receiving search visits.”
As a result of the Hummingbird and other updates, experienced SEO providers began changing their tactics. Even so, HubSpot’s article in May 2017, titled “Topic Clusters: The Next Evolution of SEO,” generated a lot of attention in the SEO world. This blog clearly defined topic cluster strategy. Mimi An states:
“SEO is now shifting to a topic cluster model, where a single 'pillar' page acts as the main hub of content for an overarching topic and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link back to the pillar page and to each other. This linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page may rank higher and higher for the topic it covers. The topic cluster model, at its very essence, is a way of organizing a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture.”
Because these articles have done a great job of explaining why we should be using topic clusters, I’m not going to expand on this.
What I bring to the table is years of experience in specialized Drupal SEO that includes helping clients organize their websites into topic clusters. And one thing is sure: Drupal 8 is great at organizing content around topic clusters. That isn't new at all.
How to Organize Around Topic Clusters in Drupal 8
One of Drupal’s greatest features is the way it manages, stores, and displays content, which is one reason why it is such a great CMS for marketers. Drupal gives you the control and flexibility necessary to customize how and where your content is displayed. This flexibility sets Drupal apart from other CMSes.
Drupal 8 has two core modules that allow you to organize content around topic clusters: Taxonomy and Views. (Incidentally, these features are available or can be added to older versions of Drupal, too.)
The Taxonomy system controls the categorization of your content. Other CMSes call them “categories” but in Drupal is a little different. And, in a way, "taxonomies" is a more accurate description anyway.
The first step to any topic cluster strategy is to choose your topics. The topics should be driven by your business strategy and the Taxonomy should be determined by the business requirements of your website.
To choose topic clusters, think about how your customers categorize what you do or sell. Consider what key issues your customers are dealing with when they are searching for your website. Once you’ve chosen one or more high-level topics, think about how the topic cluster can be broken down into subcategories.
Your local grocery store is a good example of how this should work. Grocers divide the store into aisles of related products. In the dairy aisle, you will find products further segmented by cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc. Think about how crazy your shopping trip would be if the grocers just put the items in the store without categorization.
Instead of simple trips up and down aisles, you would probably have to navigate back and forth across the store. (Insert sound of shopping carts crashing here!) Would you go back? When it is easy and quick to find what you want, you are more likely to go back for more.
Your website should work the same way. The product segments, like cheese, make up topic clusters; Taxonomy is like the refrigerator aisles and shelves that neatly hold the products.
Real-Life, Drupal Examples of Topic Clusters
Now let’s get into how this really works in Drupal. Once you have chosen your topic clusters, you can use Taxonomy to organize and display your content.
(Really quick aside: the Taxonomy system contains multiple Vocabularies. Each Vocabulary contain many Terms. It’s confusing at first but makes a lot of sense once you understand it. Just remember: Taxonomy > Vocabulary > Term.)
An often used Vocabulary is called “Tags”. The Tags vocabulary holds all of the terms that you’ve used to tag content on your site. I think everyone knows what tagging an article on your website is, but just in case: it’s a small snippet of text that describes what an article is all about. For example, this article is tagged with “Drupal 8” , "Drupal Tips", and “SEO”.
When you tag content as it’s created, Drupal’s taxonomy system creates a term in the Tags vocabulary. By tagging each piece of content, you connect, relate, and classify your content. Each term can be reused for other content as well.
Taxonomy keeps track of all the content that has a particular term applied to it and provides menu and navigation schemes to view and display that content together on a single page, called a "Term page". Hmmm...that sounds a lot like a content cluster, doesn’t it?
If a user selects any category term, Drupal will display the content links tagged with that term. Drupal automatically creates searchable topic cluster pages with links to relevant content.
Here's an example on the Volacci.com website. Our whole website is about Drupal SEO, but we have topics within that subject, such as Drupal 8 SEO and Drupal News. In this website, Drupal SEO is the main topic cluster. Within that topic, we have detailed content such as Drupal 8 SEO lead generation that add up to provide a broad range of knowledge about Drupal SEO.
Under the title and subtitle, you’ll see the tags I chose for that article — some already existed, some were new. Once I put the tags on this blog, Drupal automatically created a searchable page for these categories. When the reader clicks on the “Planet Drupal” tag, they see this:
I don’t have to do anything to create this page; Drupal will just show all the content that is published and tagged. The module that does this for you is Views. Views is a core module in Drupal 8 but is also available as an add-on in previous versions.
The Views module allows you to use the default taxonomy term view but see it differently without the need for additional coding. For example, you can filter the results or sort it alphabetically. A great example of this is customer information; you can create customer views that show current orders sorted by product or date.
Once you’ve selected the topic cluster you want to view, Views allows you display the content in multiple forms. For this particular view, I added an author name and picture. Now, the user can click on one of the links to read more about the topic category, or even explore a new category.
This is a very simple example of how Drupal creates Google-searchable pages around topic clusters. You can even try it for yourself with this post. Take a look at the Drupal 8 tag under the title of this post right now and click on the following tag: "drupal 8". Go ahead. I'll wait.
You should have gotten a page that looks something like this:
Implement Topic Clusters on Your Drupal Website
Would you like your Drupal website to be easy to explore? If you need some help setting up your website for topic clusters, contact Volacci. Using our proven processes and strategies for Drupal SEO, we can work with you to choose topic clusters and implement them on your website.