Why Use Content Clusters

Marta Lillo Bustos

November 06, 2017

If you think your content strategy has what it takes to capture more leads, then think again.

You’re probably applying the wrong perspective, and you don’t even know it.

Mind my words: I’m not saying you’re doing it wrong. It’s simpler than that: you and I have been wired to think chronologically or in sequence—one idea after another.

However, when it comes to search for content, we throw that order out of the window. Instead, our mind becomes cluttered with ideas and expectations. Our hands may type one idea on the search engine, but our mind is thinking about multiple stuff surrounding that idea.

Your content strategy needs to do the same. Instead of sequence thinking, approach your content by cluster thinking. Visualize it as a tree of knowledge with different branches. The tree is your pilar, your core topic; each branch is a different perspective or side to the main theme.

Start organizing your content as a cluster, rather than a succession of ideas, and you’ll nail your content topic selection.

I realized that the hard way. Before I fell in love with Inbound digital content marketing and became completely comfortable with it, I had a vague idea about how theme selection worked. A news reporter by formation, I was taught that information always came your way by default; there’s always news!

Yes, there’s always a story to tell. But when it comes to hunting for high-quality content, that’s another different chapter in the book.

Know what you’re writing about

Granted, you may have the most wonderful SEO strategy laid out; your Google keywords ranking is a beauty, and you’ve come up with innovative blog ideas and catchy headlines. However, they are all just waiting to be written.

But if your strategy didn’t think through its core topic and subtopics, then you’ll basically be writing large chunks of underperforming content.

These will render underperforming results and a complete waste of your time.

“Wait a minute?” you might say. “I have a topic. I know what I have to write about.”

Having a good idea is not a core topic. A keyword is not a subtopic. Neither is writing about what comes first in your Google search.

The core topic is the main subject or theme of your content strategy. It’s the general idea from which you’ll organize separate blog posts or subtopics.

The way HubSpot approaches this is through a cluster model. Instead of individual, disconnected posts, a cluster helps gather all thoughts around a theme.

Easier written than done, however. It’s not rocket science, but building a topic cluster is harder than it looks at first.

Approaching a theme from all sides possible takes more than a mere Google search. It requires research, learning, and understanding the issues behind the subject, diagnosing what’s been written and what’s not.

In my case, the first couple of content pillars based on traditional sequence thinking took me a whole week to build. After that, I would research online and offline, ask around sources and acquaintances, grill clients for information gaps.

As I went on cluster mode, I was able to envision the different perspectives quicker and easier. I also learned to filter out content in my search faster and more effectively; there’s so much garbage online with a nice headline!

Now, this exercise requires time and patience. And a deeper understanding of the subjects behind your clients’ businesses.

Here’s how I organize my search:

  • Search in-house: Ask clients for available material. The more, the better. From ebooks to internal memos, training information, and client brochures, everything counts.
  • Dismember your available content: Search for key ideas, keywords, and sources. Then, separate them into groups of information; what’s basic, what’s a novelty, what’s evergreen data (stays the same no matter the years).
  • Grill Google: Do a thorough search engine search using the data you’ve reviewed. See what comes up in and contrast that with what people are searching about that theme. This will provide much-needed insight into the subtopics.
  • Go on lead mode: After you’ve thoroughly reviewed your second and third source material, interview your clients as if you were a potential lead. Again, filter out the complicated from the straightforward.
  • Go hardcore: Think about the common denominator of all the available data and the ideas that have sprung from all the research. That’s your main theme.
  • Branch out: Now that you have your core theme start looking for different approaches or perspectives. Spend some serious time on this. The more sides you find, the more content you’ll have available.
  • Shake it up: Mix your subtopics, take perspectives out, add new ones. Test how your pillar content holds up. If everything keeps pointing to your core topic, then you’re ready to go.
  • Start writing: Begin with the “simpler” sub-themes and work your way up to the complex ones. This will save time and resources, given that it may take you longer to write a difficult side or perspective, setting back the entire production pipeline.

My approach to selecting a core topic and subtopics works well, but it’s not bulletproof. It’s not static either; every day, I learn new and better ways to think themes and ideas.

Nonetheless, I always remain in cluster mode.

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Marta Lillo Bustos

Marta believes in giving content a chance. When she’s not researching or editing, she enjoys a good read and spending time with her family.

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