Why the Topic-Cluster Model Can Fail and How To Ensure It Doesn’t

There was a time when people keyed in specific questions into search engines, knowing they had to be precise to fetch the results they’re looking for. Fast forward a few years, the internet is growing at an astonishing pace now. The search queries have grown manifold, but there is also more content, more results, more competition. Nowadays, users can type vague and complicated queries expecting accurate results. Added to this, most people don’t even browse past the first search results page. With this shift, marketers are compelled to create content that will get their posts on the first page of Google. This has made content marketing a challenging task. A methodology that marketers are increasingly using to organize content better is the ‘topic cluster model’. Done right, it can create significant traffic, but there are also pitfalls that must be avoided.   

We’ll explore the topic cluster model, why it can fail, and how to avoid the pitfalls. 

Defining a Topic Cluster

In the topic cluster model, content is grouped by topics rather than by keywords. A single post, known as the ‘pillar’, acts as the hub around which there are other posts, known as ‘’clusters’. 

The pillar page is the main page which is usually a lengthy and detailed web page that gives the user all information about a particular topic. The clusters can be blogs, web pages, landing pages, and others. With this model. The search engine gets the signal that the pillar page is the one that has authority on the topic. This helps to improve the search rankings. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Model


This model, first made popular by HubSpot, has a number of advantages. These are: 

  • It helps you to organize your content 
  • It associates various high-level entities to your brand
  • It improves SEO by developing a semantic relationship between the pillar and the clusters. This allows search engines to crawl the content thereby identifying the relationships between the various posts on your website
  • Readers of your content are able to journey through the content that is of most interest to them in an efficient manner
  • The pillar content can be repurposed into blogs, special posts, sales pitches, and others


The model does have its drawbacks as well. 

  • There is the chance that in the search results the pillar pages will show up more often that the product pages. This will prevent buyers from making purchase decisions and you could land up losing prospects. 
  • Creating a pillar page a lot of time as it is usually quite lengthy and also needs to be regularly updated. 

When the Topic Cluster Model Can Fail

The topic cluster model can work both ways – act as a solid model and help with organizing your content, or fail if the nuances are not paid heed to. If you plan to use this model, you must avoid these:

Niche Pillars

When you are deciding on your pillar you should choose broad terms that have a high search volume and a high competition. Instead if you choose a pillar that is too niche or long-tail, you might not be able to develop enough clusters to make it a strong one. For instance if you choose your pillar as ‘customer feedback’, you will find that the search volume falls after the initial 5-10 phrases. This means that it will be a challenge for you to develop an adequate number of clusters around this term. Thus, to make this model a success for you, when you are choosing a pillar, always analyse whether it will give you the chance to create ample content around it or not. 

Broad Pillars

Yes, broad pillars are better than niche ones. However, there is a fine line between a broad one and one that is too broad. It is the latter that needs to be avoided. If you choose a pillar that is very broad, you might land up writing content that is not quite related to your product offering. For instance, if you use “productivity” as the pillar, the search will give you results like time management, being healthy, and others. Many of these would probably not even be  a part of your core business model! Hence, you should choose a broad term that is about what you offer. 

Overlapping Pillars

Sometimes organizations choose a handful of pillars that might have different search volumes but are too similar to one another. In such cases, Google will give similar results and thus have separate pillars is not needed. Also, with overlapping pillars you will be left wondering if content A would be a better fit to Pillar B or Pillar C. 

Competing Pillars 

Creating pillars that will turn into competition with your rocut pages is yet another error that companies make. The wise thing to do is to create pillars that are close to your brand. At times a simple anchor text or a change in the URL is all that is required to avoid such competition and even overlaps.

Ensuring the Model Does Not Fail

Make an Effective Pillar Page

  • Make the page aesthetically pleasing by using the right color and font. 
  • See that the table of contents can be easily seen on the page. You can use a “floating” table of contents on one side so that the reader knows which subtopic they are reading about. 
  • You can capture the visitor’s contact details by having an ebook-style version of the pillar that can be downloaded and shared with others. 
  • Instead of having promotional hyperlinks, you can insert it into larger pieces of information.
  • You can design a pillar page such that it looks like the blogs that belong to the cluster. This tells Google that there is an interlink between the pillar page and the rest of the blogs that it is linked to. 

Cleaning Up is Essential

Before you incorporate this model, one way to ensure that it doesn’t fail is to clean up all the content that you have. 

  • You might have to rework the content so that it is accordance with the chosen pillar
  • Analyse which are the low performing content and remove those such that the new blgs that you plan to write will get the traffic that you desire.

The topic cluster model is not just about getting your content organized. It is also about doing better on Google. This is because this search engine has not altered the algorithm for search results and now is in favor of content that is based on topics. Hence if you have a pillar page you are sure to get a high SERP ranking. 

Is This Model For You?

This model does not always work well for every organization. Will it work for you? 

  • It is best used by those brands that will get promoted by using high volume and broad keywords like say, “marketing”. 
  • It will work well for those companies whose offering operates in a small space like, say, startup where the pillar could be “entrepreneurship” or one that focuses on content wherein the pillar could become a keyword like “content marketing”
  • It will work only if you have a content team that is large enough as creating this model effectively needs a lot of content restructuring.

Alternatives for Topic Cluster Model

What other than the topic cluster model can one do when it comes to organizing content better? These are the alternatives that can be explored which will help you to reap the same SEO benefits.

Categorize the Blog

Making specific categories and subcategories at the top of the blog still goes a long way in helping you to keep your content organized. Categorization will help you to build a semantic relationship between your various content pieces in an easier fashion as you do not have to create a multi-level framework. However, while forming your groups, do avoid stuffing the labels with too many keywords. 

Naming the Groups

Different content can be grouped into different groups – each with a proper name. 

  • Avoid names that are very similar to what your competition is using. 
  • Use keywords that are broad so that your groups stay district from that of your competition. 

Links in the Header/Footer

There is probably some content that regularly drives the maximum traffic to your website. Adding links to these in your header/footer would help to draw more attention to your blog. For example, Moz’s footer has their Beginner’s Guide to SEO as this content helps to draw more traffic to the site. 

Summing Up 

If you are creating content and publishing the posts on your website even just a few times a week, then by the end of the year you would have over a hundred posts. Often, this means that the ones you wrote initially do not get seen anymore. The topic cluster model can help you, but only if you follow the rules, otherwise the chances that the model can result in a failure remain high. Always consider this when creating your content strategy.   

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