With so much content on your site, now you need to make sure to organize it in a “modern” way. A topic cluster strategy will do just that.
Getting the coveted page-one spot on Google search results is becoming increasingly harder, especially for law firms. Every so often, Google releases a new algorithm update outlining the factors it takes into consideration for ranking opportunities. These often have animal names, like Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird, to name a few. The reason Google does this is to ensure the right content is ranking. They adjust their algorithm with users in mind, to improve the way the search works.
It’s important to keep track of these updates, as failing to do so will see you with an outdated SEO strategy and your law firm will struggle to rank well. One important new change to Google’s algorithm is the introduction of topic clusters.
Let’s look at what topic clusters are and how you can use them to ensure your website ranks as well as it should.
What are topic clusters?
One of the reasons for the constant updates to Google’s algorithm is because the competition has increased. When SEO first became a thing, all a user had to do was fill their page with keywords and they’d have a high chance of ranking on the top of AOL and Yahoo!
This led to hundreds of spammy websites with no added value appearing on the first page of search engines. Obviously, this isn’t good for Google, or the user. If a user searches for “law firms in Illinois,” then they want to see law firms in Illinois in the search results.
These search algorithm changes and updates have led to what’s known as a topic cluster model. It works by website owners creating a “pillar” page, which is the main hub of content for a particular topic. The pillar page should then link out to multiple other content pages all related to the overarching main topic.
Each individual page should also link back to the pillar page. Doing this tells Google that the pillar page is the ultimate authority on the topic and the other pages are supporting pages.
This way of organizing your website improves the site’s architecture and tells the search engines you’ve carefully considered what a user is looking for and have helped them find the information they need along the way.
Why topic clusters are important
If you think about your law firm’s website, it’s quite likely that many of your pages cover similar topic areas. What this means is that when Google crawls through your website, it’s met with a number of competing pages, all vying for the top positions.
What the search engine isn’t always able to do is determine which page or pages are most important and where it should start. Hence, the need for topic clusters. When you interlink your content and organize it through topical clusters, you are effectively telling Google which page should take priority, and then Google is able to organize into one cluster the rest of the pages related to the main topic.
Making topic clusters work for your law firm
For example, let’s choose the topic of “family law” as your core topic cluster. Within that cluster, you might have topics such as divorce law, child custody law, and prenuptial agreements.
So you create a pillar page (kind of a mother ship) for “family law” and this serves as the main hub. The topic cluster pillar page for family law should broadly cover the entire topic. It needs to be obvious and make sense for the cluster content to link to it.
Then, create cluster content / pages that are in-depth explorations of that topic. You then link to all the subcategories we just mentioned and on these pages, you must also link back to the pillar page.
The reason this approach works so well is that it forces you to think about topics you’d like to rank for, rather than just keywords.
If you think about the way you currently organize your content on your law firm’s website (blog posts, practice area pages, videos, etc.), you likely have chosen a bunch of topics and just created them with little to no system for how these pages build up a logically organized repository over time.
How attorneys and law firm SEO can benefit from topic clusters
When you start re-organizing your content in topic clusters, you are effectively deepening and improving the way your content is interlinked on your own website. Studies have shown the more you interlink, the higher you appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
As an attorney, you’re likely putting out content, either for yourself or on behalf of your firm. You will be producing content that answers your clients’ questions. But search engines are recognizing the growing demand for users to receive the answers they want, when they want them. Hence the rising popularity of topic clusters.
Your clients are now in control and they get to decide how they want to engage with your content. For example, if you’re an employment law firm, do your potential clients want to read a broad overview of the whole employment space, or do they want to know specifics about a certain topic? You need to provide both on your site.
How to find topics
You might be struggling to know which topics to choose for your pillar page(s). Remember your pillar topics should be broad enough that you can create clusters of content around that topic, but not so broad that it’s meaningless to create content around it.
One way to do this to do analyze your competitor’s content. You can use a tool like Buzzsumo to do just this.
First, enter a competitor’s URL and you’ll be presented with a list of blog posts from their website that have been frequently shared online. This will give you a clear idea of the kind of content that resonates well with your audience.
You can also use SEMrush to look at the top pages on your competition’s websites. These are often pillar pages or pages that rank for hundreds of keywords.
For example, FindLaw has a page on US constitutional amendments that ranks for 2,755 keywords, worth $260,000 a month if you had to buy them as Google pay per click ads! The page links to separate cluster pages on each of the amendments.
|us constitution amendments||1||12100||1.55|
|what are the amendments to the constitution||1||3600||1.2|
|how many amendments are there||4||27100||2.25|
|what are the amendments||2||8100||1.25|
|how many amendments are in the constitution||4||9900||1.92|
|how many amendments does the constitution have||4||9900||2.42|
|how many amendments||4||8100||0|
|what is an amendment||4||9900||1|
|no on amendment 13||67||70||0|
If you want to rank for a keyword as broad as “constitutional amendments,” good luck doing so with a 500-word single page when this pillar and topic cluster is out there for Google to gobble up like SEO candy.
Planning your pillar page SEO and keyword strategy
You’ll recall that we began this discussion with Google’s updates, and mentioned how search engines are getting smarter and website owners also need to become smarter about how they present their information for their audience.
In order for your pillar pages to be effective, you need to inject some SEO keyword strategy into them. Choosing which keywords to try to rank for largely comes down to the pillar topic you’ve chosen.
Use a tool like SEMrush, ubersuggest.com, or keywordtool.io to come up with a list of related keywords about your topic.
If we go back to our family law example, we can see these related keywords:
|Keywords Related to “family law” (15 examples of 737)||Volume|
|about family lawyers||20|
|family in law com||70|
|the law of family||30|
|what is family law||880|
|family attorney definition||20|
|family law definition||590|
|family law regulations||20|
|legal family law||50|
|the family law||480|
|what does family law deal with||20|
|what does family law include||20|
|what is family law all about||30|
|what is the definition of family law||30|
Armed with this information, you can now start making a note of any keywords that are relevant to you. You will need to cover things like “family court” and “divorce forms,” not just jam into your practice area page the phrase “divorce attorney Boston MA.” Google doesn’t respect you at all if keyword placement is all you do.
It’s important to keep note of these important phrases, since you’ll have better quality pillar pages sprinkled organically with related / LSI keywords and phrases.
Spending time coming up with these ideas will enable you to have more blog post options when it comes to working on your cluster content.
Advanced tools include the following:
MarketMuse analyzes how many pages your competitors have and what keywords they use so you can do even better at building topical authority.
Screaming Frog web crawler can be used to download information about your site and competitors’ sites into Excel. You sort all the URLs / pages by topic and list what pillar page they belong to.
SEO PowerSuite gives you keyword ideas to boost your pages’ relevance. It brings together the TF-IDF algorithm Google uses (short for “term frequency-inverse document frequency”), Hummingbird, and RankBrain. (I haven’t tried it yet, but sounds cosmic, right?)
SEMrush has a topic research tool that lets you select a topic for which it generates an amazing mind map of what relates to the topic and even gives sample headlines for cluster content.
Then you get headlines that get the most backlinks, as well as the top questions people are asking.
Searchmetrics Content Experience Topic Explorer gives you general information about a topic and what potential competitors are saying on that topic.
- Understand user intent: information searches versus transactional searches, etc.
- Drive strategy by understanding when during the year a topic is most likely to drive revenue.
- Find the subjects that others have missed with a graphical view of topics and related keywords.
Writing your cluster content
When you have created your pillar page, it’s time to start creating your cluster content. You might already have a lot of content on your law firm website that can be part of your clusters.
If this is the case, all you have to do is make sure each cluster blog post or piece of content links back to the main pillar page. Also make sure the pillar page has a link to the cluster content.
However, if you don’t have much content on your website, it’s time to start creating some. Because you’ve already created your pillar pages, it won’t be too difficult to come up with ideas for cluster content. Ideally, you would preplan your pillar and clusters, but it’s fine to simply go through your pillar pages and highlight any keywords, phrases, or topics that would be worth going into more detail about.
Remember, your cluster content is your opportunity to really show your expertise on a topic and let Google know that your site is a well-organized authority to speak on that specific legal topic.
With the increase in the amount of content being produced every single day, and marketers becoming smarter about how they approach SEO, it’s getting harder to rank for specific keywords.
If you want to win at SEO, then your content strategy needs to include some element of topic clustering.
Using topic clusters helps you guide Google to your specific content and helps you reach your potential clients.
If you don’t use topic clusters, you run the risk of only covering parts of an important subject. Your prospects and clients are looking for specific answers to their questions, and topic clustering allows you to provide an overall explanation of a topic and to dig deeper into the specifics of related subtopics.