While there’s a thousand different ways to do SEO, the strategy around building content anchors and content clusters has lately garnered a lot of buzz.
Content clusters and content anchors, which are also called “pillar pages,” refer to a content-centric SEO architecture. Following this structure, a business decides the general topics they want to rank for, then creates informational, long-form content around a few key themes (the content anchors) and their related sub-topics (the content clusters).
We at Firebrand are big fans of this strategy. Creating content anchors and clusters has become one of our fastest-growing content marketing services. Our clients have found the strategy offers real value to their audiences, more appropriately addresses searcher intent and boosts visibility.
Today we’re digging into the three main benefits of the content cluster model for startups:
1. Educational, long-form content builds authority
2. Clustering content reaches more searchers
3. Authority ultimately attracts late-stage leads
If you’ve been curious about content anchors and clusters—or if you’ve never heard of them before and are wondering why we recommend them—read on to find out why this structure serves startups so well.
1. Creating educational, long-form content builds authority
Content anchors and content clusters are neutral, educational resources designed for an introductory audience. They’re not blog posts. They’re not product pages. Nor should they be written like such.
For example, a neuroinformatics company that sells portable EEG headsets might write a content anchor all about EEG. Then they’ll write a series of shorter pages—the content clusters—that dive deeper on sub-topics like biometrics, EEG monitoring and EEG headsets.
Because you’re discussing topics closely related to your business offering, you’ll be tempted to link to your product and talk up its benefits throughout the content. Don’t. Keep the language vendor neutral. You can include a paragraph at the bottom of the page that ties it back to your product. It’s important to show some context and credibility, but your company should never be the focus of the content.
Why should you invest budget and resources into creating high-quality content that isn’t specifically about YOUR startup?
Vendor-neutral content is a blessing in disguise for two reasons. First, content anchors and content clusters give startups with complicated or technical products a place to explain them in-depth without crowding product pages with primer. This is your chance to capture first-time buyers who are learning about the space and looking to make a decision. See example below from an application services provider. The cluster pages are presented as glossary terms, making it easy for potential customers to understand technical terms like “Application Delivery Network.”
The second and more important reason is that Google favors pages with informational and vendor-neutral language because educational content tends to appeal to a wider range of searchers.
Your goal is to create master articles with all the facts, videos and explanations readers are searching for. When a searcher types in a query, navigates to your page, spends a lot of time there and doesn’t return to the search results, that signals to Google that your page has given the searcher everything they need. Google will see you as a credible authority on the matter, and reward you for this excellent content by ranking the page higher in the search results (more on why this pays off later).
2. Clustered site architecture reaches more searchers
The content anchor/content cluster architecture is intentionally organized to lump together groups of content so that users and search crawlers can find information easier.
Under the traditional structure, businesses had a homepage, then they had a blog. Lucky content marketers (that was me) cranked out blog posts targeting specific keywords. They quickly learned there were hundreds of long-tail keyword variations. “EEG” brings up “EEG preparation,” “EEG interpretation” and “EEG electrode placement,” for example. In the cranking process, they’d produce dozens of pages targeting the same keywords that would end up competing with each other on the SERPs. Not only were businesses wasting time and resources with a ton of duplicitous content marketing work, they were actually cannibalizing their own pages.
Here’s an example from Hubspot of the content anchor/content cluster structure. As you can see, content anchors are ideally located off the homepage nav. Under this structure, the content anchors are optimized for the broadest relevant search term to the business, usually with the highest search volume. The keyword “EEG” with 74,000 monthly search volume is an obvious anchor page topic for the bioinformatics company. Then each content cluster page is optimized for more specific long-tail terms that contextually link back to the content anchor page. “EEG Headset” is an excellent cluster page subject because it’s a long-tail keyword and it’s closely related to the anchor page topic. Creating cluster pages effectively passes link equity back to the anchor page and indicates to search algorithms to create a “cluster” of relevant authoritative content.
The content anchor/content cluster model keeps your site architecture clean, creating a more organized website experience for users and web crawlers alike. Users appreciate finding all the information they need in one place. Google appreciates knowing what each piece of content is about and how it relates to other content on your site.
3. A higher domain authority ultimately attracts more late-stage leads
Google has made hundreds of changes to search since we all swore by the traditional site structure. One of the most impactful updates is its heightened ability to recognize user intent.
We used to search for choppy phrases like “Coffee shop San Francisco.” Now we write search queries in complete sentences: “Where should I get a coffee?” We’re able to communicate organically with Google because it can more accurately identify user intent—what users are looking to find.
Google classifies open-ended queries like “Where should I get a coffee?” or “What is an EEG?” as informational searches, observing that performing users tend to look up answers to questions.
The company that sells EEG headsets to research labs and commercial entities probably doesn’t want the majority of its traffic to come from high school students doing a biology project. After all, most people looking up the definition of EEG and clicking on your content anchor are probably not ready to buy a $299 headset—but it does happen.
Since your content anchors will naturally attract a lot of users who may not be your target audience, it again begs the question of why you should invest budget and resources into creating this high-quality content.
It all goes back to user intent and the way users formulate search queries. We’ve gotten so adjusted to typing in questions to Google that our questions have become keywords. The phrase “What is an EEG” has 8,100 average monthly volume. To put that in context, “Portable EEG,” the keyword that describes the company’s product exactly, has only 260.
We build our content anchors to target basic informational search queries because of their high traffic keywords. This attracts huge crowds of traffic. As mentioned earlier, Google notices when users visit your content anchors and find the information they need. When Google sees lots of traffic coming to the page and dwelling there for a considerable amount of time, it rewards the page with a higher ranking.
Win this kind of traffic consistently and Google will recognize you as a trusted source—and thus increase your domain authority.
When card-in-hand customers search for lower traffic, product-specific terms like “Portable EEG,” that newly-raised domain authority is what bumps your website to the top of the results.
So although content anchors and content clusters may not immediately attract your ideal audience, they can help you convert those late-stage leads when they’re ready to make a purchase. With that said, we’ve also seen direct conversions (leads and ecommerce) from first-time users visiting content cluster pages.
Is Firebrand a content marketing agency?
In a normal content anchor, here’s where I’d explain how the page relates to the company’s product and plug a link or two. So if I may add—if you’re ready to see what content anchors and content clusters can do for you, get in touch.
Theresa Carper is a copywriter who uses humor and candor to craft compelling content. She also executes content strategy, campaign planning and media relations. Previously she wrote for a viral PR agency and a luxury furniture brand and was the comms lead for a smart city startup.