Can topic clusters help local SEO?
We’ve written extensively on our blog about the impact of clusters and pillars, including this great in-depth post about why content clusters and pillars are important for SEO.
Recently, we stumbled upon a great post on the Moz blog from local SEO expert, Miriam Ellis. This post really piqued our interest, so much so, we have decided to put our own spin on that fantastic post and look at how the findings in Miriam’s post can really help local businesses right here in New Zealand.
What are pillar and cluster?
Before we get into the way pillar and cluster content can be used to improve local SEO performance, let’s first have a quick recap of the basic premise of pillar and cluster.
A topic cluster basically consists of:
- The main topic you want to thoroughly cover with a cluster of pages
- A pillar page that sets the theme of the cluster and acts as central navigation
- Subtopic pages devoted to various aspects of the cluster’s theme
- A strong internal link structure that directs the website visitor to relevant pages within the cluster
- A URL structure that ties the cluster together
This type of set-up is nothing new and has been around for years, however, as an SEO and content marketing tactic, it has been gaining more and more traction over the past 2-3 years as content creators look to cover topics in more depth whilst creating an awesome internal linking structure.
The main purpose of a topic cluster, with an in-depth pillar page at the heart, is to enable you to rank for a huge variety of relevant search phrases, however, the set-up itself is there to help you to organize your content in a way that makes it easy for Google and your visitors to find out as much as they can about the particular topic.
Whether they enter on the pillar page itself or one of the cluster pages, the content is organised in such a way that makes it easy for visitors to dig as deep as they want into the topic.
A topical cluster can also help to cut through the complications of trying to find out more information about a particular topic as they typically include their own internal navigation that is unique to that cluster, making it much easier for a visitor to find all the content relating to that topic cluster.
How can topic clusters be used in local SEO?
You’re probably wondering how topic clusters can be used in local SEO and if you are, please read on!
At first, we thought that the Moz post was going to talk about writing content that was specific to the local market, looking at all the relevant local search terms and creating a topic cluster around those search terms.
We were wrong.
Instead, the idea of the topic cluster approach is to help you to organize all of your local reviews in a way that makes it much easier for visitors and potential customers to discover the reviews that are most relevant to them.
Google is already on it. Therefore, it makes sense that as SEOs, we should also be on it.
Whenever Google looks to make improvements to one of their services to help visitors to find out the information they are looking for more easily, then chances are, you should do the same.
In this case, Google has started to help users to refine how they can search for reviews using a series of filters.
How is Google taking the lead when it comes to local topic clusters?
Google first introduced a basic form of filtering reviews some time ago.
Let’s face it when you are trying to find out more about a business that has 5,000+ reviews, refining the most relevant reviews for you can be tricky. So, the first thing Google did was allow you to filter reviews by recency, rating, and relevance:
Whilst these are helpful to users on Google, they don’t help us as SEOs much as these are not topics we are going to target.
Google reached the same conclusion so instead, they introduced some new filters. These filters were based on the most commonly mentioned keywords that people used in their reviews. In the example below, we’ve looked at a car rental brand right here in New Zealand:
You can see in the example above, that there are some really great topic ideas for how we might want to group these keywords together and display them to users on our website.
But Google didn’t stop there.
They also started to show new labels next to reviews to make them easier to search and make them more relevant to people searching through the reviews. Here in New Zealand, we see the label to indicate how recently the review was posted (this label says ‘NEW” when a really recent review has come in, however, due to Alert L4 lockdown here in NZ, most reviews are at least two weeks old at the time of writing).
Outside of NZ, Google is taking this even further (and we expect these additions to be rolled out here in New Zealand in due course). Miriam highlighted these two examples as further ways that Google is helping customers to get more out of the reviews rather than focusing on the number and overall rating – they want the individual feedback to count for more.
The example above shows how Google has pulled out all of the positive keywords from this review and highlighted them under the review score.
In the example below, Google is actively matching the search query “best vegan food in san rafael’ and pulling out the related keywords from one of the reviews and highlighting this as a feature.
Google is clearly focused on allowing users to filter results to match their needs and we as SEOs should take our cue from this.
Creating a review topic cluster for local
Depending on the business(es) you manage, your approach to setting up a topic cluster for local reviews may vary. If you are managing a fairly small, single-location business, you can probably manage things manually, updating the information on a weekly or monthly basis depending on the number of reviews you are receiving. For larger, multi-location businesses that receive tens or even hundreds of reviews each week, you may need to look to automate the process.
The steps you will take, no matter the size and scale of your business, however, are the same.
- Identify the subtopics of interest
- Curate review content to support each of those subtopics from a variety of review sites
- Create a subtopic page that includes those reviews plus some original copy
- Create a pillar page that introduces the subtopics and allows people to navigate to them
If we go back to our screenshot above showing the most commonly used keywords for our car rental branch. Let’s say someone is looking to rent a car from our Auckland branch. From our branch landing page, we could include a top-level link to a Reviews Landing page – letting visitors to our website quickly view reviews from all over the website without having to leave our site.
That Review Landing page would essentially be our pillar page.
This would include a small amount of original introductory copy and then a bunch of links to the subtopic pages (obviously design and layout are important and this should fit with the overall look and feel of your website and be presented in a way that encourages people to interact and engage).
Identifying your subtopics
The important part of this process is identifying the most relevant subtopics. From our screenshot above, these might include:
- What customers say about our app
- What customers say about our value for money
- What customers say about our pickup process
- What customers say about check in
These would be just four examples; however, we could build this out as much as we wanted, using topics from other reviews sites such as Facebook, TripAdvisor, Rankers and more.
Miriam Ellis provided the example below of a subtopic page:
You can see that whilst the design is basic, it has all the elements of a cluster page:
- Unique intro copy
- Review curated from around the web
- Links to other subtopic pages
- CTA for people to leave a review
This is the basic layout of any good subtopic page, allowing you to showcase the reviews that you know mean the most to your customers.
What are the benefits of a review topic cluster?
We are all striving to improve our performance in the local SEO space and creating topic clusters for our reviews can really help to highlight these on our website, create more locally specific content on our sites as well as improving the user experience for visitors to our website.
Many of us are guilty of not making the most of the amazing review content we get through third-party sites. We focus too much on the quantity and overall review score than we do on the amazing amount of qualitative feedback we are getting each week from our customers.
Sure, we might acknowledge the review and thank our customers for taking the time to leave their feedback, however, for many of us, that review then just sits there, hoping a prospective customer will stumble across it one day.
This idea of topic clusters really takes the idea of repurposing all of that amazing user-generated review content to the next level, not only pulling it into our own websites but providing invaluable filters based on the keywords that people are using the most in their reviews.
By using review schema, we can also really make that content sing.
Whilst there may be some time required in setting up the pages, identifying the topics, managing updates and launching these pages, a lot of the work has already been done for you by the customers. You simply need to curate and showcase this amazing content and watch your local SEO performance skyrocket.
Don’t let all this amazing content sit inactive on a third-party website. Make the most of it and use it on your own site to help to tell a story about your business and improve your overall presence in the local SEO space.
Since discovering this article, we are in the active process of creating topic clusters of reviews for a number of our clients and we are excited about the possibilities. Watch this space for more!