Topic clusters are another really simple thing that SEO technique experts like to make complicated. Unless you've been hiding under a rock, or don't spend too much of your life researching search engine strategies, then you've heard of topic clusters and how important they are in a Post-Penguin world. Optimising your website for SEO now involves a review of code and existing content and SEO copywriting and how it relates to the overall ranking strategy.
Ironically enough, and due to Google being really fricken brainy, the less clever you try to be, the better you'll do. The days of hacks and tactics are over and SEO practitioners are now brand journalists, copywriters and videographers that produce relevant content...with a couple of tweaks.
What are topic clusters?
A topic cluster is a relevant group of short and longtail keywords that represent a core concept.
For example, from the HubSpot content tool -
We're trying to rank for 'SEO techniques,' and the complementary keywords are found around the outside. We create a blog for each of those keywords and get the backlinks providing authority juice. Importantly, the central topic - SEO techniques - is provided with links from all the other blogs using anchor text 'SEO techniques' or something close to it. That way, Google knows, through the anchor text from other SEO optimised blogs, what the topic is and how it relates to other content on the site.
In other words, SEO is now a @#$! load of hard work rather than a hackable series of tactics.
How to define your content clusters.
Don't apply common sense, not because it doesn't apply, but because we're yet to see someone who had a detailed understanding of their industry and a knowledge of how to search for it on Google. People like that are in too deep, are too technical and are not the target market - whatever they're searching for won't be what their customers are typing.
Use keyword research tools
SEO apps are a dime a dozen and when choosing programs for your search engine stack, make sure that keyword research is a focal point. Ahrefs is an excellent research and backlink tracking tool, as is Moz and Spyfu. Most importantly, make sure that the keywords you are trying to rank for are worth the effort; see how many searches are done on those keywords each month and how many clicks that equates to. It's no good ranking for something that has no commercial benefit to you or your business.
Then get copywriting. Create barrels of natural, conversational content that uses your targeted keywords naturally and then rinse and repeat. Consistent, awesome content will always beat too much terrible copy, but if you're producing a lot of really good content at a rate higher than your competition, well, your chances of ranking ahead of them increases. SEO is a contact sport and a vicious one so get punching.
Update - Our new research has shown that there is a marked connection between the 'depth' of quality content and rankings on Google. The creation of topic clusters can therefore be used as a research tool for gaining depth in findings and content based advice.