Because human search behaviors have changed, the technologies used to interpret and dish up search results have too. That means the old method of optimizing blog content to rank for long-tail keywords isn’t the best way to rank in search engine results anymore. It also means you’ve got to rethink the way you create content. Hubspot offers some insights on what’s changed and how you need to adapt:
People Now Using Longer, More Conversational Search Queries
Let’s say you’re trying to find a place to eat bulgogi. Would you just search for “restaurants,” or would you search for “Korean restaurants near me”?
According to Hubspot, 64% of searches are four words or longer, and there’s a growing number of longer-form conversational search queries helping people find the exact information they’re looking for.
This may be due, at least in part, to the increase in voice search. As Hubspot points out, 20% of mobile Google searches are conducted through voice search via Siri and Google Assistant. This number will no doubt increase thanks to devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
That being said, voice search isn’t the only reason people are using longer queries. That’s because there is a vast amount of content available, but the quantity of the content generally exceeds the quality. As a result, people are using more detailed queries to sift through the junk faster and get to the information they really need.
Additionally, people are skimming content more, relying on blog headers or Google’s featured information as a means of getting simple answers to questions more quickly.
Search Engines are Better at Delivering the Information Searchers Want
Google’s ever-changing algorithm is always striving to improve the answers it provides to searchers, whether that means penalizing irrelevant internal links, interpreting conversational queries instead of individual keywords, or using machine-learning to deliver accurate interpretations of specific terms.
In other words, Google wants to help searchers find the most accurate information possible–even it’s not exactly what they searched for. A search for “running shoes,” for example, now also provides results for “sneakers.” That means it’s now necessary to improve your methods for creating and organizing content to address possible gaps that might prevent searchers from getting the information they need from your site.
To achieve this, your site needs to be organized differently, using the following SEO strategies that will significantly boost the search rankings of your content.
1. Topic Clusters
Most blogs are structured so that individual blog posts are created to rank for specific keywords. This results in disorganization, making it hard for the user to find the exact information he or she needs. Additionally, it means that your own URLs are competing against one another in the search engine rankings because you’ve produced multiple blog posts about similar topics.
If you want to rank in search and deliver the best answers for the new types of queries searchers are using, you need to create topic clusters. Here’s how:
“Choose the broad topics you want to rank for, then create content based on specific keywords related to that topic that all link to each other, to create broader search engine authority.
This model uses a more deliberate site architecture to organize and link URLs together to help more pages on your site rank in Google — and to help searchers find information on your site more easily. This architecture consists of three components — pillar content, cluster content, and hyperlinks.”
2. Pillar Pages
Pillar pages are the foundation upon which topic clusters are built. A pillar page will cover all aspects of one main topic on a single page, leaving room for more in-depth writing in detailed cluster blog posts that hyperlink back to the pillar page, as the following quote explains:
“Pillar pages broadly cover a particular topic, and cluster content should address a specific keyword related to that topic in-depth. For example, you might write a pillar page about content marketing — a broad topic — and a piece of cluster content about blogging — a more specific keyword within the topic.
Pillar pages are longer than typical blog posts — because they cover all aspects of the topic you’re trying to rank for — but they aren’t as in-depth. That’s what cluster content is for. You want to create a pillar page that answers questions about a particular topic, but leaves room for more detail in subsequent, related cluster content.”
For example, here’s a Hubspot pillar page about Instagram marketing. Notice how it provides a thorough overview of how to use Instagram, with hyperlinks to specific pieces of cluster content. In this instance, Hubspot is trying to rank for topics related to Instagram. So, the pillar page acts as a 101 guide to Instagram marketing, and the cluster content covers one specific aspect of Instagram marketing (writing great caption copy).
How to Create a Pillar Page
To successfully create a pillar page, you need to stop thinking about your website in terms of just keywords. First, think about the topics you want to rank for, then brainstorm topic ideas focused on more specific keywords related to the broader topic.
Consider the foremost interests and challenges of your core audience personas for applicable pillar page content. Next, choose a topic that’s broad enough to generate more related blog posts (or cluster content), but not too broad to cover the entire topic on a single pillar page.
Your pillar pages should answer questions or queries that searchers might have about a topic, making them want to click on your pillar page when they submit a Google search term your page ranks for. From there, they’ll click into your pillar page for answers to their questions, which will lead them to more specific pieces of cluster content hyperlinked from the pillar page.
We know it’s a lot to take in. Especially when you feel like you were just getting the hang of SEO. But since Google’s algorithm will continue to evolve, you’ll have to continually change your content strategies along with it in order to optimize your blog so it ranks on the first page of SERPs.
Want more information? Check out Hubspot’s latest research to learn more about this new way of organizing and building content, and watch a short video on the function of topic clusters and pillar pages.