Using Topic Clusters for Effective Inbound Marketing with Doug KirkRead Time: 5 minutes

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What if it were possible to achieve a higher ranking on Google and to improve content marketing efforts with one sweeping strategy? Well, according to Doug Kirk, president of Optimize 3.0, companies can do just that by re-structuring their website content into topic clusters.

What Are Topic Clusters?

A website organized into topic clusters features pages of lengthy, informative content intended to anticipate and answer questions consumers typically consider before agreeing to make a purchase. More than that, in order for an ordinary webpage to function as a topic cluster, the authoritative site must also internally link back to other relevant content.

Webmasters have been structuring their content into topic clusters since the advent of the internet and, to this day, continue to out-rank company websites for targeted keywords. Despite documented successes, this model has not been widely adopted until recently. However, Doug believes that with growing accessibility to specialized tools, such as Hubspot topic clusters for SEO, more companies will begin experimenting with this model.

How To Build Topic Clusters

The process of creating topic clusters concurrently optimizes your content to rank higher as a suggested result on search engines for particular industry-related keyword searches. In order to secure this lofty position on a Google results page, it is necessary to conduct thorough keyword research. Logically, the SEO keywords you choose should reflect the words and phrases most commonly searched by individuals fitting your buyer persona. (These factors are a fundamental aspect of our keyword research services)

Step 1: Keyword Research and Planning for SEO Topic Clusters

At his inbound marketing agency, Doug uses a questionnaire to learn about his clients’ buyer personas so that he can make strategic decisions about keyword selection. Once he has a preliminary concept for the main segment, called a pillar page, Doug puts together a template. This template aids in keeping topic cluster formatting consistent throughout your website and creates a general outline for SEO content creation.

Step 2: Content Planning and Creation for Topic Clusters

According to Doug, the most effective content is ‘brand agnostic’. Such content is not promotional, but instead provides readers with unbiased information. Doug suggests a chat with the sales department in order to uncover what type of information consumers are seeking. Listen to the types of questions consumers are asking your sales team prior when making their purchasing decisions, then write content that offers in-depth answers to those questions.

Step 3: Internal Linking within Topic Clusters

With educational pillar page content in place, Doug continues his work by linking back to supporting content from elsewhere on the site, a process called internal linking. Topic clusters benefit from robust internal linking, and Doug suggests including approximately five internal links to related content.

Internal linking is an important SEO tactic for your own website. If you’re not familiar or want to build up your own internal links, check out Sure Oak’s internal linking services here.

Step 4: Promoting Topic Clusters

Topic clusters may have greater odds of ranking higher on various search engines, but without promoting your new masterpiece, you are unlikely to gain substantial new readership. Doug recommends promoting topic clusters on social media and encourages webmasters to seek backlinks from high domain authority sites in the industry. Some web tools, such as Hubspot topic clusters for SEO, make this process even easier.

How To Create A Valuable Topic Cluster

Though the process in its entirety may require some understanding of SEO and a hefty time commitment, creating a topic cluster by following these steps is still no guarantee that you will rank first on Google or see an upshot in sales. Putting together effective topic clusters requires striking a delicate balance between executing technical SEO work in order to be found and creating content that communicates valuable information to readers such that they linger on your site and visit again in the future.

Across the internet, Doug has seen a careless mistake in the execution of topic clusters made over and over again. He explains that some companies focus so heavily on technical SEO, such as making use of specific keywords or phrases, that they forget to provide valuable information to their customers. Doug strongly believes it is more important to address all customer questions and concerns than it is to cram your pillar page with keywords.

The Spoke and Wheel Build of Topic Clusters

Wrapping up his thoughts, Doug shares a visual to better clarify the overarching philosophy behind topic clusters. He says they are similar to a wheel with spokes. In the center rests a pillar page, containing informative content. Along the outer rim of the wheel, you find supporting content from other places on your website, such as blog pieces. Therefore, the spokes that connect the inner and outer wheel are just like the internal links connecting pillar pages to this extra, relevant content.


  • Topic clusters organize your content in a way that helps present your company as an authoritative, knowledgeable resource for your industry.
  • Empirical data has shown that structuring web content based on a topic cluster is more successful than SEO efforts targeting each piece of content independently.
  • In creating a topic cluster, a company must consider long-run goals in content marketing and form an overarching content strategy.


  • Ask the sales team which questions frequently come up when they speak to prospective customers to learn which topics your content should focus on.
  • Companies should avoid focusing on keywords to the point that their content is too narrow and does not address common customer questions.
  • Your work isn’t finished just because the content has been posted! Gain readership and customer loyalty by promoting content on social media.


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