In SEO marketing, keywords are… well, key. The almighty search engine algorithm is always evolving, however. If you want to be successful, you have to make sure that your company’s SEO strategy evolves along with it.

This is the story of a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when using keywords to drive conversions was relatively simple. Back then, repeating a single keyword on a page multiple times was often enough to increase your SERP rankings. Well, no more!

Fast forward to the present day, and search engines like Google and Bing have gotten a lot smarter. They focus now less on individual keywords and more on strings of semantically connected keywords. Together, these keyword clusters can better identify (and accommodate) a user’s search intent.

If you want to boost your link visibility, paying close attention not just to the keywords you’re targeting but also to how those keywords cluster together is essential. More than that, keyword clustering actually helps you in the long-run, by more accurately connecting web users with the pages on your site that best meet their needs. This, in turn, increases website conversions.

With that in mind, let’s talk about what keyword clustering actually means.

What is Keyword Clustering Anyway?

To put it as dryly as possible, keyword clustering is a digital marketing technique wherein groups of related keywords are actively cultivated and managed in order to better optimize the content on a website. But what does that mean in Common Tongue?

Well, it means that instead of targeting one keyword at a time, you can actually target several keywords at once. Of course, they can’t be just any keywords; the scattershot approach won’t work here. Instead, you’ll want to target semantically related keywords, which are words and phrases that are related to each other conceptually and which are thus more likely to appear in a certain context.

Keyword clusters tell search engines that your page doesn’t just contain this one phrase, but a number of related phrases that indicate that the content is relevant to a very specific user researching a very specific topic.

For example, compare a keyword cluster that includes both “peanut butter” and “dessert recipes” to one that includes “peanut butter” and “online grocery store.” The former targets users whose search intent is informational while the latter targets users whose intent is transactional. These are two completely different audiences with completely different needs.

Hard Clustering vs. Soft Clustering

Just like ice cream, keyword clusters primarily come in two types: hard and soft. Hard clustering is when a data point (meaning a keyword or phrase) belongs to only one cluster at a time. By contrast, soft clustering (also known as “fuzzy clustering”) allows for data points to belong to multiple clusters simultaneously.

In other words, if all the keywords share the same page URL, that’s hard clustering. Soft clustering occurs when any two keywords share the same page URL. This essentially creates a chain where, although not every keyword is necessarily directly connected to the other, they are all ultimately connected by sharing URLs with keywords that share URLs with other keywords… and so on and so on.

The URLs that chain together to form a soft cluster are usually organized to appear under a pillar page. This page acts as a home base for incoming users searching for a general topic, with the pages linked under it providing information (and targeting keywords) relating to a specific aspect of that topic.

For example, if you’re an ice cream vendor, you might have a pillar page for “Soft Serve Ice Cream,” which will then link to pages highlighting different flavors. Again, if each of these pages shares at least one seed keyword with another page, this creates a soft cluster.

Benefits of Keyword Clusters

> Ever since the Google Hummingbird Algorithm update of 2013, Google and its competitors have been less emphasis on individual keywords and greater emphasis on topics. Keyword clusters are one of the best ways of communicating to the algorithm that your page or pages match up with the user intent of someone searching for that topic.

> Keyword clusters boost link visibility not only by appeasing the all-powerful algorithm, but also by increasing the number of keywords a page or pages can rank for. This increases the likelihood of attracting visitors to the page, while also communicating to users who search multiple related keywords that you are an authority on the topic they’re investigating.

> Keyword clusters allow you to hone in on user intent. Users searching for “laptop computer” and “best gaming PC” have very different search intents than those searching for “laptop computer” and “computer repair.” Targeting multiple related keywords makes it easier for the users who need your services to find you.

> The process of keyword clustering can be revelatory in a number of ways. The technique necessitates a little bit of SEO soul searching, so to speak. By pushing you to examine your own website under a metaphorical microscope, you’ll gain a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses, and will thus be better equipped to create better content.

> Clustering cuts down on website bloat and keyword cannibalization, reducing the number of pages to a more manageable number. Instead of having hundreds of pages all target different keywords, clusters allow you to target all those same keywords with a fraction of the digital real estate. This is a good way to both improve the customer experience and give your webmaster fewer headaches.

How to Do Keyword Clustering: 3 Crucial Steps

Now that you know what keyword clustering is, how it works, and why it’s so important, you’re probably wondering how the heck you pull it off.

The truth is, a lot of work goes into creating keyword clusters, and doing it well requires experience, good judgment, and a knowledge of how to identify keywords that are both relevant and rankable. It’s not something anyone can sit down and automatically do. Don’t try to go it alone; you need the help of a dedicated digital marketing team.

That said, the clustering process can ultimately be broken down into three fundamental phases. While there is a lot of nuance and hard work involved, if you and your team can master these three steps, there’s no reason why keyword clustering can’t be an effective means of driving conversions.

1. Keyword Research

In SEO, everything starts with keyword discovery. There are multiple ways of doing keyword research, from simple brainstorming and competitor analysis to looking at the “related searches” in Google or using a professional SEO tool like Semrush.

One good method of identifying good keywords is to compare your website with other websites in your space and see if there are any “keyword gaps.” That is, see what keywords those other websites are ranking for your you aren’t. 

2. Group Keywords Together

Once you’ve done the appropriate keyword research, the next step in keyword clustering requires… um, clustering. In other words, it’s time to start forming cliques between your keywords: the jocks, the nerds, the goth kids, etc.

This time, though, instead of creating groups based on questionable high school fashion choices and cafeteria seating preferences, you’ll be doing it based on relevance, intent, and semantic relationships with other keywords. Don’t forget to also take into account search volume, click-through rate, and keyword difficulty, too.

After you’ve divided your keywords up into semantically related groups, you’ll want to then identify the primary or focus keywords of each group. These are typically the keywords that are the most relevant, most searched for, and most rankable.

3. Optimize Content for Keywords

SEO is an ongoing process. It’s not something you do once, finish, and then that’s it, you’re done and you never have to worry about it again. Having keyword-optimized content is good. Continually offering visitors a steady stream of content that is not only keyword-optimized but also informative and authoritative is better.

First, create pillar pages to help organize your content, then create additional pages that link back to these pillar pages. For an ecommerce website, this would take the form of an overarching category page supported by multiple smaller product pages. For a blog, it would be a lengthy overview post that covers a topic as a whole, supported by shorter, more in-depth follow-up posts focusing on specific subtopics.

The Best Keyword Clustering Tools

There are two ways of doing keyword clustering: manually or automatically using a keyword clustering tool. Keyword clustering tools help identify and compare important factors such as relevance, intent, rankability, and more, then instantly compile lists of clustered keywords.

For smaller projects, keyword clusters can be created manually with the use of Excel or other spreadsheet applications. For larger projects with thousands of keywords, however, it’s more efficient and cost-effective to utilize a clustering tool.

One thing every handyman worth his salt knows is that you’re only as good as the tools in your toolbox. Here are some of the best clustering tools to have in yours:

Keyword Insights – A favorite of SEO professionals, Keyword Insights uses geo-specific, real-time SERP data to analyze and cluster keywords. Unlike other tools that are part of a larger suite, Keyword Insights is focused first and foremost on clustering, so if that’s your main interest, this might be the tool for you.

Serpstat Keyword Clustering Tool – On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more comprehensive SEO option, Serpstat could be what you’re looking for. Offering a diverse assortment of SEO and PPC functions, it’s more of a one-stop shop for digital marketing. The built-in Serpstat Keyword Clustering Tool is easy to use and highly customizable.

SEO Scout Free Keyword Grouping Tool – Finally, for those who are budget-conscious or who just want to dip their toes into keyword clustering, SEO Scout offers a free-to-use in-browser group tool. Though more limited than the programs listed above, it’s a good option if your clustering needs are modest or if you want to get some practice with clustering before signing up for a subscription-based service.

Keyword Cluster Dos and Don’ts

DO put in the time and effort to research your keywords thoroughly. If you’re not utilizing the most accurate, timely data, then your clustering efforts aren’t likely to get you meaningful results. Good data drives traffic, so either do it right or don’t do it at all.

DON’T use clustering inconsistently. Keyword clusters should be a fundamental part of your SEO strategy, and should be used across your entire website, not just one small corner of it. Continue adjusting clusters over time by adding or subtracting keywords as search trends evolve..

DO use internal links. Every piece of content that relates back to a pillar page should link to that pillar page. Furthermore, interlinking different content pages within a single topic cluster is a good way to signal to search engines that, yes, these pages are all related to another.

DON’T cannibalize your keywords. This is an extremely easy pitfall to slip into with keyword clustering, especially soft clustering. The trick is to successfully differentiate between seed keywords and long-tail keywords. Seed keywords can appear on multiple pages of a website without causing an issue, as long as the long-tail keywords on each page are unique and help provide semantic context.

DO find a good balance between detail and generality for pillar pages. If your pillar pages are too broad, they won’t score high for relevancy. If your pillar pages are too detailed, however, you risk overwhelming users and rendering related pages redundant.

DON’T abandon your content once it’s been posted. Regularly update your content to make sure it’s up-to-date and well-optimized. Believe it or not, this is something search engine algorithms pay attention to just as much as users; neither are fans of outdated content.

Want to Up Your SEO Game? Get Help from the Digital Marketing Experts at LSEO

As search technologies continue to change and grow, so too must your digital marketing strategy. It’s not always easy staying abreast of the constantly evolving SEO landscape, however. It helps to have a dedicated team of experienced, knowledgeable marketing professionals by your side.

That’s where LSEO comes in. We’re trained experts in every aspect of digital marketing, from SEO to PPC to content marketing and more. Unlike in-house marketing teams, we specialize in advanced digital marketing strategies and techniques, including keyword clusters. 

Let us put our expertise to work for you. If you need digital marketing help, contact LSEO today!