- Keyword clustering is the next iteration of keyword research and it can dramatically improve your SEO results
- Keyword clustering is about grouping similar keywords and phrases to maximise search visibility
- This process can be done manually or automatically with a variety of tools
- Keyword clustering is not a set and forget task – it relies on continuous monitoring to ensure individual web pages are ranking for the correct keywords
What is keyword clustering?
Keyword clustering is the process of grouping and categorising keywords by relevancy and intent. The aim is to clearly indicate the central topic of a web page to end users and search engines alike.
The power of keyword clusters comes from the way people search for things on Google.
Not everyone searches for the same things using the exact same words and phrases. And, while Google has gotten good at understanding related phrases, the system isn’t perfect. Keyword clustering is a way to combat this and help improve Google’s understanding of your website.
Done right, this can dramatically increase the number of keywords and phrases you rank for. That’s great for your SEO campaign, and it’s perfect for websites that want increased visibility, especially when working across multiple products, services or topics.
Where did keyword clustering stem from?
Google has rolled out thousands of updates over the last two decades.
There have been heaps of major changes in that time, but there are few updates that stick out as much as the Hummingbird update.
Hummingbird took place more than a decade ago. It focused on matching adjacent topics that were relevant to the search query, rather than focusing on just the keywords the customer was using.
The next big shake up came with RankBrain. RankBrain built on the logic of Hummingbird and helped Google recognise the theme of a search query, allowing it to group relevant phrases and results.
Finally, we got the BERT update in recent years. BERT saw Google turn to AI to analyse the entire search query and identify its nuances. This made search results more relevant than ever before.
These three updates were a big deal. It’s easy to take for granted, but Google is smarter than it ever has been, and that’s all thanks to Hummingbird, RankBrain and BERT. With those updates, Google got better at understanding the intent behind the keywords, allowing them to provide relevant results without needing to match the exact keyword.
Types of keyword clustering
The first principle of keyword clustering is that you want each page on your website to rank for its primary keyword, followed by any short or long-tail secondary keywords.
Note that your primary keyword doesn’t need to be a singular word – it can be three or more words that are often used as a search query.
Take a look at the example below to see the primary and secondary keywords we’ve chosen for a client’s website:
|/ducted-reverse-cycle||ducted reverse cycle air conditioning||1300|
|reverse cycle ducted air conditioner||210|
|ducted air conditioning repair||70|
|ducted air conditioning maintenance||50|
|reverse cycle air conditioning service||30|
- Hub. The Hub keyword (or topic) has a high volume and is broad. For example, people searching for the hub term “Bags,” will be presented with a large variety of bag types:
- Spoke. A Spoke keyword (or topic) contains a descriptor with slightly lower, but more specific search volume. Continuing our example from above, “Laptop Bags” will have a smaller variety of results but has a better search intent:
With the above model, you can focus on higher volume keywords first (hub) and then segment them into smaller clusters (or spokes).
Below are some other common approaches to keyword clustering:
- Semantic Clustering. Semantic clustering groups related terms based on their meaning or context. For example, if someone is searching for a “shirt,” the search result will show associated terms like “casual shirts,” “work shirts” and “long sleeve shirts.”
- SERP-Based Clustering. SERP-based clustering involves taking a keyword and reviewing the actual search results on the first, second and third page. When doing this, we note how the keywords are used and the search intent behind each one. An example of a SERP-based cluster using “shirt” comes back with:
- Men’s casual shirt
- Work shirts
- Men’s shirts
- Men’s shirts: work shirts, casual shirts & more
- Men’s shirts sale
- Shop men’s casual shirts online
- Men’s shirt sale
- Men’s shirts | Long sleeve & going out shirts for me
This reveals that “casual,” “work” and “sale” are common descriptors. Also note that most of these results are targeted at men, whereas the keyword “tops” is skewed towards women. These little details can be used to refine keyword clusters and ensure the right keywords are added to the right groups.
What are the benefits and is keyword clustering it worth it?
There’s no doubt that keyword clustering can be a time-intensive activity.
Developing your keyword strategy, reviewing and clustering phrases, and grouping them all together can take hours. And, don’t forget, this needs to be done on a regular basis to ensure your website continues to rank as keywords evolve.
The trade off is that good keyword clustering strategies can provide huge benefits to your long-term SEO strategy. This has the knock-on effect of allowing you to collect data and strengthen the rest of your marketing efforts – especially Google Ads.
Beyond that, investing time in developing a keyword clustering strategy can help you:
- Understand the search intent behind your customers’ search queries
- Build authority within in certain topics by covering related material in greater detail
- Rank faster by using secondary and long-tail keywords to support primary keywords
- Improve internal link building and website organisation
- Reduce cannibalisation between similar pages and keywords
- Create pillared content that assists with writing and publishing content regularly
- Speed up keyword research when exploring existing categories, expanding your website or looking for keyword gaps to target
Plus, keyword clusters make your website more informative, easier to navigate and easier for Google to understand. Those are all huge factors in how well you perform in search rankings!
How to create keyword clusters
Let’s dive into creating your keyword clusters.
Before you tackle this task, you need to complete your keyword research first. This will guide you in determining the primary keyword or search intent for each page on your website.
Fill gaps with competitor research
One of the best ways to find gaps in your keyword research is to look at your competitors!
Start by taking their domain and running it through a keyword research tool such as SEMRush or Ahrefs. That will show you what keywords they are currently ranking for. There might be a keyword or two that you haven’t considered which can be added into the mix.
Manual versus Automated grouping
When grouping your keywords, you can try a manual approach, or you can use tools that automate the process. If you’re unsure of which is the best approach, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have the knowledge, experience and time to do this properly?
- Do I have a manageable list of keywords to sort through?
- Do the keyword search volumes in my industry stay relatively stable?
A manual approach involves breaking each keyword into categories and expanding upon that keyword with other phrases within the topic. This is easiest to do using a spreadsheet.
A disadvantage of manual grouping is that the data used in the spreadsheet is not live. That means it won’t be reflective of recent keyword data, which changes semi-frequently. You will probably need to regularly review the data you have used to ensure you’re making the right strategic decisions.
Using automated tools is useful when working with hundreds (or potentially thousands) of keywords. Automated tools are especially helpful because they use up-to-date data. That can be a major help in identifying relevant keywords so you can create new content whenever opportunities arise.
Just make sure you review the clusters generated by automated tools – they don’t always provide results that align with your products, services and SEO strategy.
Creating content and paid ads
You’ve got your clusters, but you can’t put your feet up and relax just yet. There’s still work to be done in the form of content creation.
If you are building out a website, a great rule to follow is one search intent = one keyword cluster = one page. This will help you map out the website’s hierarchy, categories, subcategories and the individual pages you need to create.
Beyond your website, your keyword clusters can also help you create paid advertising campaigns. Keyword clusters translate very well into high-performing ad groups that help you generate better returns from every ad dollar you spend!
Monitoring your keyword clusters
Keyword clustering isn’t a set-and-forget kind of deal.
Once your content or optimisations have been published, it’s crucial that you monitor the progress of the page and the search results for newly grouped terms.
If you find that a page is ranking for the wrong group of terms, that might indicate your page hasn’t been optimised, or that there’s an issue with keyword cannibalisation. You can also use Google Analytics to see page usage, user interactions and conversion metrics.
A great way to check your rankings is via Google Search Console:
- See which pages are ranking for what queries. If you haven’t set up your Google Search Console, then we suggest you do that first.
- Using the Search Results tab from the left-hand side menu will show you the Queries and Pages.
If your pages have been optimised correctly, they should appear the same way you have clustered them.
With all that you’ve learned about keyword research and clustering, if you find that your web pages aren’t ranking correctly, you can always make further improvements. Onpage optimisation, metadata optimisation and internal linking are some of the many ways you can boost the performance of each page.
These sorts of tasks should be part of your regular, ongoing work to refine your website.