Keywords are a massive part of search engine optimization, and that means that you need to focus on them throughout any SEO project.
However, when there are thousands of relevant keywords to choose from, it can be hard to find the best keyword for each page or article.
Keyword clustering is a workaround that is meant to use keyword groups as a starting point, helping you create keyword clusters to suit a range of content types ahead of time.
But what is keyword clustering, and how do keyword clusters actually help?
Table of Contents
What is Keyword Clustering?
Keyword clustering is a simple concept: group keywords into small keyword clusters that have a similar search intent and meaning behind them.
These keyword clusters are generally made up of closely related keywords that are saying the same thing in different ways. For example, “red chair” and “red seat” are similar enough that you might group keywords like this together.
Why Does Keyword Clustering Matter?
Keyword clustering is focused on search intent – the user intent behind why they are making the searches that they are making.
While a large portion of users may have the same search intent, they might be searching for it in different ways. This means a lot of different ways of saying the same keyword or key phrase, which can become a problem if your audience is spread across dozens of individual phrases.
By using a keyword clustering strategy, you can target related keywords that all have the same search intent.
This allows you to target the overall keyword cluster that your audience exists in, using real keyword data to help with content planning for that specific audience.
How Does Keyword Clustering Work?
There are two reasons that keyword clusters are effective: seed keywords and keyword cannibalization.
Keyword cannibalization is a problem that occurs if you use the same keywords for multiple pieces of content or SEO attempts. Seed keywords, on the other hand, are the short-tail keywords that you use as a starting point.
Rather than sticking to only one or two keywords, keyword clustering focuses on using a seed keyword as the basis for finding other similar keywords.
You can then have these keywords grouped together and used as a pool of relevant keywords, each targeting a similar audience.
In theory, this means that you can target all of the cluster keywords to target the same audience in a number of different ways but also avoid cannibalizing keywords (which would normally weaken your keyword choices).
In Simple Terms
Keyword clusters are the idea of taking a primary keyword and using it to create a keyword list of similar terms and phrases.
These cluster keywords all target the same general audience, so you can use the keyword cluster to market at one audience over and over again with no keyword repeats.
How to Perform Keyword Clustering
It is relatively easy to start grouping keywords if you know where to look and how to cluster keywords properly. Most keyword grouping relies mainly on common sense.
However, the starting point will always be to do some primary keyword research before anything else. To get started, you need a seed keyword and the tools necessary to search for other relevant keywords.
Search For Keywords by Topic
Building a keyword cluster based on a specific topic can be incredibly effective. This gives you a list of keywords that can all target a specific niche, often covering a much wider audience than a single keyword would on its own.
There are a range of keyword cluster tools out there that allow you to generate a list of keywords based on a topic.
This often gives you access to search volume data and other important information, making it easy to build topic clusters out of the best-fitting keywords.
Once created, topic clusters can be invaluable for digital marketing around a specific niche or audience. Good topic clusters will contain just enough variety to capture an entire audience but are still entirely focused on a single larger topic to increase relevance.
Look at Competitor Keywords
Many SEO professionals look into the keywords used by competitors as a way of adding more keywords into clusters. In many cases, your competitors will be targeting some of the same keywords as you – but their other keywords can be just as valuable.
The right keyword research tools can allow you to pick out all the keywords that your competitors are aiming for, giving you a huge batch of new keywords to sort through.
While not all of these keywords will be usable, especially those that are specifically related to a competitor’s business and not yours, this can still be a great way to find related keywords for a larger-scope SEO strategy.
Understand Search Intent
A good keyword clustering strategy is more than just dumping all of your keywords into different boxes and hoping that they are eventually useful. If you want to plan ahead, you need to understand the four main different types of search intent that users may have.
Remember – there can be variations in how users search for things, both within these different intents and in general.
You should try to get used to how these four different groups will search for things: for example, some will be more likely to say “buy (product)” than others, even if they are all looking for a similar page.
Informational search intent covers any users who want to learn something. This could be important information or just to satisfy a personal curiosity that they have – but their search is purely to gain knowledge.
Remember that this is not always about looking up facts or figures. It can also be users trying to get specific questions answered, such as looking up the best way to solve a specific problem or finding a product that fits a certain niche.
No matter what the goal is, informational searches are mostly based on learning. They respond best to anything that is informative and that includes keywords that suggest more information, or that would perfectly match up with the kind of question a person is asking.
Navigational searches are about finding a specific page or piece of content. These users are not looking to be convinced and are instead trying to find a page or product that they know exists.
Most of these searches are either made with very specific terms (such as exact product names) or very direct searches that imply that they know the product exists but can’t remember the name.
These users are more interested in finding their product or service than they are being exposed to others.
Navigational search intents can be tricky to work with, but they can also be quite broad. It depends on what they are actually trying to search for – users looking for a particular product are similar to users looking for a certain article, but the keywords they use will be very different.
Commercial search intent is when a user wants to research something before a purchase. They are in the market for that kind of product or service but want to know more – either about a specific option or getting reassurance that they are buying the right product.
For example, they might be looking up reviews or top-10 lists to find the “best X.” They know what kind of product they want but are in a situation where they are willing to read more information about whether or not each product is worth choosing over others.
These customers are still at the pre-purchase stage and do not actively want to spend money yet. They are still researching their options but may transition into wanting to pay for something if they are reassured that they have picked the correct option.
The transactional stage is the stage where a user has decided that they want to complete a certain action. Despite the name, this does not actually have to be a transaction, although many of them will be customers looking to buy something.
This could also be things like signing up for a free program, joining a specific site, or even just visiting a page to add an item to their wishlist or cart for later. At this stage, they want to complete a certain goal and usually will if nothing gets in their way.
As you might expect, these users are often the most determined to get the thing that they want. This means that targeting these users often focuses on helping them achieve their goal in a faster way or guiding them to the right places to actually purchase what they are looking for.
Clustering Your Keywords
With this pre-planning and consideration done, it is time to actually cluster keywords. The easiest way to put keywords into clusters is to choose a starting point – your seed keyword – and then build the rest of the cluster around it.
This usually means starting with a short-tail keyword and adding long-tail keywords on top of it. For example, the keyword “bathroom furniture” is quite generic, but this could snowball into using terms like “best bathroom furniture in the US.”
A proper keyword clustering tool can help with this, but the overall point of clustering is to just use common sense. Think about all of the different variations of a way that a user may search for something, whether that is using plurals for certain nouns or shortening their search phrase by removing certain words.
For example, “best bathroom furniture in the US” could also be “best bathroom furniture US,” “best US bathroom furniture,” and “best furniture for a bathroom US.” These are all basically the same thing, but they are still distinct.
Categorizing like this makes it significantly easier to build up an extensive keyword list of highly relevant keywords and key phrases. No matter how many other keyword groups you create, each one will be based around a specific starting point, creating highly useful topic clusters.
Content Keyword Clustering
Keyword clusters are mostly used for content – articles, blog posts, website text, or anything else both users and search engines will see.
In theory, keyword clustering is incredibly powerful as long as you can keep content coming. Providing content for each of the keywords in your topic clusters would let you dominate search rankings, but it does not always work that way.
Keyword clustering is pointless if you create bad content. While keyword grouping tools are effective, you also need to create good content that those keywords can be inserted into.
Remember that search engines love three core things: usefulness, relevance, and originality.
If you are creating content that has value to your audience, it is likely to rank higher – which means that the content will appear much more often for the keywords you choose.
Producing Regular Content
Ideally, you want to create content for as many good keywords as possible. Producing distinct pieces of content gives you an easy way to target different audiences without using overlapping keywords or making other potential mistakes.
Create good content based on your keyword list, making sure to target the most versatile or valuable keywords first, if possible. A large enough keyword cluster could last for quite a long time, especially if you are putting out new content on a regular but casual schedule.
Basically, you want to use each of the keywords in a unique piece of content built around that keyword and the audience that often searches for it. This makes every content piece ideal for capturing a specific market.
Using Keyword Clusters in Your SEO Content Strategy
Search engines like relevancy. When users make search queries, search engines deliver results based on the keywords they use, listing web pages that rank for those keywords.
Using keyword clustering in your SEO workflow is surprisingly easy. Each keyword cluster you create is simply another source of keywords, just like if you were performing keyword research.
However, to actually use keyword clustering effectively, you can’t just pick every word that appears in search queries and build content around it. You need to understand how keyword clustering is meant to be used.
Use Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty in Keyword Clustering Tools
Search volume is a measurement of how often each keyword in your keyword clusters is searched for. Higher search volume means that the keyword is used in searches much more often – and that makes it a lot more valuable.
In general, higher search volume keywords are much more competitive. Larger search volumes mean that more users are using that keyword on a regular basis, which means that having pages rank for that keyword puts your content in front of more potential customers.
However, you do not want to follow the search volume blindly. Keyword difficulty – a measurement of how hard it would be to rank for that keyword – is also important.
Most high search volume keywords are going to be much more competitive, which means that going for a lower search volume can sometimes be the better option. After all, there is no point in targeting the largest search volume keyword if you do not even have a chance of ranking for it.
All the keywords you choose should strike a balance between being popular and valuable but not so valuable that you can’t have your website rank for it due to larger companies utterly dominating it.
There are many tools that can present these keyword insights, so be sure to check through your keyword dataset before targeting the keyword with the highest search volume.
Focus on Relevance and Related Keywords
Not every keyword in your keyword list will be as relevant. Generic keywords may turn up in more search queries, but many of those may be irrelevant search queries. You want to perform keyword research that gives you highly relevant keyword clustering opportunities.
Remember that not every keyword clustering tool will differentiate these, either. Some keyword clustering tools will simply suggest any keywords that have semantic relationships with your seed keyword, whether or not they are relevant to your audience specifically.
More modern keyword clustering tools are using Natural Language Processing and other systems to make the keyword clustering fundamentals easier, but some manual oversight is still important.
You do not want to target a keyword that appears in hundreds of search engine results only to realize that those search engine results are for an entirely different niche that just so happens to use the same term in a different context.
Perform Proper Keyword Research
Good keyword research is invaluable to the keyword clustering process. While your keyword clustering settings are obviously important, using tools like Google Search Console and Google Keyword Planner can make it much easier to pick out good keywords from search results.
Whether you want to start optimizing content and internal links or just need new keywords for marketing campaigns, never attempt SEO content without doing even some basic keyword research.
It is too easy to make assumptions about certain keyword insights (such as saying that a certain keyword is “obviously” going to be popular), only for the search results to tell a completely different story.
In general, you want keyword clustering to be as data-driven as possible. From Google Search Console internal linking details to keyword insights from organic search results, your SEO content strategy should be based on hard facts whenever possible.
With tools like Google Sheets, it can be relatively easy to organize your research and break down the keyword insights it has given you.
For some businesses, you might need to optimize pillar pages or focus on internal linking, while others may need to produce an entirely new kind of SEO content.
Even having a list of keywords, audience details, and matching URLs dumped into a Google Sheets document can be the difference between producing perfect SEO content and severely damaging your search engine rankings.
Keyword Clustering Is Important
While keyword clustering is only a small part of search engine optimization and is technically an entirely optional strategy, it makes a huge difference to how you approach your keyword-based marketing.
Whether you are using every automated tool you can or focusing on doing as much manually as possible, this kind of strategy can dramatically improve your overall SEO results.
However, like a lot of SEO techniques, you can’t just rush into it. You need to slow down and do proper research into the keywords that would actually work for the kind of cluster you want to make.
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