A topic is a phrase, or a category, that can generate numerous individual blog posts for a brand.
Once you’ve chosen a strong, relevant topic, you’ll decide on those individual posts within the topic. This is what’s often referred to as a “topic cluster.”
In this post, we’ll introduce you to topic strategy and how to start building your own:
Why marketers use the topic cluster approach
This approach makes content marketing more efficient on all sides:
- Sales funnel. Choosing one core topic to generate numerous individual pieces is a clear way to make sure that every step of the sales funnel addresses this topic.
- SEO. Search engines value websites that are authorities on a given topic. You build that authority by publishing numerous pieces on a topic.
- Production. Each topic contains any number of individual posts. The three topics you choose today might fill out a content calendar for months to come.
- Distribution. When individual posts are aligned around a topic, they can be combined into larger projects, like an E-book. They can also be deconstructed for a social feed to position your brand as an authority.
Topics vs. keywords
Topics are not keywords. Topics are categories. Within these topics are numerous subjects that your content team will write about.
However, topics are informed by keyword research. Keywords are not the sole criteria for a strong topic, but if you’re trying to build content for organic search then keyword data will be a consideration. We’ll talk about that later.
Before you even get to that stage, you’ll need to conduct topic research based on your brand, its audience, and competitors. That’s what this blog post will focus on.
How topic strategies inform your content calendar
Topic research is not the beginning of a marketing strategy, but we think it is the beginning of a content strategy. It informs every step of the production process right up to publication.
The process looks like this:
- Topic research: compiling a list of potential topics for a strategy
- Integrating data: adding data from organic search volume, competition rates, and relevance
- Choosing topics: evaluating the list based on data and brand priorities
- Creating campaigns: prioritizing topics to begin creating content
- Creating content calendars: planning out individual pieces of content to produce and publish
What makes a good topic?
The ideal topic is specific enough to appeal to your specific audience, but broad enough to generate numerous blog posts.
For example, your product is a SaaS designed to help restaurants and bars balance their payroll expenses better. Let’s look at some examples of topics:
❌ “accounting software” – Too broad. This will attract accountants from any number of industries. That traffic isn’t valuable to you.
❌ “how to process gratuity for bartender paychecks” – This is specific to your industry and use cases, and would make a great blog post… but it’s too specific to be a topic. You can’t build a strategy around it.
✅ “service industry payroll software” – This is targeted to your industry but also broad enough to generate a cluster of posts.
Getting started with topic research
The first step in generating a topic list is researching your audience, think of this as a data-gathering exercise.
There are three areas you can start exploring today.
- Marketing materials
- Archived feedback
Some of the easiest and most useful places to mine topic intel are materials that are already in existence. For example:
- Brand website. What are the key phrases that appear in your value proposition, in customer testimonials, on your homepage, and your docs? How about the phrases used on the websites of your competitors?
- Product marketing materials. What phrases do you use to talk about your product? What category do you occupy? How do you want people to think about your product? What problems do you solve? And so on.
- Audience persona / Ideal customer profiles. Who is the target audience for your site? What is their job title? What are their primary jobs to be done? What makes their job difficult. If your company doesn’t have these questions already answered in a persona or ICP document? It’s worth asking around for it. They help focus efforts across the team.
The audience will tell you exactly what they want to read about. They’ve probably already told someone all about it. Your job is to find that information.
Two places where it may already exist:
- Online reviews. Review and comparison sites like G2 contain tons of detailed and brutally honest opinions from real users of your product and your competitors products. Read through them and jot down any phrases or pain points that seem to recur. Why did people choose these products? How are they using them? What are they struggling with?
- Demo calls. It’s common practice for sales teams to record the calls they have with clients. Ask around: does anyone at your company have those? Does the customer support team document their interactions at all? If not, they might let you listen in live on a few.
Again: the best information about your customers will come from customers themselves. If you have the time and access (and gumption) we highly recommend interviewing some customers yourself.
The insights you gain from asking them targeted questions are invaluable. If you can only ask a prospect or customer one thing, ask this:
What was going on in your day that brought you to this product or service?
It places them back in that moment and prompts them to think about their struggle—and that’s super valuable for your content. You want to produce content that helps your audience to overcome these challenges.
When we start a project like this for clients, we usually aim for up to 70 terms on a topic research list. But you don’t need to include that many on yours. Even 20 will do.
The next step is to refine the list – remove any phrases that still seem too narrow or too broad.
Once you’ve got a strong list of potential topics, you can import data for them. We generally look at three categories of data:
- Keyword volume
- Keyword competition
Keyword data gives you evidence of which topics people are actually searching for, and which ones are already dominated by the giants in your industry. Since the goal is to dominate SERP pages, you need to choose topics that will be seen and can potentially be won.
Relevance is a more subjective metric, but equally important to a content strategy. You’ll go through and assign each topic a quotient based on how important it is to your brand.
Ercule’s approach to topic strategy
This approach we’ve outlined here is very similar to the work we do at the outset of any client engagement.
We believe that the best topics are those that have a good balance between relevance, demand (keyword search volume), and supply (keyword competition).
We apply those same principles to choosing individual blog posts within a topic or campaign. Longtail keywords are a great resource for making those decisions.
But we also believe that any company should be able to use these methods, no matter their size or budget. That’s why we publish material like this, in hopes that anyone will decide to take the do-it-yourself approach.