To predictably acquire and retain SaaS customers these days, you need to build some level of authority or become a category pioneer.
Those are now the best bets to remain top of mind with SaaS customers or prospects.
Thus, in the hopes of achieving this, most SaaS brands have lost their voice in the maze of activities, creating and publishing lots of long-form content pieces.
Unfortunately, achieving topical authority or becoming a category pioneer isn’t just about writing lots of long-form content.
It’s more about putting a puzzle together.
Ultimately, that’s how you can even succeed in pulling site visitors further into your sales funnel and nurture them into customers.
More on that later.
Done right (which you’ll learn in this guide), using the content topic clusters strategy, you’ll predictably puzzle lead-generating content pieces together.
The process involves developing, linking, and promoting relevant articles around topics that drive your business growth.
With this approach to SaaS content marketing, some benefits your company stand to gain includes:
- Building topical authority or creating a new category.
- Gaining relevant & increasing organic search traffic.
- Predictably pulling more qualified leads into your sales funnels.
- Creating a backlog of resources to build a community around your product and retain existing customers.
Love these SaaS business-driving benefits listed above?
Then, you’ll love this practical guide.
As promised, I’ll walk you through step-by-step, how to achieve those benefits for your SaaS business, using the content topic clusters strategy.
This strategy is the subtle way Grammarly’s content strategy helped the SaaS company reach over 20 million users.
Why is the Content Topic Clusters Strategy so Important?
Short answer: It works.
Even SaaS companies with existing and impressive content marketing executions leverage content topic clusters to increase traffic and leads.
For example, in just 5 months, SaaS company, Buffer, went from 27k to over 40k unique visitors/week after injecting content topic clusters into their content marketing program.
See the proof below:
In creating this guide, I asked several marketing executives if they ever tried the content topic clusters strategy and the results they got.
The screenshot below captures one of the many responses I received:
“Since implementing these pillar pages with supporting content clusters, we’ve achieved higher ranking for target keyword concepts and increased inbound leads by offering associated downloadable items for each pillar page.”
When I pressed him for business-related results, Darryl added:
“Year over year blog traffic is up >60% and social traffic up >600% … And we are already enjoying crazy traffic and results.”
As you can see, both for established and emerging SaaS companies, the content topic clusters strategy works.
But that’s not all.
One significant reason it works so well is that Google favors it, too.
Permit me to explain.
Ever since Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update in 2013, focus moved away from single keywords to topics. That change allowed websites that went on to create very comprehensive articles on a topic to outrank others.
It’s part of what gave birth and prominence to Backlinko’s Skyscraper Technique in 2016.
That was over 4 years ago.
As you’d expect, marketers have since jumped on the bandwagon, attempting to create one giant content piece to cover a topic exhaustively.
The bad side is that it’s almost impossible to become an authority on a topic or cover all aspects of your customer queries and intent with one giant, exhaustive content piece. Or with content scattered here and there.
Like I said in the intro of this book…
Becoming an authority to acquire & retain customers and grow your B2B SaaS business predictably isn’t just about writing lots of long-form content.
It’s more about putting a puzzle together.
For instance, SaaS company, VanillaSoft, who grew their traffic and business significantly. To do that, they pieced this puzzle together, using content topic clusters.
Still remember what their CMO told me?
“Since implementing these pillar pages with supporting content clusters, we’ve achieved higher ranking for target keyword concepts…”
In short, when you link content pieces published on your site around targeted topics, you’re not only charging them to attract relevant traffic and leads.
You’re also creating topical authority or dominating a category to drive your business forward.
Findings from another research by MarketMuse and Backlinko supports this.
Their study discovered that content that is “topically relevant” significantly outperformed content that didn’t contribute to covering a topic in-depth.
Also, there’s another important reason why the content topic clusters strategy is pertinent. Without them, your site’s content pieces link hazardously like the image below:
As the picture above shows, having such an arrangement of content pieces on your business site does you many harms, including:
- The difficulty for search engines to crawl and index content on your website appropriately.
- Low (and dropping) organic ranking, as the search robots will not quickly understand what categories or topics to prioritize your website.
- Bad customer experience. With content here and there on your site, visitors and potential customers will have challenges navigating and finding relevant content pieces (a big problem for brand-building).
- And the worst of all? High bounce rates, meaning you’ll be losing the opportunity to pull leads further into your sales funnels.
What Content Topic Clusters Really Are
Coined from HubSpot’s research in 2017, the content topic clusters strategy is the process of puzzling (or linking) related content pieces together around targeted topics, which are relevant to your business.
You can either use this strategy to become an authority for an existing topic or to create a new category you want your SaaS business to be known for.
The image below shows what it looks like:
Compared to the disordered arrangement, having lots of long-form content here and there, this strategy also gives your site an excellent, well-linked structure.
For business purposes, such as attracting customers, converting them into leads, and pulling them into your sales funnel, the real benefits of deploying this strategy in your SaaS company truly shines.
First, it allows you to step back and research topics and concepts that will have the most impact on your business.
This is key because, increasingly, search engines are getting better at understanding semantically-related concepts around search queries.
And because they now prioritize concepts over just keywords, sites with more content pieces linked around a topic tend to get higher rankings and more, consistent organic search traffic.
Ultimately, the implication is that you should no longer depend on targeting only keywords, as a means to get more eyeballs on your content and business.
Talking about getting more eyeballs on your business to generate leads with content marketing, you also need to create and bundle content pieces for both informational and transactional queries.
Doing that well and linking them with MOFU (middle of the funnel) content upgrades, lead magnets, or whitepapers is how to have ready, relevant pieces for each stage of your sales funnel.
As the image below shows:
How Content Topic Clusters Powers the SaaS Sales Funnels
As mentioned earlier, the real benefit of the content topic clusters strategy over regular content marketing plans is that it enables you to have content pieces, which address every section of your sales funnels.
It also equips you with the needed precision to take away the guesswork on how to link related content pieces.
Furthermore, it informs you about the buying stages people who consume content pieces are in your sales funnels. You can detect this based on what they download or how they navigate your website to other linked content.
The graphic below illustrates:
If people are navigating straight from your informational, TOFU content pieces to bottom-of-the-funnel content (BOFU), that indicates they’re more ready to buy.
With such data, you can segment and create custom audiences to retarget those who didn’t go on to subscribe or become trial customers.
On the other hand, site visitors could be downloading your MOFU content like case studies, ebooks, upgrades.
And that’s equally a good thing. It tells you that people want to know more about how your SaaS tool really helps.
All these produce site navigational metrics, which enable you to improve your marketing, close, and retain more monthly subscriptions.
Steps to Develop a SaaS Content Topic Clusters’ Strategy
Execute the content topic clusters strategy effectively in your SaaS business, and it will propel your website to search engines’ top results pages for your targeted topics and keywords.
You may think “propel” means me being too optimistic.
And I agree. Implementing this unique content clustering strategy is a long and tedious process; however, it guarantees potential speed bumps.
At worst, developing your content topic clusters strategy properly will bring you a slow (yet consistent) path to improve the search engine rankings and organic traffic of your SaaS website.
Hence, in any case, rest assured that taking the steps below to develop or optimize your content strategy around content topic clusters will yield long-term results for your business.
The five steps include:
- Research topics & concepts your business needs/should be ranking for.
- Note all the keywords and queries related to each topic or key concept.
- Examine the user intent of keywords & search queries, and group them to form TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content pieces.
- Create your pillar content and the corresponding content pieces related to each topic.
- Link each pillar post to your TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content pieces.
1. Research topics & concepts your business needs/should be ranking for
Before you start, you need to take a step back and ask: What’s the primary problem my business solves?
Another way to ask is: What’s the one thing I want my business to be known for?
To develop a content marketing topic cluster strategy, you must prioritize the most important concept, idea, or business problem your SaaS product solves.
Doing that is first and foremost.
For example, the SaaS product, Drift, solves many business problems, but they’re mostly known for being the pioneers of conversational marketing.
Therefore, their content marketing strategy, driven by content clusters, propels them to become a topical authority in that regard.
Due to this, Drift commands Google’s number one spot for that keyword:
So, after you’ve determined your primary topic or concept, based on what your product or service does, the next step is to research other topics relevant to your business, which are worth covering.
Topics worth covering are those that have high search volumes and have varied queries, where it won’t make sense trying to cover them with one large, ultimate content piece.
These other topics, which will become supporting topics to your main topic, is what adds up to push your website higher up the rankings.
Also, they improve the search engines’ ability to understand your site more, enabling it to rank it for varied and related queries relevant to your business.
However, in some instances, you’ll find that some topics have already been covered by websites having high domain authorities and page ranks.
In such cases, it doesn’t make sense trying to become an authority on those topics because, for some topics, it’s almost impossible to do so.
Instead, you need to carve a category for your business, using the supporting topics found from your research to propel it.
That’s what HubSpot did with inbound marketing, it would’ve been difficult going up against Salesforce who had dominated the CRM niche.
Drift did the same thing with conversational marketing, which gave the company fighting power against their arch-rival, Intercom.
These companies weren’t necessarily the first to offer the solutions they provided. Seeing that they could not go up against the giants at the time, they created a category for themselves.
Then, they used supporting content topic clusters to propel themselves to the top.
Thus, at this stage, the two things you want to do are:
First, determine the problem your business solves or what you want to be known for. That’s the first place you want to build a topical authority.
This should also form the tone and theme of your site’s homepage copy.
Second, research other topics related to your main topic that will help to propel your main topic.
Prioritize those with high search volumes and varied search queries. These ones are the pillar topics your content strategy will rest on.
In the end, you’re looking at having a structure like this:
2. Note all the keywords and queries related to each topic or key concept
It’s now time to delve deeper into researching each supporting pillar topic.
Before you proceed, keep this in mind…
The first step was mainly to determine and ensure you’re working along a central theme for your business.
Your site’s copy has to capture that.
It’s advisable to spice whatever you choose to be your site’s central theme with a touch of personality.
And that’s key…
No matter what you’re trying to be known for or what topic you’re trying to dominate, you should appeal to real humans (your potential customers) before optimizing for the search engines.
In this 2nd step, your goal is to identify and take note of all related topics. Then, the keywords and search queries to support your central topic or concept.
The actual creation of a content topic clusters strategy really begins here.
You must study each topic one at a time to find all keywords and search queries related to it.
Let’s continue with our Drift example.
Based on its primary function, Drift enables businesses to chat with site visitors in real-time.
In a nutshell, they offer a website chatbot solution.
However, the company examined from the onset that the site chatbot industry it was entering already had big and small competitors.
So, first things first, it carved a new category for itself, using the same to develop a differentiated messaging that is appealing to people – its target audience.
And that was the birth of conversational marketing with a value proposition that went like this…
“Your prospects and customers want help in real-time, and now it’s easy to give them the answers they need. You can help people out just like you’d message a friend, and all it takes is the Drift mobile app. So now you can talk to your leads and customers in real-time, wherever you are.”
With the category defined, Drift went on to target key topics and concepts it needed to support its business.
For example, topics the company has created content clusters around include:
“booking sales meetings:”
As you’ll already know, the image shows that Drift couldn’t have built enough authority to rank for such competitive keywords with only one, exhaustive content piece.
You shouldn’t think otherwise.
And that means you have to research all keywords and search queries related to each topic you discover will put your SaaS business in front of your customers.
Gathering these keywords or search queries is easy. There are many tools free and paid tools available to help you do so.
Some free tools include:
- Google search, autocomplete, and Keywords Planner
- Answer The Public
- KeywordsEverywhere (the free version is enough to see the actual search terms)
- UbberSuggest, etc.
Notable paid (and complete content research suite) tools include:
Type your topic in any of the tools above, and you’ll find a ton of search queries and keywords you should list to build out your content topic clusters.
3. Examine user intent of keywords & search queries, and group them to form TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content titles
The tools listed above are what they are – tools!
Yes, they’re indispensable in finding keywords, key phrases, and search queries people use to research a topic you identified in step two and want to use in propelling your primary topic.
However, they cannot tell you the intent people had when they made those searches.
That’s your job.
And it’s a good thing because here, you can step back and act like a human being, just like the people who made the searches those tools scraped.
Your ability to study and determine keywords’ search intent can make or break your content strategy.
You must put yourself in your target audiences’ shoes and attempt to think the way they’ll likely think when researching with a search query you find from step two.
Three questions you should ask yourself and provide answers to must correspond to each section in the image below:
Were they just browsing and looking for general information on this topic?
Sticking with our Drift example, “what is conversational marketing?”
Such queries and keywords are usually informational in nature. Thus, content titles for such should focus solely on providing information that helps them learn more about the topic and not necessarily your product or service.
They should guide you in creating your top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content pieces. Don’t try to acquire new subscribers with these content pieces.
Instead, keep it purely educational and entertaining, as well as using them for brand-building by promoting your primary topic or category.
Were they searching for specific steps or ideas to overcome the challenges posed by the topic?
“Booking sales meetings,” for example:
You must carefully examine the keywords and search queries that look like good fits for answering this second question.
Because content titles you’ll use for creating content pieces for them fall into in the middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU) intent stage of the customer product/service discovery and buying journey.
Searchers using these keywords most likely know about the topic.
They want to know about the benefits they stand to get if they used SaaS products or services that solve challenges posed by the topic.
Hence, content pieces that will work here include use cases, ultimate guides, case studies, and others. Such content pieces drive your site visitors further into your sales funnel by exchanging them as free downloads for their personal information (i.e., emails).
You should also create these content pieces with a mix of informational and transactional info, as relevant to your business. That’s because these are MOFU pieces that link between your top (awareness) and bottom (sales) sales funnel.
Were they looking to subscribe to a SaaS product/service that solves the problem?
Most companies place all their bets on these kinds of queries and keywords.
The reason is simple: They care only for the sale because people using such queries to research are, in most cases, ready to buy.
You shouldn’t be like them.
Keywords you’ll most likely discover to be answers to this third question go something like: “best website chatbots,” “cheap chatbot solutions,” “top website chat solutions,” etc.
These are deep bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) queries.
In short, you shouldn’t be competing (or investing) to rank your content on the search engines for such keywords if the industry you’re playing in is very competitive.
That’s because Google (and other search engines) prioritizes ranking review sites and expert round-up posts for them.
Take “top website chat solutions,” for example:
As per the screenshot above, even if you run a Google ad, targeting these keywords, they’ll perform poorly and could also become a cash drain.
Because the search intent behind such queries is to learn and compare different products and not to buy immediately.
For example, few people, if any, will click on the ad by ActiveCampaign in the screenshot above. A thoughtful observation shows it doesn’t correlate to the search intent.
If you create and link the content pieces for each topic you’re targeting correctly, you’ll not need to compete on the search engines to rank content pieces relevant to BOFU search queries.
Instead, you’ll be sending them as personalized emails to visitors that consumed your TOFU and MOFU content pieces.
As the image below shows, the content topic clusters strategy looks at each topic at a broad level, creates, and links together content pieces, keeping the sales funnels’ path in mind:
4. Create your pillar content and the corresponding content pieces related to each topic
At this point, you’ve determined the topics you need to create content clusters for and outlined the content titles, based on how they apply to your sales funnel stages.
The next thing?
Create out your content pieces.
First, you need to create all content pieces, including those for TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU, respectively.
These could be regular blog posts of 1,500 to 1,800 words and must answer just one search query or keyword explicitly.
Second, you also need to create a pillar content.
This content is your typical ultimate guide, having from 3,000-4,000 words and above, as necessary.
Furthermore, this pillar content is to be a summary or an overview of the topic.
You shouldn’t try to address a particular search query in-depth with your pillar content pieces.
Instead, use it give a top-level overview of the target topic.
5. Link each pillar post to your TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content pieces
After you’ve created out content pieces for each topic, you need to link them together appropriately.
You don’t want a hazardous internal linking like the image below:
You need a thoughtful, top-level, and puzzle-like linking structure, as captured below:
For each supporting topic, link the cluster content pieces to correspond with your sales funnels:
Remember that at the end of the day, your ultimate goal with a content topic clusters strategy is to have a website structure that serves the following functions:
- To become a category creator or attain topical authority on topics pertinent to propelling your business.
- Enables search engine bots to crawl your site’s content better, understand it, and reward you with higher, consistent organic search traffic.
- Allows site visitors to easily find and navigate to relevant content pieces on your site.
- And most importantly, pulls those site visitors deeper into your sales funnels, where your chances of converting them into subscribers and customers are higher.
And that’s it. Those are the five steps to create a content topic clusters strategy for your SaaS business.