I’m an internal linking fiend.
While other people are lying awake at night wondering who The Bachelor is going to pick or which team is going to win the Super Bowl, I’m thinking about how I can better connect the pages of my websites.
Okay, I’m exaggerating (a little). Internal links are one of my favorite topics, though—they’re essential to both SEO and the user experience.
A great internal linking strategy keeps users on your site for longer and gives search engines context for what each of your pages is about; all that, and I haven’t even touched on how you can use them to grow and sculpt link equity.
Today, I’m going to teach you about one of my favorite ways to organize internal links: Hub pages and topic clusters.
Hub pages are pillar content—a high-level, detailed overview of a particular topic. Topic clusters are the content that revolves around that topic—a hub page is the hub of a topic cluster.
Here’s the game plan: I’m going to teach you how I build hub pages and topic clusters and how I use them to create a powerful internal linking strategy. This article is from 2023, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in some advanced techniques—like using ChatGPT to build clusters.
This article is jam-packed with good stuff—you can read it from top to bottom or jump to the section that’s relevant to you. I’ve even got an FAQ near the end! All in all, you’ll find creating internal links is simplified with this technique.
Let’s make like a cluster bomb and blow this topic wide open.
Hub Pages: What They Are and Why You Need Them
Whether you’re an e-commerce site, a blog, or anything in between, you’ve got information on topics people care about. Some of those topics (like using hub pages as an advanced internal linking technique) are quite narrow, while others (internal linking) are very broad.
The broad topics—the ones that you could write a million words on and still not cover every nuance—those are the topics you can make hub pages for.
Hub pages are like the hub of a wheel—there’s a ton of related content linked from and to them, like spokes. They offer a broad overview of a topic—all the information you need to get started can be found on a good hub page. In this way, they can act as zero-to-hero guides on the topic they’re covering.
Imagine you’re building a page for a wedding planner. They probably offer all kinds of services—help with choosing a venue, decorations, finding someone to officiate, sending out invitations, and choosing a wedding cake. Any of those topics could be a hub page—let’s use the wedding cake as an example.
Your hub page is pillar content—it’s the kind of thing that’s going to rank highly on search engines. We might simply call our page “Wedding Cakes”, but it could be “The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Cakes” or “Wedding Cakes: How To Get the Cake of Your Dreams”.
You get the idea.
When writing your hub page about wedding cakes, several other topics will come up. “What is a wedding cake?” “What’s the difference between a wedding cake and other kinds of cake?” “What are the most popular styles of wedding cake?”.
You should write about all of these topics in your hub page (most of them make great headings, but we’ll touch on that more in the next section). Many of these topics will also warrant their own posts—you’ll link to those posts from your hub page. That’s what makes it the hub!
Users love hub pages because all the information that they need on a topic is presented in one place, with lots of additional resources they can access.
Search engines love hub pages, too—they make it easy for crawlers to crawl a bunch of pages on your site, and it makes it obvious what those pages are about (and, by extension, what the hub page is about).
What does a great hub page look like? One example is 99 Boulder’s Beginner’s Guide to Bouldering.
The topic is covered comprehensively, with a ton of internal and external links—all of which open in a new tab (more on that later). It does well in the SERPs, and it’s a genuinely great beginner’s guide.
Now that I’ve covered what a hub page is, I’m going to teach you how to make hub pages that rank.
Creating Effective Hub Pages: Best Practices
The first step in creating a hub page is choosing what topics your hub page should be about.
Start with keyword research—terms with high volume but a moderate to hard keyword difficulty are often good targets for hub pages—especially if they’re broad terms that you can easily build a lot of supporting content around.
Once you’ve got your topic, you can start brainstorming what you want to include in your hub page. Remember, your page will be linked to and from a number of related pages (supporting content).
Your hub page, combined with your supporting pages, is known as a topic cluster—I’ll teach you more about building those in the next section.
One of the most important parts of building a hub page is conducting keyword research. There should be a number of longtail keywords you can target in your hub page—and many of those keywords will work beautifully as supporting pages in their own right.
Break down your hub page so that it flows logically—this is more art than science, but I know that you can do it.
Introduce the hub topic. From there, expand on the things people want to know in a natural way, leading them from topic to topic.
With our wedding cake hub page, we might start with “What is a wedding cake” as a heading, then move into “Different types of wedding cakes” “Types of wedding cake toppers”, “Wedding cake trends”, “Alternatives to wedding cakes”, “How much do wedding cakes cost”, and conclude with “How a wedding planner can help you choose your wedding cake”.
Remember to include relevant keywords throughout your hub page. I highly recommend using Surfer or a similar program to help your article beat out similar content in the SERPs.
You’ll also want to create internal links to all of your supporting content. Some of that content might not exist yet - leave comments for yourself to remind you to add links. You can also use software like Link Whisper to automatically build links for you.
Hub pages should never stay static. Update them regularly as you add content and as the market (and people’s questions about the topic you’re covering) changes.
When you update your hub page, it can sometimes help to add the year of the update into the title (The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Cakes in 2023, for example)—at the very least, add “Updated in March 2023” or something similar to the top of the hub.
Track your hub page’s performance in Semrush or a similar tool, and tweak as needed.
Voila! You’ve made a hub page.
Topic Clusters: What They Are and How They Work
You’ve made your hub page. Your pillar content. The mighty foundation upon which your cluster will stand.
Now it’s time to build that cluster.
If pillar content is the hub, topic clusters are the whole wheel—the hub, the spokes, the tire—everything that’s going to make you skyrocket in the SERPs for a given topic.
Topic clusters are a way of organizing your content—supporting pages all linked from and to a hub page, as well as (occasionally) to each other and to pages in other topic clusters.
The idea here is to cover a topic thoroughly, making your topic cluster a one-stop shop for all the information your readers might need about the topic.
That makes these clusters fabulously useful—both for your users and for search engines. Crawlers love topic clusters because it’s extremely easy for them to navigate around the cluster and gain context for each and every page (as well as your overall site).
Users…well, they actually love topic clusters for pretty much the same reason! They’re easy to navigate, and they give a lot of information about the topic that landed the user on your website in the first place (usually, they’ll start at your hub page!).
A ton of useful content that leads to increased user engagement, all structured so that Google crawls those pages easily?
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you—that’s going to improve your rank. The pages will all pass link juice to each other; most importantly, they’ll pass it to your hub page, which is what we’re going to try to rank for difficult (but high volume) keywords.
Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO might be the best example of a hub page/topic cluster in our industry—the cluster covers everything from “What is SEO?” to how to perfect your link-building strategy. There’s dense internal linking, both within the cluster and to other relevant clusters on Moz’s page.
At this point, you’re probably pregnant with ideas for topic clusters—to keep you inspired, here’s an out-of-industry topic cluster about pregnancy. What to Expect’s Pregnancy Guide simplifies internal linking through breadcrumb navigation, and each page is saturated with internal links.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention TVTropes—it’s basically one giant topic cluster, and there’s a reason people put up warnings in front of links to the site (if you’re a nerd, you’ll waste days on the page). They’re pretty much the internal link champions.
Building Topic Clusters: Best Practices
The first step to building a great topic cluster is to identify the topics that you’re going to cover. You’ll often start doing this as part of building your hub page.
One technique I find myself using to build topic clusters is to ask ChatGPT for help. As a language model, it’s pretty good at finding semantically related topics. Pair that with keyword research to ensure you’re targeting the right terms, and you’re going to have a good time.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Look familiar? Those are the very same topics I brought up when we talked about building the wedding cake hub page. You can use ChatGPT to keep generating more and more topics for your cluster—it’s an insanely powerful tool, and I still can’t believe it’s available for free.
Topic clusters are a lot of fun. Each page in your cluster should target certain keywords—generally, these are longtail keywords related to the hub page of the topic cluster.
You can feel free to go a bit wild, though. Our “Wedding Toppers” page might contain the anchor text “a sharply dressed groom— and that might link to our guide to choosing a wedding suit, which would be in a totally different cluster.
Densely linked pages are the key here. Most of your links should go to other pages in the cluster, but anywhere you find a natural linking opportunity, I encourage you to create a link. When your topic cluster is filled with relevant links, and those links pass equity between your pages, you’re building a veritable rank-boosting machine.
Again, here, I encourage you to automate internal linking using Link Whisper. You might not know where to place links on your new cluster pages—but with the right automation strategy, you won’t need to wrack your brain looking for linking opportunities.
Here’s another pro tip—if you have underlinked or orphan pages, check if they’re relevant to your new topic cluster. If they are, you suddenly have an easy way to link to them, and build equity.
Another important thing to remember is that your hub page is your target page—it’s the one that you’re trying to rank for. Pay attention to which keywords each of your cluster pages are ranking for, and try to avoid cannibalization. Save your strongest call-to-actions for your hub page (though CTAs are fine on any relevant cluster pages).
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a hub page and a landing page?
Landing pages are laser-focused. They’re generally used as part of PPC advertising—they’ll contain a single form to fill, or some other CTA. Instead of trying to provide information, a landing page tries to entice the user to take action.
Cookies and other forms of tracking are essential to monitoring landing page success. You’ll rarely only have one page that serves as a landing page—multivariate testing and URLs with identifiers are commonly used.
Hub pages, on the other hand, are all about providing information—and keeping users on your site for longer. They’re full of useful information, and CTAs will often be found deeper within the content—not above fold (besides any CTAs you have in your header/nav bar).
How many hub pages should I have on my website?
There’s no set number; it all depends on your line of business. What topics do your readers and prospective customers care about? How deeply can you cover each of those topics? Can you provide resources that are uniquely useful? How many of those topics are broad enough to build clusters around?
SerpFocus could have dozens of topic clusters because digital marketing and SEO are incredibly deep. Our wedding planner could probably have a dozen clusters. A mountain biking speciality shop? Probably only a few clusters. Some sites may only have one.
Can topic clusters be used for e-commerce websites?
Absolutely. Any site can benefit from topic clusters. E-commerce sites are actually among the best candidates because you can inform your prospective buyers before they buy and guide them through the cluster to the product that’s best for them. Just remember to keep a shallow site structure!
What is the best way to track the performance of my hub pages and topic clusters?
Use Semrush, Ahrefs, or a similar tool to track the performance of your hub page and all of your cluster pages. Monitor keyword performance, CTRs, and other KPIs. Try to avoid keyword cannibalization.
What is a hub page?
A hub page is a page designed to rank for a difficult (but high volume) keyword. Generally, the topics covered by hub pages are quite broad. Your hub page will link to a number of other pages to cover the topic in greater depth. The hub pages, the links from and to the hub page, and the pages the hub page links to are collectively known as a topic cluster.
What is a topic cluster?
Topic clusters are pages with a number of internal links to each other that cover a topic in depth. They contain a hub page and several topically related pages.
What are the benefits of using hub pages?
Hub pages are designed to rank well for difficult keywords. They’re also designed to keep users on your site for longer. In my experience, hub pages outrank most other kinds of content; in this sense, they’re pillar content.
How do I create effective hub pages?
Read this article, and implement the strategies! To boil it all down, though, create an accessible resource that gives a high-level overview on an in-demand topic. Ensure that the resource has a number of links to related topics (usually longtail versions of the keyword you’re trying to rank for).
Why are topic clusters important for SEO?
Search engine crawlers love topic clusters. The dense interlinking makes them easy to crawl. Users love topic clusters—they keep users informed. More importantly, they keep users on your website. Better crawling + better user engagement, coupled with deep semantic relations = better ranks for every page in the cluster (especially the hub page).
How do I build topic clusters? (with the help of ChatGPT)
Pick the difficult keyword that’s relevant to you. Ask ChatGPT to make a topic cluster for SEO about the keyword. You can ask it to suggest 5, 10, 20, or more pages for the cluster. ChatGPT is an incredibly powerful tool.
Don’t rely on it alone, though—be sure to use keyword research to ensure that the topic is going to help you rank for longtails.
Internal links are one of the keys to a successful SEO strategy.
Hub pages and topic clusters are the simplest way to organize your internal links so that search engines can easily crawl your page. They also keep users on your site.
Here’s a quick summary of how to improve your internal linking strategy using hub pages and topic clusters:
- Build hub pages around broad topics—usually high volume, difficult to rank for keywords.
- Cover the topic extensively (but at a high level) on your hub page.
- Break down your hub page into sections that logically explain the broad topic.
- Include internal links in each of those sections to pages that more fully explain the subtopic.
- Use ChatGPT to brainstorm pages for your topic cluster.
- Build as many internal links within the cluster as possible while ensuring that all of the links are natural.
- Ensure that the hub page features internal links to all the cluster pages.
- Build internal links from the cluster pages to each other—and make sure that each page features an internal link back to the hub page.
- Use Link Whisper to automate topic cluster link building.
- Use Semrush, Ahrefs, and similar tools to monitor the performance of your hub pages and your topic clusters.
A couple of last pro tips before we go—be sure to include external links on your pages, too—they help you build authority and keep your internal links from looking too spammy.
You can use techniques like link sculpting to get the most out of your internal and external links. You’ll also want to build off-page authority for your hubs, so use tools like Hunter.io and Pitchbox to find and generate off-page opportunities.
And with that, you know everything you need to know about building hub pages and topic clusters! I know this will bolster your internal linking strategy and improve your rank. How do I know? I use this structure to build internal links and pass equity all the time.
Go forth and cluster!