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Topic Clusters and Keyword Research for Technical Content

When I started Draft.dev, I wanted us to consistently deliver high-quality technical content to satisfied clients around the world. Creating quality technical content requires a deep understanding of the subject matter, as well as the ability to clearly communicate complex ideas. One of the keys to creating effective technical content is to focus on the right topics and keywords that are most relevant to your audience.

Draft.dev provides SEO keyword research and topic cluster generation to our clients to ensure their target audience is engaged with our technical content. In this post, we will explore the concept of topic clusters and how we identify the right topics and keywords for our clients’ technical content. If you have questions, feel free to book a call with me.

What Are “Topic Clusters”?

First, if you’re not an SEO expert, you might not be familiar with the term. A “topic cluster” is a method for intentionally building content designed to rank well in search engines (especially Google).

The idea is that by writing several pieces of content that are related, you can develop a really valuable “pillar piece” supported by a handful of “supporting pieces.” By targeting keywords that have relatively low keyword difficulty and decent volume, you can ensure that some of your supporting pieces rank on the first page of search results quickly.

Then, by linking from those highly-ranked supporting pieces to the more difficult-to-rank pillar piece, you increase its rank as well. The goal is to eventually start ranking highly valuable, high search volume pillar pieces on the first page of Google results.

Topic cluster visualization

In this post, I’ll walk you through how we do this at Draft.dev so you can try this for yourself or better understand what you’ll get when you work with us. I’ve also recorded a video version so you can follow along with a real example if you’d like.

Finding Keywords

Writing blog posts that are likely to rank well in Google is a complex process that I won’t dive into here, but I will say that the process always starts with picking the right topics to write about.

The first thing we do is sit down with each client to build a list of ideal keywords. We ask a few questions that usually lead us to uncover lots of areas for exploration, including:

  • What would be your dream keywords to rank #1 for? These should be 1-2 word, industry descriptions like “continuous integration,” “automated testing,” or “python IDE.”
  • What work are engineers doing when they decide to use your product? What problems might they encounter leading up to that decision?
  • What tools would an engineer use alongside your product? Are there specific languages or frameworks they need to use?
  • What long-tail searches would you like to rank highly for? (e.g., “how to automate GitHub backups” or “how to pick the right database”)
  • Who are some of your direct competitors?

After this planning session, we usually have a list of 10-50 keywords. We then take this list and start exploring. Using tools like ahrefs, Google Keyword Planner, and industry research tools, we then generate thousands of keywords to explore in more detail.

This is where the science and art of keyword research come in.

Ahrefs will give us estimated monthly search volume and difficulty, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us the user’s search intent or how relevant each keyword is for our client. For that, we use our industry knowledge, competitor research, and past experience to cull the list down to a few hundred relevant, rankable keywords.

Planning Clusters

After building this list of relevant keywords that are not overly saturated, we start to comb through them manually, grouping similar ideas and terms into groups. Again, this is part art and part science because you have to understand a lot of industry jargon to do this well.

This is also where specializing in content for software developers gives us a huge leg up on general-purpose SEO consultants. The topic clusters we build are based on a deep understanding of how software engineers and engineering leaders use the internet to solve problems on a daily basis.

Usually, we can build 2-3 topic clusters with a pillar piece and 4-6 supporting pieces in a single round. If we can’t, we go back to the previous step and brainstorm more keywords to find another unexplored niche.

The Final Result

At the end of this process, we supply clients with a simple, easy-to-understand map of our results in a spreadsheet. We’ll review each article with our client and make sure they align with the client’s product and strategy before creating detailed content briefs and outlines.

Finished topic clusters

Sometimes this requires a couple of iterations, but it’s usually a quick process, about one week within our client onboarding timeline.

Once we’ve agreed on topics, briefs, and content types, we’ll start production. With 300+ technical writers in our pool, we can cover almost any software development topic, and we’re always willing to recruit specialists when the project calls for it.

Are Draft.dev’s Topic Clusters Right for You?

Using keyword-based topic clusters like this isn’t suitable in every situation. For example, if you’re hoping to create content as sales collateral, helping your sales team move prospects down the funnel, you might not care so much about search volume or ranking in Google. Similarly, if you’re primarily interested in content that will resonate on social media, we provide community research to create a content plan for our clients.

On the other hand, if you’re hoping to build awareness, generate new leads, or build up your domain authority to make ranking for more difficult topics easier in the future, this strategy is a perfect fit.

By focusing on keywords you can rank for within a few weeks, you won’t have to wait years to see a return on investment for your content. You can attract buyers at the top and middle of your funnel to raise awareness and introduce your solution. Then, by retargeting them with ads or introducing them to your mailing list, you can build a content engine that delivers consistent growth for years to come.

To learn more, ask questions, or get started, book a call with me today

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.