Reader Centric Topical Authority (Without the Keywords)

Jun 23, 2023 3 min read
Building Topical Authority When There Are No Keywords

A friend recently reached out to me and asked:

“Ben, I’m trying to create topical authority for a client where there are not a lot of keywords to be had. What do you do when there’s a topic you want to create a topic cluster around, but there’s only a small variety of keywords on that topic?”

This is a challenge I’ve faced, too.

The problem is that conventional SEO wisdom dictates that to achieve topical authority you need to pick a core keyword:

  • “Protein powder”

And create a cluster of articles that targets every "matching term" keyword on that topic:

  • “What is protein powder?”
  • “How to use protein powder?”
  • “Protein powder recipes”
  • “Cleanest protein powder”

That way you cover a topic “completely” and win extra points with Google.

However, as my friend’s question shows, this strategy quickly falls apart when a topic has only a small variety of keywords.

(For example, imagine if people were only searching “what is protein powder” or “protein powder” but nothing else.)

In many cases, all the keywords available on a topic can be covered by just one article.

I had this case around 12 months ago with a client site I worked on.

I strategised, wrote, and designed (in Webflow) a content cluster around the core keyword we wanted to win: Customer Service Analytics.

example keywords, that's all

When it boils down to it, there are four articles worth writing in this keyword cluster.

  1. What is customer service analytics? (the actual guide, here)
  2. Importance of customers service analytics
  3. Customer service analytics AI
  4. Customer service analytics software

Frankly, even four was a stretch and the search volumes were quickly getting low.

This is a far cry from the opportunity available with protein powders, where there are 1,000s of keywords with over 500 monthly searches.

So, what do you do then?

The answer is to STOP focusing so much on keywords.

There is much more to a topic than a keyword. There are related challenges, tangential pain points and interconnected topics that are crucial pieces of the topic puzzle.

I’m a content strategist at heart. Readers come first, not SEO.

So, here’s what I said to my friend.

Let’s do a thought experiment: delete the idea of topical authority, topical clusters, and keyword clusters from the world for a minute.

Ask yourself, "If I was going to create truly helpful resource of 20+ articles on a topic, what articles would I write?".

THAT is the content you should write. Forget the idea that a “topic” = “the same keywords”.

Topics instead need to be:

  • On a closely-related topic
  • Useful to the same audience
  • Solving for a specific situation or pain point

To go back to my example on “customer service analytics”, the articles I wrote were:

Pillar: The Ultimate Guide to Customer Service Analytics (which, by the way, is now ranking #2 behind Zendesk)

  • Cluster article: How to do a root cause analysis
  • Cluster article: How to categorize help desk tickets
  • Cluster article: How to triage tickets
  • Cluster article: The power of AI in customer service analytics

Now, a user actually wants to browse through the collection of content.

Individually, each article is useful. As a whole, they act as a resource for our ideal customer persona who has a variety of needs.

Powerful right?

Now the advice to “interlink a bunch of articles on a topic” actually makes sense for the reader, as well as SEO.

screenshot of custom nav

We did our interlinking with a custom navigation (screenshot above). Which improves dwell time and new content discovery.

I’m keen to usher in the era of human-centric SEO. Rethinking how you build “topic cluster” is one way to join me ✊


If you found this post helpful, please help me grow by sharing this article on social media or recommending the newsletter to a colleague.

Have a great weekend,



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