With society seemingly melting down from every angle, there might never have been a better time to learn to meditate. HeadSpace, a popular meditation app, reported a 10-fold increase in users listening to their “stress reduction” meditation tracks between mid-March and mid-June.
With over 2 million paid users and $215M in funding to date, HeadSpace is the reigning champ of the meditation app space. I wanted to do a quick teardown of their content marketing and SEO strategy and see if I could find anything interesting.
I’m always looking for the 80/20 levers driving growth, and came across a single SEO topic cluster on meditation driving roughly a quarter of HeadSpace’s organic search traffic. Below we’ll take a closer look at it and breakdown:
- How this is different from a typical blog based topic cluster. HeadSpace has a blog, but this high traffic topic cluster lives outside the blog in it’s own set of landing pages. This single topic cluster also generates 5X the traffic of their entire blog, and does it with less than 10% of the pages.
- Why I consider this a “mega cluster” with roughly 100 pages making up the overall cluster, and how that helps drive such strong SEO performance and rankings.
- How HeadSpace has cleverly tied the content of these pages into the app itself, and a couple ways I think they could turbocharge this strategy to create a much better UX and improve app sign ups.
A Look at HeadSpace’s Marketing Mix, and How This Topic Cluster Stands Out as an 80/20 Growth Driver
According to SimilarWeb, HeadSpace had approximately 2.3M visits in July 2020. A big chunk of that was direct traffic. I’d guess a lot of the direct category was from existing users, but that will also cloak a lot of potential acquisition channels like app and messenger traffic. That being said, search still comes in as a significant channel at 30% of traffic.
Next I pulled up the “top pages” report in Ahrefs, which estimates search traffic across the site and also shows the highest traffic organic search pages. In the screenshot below we can see that Ahrefs estimates approximately 400,000 visitors a month from organic search.
What caught my eye as I scanned through the list of top pages was the /meditation/ sub-directory. There were a lot of high ranking, high traffic pages inside this directory. So I filtered the list of 1,882 pages to show only pages in that sub-directory.
As you can see, there are 99 pages in the directory and Ahrefs estimates that they are driving 88,781 visits a month. That’s nearly a quarter of all organic search traffic to the site, and over a million visits a year. Just from a single topic cluster.
In comparison, if we filter the same “top pages” report to show all the blog pages we can see that there are 1,082 blog posts ranked on Google. But they are only driving 16,101 visits a month. That means their meditation topic cluster is driving more than 5X the traffic with less than 10% of the pages. Now that’s a real world example of the 80/20 principle in action, or more like 95/5.
What’s a topic cluster? And what makes this one so successful?
A step-by-step tutorial of topic clusters is beyond the scope of this article (you can check out a more detailed guide from HubSpot here). But in a nutshell topic clusters are clusters of search optimized pages tied together under the umbrella of a high level topic. In this case, the topic is meditation. At the center of the cluster there is typically a central resource page (also known as a pillar page), that links out to all the sub-pages on various related sub-topics.
You can take a look at HeadSpace’s meditation topic cluster pillar page here. If you scroll toward the bottom of the page, you can see how it links out to a variety of sub-topic pages that make up the cluster. Each of these sub-pages also has a laundry list of links at the bottom that further inter-link the cluster pages amongst each other.
SEO Ranking Factors HeadSpace Nails With This Topic Cluster
Let’s dive into some of the key ranking factors behind the success of this meditation topic cluster.
Creating a “Mega Cluster”
While there’s no hard and fast rules on how many pages should be in a topic cluster, most efforts at creating topic clusters inevitably start out small – with a handful of content pages linked around a central pillar page. Many content marketing teams are often eager to target a variety of topics, resulting in the creation of many smaller topic clusters.
While HeadSpace does have a handful of other smaller topic clusters, it’s obvious they’ve dedicated a large amount of resources to creating the most complete, in depth cluster possible for the meditation topic – with nearly 100 pages in the overall cluster. From what I can tell, most of the pages are on the long end of the spectrum word count wise, and are packed with quality content i.e. they didn’t just crank out a bunch of low quality 500 word content pages.
I crawled the HeadSpace site using an SEO auditing tool called Sitebulb to give you a rough idea of how it looks to a Google bot as it navigates through their site. In this crawl map you can see how key pages form clusters, and what the meditation topic cluster looks like visually. You can see it stands out as a significant cluster in the overall site architecture.
One of the central ranking factors behind topic clusters is that they allocate your site with a high level of authority on the given topic via Google’s algorithm. In essence, Google sees that you have fleshed out a topic more extensively and qualitatively than other sites and awards you with higher rankings for related terms. Following that logic, the optimal size of your cluster should be as big as it takes to fully flesh out the topic and related sub-topics you’re targeting.
For a broad topic like meditation, it’s clear HeadSpace has adequately fleshed out the topic with their cluster in the eyes of Google’s algorithm. And would likely beat out competitors with smaller, less extensive clusters all other factors being equal. In fact, HeadSpace ranks in the top 3 for highly competitive head terms like “meditation” and “relax”.
Fueling The Cluster With Backlink Authority
While I’ve seen “mega clusters” rank well for less competitive terms purely on the merits of the depth and breadth of the content across the cluster, in order to rank for more competitive terms you’ll still need backlinks.
Luckily, topic clusters come with a couple built in advantages on the backlink side of things. The first is that you don’t need to worry about getting backlinks to every page in the cluster. In the case of HeadSpace’s meditation topic cluster, they have attracted 3,261 referring domains across the entire cluster of 99 pages.
But 73% of those links are pointing to just 10 pages. Thanks to the tightly interlinked structure of the topic cluster, the strong link authority from those top 10 pages gets distributed out across the entire cluster. Like a rising tide lifting all boats, the rankings of the entire cluster benefit – even the pages that don’t have any backlinks at all.
The second built in backlink advantage of topic clusters is that not only does Google view them as an authoritative resource on the given topic, people do too. If you’ve created a comprehensive resource center on a topic, people will be more likely to trust and reference your site when looking for resources to link to. And as you start to achieve rankings, this leads to a virtuous cycle of more people finding your resource hub and even more backlinks.
Blog vs. Mega Cluster
In HeadSpace’s case, the data on this debate is clear. Their meditation topic cluster alone generates 5X the traffic of their entire blog, and pulls it off with only 10% of the content pages. That doesn’t mean topic clusters can’t be successfully hosted inside a blog. And in fact, I would still recommend organizing your blog posts into topic clusters to reap some of the benefits we talked about above.
However, I do think there are some advantages to creating a stand alone “mega cluster” that lives outside your blog. Let’s dissect a few of those so you can make a better decision about what strategy is the best fit for you.
Technical Advantages: More Control of Interlinking
The main technical advantage of stand alone clusters is that you have a bit more control of how the cluster interlinks. While it’s technically possible with enough tweaking to link a cluster together however you want inside a blog, the cluster will generally follow whatever pre-defined blog interlinking structure already exists.
I haven’t seen any solid experiment data on this, but I hypothesize that a more tightly interlinked cluster would score at least a small boost in Google’s algorithm – with more associations/links to content that is related to the topic translating to higher site authority on the topic, or perhaps demonstrating a deeper focus on the topic.
Blog link architecture tends to be more loose, and prioritizes interlinking based on other factors like most recent content vs. being deeply topic focused like a tightly structured stand alone topic cluster. There are also a lot of user expectations about what a blog is supposed to look like that impact how things get interlinked. These user expectations tie into some of the other advantages of stand alone clusters that we’ll look at next.
UX/UI Advantages: The Main Reason to Choose a Stand Alone Cluster
Of the advantages to a stand alone cluster, I think the biggest ones relate to the user experience. A stand alone resource hub allows you virtually unlimited control and customization of the UI and UX of the pages. Blog UX is pretty standard at this point in the game, and it comes with a lot of baked in expectations and behavior patterns. A stand alone cluster allows you to shake off these patterns/constraints, and gives you the freedom to do things like…
Customize CTAs and Optimize Your Content Funnel
One thing HeadSpace did that I thought was really clever was embed audio meditation sessions from their app right into the content pages. This allows visitors interested in trying meditation the opportunity to actually give it a go right from the page.
This strategy could be taken a step further by embedding a full app playlist with meditation tracks, instructional content, etc. combined with a gated sign up form to fully access the content in the playlist. Or even fully integrating the topic cluster into the web app as an ungated resource guide paired with meditations that can only be accessed by signing up.
A stand alone topic cluster also gives you the freedom to test a variety of other CTA styles that might not fit on your blog, like opt-in sidebars or more prominent header/footer CTAs. As well as the flexibility to test hybrid landing page/content page styles that take a more direct response oriented approach that might not fit the tone of content on your blog.
Curate a Path Through Your Content for a Better UX
Like I just mentioned, blogs come with their own built in set of expectations and behaviors. People expect that there is new content being added all the time, so they might click to the blog home page to see what the latest updates are. People also don’t generally expect a lot of breadth or depth from a blog post on a topic, so may be more likely to hit the back button to Google and continue browsing other content related to their query.
On the flip side of the coin, stand alone topic clusters or resource hubs demonstrate a lot more depth and breadth on the topic than a single blog post would. I believe this subtly shifts a visitor’s mindset and behavior when they arrive at a stand alone topic cluster. Instead of triggering the “clickbait impulse” that thousands of blog and media site experiences have ingrained in them, a stand alone cluster keeps them in the more deep, investigative mental state they started their Google search in.
This gives you the ability to more effectively guide the visitor down a focused content path that better addresses their search query, and also allows you to present them with the opportunity to try your product at an optimal time along that journey.
Remember, a media site or influencer’s KPIs might fit perfectly with the UX of a blog that is aimed at getting visitors to click and read as many pieces of content as possible. But as a SaaS or app company, your ultimate aim is to get visitors into your product and deliver the solution to their problem. Helping visitors stay grounded in the original intent of their search and curating a path toward solutions your product offers may be more effective, both in fulfilling the intent of a search and in driving more sign ups.
At the end of each content page HeadSpace presents visitors with a sort of table of contents for their topic cluster, inviting visitors to learn more about different aspects of meditation and answer other specific questions they might have. This provides a content path that more closely aligns with their search for information on meditation vs. a blog that might diverge into unrelated topics.
I think this table of contents could be improved by breaking it down into easier to digest chunks, perhaps adding some categories to help parse the list. But ultimately the only limit to how you want to guide visitors through your cluster is your own creativity. From chat widgets that monitor which pages visitors view and recommend related content, to recommended next article links curated by your team.
A Zen, Focused Approach to SEO Pays Off
It’s fitting that an app designed to teach users to relax and focus would get some of it’s best content marketing results by doing just that. A simple, focused topic cluster ultimately ended up beating the more scattered blogging strategy by many orders of magnitude.
Choosing to build a stand alone topic cluster around a topic like meditation makes a lot of strategic sense for HeadSpace – it’s a topic at the very essence of the product and brand. But what makes their approach stand out is how they doubled down their focus on the topic. Building it out into a mega cluster with 99 high quality, in depth content pages. And ensuring those pages were heavily backlinked.
Don’t forget that your prospective users are drowning in content, today more than ever. 24/7 news, endless streaming options, every company on the planet churning out blog posts. So take a breath, relax. A little focus can go a long way.