The complete guide to keyword clustering for SEO in 2023

The complete guide to keyword clustering for SEO in 2023

When building your keyword list for your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, you may be tempted to keep the list short and manageable. A short list can make SEO execution and reporting much more straightforward, but it will also make you miss tons of ranking opportunities. Instead, you should group your keywords into clusters, which is easier to manage. You can then build your entire strategy around each cluster, making it more effective.

But how should you build these keyphrase clusters? What criteria should you use to group these keywords together? In this guide, I will help you build and use keyword clusters to capitalize on your website’s SEO potential. 

What is a keyword cluster?

A keyword cluster is a group of keywords that have a common theme. They are often about a similar topic or share the same search intent. For example, “customer support quality assurance” and “contact center quality assurance” are keywords that describe the same concept, quality assurance for a customer support service, so they can both be grouped in a cluster. 

This cluster can then optimize a page that matches the right searcher intent strategically. Or you could carefully distribute these keywords across two or three pages if you cannot fit all of them on the same page. 

Search intent, however, is not the only way to cluster your keywords. In fact, you should cluster your keywords in multiple different ways depending on your search engine optimization (SEO) or paid search ad strategy.

Why should you cluster your keywords?

Having a sizeable keyword list for your entire website may not give you insights into how well specific pages are performing or how you should optimize certain sections of your website. By creating keyword clusters, you can better organize your SEO efforts and reporting. Once you start by optimizing for and reporting on clusters, you will be able to more effectively segment your strategy and reporting, focusing on just a few clusters at a time.

When optimizing your website, take full advantage of the fact that one page has the potential to harvest and rank for hundreds of keywords. By creating an appropriate keyword cluster, you can pick the best possible keywords to optimize among all the ones within your cluster. 

A screenshot from Google Search Console of a keyword cluster ranking example

This page ranks for well over 150 different keywords

Organizing your general keyword list into clusters is incredibly useful for keeping your SEO strategy orderly and your reporting actionable. For example, putting all of your low-difficulty yet high cost per click (CPC) keywords into one cluster can help you understand where your best SEO opportunities lie. Cost per click is a great indicator of how valuable a keyword is since it represents how much money other people are willing to spend to get one click from this keyword on Google Adwords.

Top use cases for a keyword cluster strategy

Before you understand how you should be creating clusters, you need to be clear on what you are going to use your clusters for. There are a considerable number of use cases for a well-grouped and organized keyword list, but perhaps the most important are the following three:

  1. Page enrichment and optimization
  2. Content strategy and editorial calendar
  3. New page creation and website restructuring

Now let’s discuss each use case one by one.

  • Page optimization/enrichment

As mentioned above, it is best to optimize your pages for more than one keyword to maximize it’s SEO potential. So building out a group of keywords to enrich a specific page is an excellent way to ensure that you mention all of the most important keywords in your page copy. Creating a cluster for a specific page is also an excellent way to make reporting that page’s performance much easier. 

When building a cluster for enrichment, try to create this cluster using search intent. This way, you can ensure your page will rank for all of the search queries it appropriately answers.

  • Content strategy

Keyword clusters are great guidelines for what topics you choose to write about. When you are creating your editorial calendar, you should be intentional about your topics but creating topics specifically to rank for certain clusters. 

Clusters that contain informational keywords are particularly useful for topic creation. You do not have to create just one topic to satisfy every keyword in a cluster, but it is always better to try and rank for multiple keywords with a single blog. 

For example, if your cluster is just informational keywords that include the phrase “banking as a service,” then you should write a detailed blog that answers every question a user could have about “banking as a service.”  This way, you will be able to meet the searcher’s intent for most keywords that contain this phrase. 

  • Page creation and website restructuring

A keyword cluster often represent what kinds of questions people ask about a particular topic as well as what kind of words they use when discussing said topic. When you are designing your website and creating landing pages, you should keep these questions and phrases in mind so you can directly answer the questions people are most likely to ask about your niche.

These questions should also inform how you structure your navigation. For example, if you are selling customer support management software, you will find that many people are looking for “omnichannel customer support software.” So to meet this need and to rank for this keyword, you should create a landing page that stresses the fact that you are offering omnichannel customer support software. If this keyword had thousands of searchers, it will be useful to put this page in your main navigation so curious customers can easily find it on their own. 

Your navigation should help users understand what you are offering as well as answer any immediate questions they may have. To learn more about nav design, check out our navigation design guide.

How to create an SEO keyword cluster

Creating an SEO keyword cluster can be as simple as making any list and does not require a time-intensive process.  How you create a cluster depends entirely on the criteria you are setting for the said cluster. 

But before you select criteria for your new cluster, you should ask two core questions:

  1. Are my criteria useful? Organizing this list is only helpful if you can use the cluster to improve your reporting, content strategy or page optimization.
  2. Are my criteria consistent across the entire cluster?  If you do not set criteria that can be kept consistent from the get-go, unclustered keywords will often fall through the cracks and go underutilized.

The most important criteria used to cluster keywords include:

  • Intent
  • Semantics
  • Difficulty and search volume
  • Competitor rankings
  • Buyer personas


Searcher intent is a relatively simple concept that describes what a searcher is looking for. Since people use multiple different keywords to search for the same idea, many keywords can have the same searcher intent, making them excellent criteria for a keyword cluster.

The question is, how do you know two keywords have the same intent? Well, all you have to do is Google them both and compare the results. If 7/10 of the links on the first results page for both keywords are the same, then they likely have the same intent. For example, the keywords “customer service agent burnout” and “how to prevent customer support burnout” have the same search intent since nearly all of the results for both keywords are very similar, as shown in the image below:

a screenshot of a keyword cluster example from Google Search

What is important is that the same pages are coming up, though their positions will continue to shift

A great way to find keywords with the same search intent is to run a competitor analysis on a page that answers the same questions you intend to answer and see what keywords it ranks for. This method works exceptionally well if you find this competitor page on Google search since it will be guaranteed to have some good rankings. Check competitor rankings and run an analysis whenever you are about to create a new page with a targeted keyword. You may find some useful information and keywords.


If the search intent is too specific or you want to create more general clusters for easier reporting, you can organize your keywords by topic. This method would mean clustering all of your keywords that pertain to a specific topic or mention a particular phrase. For example, the keywords “What is banking as a service?”, “banking as a service platform” and “What companies offer banking as a service?” all have different search intents but are all related to the same topic so they can be clustered together.

This method will allow you to keep track of your core keyword and all of its long tail variants within the same cluster and help you track entire subsections of your website at a time instead of just individual pages. Clustering by topic is perfect for larger websites with pages dedicated to multiple intents within the same topic. 

For example, parcelLab’s website has multiple blogs for complex topics such as returns management (even a playbook dedicated to the cluster). Each blog in the playbook deals with a different topic within the vast returns management cluster, allowing them to avoid cannibalism.

SEO Playbook example from parcelLab

A playbook landing page can be very useful for SEO, paid advertising and even the sales process.

Difficulty and search volume

Keyword difficulty and search volume are two fundamental keyword metrics you must be aware of when planning your SEO strategy. 

  • Keyword difficulty measures how hard it is to rank for a particular keyword.
  • Search volume measures how many people search for a specific keyword in one month. 

These metrics are critical during the keyword research phase of your strategy and will continue to be useful as you implement your optimizations. They will allow you to prioritize certain keywords over others, for example, keywords with more search volume are generally more useful since they have the potential to bring a larger amount of traffic compared to a low-volume keyword. 

It is beneficial to cluster all of your high-volume, low-difficulty keywords into one cluster so you can prioritize them. Similarly, you can cluster all your low-volume, low-difficulty keywords to create a minimum-effort strategy around them (a glossary or FAQ center).

Competitor rankings

When doing your keyword research, analyzing your competitor’s search performance is a critical step in the process. This analysis is beneficial when you have set outperforming your competitors as one of the goals of your SEO strategy. In this case, while you are doing your SEO competitive analysis, it is incredibly helpful to cluster together all the keywords for which your competitor performs well.

For example, if you wanted to rank for keywords such as “email signature management” and wanted to build a cluster around it, it would be helpful to look into the rankings of a website such as Exclaimer, which is largely dominating this cluster. If you want to know how well you are fairing up against this website, it would be useful to group all Exclaimer keywords together. When you cluster your keywords this way, you can actively report on your performance compared to your competitor’s best keywords. 

Buyer persona

This is one of the trickiest ways to cluster your keywords. Each buyer persona has their own needs and pain points, reflected in what they are searching for. By grouping keywords based on what persona is searching for them, you can track your performance with these personas. 

For example, if your persona is a call center manager, then they are likely searching for ways to combat call center burnout and better manage a large team of customer support specialists. Once you determine who your personas are and what they might need, you can more easily find keywords matching that intent. So keywords like “call center agent burnout” and “call center workforce management” would both be in a cluster targeting a call center manager. 

Who is in charge of clustering keywords?

Keyword research should never be an activity done entirely by just one person. Though SEO specialists can conduct thorough keyword research, they should always get feedback from other departments within your organization. 

Start by asking the sales department what phrases they hear most often in their calls. How are customers referring to your product? What questions do customers most often ask?  

If you know how your current customers refer to your product, you can attract better-qualified leads by ranking for those terms. For example, Unit found that their customers refer to them as an “embedded banking” platform instead of “banking as a service,” so they have rebranded their homepage to target this keyword.

Also, contact your product team to understand what features will be added in the near future and what issues your product solves. Optimizing your website to rank for terms related to your product’s features or use cases will bring you very relevant traffic and help you with lead generation. 

👉 To learn more about how your product can drive your company’s growth, read our PLG guide.

What SEO tools should you use to cluster keywords?

There are many ways to set up your keyword clusters, but only some are helpful if you have a place to track and organize your keywords. This is where SEO tools and Excel come in. Unfortunately, it will be tough to cluster and track your performance with just Excel, but it is possible. 

We recommend using one of the four below tools (more than one is redundant) for your clustering. They all have their own pros and cons, so you should check to see what tool fits your specific use case.

1. Moz

Moz Pro (paid) allows you to add labels to your keyword list and then use those labels to filter through your entire list. This labeling feature will enable you to sort your keywords into groups, helping you cluster them. One keyword can have multiple labels, allowing you to customize and create smaller groups within your clusters. With this tool, you can also make your reports label-specific to track cluster performance separately.

The keyword suggestion tool is useful (and free) to find keywords to fill up your clusters. After you enter a keyword, this tool will then find and suggest similar or related keywords, making it easier for you to build out your cluster quickly.

2. Semrush

Semrush premium will allow you to create multiple keyword lists across different tools. The two main tools for clustering are the Keyword Manager and the Position Tracking. 

The Keyword Manager is simply a list of keywords while the Position Tracking list will also allow you to track the rankings of a particular website for the keywords in your list. Both tools contain a tagging function where you can tag any keyword in your keyword lists. These tags enable you to filter both your lists and your reports, allowing you to make custom cluster reports. 

With Semrush’s alternative clustering method, you can generate clusters for any given keyword list automatically. Though this feature is still in beta and only available to paid users, you can automate the entire keyword clustering process, only dealing with keywords the system could not cluster. This tool will help exponentially reduce the time it takes to manage large keyword lists.

Semrush also has a keyword magic tool to suggest keywords related to the one you enter into the search bar. You can use this tool up to ten times per day on a free account and unlimited times on a paid account. 

3. Ahrefs

Using the Ahrefs Rank Tracker tool (paid), you can add tags to all of your tracked keywords, allowing you to create clusters within an SEO project. Like the two tools above, you can filter out your keywords and create reports based on these tags. You can tag one keyword multiple times as well.

Ahrefs also has a free keyword generator tool similar to the Semrush Keyword Magic tool, helping you build your cluster. The significant advantage of Ahrefs is that this generator tool allows you to research keywords for Bing, Amazon and YouTube.

4. Excel and the Google Search Console

If you do not want to pay for any of the above tools or even use their free features, you can always use Excel and the Search Console. Here are the steps:

Build your keyword list

To start, you will need to get a keyword list populated with keywords that you want to rank for. You can get a small list of keywords by exporting your query performance from the search console.

Unfortunately, the Console will only show you keywords your site managed to get some impressions for, so you cannot see keywords your site has never ranked for. However, you will be able to find hundreds of keywords that your site is performing poorly for. These are the keywords that you should select and add to your list.

You can also use Google Search autocomplete to add more long-tail keywords to your list. Type your most important keywords in the search bar and record Google’s suggestions. These suggestions are commonly searched keywords you absolutely should be paying attention to.

Cluster your keywords

Once you have a keyword list you are happy with, you need to start clustering it. In an Excel sheet, you should store all your keywords and any data you have gathered (what URL is ranking for them, how many impressions they bring etc.). Then add another column where you can mention what cluster each keyword belongs to. Don’t add more than one cluster per column since it will be tough to filter out specific clusters. 

If your list is too large to go through and tags each keyword individually, it may be helpful to cluster them by landing page or semantics: 

  • Keywords targeting the same landing page will likely have similar search intent and be very easy to tag. 
  • Keywords that use similar phrases will be about similar topics and can be easily found using the search function.

Using a word frequency counter will help you figure out exactly what terms you need to search for.

Screenshot of semantic keyword clustering in Google Sheets

Screenshot of semantic keyword clustering in Google Sheets

How to optimize a page for an entire keyword cluster

Once you set up your keyword cluster, you must create a page or series of pages that will rank for the keywords in your cluster. It may seem intimidating to optimize a page or a dozen or more keywords, but it is simpler than it looks. There are two steps involved: selecting the right keywords and then placing them on the page.

Step 1: Selecting the right key phrases for a page

To start, try to identify and clarify the intent behind each keyword: what is the searcher looking for here? As I mentioned above, you can search each keyword and study the results to understand what searchers are looking for. Once the intention is sorted, you must meet it and provide the searcher with precisely what they want while adding information that the other top-ranking search results do not have. 

Step 2: Placing your keywords on the page

Beyond meeting intent, mentioning your targetted keywords in the copy of the page you are optimizing, particularly in the headings is always good. A great way to get as many keywords on the page as possible without stuffing or hurting the flow of your copy is to assign a specific place to each keyword in the cluster before you begin writing. 

You should mark out what keyword you will mention in your H1, meta title/description, your H2s and your body. Note that every keyword you mention in a heading should also be mentioned in the body.

Some keywords will be substitutes for each other, so you will only need to mention one or the other. The key to figuring out if keywords are substitutes is to do the Google Search test. If the results for both keywords are similar, they are likely substitutes. Semantics is also an excellent way to see if keywords are substitutes. For example, “banking as a service software” and “software for banking as a service” are perfect substitutes.

✍️Need help writing for SEO? Take a peek at our SEO writing checklist.

How to track keyword cluster performance

Once you have made your clusters and optimized your pages, you should track their performance. All three paid tools above will have a simple reporting function allowing you to filter reports based on clusters. We recommend creating a dedicated report section or entire report for each cluster so you are always aware of where you need to catch up.

You can check Google Search Console and export the data to an Excel sheet to report on your cluster for free. Once this data has been exported, you can track a cluster by the relevant landing page. You can see that cluster’s performance by looking at the rankings of the page or pages you optimized for a particular cluster. Similarly, if you used semantics to set up clusters, you just need to filter via the semantic phrase to see your chosen clusters’ performance.

You can also use Google Looker Studio to visualize this data by integrating the Search Console and filtering, as mentioned above. Looker is much better at summarizing large amounts of data and making a presentable report.

Need help building your own keyword clusters?

If you have just started building out your keyword list and need help sorting out your SEO strategy, get in touch with our team of SEO consultants, and we would be happy to help you out.

Frequently asked questions

How to avoid cannibalization within a keyword cluster?

Keyword cannibalization will undercut your entire SEO strategy. When two pages compete for the same keywords, they often bring each other down. Although some new rich results have made cannibalization less of an issue, you still need to be careful. 

When mapping your keyword clusters onto landing pages, try not to spread keywords from the same cluster across multiple pages, especially if the keywords have similar intents. You should be safe from cannibalization as long as you keep your mapping consistent and do not mix intents.

When should you cluster your keywords?

You should cluster your keywords after you have done extensive keyword research. Once you have validated each of your keywords, you should begin sorting them into clusters so you can build your SEO strategy.

How can I leverage AI in keyphrase grouping?

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be a useful tool to speed up your keyword grouping process. If you are grouping terms by topic or semantically, you can use Semrush’s AI tool, which will cluster your keywords for you and then edit the clusters as you see fit. Using this tool will save you time but may not be the most accurate if you are looking to cluster by persona, competitor or intent.

Other AI tools such as ChatGPT can also be used to group keywords, though once again there is no guarantee that the results will be accurate and may require considerable editing. AI is best used to accomplish simple tasks that are easy to review for mistakes.

✏️ And how about AI-generated content? Read our post about AI vs human content to learn more.

Momin Shahab

Momin Shahab

Momin Shahab is an SEO consultant at Productive Shop. He has worked in SEO on an international level for upwards of three years at various companies. He has gained training in content marketing, project management and data analysis. When he's not working or researching SEO, he is reading and collecting books.

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