Getting a piece of content to rank #1 on Google is an impressive accomplishment. Ranking multiple pages — that’s more impressive.
But to set your website apart from your competition, you need to rank enough pages that humans and search engines alike recognize you as the trusted authority on your core areas of expertise.
Enter the topic cluster. This innovative approach to SEO and content marketing strategy is designed to build your authority on a topic and consists of three components:
- Pillar content optimized around the broad topic that you want to rank for
- Supporting content (usually blog posts) written around long-tail keywords that delve into detailed aspects of that topic
- Hyperlinks between the two that structure all those pages as a topic cluster, signaling to search engines that you’re an authority on the topic, and driving traffic from high performing pages to those that are lower-performing
While you’re certainly familiar with blog posts and general web content, it’s possible you have a few questions about the core component of this strategy: the pillar page.
That’s what this post is here for. We’ll walk through exactly what a pillar page is, how it works, and some tips for tackling this intimidating content project.
What is a Pillar Page Exactly?
The definition of a pillar page is actually pretty simple: it’s an in-depth piece of content that covers all aspects of the topic that are relevant to your audience.
Here’s one of our pillar pages as an example: The Startup’s Guide to Hiring a Content Agency.
You may be thinking: “Wow, that’s a lot of content. No one’s going to read all that.” And you’re probably right. (Although, you never know.)
The point of a pillar page isn’t for your audience to consume in one sitting. It’s to provide a detailed, in-depth reference that they can go back to again and again; anytime they need a question on the topic answered.
In essence, you aren’t creating something digestible. You’re creating something to be bookmarked.
There’s more than one way to structure a pillar page, and this depends entirely on the topic and how it corresponds to where your buyer is in their buyer’s journey. Here are the three most common types:
- 10X Pillar Page. This is the type of pillar page I linked to above. The 10X pillar is meant to put everything the reader could want to know on the topic in one place.
- Resource Pillar Page. There are a plethora of resources out there beyond what you’re able to publish on your website. A resource pillar helps you compile and link to those, serving as a “hub” for helpful third-party content on the topic.
- Product Pillar Page. For bottom-of-funnel users, a product pillar provides in-depth descriptions about what you offer and the ways your features and functionality provide value to your customers.
How a Pillar Page Works
A pillar page doesn’t drive your search engine rankings on its own. It’s designed to be used in tandem with other pieces of content to boost your authority and drive more organic traffic to your website.
Pillar pages and topic clusters work hand-in-hand:
- Create the blog posts for each of the subtopics and start getting those to rank for the long-tail keywords you’ve selected. These blogs also double as lead generators for your business while you’re building your online authority.
- Publish the pillar page. The fact that you have a content-rich page around a short-tail keyword signals to Google that you are somewhat of an authority on the topic.
- Hyperlink the blog posts to the pillar page. This should help drive traffic from the posts (which should already be ranking by this point) to the pillar page. Increased traffic to the pillar page shows Google that you’re producing helpful content that matches the user’s intent.
- Traffic flows in both ways, prompting Google to recognize you as an authority on the core topic.
The end result of this process is that for each pillar page and topic cluster you publish, that’s one more area where Google will see you as an authority and true resource, making them more likely to drive traffic to your website.
How to Create a Pillar Page
Given the fact that a pillar page contains a lot of content and, thus, requires quite a bit of time to produce, you may be intimidated by it. Trust me, I understand.
No matter how adept you are at content production, this is going to be a massive lift for both your and your team to pull off.
That’s one of the reasons that I recommend that you leverage the power of content repurposing when creating your pillar content. There’s no reason to wait until you have thousands of words written before you publish any of them, especially since you’re focusing not only on building a pillar, but the cluster as a whole.
Here’s the process we follow for developing pillar pages here at FEARLESS:
- Define your core topic.
- Create chapter headings to cover the major points you’ll need to cover that topic in-depth.
- Separate each chapter into 3-4 subsections for the specific topics within those chapters. Each of these subsections can stand alone as its own blog post, and should be optimized around a specific keyword (long-tail).
- Write the blog posts and publish them as frequently as you can. When planning your content calendar, try to build up those individual chapters as quickly as possible so you can start editing the pillar page while continuing to produce the other pieces of content.
- Once you have compiled all the content, edit the whole piece and publish it.
Additionally, there are a few formatting requirements that every pillar page needs:
- Navigation menu. A pillar page isn’t a traditional landing page. You’re there to provide helpful information, not drive a particular conversion. So make sure that they can click around on your site if they’re interested in learning more about who you are and what you have to offer.
- Table of contents. Any pillar page you write is going to be long. Since it’s unlikely that a reader is going to consume the whole piece from start to finish, add a table of contents (along with anchor links!) so readers can jump to the section that’s most interesting and relevant to them.
- External links to additional resources. As with any piece of content that you write, include external links to cite statistics and provide more helpful information on topics that your website isn’t an authority on.
- Internal links. Internal links are the fuel that helps your entire topic cluster to rank. So while your subtopic blogs are going to drive traffic to your pillar page, once your pillar page ranks, you can use internal linking to drive traffic to other content on your website.
- Calls-to-action. While your pillar page isn’t a landing page, it’s important to provide natural “jumping off” points for readers who want to take the next step. Position calls-to-action throughout your page to capture various leads as they come in.
Keep in mind that a content project this large is going to take a lot of time and energy. Remember to pace yourself, and take each blog post you publish on the way to the final project as a small victory as you ramp up for the big one.
After you’ve published the pillar page, it’s critical to drive as much traffic to it as possible. Once you get your audience to view the page, this will start the process of signaling to Google that you’re an authority on the topic.
From there, keep adding content to the cluster and watch your search engine rankings and traffic grow. Then, move onto the next topic cluster and repeat the process.