Editors note: This blog post was originally published in December 2017 and has since been updated for relevance and accuracy.
The way we search online has changed a lot since Google first started taking off in the early 2000s. People are submitting longer, more conversational search queries. And Google’s algorithm has become more sophisticated. It can now better understand the context and intent behind a search query.
Rather than simply matching keywords, Google now looks at the broader topics and themes associated with a query. This means that content covering a topic in-depth is more likely to rank well in search results than content focusing only on a few keywords.
So how did marketers and SEO experts respond to this shift?
With pillar pages.
What is a pillar page?
A pillar page is a central piece of content that serves as the cornerstone for a key topic. It covers the topic in-depth and links to high-quality content (often blogs) on supporting subtopics.
Creating a pillar page can be an integral part of your content strategy. For example, your pillar page could be on ‘Outsourcing medical device manufacturing.’ Among other topics, you’d cover the pros and cons of outsourcing, the logistics of how it works, and how to choose an outsourcing partner.
From your pillar page, you would add links to cluster content - blog posts that dive deeper into those topics covered on your pillar page.
Think of the pillar page as a content hub from which readers can be guided to more specific content pieces.
In a pre-pillar page world, we created blog posts based on the keywords we wanted to rank for. This worked well for most, but with the infinite volume of online content, things were starting to get a little disorganised.
Google’s mission is “to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Let’s break that statement down:
Consider for a moment just how much content is out there on the world wide web. Around the world, a mind-blowing 6 million+ blog posts are published every single day. That’s a lot of content to sift through.
By having at least one pillar page, you are helping Google to organise your content. You’re essentially neatening up your own site architecture and at the same time, doing wonders for your search authority.
If your pillar page provides extensive information about a particular topic, with links to all relevant, supporting topics, then Google will consider that page a rich, authoritative and helpful source - and push it further up the search results.
“The world’s information”
With so much content out there, there’s a lot of competition to get your voice heard. Although pillar pages are topic based, it's still essential you have a keyword strategy. You could for example, rank for more than one keyword through your pillar page, rather than having a series of blogs all ranking for one keyword.
Remember, Google must quickly identify the most remarkable content and at the same time, disregard anything it deems irrelevant, redundant or unethical.
Although a pillar page is usually based on a broad topic, it links to narrower subjects that support the overall content - in other words, more opportunities to satisfy the searcher's query.
Because a pillar page is saturated with helpful, supporting content, in a variety of formats: blogs, infographics, videos etc, it makes sense for Google to present this to the user as one of the top sources since it embodies so many branching topics.
You should endeavour to consistently update your pillar page by adding new links. This can be achieved by identifying content gaps and creating additional content to support your topic cluster. So take advantage of this opportunity and do all you can to keep the fire of your pillar page burning.
You need to do everything you can to maintain or acquire your status as a thought leader, an authoritative source, to stand out above all of that information.
“Make it universally accessible”
Google must be able to determine what your content is about, so that the rest of the world can. It should be presented in a clear, concise, and universal manner. This is ultimately how Google ranks its content.
If Google is unsure or unclear of what your content is about, then it can’t be sure users will understand it either, and it will depreciate its value. Pillar pages are sectioned, usually with a table of contents, and similar to an eBook, some of the most comprehensive pillar pages are also available in the form of a downloadable PDF. If you're familiar with the inbound marketing strategy, you'll know that this is an unmissable opportunity for conversions.
The purpose of a topic cluster is to help more quality pages rank higher so searchers get better answers. That’s what SEO essentially comes down to, giving searchers the best, most useful, and most valuable content. This is deciphered through quality, links, popularity and authority.
Search behaviour is changing among users, and as we know, SEO is all about the user. Google spiders want to find the best content and present the user with the most relevant, valuable sources.
Whilst many marketers have a basic understanding of what a pillar page actually is, it’s even more valuable to understand the purpose of one, and what can be achieved in terms of your site traffic, visibility and overall lead generation.
A considerable majority of the internet’s content is irrelevant and obsolete. Google has mastered the art of machine learning to enable its algorithms to sort through all of the mess, choosing only the cleanest, clearest, most meaningful content.
But SEO takes time, care, and maintenance. Top rankings cannot be achieved overnight, especially since Google is developing an even lower tolerance for unethical black hat techniques.
How to create a pillar page
Creating a pillar page requires careful planning and execution to ensure that it effectively covers a broad topic and links to related subtopics.
Here's a step-by-step guide to creating a pillar page:
- Choose a broad topic: Start by selecting a broad topic that you want to rank for. This could be something related to your industry or a topic that your audience is interested in.
- Conduct research: Before you start writing your pillar page, conduct research to gather information on the topic. This could involve reading articles, watching videos, and exploring other resources to ensure that your pillar page is comprehensive and accurate.
- Determine subtopics: Once you have a solid understanding of the broad topic, identify subtopics that relate to it. These subtopics should be more specific than the main topic and should cover specific aspects of it.
- Organise content: Organise your research and subtopics into a logical structure for your pillar page. Consider using a table of contents to make it easier for readers to navigate the content.
- Write the content: Start writing the content for your pillar page, keeping in mind the subtopics and structure you have identified. Make sure to include high-quality, relevant information that is helpful to your audience.
- Add visuals: To make your pillar page more engaging and visually appealing, consider adding relevant images, videos, infographics, or other visual content to break up the text.
- Add internal links: Within the pillar page, add internal links to relevant cluster pages (i.e. blog posts) that cover specific subtopics in more detail. This will help improve the overall SEO value of your content.
- Optimise for SEO: Finally, optimise your pillar page for SEO by including relevant keywords, meta descriptions, and title tags. This will help improve its visibility in search engine results pages.
In today's rapidly changing digital landscape, staying on top of SEO best practices is crucial to ensuring your website is visible to your target audience. The shift towards longer, conversational search queries and Google's increasingly sophisticated algorithm have led to the rise of pillar pages as a powerful SEO tool.
By organising your content around a central topic and linking to high-quality cluster pages, pillar pages can help improve your website's search visibility, authority, and user experience.
Creating a pillar page is a time-consuming process that requires careful attention and regular maintenance. But the effort can lead to improved SEO, increased traffic, and better audience engagement. By following the tips in this article, you can create a valuable and comprehensive resource that boosts your website's search visibility and provides value to your audience.