If you follow any of the leading content marketing blogs, you will have noticed ‘pillar pages’ or ‘pillar content’ is getting a lot of airtime lately. The phrase has been around a while, as long ago as 2013, (which in SEO terms is ancient) but has come to the forefront recently, it seems, by HubSpot adopting the approach, along with the concept of ‘topic clusters’.
What is a Pillar Page
If you’ve been doing inbound marketing a while, you may be wondering what the difference is between pillar content and cornerstone content. The good news is cornerstone content is virtually indistinguishable from Pillar content, they’re just branded differently.
Pillar page - as the name suggests are architectural, and involve structuring your website around key pages. Cornerstone content pieces are solid foundational content from which the rest of your content should branch from, and link to.
Before you can go about setting up your pillar pages, you first need to organise your content in topic clusters.
What are Topic Clusters
The concept of optimising your content around topics is in reaction to research shows that 64% of Google searches are now four words or more. Users are asking longer more complex questions and expecting contextually accurate responses, dependent on their location and search history.
Google is forever changing their algorithms, but the two most notable updates in response to this change in user behaviour are Hummingbird and RankBrain.
Hummingbird, launched in 2013 meant Google could consider each word in a search query, ensuring that the whole question - the whole sentence or conversation or meaning - is taken into account, rather than particular keywords.
The next significant step toward reliance on topics occurred with Google’s RankBrain update, launched in 2015. RankBrain is Google’s machine learning algorithm designed to understand the context of people’s search queries based on past searches with similar themes. This pulls multiple keywords and phrases that are associated with the search query to find the best results.
How to organise your content in Topic Clusters
Right now, your blog is probably structured as individual blog posts that rank for specific keywords, making it difficult for users to find the exact information they need and, more than likely, you are actually competing with yourself in the search rankings for certain keywords.
To create topic clusters HubSpot suggests that you take a step back and think the broad topics you want to rank for, then either create new content based on specific keywords related to that topic that all link to each other, or revisit your existing content and group your posts accordingly to create broader search engine authority.
Still confused? Take a look at this example of HubSpot’s page on Instagram Marketing.
- Topic: Instagram Marketing
- Pillar Content: Instagram Marketing
- Cluster Content: The Anatomy of a Perfect Instagram Profile, How to Write Good Instagram Captions: 8 Bookmarkable Tips for Perfecting Your Copy, How to Use Instagram Stories: A Simple Guide for Marketers
As you can see, each of these blog posts hyperlink back to the pillar page, and some hyperlink within each other. This helps share domain authority, so all blog posts within a cluster start ranking for the specific keywords they're written for - which all work to help the entire topic cluster succeed in search engine results pages (SERPs).
How to create a Pillar Page
There is no hiding from the fact that reorganising your site infrastructure around topic clusters is a lot of work. And it is not something to be rushed. Start with one topic, and one pillar page, and use it as a testing ground before leaping into reorganising your whole site.
Your first port of call should be your buyer personas. From your existing research, or by conducting new research you need to find out what they're searching for, which will, in turn, determine how broad to make your pillar page.
Pillar pages need to broadly cover the topic you’re focusing on to link all the relevant cluster content to, but still be specific enough to produce a comprehensive pillar page about it. HubSpot suggests 20-30 related blogs is sufficient to create a pillar page.
Now it is time to create your Pillar Page.
You may already have a page that makes sense to convert into a pillar page. For example Equinet work in three market sectors, so it makes sense for us to create pillar pages for each of them. We started with our manufacturing pillar page. You will see all of our relevant content regarding manufacturing is grouped on one page, with clear calls to action and links through to all case studies, blog posts, resources, and video related to manufacturing.
Remember, Equinet have the resources and staff in-house to create the design and structure of our page. But if you don’t have the help of an inbound marketing agency, you don’t have a page you can adapt, or are feeling a little daunted at the prospect of creating a pillar page, here are some suggestions of basic things to ensure you include from HubSpot Staff Writer Aja Frost:
- A definition of the topic or term you're covering somewhere in the first section
- A bulleted or numbered table of contents
- A more specific topic-related keyword in each of your subheadings
- Content that provides an overview (but not an exhaustive one) of the subtopics discussed on the pillar page (those will make up new blog posts later)
Now you have your pillar page; you need to do some keyword research (yes - keywords are still relevant). Choose keywords with high search volume that cover different aspects of your chosen topic, and use those to create your page titles.
Finally, all you have to do is to continue blogging regularly around the specific keywords within your topic cluster. Make sure to link all future posts to your pillar page to create a streamlined reader experience and help all of your content rank higher in search engine results pages.
Pillar pages are no magic bullet, and pursuing a pillar content strategy might not be the best fit for your company. They have many advantages such as making Google happy, earning you links, building trust and gaining you social shares. But they are time-consuming, tough to get right, are no substitute to regular blogging and come with no guarantees. If you want advice on whether pillar content is the right approach for you, or have any questions about inbound marketing, get in touch.