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6 min read

Content Pillars: New SEO Tactic Answers the Long-Form Content Question

Clusters and silos and pillars, oh my! No need to click your red slippers together–just sit back, relax, and we’ll help you unpack some of the most important building blocks in a successful inbound marketing strategy. 

Marketers, bloggers, and SEO specialists alike must constantly adapt to the latest digital content trends and Google search ranking updates. After all, inbound marketing is an ever-evolving framework, and professionals must stay on their toes if they want to keep up with the competition. Just having a blog or a website is no longer revolutionary. Businesses must strategically craft their content and update it regularly if they want it to rank well and reach the right audience.  In the early days of blogging, the conventional wisdom was to create short, concise blog posts that added value and answered questions but didn’t require a lot of time on the reader's part.

Marketers and writers alike later discovered that longer blogs were ranking higher in Google. So, of course, marketing professionals jumped on the "longer content is better content" bandwagon and began creating blogs upwards of 5,000 words.

However, as soon as bloggers swapped their short and sweet posts with long-form content, they realized that neither theory was quite fully baked. The more isn’t always the merrier–in fact, quality over quantity is still the golden rule for writers in the digital age.

With that being said, there is one form of high-quality, long-form content that every blogger and marketer needs to add to their content strategy playbook. 

Creating great pillar pages

Enter content pillars. While this content type is nothing new, there is still a lot of mystery around what they are and how to start using them. In this post, we’re going to cover the following ideas:

  1. What are Topic Clusters, Content Pillars, and Cluster Content?
  2. The Importance of Content Pillars
  3. How to Start Implementing Topic Clusters and Content Pillars on Your Website
  4. Topic Cluster and Content Pillar Examples
  5. Key Takeaways

Just to be clear, content pillars, content silos, and topic clusters are not new concepts.

In fact, the top definition in Google comes from a 2020 blog from Madison Marketing: “Pillar pages (also called “content pillars”) are in-depth guides that seek to comprehensively explore a topic, answer questions related to that topic, and possibly serve as a hub of links to related content.”

 

Topic Clusters and Content Pillars, SEO Tactic
Source: Matt Barby

 

These topic-based content bundles consist of a few different parts that we’ll define so that we have a consistent set of terms to use:

  • Topic Cluster: A grouping of subtopics surrounding a central specific topic, which forms the basis of a pillar page. The central topic (pillar) and subtopics are interconnected with hyperlinks.
  • Pillar Content/Page: The central website page that acts as the launching point for your topic-based keyword. It covers this topic in depth and links to related pieces of content. 
  • Cluster Content: The individual pages or articles that link to the pillar page and answer questions, issues or concerns in greater depth.
  • Content Silos: A method of grouping related content together to establish the website's keyword-based topical areas or themes. 

This video from HubSpot does a great job of showcasing the differences between each type of content.


The Importance of Content Pillars

There are two major factors that play into why content pillars are such an important strategy for marketers to implement. First, as our digital presence (website, blogs, etc.) is ever-expanding, it will become increasingly important for us to help search algorithms know how to categorize and understand which pages belong together thematically.

Topic clusters provide a framework for creating independent sections of your website that allow search engines to crawl your content together as a whole instead of individual pieces scattered throughout your site.

Secondly, this structure allows for search algorithms to better understand which are the most relevant pages even when users' search queries don’t match the optimized keyword phrases directly.

For example, let’s say we create a page called “Understanding the Costs of a Kitchen Remodel." A person on a desktop might search for “kitchen remodel on a budget," a different user on mobile might search “kitchen remodel costs,” and a person using a voice assistant might ask, “Hey, Alexa, how much does the average kitchen remodel cost?” Under previous algorithms, you could be served three totally different results pages based on these different queries even if the page we created was the best result for all three searches.

By better structuring our pages, sites, and content to account for these differences in search mechanics, not only does it increase our rankings in Google search results, but we can also capture traffic across different devices and search queries. You're also better positioned to rank well in search engines, and algorithms evolve over time because you're creating lots of thorough, well-structured content that will meet any searcher's goals.

How To Start Implementing Topic Clusters and Content Pillars on Your Website

There are several different theories about exactly what each of these pages should look like and what should be included in them. And, truthfully, the necessary components for a successful topic cluster will mostly vary industry to industry and term to term. However, there are a few basic tenets and tactics that are universally important:

  1. Do an Audit of Your Existing Content: Your topic clusters should include all of the blogs, articles, videos, infographics, and photos that you have on a single topic. Spend time digging through your existing content and make sure that everything fits inside of your content pillar.

    Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 4.38.50 PM

    Download our Topic Cluster Planning Worksheet Now

  2. Keep, Kill, Combine: As you audit through your content, don’t be afraid to combine pages and posts that have lots of overlapping information and make them into a longer, better, and higher-quality page. And if you have content that’s just bad, old, or outdated, don’t be afraid to archive it and redirect that URL to something more relevant and timely.

  3. Focus on Quality: Ultimately, the goal is to create a cluster of content based on a single topic that is high-quality in the eyes of readers. Pages that have high bounce rates or send users off your website quickly are signals to Google that you have low-quality content on your website.

  4. Build Out Your Spokes: The center of your cluster will be a specific topic, such as “estate planning.” The subtopics, which form the spokes of your cluster wheel, will include questions and keywords, such as “will vs. trust,” “who are my beneficiaries,” “communicating plan with children,” and so on. Remember, not every subtopic will necessarily be mentioned in the pillar, but it’s important that all subtopic pages link back to the pillar.
  5. Keep it Concise: Focus on creating clusters between 6 and 30 pages (and no more). 

  6. Link Them Together: Once you’ve identified all the pages that belong together in a cluster, make sure that you have them all linking together. This signals to search engines that these pages relate to one another. Try to avoid links to content outside the cluster if at all possible.

  7. Table of Contents & CTAs: While every pillar page will be formatted differently from company to company, it’s important that every pillar includes: 1) a table of contents to make the long-form nature of the content easier to navigate and 2) a CTA (call to action) that directs users to further reading, a downloadable content offer, a product page, etc. (determined by the type of pillar page and business model).

Topic Cluster & Content Pillar Examples

Every company and organization will interpret the idea of topic clusters a little differently, just like every company would create a website page or landing page a little bit differently. When you are working on forming ideas, it’s important to look at other examples and start to get ideas around which layouts, content blocks, and formats would work the best for the type of content your company creates. Here are a few examples:

  • Starwood Animal Transport Services: The Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Flying with a Dog or Cat
    We love this pillar page because it’s informative, covers all the bases of potential user questions, and includes a large CTA four times throughout the page that links to downloadable content. Users need only to provide their name and email.
  • Packet Power: Guide to Data Center Monitoring
    This data center monitoring pillar is successful because it covers all the important subtopics of an otherwise complex, technical subject. Having everything in one place on a pillar not only helps users understand the individual subtopics, but helps them learn how those ideas interact with one another.
  • Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity: First-Time Homebuyer Guide
    This pillar page is a perfect example of informative, resourceful content. You can see that this page makes use of video, which is always recommended for pillars if possible.
  • StoryTeller Media & Communications: The Definitive Guide: Video Production for Business 
    We wouldn’t want to throw advice around without testing the validity of it ourselves. The proof is in the pudding with this StoryTeller pillar page about business video production. This long, in-depth, easy-to-follow page was created in 2021 and still ranks highly with close to 500 form submissions (part of the secret is regularly updating and maintaining the content on your pillars).

Key Takeaways

As search behaviors change, it’s important for marketing professionals to adapt their content creation and SEO strategies to best align with the way users want information. As consumers continue to get more and more digitally savvy, they’ll continue to favor quality content that answers all their questions in one spot.

As we look to respond to their unique needs, queries, and questions, it’s important to understand how to best frame the content in a way that meets the demands of not just the user, but also the search engines.

Topic clusters and content pillars are SEO tactics that we as marketers can’t afford to ignore.

Have more to add to the conversation? Leave a comment—we’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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