Pillar Content: What Is It and How Can You Use It on Your Website?
Pillar pages are long-form content pages that cover all aspects of a broad topic. They are broad, including information on all aspects and subtopics, but they do not tend to be deep. Tutorials, reviews, and other in-depth guides make up cluster pages that support and are supported by the pillar pages.
You might write a comprehensive guide to content marketing. Among other topics, this guide would include brief details of blogging platforms like WordPress, but a comprehensive comparison of WordPress and Joomla! demands a separate, supporting page. The supporting pages are cluster pages, and they should link to the general guide. And the guide should link back to the supporting pages.
The concept of pillar content is not new by any means. In fact, it was mentioned in a post on ProBlogger back in 2006 and has become a favourite topic of HubSpot, amongst other well-known blogging and online marketing guides. Rand Fishkin of Moz called it 10x content, because he posited that it should be ten times better than any other content found for a given keyword. Others refer to it as cornerstone content, while skyscraper content is another term regularly thrown into the mix.
Whatever you choose to call it, pillar content can be an incredibly powerful addition to your website. Below, we will show you its benefits, what to include, and even how to promote your content pillars.
Benefits of pillar content
Pillar content is long-form, often ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 words. It can include images, quotes, videos, and any other form of content to help explore the topic fully. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes resources, but there are benefits and, when done well, they far outweigh the costs.
A pillar page acts like a hub. It covers every element of a topic and links out to more in-depth pieces on each of these elements. Every piece of content should link to and be linked from one of these hubs. This means that there are no redundant posts or pages. This all adds up to a better-organized website. The hub acts like detailed navigation that directs readers to relevant content.
Increased dwell time
Dwell time is the amount of time a visitor spends on your website before heading back to the search results. It is a metric that can be used to evaluate the quality of content on a website.
If you search for “content marketing” on Google, click the first link, and leave after 5 seconds, it’s a good sign that you didn’t find what you were looking for. If you visit the site in position 2 and spend 5 minutes before returning to the search results, you obviously got a lot more information from that particular page.
Because well-written pillar content includes information on all aspects of a topic, is usually several thousand words in length, and also redirects readers to posts with supporting and additional information, it increases the likelihood that readers will find what they are looking for and remain on your site for longer.
Google hasn’t confirmed whether dwell time is a ranking factor or not but a long dwell time could improve your position in SERPs. What’s more, the longer a reader spends on your site, the more likely they are to engage with your content or interact with your business.
Decreased bounce rate
Bounce rate is the number of visitors that land on a page of your site and leave without visiting any other page. It doesn’t take time on-site into account, nor does it consider whether the visitor went back to the search results or left entirely. A bounce may have found the information they needed and then left, or they may have found your information irrelevant to their needs and left unsated.
Pillar content alone is not enough to reduce bounce rate, but when combined with equally high-quality cluster content, you should be able to reduce the bounce rate and ensure that readers click on other pages.
At the very least, your newsletter signup or on-page contact form will lead to a thank-you page or popup that prevents a bounce.
Again, Google has not confirmed that bounce rate is definitely a ranking factor. In fact, in 2015, Gary Illyes Tweeted that they “don’t use analytics/bounce rate in search ranking”, but 5 years is a long time in SEO, and the search giant is known to keep its ranking factors very close to its chest.
Engaging content leads to reader engagement. Influencers are constantly looking for information that they can share with their followers. They want to cover an entire topic and shoulder topics, but they don’t have the time or inclination to cover every angle. If they like a piece, they will share it with followers, and because your pillar content is bigger and better than your competitors’ content, it means that you should be the one to benefit.
Influencers might even continue the conversation that you started in this piece. Whether or not you consider social engagement an important ranking factor, having engaged social media readers sharing your content means you are gaining exposure to new potential customers.
The same influencers will also link to your piece from their own blog. They may link to it from their latest post, or add it to a roundup piece. These natural links are extremely powerful because they are topically relevant and have been given naturally.
Top Google rankings
Google loves content. In particular, they love topically relevant and appealing content. They view social shares and links as being votes for the quality of a page, so the more likes and links you receive, the better your rankings will be. They are also known to favour longer-form content over shorter pages. Add in metrics like bounce rate and dwell time and it should be obvious that using content pillars can prove a great way to enjoy high rankings for your keywords.
What to write about?
Knowing you want to add pillar content to your site means, first, finding topics to write about. Unless you’re starting a brand new website with no knowledge of a topic or industry whatsoever, you should already have a reasonable idea of the primary topics you will want to cover. Ensure that your pillar pages are not too specific, but also not so broad that they become pointless. “Business” is likely to be too broad a topic, for example, but “setting up a small business” could be a content pillar.
Look at your competitor websites, pay particular attention to the navigation sections that they use. Look in competitor blogs and head for the category titles. Use tools like BuzzSumo or ahrefs.com to find content that competitors are ranking for.
Look on social media websites and see what is being discussed within your niche. If you already have a website or blog, use this for guidance, too. Get your team involved – ask team members for topic ideas. This can be especially useful because you are likely to return to them when looking for content too. You can even look in supplier catalogues and brochures for inspiration.
Writing the content
Once you have an idea of the topic, it is time to compile the content. While most content pillars are text-based, they don’t have to be. In fact, in a lot of cases, they will incorporate images, videos, infographics, embedded Tweets, and more.
The first thing most marketers look for is the ideal length for a content pillar. In truth, there is no ideal length that will work for every pillar on every site. Determining the length of your pillar takes competitor research and topical research.
The content needs to be long enough to cover every aspect of a topic, without drilling down into too much depth. It ideally needs to be longer than the sites that are already ranking at the top of SERPs.
Generally speaking, you won’t be able to cover an entire topic in less than 2,000 words, and if you’re heading over 10,000 words, then you’ve almost certainly gone into too much detail. The sweet spot tends to be somewhere around the 4,000 to 5,000 word mark but shorter, or longer may work for tour topic.
You’ve probably read all of this before. Only 20% of people will click through a headline and read the story. It is the first thing that readers see, and it needs to grab their attention, ask a question that is relevant to them, and it needs to suggest that your page is going to answer that question.
You should also employ good SEO practice, not only in the headline but throughout the piece, and this means including your topical or primary keyword in the header. If nothing else, this shows relevance to readers and compels them to click through.
Other content types
Written content will make up the majority of your content pillars. It can contain keywords, it encourages visitors to spend time reading, and it can cover all aspects of a topic.
However, the written word isn’t the only form of content that visitors can benefit from. Some aspects of a topic are better explained in video. Some elements can be explained more thoroughly and concisely with an infographic.
Not only do videos and graphics help explain an idea, but they also break up content. A 5,000-word piece of text is a lot to digest. Some readers will scan the information it contains, and if they only see words, they will click away from your site. Where relevant, and where you can add high-quality content, include images and videos.
Examples of content you can add to your post include:
- Embedded tweets
- Slide shows
- Charts and graphs
For text blocks, consider adding formatting to make information easier to digest and to assist search engines in compiling results pages. Use headers and subheaders, include embedded Tweets and add quotes. Try to use lists, where relevant, and bold vital pieces of information that you want to ensure your speed readers pick up on. If you’re adding CTA buttons, also ensure that these stand out and don’t get lost in amongst the text on the page.
Use these types of formatting to brighten up your content and make it more appealing for readers:
- Bold text
- Page navigation
- CTA buttons
Content pillars can be 5,000 words in length. That’s a lot of information for a reader to get through, and while some will read every word with interest, others will be looking for specific pieces of information. As well as using headers and subheaders, add navigation to the top of the piece that directs to each section. Also, add buttons that enable the reader to return to the top of the page.
Update content regularly
Evergreen content tends to perform best as pillar content. If a topic you write about becomes irrelevant in six months’ time, nobody will be searching for it and nobody will be interested in reading it. Include guides and information that will be relevant in five years as well as tomorrow.
Some information changes over time. All topics evolve, and this means that your content needs to evolve at the same rate. Revisit your content regularly, add or remove information as it becomes relevant or obsolete, and ensure that the piece still makes sense as a whole. If you simply open a page, change the paragraph you want, and then close it, it’s likely that you will be left with references and information that is not relevant. Read through, edit the whole piece, and check that everything makes perfect sense. And don’t forget to update the page navigation.
Pillar pages are only part of the equation, albeit an important part. They should be combined with cluster pages. Cluster pages are in-depth pieces that cover one component of a pillar page in more depth. The page contains a link to the pillar, and the pillar contains a link to the cluster. Cluster content might not be as comprehensive as pillar content, but it tends to provide very specific and actionable content. A pillar page on blogging could link to a piece on the best blogging platforms for beginners.
Your pillar pages will use short-tail or more generic keywords: keywords like “business blogging” or even broader topics like “content marketing”. They will include information on every aspect of this topic. A cluster page will look at just one element of this topic and go into greater detail. You could create cluster pages that link to your “content marketing” pillar that include:
- 5 best resources for royalty free stock photos
- WordPress vs Joomla – which is better for blogging?
- 10 tools to generate compelling blog post ideas
Questions and answers
Question and answer posts are a very literal way of answering questions that readers have, and it is surprisingly easy to find the information that you need.
ahrefs.com has a questions section in their keyword research tool. This not only gives specific details of the questions that web users are asking about a particular topic, but it also gives search volume and a difficulty ranking.
AnswerThePublic is a similar service and while it lacks the keyword volume data provided by ahrefs, it groups questions together very effectively.
Forums like Quora not only provide questions and answers that you can find by entering a relevant keyword, but you can adopt a marketing campaign that lets you use the site itself to promote the content you write.
Other types of cluster content include:
- Service and product reviews
- Video reviews
- Resource roundups
- Product comparisons
Promote the content
It is a lot easier to promote high-quality content and, over time, your pillar content will start to naturally drive traffic from search engines and from social media.
You should have analytics on your website to monitor incoming traffic and other key metrics. You can also set up social monitoring tools that will track shares and social engagement. Not only can you use this data to help promote existing links, but you can use it to formulate future content plans and to optimise your ongoing campaigns.
Once you have published your in-depth cornerstone content, promote it using the following methods:
As well as the internal links between pillar and cluster pages, add links to your pillar pages on your home page, if possible, or your about page. Alternatively, add a permanent navigation section in your sidebar, like a popular posts section, and link to the content. This will ensure that visitors to your site click through to your most important pages and that they are distributed around your site. It also helps spread authority between your pages, as you build links to your posts.
Ideally, you should have some active social media accounts. B2B websites can effectively promote content through sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, while B2C services benefit most from the likes of Facebook and Pinterest.
Don’t just share a link to your post, use social media marketing best practices. Incorporate images and use hashtags. Engage with your users, get involved in conversations, and share your content to groups, as long as you have permission and aren’t spamming pages. You can also consider giving your posts a boost with some paid social media ads. Use quotes from the content, turn them into hero images and, if you have the skills or resources, use a service like Canva to create memes and other social media images and posts.
In the process of writing and compiling your posts, it is likely that you included references to authorities and influencers within your sphere. Once you have published your post, reach out to them and let them know that they have been included. If your content is high quality and engaging, and the influencers in question find value from your post, they will share it with their own followers and potentially give you a link back to the post.
You can also find websites that have resource links and roundup posts. Use your competitor analysis to find pages that linked to the original posts you researched. Because your content is bigger and better than that original post, some of those websites will naturally want to link to you.
If you’re prepared to write guest posts, interviews, and other types of content, you will find that you have even greater opportunity using these techniques.
There are services like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) that connect website owners and publishers with topic authorities, and your high-quality content will set you up as an authority in your chosen field. Offer quotes, tips, and other content to receive a link back to your site.
This is especially important if you are updating your content using the pillar and cluster technique, but can be a beneficial undertaking at any point. Go back over old posts and find relevant opportunities to link to your new content.
Once you have fully implemented a pillar content plan, there shouldn’t be any redundant content left on your site, so if you have old posts with no internal links and that provide no benefit, consider updating them with links to your cornerstone content or remove them.
Beat the competition with pillar content
A pillar content strategy can be extremely effective at driving traffic, increasing social media engagement and converting visitors. Pillar pages can be used to direct traffic to other pages of your site, as lead generation capture forms, and to build authority within a particular niche. It will also provide you with content that you are proud to promote and that you will want to show off.
It does take time and research to create top-notch pillar content, but it will yield better results than simply blasting out blog posts every day. Quality is more important than quantity, and you really do get back what you put in.