Content Marketing Fundamentals: Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters

June 13th, 2020 Posted by Growth Marketing writing process

As search engine algorithms shift and the effectiveness of time-tested SEO tactics changes, it is important to evolve your approach to content marketing. Among these shifts is a growing trend of search queries being lengthier, more question-oriented (“Hey Google”), and more conversational. This helps the person searching for content gather more precise results, and also helps search engines improve and learn to serve up the best possible information. 

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From a content creation standpoint, we need to acknowledge these consumer behaviors and organize our content in a way that makes sense to search engines in the midst of a cluttered content environment. A great place to start is to organize content on your website with a pillar page and topic cluster approach, shifting your content strategy from a focus on keywords to a focus on topics instead. This method is intended to improve your site architecture, improve the ability of search engines to find your related content, and should ultimately help your content rank higher in the search engine results. 

What Is a Pillar Page?

A pillar page is a connective hub for detailed content regarding a key topic on your website. This is a one-stop-shop page for anyone interested in learning more about your chosen subject. Your pillar page should be a long-form, broad overview covering all aspects of a singular topic on a single page (and yes, this is a pillar page about pillar pages).

Within the pillar page, visitors can find key information and immediate answers to questions they may have, but also find internal links that allow them to deep dive into ideas related to the pillar’s primary topic. As related content is published on your site, additions should be made to the pillar page to include a link out to the new article – which also links back to the pillar page. This coupling of links to each destination creates a defined relationship between the two. 

While the content on pillar pages have breadth, they should not overlap too much with more specific blog posts and materials in the form of cluster content (which we will get to shortly). The pillar page topic needs to be narrow enough that a comprehensive overview can be reasonably contained within a pillar page. On the flip side, the topic needs to be broad enough to have the potential for many additional articles on sub-topics (or keywords related to the pillar topic) to be written. For instance “advertising” as a topic is likely too broad, but notching down to something a bit more contained such as “Facebook advertising” could be more focused while still providing space to contribute more nuanced content around it.

Pillar pages can be leveraged as an essential resource for visitors interested in a specific topic in ways that standard blog posts are typically unable to achieve. Keep in mind that it is also possible to have multiple pillar pages on your website that support various topics related to your business.

What Is a 10x Content Pillar Page?

When you hear “10x content pillar page” the same principles outlined above still apply. However, with 10x, you are setting forth with the intent that your page is 10 times better than any other publicly available resource on the topic. This is not only in the information presented (although this is the most important part), but also in the creativity, user experience, and unique approach. If you aim to be the definitive online resource for a given topic, this is a great way to approach it.

What Are Topic Clusters?

The aforementioned related content that we have talked about are referred to as topic clusters. These provide contextual support for the general content provided in a pillar page. For instance if “Facebook advertising” is the pillar page we are working with, the topic cluster would be the collection of materials that provide more comprehensive detail on sub-topics related to Facebook advertising. For example, you may have articles such as ‘copywriting for Facebook ads’, ‘Lead generation through Facebook ads’, ‘A/B testing for Facebook ads’, and more that would all be associated (and linked to) the primary pillar page.  

Cluster content commonly comes in the form of blog posts, but it can be any material that supports the ideas present on the pillar page. This could include video, audio recordings, infographics, downloadable PDFs, quizzes, and more. 

There is a difference between the purpose of these different content types that marketers need to be aware of: while the pillar and cluster content strategy is written for the purposes of SEO, more “down-funnel” assets such as whitepapers or industry studies are used as sales enablement assets. Learn more about sales enablement strategy here!

A well-implemented topic cluster should demonstrate to search engines that the content you are presenting is interconnected and complementary to your pillar content. This will help to establish your website as an authority and a thought leader on the selected topic, and ultimately rank higher in search. 

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How Do You Write a Pillar Page?

While there are many ways to go about constructing your pillar page, there are a few fundamental aspects to keep in mind as you set up this new infrastructure.

Determine your topic(s)

First, you need to know what primary topic you want to cover within your pillar page. This topic should be something that is inextricably tied to your business, a product you offer, or a service you provide. By focusing in on an area of expertise you will be able to convey your authority on the subject and hopefully generate more business related to the topic. The more value you are able to provide within the pillar page and topic clusters, the stronger the association of your business and this topic will be. 

Content roadmap

Now you can begin mapping out the framework of the pillar page and associated cluster content. We would recommend a phased approach where you build out the essential pillar page content first, and then gradually add on to it with content that continues to support the topic. 

Start by outlining the primary topics that you would like to have featured on your pillar page from the start, as this will be the foundational information for you to build off of. If you already have an active blog, determine what content you already have that applies to your foundational pillar page. From here, you will be able to assess what content needs to be created or modified to support the present themes on your foundational pillar page.

To ensure you are maximizing the effectiveness of your pillar pages, it is important to plan beyond your foundational content. Brainstorm additional cluster content ideas that will add more substance to your pillar page. Although the focus here is in creating robust content to support your pillar page, it is still useful to tap into keyword research to help map out cluster content ideas. A great place to start with this is Hubspot’s SEO Tool, which not only will help you optimize your content but it will also provide recommendations for related topics based on relevance, competition, and popularity. 

It is also helpful to consider the frequent questions an audience might have on any given topic. Taking a thoughtful approach to your topic clusters allows you to strategically create searchable content that delivers on your audience’s needs.

Develop content

Once you have decided on your foundational pillar page topics and have established a plan for future materials or blog content to continue to support the topic, it is time to get to work. Begin constructing your pillar page with general and brief (but helpful) overviews on each topic within the page. Now is also the time to create blog posts as needed for the foundational pillar post, and start creating additional articles to publish on a regular basis moving forward.

As you are building out your pillar pages, remember to also add in compelling imagery, videos, or infographics that support the ideas you are trying to convey. Given that pillar pages can grow to be fairly large, breaking up the copy with visuals makes it feel less daunting for the reader.

Link together

Thankfully, one of the most important parts of this strategy is also the easiest. Make sure that all topics covered in your pillar pages link to a related blog post or material with more information. This blog post should also have a link directing back to the pillar page. This internal linking benefits your SEO and gives your website a structural flow which makes the discovery of more content that much easier for your audience.

Measure your results

Analytics and data are your friends when it comes to optimizing your pillar posts and cluster content. Google Analytics and Hubspot are both great resources for obtaining helpful information with which to take action, including which of your pieces are directly influencing new revenue. Seeing which pages are underproducing when it comes to click-throughs or time on site may help indicate what sections need to be improved moving forward.

Get Started!

Pillar pages and topic clusters offer an innovative way to go about structuring, organizing, and creating content. This approach presents the opportunity to build authority and influence your audience and customers while presenting information in a way that search engines can process effectively. We believe this content strategy is a win for your audience, your SEO, and your business. 

Now is the time to get to work. If you need any guidance on setting up or implementing pillar pages and cluster content for your business, we would love to hear from you!

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