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A Search Ranking Foundation: The Pillar Content Strategy

The Pillar Content Strategy

Back in the day (read: the late 1990s) internet searches were pretty basic. You would type a word into a search engine such as AltaVista, Netscape or AOL, resulting in a response bristling with hyperlinks. Clicking on one of those links would bring you to a static webpage where your hoped-for information would reside. Search engine optimization (SEO) wasn’t a thing, as the early days of the internet were more about online directories rather than fluid, informative websites.

What a difference 30 years makes.

These days, effective SEO is a huge goal of content creators, content strategists and marketing managers. Another goal? A higher ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

With this in mind, content and marketing experts are turning to pillar content to boost their search rankings. Pillar content and pillar pages can satisfy your audiences’ queries while pleasing Google at the same time.

SEO discussion

A brief SEO discussion

Before examining pillars, let’s review search engine optimization and Google rankings. And to do this, let’s assume that the internet has a massive amount of information, while users have a limited amount of time.

As such, a user looking for online help benefits from the Google ranking system. That system sorts through a gazillion webpages to find the most relevant information to answer a user’s query.

Framing this in context with your website strategy, if your content can answer your audiences’ questions and requests, your website ranks higher on Google’s first page. The higher your ranking, the more likely visitors will click on your link, which will lead to a higher ranking… And so on.

So, the next logical question is, what content will boost those rankings? Once upon a time, single keywords, then short-and long-tail keywords did the trick. But search engine algorithms have become more sophisticated. Google isn’t necessarily interested in dozens of keywords. Rather, Google wants to know if your content answers questions. Google is interested in your expertise. As a result, a successful SEO strategy should answer questions rather than up the number of keywords.

When used properly, pillar content — and accompanying cluster content— does this by prioritizing key topics of interest to your audience. This means your audience gets answers, and Google improves your ranking.

Diving into the pillar content definitions

Here’s a good analogy when thinking about pillar content or pillar pages. A pillar is considered something that supports; a building pillar might support a roof, while a pillar of the community supports, well, the community.

Your pillar content isn’t much different. It is a long-form content foundation, such as an e-book, webpage or a very long blog, which provides a broad overview of a topic that interests your audience.

The pillar content strategy also requires cluster content. These are smaller pieces that provide more in-depth focus, and are accessible (through hyperlinks) from the long-form e-book, webpage or blog.

Cluster content can take the form of:

  • Short-form blog
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Listicles/checklists

To summarize the above, the long-form pillar content provides a high-level overview of the particular topic of interest. If those users want additional detail, they’ll click on various hyperlinks in your long-form content and access the cluster content for additional information.

But why is pillar content effective? Because:

  • It boosts the amount of content on your website, which can help improve your ranking on the search engine results page (SERP)
  • It involves hyperlinks and backlinks to other content on your website, which can be a rankings booster
  • It positions you as an expert in your field, industry or niche, which can also improve your SERP position
  • It encourages visitors to spend more time on your website, which improves engagement and, yes, boosts your SERP ranking

Are you sensing the theme here? Pillar content can improve your SERP ranking.

Pillar Content Strategy

4 steps to effective pillar content

Now that you know the benefits behind a pillar content strategy, it’s time to get to work. A successful strategy rests on these four activities.

1. Selecting a topic

In the past, SEO content came from keywords. You would find the keywords, then write your blog, article or other copy around that. That doesn’t happen these days. Again, both Google and your audience are more interested in topics that provide information. As such, that topic needs to answer a question your audience might have. This topic is also the basis of your long-form pillar content.

Maybe visitors to your website are wondering about the benefits of widgets. This would be your topic.

2. Finding keywords

Getting back to the “chicken-and-egg” question about topic versus keywords, these days, the topic comes first. Then, within that topic, you can search for keywords. Just for fun, input the words “what are widgets” into your Google search engine. Then scroll down to the bottom of the page which reads “related searches.” There, you’ll find questions that users typically ask about widgets. These are short- and long-tail keywords that users ask about widgets. These are also words you can incorporate in your content.

3. Outlining subtopics

To review, your successful pillar content strategy rests on the main piece, which is a high-level overview of a particular topic that answers a question. Along with that are cluster pieces (i.e., subtopics) that provide an in-depth view of various aspects involving your topic.

Some of those subtopics can come from your keyword search. As an example, asking about widgets in Google generated a ton of other information involving android widgets, iPhone widgets, website widgets and so on. Each of these would make a great cluster content piece.

4. Starting development

Finally, once the topics are in place, it’s time to develop that pillar piece and accompanying cluster content. Be sure to have a content plan in place which keeps you on track regarding when new blogs, articles or infographics should be posted.

Especially make sure hyperlinks and backlinks are on hand to connect content with each other. This helps prove your expertise both to your audience and to Google.

Providing answers, not just keywords

Unlike SEO strategies in years gone by, today’s search engine ranking depends on your expertise; the ability to provide you users with news (and information) they can use. A well-thought-out pillar content strategy can go a long way toward answering questions users have. This encourages your users to come back and stay around for a while, while proving to Google that you have the right content to merit a higher ranking on its search pages.

Learn how topical content appeals to your audience and improves search engine rankings. A well-thought-out pillar content strategy can help. Learn more about what it is and how it fits into a content plan. #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

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About the author

Amy Sorter

Amy Sorter is an award-winning journalist, copywriter, and principal of The WordSorters. Her work has been published in regional and national business and consumer publications. Amy's focus is on creating customized, highly engageable content in a variety of formats for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies.