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With so much content online, search engines like Google are in overdrive trying to read it all and rank it properly. While keyword research and relevant content is still key, your authority on a subject matter is coming into question more and more.
Users themselves have started to use queries that are longer form, in fact, 29.13% of keywords with 10,001+ monthly searches are made up of three or more words. With the growth of conversational search intent, pillar page strategies have entered the scene to fulfill those queries. By providing umbrella-like content, pillar pages and topic clusters allow for easy categorization and clear indication of authority.
Sounds easy enough, right? Like anything in the SEO space, pillar page strategies take time and a great deal of planning to do correctly. Let’s break down this process.
A pillar page is a piece of long-form content, like a guide or a white paper, that will serve as the basis for topic clusters on a particular topic. It gives basic information on its particular topic, with links out to cluster pages that delve deeper into a specific aspect of said topic.
Pillar pages should be thorough in their explanation and be framed as an early-stage piece of content. The cluster pages that the pillar page links out to should also link back to the pillar page. (Check out this quick Hubspot guide for some great visualizations.)
Now that we understand the structure of a pillar page, we can better comprehend cluster content. When choosing a topic for your pillar page, you’ll decide what specific keywords within that topic you’d like to rank for. Each keyword then gets its own dedicated page. That dedicated page is a “cluster page”.
Cluster pages can be a blog, a white paper, a solution page — really any piece of content can serve as part of the cluster. Since all of the cluster pages are on the same topic, it should be fairly easy to link out to other related cluster pages as well as to the main pillar page. This strategy not only organizes your content library in a cohesive way, it also creates broader search engine authority.
Choosing the right topic for your pillar page is integral in the success of the strategy. Keywords are still essential in SEO, but topic targeting has become increasingly important as search engines have updated their algorithms. Search engines reward content that is organized by topic, not keywords.
Here are the key steps you need to take in order to choose a pillar page topic that will be successful.
This may seem like an obvious one, but it cannot be stressed enough. Some SEOs get so stuck on finding the right keywords, that they forget about the big picture. Similar to how you would conduct keyword research, think about solutions and topics that your product solves for.
This is where the buyer persona comes into play. What is your buyer searching for, and what questions might they have along the way?
Once you have a list of possible options, choose a topic that is broad enough to be able to create “cluster pages” around. A query that only poses a “yes” or “no” answer will not be suitable for this strategy.
For example, “What is communication?” is too broad of a topic, and “communication between a coworker and boss” is too specific. However, the query “What is effective communication in the workplace?” is broad enough to write a long piece of content on, but also presents opportunities to link out to other areas of workplace communication that are more specific.
Oftentimes, we can forget how helpful the SERP can be in identifying related queries. Enter your pillar page topic into the search bar and examine the results.
What sort of questions are being asked in the People Also Ask? Is there a featured snippet? Are there targeted ads on related topics? These are all great indicators that you’ve chosen the right topic. If your pillar page topic brings up none of these, perhaps it is better served as a cluster page, or maybe it isn’t the right topic for you at all.
People Also Ask queries can be great for your pillar page structure as well. Would these questions make sense to answer in your pillar page as H2s or H3s? Are you answering this question in any of your cluster pages? Search engines often give us the answer to our own questions, especially when it comes to related topics.
Auditing your content can seem like a daunting task, but it’s crucial in the pillar page strategy process. It’s difficult to start writing new content without knowing what content you already have — you wouldn’t want to end up with duplicate content competing against yourself.
Sort your existing content into topics. From there, you can identify pages that are similar. Can you re-prioritize any of the existing content to fit this strategy? Can you combine two pieces of content together? By the end of your content audit, you should be able to identify where your content gaps are.
This is where new content will come in. This process will also eradicate any duplicate content, so the reorganization of your content library will be primed for the best results. A Google Sheet with your library is a safe and easy way to map out this content.
For the pillar page strategy itself, I recommend a Google Sheet with tabs for existing content that needs to be optimized, new content that needs to be written, the structure of the pillar page, as well as current rankings.
Here is an example of how I sort out my overview tab for content regarding a particular pillar page topic:
This may seem like a lot of work, which poses the question, is a pillar page strategy actually worth it? The short answer is: yes.
Pillar page strategies force you to take a look at the buyer personas in your industry. If you combine those with topic clusters, you’re going to be answering top of funnel queries, like “what is?”, mid-funnel queries like “benefits of”, and bottom funnel queries like “the best of”. Not only are you creating content that search engines find relevant — you’re creating content for every stage of your buyer’s journey.
This allows your users to easily make their way through the sales funnel and bridge any gap you may have had in your sales process. This strategy can tie content creation to revenue, which is becoming increasingly important in B2B.
Besides the clean-up that you get from the content audit, your website should also experience legitimate SEO benefits. When I implemented my strategy, there was a clear indication that it was working. This strategy was implemented in the middle of February 2021. Both impressions and clicks drastically increased, and continued to climb through the spring:
Creating a pillar page strategy does not have to be difficult if you follow these easy steps:
Use your buyer persona to identify solutions you can easily write diverse content about.
Analyze the SERP to understand what sort of questions are being asked and what content is being written around your chosen topic.
Audit your content for gaps and optimization opportunities so your team can easily cluster related content together and identify duplicate content.
Pillar pages are crucial to your content strategy as a whole. By identifying the topics for which your company provides solutions, you’ll be able to create long-form content that is posed to answer all questions in the buyer’s journey, while improving keyword rankings and domain authority.