How to dominate your niche and rank number one in Google for your desired keywords? Marketers ask that one-million-dollar question every day. Smart ones are already using content pillars to climb the ranks in search engines. Are you?
Content pillars are nothing new in content marketing, as they originate from the Hub and Spoke content model. It’s been a buzzword for at least a couple of years. And deservedly so, as they work wonders to improve your SEO and content marketing (if done right).
So what are content pillars and how to use them effectively in your content strategy?
In this article:
- What are content pillars
- Why content pillars are important for SEO
- How to create content pillars
- Examples of content pillar pages
What are content pillars?
A content pillar is a page containing interconnected topics that attract your target audience. Here’s an example of what a content pillar about content marketing could look like.
Let’s take a look at how they work in practice.
Hubspot has created a guide to Instagram marketing — a solid piece of content that gives you a 360-degree overview of the topic.
While topic coverage is quite extensive, Hubspot has made it easy for users to navigate the page by breaking down the existing content into chapters. After clicking on a specific chapter from their pillar menu, you are then redirected to the right page segment covering a subtopic.
Hubspot’s content pillars include the most important keywords that drive traffic: Instagram marketing strategy, Instagram posts, Instagram business account etc.
There is definitely loads of research behind the structure Hubspot has chosen for its pillar. Apart from giving a comprehensive description of the core topic elements, they also integrate a lot of examples to show Instagram marketing in action.
If you decide to do more research on content pillars, you will quickly notice that 99% of them follow the same structure and idea—there is a pillar menu that hyperlinks specific content elements. Pillar pages are often well-researched and long content forms that cover the topic in depth. Sometimes, the page with the core topic links to separate pages on the website with subtopics.
Why content pillars are important for SEO
What’s the buzz around content pillars? Well — they have a significant positive impact on how Google views your page and serves your content to people.
Search engines perceive in-depth, well-written content as more useful for users and reward websites that go the extra mile with research, writing, and interlinking content.
How do search engines identify such content? It’s all about keyword saturation (don’t mix with keyword stuffing). When creating a set of well-researched long-form articles or pages, you end up using more semantic keywords or synonyms.
As a result, your content can rank for more keywords and appear in search results more often (and in higher positions).
How to create content pillars
So you understand the importance of creating content pillars. Now, it’s time to take a deep dive into the specifics of creating content pillars. Follow these steps to make the content creation process a breeze.
1. Identify your core topic
The process of creating your pillar page starts with identifying your main keyword. Choosing the right one determines whether you are going to drive sufficient traffic organically, whether people find your content relevant, and if you can outrank your competitors.
Analyzing your seed keyword before writing content helps deliver the information that your target audience is looking for online.
When doing keyword research for your pillars, check these metrics below—they will help pick the right keyword.
- Search volume
Now, let’s get some examples to see how you can use these metrics in your research. Imagine you are writing a guide about English cakes. You can do a quick search on Ahrefs to learn that it’s relatively easy to rank for the keyword “English cakes” and its search volume is reasonable.
Next, you can check which pages rank in the first five to ten positions in search results for this keyword and check them out. By taking a quick look at their content types, you can understand what content people usually search for when typing “English cakes” in the search engine bar. It’s called search intent.
What’s next? Get some ideas for your subtopics. You will see some other suggested keywords such as English tea cake, Victoria cake, rock cakes etc.
2. Perform keyword research
Once you got a rough idea of what your pillar page should include, it’s time to proceed with more research to identify the complementary keywords and your subtopics.
There are various tools you can use to perform this task.
1) Keyword research tools — some previous research on your core topic is a good starting point for your further research on secondary keywords and subtopics. If you are using Ahrefs for keyword research, explore matching terms, also rank for, or the questions section.
2) Related queries on Google — type your core keyword in Google and scroll the search page. At the bottom, you will see some other phrases that people type together with your core word. Here is an example of the keyword “Instagram marketing”.
3) Quora —this is a great tool to understand what kind of questions people usually ask (that you can effectively answer with your content). Just type your core keyword in the search bar and you will end up with dozens of results. Get inspired!
4) AnswerThePublic - use this tool to get more ideas about questions people ask on Google together with your core topic. All you have to do is type your seed keyword on the homepage.
3. Analyze existing content
Before you start creating content pillars and writing new content, take a look at the content you already have.
Imagine you want to create a guide to Instagram marketing — this is your content pillar. But you know that you have already covered a few subtopics falling within your main keyword such as how to write perfect Instagram posts or create an Instagram business account.
In this case, you can combine the content from existing pages and place them on the new page (but don’t forget to set up permanent redirects once you are done!). This is a good option if you want to create one page covering all subtopics. Another option is creating your core page and linking to existing pages from there.
Once your pillar page is live, remember to update the content over time. Regular content updates are also good for your SEO as search engines often treat page updates as a positive ranking signal. That’s because fresh content is often perceived as more useful for users.
4. Check your competitors
Before you start writing content, make sure you check your competitors, too. It’s always worth knowing what content is already on the web and what content formats your competitors have used.
By looking closer at the existing content, you can quickly find the gaps in the activities of your competition. Perhaps, they haven’t covered an important subtopic or their topic description is scarce and limited. You know how to make it sound and look better — bingo!
That’s where you should start brainstorming ideas and putting them down on paper (or Google Docs). List everything you think your competitors do badly. Set on a track to give this content a 10x boost in readability, comprehensiveness, and engagement.
5. Create the content pillars
So you have done your content research, chosen your main topic and subtopics, and looked up your competition. Now — get the most out of your research by transferring it into your pillar page structure.
Once you have your subtopics and have defined your content structure for each page, you are now ready to get down to writing.
Be sure to optimize your content for your keywords and the keyword’s search intent.
6. Content pillar interlinking
Including internal links is another good practice that can help you rank better on top of using a number of related keywords in your texts.
Here is how you should do it. When published, connect all pages related to one pillar topic. This way, you ensure a clear information architecture. What does it mean in practice?
Imagine your pillar topic as a big tree.
You get branches coming from its trunk and each branch has smaller branches growing on it. Your content pillars should look similar, consisting of links to subtopics from the main page.
Apart from internal links, you should also try to build offsite links. Acquiring backlinks from other websites will help your new content rank better.
How to start? You can do additional research on the websites that might benefit from linking to your brand-new pillar page. Then, outreach them asking them to include the link to your pillar page where it makes the most sense (make sure you provide all the necessary details).
External backlinks will make your page rank better, but there is also a significant benefit for the page that links back to you. Search engines will consider it as a quality outgoing link.
You have launched your content pillar, but your journey doesn’t stop there. Driving more traffic won’t come overnight, and you have to do a little bit of work here to make it rank better.
Promote your pillar page through all possible channels (within common sense, of course).
Here are two examples of channels that usually work well:
- Social media — repurpose your content for social media. Summarize the most important points covered in your pillar page to create an engaging post. Make sure you hook readers from the first sentence.
You can start your post by asking a question and directing it to your audience or pointing out the data to make them realize the topic is important. Next, choose a visually appealing graphic format and include your call to action to drive more traffic to your website.
- Email — let your email list know about your recent publication. Send a one-off email or include this information in your newsletter. Direct your email subscribers to your pillar page with an email CTA. There should be plenty of prospects that need nurturing and who will benefit from another piece of content you have prepared.
Remember to use your best copywriting skills to intrigue and spark an interest in the topic.
Examples of content pillars
There are 3 types of popular content pillars:
- ‘What is’
- ‘How to’
- ‘Complete Guide’
In what follows, we have included an example of each.
What is SEO — Search Engine Land
Don’t be turned away by the poor design of Search Engne Land pillar page. The content you are going to find there makes up for it.
Their complete guide to SEO is one of the most comprehensive guides you will find online. It has a clear structure — you can see the different chapters the guide contains.
The chapters link to separate pages on the website's blog. This is one of the strategies you can choose to proceed with your pillar pages.
Instead of creating one page and adding anchors for page segments, you can create a few articles or posts and interlink them on the core page — the way Search Engine Land does.
How to Build Your Own Free Stock Photo Library — Massive Kontent
The author of this pillar page on building a free stock photo library uses an exciting hook. He promises that after reading the guide anyone can set up their directory and get up and running in just 60 minutes — impressive!
A table of contents that you can see on top of the page makes it easy for you to navigate the parts of the page. Once you jump to the page section that interests you, your URL gets an anchor that looks like this:
This page doesn’t link to single pages but is presented as one integral page with anchored elements.
While there is a lot of content to consume on stock photography, it’s pretty easy to read for beginners — thanks to a myriad of examples and use cases that break walls of text.
The definitive guide to SEO in 2022 — Backlinko
The Backlinko’s guide on SEO is highly visual — there is one style around which all graphics have been developed (with the exception of screenshots).
The contents section is located on top of the page and directs users to the right page segment.
While the content piece is extremely long, you can read it relatively fast. That’s because the author focuses on using a lot of short sentences and bucket brigades that help consume content easier.
Content pillars are not a new practice in SEO and content creation. But creating one is not a bed of roses — you have to do thorough research, structure content the right way, promote it, and get backlinks leading to your content cluster.
So here you go — you have an idea and a clear plan. Now, it’s time to do your best to execute these best practices.