We’re breaking down pillar content and why it’s so important for SEO and the user experience
Each new update to Google’s search algorithm increasingly rewards websites that satisfy user queries and offer a better user experience with higher rank in the search results. This translates to improved content performance, including better visibility and more click-throughs. Generally, the better your website matches—and answers—a searcher’s questions on a topic, the better your site will rank for that search term. That’s where structuring your content around pillar pages and topic clusters comes into play.
Pillar pages provide a comprehensive take on a topic and help users easily find the information they came for. Though other factors also impact page rank, having optimized, well-organized content that lends itself to a satisfying user experience is essential not only in getting users onto your site in the first place but also in keeping them there longer—and selling them on your products or services. Read on to learn all about pillar content—why you need it, how to use it effectively and some common mistakes to avoid.
What Are Pillar Pages?
Google wants to understand exactly what your site or content is about so it can better deliver information to searchers—and if Google’s robots understand your content and information hierarchy, it will rank you higher. A pillar page organizes your online content by topic, providing a general but comprehensive overview. It also links to pages where users can learn more about related subtopics in more detail. Pillar pages provide structure to websites and support related pages by connecting them in groups organized by topic known as topic clusters.
How much information should you include on your pillar pages? These pages are typically longer than a traditional blog post and cover more ground, though they don’t go into as much detail. Instead, they link to more in-depth, focused blog posts that expand on information included in the pillar page. This structure gives readers the incentive to keep clicking through for more information (and increases their time on page, another of Google’s SEO ranking factors). Learn how to write a great blog post and follow our tips for engaging readers and search engine robots.
For example, a hotel company’s pillar page would consist of one longer landing page overviewing each of the subtopics the related blogs will dig into. “Kid-friendly,” “design inspiration” and “vacation ideas” could be topics, each supporting their own set of related blogs. A great example of a pillar page is HubSpot’s “Instagram Marketing” page—it covers all aspects of their Instagram marketing content in one location, with links to a downloadable guide, individual blog posts and videos that go into more detail on each subtopic, from strategy to analytics to the different types of posts supported by the platform. Check out some more examples of pillar pages here.
Pillar Content and SEO
While the topic cluster model of a pillar page relies less on individual keywords, don’t worry—it still juices up your site’s SEO! In fact, by creating a pillar page, you are likely increasing your site’s SEO value because search engines like Google prefer a cleaner, better-organized website where hyperlinks lead to topically-arranged content. When one page in a topic cluster ranks well, it positively impacts the rank for other linked pages, too. Another benefit: Through these clusters, you can target a variety of related keywords and help establish your site as an authority on the topic. Because there is more online content than ever before, quality—not quantity—is the name of the game when it comes to getting your blogs and other content to rank first. Because users prefer engaging, journalist-quality content with clear takeaways, Google does, too.
Use Long-Tail Keyword Phrases
When you’re optimizing for different keywords, know that online queries are becoming more complex and specific than ever. Thanks to the rise of voice search assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Nest devices, nearly 50% of searches are made using voice. This has also affected search length: over 60% of searches today contain four or more words.
What does this shift mean for content creators? First of all, blog posts, articles and web pages should target specific long-tail keyword phrases and provide the kinds of answers searchers are looking for. But you should also target multiple keywords across different pages or blogs in your topic cluster as you provide a more complete view of the topic. In our Chicago hotel example, a topic cluster targeting “kid-friendly hotels” might also include pages with keywords like “family-friendly activities” and “family restaurants” in the area. Having this connected network of organized content means there are tons of keywords, optimized subheads and relevant internal links all in one place and it increases your chances of ranking for multiple queries.
In keywords, phrasing also matters. Think about which query would yield more meaningful results to a parent looking to book a Chicago vacation: a search for “Chicago hotels,” or a search for “family-friendly places to stay near Chicago”? While both will deliver hotel options, targeting a more specific long-tail keyword provides the user with results tailored more to their needs. Finally, as internet users turn to more conversational ways of seeking information, brands must adapt their language.
Restructuring Your Website Using Content Pillars
To bring a pillar page to life, you must first understand what your customers are searching for. One way to do this is by determining relevant keywords with good search volume. Both Moz’s Keyword Explorer and the Google Adwords Keyword Planner (if you have an Adwords account) can be good starting points. It’s also helpful to look at the search results for the keyword you’re targeting and see what additional keywords top-ranking pages contain.
Consider all the different dimensions of each cluster topic: What are the possible questions your audience might have? What are their specific interests? The topic clusters should be broad enough that each of your blogs could fall under each one, but not so broad that any on your blogs would compete against each other.
For example, a “kid-friendly hotels” topic cluster could contain blogs that cover thousands of different angles—from food to experiences, room styles and more. However, “kid-friendly destinations for children under 2” would likely be too limiting in creating continuous content while “hotels” is far too broad.
Then, begin planning your content according to the topic cluster. You’ll want to pay attention to what part of the marketing funnel the keywords you’ve chosen fit into. Remember, your website is more than just a collection of keywords—it’s a network of purposeful concepts and ideas meant to address the whole marketing funnel: to increase brand awareness, provide information and ultimately drive sales, though not all at the same time.
Pillar Page ‘Don’ts’ Explained
Rearranging your website and updating existing content to fit alongside a new pillar page may sound daunting. But by sticking to a few rules, it can be doable—and definitely worthwhile!
- Don’t just pick a word. Instead, choose umbrella categories. More complex searches mean you need to start thinking broadly about the topics you want to rank for. Then, develop a content strategy around that.
- Don’t shove tons of links into a pillar page if they don’t belong there. Be strategic and smart about where internal links are placed—if Google can’t figure out what your content is about, it won’t trust you or rank you very high. Plus, your users will go elsewhere for the content or info they were looking for.
- Don’t get too broad—or too specific—in your topic clusters. It’s all about finding the right balance—you want to rank for the specific info your customers are searching for, but you also want to leave the door open to continue finding new angles to explore those topics.
Need help building a pillar page? Contact us and we’ll get you started!