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Killer Pillars: What the Best Brand Stories Have in Common

“Target long-tail keywords” is a common SEO best practice for beginners, and for good reason. Keywords that are followed by specifications have fewer competitors and, as a result, are easier to rank for in the search engine result pages (SERPs). For instance, it is much easier to rank for “what is email marketing” than it is for “email marketing.” It only makes sense because there must be thousands or hundreds of thousands of websites competing for real estate on the SERPs for email marketing.

What if I told you, however, that there is a way to rank for those elusive short (also known as “broad”) keywords? In reality, there are actually several ways to rank for broad search terms. However, most of those ways demand a serious investment in marketing. If you have ever used a website checker to research a big competitor in your niche, you may have already been overwhelmed once by all that needs to be done to even give them some semblance of a competition. The one way to have a realistic chance of ranking for a broad keyword is to invest in building a pillar page.

In this article, I will share everything you need to know about a pillar page so you can create one for your website and drive in oceans of qualified traffic. Even if you have opted for other digital marketing services, a pillar page can help you get serious organic traffic coming to your website.

What Is a Pillar Page?

The most basic function of a pillar page is to make your site and blog architecture more helpful. In essence, a pillar page is meant to help visitors easily find the information they are looking for on your website. A pillar page is actually a piece of usually long-form content that gives an overview of a broad topic. To this, you link more specific blog posts on your website.

For the keyword “email marketing,” for example, you would create a long-form blog post or guide for email marketing. Let’s say you call it “the most exhaustive email marketing guide on the web.” This will be your pillar page. Then, you will create shorter, more focused blog posts supporting the pillar page. These should ideally be specific areas of email marketing such as writing the perfect subject line, examples of great email copies, the importance of CTAs in marketing emails, and other similar topics. Wherever possible and relevant, you add a link to your pillar page in these focused blog posts.  

I know I said that pillar pages are a way of ranking for broad keywords. However, in order to do that successfully, we will have to abandon the keyword-first approach and think about this strategy in terms of topics.This is because even Google’s and other search engines’ algorithms are doing the same. These days, search engine algorithms rarely focus on keywords but try to decipher the intent behind the keywords and present the topics that are relevant. 

Source: ESM Inbound

A pillar page is supposed to help your website architecture adapt to this change. To successfully do this, you must think about your pillar pages in terms of topics that your audience may be searching for on the web. Then, you can create a long-form exhaustive guide (or any other similarly exhaustive form of content) and support it with longtail anchor keywords present in the smaller topic clusters. In our example of the email marketing pillar page, the topic clusters were the focused blog posts that talked about subject lines and other similar topics. This way, the search engines will start understanding that your pillar page consists of information about a broad topic and will present it in the results. For the Star Trek fans out there, I’ve included a quick example of a topic cluster map above.

With all that said, this strategy may feel like it is asking you to ignore keywords. However, the reality is that this strategy focuses on the topics that are relevant to your website and then you can choose the keywords you want to include in your content. Now that we have underwood what a pillar page is and how it benefits your website, let’s talk about the key steps to create your own pillar page:

1. Find Topics and Topic Clusters

Building a pillar page and getting the desired results is all about selecting the right topic. The “right” topic should be broad enough that you can think of cluster topics and create content around them.

At the same time, it should be specific enough to rank for a broad keyword. Besides those qualities, the right topic should also be about something that you know your ideal buyers are searching the web for. To understand this, you will first need to have an in-depth understanding of who your ideal buyer is.

One of the best ways to gain this understanding is by developing buyer personas. These are semi-fictional “characters” based on a combination of educated assumptions and real market research. These characters represent your ideal buyer. Hubspot has created an incredible guide which you can utilize to create your buyer personas. One of the attributes of your ideal buyers that the buyer persona focuses on is their pain points and challenges. This is where you can find the topics that they are searching for with the objective of alleviating their pains and overcoming their challenges.  

2. Research Keywords

Once you have decided the topic, it is time for some good old-fashioned keyword research. Finding keywords for your pillar page topic should not be a big challenge since the focus keyword will also be the topic you are trying to rank for. The real keyword research will go into finding the right long-tail keywords for your topic clusters. Finding these keywords will enable you to also think of more and more topic cluster ideas. 

Ideally, you are looking for a bunch of keywords that cover different aspects and viewpoints of the topic you will cover in your pillar page. Your objective should be to find a bunch of high search volume keywords that are relevant to your pillar page and can be used to create entire blog posts around them. For example, if your pillar page is about marketing on Instagram, one of the cluster keywords can be, “How to do hashtag research on Instagram.”

3. Create Pillar Page

Now, it’s time to create your pillar page. As you may have already guessed, your pillar page should be a long-form piece of content that gives the entire overview of a complex topic or process. While it is a good practice to make your content exhaustive, make sure you leave out information gaps that you can address in your cluster topics. At the same time, also ensure that the content gives everything you promise in your SEO optimized title. If you have had a company blog for some time, there is also a chance that one of your existing pieces of content can be turned into a pillar page.

However, it might require a bit of optimization. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind whether you’re writing a pillar page from scratch or optimizing an existing blog post into a pillar page:

  • Be exhaustive when it comes to topics and make sure you give at least a rough overview of the cluster topics.
  • Use your focused broad match keyword in the title of the pillar page, use more focused related keywords in the subheaders.
  • Don’t forget to use a lot of visuals (graphics, infographics, even videos) to make your pillar page content easier to consume.

4. Create Topic Cluster Blog Posts

After you have created your pillar, it is time to build the support you need to erect it. In other words, it is time to start writing cluster blog posts. If you already have a blog publishing schedule, you can start to integrate the cluster topics within that schedule. This way, you can enjoy the benefits of having topic clusters and a pillar page, along with the SEO benefits of consistently adding content to your website. 

When writing cluster blog posts, don’t forget to keep the language and the tone consistent with your pillar page. While there is no ideal number of cluster posts that boosts the performance of a pillar page, higher is generally better. I recommend supporting your pillar page with at least 15-20 pieces of well-written, exhaustive, and SEO optimized content.

5. Design Your Pillar Page

If everything goes right, your pillar page will be attracting a lot of traffic. If you have followed my advice up to this point, it might also be true that your pillar page has a lot of content. This means, the design of the page will play a pivotal role in deciding whether or not the visitors on your pillar page walk away with a positive user experience. Thankfully, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to improve the users’ experience on a content-heavy page (as long as the information within the content is relevant and easy to consume). 

The following UX design and usability features should make your pillar page user-friendly:

  • Use a bulleted table of contents (try to make it clickable so the page automatically scrolls to specific sections when clicked).
  • Feature a “Go To Top” button.
  • Begin with a definition of your topic in focus.

6. Decide on Gated Versus Ungated

If you don’t already know, gated content is the one where you have to give something (generally your contact details) to access the content. Gated content is usually in the form of an exhaustive guide, or an ebook, or a whitepaper, or original research, or anything else exclusive enough to be put behind a “gate”. As you may have already guessed, gated content is an excellent and popular way to collect top and middle of the funnel leads. 

With that said, it isn’t always a good idea to gate your content. There are many benefits that your business and website lose because of gated content. Making engagement difficult for users and lack of SEO benefits for (usually) an exceptional piece of content have to be the top two. Since we are creating the pillar page to improve the SEO performance of your website, gating the content is not a sensible move. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot use the content to collect leads. Chances are that your pillar page content is a lengthy guide or report that will require dedicated time to read, understand, and if relevant, implement. Let’s understand this with an example.

Let’s say someone searches the web for “how to select Instagram hashtags” and ends up on your pillar page about Instagram marketing. It has a section about hashtags. Maybe it even links to a full-size guide about hashtags. The user has found what they are looking for. But wait. They’ve also found an amazing guide on Instagram marketing. However, they don’t have the time to go through the entire thing right now. The solution?  Make it downloadable. This way, those who really like your content will get offline access to it and can read it on their own time, without having to visit your website.  At the same time, you get the email address of a person that is interested in the information you are sharing and who likes your content.

The Takeaway

Pillar pages, when designed with diligence and used correctly, will give your customers a reason to care about your story, a reason to engage with you and ultimately,  a reason to buy.  I hope that this guide will help you create the right pillar page to fully engage prospects in your brand story and inspire remarkable customer experiences.  If you have more questions or you’re looking to overcome your doubts, follow me @TopRightPartner on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the TopRight blog, and get copies of my latest books,  Strategic Analytics and Marketing, Interrupted.