Are you a marketer whose search engine optimization efforts have hit a wall? Have you been trying to improve your organic search positions, but your pages are stagnating in SERP rankings? If so, you should consider pillar pages as a way to breathe new life into your content strategy and SEO efforts.
What are Pillar Pages?
Simply put, pillar pages are longer, more authoritative website pages or articles that are held in higher esteem by search engines. Pillar pages rank higher. Pillar pages bring more traffic. Pillar pages lead to more conversions.
Authorities like HubSpot [add link] and Neil Patel [add link] proclaim the value of pillar pages.
They both agree that pillar pages:
- Are comprehensive content that allows an audience to gain understanding of a topic
- Are written and optimized around a strategic topic
- Connect to content on your site that provides more detailed information
- Boost your organic rankings
Rather than taking a narrow view on a subject, pillar pages take a multi-faceted approach. Pillar pages satisfy the needs of readers, enhance SERP rankings and generate more traffic.
Pillar pages are part of a clustered content approach to SEO that anyone can benefit from and everyone should include in their content strategy.
We recently built a pillar page for a B2B client who was looking to improve their organic and search presence to increase brand recognition and attract more clients. So far, the outcomes have been positive, with even better results on the horizon.
Before we discuss what we did for our client, let’s explain why pillar pages are needed.
Why Pillar Pages are Needed for SEO
As the internet has grown, the way people search has changed. In the beginning, we used one- or two-word phrases.
These days, partly due to a trend attributable to voice-activated technologies like Siri, Echo, Alexa and others, we now submit longer, more conversational search queries.
Whereas in the past someone might have typed “tennis shoes” into a search, today they are more likely to type or speak “where can I find tennis shoes” or “show me running shoe stores near me” or even “what are the best tennis shoes for walking and jogging during the winter.”
Studies show that 64% of online searches today are four words or longer.
Longer searches are a natural outcome of us adapting to the search landscape. We have less patience for online clutter, so we find ways to get what we need.
Let’s face it: there is a lot of content on the web. A Google search for “tennis shoes” returns 1.13 billion results. Who has time to wade through it all?
All this online detritus gets in the way. It frustrates us and makes it difficult for search engines to deliver what we seek.
That is why search engines are adapting. To go beyond simple keywords, they are rewarding longer, more comprehensive content.
This isn’t to say keywords no longer matter. They still do. But single pages targeted to short-tail keywords are no longer the be-all, end-all way to get ranked. Broader authoritative content is held in higher esteem.
How do you create this content? With pillar pages.
Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters for SEO Content Strategy
Pillar pages are the central component in an SEO content strategy concept known as topic clusters. As the name implies, a topic cluster is a collection of content that relates to a similar subject.
Like the sun, the pillar page sits at the center, with cluster content orbiting like planets. They are all held together by the gravitational pull of hyperlinks.
This approach to content differs from a traditional approach. In traditional models, a website has blog articles floating around freely. Yeah, some of them link to each other and they might be tagged to a category, but there is no unifying structure that ties them together.
In a topic cluster, a pillar page becomes the unifying component. Pillar pages address all aspects of a topic on a single page, with room for more in-depth coverage that is provided by the cluster content that hyperlinks to and from the pillar page.
Pillar pages act as roadmaps for a site by reaching out to other content on the site. The cluster content pieces, also called subtopics, are shorter pieces that support questions or concepts proposed in the pillar page.
Why is this important? As Neil Patel says:
“A major reason Google ranks one website or piece of content over another is that it can determine exactly what it’s about. If Google isn’t sure what your content or website is about, then it won’t rank you well. When every article you write [about a topic]… links back to a pillar page that discusses [that topic], Google immediately knows what those pieces of content are about. As a result, it will rank you better. On top of that, the more that you cover a single topic on your website, the better Google will rank you for that topic in general.”
Thankfully, it’s not rocket science. You are probably already halfway there on your journey through the cluster content solar system.
How to Choose a Pillar Page Topic
The subject you choose for a topic cluster should be one that is broad, but not expansive.
The topic should support your business objectives. You should think about topics that relate to terms you want to rank on, then create or curate content based on keywords that support the topic.
Here’s a tip: A topic should contain 6-8 subtopics that address specific questions your customers may be exploring related to the subject.
One thing to keep in mind is that a topic cluster approach doesn’t necessarily mean having to reinvent the wheel. In many cases, the cluster can be for a topic you’ve already written about. You can repurpose this content to support the pillar page. In fact, that’s exactly what we did for our client, Peter Basso Associates, described later in this article.
Another suggestion is to audit your existing content and group it by focus. You will likely find that most of your content already centers around common themes. These themes can serve as topics for your pillar pages.
When choosing topics, while you want to be broad, you don’t want to be so broad as to go beyond the scope of a two thousand-word article, which is the optimum length for a pillar article.
For example, using our tennis shoe example from earlier, the topic “tennis shoes” might be too broad for a pillar page. A topic like “Choosing the right walking or jogging shoes” might be more suitable.
Presuming we were an athletic shoe manufacturer or reseller, we might already have articles on subtopics like “Best long-distance running shoes,” “How to know if your tennis shoes fit,” “Running shoes for women,” “Shoes for outdoor running,” or “caring for your running shoes.” We could use these to link to/from the pillar page.
Once you’ve identified a topic and categorized your cluster content, what’s next?
Creating the pillar page, of course.
How to Create a Pillar Page
Creating a pillar page is very much like any other writing assignment. You need to know your topic and have your audience in mind. You need to know which topic-based keywords you are targeting. And you need to know which cluster content pages you are linking to.
When it comes to the actual writing, some things to keep in mind:
- Pillar pages are longer than typical blog posts, because they cover all aspects of the topic you're trying to rank for, but they aren't as in-depth. The cluster content subtopics will provide that depth.
- Pillar pages often have chapters or other sectional devices to help with navigation.
- The pillar page should propose questions about a particular topic – Why? How? -- that are answered in the cluster content.
- Pillar pages should apply consistent on-page SEO best practices.
- Pillar pages should sit on the top level of your website in a place that already gets a lot of organic traffic.
- Pillar pages can and should include images, infographics, video and other elements to enhance the reader experience.
The SEO Benefits of Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters
The whole point of implementing pillar pages is for SEO benefit. What are those benefits?
- Topic clusters help more pages on your website rank.
- The topic cluster/pillar page model uses a more deliberate site architecture to organize and link URLs. This helps more pages on your site rank in Google -- and to help searchers find information on your site more easily.
- Pillar pages help tell Google what you are about.
- Pillar pages make your site sticky. They keep readers on your site longer.
- Pillar pages help you gain rank authority with the number of quality inbound links from your subtopic content.
- Pillar pages align with current Google ranking factors. Pillar pages satisfy several factors that have a large impact in the Google algorithm:
- Content. Pillar pages provide in-depth content that allows search engines to better crawl and index a site.
- User intent. Pillar pages provide content that solves for a searcher's intent.
- Backlinks. Pillar pages create in-depth resources that presents the opportunity for external websites to create backlinks.
Our Pillar Page Example: Peter Basso Associates
We recently completed a pillar page for Peter Basso Associates (www.peterbassoassociates.com). They are a mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering (MEP) firm headquartered in Troy, Michigan.
PBA has a ton of great content on their website. They have hundreds of articles in their blog, along with dozens of high-quality downloadable resources. For all the great content PBA has, they were having trouble climbing in search rankings for terms related to MEP engineering.
Our suggestion was a pillar page. Our approach began with keyword research, where we identified 10 terms. From there, we audited the PBA website and catalogued existing blogs that could be used as cluster content.
With our keyword research and content audit in hand, we wrote the pillar page content. We made sure to link to the content cluster articles, while also including links to other resources such as brochures and case studies.
Once the pillar page was written, designed and programmed, we used HubSpot’s content strategy tool to finalize the topic cluster model in the client’s Hubspot portal (see graphic). HubSpot allows 20 subtopic links, which we took full advantage of.
When that was done, we published the page, making sure it was at the top level of that PBA site, at www.peterbassoassociates.com/mep-engineering.
The results so far have been favorable. In the short amount of time the page has been live, PBA has climbed in the rankings for seven of the 10 keywords. There is still work to do. We continue to monitor the progress and fine-tune content. We have plans to build additional pillar pages for topics related to keywords such as mechanical engineering and electrical engineering that continue to be laggards.
One great thing about this project was that, with the breadth of content PBA has, we did not have to write any new content, other than the pillar page itself.
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