So, you’ve been writing content for your website for a while, eh? But you're here ... so if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that things are going smoothly and your content’s treating you well, but when you take a peek behind the curtain, there’s not much to write home about.
Sure, people like your content ... in fact, you've got truly epic blog content, but your traffic is falling flat. Despite hours of keyword research, creating content ideas, and pouring over buyer personas, you might be asking whether your content creation efforts are worth it (or if it's a sign from the universe to give up on your marketing efforts altogether).
Here’s the thing - chances are, if you’ve done that work beforehand, then your piece of content is great. It’s your structure strategy that’s letting you down. Ah, the perils of content marketing!
Why Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters are the Icing on the SEO Cake
One of the biggest mistakes we see content creators make is treating each individual blog post as...well, an individual. Their content is keyword optimised, sure, but it’s lacking that je ne sais quois to bring everything together.
Alright, saying that might be a misnomer - we do actually know what the icing is on the SEO cake, and that’s bringing content together with pillar pages and topic clusters. It doesn't matter if you've created tons of content - the key to getting organic search traffic? Clustering your content by core topics.
Pillar pages and topic clusters work hand-in-hand to show search engines that you don’t just know the fancy keywords your audience is searching for, but you’re a bona fide expert in the subject you’re talking about. While they might not check for hidden PhD's, they do want to see that you know your stuff.
A pillar page is a webpage that gives your reader a full overview of what you’re talking about. It can be content, like a long-form “how to” blog post, or an explainer page discussing your business’s services. The key thing is that pillar topic should link to the rest of the pages in your topic cluster.
A topic cluster is, quite simply, a bunch of pages that cover the same topic, all of which interlink with each other and the pillar page. It’s a happy little link party, but the legal kind that Google doesn’t mind you throwing.
Why Is This So Important?
Gone are the days where packing an article with every keyword imaginable will get you ranked on Google. Now, Google wants to see that you’re an authority, and a trusted one at that. So, they use the holy trifecta of backlinks, internal links, and interlinking to judge that.
With topic clusters and pillar pages, the goal is to create interlinked content. It effectively builds an interconnected highway that helps search engine crawlers around your website, plus it helps to keep readers on your website for longer.
Identifying Topic Clusters
Whether you’ve already got a bunch of content you want to organise, or you’re just getting started, you need to map out your topics before you get going. It’s not too tricky to add new groups of topics to your website if you need to expand, but honestly, it’s a better idea to have a small number of extensive topic clusters than a bunch of them with only one or two pages in them.
The first step is to think about your buyer personas, or who your ideal customers are. It doesn’t matter how big of a business you are, or how many customer types you have. They’re all going to have their own problems and pain points, which is where topic clusters come in.
Once you’ve got your buyer personas nailed down, then you should come up with a list of between five and ten problems that they’re likely to have. Not sure what these are? Here are some examples:
- New reptile owners: how to set up a vivarium for a ball python, or common health problems to look out for in geckos.
- Young people looking to buy their first car: a checklist for looking at used cars, or a list of the cheapest cars to run.
- Small business owners looking to improve their marketing: the basics of pillar pages and topic clusters (hi there!), or how to use social media for lead generation.
The next thing to consider is whether you can condense any topics into a single page. Search engines froth long-form content, so we always recommend going for at least 1,500 words to rank.
But what if you’ve already got existing content you need to organize? We recommend opening a good old-fashioned spreadsheet and using that to determine which topic clusters that content should be a part of. You should note down things like the proposed cluster topic, whether it’s already interlinked, where it links to, and what action you need to take.
The Fundamentals of Pillar Pages
So you’ve got your topic clusters squared and centralised! Now, it’s time to bind them all together with a stunning pillar page that helps your audience find what they’re looking for (and gets you a cheeky extra page for search engine optimization rankings, too).
The thing to note here is that pillar pages aren’t exactly a light undertaking in the world of content marketing strategy. A blog post might be a walk to the local shop, but in comparison, a pillar page is trekking it to the next city over for a weekend break. It requires a lot of work, research, and perseverance to make it something to remember.
How to Create Pillar Pages
The first thing you need to ask yourself is whether your topic cluster is broad enough to support the time it takes to create a pillar page. Providing that you have around 10 blog posts in your topic cluster, then we’d say go for it. Any less than that and you should definitely either flesh it out or leave it pillar-less.
The reason we say this is that, in our experience, a good pillar page will clock in at around 7,500 words. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the topic. And, all of this content needs to relate to the topic cluster pages so you can interlink everything.
So, if your topic cluster is big enough, and you’ve got enough content for a massive pillar page that'd make even the search engine bots blush, then it's time to get cracking. The first thing to do is pull all the information you have about a topic cluster from the work you did earlier.
This will give you a rough idea of the structure you need to aim for. We like to use the titles of blog posts, or at least long-tail keywords relating to those, as headers so that our readers can easily skim to the information they want to find. Elements like a table of contents at the top of the article, and hyperlinks within your pillar page to topic-related blog posts to help readers jump sections, are also a great way to improve readability.
Question-and-answer content formatting is another cheeky way to improve search engine authority, and it’s something you can do without needing to do any additional research. If there’s a question keyword you know your readers search for, then use it, and answer it directly afterward in 50 words or less.
Promoting and Maintaining Pillar Pages
Awesome - your pillar page is up and running, and boy ... it’s looking mighty fine.
But before you hit publish on that awesome social media promotion you’ve crafted to show it off, it’s time to do a little housekeeping.
Make sure you’ve cleaned up your internal links to make sure your topics and pillar page are interlinking as they should, and there are no dead links left behind. And, here’s the vital part - make sure that all links to your pillar page use the same topic phrase. This helps Google to build a clear understanding of what you’re talking about.
Then, resubmit your content to Google for it to be re-crawled. You’ve worked hard on your marketing masterpiece, and you deserve for Google to recognise it by listing your new pages.
Once that’s all settled, then go ahead and let your baby shine. Here are some powerful promotional tools to get all eyes on your pillar page:
- Head over to Quora, Reddit, or LinkedIn to answer questions. But, make sure you answer people’s questions properly and then link to your pillar page. Otherwise, it just looks spammy.
- Talk about your topics! It could be on someone’s podcast, a Facebook Live, or even an AMA on Reddit, but sharing your expertise can be a great way to direct people to your work and boost your rankings!
- Pay to play. Yup, the classic PPC and sponsored social media posts are another good way to get eyes on your website.
Now that you’ve got traffic coming in and climbing search rankings, your job’s only half-finished.
After three months, and every quarter from there, we recommend going back to your pillar pages and topic clusters and taking a deep dive into what content is working and what isn’t. SEO strategies can take a lot of time to be reflected in page metrics, which is why we recommend looking at metrics quarterly as a primary first step. From there, you can think about whether any pages need editing with new content, or whether you need to add any new blog posts to your topic cluster.
Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters: In Summary
So there you have it - the reasons why it’s time you considered using a pillar page-focused content strategy to improve your SEO. There’s no time like now to get the ball rolling on content marketing, so feel free to drop us a line if you’ve got any questions!