Every day, over 7 million blog posts are published. In such a saturated digital space, it can be challenging to get the most out of your content marketing strategy.
That’s why some experts recommend writing in-depth articles like content pillars to get the most out of your content efforts.
In this article, you will learn what a content pillar is, how to create one and how to get the most of it.
What is a content pillar?
A content pillar is an in-depth, informative, and authoritative piece of content on a topic that covers all the essentials of the topic.
You can create a content pillar as part of a content cluster/hub where it is the central article that links to other articles that delve into specific sub-clustering articles.
For example, if a pillar content is about the Paleo Diet, the sub-clustering pages will cover topics such as “what is a paleo diet?” or “how to maintain a paleo diet”.
Here is a real-life content cluster illustration from BuzzSumo.
If your content pillar is a standalone blog post, it’s usually an informative guide on a particular topic. In this case, it strives to explore the topic broadly and comprehensively and provides more immersive information.
It can be presented in an eBook, PDF, or a blog post divided into several headings and subheadings. Here’s a real-world example by Drift about chatbots.
What are the most common types of content pillars?
These are some of the most popular content pillar types:
- The what is: A detailed explanation of a complex subject broken down into chapters and segments.
- The how-to guide: A step-by-step article that provides your audience with detailed information about implementing something.
- The ultimate guide: A comprehensive time-bound analysis of every aspect of a topic.
- The listicle: A complete article covering all possible points about a single subject.
Why is a content pillar important in a content strategy?
Content pillars are important in a content marketing strategy because they benefit both the audience and the business in many ways.
It guarantees better engagement
Having a structured and resourceful piece of content that speak to your audience’s pain points will increase their perceived value of your business/website.
In turn, your bounce rate decreases and you get direct traffic. That combined with the on-page engagement your content gets pushes search engines to give your website better ranking.
It helps you stay on top of your business niche
Content pillars, in most cases, are driven by high-volume keywords.
These types of content are generally positioned to answer every question the reader might have, exploring the topic inside out.
Addressing topics at this scope helps you set yourself as knowledgeable. And because the content is extensive and broad, it addresses most of the beginner or newbie type of questions searchers may have.
After reading your content, most readers will automatically perceive you as an industry leader. For example, when a reader who’s new to sales and wants to learn more discovers Hubspot’s Ultimate Guide to Sales, reads the entire material, and finds it beneficial, they’ll automatically perceive Hubspot as the go-to place for all things sales.
It helps you build a solid SEO asset for your business
According to Backlinko, content pillars have higher chances of getting first-page Google search rankings than regular posts. In a study, BuzzSumo found that content pillars are a natural fit for backlinks. Also, given their long-form nature, they keep visitors longer on your website, which increases your site’s dwell time, indicating quality content to the Google algorithms.
Even more interesting, they become an asset you can always link to in your other blog posts (i.e., internal liking). This, in return, contributes to building a semantic relationship between content on your website. You can easily build topical authority, which is one of the top-ranking factors on Google. This also means that Google will see your site as authoritative for your particular topic.
How to create a content pillar to fuel your content marketing
Here are the different steps you need to follow to create outstanding content pillars.
Step 1: Determine what business goals you want to achieve with your content pillar
This should be the foundation of every action you take in the rest of the steps. What goals fo you want your content pillar to accomplish?
Do you want to:
- Increase brand awareness?
- Educate your visitors?
- Create interest or desire?
- Deepen your relationship with customers?
- Encourage or increase free trial signups?
- Convert leads into paying customers?
Once you figure that out, you can easily define your key performance indicators and how to measure success or lack thereof. It’ll also help you determine the information you need to cover, who to share it with, etc.
Step 2: Understand your target audience
Creating a content pillar is a huge undertaking. You want to make sure your target audience finds it useful, engages with it, and bookmarks it or shares it.
As such, you need to spend some time studying who your audience is, what pain points they have, and why they want to solve that problem.
Strong customer research is invaluable here. Your audience research should provide answers to questions like:
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- Who is our solution for?
- What does our audience know about this topic and what they don’t?
- What would they like to read in a content like this?
- What other content on search engines are talking about and why can’t it help searchers improve their situation?
Answering these questions will help you decide what to include in your content pillar—making it easy to create content that’s impactful.
At this point, you should be able to tell what keywords you want to target based on customer research insights.
For instance, if your audience’s main goal is to learn how to close deals during cold calls, you know you should create content around “cold calls closing.” If they are struggling to find tools that’ll helps them automate sales, you know you have to create content around “sales automation tools.”
If you still struggle to determine what keywords to target, you can use an SEO tool like the Ahrefs Keywords Explorer to do it.
Enter a broad keyword related to your niche, then look at the phrase match report. Know that this only applies when you want to create your content pillar around your core business topic.
For example, if you sell bags online, search for “backpacks.”
Then take inspiration from the keyword suggestions.
Remember that not all the topics or keywords you come up with are suitable for a content pillar. Choose a keyword that is substantial enough to build a content pillar. To do this, ensure that your keywords or topic follow these criteria.
- Informational intent: Keywords that suggest that the person has information needs, needs to understand, needs to have your opinion on the subject, or needs to learn how to do something.
- Traffic potential: A keyword with a high search volume in your industry.
- Broad enough: A keyword you can quickly expand into subheadings and segments to easily build your content pillar.
Step 4: Map out the subtopics or subheadings to cover
After you choose your preferred topic and keywords, outline your content pillar. Here is how to do this perfectly.
- Do keyword research
There are two ways you can implement keyword research effectively. Either way, your goal is to find phrases and keywords people search for that you can elaborate on in your content pillar.
The first way is to use AnswerThePublic. AnswerThePublic is a keyword tool that brainstorms Google searches and brings you the most sought-after phrases and keywords. These are basically questions that people ask about that particular keyword on Google. All you need to do is type in your root keyword or topic. Here is the report for the keyword “vegan”.
You can scroll down the page to get more results.
The second way is to use an SEO tool like Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer or SEMrush. Let’s use SEMrush for the sake of example. Let’s assume your topic here is “podcasting.” Type in your keyword and wait for the keyword overview report.
Now, the results you’re most interested in are keyword variations, people also ask questions, and related keywords.
- Leverage top-ranking pages to pull out subtopics
Besides doing keyword research, also factor in what the top ranking pages for your target keywords are doing.
Skim through the top-ranking articles on your topic to pull out subtopics or headings you can elaborate on in your content pillar.
You can simply Google it and go through the first-ranking articles. If you want to be more thorough, use an SEO tool to find these articles. You can use Ahrefs SERP Checker and BuzzSumo for this.
Ahrefs SERP Checker is a SERP analysis tool that’ll help you find the top-ranking articles for your keyword, as well as their analytics so you can make informed decisions.
Suppose your keyword or topic is “content marketing.” Using Ahrefs’ SERP Checker, you can see what the top ranking pages for this keyword is.
You can also expand the SERP features like “people also ask” to find further results.
Now you know what subtopics you have to cover (people are interested in) regarding “content marketing.”
BuzzSumo helps you find the articles with the most social shares. Using this data, you can replicate the patterns triggering the engagement and social shares in your content pillar.
Simply type in your keyword and wait for the results. Again, here are the results for the “content marketing” keyword.
Analyze the results and take each page as a basis for building your outline.
Interestingly, the research box also suggests some keywords you’ll find helpful. You might also want to include those into your pillar content.
- Be opinionated
Chances are, you will not be the only website on Google striving to attract traffic to the same topic. Your competitors will be there, too. So, you need to come up with unique and fresh angles/perspectives that make your content pillar unique.
Stand out from the crowd by sharing your opinion, analyzing the topic from different perspectives, using unique examples, presenting a contrarian view, or referencing popular culture.
Step 5: Write your content pillar
Now, it’s time to write your content pillar. This resource on content creation tactics can help you get started. But to be more specific, here are a few things you need to keep in mind.
- Add a clickable table of contents.
- Format the post for easy and convenient reading.
- Use short sentences and paragraphs.
- Set up headings to follow a logical structure that is easy to understand and scannable.
- Make sure the examples are topical and relevant so readers can grasp concepts more quickly.
- Each section should provide a comprehensive explanation of the idea.
- Maintain a smooth transition between paragraphs.
- Make it look beautiful by breaking up the text with images, videos, and infographics.
Do not take the post for granted. Invest in the look and UX. If necessary, hire a designer. It will be worth your investment in the long run.
Step 6: Interlink
“Internal links are to backlinks what Robin is to Batman. They’re crucial to SEO success, yet receive little to none of the credit.”
— Joshua Hardwick, Head of Content at Ahrefs.
Interlinking your content pillar to other articles on your website comes down to building a cluster. The essence of a content cluster in a content marketing strategy is to create a coherent set of complementary contents around your core business topic, a given issue, or to provide comprehensive information about a new offer you are launching.
With that said, interlinking is how you keep all the contents together as one hub. In the hub, the content pillar is the fulcrum, the most detailed and holding it all together. Now, this structure allows search engines to properly crawl your site because of the links between the sub articles and the content pillar. It also improves the visitor experience, as visitors can easily navigate the linked articles and find relevant content that complements each other.
But even if you’re building a standalone content pillar, it’s still a good practice to link to other articles on your website. For example, you can perform a content audit on your site and find articles that fall in the same ballpark (based on keywords or topic) as your content pillar and link to them.
Step 7: Optimize your content pillar for SEO
After creating your content pillar, you have to optimize it to rank on Google. This is, in general, one of the main motives for creating long-form content. So you need to be sure your content pillar is up to par.
Here are a few SEO practices you can leverage.
- Practice on-page SEO to avoid pitfalls and Google penalties. Use keywords in your title and heading tags effectively.
- Write a great meta description.
- Leverage FAQ schema mark-ups to answer specific questions with your content.
- Optimize all images by adding alt text and using keywords.
- Keep an eye on page speed to improve the user experience.
- Optimize for both mobile and desktop.
Step 8: Distribute your pillar content
By this time, your content pillar is ready, well-optimized, and posted on your site. Now you need to make sure you get it out there to your target audience.
Your goal is to drive as many eyeballs as possible to it. So, you need to start by devising a content distribution strategy.
You can consider organically sharing it through your social media accounts, sharing it in online communities, or even paid promotion to ensure maximum reach. Always ensure you share to places your target audience will see it and engage with it.
Step 9 (bonus): Repurpose your content pillar
Your content pillar is a resourceful asset you can use across multiple platforms, so leverage it at scale through content repurposing.
Consider turning your content pillar into a video for YouTube and social media. You can create Twitter threads, Quora, and Reddit questions and answers. You can create Slideshares out of tips and strategies, etc.
Step 10 (bonus): Get backlinks
Backlinks are tokens of confidence from other sites indicating the quality of your content to Google. If your content pillar is excellent enough, you can get backlinks organically from people reading your content. The more backlinks you have, the more your Domain Authority (DA) will grow and the more your content pillar will rank.
If you decide to get backlinks by publicity outreach campaigns, be sure to only get backlinks from sites with higher DA than yours.
Here are the top two strategies you can use for this.
- Guest blogging: That’s where you reach out to websites with a similar target audience as you, create content on their blog, and link it back to your site. You can link to your content pillar if it fits into the points you are making or explores the topic deeper. Read our post about guest blogging to learn more.
- Blogger outreach: This is where you reach out to other blogs that you know will find value in linking to your content pillar and suggest them to do so. Read our post about blogger outreach to learn more.
Content pillars support your site
A content pillar is not an ordinary post, and it does not come as easily. It takes good planning, investment (time, knowledge resources, and budget), and execution to create one. Before you start creating one, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Ensure it has a unique design
Your content pillar needs to be different from the other articles in the cluster or on your blog. You need to make it clear that it is particularly resourceful content. And this starts with its visual appeal.
Hiring graphic designers will ensure that the images, infographics, charts, data, and quotes have a top-notch design in the content pillar.
- Make sure it’s value-driven
While keyword research might indicate the phrases people are searching for on SERP, you may also want to consider talking to a few of your customers to get real insights into what truly interests them. It’s one thing to provide information, and it’s another thing to provide information that your target audience truly values and cares about.
Before you leave, here are some content tools you can use to create a solid pillar content.