Long gone are the days when Google viewed your content as standalone and separate from the rest of the content on your website. The search engine giant’s algorithm now prefers websites that exude topical authority on particular subjects. One way to achieve this is through implementing a content marketing strategy with high-quality content supported by topical interlinking. Enter pillar pages.
To understand this concept, you need to start thinking of your website content in terms of topic clusters that, at their core, have pillar pages. In this step-by-step guide, we will explain how and why you should use pillar pages and topic clusters in your content strategy and how that helps outrank competitors on search engine result pages (SERPs).
What Is a Pillar Page?
A pillar page is a piece of content that acts as the basis (or hub) on which other related pages are built and connected to via internal links. It covers all vital points that your target audience should know about a topic. But its goal is to provide the breadth of a topic, not a deep dive.
As we’ve said, the pillar page links to other pages which we call “cluster pages”. These pages offer more detailed coverage of certain aspects of the topic and link back to the pillar page. So, cluster pages focus on one of the elements of the pillar page topic and offer a deep dive into it.
To illustrate our point – imagine your pillar page as a table of contents. In that sense, cluster pages are their chapters. For instance, your pillar page might be about SEO in general. You can’t possibly expect to examine the topic in-depth in one post. But what you can do is touch upon the subject of technical SEO and link to a piece of content that tackles that in-depth.
Here are some of the characteristics of a typical pillar page:
- It targets the parent topic and related topics and keywords
- It provides the basic answers about the parent topic
- Pillar pages are usually long-form content with 2,000+ words
- It links to cluster pages, and they link back to the pillar page
- A pillar page is an evergreen piece of content you should update from time to time
Now that we have mapped out how pillar pages and cluster pages are interlinked, let’s see why you must use pillar pages.
Why Use Pillar Pages?
We’ll break our answer into two parts.
For starters, pillar pages allow you to organize your content by topics and direct visitors to pages where they can find more information. That makes navigating and browsing your website much easier both for users and Google.
A pillar page is the means to ensure that your pages lead to the goal you are focusing on the most. And more significantly – your pillar page shapes the direction of your website. Mapping out the pillar page and cluster pages is akin to deciding what your overall website will be about.
And second, there are loads of SEO benefits to pillar pages. When you organize your content topically, it helps your search engine rankings. Because when it comes to content, quality always beats quantity. And Google’s algorithm works hard to bypass that issue by preferring websites with a clean user experience and hyperlinking that makes sense.
If Google can tell what each piece of your content is about – you’ll be awarded better rankings. You can think about it like this – the more you tackle a single topic on your site, the better you’ll rank for that topic overall.
So, to sum up the SEO benefits of pillar pages – hyperlinking and content creation centered around relevant topics and subtopics pay off.
What are Topic Clusters Exactly?
Topic clusters are also called “content clusters”, and are groups of related content gathered around a parent topic. The heart of the cluster is the pillar page. Surrounding it are the already-mentioned cluster pages. This effective way of organizing content has three essential components:
- One pillar page that covers a topic in breadth
- Several cluster pages that cover subtopics in depth
- A well-developed internal linking strategy – the pillar page links to all cluster content, and these pieces of content link to the core pillar page
Just as pillar pages themselves, topic clusters help your SEO results:
- Topic clusters help your relevance, PageRank flow, and context.
- Google’s algorithm can comprehend subtopics around one parent topic, so well-developed clusters follow Google’s AI direction.
- Pillar pages and content clusters help strengthen elements crucial for Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust) concept, which plays a role in search rankings.
So, creating a pillar page starts with adopting the concept of a topic cluster – you pick the broad topics you want to rank for, and then you create content based on keywords related to the topic.
Step-By-Step Guide to Creating a Pillar Page
A content strategy based on pillar pages takes time, patience, and effort to implement. However, the payoff makes it all worth it – your work so far and your future work will both be more effective.
Here’s how you should put together a pillar page.
Decide on the Topics You Wish to Rank for
Where to begin when creating content clusters? You need to figure out which topics you wish to rank for. And while your mind possibly immediately raced to think in terms of keywords, you should think in terms of broad topics. Because you need a topic broad enough to spawn multiple related blog posts. At the same time, you should be realistic and not pick something so extensive that one pillar page can’t cover.
For instance, writing a pillar page on marketing could be just too broad. But a pillar page on Facebook marketing is another story.
Another helpful practice is looking at what your competitors are publishing. That will give you some more practical ideas on topics.
Perform Diligent Keyword Research
After you decide on the topics you want to rank for, you should pick your pillar page’s broad keyword via keyword research. It should have considerable search volume and interest your target audience.
However, a keyword’s search volume shouldn’t be the only thing you consider. For the best results, it’s important to choose keywords you can realistically rank for, and that means picking a query with an informational search intent and a good balance between difficulty and search volume.
Once you know the topic of your pillar page, you need to find the keywords you want to use for your topic cluster.
Through an extensive keyword research, you can find a myriad of terms and queries related to the topic of your pillar page. Write them all down in a single spreadsheet and note their volume and difficulty if you are using an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush. Once you have a list of relevant keywords, you can start grouping them into blog posts.
This is called keyword mapping and you can either do it manually using common sense, or with the help of a keyword mapping tool.
Once you’re done, you should end up with several blog post ideas, along with the keywords you want to target. Additionally, this will also help you when writing the pillar page, as you’ll know what topics you need to touch base on.
Create the Pillar Page
One good piece of advice to consider is to write your cluster pages first, as many as you can. If you choose to first write your pillar page, then you risk falling into the trap of giving away too much information on subtopics. That can render cluster pages unnecessary.
Your pillar page should be longer than an average blog post and consist of 20-30 internal links. External links are also welcome – they should lead to high authority domains that are not your competitors.
When looked at broadly, your pillar page has three sections:
- Introduction: This is where you define your parent topic and give visitors a concise overview of what they can expect to find on the page.
- Subtopics: Again, you want to go for breadth, not depth. Keep subtopics short, answer the user’s main questions, and link to cluster pages to help guide them.
- Conclusion: Summarize the key point from the introduction and, if suitable, provide additional links related to the topic, as well as a link that leads to your offer of services.
Other important ways to optimize your pillar page:
- Use the primary keyword in your page title and some of the subheadings.
- Incorporate the primary keyword into a compelling title tag and meta description.
- Mention the primary keyword in the first paragraph of the introduction, if possible.
- Add structured data, if suitable.
- Implement long-tail keywords in the body of the text.
- Ensure that you are creating content that matches the user’s search intent.
- Pay attention to your content’s readability score via websites such as Grammarly. Paragraph breaks and breaking up subtopics through headers are of help.
- Optimize visual content. Add alt text and image descriptions.
During the whole process, bear in mind that your readers need to find the information they need quickly enough. A table of contents located at the top of the page is a good way to help them do so. Balance their needs with your conversion goals when organizing your pillar page content.
Write Cluster Pages
Yes, we did say that you should try creating your cluster pages first, yet we first elaborated on how to create pillar pages. But we chose the order that we chose to emphasize once again that pillar pages are the core of your topic cluster. Now, back to cluster pages.
Cluster pages are actually regular articles, how-to guides, and blog posts. They are shorter in length than pillar pages. They should expand on subtopics mentioned in pillar content and should link back to it.
Cluster pages dive into subtopics in-depth and are optimized for target keywords.
Pillar Pages and Internal Linking
The topic cluster model is only successful if you apply an interlinking strategy. The links you add to your pillar page are the door that leads both users and crawlers to cluster pages. Such links:
- Navigate users through your website
- Guide them down the marketing funnel
- Get users to stay on your site longer
Not only should your pillar page link to your cluster pages. It should work vice versa, too. That means that cluster pages need to link to pillar pages. And occasionally, here and there, they should link to other cluster pages.
Your SEO results will benefit from a well-implemented internal linking strategy. That encompasses using descriptive anchor text when adding hyperlinks. So instead of just typing “click here”, use keyword variations akin to those in the URL of your link.
Most Often Found Types of Pillar Pages
We’re nearing the end of our ultimate guide to pillar pages. We’ve discussed what are pillar pages, how to create them, and what are the most essential parts of one such page. But how do you structure a pillar page?
Think about your parent topic and what would you want to see on your pillar page if you were a user looking for information. Do you want to understand a certain topic and learn about its benefits? Or do you want to know how something works?
There are multiple types of pillar pages, and we’ve singled out the most common ones.
Guides are often used as formats for pillar pages because they are a common way to thoroughly map out a topic. That is why so many websites with blog content have beginner guides and ultimate guides on topics. People know that such content will probably aim to cover the basics of which people know little about.
Apart from defining the parent topic, guides will also have sections telling you why something is significant, and how to do it.
“What Is…” Pillar Pages
Search queries that begin with “what is…” are often typed in by users. So organizing content around that kind of question can be helpful.
True, you can probably give a short answer in a single paragraph. But if you’re trying to offer valuable and helpful information to readers, then one question will undeniably lead to more questions.
“Why Is…” Pillar Pages
Pillar pages that tackle why something is significant let others know that you will cover more points than a page focused around a “what is…” question.
You should always cover the basic information regardless. But the majority of your blog post should concentrate on how the parent topic can impact the target audience or their audience.
“How To…” Pillar Pages
Many people search the web looking for ways to solve a problem. If you create a “how-to” guide, make sure that it’s a process walkthrough.
The walkthrough should consist of individual steps of the problem-solving process. But you should still include a definition and explain why the topic is important and how it can benefit the target audience.
“Best Ways To…” Pillar Pages
Some topics are so popular that SERPs are already full of “ultimate” guides centered around their related keywords. So in this case, it’s not a bad idea to cherry-pick the best advice, tips, and facts about your parent topic.
Select 3, 5, 7, or 10 best practices for performing a particular process. Present them in a mapped-out manner. To go back to our Facebook marketing example, you may write a pillar page titled “10 Best Ways to Do Facebook Marketing” or “12 Best Facebook Marketing Strategies”. That type of content offers value to both newbies and experts.
Whichever type of pillar page you create, make sure that it’s skimmable. Bold important parts, group content into bullet lists, and break up text into paragraphs with subheadings.
Creating pillar pages and cluster pages will mean lots of work, time, and patience. Finding your parent topic, subtopics, and doing keyword research is a diligent process, but it’s rewarding.
You will reap the rewards of the additional effort put into your content strategy in the form of improved search engine rankings and growth of organic traffic. As your pillar page grows in authority, so will your cluster pages.