Pillar Pages: Almost Everything You Need to Know

Pillar Pages: Almost Everything You Need to Know

What’s with all the hype around pillar pages?

I recently mentioned how longer search queries and a smarter Google means relying solely on keywords to inform your content marketing strategy isn’t effective.

The better approach is to think about your content in terms of topics and embrace the topic cluster model. An integral part of this model is pillar pages which have recently received much attention in content marketing circles.

With all this hype it’s only fitting to explore them in more detail:

  • What they are
  • Their benefits
  • How to create them
  • Best practices when creating yours
  • Examples that will provide inspiration for your next project

* Feel free to jump to the section you’re interested in.

What Are Pillar Pages?

They’re best explained within the context of the topic cluster model which consists of hyperlinks, cluster content (blog posts) and pillar content.

Source: HubSpot, Inc.

A pillar page—usually housed separately from your blog—broadly covers the main topic on one page and links to detailed blog posts related to the topic.

For example, let’s say you’re a company who offers project management software and you’ve chosen the topic “building a project team.” You’ll likely include the following sub-topics on your page:

  • The importance of building a strong team
  • How to build a team—characteristics to look for in team members, how to find these people etc.
  • How to deal with conflict

Each of these sub-topics can be their own comprehensive post you link to from the pillar page.

But, What Are the Benefits?

These pages help you:

  • Improve site architecture. You can better organize blog content
  • Avoid the common pitfall of creating similar content where posts often compete against one another
  • Help readers easily find your content without having to search for it on your blog
  • Improve your SEO. By linking to high-performing blog posts, you give your page needed SEO juice. You also make it easier for readers to find your content in Google. Remember Google loves content that covers a topic properly and has a nice sprinkling of LSI keywords
  • Establish authority on a topic. What better way to demonstrate subject matter expertise than by covering all aspects of a topic?

Besides the benefits, creating pillar content is actually pretty fun. Well, it is for me, and in the next section I’ll show you how to create yours and share a few best practices along the way.

How Do I Create a Pillar Page?

Keep the following in mind before creating your page:

  • Creating one takes time —a lot of it. It’s not like a standard blog post, and usually involves more writing, content, and design work. Expect one to take at least 20 hours to create. For example, I recently wrote two for a client; one took 20 hours and the other 24.
  • It’s an investment. Expect to invest more money than you would for a blog post. Not only does pillar content take longer to create, but as we’ve seen, they’re infinitely more valuable than any blog post: They better organize content, improve site architecture, boost SEO ranking, and drive organic traffic.

Step 1: Choose your topic

Remember, you should focus on the topic and not keywords. Sure, keywords play a role when creating cluster content, but that’s a discussion for later.

Your topic should also not be too broad. For example, a topic like “working capital” works far better than the very general “finance.”

Hubspot provides a rule of thumb when deciding if a topic is broad enough—ask the following question: Does the topic allow me to link to 20-30 related posts?

Here are a few ways to help you choose your topics:

  • Revisit your buyer personas to better understand your audiences’ problems and what topics appeal to them. Need to learn more about your audience? Conduct a short survey to get to know them.
  • Do keyword research to assess if there’s demand for a topic. Yes, I know I said you shouldn’t focus on keywords, but getting an idea of search volumes will help you understand the amount of demand.
  • Look through content on your blog. For example, I run a website that helps other writers build their writing careers. Through emailing my audience and asking them what their problems are, I know that “finding clients” is a major issue. I also know I have loads of content on the blog that covers the topic, from using LinkedIn and Facebook to job boards and cold pitching. So, creating a pillar content that covers the topic broadly and links to those posts would make perfect sense.

Step 2: Research, outline and write

Researching, outlining and writing will be a lot quicker if you already have a lot of related content on your blog. In these instances, you may simply have to repurpose existing content, rewrite it and link to those related blog posts. On other occasions—where you have less content— the process may take much longer.

Regardless, when I create pillar content for a client, I find it’s best to start with a high-level outline and get feedback and direction on that outline before I start writing. This process ensures we’re both on the same page from the start and avoids unnecessary work later on.

Here are a few more pointers about writing and design:

  • Consider including a table of contents so readers can easily navigate the content. After all, some readers will only be interested in a specific piece of information that solves their problem
  • Add any definitions right at the beginning to help you get a Google featured snippet
  • Sprinkle LSI keywords throughout and include some of your cluster content keywords in the H2 heading for SEO purposes—yes I do suggest doing some keyword research, which also helps when creating cluster content
  • Don’t forget your design— this could be something as simple as updating a page through your CMS. Include images, tables, and graphs to break up text and to help with any explanation.

Once you’ve finished writing, included the internal links and made the final touches, it’s time to hit “publish.”

Don’t Forget to Update Your Page

Your pillar page doesn’t operate in isolation—it’s a central page linked to all related blog posts. So, as you do keyword research and create new cluster content, ensure you hard link to this content from your page. Also, keep your page fresh with any new relevant content that surfaces. Your readers and Google will love you for it!

5 Superb Examples of Pillar Pages

Below are some links to examples for needed inspiration:

You now have a solid understanding of pillar pages and how they can benefit your business: Not only do they establish you as a topic expert, but they improve site architecture, drive organic traffic and— when used correctly—act as a powerful lead magnet. You also know how to create one and where to find inspiration when you need it.

The only thing left to do is to tackle your first (or next) pillar page project…

…something I can help you with. Simply schedule a no-strings-attached call by clicking on the below button.

P.S. Think of the call as a brainstorming session where I share FREE ideas to help you grow your business. Ideas I give you full permission to “steal” (even if you choose not to move forward with your pillar content project).

P.P.S. As a B2B writer, I conceive, write and produce engaging website copy, blog posts, pillar content and lead magnets for technology companies. I’ve worked with big brands and companies including DocuWare, FreshBooks and TouchBistro and would love to work with you on your next project.

How Search Has Changed and What This Means for Your Content Strategy

How Search Has Changed and What This Means for Your Content Strategy

Remember the early days of searching for content? You’d type in a few basic keywords, such as “barber, Houston,” and Google would deliver results by deconstructing only these two keywords.

In these early days of inbound marketing (around 2006), content marketing strategies relied heavily on targeting these one or two phrase keywords. You probably recall how many companies engaged in keyword stuffing, a practice which Google has since clamped down on.

As time passed, content marketers found a better approach: They targeted long-tail keywords — those three and four-word phrases specific to what you’re selling.  While optimizing content for these longer phrases led to less organic traffic, conversions were higher as the traffic was more targeted.

By combining this practice with a content offer to capture this traffic, content marketers now had a magic formula they continued to use for many years to come.

But, Google and search behavior has evolved over the years, pointing to the need for a new formula and content playbook.

Changing Search Behaviour

According to Ahrefs, 64% of searches are now 4 words or more. Indeed, the words we now use to search for content are longer and more conversational than ever before.

A search for a barber in Houston, for example, now likely reads “I’m looking for the best barber in my area.” Several factors are driving this change:

  • Voice search is exploding, which naturally leads to more conversational search queries
  • The sheer volume of content means users have to become smarter and more specific in their queries to find what they’re looking for
  • Google has become increasingly better at delivering relevant search results


Google Has Become Smarter

The following three Google algorithm updates have all contributed to Google becoming more sophisticated:

  • Google Penguin, released on April 2012, sought to penalize websites that practiced keyword stuffing and deceptive link-building schemes and reward quality sites.
  • Google Hummingbird, rolled out on the 20th August 2013, aimed to better understand user intent by analyzing the contextual meaning behind keywords to give more relevant results. Google even began to understand synonyms better.  For example, if I search for the word “takkies,” which originates from South African Afrikaans and means “shoes” or “sneakers,” Google knows this and serves up the following:

  • Google RankBrain, introduced in October 2015 used machine learning to improve its understanding of user intent to deliver quality search results.


So, What Does This All Mean for Your Content Marketing Strategy?

Keywords will always remain relevant and you can and should optimize your content for specific keywords — while being aware of keyword stuffing, of course.

However, solely relying on keywords to inform your strategy is no longer effective as you’re missing out on traffic from those conversational search queries.

The better approach is to think about your content in terms of topics and embrace the topic-cluster model.

But, What Is the Topic Cluster Model?

Today most blogs still create individual blog posts to rank for specific keywords. As we’ve seen this leads to lost traffic from those longer search queries. There are, however, also other problems:

  • You end up with a messy site architecture with hundreds of blog posts
  • Readers find it difficult to find what they’re looking for
  • Blog posts end up competing for one another as it’s easy to create similar posts around the same topic

The topic cluster model solves all of these problems, while also establishing you as an authority in a specific topic.  The model, which consists of hyperlinks, cluster content and pillar pages is depicted below. Source: HubSpot, Inc. With this model, you select a broad content topic you want to rank for, create a piece of content that broadly covers the details of the topic on one page (known as a pillar page), and then link out to more detailed blog posts (cluster content) that focus on a specific keyword.

See how HubSpot does it with their pillar page on Instagram Marketing? They link out to individual blog posts such as “How to Build Your Brand With Instagram.”

The beauty of the topic cluster model, in addition to solving the problems of old site architecture, is that you also improve your SEO. For example, if a piece of cluster content, that’s linked to a pillar page, performs well, it’ll give that pillar page needed SEO juice.

The bottom line: With user search behavior changing to more conversational search queries and Google becoming smarter in delivering relevant search results, building content marketing strategies around keywords will no longer cut it. You need to plan and create your content around topics— not only to capture more traffic but also to improve site architecture.

How to Easily Find Evergreen Content Opportunities with These 2 Tools

How to Easily Find Evergreen Content Opportunities with These 2 Tools

Previously I mentioned how you could use surveys to get to know your audience better and identify evergreen content opportunities.

Today I wanted to share two tools that will make finding evergreen content a breeze: Ahrefs and BuzzSumo.

Disclaimer: I do have a BuzzSumo Pro account, but I am in no way affiliated to them. I just enjoy the product and believe it will add value to your content marketing efforts.


1. Use Ahrefs to Analyze Where Your Competition Is Getting Traffic From

use Ahrefs to find evergreen content

Ahrefs lets you monitor and research your competition’s traffic and backlinks. You simply put your competition’s URL into the tool, and it’ll tell you where they’re getting their traffic from.

If your competition is constantly getting search traffic for a specific keyword over time, it means people are still looking for that information and that the topic is still relevant and worth writing about.


2. Use BuzzSumo PLUS Their New Filter to Find Examples of Evergreen Content

With BuzzSumo you can analyze the best-performing content for a specific topic by looking at the number of shares and links. For example, after logging in, clicking the Content Analyzer tab and typing in the keyword “mobile marketing,” I get this:

BuzzSumo Content Analyzer to find evergreen content

Another feature is their Question Analyzer which lets you find the most popular questions for specific keywords. It’s a fantastic way to identify the kinds of questions your audience is asking for a specific topic. Here’s what I get for the topic, “cloud accounting”:

BuzzSumo Question Analyzer

There’s a total of 1,694 questions across 72 topics—all related to the main keyword cloud accounting. When I scroll down I can view all the questions per topic:

Questions per topic

Finally, BuzzSumo recently added a new filter which helps you find good examples of evergreen content by topic and domain.  You’ll see this filter next to every post on BuzzSumo.

BuzzSumo looks at the number of shares and links the articles receive over time. The tool then assigns an evergreen score—with a higher score indicating the post is more evergreen than others. Any article that’s less than 40 days olds gets a score of 0.


Find Evergreen Content Opportunities by Topic

Type in your chosen keyword or topic.  For example, the keyword “visual content marketing” gives me the following:

See how the evergreen content score is displayed on the right?


Finding Evergreen Opportunities by Topic

Follow the same process as the above, but instead of typing in a topic or keyword, type in a domain.

The BuzzSumo team admits the “approach is not perfect, but it provides another perspective in the search for effective content examples. Thus rather than sort by total shares or links, the evergreen filter shows the top posts that consistently gain shares and links over time.”

The Bottom Line: Finding evergreen content doesn’t have to take hours and hours of research. If you use the right tools, you can quickly find new topic ideas to write about that will generate traffic for years to come.

I’m curious, have you used these tools? How do you find evergreen content?

How to Use Surveys to Get to Know Your Audience Intimately

How to Use Surveys to Get to Know Your Audience Intimately

Are you struggling to create content that connects with your audience?

Has the sheer task of creating a content marketing strategy got you wondering: “Where do I even begin?”

Not sure how to identify evergreen content opportunities?

When it comes to content marketing success, your audience is critical. You likely already know this and have your buyer personas all mapped out. But, do you know your audience as intimately as you think?

Benefits of Getting to Know Your Audience Intimately

When you dig real deep. When you really get into your audience’s minds – their dreams, pains, struggles, fears and obstacles holding them back from achieving what they want – you’ll:

  • Create content that resonates and speaks to them, so that when they start reading your content, they’ll nod and think to themselves: “That’s me. This brand, this company, they totally get me.”
  • Build trust as they’ll view you as a company that cares
  • Kickstart your B2B content marketing on a solid foundation- yes, content marketing strategies start with your audience. I know there’s much more to creating a content marketing strategy, but defining and understanding your audience is the first step.
  • Generate a constant stream of content ideas and avoid the all-too-common scenario: “What should I write about?” Your audience, in effect, will do all the work for you, without you having to do hours of research.
  • Quickly and easily identify evergreen content opportunities – you know the material that always remains relevant and of interest to your readers, year in and year out?


But How Do You Get to Know Your Audience Better? 

You likely already have a good grasp of your target audience, but there’s always room to get to know them better. To help you do this, you could:

  • Scour the pages of Quora
  • Visit forums
  • Research social media
  • Analyze comments on your blog
  • Pay attention to when prospects reach out to you with a question

Perhaps a better approach, though, is to simply ask by creating and sending a simple survey. Indeed, this is exactly what I did when preparing to launch my newsletter.

I knew that my past experience working with content managers, content directors and marketing executives of B2B tech companies and learning about their challenges, wouldn’t be enough. That’s why I created a simple questionnaire in Google forms and sent it to my current and prospective clients (if you want to fill the survey out, follow this link). The questions I asked were:

1. What’s the biggest challenge you face in your role?

2. What are you short (3-6 months), medium (6-12 months) and long-term goals (12 months plus) in your role?

3. What are the biggest obstacles stopping you from achieving your goals? Please name some (three would be great, if possible).

4. What are your most burning question(s) about content marketing? You can have more than one question. Example: “Is there an ideal content length?”

5. What’s YOUR biggest challenge when it comes to the content marketing industry?

** Ramit Sethi’s copywriting course Call to ActionFieldboom, and Neil Patel provided inspiration for these questions.

The answers to these questions helped me understand your current content marketing challenges, where you want to be, and what’s holding you back. They’ve given me many different topic ideas to write about – which I’ll cover in upcoming newsletter editions.

More importantly, I have detailed insights into your world and the exact words you use to articulate your problems – words that I’ll inject into my copy so that it resonates with you.

And, because I understand that getting to know you will be an ongoing process, I will store this information in a document and update it over time. In this way, I’ll never run out of content ideas, ever again. By following a similar approach, you too can create a survey to learn more about your audience.

How to Create Your Survey

The key is to create questions that allow you to identify current pain points (challenges), goals/dreams (where they want to be), and the obstacles holding them back from achieving those goals.

You can use the questionnaire I created as a skeleton, adjust accordingly, and follow these tips:

Tip 1: Ask 3-5 questions. Keep it short so that it doesn’t take a lot of time to complete. The longer the questionnaire, the less likely it is that your audience will answer it.

Tip 2:  Tie the survey to a specific topic. For example, if you’re a cloud accounting provider targeting small service-based businesses, a short survey may look like this:

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you face as a small business owner?
  2. What are you short, medium and long-term goals?
  3. What are the biggest obstacles stopping you from achieving your goals? Please name some (three would be great, if possible).
  4. What are your most burning questions about cloud accounting? You can have more than one question. Example: “Is my accounting data secure in the cloud?”
  5. What’s YOUR biggest challenge when it comes to accounting?

Tip 3: Include examples next to the questions, so they know what level of detail you want.

Tip 4: Use Survey MonkeyPollfish or Google Forms to create your survey.

Tip 5: Put the survey on your website, send it via email, or do both.

Tip 6: Provide an incentive – such as an ebook or free report – to get customers to complete the survey.

Surveying your customers will help you identify that evergreen content we spoke about earlier.  For example, if many respondents highlight the same problems in the questionnaire, the chances are good that a blog post that solves this problem will become evergreen content.

Bottom line: Getting to know your audience is a superb way to improve your content and surveys will help you do exactly that. Have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below.

A Book That Will Help You Write Well

A Book That Will Help You Write Well

Day 33 – a book that will help you write well

It’s been a long day and I’m really tired. But I want to stick to my commitment of writing daily, even if it’s only a few sentences.

So, today I want to share a book that will improve your writing.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction by William Zinsser is a timeless gem that’s been around since 1979.

I’ll confess I haven’t read the entire book. But I did read a fair chunk of it when I started my freelance writing journey.

This book was what really introduced me to the art of writing well and more specifically the art of writing nonfiction. I took to this book because I’m a big fan of reading nonfiction.

A distinct memory that I have is how William presented the first draft of an article, and then ruthlessly edited it.

This is one of the things I enjoy most about writing, taking what you’ve written and stripping it to the core, deleting words, reconstructing sentences etc, and turning it into a masterpiece.

Writing is as much an art form as it is hard work. So, if you want to improve your writing, nonfiction writer or not I suggest giving this book a read.

There’s plenty of information, tips, and examples that will help you write better.

Anyways, that’s all for today. See you tomorrow.

Please contact me at nick (at) nickdarlington (dot) com

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