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Creating SEO-Focused Pillar Pages
How do you cut through all the noise and get on to Google’s front page?
Any written content, whether it’s new product pages, blogs, guides, or whitepapers, have the potential to improve your ranking and drive traffic.
But will it work?
In terms of net new visitors, typically, no.
The reality is that most website pages get little to no traffic from Google.
It can be a monumental task to rank highly for competitive terms against industry titans or highly optimized sites.
Even your most impressive blog content could be lost amidst a sea of similar work.
So, what can you do to stay competitive?
Also known as power pages or skyscraper content; well-structured and thoroughly researched pillar pages give you the opportunity to make use of your strongest content.
With these, you stand a fighting chance on even the most competitive keywords and phrases.
You may be thinking
Great questions, let’s discuss:
Regardless of how robust and valuable your content is, pillars can elevate your work even higher. Today, it’s sometimes the only way to get on page one.
That’s not to say that blogs are useless.
The two types of content can reinforce each other through internal linking.
This allows pillar page readers the chance to break out into more focused content on related blogs or product pages, and blog readers to get more context by going to the pillar.
Finally, one of the biggest differences between blogs are pillar pages are the length of the content. Blogs are recommended to be around 800-1,500 words, but pillar content can reach upwards of 1,500-4,000 words.
So, why are pillars so much longer than blogs?
Is it because Google prefers longer form content?
Many SEO pro’s would say yes! But the real answer is… not exactly!
The value of increased word count itself is a hotly debated topic in SEO.
Google’s John Mueller himself has gone on record to say it is NOT a ranking factor.
However, longer content does correlate with rankings, and for good reason.
A 2020 study by Backlinko showed the average length of content for pages appearing on page one is 1,447 words and was fairly evenly distributed across all pages.
That said, there are really four critical factors that cannot be ignored, and content length is more a byproduct of successfully hitting them.
Pillar Pages that rank highly and drive traffic typically have more backlinks than other similar pages, have higher content quality, and exist on stronger domains.
The final aspect, E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trust) is typically more relevant to Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages, but it’s great practice to consider this as well.
So there are really four key components that make great pillar pages rank highly on Google:
Let’s look into each of these parts in some detail:
While it’s notoriously difficult to gain third-party links to your pages, it’s quite easy to gain internal links to your pillar page.
Placing your pillar pages in your navigation will automatically create a link from every page in your site.
A large number of internal links to your pillar page increases the link count and helps Google understand it’s an important page on your website. You can (and should) go further by reviewing all your on-site content to place relevant links to and from your pillar.
Provided you have decent domain authority, a solid internal linking strategy may well be enough to get your page ranking.
Plus, a well-written and thoroughly researched pillar page is more likely to generate more backlinks naturally.
Quality SEO writing can take many forms, depending on your intent.
For great pillar pages, you’ll want to stick as closely to the search intent of your user as possible.
You want the content to be high quality, well written, easy to read, and be well formatted. It’s not just about a large word count, the words have to add value.
Is length at odds with quality? While it’s true that many pillars have high word counts, upwards of 3,000+, it should only be because it’s covering the topic thoroughly.
Even so, that’s a lot of reading!
The trick is to keep your reader engaged throughout your piece:
Many SEO-driven pillar pages fall far short in this regard. Learn more about this in the writing and design section, below.
Pillars tend to be longer because they take a deep dive into the subject, discussing all aspects of the subject from all the angles.
Longer form content like this allows you to prove relevance and “answer the query”.
The pillar is intended to provide the information and answers people are looking for.
And while word count itself may not be a ranking factor, relevance is proven to be one. (Source: aHrefs).
What the heck is E-A-T?
This actually came from a 178 page search quality rater guideline document report, internal to google, which was leaked in 2015 and later confirmed by Google as real.
Basically, Google had a small army of real people evaluating search results to help train the algorithm to surface quality, relevant content. This was especially focused on YMYL content, or content that was related to “your money” (financial advice) or “your life” (medical advice).
The lessons from this are applicable to any content, however.
Ensuring your content has the elements of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness can make the difference between a user reading your entire pillar page, or discarding it immediately.
In short, you need to prove that you know what you’re talking about, and that what you’re saying is true.
Providing verifiable information, such as facts and statistics, is one way to handle it. This method is further improved using visual aids like graphs and charts, which can help to simplify complex data.
Any relevant qualifications or credentials that you have can also boost your E-A-T. For example, if you have any author information on the page, it wouldn’t hurt to specify that they’re an expert with years of experience, and are well regarded in their field.
Finally, be sure to cite all of your sources accurately, as nothing destroys credibility like plagiarism. Pillars should primarily be unique content anyway, but great sourcing on stats and other info will go a long way towards building your authority.
Particularly in informational type queries, searchers want… information. Google expects the same.
Following nicely from our discussion on Depth, your pillar page will go into “depth” about the topic, covering all the angles and naturally hitting all the related concepts to your chosen keyword or topic.
The result of this, is:
Therefore, even though you may not rank on page one for your target keyword, you get traffic from many related, long-tail (very specific) keyword searches that your article has the information on.
If it’s truly unique and provides value and expert insight; you, and your visitors win.
Why else does it work?
Google processes over 3.2 BILLION searches every day
And the crazy part is, 15-18% of those searches have either never been seen by Google before, or have not been searched in the last 90 days. (Source: blog.Google.com)
So, if over 15% of searches have never been searched before, how do you optimize for things that don’t yet exist?
How does Google determine which pages to show for those unique searches?
Well, it pulls up the most informative, relevant piece of content for that specific search, of course.
So you are not optimizing for a single keyword.
You are optimizing for a cluster of related keywords, even keywords that haven’t been searched before.
The underlying principle of pillar pages is the utilization of Keyword Clusters. These are groups of keywords and phrases that all relate to one another.
A long-form pillar page should be targeted at a cluster of related keywords.
Getting your pages to rank with keyword clusters is much easier, as you can look for patterns and trends within the subject’s cluster, and even strategize your content around the different keywords.
Pillar pages are very flexible in terms of format. Depending on your goal, certain styles may cater better to your content. As each one has certain advantages, it’s best to familiarize yourself with all of them, so you can apply them as needed.
We’ve compiled a short list of the most prominent and effective types of pillar pages, and provided a short description of each.
The pillar page types we’ll be looking at include:
This pillar type is named because it should be 10x better than any competing piece on that subject.
Boxcast’s Church Live Streaming pillar page covers every facet of the subject, while providing jumping off points for more specific content
That means that your user experience and your search engine optimizations need to be top notch, with robust content that addresses and answers questions without losing the reader’s interest.
Adding unique insights can be very helpful, as new and relevant content will allow you to rank higher.
These are highly detailed pages covering the ins and outs of your product/service. These pages should answer any question or concern your user may have, presenting your business as an authoritative and reliable source of information on your subject.
ClassReach’s School Management Software page has detailed descriptions of what they offer, and why that sets them apart from the competition.
These pages are especially effective during the decision-making portion of the buying process, as key features may make the difference between you being chosen or a competitor.
While this style of pillar page is similar to the 10x content types, these are usually geared towards entry level users with little experience or knowledge of the subject.
Tailscale uses simple, easily followed language, and includes a visual aid
These feature broad, comprehensive descriptions of your topic, with a focus on catching queries.
Introducing new concepts and teaching the reader may be difficult if the subject is overly technical, so consider creating blog content to handle the tough stuff in a more digestible manner.
Visual aids are strongly recommended for these types of pages. Assets like graphs, diagrams and other images will liven up your page and provide clarity.
“How-to” pillar pages are great at establishing your business as thought leaders and figures of authority.
Deposco’s how to buy WMS software page examines and provides some of the most crucial considerations
Typically used for tutorials, how-to pillar type benefits heavily from non-written media being used to support it. Offering audible or visual demonstrations in your content will appeal to a huge variety of users, as some may not yet be familiar with your product/service.
Helping users to actually use your product/service will help them to feel empowered, and it presents a great opportunity to suggest subsequent resources to continue learning more.
Subtopic pillar pages are very similar to the 10x types we discussed above, except they go deep into a narrower area of a broader topic.
In some cases, it’s possible to write tens of thousands of words on a topic to cover it thoroughly. In these cases it makes sense to create an overview pillar page which then links to a number of sub-topic pillar pages
Since these pillars are more diverse and disconnected from your main subject (though not entirely disconnected!), you can publish a huge variety of these pieces without overlapping or cannibalizing keywords and concepts.
As they are narrower to your main subject matter, these pages should still be high in the site navigation, but take a subordinate role to more focused pillar pages.
The success of your pillar page depends on the research and data you gather before you’ve even written a single word.
Developing your content strategy
If you don’t already have a content strategy in place, now is the time to get started! At this stage, you’ll be identifying what topics are your priority, and whether you have enough regular blog material to support your pillar page.
Some competitor research can also go a long way to helping you craft a successful strategy.
What’s on page 1 of Google? What are the top searches around this subject? Do your users have certain preferences in their written content?
Keep in mind though, there is no one-size-fits-all content strategy, so you’ll still need to find ways to stand out.
Conduct a content audit
The best way to do this is to conduct a content audit in order to determine the quality of your assets. This will give you insight into the overall condition of your editorial library; how it ranks, what the readability is like, average word count, and more.
With this information, you can organize, prioritize, and rank your content, in order to give you an editorial schedule, as well as laying down critical groundwork for your content strategy.
With your content strategy set, and your audit complete, you should have a figurative roadmap to success. That is, your audit will inform you on which areas of your content strategy are weakest or non-existent, and which are performing well.
You can then use this information to conduct content optimizations to bring old works up to current standards. We’ll look at this in more detail later on down the page.
As discussed above, pillar pages should be used to promote competitive, high value keywords, and so you need to make sure that you’re using the very best terms and phrases to set the tone of your piece.
You can analyze your PPC data, and also use your own intuition to determine your high priority concepts, based on your own brand authority compared to competitors.
The insights gained from proper research and data interpretation are invaluable, as they will inform you on the best ways to attract your ideal customer, and stand out compared to competitors using the highest ranking keywords and concepts.
Getting those top keywords into your piece will, alongside great links and unique content, give it the much needed SEO boost to rank against the best pieces in the industry.
There are plenty of tools available to help you analyze and interpret the data of your SEO endeavors. We’ve compiled a short list to give you an idea of what each type does, using some of the best providers in the industry.
This is not just a keyword research tool, but a great all-around tool for SEO and even advertising research. Keyword rankings, content templates, backlink analytics and more.
[SEMRush is one of the best keyword tools available]
aHrefs provides many similar features as aHrefs, and includes data from search engines other than Google.
Both SEMRush and aHrefs are both excellent tools for keyword research.
Google Search Console
This isn’t so much a keyword research tool as a great tool for optimization since it includes so much information about your site that only Google knows
Google Search Console can track impressions by page, average position, and more
By looking at impressions by page, you can see actual search volumes for keywords which your page is appearing in the top 10 pages of results.
This gives you ideas for keywords you can use in your content to bring it up to page one and get additional traffic.
Content Harmony is a great tool to get the ball rolling on your content production. After inputting keywords or phrases, users can generate detailed reports on top ranking keywords, competitors, and more.
Content harmony brief tool extracts information from related pages to give you a great guide and starting point
Content Harmony allows you to analyze the headline structure of other pieces. This allows users to pick and choose specific H1s, H2s, or H3s, and create a mock-up of their own outline using these top choices.
SemRUSH also provides content templates to get your outline started
The SEO industry is abuzz with rumors of an AI revolution.
With recent technological advancements, artificial intelligence programs have been trained on billions upon billions of different novels, documents, ads, and more. This had given them the uncanny ability to produce actual copy.
The pieces written are still identifiable to the trained eye, but many have already been fooled by AI chatbots pretending to be real people.
Fooling a casual internet goer is one thing, but pulling the wool over the eyes of search engine titans is another matter entirely.
The technology is still developing, and while the future is still uncertain, we do have a good idea of how these chat bots are currently reshaping the SEO content landscape.
Jasper (formerly Jarvis) is designed specifically with writers in mind. As such, it can be a great help to get over a slump of writer’s block, or to finish a piece in time for a tight deadline.
Unfortunately, the program struggles to produce long-form content, and often produces suggestions that are generic or weak in opinion, not ideal for SEO.
The intention behind Jarvis is that you allow it to help you along, but then a human editor is responsible for restructuring that content, and turning it into something that ranks.
OpenAI made serious waves when it debuted publicly in 2022.
Boasting unprecedented sophistication and adaptability, OpenAI’s ChatGPT had everyone from SEO managers to highschool teachers tugging their collars nervously as they considered the headache of sorting through real and AI-generated content.
While the rise of Skynet still seems to be far off on the horizon, ChatGPT does have some very real and present implications for SEO writers.
For now, the program still faces many of the same challenges as other AI chatbots, such as overly generic and weak opinions, as well as ultimately still relying on existing content to function.
That being said, OpenAI provides much richer content than competitors, frequently producing work that boasts high word counts, high relevance, and with the functionality to tweak the prompt slightly to get a better result.
While it is by no means a silver bullet, it is certainly a tool that every SEO writer and manager should keep an eye on.
The importance of a content brief to your pillar page can’t be overstated.
High quality briefs will provide context, examples, and editorial intent so that the piece can be as close to the concept as possible, with as much valuable and unique information as you can gather.
Briefs can vary drastically from one organization to the next, so make sure you know the format and parlance your team uses. It’s a great idea to create templates in order to address all the major and recurring concerns, as well as establishing a familiar and repeatable workflow for your writers.
As briefs can be so different, you can apply the previous research and drafting tools in order to construct your content brief.
Remember, one of the keys to a successful pillar page that both ranks and gets read is the quality or engagement of the piece.
So, how do you do it?
Well, you’re experiencing one technique at this very moment. Transitional language can keep the pace of your piece flowing without hitting your audience with a wall of text.
Frequent line breaks can help readers keep their place, and the extra space makes it more accessible to readers with poor vision.
Another important method is to vary the cadence of your writing. This means changing the length of your sentences and paragraphs between long and drawn out, to short and sweet. Like this. Or even a single word. See?
Copyblogger does a great job explaining this technique in their article; “51 Smart tips for better writing“
Remember; as good as your content may be, no one is reading it for leisure. They came to your page for specific information, to resolve a problem, or to learn more about your business.
Stay focused on providing the knowledge they seek, and they will start to see you as a reputable and trusted source.
Once you have all the relevant information gathered, it’s time to put it to action.
Writing your pillar page is very similar to writing a blog, you just put a little more elbow grease into the effort.
Ideally, you have blogs to support each section of your pillar page, and so you can summarize or paraphrase those more detailed facets, and provide links for users that want to take a deeper dive.
Keep in mind that your pillar is still one continuous piece, so it should have some narrative structure for the reader to follow, especially longer pillars like 10x, which may need to introduce core concepts before discussing more complicated features.
Pillar pages are already SEO juggernauts, but with a little fine-tuning, they can be even more effective. SEO best practices such as using high value keywords in the title and H1, and anchor text are just one easy example.
You can reinforce this by using keywords in your:
After you’ve used all your top-ranking keywords, you can still get mileage out of them by utilizing related keywords.
These are synonyms or similar phrases that revolve around the same core concept as your subject, but with a spin to catch a wider group of queries. These should be used organically, as cramming them in can hurt your authority.
Images, graphics, and any alt text should be formatted to further boost your page. This can be done by resizing for better visibility, whether that’s making it larger or smaller, renaming your image and alt text (bonus points if you use keywords for this).
You can also set your page to prioritize some images over others, with what is called “lazy loading”. This enables your page to deliver the most important information immediately, and in the best available quality, while less crucial images are loaded afterward.
Linking should be done meticulously, with each internal link placed where it will generate the most value.
Linking OUT to other content on your site
While pillar pages can be very comprehensive, they aren’t meant to be a complete one-stop for your users. It makes sense to provide lots of jumping points to other content on your site.
This can be assisted by using clear, descriptive anchor text (bonus points for keyword insertion) so your readers (and Google) know exactly what kind of content you are providing.
It can be easy to get carried away and start cramming internal links into your content. However, this leads to a disorganized and confusing presentation of information.
Ultimately; Your keyword insertion and linking should be surgical, with each use being chosen to affect the maximum benefit.
Linking IN to your pillar page
It helps tremendously to have your pillar pages linked in your header navigation or footer, as these will appear on all pages of your website, increasing its visibility and accessibility.
Rather than strictly writing new content to use for your pillars, you can refurbish old assets, expand upon them, and republish them.
This yields some immediate benefits:
The name pillar page is entirely appropriate for what it does with your content.
If content hubs are the foundation upon which all your content stands, pillar pages act as the support columns and cornerstones that prop it all up.
Strongly researched, comprehensively linked, uniquely written pillar content will always outperform generic, brief blogs of the same subject. Utilizing pillar pages allows you to take advantage of advanced SEO techniques like topic clusters and search intent, as well as position your content in a way that maximizes the benefits to both the user and search engine.
If you’re serious about taking your business to page #1, a content strategy emphasizing SEO-focused pillar content is one of the best ways to do it.
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