The author’s views are entirely his or her own (with the exception of the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
With so much content online, search engines like Google try to read everything and categorize it correctly. While keyword research and relevant content are still important, your authority on a subject is increasingly being called into question.
The users themselves have started to use longer queries. In fact, 29.13% of keywords with 10,001+ monthly searches are made up of three or more words. With the increase in conversational search intent, pillar page strategies have emerged to meet those searches. By providing roof-like content, pillar pages and topic clusters enable easy categorization and a clear indication of authority.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Like everything in SEO, pillar page strategies take time and planning to get right. Let’s break down this process.
What is a pillarpage?
A pillar page is a long piece of content like a guide or white paper that serves as the basis for topic clusters on a specific topic. It provides basic information on a specific topic with links to cluster pages that delve deeper into a specific aspect of that topic.
Pillar pages should be thorough in their explanation and boxed as content at the initial stage. The cluster pages pointed to by the pillar page should also point to the pillar page. (Check out this quick Hubspot guide for some great visualizations.)
What is a cluster site?
Now that we understand the structure of a pillar page, we can better understand cluster content. When choosing a topic for your pillar page, you decide which specific keywords within that topic you want to rank for. Each keyword is then given its own dedicated page. This dedicated page is a “cluster page”.
Cluster pages can be a blog, a whitepaper, or a solution page – really any content can serve as part of the cluster. Since all cluster pages have the same theme, it should be fairly easy to link to other related cluster pages as well as the main column page. This strategy not only organizes your content library in a cohesive manner, it also creates broader search engine authority.
How to choose a pillar page theme
Choosing the right theme for your pillar page is an essential factor in the success of the strategy. Keywords are still essential in SEO, but topic targeting is becoming increasingly important as search engines have updated their algorithms. Search engines reward content organized by topic, not keywords.
Here are the top steps you need to take to choose a successful pillar page theme.
1. Choose a relevant solution
This may seem obvious, but it cannot be emphasized enough. Some SEOs stick with the search for the right keywords for so long that they forget the big picture. Similar to keyword research, think about solutions and topics for which your product is suitable.
This is where the buyer persona comes into play. What is your buyer looking for and what questions may they have on their way?
Once you have a list of possible options, choose a topic that is wide enough to allow you to create “cluster pages”. A query that is only answered with “Yes” or “No” is not suitable for this strategy.
For example, “What is communication?” Is too broad a topic and “Communication between an employee and a boss” is too specific. The question “What is effective communication in the workplace? is wide enough to write a long piece of content, but also offers opportunities to refer to other areas of workplace communication that are more specific.
2. Analyze the SERP
We often forget how helpful the SERP can be in identifying related queries. Enter the subject of your pillar page in the search bar and review the results.
What kind of questions are asked in People Also Ask? Is there a featured snippet? Are there targeted ads on related topics? These are all good indicators that you have chosen the right topic. If your pillar page topic doesn’t have any of these topics, maybe it is better to serve as a cluster page, or maybe it isn’t the topic for you at all.
People-Also Ask queries can also be helpful for your pillar page structure. Would it make sense to answer these questions on your pillar page as H2s or H3s? Do you answer this question on one of your cluster pages? Search engines often give us the answer to our own questions, especially when it comes to related topics.
3. Rate your content
Reviewing your content can seem like a daunting task, but it is vital in the pillar side’s strategy process. It’s difficult to start writing new content without knowing what content you already have – you don’t want duplicate content to compete with itself.
Sort your existing content by topic. From there, you can identify similar pages. Can you re-prioritize existing content to align with this strategy? Can you combine two contents? At the end of your content audit, you should be able to identify your content gaps.
This is where new content comes into play. This process also eliminates duplicate content, preparing reorganizing your content library for the best results. A Google Sheet with your library is a safe and easy way to map this content.
For the pillar page strategy itself, I recommend a Google Sheet with tabs for existing content that needs to be optimized, new content that needs to be written, the structure of the pillar page and current rankings.
Here is an example of how I sort my overview tab by content on a particular pillar page topic:
What are the benefits of a pillar page strategy?
This may seem like a lot of work, which begs the question, is a pillar page strategy really worth it? The short answer is yes.
Pillar page strategies force you to look at the buyer personas in your industry. If you combine these with topic clusters, you answer top-of-funnel queries like “What is?”, Mid-funnel queries like “Advantages of” and bottom-funnel queries like “The best of”. Not only do you create content that search engines find relevant, but you also create content for every phase of the customer journey.
This way, your users can easily walk through the sales funnel and fill in any gaps in your sales process. This strategy can couple the creation of content to sales, which is becoming increasingly important in the B2B sector.
In addition to the clean up you get from the content audit, your website should also experience legitimate SEO benefits. When I implemented my strategy there was a clear sign that it was working. This strategy was implemented in mid-February 2021. Both the impressions and the clicks increased drastically and continued to increase in the spring:
Building a pillar page strategy doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow these simple steps:
Use your buyer persona to identify solutions that you can easily write different content about.
Analyze the SERP to understand what questions are being asked and what content is being written on your chosen topic.
Review your content for gaps and optimization opportunities so your team can easily group related content and identify duplicate content.
Pillar pages are critical to your overall content strategy. By identifying the topics your business has solutions for, you can create long pieces of content that answer all of the questions on the buyer’s journey while improving keyword ranking and domain authority.