How To Develop a Pillar Content Strategy

Writer:
Catherine Lovering
Published: Jun 13, 2024
Table of Contents
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A primary objective behind content marketing is to increase search engine ranking and ultimately convert your audience to customers.

However, search engines are becoming increasingly fussy about what they put at the top of those search engine results pages (SERPs). They want content that not only addresses search intent in a general way but also has specific answers to a searcher’s explicit — and not-so-explicit — questions.

This has shifted the burden on content marketers to develop in-depth, meaningful, accurate, and specific content while somehow also covering a lot of ground. The ultimate objective is to cover the entirety of a broad topic through a series of inter-related content pieces.

It’s a delicate balance that can be challenging to navigate, but it’s at the heart of the pillar content strategy. Here's a closer look at what pillar content entails and how you can use this strategy to advance your content marketing. 

What Is a Content Pillar Strategy?

A pillar content marketing strategy is a content structure with a pillar page that covers all aspects of a broad topic. Linked to those SEO pillars are cluster pages which each address a subtopic of the pillar. 

Say you want to develop a pillar content marketing strategy for U.S. automobile makers. Your SEO pillar page would be a long-form piece that offers a comprehensive take on U.S. automobile makers, including:

  • Key players
  • Competitive history
  • Notable figures in the company

To capture all of the search engine traffic that’s interested in U.S. automobile makers, however, you won’t stop there — you’ll create a series of topic clusters for each above aspect of the pillar page. You might also have a cluster with content on Ford and another on General Motors. 

Interlinking these topic clusters and pillar pages with other content so your readers can easily go from one piece to another and delve deeply into the subtopics means you'll increase engagement and impress the search engines. 

The Importance of Creating a Content Strategy Around Pillars

Pillar content strategy has tremendous advantages for digital marketers. It goes beyond technical SEO to offer relevant content and educational information (two features Google tends to prefer) to support your content optimization efforts.

Pillar content is longer and more comprehensive, giving your website visitors evidence of your brand authority. Google recognizes well-developed pillar content as meaningful and valuable to readers, so it should give it a priority rank position over content that isn’t as comprehensive or in-depth.

4 Key Elements of a Successful Pillar Content Strategy

Now that you understand what a pillar content strategy is and why it’s necessary, you may be wondering how to create it. There are four key things you have to keep in mind — think of each of these like the ingredients for the recipe of pillar content. 

1. Pillar Pages and Their Types

Although you can develop pillar content for SEO around almost anything, there are three basic types of pillar pages. These are the structures upon which most pillar pages are based:

  • How-to: This is an instructional format. Think of long-form pieces like “How to Get into Medical School.” The pillar page content can offer step-by-step instructions while cluster pages dive deeper into each individual element. Imagine cluster pages like, “How to Ask Professors for Letters of Reference” and “How to Choose Courses to Prepare for Medical School.”
  • Guide: This is an overall guide for a topic. An example could be “Your Guide to Medical School Admissions.” The cluster topics could include listicles like “Tips for Your Medical School Application” or “MCAT Test-Taking Strategies.”
  • What is: This is a broad overview of a topic. It can be descriptive and include historical information. An example could be, “What is Medical School?” The pillar page might dive deeper into the history of medical schools in the U.S. as well as what classes of professionals receive training through U.S. medical schools. 

2. Cluster Pages and Their Purpose

Cluster pages offer readers additional resources when they want to dive deeper from a pillar page. A reader curious about getting into medical school might land on the pillar page, but they might have a particular concern about asking people for references. They can click through to this cluster page directly from the pillar to get the more detailed information they need.

Cluster pages offer added value and keep your readers on your website even longer. The process of interlinking between pages also benefits SEO, as links make it easier for search engines like Google to crawl your site.

3. Keyword Research for Content Creation 

As part of your pillar content strategy, you want to tailor your topic selection to keywords and phrases that resonate with your target audience. Conducting keyword research prior to developing outlines for content pieces can ensure you’re finding the right phrases to use that will help you connect with your potential customers.

Keyword research should look at:

4. Internal Links

A pillar cluster content strategy creates a wheel-and-spoke pattern, whereby the pillar articles sit in the middle and cluster pages surround it. Of course, the search engine algorithms can’t see those connections unless you link between pages. Internal linking from pillars of content to cluster pages and vice versa helps maintain these connections. 

6 Steps To Develop an Effective Content Pillar Strategy

Now that you have an idea of the different "ingredients" or elements, you are ready to start planning and executing your content pillar strategy. You can think of this like following a recipe for successful pillar content!

It involves thinking about who you want to reach with your content pillars, doing a bit of competitor analysis, and sketching out the connections you want to make between pieces.

1. Identify Content Pillar Topics Relevant to Your Target Audience

Your brand identity is already securely in place, so you know who your target audience is and what interests them. Spend some time with your team brainstorming around topics that will pique the curiosity of your preferred demographics. 

Remember: Not every person who visits your pillar and cluster pages will read all the content from beginning to end. They likely will read portions of the content and click through to get more details when they have specific questions or queries — or just want to know more. 

If you’re a consumer-facing brand that relies on e-commerce, you might want to develop content around your key product offerings. Say you have an innovative baby carrier that provides added safety and particularly want to reach first-time parents. Your pillar content might surround broad topics that interest new moms and dads, like feeding and getting the baby to sleep — not simply what baby carrier might be the right choice. 

2. Ideate Sub-Topics for Your Cluster Pages by Pillar

Once you have a pillar topic page, you can start to brainstorm topics. Say your pillar content page is “A Guide for New Parents.” You and your team can dive into more specific subtopics with blog posts like “What to Expect at Your First Doctor’s Visit” and “8 Tips for Choosing the Best Baby Blanket.” 

Although some of these topics might be too broad for even a pillar content strategy, remember that it’s possible and even advisable to create cluster pages on clusters. In this instance, each cluster page that’s linked to the main pillar might have its own cluster of even further subtopics. 

3. Analyze Your Competitors To Find Content Gaps

As part of planning your pillar content marketing strategy, you should consider evaluating what your competitors are and are not doing. There are likely relevant pillar topics they are not addressing in their own digital marketing. This is an opportunity for you to fill that gap with your own content, in the process driving more traffic toward your site.

It’s true that content gaps might not always be obvious. You might have to perform some comprehensive research for topics that interest your target audience and then compare those topics to what the competition is addressing. Sometimes a niche topic can drive enough qualified traffic to your site to give you a high return on investment (ROI) on your pillar strategy.

4. Conduct Keyword Research To Identify Keyword Opportunities

Comprehensive research starts with looking for keywords. These are not mere ideas that you come up with on your own. Rather, these are phrases and queries your customers are already putting into Google. These keywords represent what your customers already want to know about, and it should be in your interest to address those areas of interest.

Of course, because you can find the words and phrases that your customers are keying into the search engines, it goes without saying that your competition also knows what they want to hear. This is where competitor keyword research comes in. This involves not just looking at keywords but also using competitive intelligence to establish which terms your competition has yet to rank for. This is a prime opportunity for you to establish yourself as a leader first for those keywords and boost search volume. 

5. Map Out Your Internal Linking Structure

Once you have your keywords, topic ideas, and page ideas, you can draw a sketch of your internal linking structure.

This is a map of what cluster pages you want to link to which pillar pages. It should offer you a clear idea of how you can connect ideas and areas of interest not only for those who write your content for you, but also for your potential customers who read the content when it’s complete.

6. Create a Content Distribution and Promotion Plan

The final stage is getting your pillar content out in the world. While there’s a temptation to simply post the content and leave it alone, it's a better strategy to analyze the respective pros and cons of various content distribution channels.

Evaluate the most effective channels to share content and get in front of your target audience.

Different parts of a content distribution and promotion plan can include:

  • A content calendar: Outline what pieces of content to post and when.
  • Social media channels to target: Where will you reach your primary audience? Consider what platforms will be most effective.
  • Direct reach: Leverage e-mail, newsletters, and other direct channels where you're already connected with your target audience to share content that might interest them.

Be sure to analyze content performance, and note what works and where you can improve going forward.

Build an SEO-Oriented Content Strategy With Compose.ly

An SEO-oriented content strategy is the key to connect with your target audience, nurture leads, and ultimately grow your brand. Having that pillar strategy is a critical element to build content — just as you'd need to have all the necessary ingredients in a recipe!

However, figuring out how to create that recipe on your own can be much more overwhelming than following a recipe with tips from an expert. Luckily, you don't have to do your content alone!

An agency like Compose.ly with experts versed in all the pillar page best practices can guide you and your brand through the SEO strategy process to create content plan that works for you. We'll give you all those necessary ingredients, instructions, and more to make a successful strategy!

Learn more  about how our SEO services can improve your content.

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