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What Are Content Pillars? Why Do We Need Them For SEO?

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SEO is ever-changing, and trying to master it can feel like chasing your tail. You know adapting to the latest trends and search engine updates will help you stay competitive and rank in search, but how do you prioritize? One aspect we know remains the same when it comes to SEO – search engines reward authoritative and trustworthy websites that provide valuable content to their visitors.

Content marketing has long been a driver of organic search traffic with various strategies going in and out of fashion. And for the last several years, content pillars have the spotlight. But is it worth it? Does your company need to invest time and resources into making content pillars now? The real question should be, do you want to efficiently optimize your content, drive more traffic, convert more visitors to leads, and convert more leads to customers? If the answer is yes, then you should implement content pillars into your SEO strategy.

What is a Content Pillar?

Before we get into how content pillars work and why they matter, let’s review the main components of content pillars. Let’s pretend you’re the owner of a pet shop, and you’re looking to drive more traffic to your website to increase the number of pet-loving visitors to your website by writing a new pillar.

  • Pillar Page: A pillar page is like a very long blog article. Think of it as a comprehensive overview of a topic hosted on a single web page (longer than a regular blog) that you link out to other similar blogs that support this topic. For example, if your pillar page is about ‘Adopting A Cat’ you might include useful information about cat adoption, ranging from feeding, playing, and creating a healthy environment for cats. This page should also hyperlink to useful content, especially to any other blogs that you (the pet store owner) have already written supporting this topic.
  • Subtopic/Cluster Content: By now, you’ll likely have a good idea of the past, more specific blogs you’ve written that might fit under this larger umbrella topic. These are your “cluster content.” For example, your topics might include – ‘What are the best cat food brands?’ ‘Games to Play with My Cat’ and ‘Introducing my Old Cat to my New Cat.’ Google will start to recognize your pillar page when you go back into those past blogs you’ve written and make sure they link back to your new pillar. 
  • Topic Cluster: Your “topic cluster” simply refers to the overall SEO strategy/model that contains both the new pillar “Adopting A Cat’ and all those other blogs (the cluster content) which are now hyperlinked and working together!

 

The topic cluster model is a strategy in response to Google’s algorithm getting better at understanding the context behind people’s search queries. Search engines are getting so savvy that they’re able to help us find what we’re looking for on a contextual level–offering semantically-related content.  For example, if you want to search for “sustainable clothing”, Google will show you results for other related search terms, such as “eco-friendly clothing”, “environmentally-friendly clothing”, “clothing made from recycled materials”, “secondhand marketplace for clothes” or “sustainable clothing brands”. These are all examples of potential subtopics for a “sustainable clothing” pillar. 

The idea for the topic cluster model is to choose a broad topic that you want your business to establish itself as an authority for–while keeping search volume in mind. This broad topic becomes your pillar topic, and once you’ve created your pillar page, the next step is to create subtopic blogs (or cluster content) and hyperlink them to the pillar. The key is to focus on owning topics instead of cranking out keyword-driven content without any architectural strategy. Writing blogs on a keyword-to-keyword basis can cause content cannibalization and may not include any hyperlinks to supporting content.

Subtopics are critical to the overall success of a pillar page and topic cluster strategy because more people are using conversational and long-tail search queries. This is partially in response to an increase in voice search. According to a study done by eMarketer, about 40% of the US population uses voice search. There are billions of website pages out there with endless ways to search for the same thing and search engines are constantly evolving and getting better at sifting through a plethora of content to deliver the best result. 

Why Do Topic Clusters Matter?

The topic cluster model is a deliberate site architecture that organizes URLs together in one category through hyperlinks, making it easier for Google to crawl. This architecture helps all of the pages in your topic cluster rank in search engines, and it also offers a better user experience for readers.

Below is an example of a topic cluster built in the HubSpot’s SEO tool. The pillar page (middle) is on “video production” with hyperlinks (green line) to and from various cluster content.

Example of a content pillar for video production

Pro Tip: Another way you can utilize a content pillar is by converting it into a downloadable asset to help nurture leads down the sales funnel.

Is a Topic Cluster Model Right for You?

Before jumping into the topic cluster approach and building out pillars, you should ask yourself a few questions to make sure it makes sense for your business.

  • Is your goal to drive more organic traffic?
  • Do the pillar topics you want to focus on perform well? And can you expand on different aspects of the topic in detail?
  • Do you have existing content you can build off of or would you have to start from scratch?

Whether you’re just starting to build out a content marketing strategy or you’re trying to improve on an existing one, start with determining the topics you want your business to be known for and build a cluster of subtopics to support them.

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