Once upon a time, it was believed that a good content strategy simply meant having good content. But before long, marketers began to notice something peculiar: Google wasn’t ranking their pages, let alone acknowledging their existence at all.
Even though one page may rank, others would not—and the vast majority of their site’s content would fade into irrelevance.
Then, in 2017, the first utterance of “pillar page” was heard. Today, pillar pages are foundational to many successful content and keyword plans. They provide a way to stay organized and to increase the likelihood that if one page ranks, “all ships rise.”
Below is a more detailed breakdown of how pillar pages work, and how you can start employing them in your strategy.
The blueprint: topic clusters
To understand pillar pages, you must first understand their relationship with topic clusters. The topic cluster model provides a framework for organizing your keywords and helping your team target them more efficiently.
Before topic clusters were a thing, bloggers and site owners would often target keywords in isolation. They’d publish a single article around a specific keyword, and work their way down a static list of disparate blog topics.
By contrast, the topic cluster model requires you to take these steps:
- Decide on several broad topics you want to rank for. For instance, if you manage a blog for an ERP, you may decide to write about project management (among other topics like customer relationship management and human resources).
- Research long-tail keywords (or subtopics) related to those topics. Taking the example from above, you may choose to write about “agile project management” and “project management methodologies” as part of a series of blogs on project management.
- Create and maintain a pillar page. Ultimately, you’ll want to build a pillar page that serves as the main node of this type of architecture. In this example, you could publish a post on “Project Management 101” that touches on agile project management and methodologies, but links out to those individual posts for readers to enjoy at their leisure.
Using the cluster topic approach, you should end up with something like this.
When done well, topic clusters will help you to avoid keyword cannibalization—that is, publishing multiple articles that all target the same keywords and compete with each other on SERPs.
The anatomy of a pillar page
From a user experience perspective, topic clusters and pillar pages enable you to more fully answer questions that your visitors may have. They make it easy for visitors to navigate through your various pages and discover related posts that dive deeper into the things that they’re interested in.
When building the pillar page itself, there’s no hard-and-fast rule about the page length (though marketers like to tout word count minimums and other SEO myths). That said, pillar pages do tend to be much longer than the average blog posts because they’re comprehensive and touch on various aspects of one topic.
Pillar pages often target broader, higher volume keywords, while their counterparts target relevant, long-tail keywords. From your pillar page, you’ll want to incorporate compelling copy and an easy-to-follow structure so that readers are motivated to click into your sub-articles.
Summary of benefits: why pillar pages are good for SEO
- Avoid keyword cannibalization. Have a clear way of plotting out blogs that are related but aren’t identical because they all link and work off each other.
- Increase engagement. Provides tons of relevant information in one place without creating a page that’s too dense, e.g., readers will be able to choose for themselves whether they want to dive deeper into a subtopic.
- Improve discoverability. Both readers and crawlers should be able to easily find your content because it’s so well organized and interlinked.
- Demonstrate topical authority. By having an abundance of in-depth, diverse content around your topic, you can better prove to Google that you’re a subject matter expert.
3 types of pillar pages (with examples)
There are a number of ways to format and leverage pillar pages. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing, complete with real-life examples.
1. The ultimate “how to” guide
This guide on the definition and implications of bankruptcy by Upsolve includes 10 sections, spanning “Important Terms” and “Property & Exemptions.” It’s formatted as a step-by-step guide for individuals who want to understand how, when, and why people file for personal bankruptcy.
This 101-type of guide is a common (and effective!) strategy among businesses looking to showcase their topical authority. It offers prime real estate for introducing important concepts and attracts readers who are ready to hunker down and dive deep into a topic.
Upsolve’s guide uses a clever mix of subheadings, tables, bulleted lists, and graphics to lead a reader down the whole page. While meaty, it doesn’t feel overbearing and gives readers the option to skip to the sections that they’re most interested in.
This pillar page links out to over 25 other Upsolve articles. But because of how naturally those links are incorporated, you may never even notice.
2. The glossary page (i.e., “What is___”)
Career Karma’s “What Is Coding” article is a good example of a glossary-like pillar page, which aims to be the reference-of-choice for new terminology. Like how-to content, this type of content is evergreen and retains its relevance for years at a time. Glossary-like articles tend to welcome many backlinks as well—people who stumble across this piece by Career Karma may choose to link out to the blog when writing or talking about coding for beginners.
This pillar page has dozens of links. And yet, Career Karma’s subtle way of highlighting links makes them non-intrusive. Moreover, this blog is well-suited for links to other blogs and other site pages, like Career Karma’s Bootcamp pages.
The page features several bulleted lists that help to break up the content, while providing a natural opportunity to link out to articles that expand upon each item.
3. The “best of” rollup
HubSpot’s blog on the 17 Best Sales Strategies, Plans, & Initiatives for Success serves as an enticing pillar page, centered on the root keyword “sales strategy.” From reading the headline, visitors already expect to receive a comprehensive list of ideas. Many of those visitors will likely click into related links as well because of their appetite to learn (and be the best at) modern sales strategies.
HubSpot does a particularly good job of drawing attention to sub-articles in a variety of ways. Outside of the normal hyperlink, the company includes more visually pleasing CTAs. HubSpot provides a library of resources all from one page, allowing readers to do everything from explore more blogs, download PDF versions of guides, and check out other related resources.
This article checks in at around 4,200 words. By comparison, Career Karma’s pillar page is around 3,000 words long, while Upsolve’s is close to 7,000 words long. The bottom line: write only as much as needed for your audience and topic. Blogs of varying length can be equally effective as long as they satiate your readers’ curiosity.
Increase content discoverability and rankings with pillar pages
Are you constantly spinning your wheels for topics or unsure of how your content is working together? If so, pillar pages should be on your radar. Avoid old, inefficient ways of producing content and give pillar pages a whirl. Chances are that a topic cluster approach, alongside pillar pages, will increase your SEO ROI while reducing duplicate efforts.