What Is Pillar Content and Can It Really Get Me on the First Page of Google?

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Ah, the highly-ranked Google page, the source of more eyeballs, clicks, comments, and presumably growth for your business. Businesses and marketers covet that top spot, but the best SEO strategies for getting there can be hard to keep up with. Some strategies eat up your time, with tiny returns. We’re here to help you avoid those rabbit holes and get the basics down, starting with this overview of pillar content and how it’s helping businesses conquer their goals for heightened visibility.

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Fill me in. What is pillar content?

Content strategy can be finicky to nail down depending on your brand and business intent. It will, inevitably, vary depending on your precise vision, goals, and target audience. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few staples of wisdom all marketers can absorb. Getting the core concept of pillar content down — and figuring out how to produce and sustain it — is one of them.

Pillar content does what its name suggests. It supports your overall content strategy, and without it, the entire architecture of your SEO and content efforts won’t be as structurally sound.

Specifically, pillar content is one substantial piece of content written about a specific topic that can be broken down to inspire  many shorter pieces of content. It is chock full of info your target audience is searching for, and it covers the topic at hand comprehensively. The word count is usually 1,500-2,000 words, and the pillar page will broadly cover a subject, but with the extra special sauce that’s made up of your brand’s unique point of view and insights.

While pillar content can be in-depth, it’s important to remember that it won’t cover every single aspect of this topic that can be written from now through eternity. It’s an overview, which means the pillar post should build opportunities that leave room for more in-depth articles to be written about separately.

The beauty and genius behind pillar content is that when any subsequent pieces of content (often referred to as topic cluster content) are written, they should always link back to the original pillar page. By doing so, if a linked post receives high engagement or is deemed ultra-worthy and highly-ranked by Google, the pillar page gets a boost as well, along with other linked content.  

Aside from being a great organizational tool that helps readers understand what your business is and how it can help them, pillar content is great for SEO and penetrating Google’s algorithm. The everchanging G algorithm currently favors topic-based content, which makes pillar posts essential for high search engine results page rankings. More internal links also equal higher SERP rankings. Think about that. Over time your pillar pieces will likely be some of the highest ranked on your site, and if done with pizzazz and diligence, you can expect higher web traffic and increased leads as a result.

This sounds like the Cornerstone Content I’ve been writing since 2007

As a marketing guru, you might be tempted to tell me at this point that this seems crazy similar to “Cornerstone” content. They are similar in that both are authoritative pieces of content looking to inform. The difference is in the positioning. Cornerstone content is typically gated, meaning that people are asked to fill out a form before they can access it. The goal is to provide valuable content that people are willing to give up personal information for (i.e. their name, email address). In the process you the business are able to capture new leads.

Pillar content puts it all out there. So yes, you’re offering up some of your best stuff for free, but the end result is more traffic and authority for your site. Not to mention, you’re still warming up leads by positioning yourself as an expert on a particular subject. Pillar pages can also include forms and links to other resources, letting you capture leads here, too.

Got it, and I’m feeling the pressure. How do I go about creating these epic content pillars?

Deciding what your pillar content will focus on is very close to deciding what your brand or business will focus on. Think about your target audience. What are they thinking about or concerned with? Then write about those critical business topics. You are the expert, afterall. Pillar content showcases your mastery of a particular subject area or field, which both search engines and potential prospects will pick up on.

Because pillar content is an in-depth look at a topic, you’re anticipating your readers’ next questions and keeping them on your page longer. Google, and other search engines, like that. When people stay on your page rather than hitting the back button and trying out another, Google recognizes that your page is answering people’s questions and rewards you with higher placement in future search results.

The exact amount of pillar content you should create depends on your specific content strategy — but since one pillar piece can generate five to ten additional posts, social media shares, downloadable resources, infographics, and emails, you don’t need to overdo it. Just make sure each pillar piece is Stellar. With a capital S.  

Since so many other pages, links and content will be attached to this pillar post, the piece needs to not only be solid, informative and engaging, it also needs to stand the test of time and be relevant when people click back to the page in six months or three years.

Now, this isn’t to say that pillar content shouldn’t be updated — it absolutely should be refreshed when any info or details change, or just to pep up the tone — but the core of the message (i.e. the role of pillar content in your marketing strategy) should always ring true regardless of when its read. (Pro tip: polishing up pillar content also boosts visibility.)

And while words are the crux of any piece of pillar content, it’s not always all about the words. Content with well-designed charts, photography, and infographic elements can help in a number of ways: explaining your topic even further, engaging the reader and moving their eye down the page, and making those 1800-2000 words appear a bit less dense.

Think of how highly ranked your pillar page could become with some thought, wit, and strategy.

Pillar content examples: this stuff works

Some brands are seriously leaning into the use of pillar pages, and it is working. Take Zapier, a company focused on automating work using web based apps, who leaned in so hard they actually wrote a mini-ebook as a pillar post. The hyper clickable page entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work” links to 14 (and counting) different pieces of content all over their site. It is written in an easy to understand, friendly tone, with a table of contents that includes short descriptions, but also branches the consumer out to the rest of the site, and info that needs to be consumed via graphics, video, or just another internal page.

By putting together this resource they are not only saying to the potential client — but also to the internet as a whole — that they are the utmost resource for anyone who wants to learn about working remotely and that anyone searching for that topic needn’t look any further for the best info. An ebook is a bar to which we could all aspire to, but a well-written lengthy piece that is scrollable and easy to use as a “how to” guide is just as good, and will likely be referenced, bookmarked, and consumed by your target audience, gaining you loyalty for being ultra helpful.

Final thoughts from our pillar content on pillar content

Do: Put thought into your pillar page. Think about topics and answering questions rather than catering to specific keywords only. Understand your audience and write in an engaging and creative tone (or find someone who can) so it’s evergreen and worth reading.

Don’t: Ignore the need for these posts, write dry and boring content for the sake of having a long piece, or get bogged down by this new concept — you got this.

So, you caught us. This is, indeed, a pillar on pillar content. How’d we do? If you’re interested in learning more about creating pillar content of your own, let’s talk!

Nicole Spewak

Nicole Spewak

Nicole is Content Director at Beacon Digital Marketing, where she leads a team of writers, editors, and strategists in creating effective content strategies backed up by compelling content that gets results. She specializes in creating content for the fintech, cybersecurity, and risk and compliance industries.