Considering that most people need to engage with a brand around 7 times before becoming a customer, it’s important that your content gets in front of them as often as possible.
But if you’ve got a website filled with SEO-optimized content and it’s not getting the traffic it deserves, there’s a good chance your internal linking strategy isn’t being handled as effectively as it could be.
Pillar pages are the solution to that problem. They’re the pages on your site that have the most influence on your search rankings. The ones that, if handled correctly, will be likely to drive the most traffic and introduce your business to an abundance of qualified leads.
Read on to learn why and how to use pillar pages to improve your SEO.
A pillar page is a central piece of content that serves as the cornerstone for a topic cluster. A topic cluster is a collection of articles or blog posts on related topics within a subject that, together, provide a comprehensive understanding on that subject.
The idea with the pillar page/topic cluster strategy is to use internal linking to group related content together on your site (into a cluster) and then to have one main page that acts as a directory for all the links in that cluster (the pillar page). The pillar page and topic cluster method is also known as the hub and spoke method.
Zoomed out, pillar and cluster pages look like this:
The pillar page is the hub of your topic cluster. It’s the central resource that all other pages in the cluster are linked both to and from.
“SEO: The Complete Guide” in the middle is the pillar or hub page and the articles around it (On-Page SEO Checklist, Google Ranking Factors, etc.) are the cluster or spoke articles that together allow a reader to learn everything they want to know about SEO.
It’s common to find pillar pages being treated as an “ultimate guide”, a “what is X” or a “how to do Y” page because these types of searches indicate a user that is looking for a solution to a problem.
If you can offer them a solution to that problem, it benefits you to invest in a pillar page demonstrating your expertise on that subject and therefore also why you are the perfect candidate to help them solve their issue.
The pillar page method is critical to building trust with searchers and increasing your visibility online. Here’s how it improves your SEO:
Topic clusters improve your site structure, a technical SEO optimization that makes it more easily crawlable by Googlebot and other search engines. The easier your site is to crawl, the easier Google can find, index, and rank your pages.
How do you make your site easier to crawl? In an ideal site structure, any page on your site should be accessible in three clicks or less from the homepage, and the information architecture is such that the most important pages are the closest to the homepage.
Pillar pages support this model because they are meant to be a destination in their own right, and as such are often accessible from a site’s homepage or one tier down.
A topic cluster also helps make your website more navigable for actual human users who are looking for information about a specific topic or topic area.
When you have a bunch of related pages easily found under one umbrella term, it makes sense for them to be grouped together. That way, when someone searches for something like “how to do X” they can find all the information they need in one place.
The improved experience keeps people on your site longer, giving Google’s algorithm more data to indicate that you deserve to rank higher.
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Since pillar pages are the hub pages for a main topic, they are meant to target broad keywords—and broad keywords are super competitive on the SERP.
To rank for a broad keyword, you need a long-form piece of content that comprehensively covers that keyword, linking out to other pages that comprehensively cover its child keywords—aka a pillar page.
And when pillar pages rank, they accumulate traffic, backlinks, and SEO power. As a bonus, they then pass “link juice” on to the cluster pages they’re linking out to, improving the rank of those pages as well.
It’s important to understand that a search engine’s entire goal is to provide the best answer to whatever the searcher types in. To give bad results would be a bad experience for the user, diminishing faith in the search engine — the last thing Google wants.
It could also be detrimental societally. Imagine if a random person (not a doctor) were to understand SEO well enough to write an article about “how to know if you’re having a heart attack,” that ranks number one, and then millions of people read that article and believed the advice provided inside?
It would be terrible.
It’s not in anybody’s best interest for Google to rank non-experts for anything, and they’ve put a ton of effort into its algorithm’s ability to surface the best information possible, no matter who types in what.
Google has three key foundational concepts behind its many ranking factors: expertise, authority, and trust. These concepts refer to how closely your content matches what people are searching for while demonstrating authority based on how reputable and trustworthy your site is.
When you complete a topic cluster around a pillar page, you demonstrate that you know the subject inside and out. After all, when have you known an expert to only discuss a subject just once?
And when Google trusts your expertise enough to rank you on the first page, its users will too.
Once you know how to create topic clusters, you can use them as a foundation when writing new content or making changes to your website’s existing content.
Here’s how to do it:
The first step in creating an effective pillar page is to have a clear idea of the core topic you want to rank for. The best way to choose which topic to focus on is by considering your target audience and aiming to thoroughly cover a specific subject they need help with (that also pertains to your business).
You’ll have several topics that you want to rank for, and one site can succeed in having multiple topic clusters. But it’s important to focus on one at a time, otherwise this can lead to confusion with your audience and dilute your efforts.
Once you have an idea of the topic for your pillar page, you’ll want to plug it into a keyword research tool. These allow you to see which keywords have the most searches in a given time frame (usually monthly), and how much competition there is for each search term.
In general, your hub/pillar page will target a broad, high-volume keyword on the topic. Then, the long-tail keywords that fall under that keyword will dictate what the main headings/sections of your pillar page should be, which will then dictate the keywords to target with your cluster pages.
For more help with keyword research, check out our guide to keyword research. Alternatively, you can hire an SEO agency that specializes in keyword research services.
Since your pillar page and cluster pages are targeting keywords, you’ll want to take care of your on-page SEO for each one. Be sure to include the target keywords in your title, headings, throughout the body of the article, in the meta descriptions, image alt-tags, and so on.
This will help search engine crawlers to find it and register that when someone in the world searches for that term, your article deserves to be ranked as a response.
But remember: although you must be accommodating of the robot crawlers that need to scan your site, your goal is to ultimately create content that’s useful to your readers.
Keyword-heavy content that looks good on paper but doesn’t actually help anyone solve their problems might rank temporarily, but once Google starts to realize that people are clicking away once they get there, you’ll be dropped like it never happened.
A general rule of thumb: make your pillar page longer and more in-depth than any other article on that subject out there to show Google that you deserve to be ranked number one for it. It’s common for pillar pages to be well over 5,000 words.
This method is also referred to as the skyscraper technique:
Once you’ve written your pillar page, you’ll need to internally link to the cluster articles that further explain the concepts within it.
If you’re building out a brand new topic cluster, these pages may not be created yet. If you have a larger site with a lot of existing content, you can perform a site search to see if your site already has content covering that subject.
Simply go to your browser’s address bar and type in the following (without the quotation marks): “site:mysite.com topic”
If you’ve written about the topic, it’ll turn up on the following results page—ranked by what the search engine thinks is the most relevant to that term. You can also put the term in quotations to search for exact instances of that phrase. Link to the best article that explains the concept you were looking to support your pillar page with. And make sure that article links to your pillar page and that the articles within the cluster link to each other.
Just keep in mind that you don’t want your pillar page to link out to articles that cover any and everything mentioned in the pillar page, but ideally to SEO-optimized articles that target child keywords within the pillar page’s parent keyword. This will keep your topic cluster clean and clear to search engines
If you’re going to invest in paid ads and/or social media exposure for any pages on your site, it should be to your pillar pages.
The point of a pillar page is that it’s supposed to be a destination in its own right. So when you promote it, make it clear just how excellent a resource this is for your target audience.
They’re going to want to read it and you’d be doing them a disservice by not getting it in front of them.
Some of the best pillar pages can be identified by the URL of the page itself, whether the article includes many links to other pages on the same site, and how in-depth of a resource it is. Here are some great examples of pillar pages in action:
LocaliQ’s Local Social Media Marketing Lab course links outward to 32 other social media marketing posts on the LocaliQ blog.
With 69 internal links around the Wordstream site, WordStream’s SEO pillar page has plenty of SEO-rich resources to go around. One could theoretically land on this page and learn everything they ever needed to about the subject without needing to visit another site.
If you’re looking to sell on Amazon, Shopify’s How to Sell on Amazon pillar page has nearly 7,000 words and 44 links to guide you in the right direction.
To recap: in this article, we covered a lot about pillar pages, topic clusters, and content strategy. Pillar page and topic clusters make so that it can be more easily crawled by Google and other search engines while demonstrating your expertise on the subject you’ve written about.
The key points to walk away with are…
Keep this up consistently in the long term and your traffic will be sure to multiply as a result.
Justin Borge is an SEO and Content Marketing professional who is passionate about helping websites get the traffic they deserve. Hire him to write for you at JustinWritesSEO.com!
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