A Simple Guide to Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters
Content marketing strategies are ever-evolving within the search marketing landscape. Newer, more sophisticated search algorithms and subtle changes in the way people use search engines mean that organically ranking on Google and getting your content noticed is increasingly difficult. Google’s algorithms now recognise user intent, with emphasis on relational and contextual searches, as opposed to championing individual key-words. The ‘pillar & cluster’ content strategy is a direct response to this algorithm, ensuring your content is geared towards both relational and specific search behaviour. Quickly becoming one of the most effective content marketing strategies, we want to try and demystify this pillar & cluster strategy and hopefully help to improve your SEO and the way people find your business and its content.
The Pillar & Cluster Strategy in a Nutshell
The pillar & cluster strategy, in the simplest of terms, is about creating content that focuses on topics as opposed to specific keywords.
First actualised by HubSpot Research in 2017, the model orientates your website’s content around a collection of central topics, a.k.a, the ‘pillars’. The pillar page is a large piece of content that gives a comprehensive overview of this central topic, becoming a one-stop-shop for all information regarding it. You can then start creating new content (or repurposing old content) connecting to this pillar, providing new, relevant and engaging ‘clusters’.
With relational links between topic clusters and the central pillar topic already set up, you then input physical hyperlinks between them. These interconnections are key, as they raise the authority and the relevance of all your connected pages in the eyes of a Google crawler. When one page succeeds, they all do.
After running this strategy on its blog, HubSpot proved more internal links led to a higher placement on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Topic clusters are a way of ensuring your content is ranking in more specific Google searches.
As Google has evolved, its search algorithms have become more sophisticated in the way they recognise user intent. Rather than pulling results for general and broad key terms, the emphasis is now on natural language queries, context and meaning; and so the long-tail keyword (a keyword containing four or more terms that would naturally be searched for) is born. This is where your topic clusters come in. You should write your cluster content based around long-tail key words, helping you to rank organically when a user searches for specific information around a larger topic.
For example, if you’re looking to write about protein shakes – a very broad and general subject area – your cluster would be made up of content such as ‘The benefits of protein shakes for athletes’ or ‘Are protein shakes a good substitute for meals?’. These are inherently related to protein shakes, but are much more search friendly and specific to what people are looking to read. A really great way of finding content for your clusters is through a website called answerthepublic.com – this site provides Google recommended long-tail keywords for specific topics.
This ‘long-tail’ approach allows you to delve deep into a specific topic rather than a generalised overview. . That said, you must really try and differentiate your clusters in order to avoid regurgitating content, which is something often recognised by Google crawlers and will be detrimental to your overall SEO.
Your pillar page is going to be an all-encompassing, quality piece of content that gives a broad overview of your subject matter. This page must be as detailed as possible, and prove your knowledge and authority on the topic. Ideally, your pillar page would be a piece of writing that is 3000+ words long, and while giving a comprehensive coverage of the topic, also leaves room for further examination (to be given in your cluster content).
This piece of content will sit either on your service page for that relevant topic, or you can create a new landing page all together. Either way, you need to make sure that your pillar page is easily accessible to an inquisitive user. Often, it is helpful to organise your pillar content into anchor-linked sections, which makes browsing this content heavy piece of text that much more user-friendly. It also makes finding related content clusters easier as you have created a logical architecture for a user to follow.
Whilst you think it would make logical sense to write your pillar page before you research your topic clusters, it is actually more beneficial doing the opposite. If you delve straight into the pillar page, you will struggle to gauge how in-depth your clusters need to be and you therefore can’t write an overview without risking duplication. Placeholders for internal links will also be less obvious.
Hyperlinking Between Pillars and Clusters
Hyperlinks between your pillars and their clusters are the glue that holds this content marketing strategy together. After you’ve written you content – appropriately loaded with relevant keywords – go back through them and include internal links back to your authoritative pillar page. Google Crawlers are then easily able to index your topic clusters and bring strong SEO power to your pillar page. Ideally, you want to try and link between clusters as well as linking between cluster and pillar pages. This creates a web (pun intended) of links that prove to Google your content is relevant and you are an authority on the topic.
It is also worth trying to link to high-quality external sites. Say, for example, you are producing content about fitness; you could link to other fitness sites with higher authority that will potentially link back to your pillar. In turn, this will raise the authority of your whole fitness cluster in a very cyclical way. When linking, be wary that the external links you are linking to are not dead-links (which will actually serve as a detrimental dead weight on your content).
Using the Pillar & Cluster Strategy to Support Your Business
The pillar & cluster strategy is an incredibly simple, easy way to boost your SEO without spending a penny. The organised structure of a pillar & cluster content proves to Google a semantic relationship between each page, therefore improving your search engine visibility, making it easier to discover your related content and improving your site’s overall architecture. If you believe your business could benefit from implementing a similar strategy, but you’re unsure on where to begin, get in touch today and our content marketing experts will advise you on how best to restructure your content marketing strategy to see the best results.