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How Pillar Pages and Cluster Content Can Help You Win Great SERP Positions

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the SEO world, you’ve probably heard of something called a “pillar page.”

Pillar pages have gained popularity in recent years for myriad reasons — most notably, they’re an easy template for organizing your content, and a great way for smaller brands to win high placements for competitive keywords.

But what exactly are pillar pages? When should you employ them, and how exactly do they work?

In this blog post, we’ll be talking about the latter, walking you through the thinking behind how they work and looping you in on our own pillar page creation strategy. Toward the end, we’ll round it out with some examples of pillar pages we think are exceptionally well crafted.

Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

What is a pillar page?

A pillar page is a piece of content that covers every imaginable aspect of a topic. Almost always, this is a pretty long article that links out to separate, more comprehensive sub-articles touching on a handful of related subtopics.

That structure is what makes pillar pages unique. Using this “topic cluster” model, they let the main (or pillar) page give a broad overview of the core topic, with the supporting “cluster pages” providing the more in-depth material.

Let’s contextualize this with an example. Say, for instance, you’re starting a new company that sells tennis gear. One of the first pieces of content you could create is a pillar page for ‘How to Buy a Tennis Racquet.’

For the pillar page, you’ll want to provide a broad overview of everything that goes into buying a tennis racket: picking grip size, frame weight, frame width, head size, level of experience, style of play, choosing strings, and where to buy racquets (other than your own website, of course).

In each of these sections, you’ll provide some detail, but not more than a few hundred words — we’ll save the finer, more nuanced points for the ensuing cluster pages.

What is cluster content?

Cluster content is web of pages that cover all the subtopics mentioned in a pillar page. They help websites demonstrate their depth of knowledge for a topic.

Let’s go back to our tennis gear company example. For each subtopic covered on your pillar page (grip size, frame width, head size, level of experience, etc.), you’ll want to link to a dedicated cluster content page that covers that idea more fully.

This means that in your “grip size” section on the pillar page, you’d have a link to a separate page dedicated solely to grip size, with more information and additional subheadings: What are the different grip sizes available, how to measure grip size, how to check grip strength, and so on.

An important note: Every cluster content page should also link back to the pillar page itself — as well as other cluster pages — to help search engines better understand the relationship between all of your tennis racquet-related content.

Why are pillar pages and cluster content important?

Companies of all shapes and sizes can benefit from developing pillar pages — but the ones who stand to gain the most are newer brands with equally new websites who are trying to break into a saturated industry.

Why is that? Well, pillar pages can be incredibly effective at helping your site rank better for high-volume, short-tail keywords that are typically dominated by more established competitors.

That’s because the pillar page model presents search engines with an organized, hyperlinked network of incredibly knowledgeable information. These models are comprehensive by nature, and they’re excellent at signaling to sites like Google that you’re an expert about a given topic. And Google loves rewarding expert content with great SERP positions.

Here are 5 reasons why the pillar page model can be beneficial to you and your business:

1. It leads to a more organized site architecture, and make your site more browsable

This can be especially valuable for e-commerce companies, B2B lead generation, or essentially any type of business where you are trying to ‘sell’ some type of good or service. Pillar pages and cluster content make a great template for organizing your website, and provide ample opportunities to link to/showcase trustworthy, expert content. That content may also influence the customer’s decision-making journey (and, hopefully, persuade them to move further down the funnel).

2. It creates more opportunities to interlink your content

Interlinking your content is great for SEO — it helps search engines better understand what your website is about and how the different pieces of content fit together. It’s also great for passing search equity on from a few pieces of well-established, high-performing content to newer articles where you’re trying to drive traffic.

3. It lets you establish yourself as an expert in your field

It’s true: Pillar pages are becoming more and more popular. Nevertheless, most companies still lack in-depth content about their industry, product, or service. Pillar pages are a great opportunity to showcase (to users and search engines) that not only do you provide a service or good, but you also actually understand the nuts and bolts of how it all works.

4. Google will reward you with better SEO for higher-competition keywords

Pillar pages have leveled the SEO playing field in a way that’s beneficial to companies both big and small, well-established or new to the game. Google has always emphasized that [high-quality, expert-written] content is king, and well-developed pillar pages are a direct example of that strategy paying off big.

Of course, there are other factors (like technical SEO and domain authority) that have an influence over rankings, but Pillar Pages create a bit more space for the ‘small guys’ to get a chance at page 1.

5. It gives you an opportunity to organically advertise your services and drive lead generation

If users who are searching for your good or service enter on a pillar page, there are opportunities for you to link to / showcase your own product in the same breath that you demonstrate your expertise. Once again, being able to demonstrate that you offer a good or service and are an expert in the field is a great way to build trust, and maybe even drive a sale or a lead.

6. It earns more organic backlinks

If you write a truly comprehensive and in-depth piece of pillar content, your odds of earning more organic backlinks will rise dramatically. Content writers love linking out to articles that they think are actually useful, and will seek out resources to help their readers accomplish a task. If you can scratch that itch, you’ll be well on your way to bringing more eyes (and search equity) to your content.

How long should a pillar page be?

Most content strategists recommend 2,000–3,000 words. However, as with any piece of content in SEO, there is no hard limit on the content length.

We typically bias toward being as comprehensive as possible, but creating good pillar pages and cluster content is a balance of art and science: Are you answering all of the questions a user might have about a topic? Are you recognizing when a subtopic has so much depth that it might need to be its own pillar page?

Begin by looking at a complete list of your subtopics, then budget a few hundred words for each (and a few thousand for their respective cluster pages). Your content length decisions should be based on the breadth and the complexity of your topic.

How to make a pillar page

1: Pick a topic. Start with the question, “What am I most knowledgeable about?” and go from there: How broad or specific should should it be? Is it evergreen? How does it mesh with your current buyer personas?

2: Do keyword research (with tools like AHrefs and Answer The Public) about your pillar page. Find out how people are actually engaging with your topic. Pick a keyword you’d like to rank for that you can write a lot about, that you have products and services for, and is interesting to users. Make sure it’s not completely oversaturated.

3: Split it up into subtopics. How can we break this topic down into smaller, more refined pieces? What can we talk about that people haven’t already, and what angle can we take to make it stand out? And remember to be mindful of search intent.

4: Make an outline. Map out your clusters in a web formation, with the pillar page at the center. Try to arrange them in an order that makes sense and flows well on the page.

5: Write your pillar page. Budget a decent amount of time to write the page itself. It should be thorough enough that a user should fully understand the topic by the time they finish reading. (Remember: this will be a much longer page than your typical blog content.)

6: Write your cluster content. Using the subtopics you mapped out earlier, write a series of blog posts that can stand on their own while still being able to fall within the category of your pillar page.

7: Bring in a UX designer. Work with a someone at your company who designs webpages to determine how this content will actually be laid out on the website. Pillar pages and cluster content can get REALLY cumbersome, and if your content is difficult to navigate it’ll really take away from all of the work you’ve put into research and writing. Content and UX should go hand-in-hand — especially for a content undertaking of this caliber.

8: Use hyperlinks to connect your pillar page to your cluster content. And vice versa! Your cluster content should always link back to your pillar page. But don’t stop there — while you’re at it, link to other pages on your website wherever a connection can be drawn. All of this linking will help Google understand the general shape and focus of your website, and as a result your content will perform better in search.

9: Promote your pillar page. This is especially important for websites with lower domain authority who don’t have a very significant a search presence. Google can take a while to crawl and rank brand new content, but promoting it across other channels will help expedite the process.

Examples of pillar pages and cluster content

Example 1: How-To Content

Pillar page:

How to Manage a Project

Cluster content:

  • Project Initiation
  • Project Planning
  • Project Execution
  • Project Monitor and Control
  • Project Closing
  • Project Management Tools

Example 2: Best of Content (this is like a 2-in-1 buying guide/best of pillar page)

Pillar page:

Best Hybrid Mattress of 2021

Cluster content:

  • Product Details
  • Why You Should Trust Us
  • Who Should Buy a Hybrid Mattress?
  • How Does it Feel to Sleep on a Hybrid Mattress?
  • How are Hybrids Constructed?
  • Memory Foam vs Hybrids vs. Innerspring vs. Latex
  • How Much Does a Hybrid Mattress Cost?
  • Density and ILD How Long Will a Hybrid Mattress Last?
  • Last Things to Consider With a Hybrid Mattress
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Example 3: Guide Content

(Note that Evo links mostly to their own category pages as their ‘clusters’, which doesn’t match the true definition of a pillar page but is still a pretty common practice and doesn’t really harm them in SEO — they rank in position 1 for ‘how to buy a snowboard’, ‘snowboard buying guide’, etc.)

Pillar page:

How to Choose a Snowboard

Cluster content:

  • Choosing the Right Size
  • Size Chart
  • Width
  • Type of Snowboardss
  • Construction and Shape
  • Binding Compatibility
  • Women’s Snowboards
  • Kids’ Snowboard & Size Chart

Final thoughts

As with most content marketing campaigns, developing pillar pages and content clusters is no small undertaking.

It takes a lot of time to choose a topic, develop subtopics, and research and write the corresponding content. Then you’ll have to make sure all the pages are properly interlinked, and promote them in a way that makes sense from an SEM perspective.

But here’s the silver lining: While pillar pages and cluster content are time intensive, what they offer in return is a solid framework for all your content marketing endeavors. Rather than going in blind, you’ll have a foolproof template for developing SEO-friendly pages that search engines like Google will recommend to searchers time and time again.

Are you looking to refine your content marketing campaigns, or reinvent your digital marketing strategy entirely? Wheelhouse can help. Our strategists take a search-first approach to content strategy development, using our own proprietary technologies to uncover solutions that deliver strong and long-lasting value to your business. From content gap analyses to complete content roadmaps, we can help get your site where it needs to be.

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