What is pillar content and why should you care?

Want to boost your visibility on Google? I’m going to divulge one of my greatest tactics.

Confession time: Hands up if you’ve ever gotten trapped in the Daily Mail Online gormlessly consuming content *raises hand tentatively*. 

We can ask why you were there in the first place (don’t blame yourself, blame the algorithm) or we can ask what it is that kept you there?

Answer: Aside from the narcotic-like effect of celebrity before-and-after pics, you’ve spent the last half hour on your least favourite rag because it provides a never-ending web of tempting, relevant links.

While not strictly pillar content, that is also how pillar content works:

  1. Reader lands on content
  2. Consumes some content
  3. Sees links to other relevant attractive content
  4. Goes onto new page
  5. Consumes that content
  6. Sees other relevant attractive content…
  7. The cycle continues

How is pillar content different to any other article with related links?

Pillar content is a way to structure rich, engaging content around a central theme. You take that theme, break it down into sub-themes and provide an article or set of articles for each.

The main difference is the way that it’s structured: the core ‘pillar’ page provides teaser snippets of information which then link off to other ‘cluster’ pages, creating a web of content.

Take ‘ice cream’ as a theme:

Pillar content example graphic: ice cream is the pillar page, clusters include flavours, brands of ice cream, recipes, toppings. Cakes is shown as a separate pillar page.

Within the theme of ice cream your pillar page could include snippets of information on flavours, toppings, recipes and brands of ice cream. These snippets link to article pages that delve deeper into these subjects.

Customers interested in ice cream can spend time perusing the bite-sized factoids on your pillar page and if one of the topics takes their fancy, they can dig into the cluster page to find out more. These cluster pages might also link to other cluster pages, or even to other pillar pages (ice cream cake in this example links to the CAKES pillar page).

Click! They move onto the next link and the cycle continues until your customer has consumed all of the information they need. Ideally, this results in a purchase – but often they’ll just leave with a good feeling about the information your brand has provided, which is equally valuable.

Here’s an example from the real world. I introduced pillar content at Nuffield Health when I was digital content production manager. This is their joint health pillar page.

But why is pillar content so good for SEO?

There’s a few key things that Google loves when it comes to content, and pillar content ticks these boxes:

1. Onward journeys

Our friendly search engine giant doesn’t like to see people enter your website and leave on the same page. Google assumes that this means the page was irrelevant to your visitor. Pillar pages filled with useful teaser content pull in visitors interested in a broad theme and encourage onward journeys through multiple internal links.

2. Content that answers questions

Google is a search engine – answering questions is its job. So it makes sense that content that answers questions will be made a priority. More recently Google has been experimenting with how it answers these questions and how it displays the answers.

The advent of the ‘People Also Ask’ module on search engine results pages (SERPs) is a demonstration of the added emphasis on content that answers questions and an opportunity to increase visibility by doing so.

3. Multimedia

Google prioritises enjoyable experiences and these come with rich media. The best pillar pages utilise an array of content types – images, video, graphics, copy – to create an enjoyable, engaging space for their customers.

4. Long session times

Just as important to Google as the average number of pages your users view is the length of time they spend on your site. If your customers are drawn into pillar content they’re inevitably going to spend longer on your site and that’s a good sign to Google that they’re engaged.  

Pillar content also allows you to utilise a wider network of relevant keyword terms to capture the alternative search terms your customers are using. Once you know what key terms you want to rank for, and create pillar pages for, do your keyword research to find related terms and use these to shape the content that goes into your cluster pages.

It’s hard work, there’s no doubt. But in the end you’ll have kick-ass content pages that answer the questions your customers want to know as well as pulling traffic to your website from search engines. Just remember, to encourage trust in your brand you might want to keep your editorial standards higher than the Daily Mail.  

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3 thoughts on “What is pillar content and why should you care?

  1. Thanks for the feedback Stuart! Really pleased you like it. Feel free to share with your friends/colleagues…the more the merrier 😉

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