Creating Content Pillars

Content Pillars: What Are They and How to Build Them

Building a content strategy that works involves a lot of moving gears. But perhaps one of the more important aspects is that of content pillars. That’s because they are exceptionally effective. So, what are they and how can you use them?

Although most of building your own pillar relies heavily on the type of site you’re building and what you provide, there are quite a few universal elements to making a good “pillar” of content.

Don’t worry, pillar posts are relatively easy to build. The biggest drawback is that they’re often time-consuming.

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What Are Content Pillars?

A content pillar is a post or page on your website that generally covers almost every aspect of a topic. You don’t go into heavy details about each element, just enough to provide an overview of information.

Then, you’ll follow up with another post or page expanding on that specific part of the pillar content.

I know, it may sound a bit confusing to some. Think of a content pillar as a tree. The primary topic is the massive trunk. Then, you’ll write expanding topics that “branch” out from that trunk.

For example, you could create a list of 50 best plugins in WordPress. Each explanation of those plugins would be a general overview of why it’s the “best.”

Then, you could write a more thorough review of that particular plugin and link the two pages back and forth.

I’ll provide a more thorough example of creating a pillar in a moment.

Practical Reasons for Creating Content Pillars

Despite how long content pillars take to create, they are truly worth the time to put together. This is especially true if you figure out a way to surpass the competition.

It all comes down to whether you can deliver better information than the other guys.

What are some practical reasons to put more time into pillar content?

A Massive List of Content Ideas

First of all, setting up content pillars can provide an amazingly long list of content ideas. In fact, I published a live video of how one idea can spawn a month’s worth of content.

For those who often find themselves with writer’s block, a pillar post can work wonders to overcome that problem. And the longer your pillar post, the more ideas you’ll have.

Keep in mind, though, that not all topics will drive tons of traffic. You’ll still need to put a bit of research behind keywords and phrases.

Good for SEO and Building Authority

Pillar posts can also do wonders for search engine optimization. The more you write about a specific primary topic, the more authority and expertise you demonstrate to Google.

Part of delivering the best search results is knowing who has the most expertise and can deliver the best answer. In other words, Google absolutely loves authority in your niche.

Plus, those longer posts may score well for certain search criteria and phrases.

Provides a Lot of Quality for Your Readers

By expanding on the subtopics of the pillar, you’re delivering a lot of quality content for your audience. Especially if you’re building a list of things most of them want to know.

You’ll find a lot of people will follow or subscribe to push notifications and email lists just to see what’s next from your blog.

Increasing Traffic

All of the above culminates into one absolute: improving traffic. Well, that is as long as you’re writing quality content for which topics people are searching.

You can’t just build a list all willy-nilly and expect a massive spike in visitors.

But when you focus on search intent and deliver what people want, the numbers will increase as time marches on.

Why Do Content Pillars Work So Well?

One of the reasons why these types of posts work so well is because of their length. This gives Google a lot of “meat” to crawl and index in search.

Especially if you write some high-quality points to each part of the pillar.

As long as you’re not filling the pillar post with fluff content, you’ll find it ranking for all kinds of search terms. That’s the power of a longer, well-written post.

Then, the internal linking structure helps Google and visitors even further by creating a web of relevant topics to click on. If someone wants to know more about a certain aspect within the pillar, they can click to read more.

Remember, your pillar is essentially a tree with branching topics. Each branch you write needs to have relevance to the one before it.

How Long is an Average Content Pillar?

Usually, content pillars range anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words. So, you can see that these are often the most time-consuming pieces of content to create. However, the results are typically worth the time invested.

On the other hand, I’ve seen pillar posts with fewer than 2,000 words that rank number one for their search phrases.

Why do these shorter posts do so well? They are very well-written, well-planned, and usually have a lot of backlinks from authoritative domains.

Not to mention that not all topics can fill a quota of 5000+ words. Some things just don’t have a lot of information to expand upon.

Nonetheless, longer content pillars are the ones that usually get the most attention from Google and visitors.

What Is Cluster Content for Pillars?

A pillar cluster is further isolation of different topics to help keep things organized. For example, let’s say you have a fitness blog but have three main topics: dieting, exercises, and reviews.

Each one of those primary topics are relevant to the blog as a whole, but not necessarily to each other. In this case, each of those primary topics would have its own cluster of content.

Sticking with our “tree” analogy, if pillar content posts are the trunks, then topic clusters would be the different trees in the orchard. You’re technically growing the same fruit, but each tree is unique.

In a nutshell, creating topic clusters in your content strategy is a method to keep your posts organized and easy to find for both humans and search engine bots.

Best Types of Content for Building Pillars

In reality, you can use virtually any type of post as a content pillar. The things to keep in mind are:

  • Length and details
  • Lots of branching links to other posts
  • Answering as much as you can about the topic

However, some types of content are just easier to turn into pillars than others.

For instance, a tutorial is one of the most popular blog posts but has a lower capacity for being used as a content pillar. It’s still possible, but it’s not as easy to put together compared to other types.

So, what are some of the best types of content for creating pillars?

Listicles

Perhaps one of the most common content pillars is that of a list article, or listicle. This is when you’ll have a long list of points for the topic and then branch out with each one.

For example, let’s say we create a list of 20 best stability ball exercises. Under each exercise, we would write four to five short paragraphs about why it’s included in the list.

From there, we could link out to another article about that specific exercise such as a how-to or review.

Just from that one idea, we now have 21 total blog posts that all center around that topic cluster. One for the pillar itself, and then 20 how-tos or reviews.

Informational / Q&As

There are a lot of content pillars that focus on providing as much information as possible about any given topic. Usually, these focus more on questions searchers may have while trying to deliver the best information.

Like the listicle, these hyper-informative posts can become exceptionally long, depending on the topic. But they also provide an incredible opportunity to link out to further details to help people understand the information better.

I’ve seen blog posts explaining how home network routers work with more than 30 links to posts explaining the terminology and technology even further.

Out of all the content pillars I’ve seen online, informative pieces are usually the longest in terms of word count. But that’s because the writer went into some extensive detail to cover as much of the topic as possible.

Reviews

Reviews are among the most effective types of content you could add to a blog. If you look in the sidebar of this website, you’ll see that most of the top 10 trends for the day are reviews.

That’s because most people will look up reviews of products or services before making the decision to purchase or use them.

If the product or service has a lot of features and functionality, you can easily turn a review into a content pillar.

For example, I wrote a review about Buy Me a Coffee some time ago. Every time the brand comes out with a new function or feature, I try to get it added to the review. Then, I write a tutorial on how to use it that links back and forth from that review.

This gives me a chance to update the original post as well as add a new piece of content for Google to crawl.

Essentially, I’m growing each “branch” of that topic when new releases are delivered.

Now, it may be a bit more difficult to turn every review into a pillar for content. Not everything you’ll write about will have topics that you can expand upon. Still, it’s a good way to get recognized by Google as an authority on the product or service.

That’s how WriterSanctuary became such a success when it came to searches for “Textbroker” content.

Example of Creating Content Pillars with Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a useful skill, and it works by letting you brainstorm ideas for virtually any purpose. In this case, you can use mind-mapping apps to help you create a list of content to build your pillar.

My favorite tool for mind mapping is Mindomo. It’s a free app that you can use for a variety of purposes. I often use it for content ideas as well as blog planning.

In any case, I’m going to show you how to use mind mapping for creating content pillars. You don’t have to use Mindomo, as you can simply do this with a notepad and a pen.

What Is the Primary Topic?

First, let’s start with the primary topic. This is the topic that all other pieces of content from which they are going to branch.

As I said before, though, don’t assume every topic is going to be well-received. You’ll need to put a bit of research into keywords and phrases to know what will benefit your site as well as your target audience.

There are quite a few free keyword tools to help you get started. Find a primary topic that fits your niche that has a lot of search volume each month.

For this example, let’s say that I want to list the best “stability ball exercises.” In this case, I’m using a four-word search term as more people are using long-tail phrases nowadays.

Primary Topic

The primary topic is what this particular post or page is all about. In this case, I’m making a list specific to the search phrase. So, all of the information within that content is relevant to the primary topic.

This can include everything from the list of exercises to how to find the best for your specific needs.

I could also include a short list of the three best stability balls to use with those exercises, which would open the site for affiliate marketing sales.

Branching Out the topics

Next, I’ll start branching out the topic. That means building a list of things I want to include within this particular pillar post.

These ideas will then become their own blog posts that go into further detail about each point.

Brainstorm Content Pillars

Given the nature of this particular pillar, the subtopics are most likely going to be tutorials about each exercise and the different ways you can modify them.

The point is that you should create a list of what’s going into the content pillars that are going to be posts of their own.

Take time and see if you can come up with other ideas that expand the subtopics even further. Continue to add relevant branches that will help you come up with post ideas while improving how Google categorizes your website.

In some instances, you might be able to create five, six, or even 10 levels of branched content for the primary topics.

Writing the Content

So, how much content should each section have within the pillar post? The depends on the topics you’re covering.

In this example, I’m probably going to write three to five short paragraphs about why each exercise is on the lists while adding a five-point bullet list for further benefits of each.

You don’t want to go too far into the details of each point. After all, that’s what the branch post is for. But you do want to provide enough details so visitors come away from your posts learning something new.

At the end of the day, you want content pillars to stand on their own as a high-quality source of information but will lead people to explore specifics should they want to learn more.

Creating the Links Back and Forth

Without internal linking, content pillars are pretty much useless. Don’t forget to link to the branch post from the trunk. Then, link to the trunk from the branch.

This does two very important things. It gives people a way to access the content throughout your website. And it gives a signal to Google about the importance of your pillar posts.

The more you link to any particular post on your site, the more Google will believe it to be a vital component of your content.

That’s one of the biggest reasons why internal linking is so important for any blog. Without those links, Google may not find the post or think it’s not of high enough quality to index for search results.

Content Pillars Are Valuable

While they may take a lot longer to write, content pillars can do a lot of good things for your website. Not only will they provide a slew of blog ideas for later, but they can contribute to search visibility and rank.

Don’t worry too much about the time it takes to put one together. In the end, they are usually one of the more effective methods of engaging a large audience while making the Google algorithm happy.

That means they are worth the time it takes to put them together if you’re trying to drive traffic and sales.

Michael Brockbank
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