Have you been trying all of the SEO tricks in the book and still not making a dent in the search rankings? Google can be a harsh mistress, but the key to leveraging a higher search ranking is to understand how Google and its many algorithms work. You don’t have to hate the game you just have to learn how to play. Even if you’ve been faithfully using keywords, jotting down meta descriptions, and producing weekly blog posts Google wants more.
If all of those weekly blog posts that you’ve been writing are only 500-600 words a pop Google won’t be particularly favorable towards you. No matter how beautifully crafted those blog posts are, the word count is working against you.
So what are you supposed to do? Should you just stay the course and keep maintaining 500-600 word blog posts that don’t really get you anywhere and grow old while your search ranking remains tragically stagnant? As thrilling as that sounds you can’t afford to do that.
Businesses thrive on organic web traffic, that traffic is your lifeblood and when it goes flat so do your sales. Without a steady stream of organic traffic, you’re just another domain floating around the internet and the only thing you’ll be doing with all of those blog posts is talking to yourself. When there’s no organic traffic there’s no readers and when there’s no readers, there’s no value. This doesn’t mean that you should rush to your computer and delete all of your blog posts. You can still weave value into them by generating traffic and working your old posts into topic clusters. Speaking of topic clusters, you’re going to need to learn how to leverage them to generate the kind of traffic you’ve been looking for.
Does the term topic cluster sound alien to you, or Greek perhaps? How about pillar pages? Are you familiar with those? Oh dear, you are in trouble, but not for long, because we’re going to show you everything you need to know about topic clusters, pillar pages, and how you can use them to unleash wave after wave of organic web traffic to your site.
If you’re still scratching your head and trying to figure out what topic clusters and pillar pages are don’t worry, we’re about to tell you all about them. You see, Google wants to see more than weekly blog posts, it wants to see your authority on a topic.
A few well-written weekly blog posts aren’t substantial enough to demonstrate that you have authority on any given topic that you’ve been posting about. Although this aspect of Google can be frustrating, it’s just trying to do its job and distinguish the best results for its users.
Take a deep breath and settle in, you’re about to take a wild ride on an in-depth introduction to topic clusters and pillar pages. By the time you’re finished reading this, you’ll have the juice you need to drive plenty of organic traffic to your website.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters
Before diving into the technical details of pillar pages or topic clusters you’ll need some important conceptual info. The easiest and frankly most useful way to think about topic clusters and pillar pages is in terms of a way to structure your content.
Although topic clusters and pillar pages don’t necessarily constitute content architectures, it’s useful to think of them in these terms. Put your hand down! Don’t start scratching your head again yet we’re just getting started!
In concept, a pillar page is a web page with vast, expansive, and authoritative information covering nearly every aspect of a single topic. A pillar page should have almost everything anyone would ever need to know about the topic that it covers.
For those of you in businesses that talk about a wide variety of topics in your blog posts, you’re going to need to invest in a series of pillar pages. You should have at least one pillar page to cover each of your most valuable topics. If your business wants to rank higher for a topic like roofing you’d bring in a lot more traffic and establish more authority through Google’s algorithms by creating a pillar page than you would by writing relatively short blog posts every week.
Using our example of roofing for the sake of simplicity, your pillar page should cover anything and everything that someone would need to know about that topic. As you might have guessed at this point, pillar pages are very long. You can’t establish authority on a topic in google’s eyes without writing a massive pillar page. Keep in mind, however, you can’t just write a big long page about one topic and fill it to the brim with keywords without including any genuinely useful information. You know what happens when you write 8,000 words of gibberish and post it on the internet? Google takes it and buries it in the digital depths of Hades, that’s what happens.
When someone lands on one of your pillar pages they should be able to find almost anything that they would need to know on that topic. The more in-depth and authoritative your pillar pages are the more weight Google will give them which will help bring in all of the traffic that you’ve been missing and then some!
At this point you might be wondering exactly how long a pillar page should be. Ideally, a pillar page should be somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 words in length. Keep in mind, a pillar page isn’t the same as any other blog post. It’s not just an extra-long blog post, it’s a blog post on steroids! A true pillar page requires a lot of time, work, and energy.
It’s not uncommon for a pillar page to take up around 20-25 hours of labor to complete. When you’re investing that amount of time, it’s important to be strategic with which topics you construct pillar pages for. Start by going over your keyword lists and look for which keywords are most valuable to your business. Next, you’ll need to work your way up from your most valuable keywords to the most valuable topics.
From here you will need to divide your most valuable topics into sections until you have several unique archetypes. For example, if you own a construction company you’ll want to establish a pillar page for large topics like windows, roofing, foundations, additions, new home construction, home improvement, and remodeling projects. Of course, there are more topics that you could add to this list if you run a construction business, but you get the idea.
Different businesses will need to target different topics built from different keywords and categories. By being somewhat selective in which topics you build pillar pages for you will save money and maximize the value that you get out of each pillar page you commission.
So why do pillar pages take so much time to complete? For starters, you’ll need to invest at least 2 hours of time on topic identification with buyer persona. Keyword research on a single pillar page should take around 2 or 3 hours depending on the topic. Your content auditing will consume at least an hour for every 5 related articles. Working on an outline will probably kill upwards of 3 hours. The process of actually writing the content for the pillar page itself can take up to 12 hours. Cleaning up internal links will kill even more time, not to mention edits and revisions.
Now that you have a better idea of what a pillar page is and what it should look like it’s time to take a closer look at topic clusters. If that doesn’t sound exciting to you just think about how much organic web traffic you’ll get after you start using them effectively!
Although the term topic cluster might sound scary and arcane to the uninitiated, they’re a lot simpler than you might think, at least in concept. Execution is a whole other story. When thinking of a topic cluster try using our previous example of the roofing company. A topic cluster consists of one archetype if you will, one overall topic that is surrounded by subtopics.
Another example of this would be an exterminator company that wants to achieve a high search ranking for extermination services. Their topic cluster would be comprised of a vast array of related subtopics all revolving around the overall topic of insect extermination. This would mean that the subjects of many of their posts would be divided into distinct yet related topics like termites, spiders, ants, etc.
The topics in this cluster can continue to branch out into more specific subjects that still relate and ultimately trace back to the original archetype of insect extermination. In this case, instead of having a single post on termites they would have a series of related posts. Here’s an example of some titles you might see stemming from the topic of termites alone.
- What You Didn’t Know About Termites
- 5 Ways Termites Can Destroy Your Home
- How to Get Rid of Termites
- How to Determine if Your House Has Termites
- Identifying Termite Damage
- How to Prevent a Termite Infestation
As you can see, there are a lot of different angles you can take when it comes to termites. You should know that while termites could be counted as a single topic in a topic cluster, they can actually be considered to be the base or spoke of their own topic cluster. The size and scope of a topic cluster depends on how ambitious you are as a business.
Now that you’ve been formally introduced to the concept of a topic cluster let’s take a look at how this relates to our old friends, pillar pages. Again, for the sake of simplicity we’ll stick to our previous example. Using the example of an extermination business, the pillar pages that they should be constructing would revolve around each type of insect that they exterminate.
Building a pillar page that’s designed to cover insect extermination itself would be far too ambitious and even if someone was crazy enough to attempt it, that pillar page would have to be in excess of 20,000 words.
This leads us to another important point, why pillar pages need to have a specific focus. Although a pillar page needs a specific focus to be effective, it also needs to be broad enough to appeal to both Google and your customers. This means that businesses have to manage a sort of balancing act when building a pillar page.
Why Pillar Pages Need Balance to Be Effective
If you’re thinking that you can save some cheddar by throwing up a handful of pillar pages to cover everything, you’re going to end up losing money instead as this would be a wasted effort. Pillar pages are supposed to establish your authority on a topic, if you stuff a pillar page with too many loosely related topics you’re going to water it down which will weaken its overall structure.
Just like actual pillars, a pillar page that lacks focus and covers too many unrelated topics it will develop stress cracks and crumble under the weight of Google’s unforgiving scrutiny. Conversely, if the pillar page is too narrow in focus it will be too thin and brittle which will make it just as unstable and as liable to crack under the same pressure.
So just how broad should a pillar page be to make it strong enough to convince Google’s algorithm to throw some traffic your way? For one thing, the topic you select for the base of your pillar page should be broad enough to support anywhere from 8 to 20 blog niche posts.
When selecting a topic you should ensure that the topic of your pillar page is designed to address a common or significant problem that your customer has. This part is extremely important. If the topic doesn’t serve to address a problem that your customer or target market has it isn’t suitable material for a pillar page. Finally, you need to make sure that the topic you want to use for building a pillar page actually has a decent search volume.
If people aren’t searching for the topic and you build a pillar page based on that topic you’re just going to be talking to yourself again because no one is looking for it!
The best and most effective pillar page is a balanced one. Finding balance is the key to constructing an effective pillar page that can stand up to Google’s algorithm. Balance aside there are some other factors that you’ll have to take into consideration when planning the construction of a pillar page if you want to get the most value out of it.
The Symbiotic relationship Between Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters
Topic clusters and pillar pages share a complex and symbiotic relationship. Pillar pages are strengthened and to some extent populated by topic clusters and topic clusters are supported by pillar pages in turn.
Your topic cluster should link back to its associated pillar page and vice versa. This is part of how you build up the authority you need to sway more organic traffic in your direction and leverage the power of Google. Try thinking of your pillar page as a tall bookshelf that has everything you would need to know about one overall topic. Now think about each book on that shelf. Every book in that bookshelf represents a link that traces to a subtopic from your topic cluster. Likewise, each of those books is bound to that particular pillar, or shelf in this case.
The source links in your pillar page should consist of links to every blog post relating to that overall topic that you have in your possession. Remember all of those short blog posts you had been faithfully pumping out every week that were under 1,000 words? Once you have the basis and outline of your pillar page under development you can go back and start plugging all of those posts into it.
The more content that you already have available the better. Remember, not all of your old posts will fit into any given pillar page. Whatever you do, don’t try to force posts on topics that are clearly unrelated to the focus of your pillar page into that page! All that would do is weaken your pillar page and damage its integrity which could lead to more of those stress cracks that we talked about.
If you find that you don’t have many old posts that relate to the topic of your pillar page you’ll have to generate more content and design it around that topic until you have enough material to work with. Rome wasn’t built overnight, and although a pillar page can be made in less than 24 hours it will take longer if you don’t have enough related content to put into the construction.
Anatomy of a Pillar Page
Now that you’ve read this far you’re invested in it so do a quick stretch and get back in the game you can do this! Have you been wondering about what the anatomy of a pillar page actually looks like? No? Well, we’re going to tell you anyway because it’s something that you need to know if you want to turn things around and prevent your organic web traffic from flatlining completely.
So what does the anatomy of a pillar page look like? What should a pillar page contain aside from 5,000-10,000 words packed with genuinely useful information? For starters, you’re going to have to give it form which means weaving in plenty of catchy yet relevant headings and breaking it up into chapters so your readers don’t lose their minds and become enraged by block after block of text.
When placing your headings and dividing your pillar page into chapters it’s important to keep the structure well-organized while making it easily skimmable as a whole. When designing a pillar page it’s considered to be a good strategy to engineer it for Google Featured Snippets.
The best way to optimize your pillar page for Google Featured Snippets is to structure it around Q&As. By making your pillar page a massive behemoth of questions and answers, Google will reward you by including your page in Google Featured Snippets.
For those of you who are either unfamiliar with Google Featured Snippets or are unsure about the value of having your content included as a Google Featured Snippet, here’s what you need to know.
You know those things that pop up at the top of your search results when you look for something? These are little excerpts from web pages that Google decided would be useful to you based on what you searched for.
When an excerpt from your own web page shows up as one of these snippets it’s like being at the top of the search results only better because it shows a more detailed preview of the content. By showing more of your content in that snipped people are more likely to click on it to read the rest of the page.
What You Need to Build Effective Pillar Pages
To build effective pillar pages that will drive a bunch of organic web traffic to your website there are a few things you’re going to need. As we said before you’re going to need enough pre-existing content from your topic clusters to populate the pillar page with source links to cement your authority.
You’ll also need the time and money to invest in the pillar page to bring it from start to finish. Although you could try your hand at building your own pillar pages by leaning on topic clusters you also created yourself, this would be a strategic mistake and will suck up more time than you bargained for. To that effect, it’s best to have a team of experienced digital marketing professionals on hand to power through the construction of your pillar pages.
Your team should be veritable experts in all things SEO and capable of producing a well-constructed pillar page in a reasonable amount of time. If you want your pillar pages to come out pristine and get as much value out of them as possible you should take on a highly skilled and experienced proofreader to look it over before publishing it and offering it up to the god that is Google.
When looking for a suitable proofreader for a pillar page you can’t just pluck someone who is accustomed to proofreading school assignments and expect them to proofread a pillar page effectively. Remember pillar pages are a key part of the arcane arts of SEO which means your proofreader should be intimately familiar with SEO.
Designing the Perfect Pillar Page
When it comes to designing the perfect pillar page you’ll have to take a step beyond its basic anatomy, actually, you’ll have to take a few steps beyond the anatomy. Spoiler alert, things are about to get technical.
First of all, you need to construct the pillar as a new web page. Don’t try just slapping 5,000-10,000 words onto an existing web page. Put the name of your topic into the URL and the H1 of your new page. The next thing you should do is equip the budding pillar page with adequate navigational tools.
Making provisions for easy navigation is a critical element in the construction of any effective pillar page. Without a table of contents laced with links to the various chapters of your pillar page, readers will lose patience when trying to navigate it manually by scrolling through 5,000-10,000+ words of text.
Another crucial part of pillar page design is the imagery. If you’re going to have 5,000-10,000 words of text and expect readers to survive reading all the way through you’re going to need to pepper it with pretty pictures and infographics.
When selecting images to incorporate into a pillar page you should be focusing on two things. Firstly, any image you put into a pillar page should be engaging. More specifically, it should be engaging enough to encourage the customer to keep reading. Secondly, your images should be relevant to the topic.
You should also include a button that will bring readers back to the top or beginning of each chapter for ease of navigation. While it might seem like a small detail, that small detail will be greatly appreciated by anyone who visits your pillar page. It will also stop them from angrily jumping to another website because they don’t have the patience to undergo the insufferable tedium of the laborious process of scrolling up and down between chapters. You’d be surprised by how melodramatic people can be when surfing the web.
The After Party, Promoting and Maintaining Your Shiny New Pillar Page
Now that you’ve successfully produced a brand new pillar page you should start to see a difference in the rate of organic web traffic you get. Keep in mind that traffic might start off as more of a trickle at first. All you need to turn that trickle into a rushing stream is to promote your shiny new pillar page and give it some support, no pun intended.
Your pillar will give you the juice to attract more organic web traffic, you just need to jumpstart that traffic to encourage the flow. One of the best ways to promote your pillar page once it’s constructed is to leverage its corresponding topic cluster. Start promoting the pillar page by using all of the posts from your topic cluster to drive traffic to the pillar.
All of the traffic that’s funneled over to the pillar page by the content from your topic cluster will serve to establish that pillar page as an authority on the topic it was built to support. Before you get too excited there’s something else you should know. You’ll have to do some cleanup on your internal links and submit your website to Google for re-crawling or it might not acknowledge all of the changes you just worked so hard to make!
How to Strengthen Your Pillar Page with Internal Linking From Your Topic Cluster Content
To make your pillar page as strong and effective as possible in its role as acting as a beacon for organic web traffic, you’ll need to strengthen it with strategic internal linking from your topic cluster content.
To strengthen your pillar page in this way it is imperative to use the exact same topic phrase that’s found on the pillar page with all internal links from your topic cluster content. Basically, all of the internal links from your topic cluster content should feature the same wording as the topic phrase you used for the pillar page itself. This will bind them together so that all of the content from your topic cluster will strengthen and power the efficacy and authority of your pillar page.
If the links from the content from your topic cluster uses wording that differs from the exact topic phrase found on your pillar page, your pillar will lack the support it needs to satisfy Google’s algorithm. Every pillar page on your website should be as strong as possible to maximize value and supercharge the rate of any organic web traffic to your site.
When you repeat the process of organizing your internal links in a way that will strengthen your pillar page, Google will categorize it in a way that will favor you and your website while recognizing your pillar page as a trusted authority.
Remember, each pillar page you build will be designated as an authority on its own particular topic. By creating a series of well-constricted pillar pages supported by the internal linking from your topic clusters, Google will recognize and reward your dominance in each individual topic. Once you have a pillar page in place for each of the topics that are most valuable to your business and most likely interest your customers, you will have a firm command over the flow of organic web traffic.
While an individual pillar page will draw a separate stream of visitors to your site, a series of pillar pages will drive a flood of traffic in your direction. By using these tips and building your pillar pages ever so carefully, your traffic will go through the roof and start making a serious impact on sales. Once you’ve seen just how much traffic a few well-designed pillar pages can provide, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that all of that hard work was worth it!
Supporting Your Pillar Pages with SEO
Leveraging internal links isn’t the only way to support your pillar pages, you should also be utilizing and exploiting SEO to make your pillar pages stronger and drive more traffic. It’s important to remember that while your pillar pages are designed to attract traffic to your website you need to drive traffic to the pillar pages to jumpstart that traffic.
Your website is full of spaces that you can utilize to strengthen your pillar pages and pull in more traffic. Look for spaces to add calls to action that direct visitors to your pillar page. Another way you can direct more traffic towards your pillar pages is by including and highlighting them in suggested content. That way when a visitor reads something on a loosely related topic somewhere on your website they will also see a link to your pillar page listed under suggested content.
How to Use Paid Ads to Drive Traffic to Your pillar Pages
While there are many ways to strengthen your pillar pages organically you can also strengthen them with paid ads. The trick is to work out exactly how much you should spend on paid ads versus how much organic traffic you can generate from utilizing your existing resources and web pages.
Once your pillar page has enough traffic and is seen as an authority on the topic you chose by almighty Google you can relax your efforts and watch the pillar page pull in more organic traffic all by itself. Since the primary purpose of a pillar page is to generate enough traffic to increase sales and help you make more money, you shouldn’t expect to spend a great deal of money to power that page.
A good rule of thumb would be to place paid ads in spurts. Keep an eye on your analytics after each spurt to monitor how effective each ad is and how much traffic it brings to your pillar page. This strategy is preferable to gushing out a bunch of money on a massive ad campaign for one web page, not to mention it’ll cost you a lot less.
One could reason that the more money you pour into ads for your pillar page the more effective it will be but there is a cap. There is a point where the money that you put into it ceases to be beneficial, if you have reached that point, it’s overkill. Your pillar page traffic might go through the roof, but it will no longer be cost-effective as a tool.
How to Analyze the Success of Your Pillar Page
Once your pillar page is up and in place you’ll need to keep analyzing its efficacy and keep track of its performance. How do you do that you ask? You’ll need to take a multifaceted approach in your analysis to get a clear and complete picture of the page’s productivity.
The first metric you’ll need to examine is the total number of page visits per day since the pillar page was put in place. Next, you’ll need to break the statistics down by looking at the number of page visits by source. By examining and analyzing the sources of your page visits you’ll have a better idea of how your pillar page is as well as how effective your efforts to promote it have been. This will also give you an accurate indication of how effective your paid ads are compared to any organic, independent efforts.
Also be sure to look at the bounce rates and take the amount of time that visitors spend on the page. If you see that a ton of people visited your pillar page after placing some expensive ads and only spend 5 seconds on that page, you might want to make some adjustments. Finally, you can look at the most exciting statistic of all, your conversion rate. Once you see the conversion rate from your pillar page start to climb you can sit back and watch the money roll in. That’s what it’s all about!
Take the Guesswork Out of the Equation
Now that you have a thorough introduction to topic clusters, pillar pages, and the strategic advantages of both, it’s time to start putting all of that information into action! That said, if your eyes are red from reading all the way through and you never stopped all of that head scratching while scrolling your way through it you might want to consider taking on some help.
Most business owners aren’t SEO sorcerers and many more of them don’t know how to construct and manipulate things like topic clusters and pillar pages. So what kind of crazy genius would know how to do all that stuff? Digital marketing professionals that’s who! AlchemyLeads has one of the most innovative and experienced teams of digital marketing professionals in the L.A. area.
When it comes to pillar pages, topic clusters, and even SEO more generally, just winging it never pays off. If you want to enjoy all of the financial benefits of topic clusters and pillar pages, you’re going to need a dedicated team of digital parking gurus at your side.
Want to drive more traffic to your website without driving yourself insane trying to learn all of the technical sorcery you need to make it happen? Give AlchemyLeads a call, we do it all!