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How to Write Content Pillars That Convert

By May 27, 2022June 15th, 2022No Comments

Visitors to your website are trying your company out to see if your products are the right fit.

If your wardrobe of content is a disorganized mess, with your button-down shirt of a blog post rumpled in a corner here and the khaki pant leg of an ebook sticking out from under the nightstand over there, your audience is bound to bounce in frustration.

A content pillar strategy is designed to give your content The Home Edit treatment, organizing everything under a relevant keyword head term, like work clothes, and adding context with subtopics like suit jackets, ties, and dress shirts.

The content pillar strategy is a foundational content marketing practice that bolsters your site’s SEO for topics relevant to your audience and your business goals, improves the reader experience, and offers a natural path through your brand’s marketing funnel from awareness to conversion and beyond.

What is a content pillar?

A content pillar is a comprehensive piece of content like a guide, long-form article, or an ebook that serves as an authoritative landing page for a particular topic. This overview serves as the cornerstone for content that covers subtopics of the main topic.

Some experts call these topic clusters, cluster content, or a hub and spoke.

Here are the key elements of most content pillars:

  • Table of contents
  • How-tos
  • Guides
  • Definition, or “what is,” articles
  • Roundup articles of examples or tools
  • Internal linking
  • External linking
  • CTAs
  • A mix of top-, middle-, and bottom-of-funnel content

What is a content pillar strategy?

A content pillar strategy encompasses the research, planning, execution, assessment, and iteration that goes into creating content pillars and subtopics.

Organizations should start with a strategy to make sure they are targeting keywords that drive business growth toward their most engaged audience.

SEO and user experience benefits of a content pillar strategy

A content pillar strategy performs double duty by bolstering your SEO and delivering a better experience for readers.

The SEO benefits of the content pillar strategy come from the organization of your content. The pillar page has both primary and secondary keywords related to the head term you are writing about, which is like turning your closet light on to make it easier for the search engine algorithm to see what’s on your website. Then, you dive deeper into your topic to answer longtail keyword phrases in your subtopic pages. Linking between your pillar page and your subtopic pages is the website equivalent of sorting your closet so search engines can find relevant information quickly.

This systematic approach to writing about a topic helps you close content gaps you or your competitors might otherwise miss, thereby helping you build authority on a given topic.

What’s good for the algorithm is, in this case, good for the user experience too. The content pillar method organizes your content into cohesive content themes, making it easy for readers to find related content quickly. This can lead to readers sticking around longer, reading more, and developing trust for your brand and your products.

Organizing content by topic can make it easier to identify what themes your audience gravitates toward and use a recommendation engine to encourage your readers to read similar articles.

A step-by-step plan for creating effective content pillars for content marketing

The need for more content grows each year. To scale effectively, content teams need a systematic, repeatable approach to building content pillars that takes them from ideation to publication. Then, they need the right data to learn what worked and what didn’t, so they can iterate on their approach.

1. Identify a core topic

Use keyword research tools like Ahrefs or Semrush to make sure there is enough substance to warrant a content pillar and enough search volume to be effective. “Enough” can range from a couple of thousand searches per month for niche topics to tens of thousands of searches per month for common head terms.

With the right head terms in hand, find longtail keyword phrases that belong in the same content bucket as your pillar page and use those as the base for articles on related subtopics. If your head term is “business attire,” some appropriate longtail keyword phrases may be:

  • Does business attire require a tie?
  • What are the three types of business attire?
  • Where to buy female formal business attire

Besides Ahrefs and Semrush, you can use a freemium tool like AnswerThePublic. In fact, that’s how we identified the phrases above. This search listening tool mines autocomplete data from search engines like Google for phrases and questions people search for related to your content pillar.

2. Analyze existing content

Unless you’re starting a fresh website, you likely already have content you can reuse, refresh, or repurpose for a subtopic under your content pillar.

Repurposing content includes actions like taking snippets from a webinar and using them for social media or taking key data from a blog post and using them as building blocks for an infographic.

Sometimes, the format of a piece of content is ideal as is; it just needs a refresh. Taking the time to revise an existing post with a stronger introduction, better search-optimized headings, and replacements for stale images can be enough to give an old post new life.

3. Research the competitive landscape

Most keyword research tools like Ahrefs and Semrush have content gap reports that help you identify keywords your competitors are ranking for that you are not.

These content gaps can be good starting points when you are looking for subtopics.

To compete for these keywords, you need to consider where you can add more value for readers than your competitors provide. This could mean analyzing your internal data, conducting primary research, interviewing subject matter experts, or offering real-world examples.

4. Plan your content creation

Use content analytics tools like Parse.ly, part of the WordPress VIP content management platform, to see what types of content your readers are drawn to. Find the posts with the highest engagement to see what they have in common. 

Perhaps the best-performing content is all in a similar format, whether that’s explainers, guides, how-tos, or comparison articles. Maybe a look at word counts reveals whether your audience prefers snappy, short posts or deep-dive ebooks. The assets on the page can play a role, too. Look for whether photo-heavy pages encourage engagement or beautifully designed infographics stop readers in their tracks.

While you’re planning content with readers in mind, don’t forget the search engines. Use a short, descriptive URL, like clothing.com/business-attire, for your pillar page. Then, nest your subtopics underneath with a short description, too, like clothing.com/business-attire/suits.

Keep the work ahead of you organized by documenting your social media posts, website articles, and ebooks on a content calendar.

5. Write your content pillars and subtopics

Start with your content pillar. The pillar page should include H2 headings that define the topic, offer an overview, and answer the basic questions you uncovered during your keyword research. Each of these sections can then link to subtopics that go into more depth.

Use a tool like Content Harmony or Clearscope to help optimize your piece with relevant terms, headings, and an appropriate word count.

Run your content through a tool like Writer to double-check your spelling and grammar. Simple errors can damage your credibility with readers.

As you complete your subtopics, make sure to link them back to your content pillar and update that pillar page to include a link to the subtopic. As your pillar grows, it will build authority with readers and search algorithms.

Eventually, you will have a networked resource that has all the information a reader could ever need on the subject in one place. Couple this be-all, end-all resource with CTAs that nurture your audience through each stage of their journey until they convert into a customer. 

This nurturing process could include CTAs encouraging readers to sign up for enewsletter content specifically about that content pillar topic, or directing readers to check out a worksheet that helps them address a pain point.

6. Distribute your content

Your content analytics tool can also tell you the best place to distribute your content and the best format on each channel.

For example, repurpose your post into a short video on Facebook or a podcast on Spotify. Or, maybe there’s an attention-grabbing statistic that would be perfect in the subject line of your next enewsletter.

The idea is to drive your audience to your pillar content, where you’ll wow them with comprehensive coverage of their specific interest or pain point, along with actions they can take today to solve their problem.

Use Parse.ly’s source referral report to gauge the effectiveness of your distribution strategy on each channel.

7. Measure your outcomes

The metrics you track are dependent on your company’s goals, but there are some common metrics that can be helpful for many businesses in many industries.

Use a source referral report to see how well channels like email marketing or social media marketing are driving traffic back to your website.

Take a look at engaged time to determine whether your audience is absorbing your content.

Track last post attribution to ensure your content is effectively moving your audience through your marketing funnel.

Create content that works

Content pillar examples

It helps to see the final product of a systematic, step-by-step approach to creating a content pillar. Each of these examples demonstrates the key elements of a pillar page and offers inspiration for how to approach your first content pillar.

A Strategic Guide to Content Marketing for Business Growth – Parse.ly

This guide features concise writing and skimmable headlines, which improve the user experience. The subtopics start near the top of the funnel and encourage the reader to travel down the marketing funnel toward conversion as they learn more.

The complete guide to heatmaps – Hotjar

This pillar page leans heavily into visual content to explain to readers everything they need to know about heatmaps. Its architecture produces simple, descriptive URLs that make it easy for search engines to read and understand, as does the extensive internal linking.

Mobile Analytics: A Complete Guide to App Retention and Engagement – Amplitude

This guide links to subtopics that use a variety of formats, from tips to playbooks to opinionated thought leadership, to teach the readers about mobile analytics.

Measuring how well your content strategy converts

With your closet and content organized, it’s time to find out if your audience likes the style. A suit does no good gathering dust on a hanger, and a popular post is only a success if it converts readers into customers.

Parse.ly’s content conversions can help you measure the success of your new content pillar strategy. Want to see for yourself?