Pillar content, cluster content, and topic clusters: what are they, how do you use them, and how do you get started?

What is pillar content or a pillar page?

Pillar content is a piece of content on your website that completely covers a topic, from front to back and left to right. This page is written in plain language and is often very long. You don’t just shake a pillar page out of your sleeve; it will take you a few days to read it fully. But that also pays off: pillar content radiates authority.

It is always current and up-to-date. It contains the answer to all questions a reader may have on the topic. As a result, most pieces of pillar content are based on an informational basis, but you can nevertheless also use pillar pages for lead generation and as a conversion driver.

Most importantly, pillar content fully informs the reader and, where ever necessary, refers to in-depth content (more on that later). If zero questions are asked in the contact option at the bottom of this page, you know you did it right!

The benefits of pillar content

Why would you put time, effort and energy into writing pillar content?

A pillar page is buzzing with customer-centricity. You write it to help the reader (in other words: your potential customer ) from start to finish. That page radiates authority. Your target group is starting to trust you as the specialist in your industry because you have so much in-house knowledge and are not afraid to share it – for free and for nothing!

You can take that ‘for free and for nothing’ with a grain of salt and use your pillar content as a lead magnet to collect email addresses. Then it is free, but not entirely for nothing. For Example, you can also offer your pillar page as downloadable. It is important that sufficient information remains on the web page and that you do not hide everything in the whitepaper or e-book. After all, the reader should still see that you are authoritative. It is not the case that the downloadable is there for bacon and beans if all information is also simply on the web page: for many people, a whitepaper or e-book is also simply useful as a reference.

In addition, keeping good content on the page is also important to rank well in the search engines. SEO (search engine optimization) is perhaps the area where pillar content can really make a difference. How?

  • Extensive and qualitative pillar content works as a link magnet. Other websites that automatically link to you and your pillar page can gain natural backlinks that make Google mouth water.
  • Because the pillar content answers all burning questions from the reader and offers many possibilities to click through to other content on your website, you prevent ‘pogo picking’ (a user always returns to the search results page to click on a different search result ). Google also notices this and recognizes that your pillar page adds value for the user. And that is, of course, what Google prefers to rank: good, valuable content.
  • Ultimately, the pillar page can conquer the top 3 positions on super competitive search terms. Want to Rank high on the most important high-volume keyword in your market? You do that with strong pillar content. And once you have done that, you will see that the other pages of your website also become stronger.

Supplement your pillar content with cluster content

Pillar content is a long and strong piece of content in which you discuss a subject from A to Z. 

You will inevitably run into it while writing a pillar page because you can never answer all the questions a reader may have about a topic extensively and in-depth on one web page. Then the pillar page becomes a kind of monster page of hundreds of thousands of words in which you sink into a morass of increasingly specific questions every two paragraphs.

How do you solve that? With cluster content.

What is cluster content?

Cluster content provides in-depth coverage of a single topic or answer for a particular user question. Blogs are a very useful form of content for this. You don’t have to write a 5000+ word monster blog every time. Instead, focus on the goal of covering a topic thoroughly and answering the most specific questions about it.

The pillar page remains relatively superficial (Not Deep). Although each sub-topic is mentioned and each question is answered briefly. Your readers will find the real depth in the cluster content, which is short compared to the pillar content. But explains in-depth about a single topic.

Cluster content can continue to be created and is often linked to low-volume long-tail search terms, while the pillar page targets the high volume keywords. Make sure your reader doesn’t get overwhelmed by the huge pillar page, instead make them quickly find a specific sub-topic. You do this by maintaining a clear structure in your pillar content and adding a clear table of contents.

The relationship between pillar content and cluster content

All those cluster pages that you build around the pillar page, like a spider web, are intended to support the pillar page and make it stronger. Each cluster page links back to the pillar page, and the pillar page links back to each cluster page.

Result? A coherent web of related content in which one page – the pillar page – clearly stands out as the axis of the information wheel.

A topic cluster is born.

We call this coherent web of pillar content and surrounding cluster content a topic cluster.

Why is it wise to work with topic clusters? For two reasons: the human website visitor and the not-so-human website visitor (Google, so).

The human readers of your content are ultimately helped with their questions without getting stuck in an information swamp. The navigation between the different pages of the topic cluster is logical and intuitive. Someone can click through endlessly and delve into exactly those sub-topics that he finds interesting.

If your topic cluster is well organized, the reader’s information needs are fully satisfied, and they will no longer have to navigate to another website for more information. This way, you steal visitors and potential customers away from competitors and bind them to your brand.

Google is also happy with topic clusters. Due to the intensive and consistent internal link structure that is always accompanied by a (good) topic cluster, the search engine can make connections between the pages and better determine how the information on those pages relates to each other. And that’s good for your SEO, allowing your pillar page to rank for High volume keywords and also helps to rank your cluster pages for the right long-tail search terms.

A little vague? Here are some examples of pillar content and cluster content

The theory may be a bit tough, dry and abstract. What does  a topic cluster look like in reality?

Don’t worry. We will give you some examples below.

Hubspot

Hubspot has set up several topic clusters, each with its own central pillar page. For Example, their pages about Instagram marketing and Facebook marketing (can see that pillar content works as a link magnet?). These pillar pages are both around 9000 words (pooh!) But they are also very complete.

The characteristic of the pillar pages is the table of contents (good for quick and easy navigation!) And the fact that the body text is full of links, both internally and externally. 

Here are questions Hubspot has to answer to make the right Pillar content. 

  • How do you take a perfect profile picture? 
  • How do you use live videos? 
  • What are the best times to post on Instagram? 

 Also, these topics are covered in detail in a special blog post devoted to this sub-topic. 

Backlinko

The SEO hub Backlinko is quite extensive. The pillar page of this hub is What is SEO? (a hefty 8000 words), which provides a complete introduction to SEO in all its facets. The rest of the topic cluster consists of in-depth content that is more focused on the separate aspects of search engine optimization.

How do you set up a topic cluster yourself?

That’s quite a bit of work, so first, ask yourself: what am I doing it for? Am I motivated always to refine the content, keep it up to date and expand it? Is the answer a resounding yes? Good, then let’s get to work.

Start at the beginning.

By that, we mean: start with your target group. After all, without a target group, your company has no right to exist. What is important for topic clusters is the information needs of your target group.

Grab your buyer personas and just start brainstorming about their relationship with your organization. What information do they turn to you for? In which areas are you a potential authority? Suppose you have a webshop with inflatable items. Then you are a credible authority in the field of inflatable crocodiles but no longer in the field of real crocodiles.

Think further than just search terms (although they are helpful to use as guidance).

 SEO is an important part of pillar content, but customer-centricity is one step higher. Long Tail search terms do not seem very interesting due to the low search volume but are ideal for targeting because of the clear search intention and low competition. In fact, 20 percent of the daily searches in Google have never been entered before!

Define which information areas are and which are not relevant to your company. For Example, do you only sell inflatable animals? Then it is not relevant to create in-depth content about inflatable donuts. You can take this as a rule of thumb when making this decision: if the search query does not lead to your product or service, it is not relevant to you.

Work strategically

Before you actually start writing, make a plan. What does it contain?

  • Which topic you will cover in this topic cluster;
  • Which chapters your pillar content consists of;
  • Which sub-topics deserve deepening (you can continually expand this even further!);
  • A logical URL structure;
  • The purpose of the content ( Is it to Educate, Generate leads or Want to increase conversions)

Also, map out which content you already have on your website to reuse as cluster content. It is a shame to do double work if your website is already full of good content, with the only downside that it is disorganized.

Option 1: keep expanding your pillar page a bit

Does it feel overwhelming to smash out a fantastic 9,000-word pillar page all at once? Understandable. In addition, you run the risk of getting a little lost in such a large forest of words. Writing a pillar page is not the same as simply typing a blog straight away. You have to prepare well for it.

Don’t you like that? Then you can approach it as follows: you write a pillar page that is not entirely finished. Don’t make it too skinny, but you don’t have to hit the 10,000-word milestone right away either.

Every time you write a piece of cluster content, you supplement your pillar page with some sort of summary of the information. And then, you link to that cluster page so that a reader can find the desired floor there. In this way, your pillar page grows steadily.

Option 2: deepen a topic each time in cluster pages

You can also do it the other way around. You can write a huge pillar page in one go. Based on that content, you then draw up a content calendar for the in-depth cluster pages. If you have written a new piece of cluster content, reassess the information about it in the pillar content (is it still correct if you look at what you wrote about it on your cluster page?) And add links.

Since setting up a topic cluster is really a long-term content marketing strategy, none of the above options is the ‘better’ approach. The end result is the same: a web of in-depth cluster content with an up-to-date pillar page with a high information density in the center.

Internal links are like Glue. [Very Important]

Internal links are the Glue of the topic cluster, the spokes of the wheel, the threads of the web: a good internal link structure is essential when setting up a topic cluster. This is because you indicate the relationship between the pieces of content. And that is good for the reader and for Google. Win-win!

Have you written a new cluster page? Then these are the internal links you need to create:

  • A link from the new cluster page to the pillar page;
  • A link from the pillar page to the new cluster page;
  • Links from the new cluster page to other cluster pages.
  • Links from other cluster pages to the new cluster page.

Prefer links that are highly relevant and fit in the text naturally. So, do not add all existing cluster pages to the sentence ‘We also wrote a page about inflatable giraffes’ at the end of the page. Instead, look for a specific keyword relevant to any of the cluster pages and add the respective link to that particular word. 

For Example, If there is a Page on “Local SEO”, Look for a keyword that is relevant to Local SEO and Links the Local SEO Page to that relevant word.” 

Create a hub page

Your pillar page basically brings all related content within the topic cluster together. Nevertheless, that can be a bit confusing. That’s why you can create a compilation page.

Is someone looking for a specific topic? On the hub page, he can quickly and easily find where to find that information!

Always moving

So, you’ve figured out what your topic cluster is about. Your pillar page is online. You’ve hung some cluster content around it. Are you ready now?

No!

A topic cluster is always on the move, always growing, always subject to improvement. You are always busy writing new cluster pages and updating your pillar content. And if you do that consistently, you will see that your topic cluster becomes a powerful part of your content marketing.

Need help getting your pillar content off the ground? Feel free to contact us for strategic advice!

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