Insight | Marketing

Pillar pages and content clusters - an advanced SEO marketing strategy

These everchanging factors shape how and why we craft content. Although this is not a new concept by any means, the restructuring of website content architecture is an advanced SEO strategy worth implementing and here’s why.

Traditionally, many content administrators have created webpages and written blog articles to position their business as an authority on matters, which works well for individual pages, especially when optimised effectively.

Ancient architecture

Often these blogs are organised in an erstwhile hierarchical structure on a website, with the home page at the top, followed by a blog section with a host of pages and news articles, as depicted below.

This can result in your site having scores of pages with different angles on similar topics that become buried over time. For search engines, such as Google, all those pages with similar topics become confusing. It doesn’t know which one to rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Modern build

This is where the more pragmatic pillar pages and content clusters come in. The pillar pages cover the key aspects of a topic that holds up your website and business. Whilst topic clusters are subcategories that cover keywords related to that topic in more depth.

The advantages of this website architecture are that it helps organise your content, making it easier for users to browse your website and consume your content, whilst tying your content together topically. This will de-clutter your website and provide a cleaner user experience when it comes to hyperlinks. Google algorithms can then crawl and make sense of your site much more easily. This helps all the related pages start to rank for the keywords they are written for, leading to the whole cluster succeeding in the SERPs.

In other words, the easier Google can make sense of your website and what it’s about, the better it will rank.

At the centre of the more cohesive cluster structure is one webpage with a broad overview of the topic. Generally speaking, pillar pages should be much longer than normal blog posts. You are looking to provide real value to your audience but to leave plenty of depth for the blog posts.

This topic pillar page then has hyperlinks out from each of the subject’s key aspect to more specific, in-depth pages and blog posts which are written for specific keywords. This forms your topic cluster. Typically, it is advised that each pillar page is supported by 20-30 blog posts.

Each of these blog posts have paths back to the pillar page, as well as between each other, if relevant. When you step back the result is the sharing of the domain authority amongst all the interlinking blog posts and central pillar page.

Step 1: Divide and conquer

To begin, the first step is to divide your content up into topics and decide which topics you want to rank for. Depending on how large your website is determines how long this will take. This will help to identify pages which can be used as pillar content pages and blog posts with overlapping topics which can be combined.

Old blog posts should be redirected to point to your new posts. Existing blog posts can then be repurposed by removing old hyperlinks and adding new ones pointing to your new pillar content page.

Step 2: Laying the foundations

Next; choose the keywords you will target and conduct keyword research with tools such as Google keyword planner, keywordtool.io and answerthepublic.com.

This phase will help to identify gaps and long tail keyword opportunities within your topic clusters. New content should be optimised using best practice on page SEO methods. For best practice take a look at Moz’s recently updated SEO cheat sheet.

Step 3: Restructure your site

Finally, create your pillar pages and link to your blog articles. Your pillar pages should be where you spend the most of your time. They should be the longest and broadest pages on your website and a key part of your content strategy. After all, these are the pages which are going to spearhead your rise through the Google rankings.

The longer the blog article, the better, but quality counts. Aim for 1,000 words, 2,000+ words ideally, but there’s nothing wrong with 10,000 words. Be sure to use synonyms of your primary keyword with an average of one hyperlink for every 150 words. When creating content for your topic clusters, it’s important to remember that blogs should not be the only type of content. Regular content should also be made up of:

  • Good quality optimised images
  • Videos with transcripts
  • Case studies (external examples where other companies have done a good or poor job)
  • Case studies (internal)
  • Interviews
  • Downloadable resources and guides
  • Interactive tools (such as calculators)
  • FAQs
  • Tables, infographics, battlecards etc.
  • Industry news

This is a time-consuming SEO marketing strategy, so it is important to gain an accurate representation of the success of efforts and define KPIs. Here are a few ways of measuring your success.

  • Track keyword growth monthly
  • Set up a segment within Google Analytics to track any interaction with the defined topic clusters as a group
  • Monitor top-level organic traffic levels

But time knows no mercy and the process doesn’t end here. As content quality continues to improve, competition increases and technology evolves, your pillar pages and content clusters should be updated, supplemented, and even replaced to remain relevant.

Opening doors

If we put this strategy into practice, using a marketing agency as an example, it might look something like this:

A key topic for a marketing agency might be SEO. Here we can see our pillar page covering all the key aspects of SEO, such as:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO
  • Local SEO
  • Backlinks
  • Schema mark-up
  • Page speed
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Optimised content
  • Metadata

This pillar page is then supported by content cluster pages covering each of these key aspects in more detail. Each of the content cluster pages link back to the pillar page and between each other, where relevant.

It’s a worthwhile and long-lasting undertaking. Whilst it’s clear that this approach will take time – Rome wasn’t built in a day – it will form the basis of your content strategy that will give your content more focus on the right topics that you want to be seen as authoritative for (part of Google’s EAT philosophy towards content). It will also stop you spending time in the wrong areas and grow your share of voice within your market which should lead to better share of market. And it should give you clear topics you can focus on quarter by quarter or split up amongst your team and give you clear competitors to track and chase down.

We recommend this approach to all our clients that are actively looking to create content and even for those focused on other areas, we try not to undertake any SEO without knowing these core topic clusters.

Let’s work together

If you’re looking for guidance with your SEO strategy or just want advice around content strategies, get in touch and we can explore and expand your options together.