Search engine algorithms are changing all the time so it’s important to stay up to date on what’s working and what’s not. This is especially true for the base content on your websites that you want to rank. What is a pillar page and why do these pages (or posts) matter for your content strategy? That’s what we’ll cover in this article.
Pillar pages and topic clusters: if you have questions about either of these things, get your scrolling thumb and your notepad ready! Because that’s our focus for today.
By the end of this brief article, you’ll have a clear explanation of what pillar pages and topic clusters are, how to create them, how to organize them, and how to link content so you can keep search engines happy and keep your content ranking!
Let’s start from the top.
What Are Topic Clusters?
We’ve talked about this often in the digital marketing and SEO space: People’s search habits have been evolving over time, and this has altered the way SEOs and blog writers are creating their new content. Here’s a brief explanation of what we know about search habits and how it has led to something we call topic clusters.
People are asking more complex and conversational queries…
When you started your last Google search, what did you type into the search bar? If you were looking for a delicious spot to find some Thai food, did you type ‘dinner ideas’ or ‘pad thai’ into the search bar, or something more like ‘Thai restaurants near me’?
If you were searching for an AI content marketing tool, did you just type ‘marketing’ or ‘AI’ into the search bar, or something more like ‘best AI tools for writing blog posts’?
See the difference between the two?
People are searching for longer and more EXACT keyword phrases to get more specific results to their queries. When we say ‘complex queries’ we’re simply referring to a more long-tail and specific keyword.
They say more than half of all searches consist of four words or more and we’re seeing more longer-form conversational search queries that help people find the exact information they’re seeking.
And with the increase in voice search due to tools like Siri and Google Assistant, it’s no wonder why long-form searches are becoming the norm. When I’m talking to Siri, my queries are very specific: ‘Hey Siri, how many siblings does Marlon Wayans have?’
These longer and more specific searches also help people to filter out the junk responses and find the most accurate results for the inquiry they have. After all, quantity tends to outweigh QUALITY on the internet, so we do have to soft through the junk sometimes.
Longer queries make our job a little easier and help us to find results quicker.
Searchers get exactly what they want from search engines…
When a user searches for something on Google, the algorithm does a pretty darn good job of providing the best answer/result possible. The algorithms are updated regularly and search engines make changes that help them improve the results they provide for end users. This includes potentially penalizing sites that have too many irrelevant internal links and interpreting conversational queries as a whole rather than individual words (no more keyword stuffing y’all)!
And when you really think about it, this makes perfect sense.
Once people start to learn the ‘hacks’ of ranking their content, certain groups start to abuse this knowledge, which in turn, alters search results in favor of the site owner and not the end user. Search engines want the search results to serve the end user, the readers that are searching for information and answers online.
Because search engines are attempting to give the most PRECISE results possible to the searcher, the content that we create really needs to fill all the gaps and address any potential shortcomings that wouldn’t allow the reader to get the precise information that they need from our site.
Your site should be organized around different main topics, with blog posts about specific, conversational long-tail keywords linked to one another in order to address as many searches as possible about a particular subject.
These groups of blog posts under one umbrella topic are called topic clusters. This topic cluster model can help you improve your site organization, stay on Google’s good side, and rank for more content!
How topic clusters provide end users with relevant answers…
Okay, so now we know that search is evolving and people are searching for longer, more specific, and more conversational phrases on Google.
Google is sifting through sites and learning what the site topics are about to see if your content can ‘fill the gaps’ and answer the user’s query as precisely as possible.
To ‘fill the gaps’ of these queries, we want to make sure that we have topic clusters on our sites (topic clusters are connected to the pillar page, which we’ll get into shortly).
Most bloggers have some general categories on their site, but when it comes to their blog posts, they focus on creating blog posts that simply rank for specific keywords.
Example: a mom blog might have some categories on the menu that are labeled motherhood, lifestyle, fitness… but when it comes to individual blog posts, they all tend to fall under whatever keyword phrase she is trying to rank for.
This is not the organized, precise, focused content form that search engines want to see when they are crawling our sites and deciding what is going to rank in search results.
The creator may have worked hard to create individual articles they could rank for in the ‘motherhood space’, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the end user (your potential readers) have been able to find the precise answers they are looking for in a sea of content on your blog.
Here’s a visual example:
On the flip side, having a large CLUSTER of pages/posts that rank for specific terms under an umbrella topic can help to fill in those gaps and provide the end user with the precise answers they are searching for on a topic.
Look how much cleaner the concept of topic clusters is when you see it in visual form.
How to create your topic clusters…
First, choose the main topics you want to rank for.
Remember, if you go super broad, it’ll take longer but you’ll have a wide range of flexibility and room for scaling. If you go more narrow on your topics, ranking can happen faster, but you will eventually hit your max capacity and scale will be limited.
Next, you’ll want to create some content based on specific keywords related to that main topic. You can link these articles to each other to form a broader topic (and yes, they should be so relevant to each other that it fully makes sense for them to naturally interlink).
Essentially, it will look like your specific topics on the top tier, surrounded by your expanding blog posts on the topic below, intertwined and connected to each other via hyperlinks.
This model helps you to organize and interconnect your entire site using a more deliberate site architecture and content plan. It can also help your pages rank in Google and help visitors locate information on your site more easily.
This is not the ONLY ranking factor, so please don’t think that you can write a few cluster topic articles and rank for any post you want.
Learn more: A Beginner’s Guide to SEO and Ranking Your Blog!
This is one part of a very important content marketing strategy… but it’s an essential part!
Your pillar content, cluster content, and hyperlinks are the three components involved.
So now that we know what cluster topics are in general, let’s dig into the pillar page: what it is, why it matters, and how to create it.
Your pillar content: this is the primary subject that you as a blogger are attempting to rank for on your site, and you’re doing this by creating more detailed cluster content around said subject.
We’re gonna go into detail about pillar pages, but here is the close-up visual of our cluster chart that is shown above. You’ll see the chart consists of a pillar page in the center, cluster topics around it, and interlinks connecting the cluster posts to the pillar page.
Every cluster topic links back to the main pillar post.
Pillar page is the center (target). The cluster topics are all around it. And the cluster topics and pillar page are interlinked.
Let’s dig in just a bit further.
What Is a Pillar Page?
A pillar page serves as the foundation for a topic cluster.
It is the CENTER of the cluster, and it covers every essential aspect of the entire umbrella topic on this one page, with room for more in-depth details and examples in the blog posts that are linking back to the pillar page.
Remember, the blog posts linking back to the pillar page are your cluster topics that fall under this subject umbrella.
It’s a comprehensive guide on this ONE subject that you want to rank for on your site.
Let’s say you want to rank for the topic of ‘breastfeeding tips’ on your mom blog. You’ll create a comprehensive breastfeeding guide (kind of like a beginner’s guide or a breastfeeding 101 article). It will be detailed and comprehensive, but you can leave room to expand on these general tips within your cluster blog posts.
A pillar page should comprehensively cover a specific subject, and a piece of cluster content should also cover a piece of that topic in-depth, addressing a specific keyword associated with it and then linking back to the pillar post.
Another example: you might create a pillar page about content marketing–which is a pretty broad subject. Then you might write a blog post on a more specific subject related to content marketing, in order to address a specific keyword relevant to that subject. Something like, creating a content schedule.
It’s important to note that a pillar page will cover all aspects of a given topic, but it doesn’t necessarily go into as much DETAIL as a typical blog post that focuses on one portion of that larger topic.
Enter: the topic cluster! Review the topic cluster section above to review the importance and creation of these pieces of content!
Pillar Pages vs Pillar Posts: Is There a Difference?
Are pillar pages different from pillar posts? No. The principle is essentially the same: an extensive article that covers all aspects of a given topic, with smaller more-detailed articles clustered around it and linking back to it.
The pillar content is a ‘support beam’ on this broader topic that you want to rank for. It doesn’t matter if it’s published as a page or a post.
You’ll hear different opinions on the importance of creating the pillar content as a ‘page’ or a ‘post’, but from my testing, there isn’t a clear right or wrong form. On most of my sites, I call
How to create a pillar page…
For your pillar page, you can focus less on keyword optimization and more on the topic you want to rank for. Think less about the long-tail keyword itself and think about the umbrella topic as a whole. Make sure the umbrella topic is broad enough to cover a variety of blog post topics in your content cluster
Example: Marketing on TikTok is a broad enough topic to contain a variety of blog posts clustered under it.
However, ‘marketing on social media’ would be a bit too broad of a topic for a single pillar. There are so many social media platforms, rules, and algorithms to follow, you couldn’t capture a comprehensive pillar article without overwhelming your reader.
After you’ve decided on a pillar topic, it’s time to do some keyword research and some competition research to come up with blog post ideas that relate to this umbrella topic, this cornerstone of your entire content strategy.
Make a list of your blog post ideas for this topic cluster. Do you have enough ideas to fall under the pillar page? If so, you’re ready to create the actual page!
Remember, it’s essentially a long-form article that answers any question or query a user might have about a subject they type into a search engine. It doesn’t have to go into intense detail about the sub-topics, but it should briefly answer any and all queries related to the umbrella topic, in a natural and conversational way.
This will encourage readers to click on the article when it starts ranking in search engines, and it will help them get answers to their questions based on the pillar post and its connected cluster posts.
How many pillar pages do you need?
There is no single correct answer. You might have a narrow niche blog that is focused on one specific pillar topic and a handful of cluster posts linking to it. Or you might have 10 pillar topics with dozens of cluster posts linking to it.
Depends on your niche, your site size, and your goals.
But at least one pillar page is essential. And we usually see at least 3-5 pillar topics on any given site, generally speaking.
As of current research, we’re still seeing a large benefit to keeping your entire website ‘niche-focused’ without venturing into random topics that are unrelated to your main pillar topics.
In other words, if your site is all about growing and harvesting garden vegetables, no need to venture into topics about motherhood – it’s not a good fit and it has the potential to knock you out of search rankings if your topic clusters confuse search engines.
As a general rule: keep the entire website focused on one specific niche, helpful to one specific segment of the population. Keep your pillar posts in long-form, heavily focused on one umbrella topic that has room for small clusters of supporting content. And make sure all of your cluster content topics are mentioned in the pillar page and interlinked.
Follow these principles here and watch those rankings climb!