How to get your first pillar page to take off with topic clusters
by Anna Kaine on 3 October 2018
“It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish.” As J. R. R. Tolkien knew only too well, starting is often the hardest part of a project, especially with content creation (and a long piece, at that). While pillar pages are hardly the same as an expedition to Mount Doom, it can sometimes feel like the sheer size of the job is too much for a humble hobbit – erm, marketer. Procrastination is part of the human condition (and actually a sign of great intelligence!) but your highly organised, effective and far-reaching pillar page, sadly, won’t write itself – this is one job AI has not yet sorted for us.
Coming up with your ‘Eureka moment’ and realising you’re an authority on a certain topic is a huge part of the pillar page journey. Understanding the need for your pillar page is also vital, because SEO as you know it is dead. If you want your brilliant content to be found then you need to start thinking about optimising for topics – not keywords. The good news is this is simpler than you might think, as Hubspot explains:
“Google is helping searchers find the most accurate information possible – even if it isn't exactly what they searched for. For example, if you searched for "running shoes," Google will now also serve you up results for "trainers." This means that bloggers and SEOs need to get even better at creating and organising content that addresses any gaps that could prevent a searcher from getting the information they need from your site.”
But what do you do once you’ve got that one golden idea no-one else has created an excellent pillar page about yet? How do you actually plan and get started?
There’s a pretty simple process – and diagram – you can use to help you plan out your initial content, from the pillar page itself to the clusters, or subtopics, you will create around this page. As we’ve mentioned on our own pillar page about organising your content into related clusters, this form is constantly growing and changing, but if you can build a plan just like the ones you’re about to see below, then you’ll know exactly the direction your pillar page is going in for the first few months of its inception.
To illustrate just how easy it is to get started – and how absolutely any sector can create pillar page content – we’ve asked a few of the ESM Inbound team to demonstrate how they’d go about creating their dream pillar pages – because everyone’s an expert at something!
Topic: The Fictional History of Star Trek
Audience: Star Trek fans who want more background information on the history and world created.
A master of many skills, John is an inbound marketing whizz – but that’s not his only passion. His dream pillar page would be about The Fictional History of Star Trek. There isn’t much John doesn’t know about this sci-fi universe so his perfect pillar page would be to boldly go where no marketer has gone before.
Top tip: In order to organise your ideas, we recommend using the diagram below, created by HubSpot (you can always do it the old-fashioned way with a pen and notepad). As you can see, the large orange globe in the centre is your pillar page idea – this will be where you write your golden content inspiration. This will be 3000+ words of content, split into chapters, hosted on a webpage on your website.
The smaller “bullseye” circles around the outside are blog posts where you can build on related cluster topics in more detail. These are your subtopics – John doesn’t have space to jam all his knowledge about Star Trek on to just one pillar page, so he’s going to have to splinter off into separate pages to get more in depth.
These ideas will also help him structure his pillar page – for instance, he might cover each of these clusters in a small amount of detail within the chapters on the page. But those chapters will also click through to a dedicated blog post on that topic.
For example: When John gets to the point in his pillar page where he’s discussing The Birth of Starfleet and Warp 5 Travel, he will write the basics of this topic on the pillar page, maybe linking to a few other useful sites or an embedded video. But he will also link to his blog posts titled ‘10 things you probably don’t know about The Birth of Starfleet’ and ‘The First Warp 5 Engine’.
Topic: European city breaks
Audience: Those visiting Europe for the first time who want to feel organised ahead of their trip.
In Lucy’s case, her experiences of living and travelling abroad definitely qualify her as an expert-level Eurofile. As a previous Head of Modern Foreign Languages in a secondary school and with her French degree, she’s certainly the person to go to when seeking advice on visiting France, while her ‘spiritual home’ is Venice (she’s visited four times and counting).
Her perfect pillar page would be created to advise other people about visiting Europe – just a few of her sub-topic clusters are explored below:
Her pillar page would act as an overall introduction to visiting Europe, covering the most popular countries, currency, famous sites and ways to travel. But in order to home in on specific topics in detail – for instance, if you knew you were only visiting Italy – you could skip to that chapter of the pillar page using the chapter navigation. From here, you would hyperlink to blog posts that expand on Italy – its cities, food, the best times of year to visit each region, fashion, history, key phrases to learn – and go into far more detail.
Top tip: Link your pillar page to a relevant blog post and back again via the same keyword or phrase. For example, Lucy’s pillar page would use the term ‘eating in Spain’ so she would hyperlink this phrase to her blog post ‘10 foods to try when visiting Spain’. In the blog post, she would use the term ‘eating in Spain’ again and hyperlink it back to the pillar page.
This keeps Google happy because you’re giving it more information about related content, meaning you can move up the search results pages better than your competitors’ scrambled pages where they have possibly thousands of blog posts which are unanchored on their site. As Tangible Words explains:
“If a business has dozens of web pages about a similar topic, they end up competing for the search engine’s top spot. Google’s algorithm changes now prioritise websites with content structured by topic or focus into topic clusters.”
Topic: Baking for all levels
Audience: Adventurous bakers who want to extend their repertoire to more challenging bakes.
Having lived in many different places – including Vancouver, Canada – Harry is a well-travelled gent. But there’s one thing that has always captured his attention while adventuring: cake. Maybe it’s because his family owns its very own tea rooms in Cheshire – Ginger & Pickles – or maybe it’s because he used to keep an Instagram account called @cakeinspector. Either way, we trust this guy’s opinion on cakes and bakes more than Paul Hollywood himself – and we’re confident a pillar page on the topic would attract lots of budding bakers.
These are just a few of the key subtopics Harry could start with on his pillar page about cakes. Remember, each of these blog posts would link back to the main pillar page, creating an organised, methodical and content-rich source for Google to navigate.
Top tip: Once you’ve created your pillar page, give readers a downloadable option to get a PDF version of the page, like an extra-long ebook. Some people prefer to have a long pillar page in this form they can dip in and out of, instead of navigating up and down a webpage. You can also gate this resource but putting a form on your pillar page, requesting a few key information fields before emailing the PDF to the reader, meaning your contact list grows at the same time.
Topic: The joy of podcasts
Audience: People who are new to, or haven’t yet tried listening to podcasts who need some guidance.
With around 6 in 10 people not listening to podcasts, this is still a hugely untapped resource. But for Anna, podcasts have been changing the way she goes about her life for the past seven years. Not only does she now spend less time in front of the TV or mindlessly scrolling through social media, but due to podcasts’ on-the-go nature, they allow her to learn, laugh and pass the time, while moving around. Whether it’s during cooking, travelling, cleaning, gardening or on long walks, Anna plugs into her podcast downloader and listens to some of her favourite people telling her fascinating stories, teaching her historical information or encouraging her to reconsider her views on things. Podcasts are truly changing the way people find and process their information.
If Anna was creating her dream pillar page, her subtopic content might look something like this:
Top tip: If you have a particularly immersive or sensory product to shout about, use as many videos or sound bites as possible – Anna’s pillar page about podcasts would be a perfect topic for this. This could include embedded links or hyperlinks to relevant videos and useful pages to find out more (this is called a ‘resource pillar page’), as well as your own video or sound content.
Using this diagram, and filling in the subtopic cluster content ideas is a huge step in the right direction. Once you have come up with around 12 ideas for the associated blog posts, number them in order of importance or chronology.
For example, in Anna’s case it would make sense to create content in this order:
Once you’ve got a running order, your next job is to look through your existing content – blog posts, ebooks, videos, checklists, slideshares – and put everything into a folder that could be repurposed for the pillar page. There’s no point recreating content when you have perfectly good, useable stuff already, you might just have to bring it up to date and ensure you are hyperlinking properly, as discussed above.
The most important thing about this exercise is that it’ll help you realise you are far more organised and ready to start than you thought you were. It gives a structure to your ideas and helps you identify where you already have work to repurpose, and where your gaps are. It breaks the idea of a pillar page down into manageable, easily processed sections, showing that step by step, anybody can create a pillar page for any topic out there – so what are you waiting for?