Pillar pages: the long-form content that pays off
by Anna Kaine on 8 July 2020
A few years ago, a new buzzword took over the inbound marketing world. Where once content marketers had been focusing on producing as many 400-word blog posts targeting relevant keywords as possible, (transitioning to 1200-word long thought-leadership posts in the mid ‘00s), all of a sudden there was a new directive.
Martech thought-leaders started shouting about the importance of more substantial content, built around long-form ‘pillar pages’ of text. These should be at least 3,000 words long and collate relevant knowledge and information on a topic, drawing together existing content to help customers and prospects find everything they need to know on a topic by simply Googling.
So as one of the more effective means of reaching people searching your keywords, are you utilising the pillar page yet – and if not, why?
Google (thanks to updates in its algorithm to ensure search results are better matched to what users are looking for) has shifted its focus onto good quality long-form content with a high number of relevant links and long-tail keyword phrases. If your blog posts aren’t ‘tethered’ to a long-form content page, such as a pillar page, Google is less likely to prioritise them on SERPs, compared to competitors who are using this method.
Google’s bots crawl the internet, scoring content for relevance. All content is ranked using a complex combination of measures including incidents of long-tail keywords within the text, relevant meta data, and helpful links (both internal and external).
Recent updates to this system have meant that Google’s algorithm is now more “human”, better reflecting the nature of our searches. And there’s been a corresponding side-effect. As fellow HubSpot partners, Impact, explain in their own pillar page, now that Google is better at reading between the lines, there has been a side effect:
“Queries have become longer and more complex… We're more accustomed to asking our search engines questions that are more conversational and reliant upon a search engine's ability to understand context.”
As a result of this shift, many agencies, including ESM Inbound, were inspired to re-think their content creation process, focusing on quality and in-depth thought leadership rather than fretting about quantity of output with frequent shorter blog posts.
Because this was a radical shift in content strategy, and because we understood it would take time before the results showed, it felt like a gamble when we first decided to take the plunge and create a series of pillar pages. As with any inbound strategy, we decided to make ourselves a guinea pig for it, and we set about creating pillar content, using HubSpot’s excellent templates and content creation tips to help us along the way.
Within a few months, we’d uploaded a series of pillar pages based around key aspects of ESM Inbound’s service offering. They’re still live, and refining them is a constant process. You can check them out below, and see how the styling varies but broadly the approach is the same: helpful long-form content broken up with:
These pillar pages have been live for between 12 and 18 months. Two have helped us to rank in the number one position on Google for relevant search terms – ‘pillar page’ and ‘ideal buyer profile’... even above HubSpot! The other two score lower, ranking on the second or third page of Google, which tells us we need to fine-tune them to improve performance.
We’re on the case, of course! All of our pillar pages have behaved as effective lead magnets for us, ensuring new customers find their way to us. Meeting requests and consequent business have both been boosted as a result. It didn’t happen immediately, but after consistently linking blog posts to this pillar page over the following months, our position steadily rose through Google. And as soon as we started to see the results ourselves, we rolled them out for our customers for them to start seeing similar successes.
Once they’re on board with the idea of pillar pages, customers often ask us how many of them they should create in order to improve their Google ranking. The answer is ‘it depends’ but when you have a valuable perspective on a market, topic, problem or solution, the short answer is you can’t have too many well-written, relevant pillar pages!
We have just created a series of four so far, but we have plans in the pipeline for at least 20 more over the coming months and years. For one client in the security sector, we’ve been marketing with monthly pillar pages across multiple sectors, from transit and universities to casinos.
The beauty of each of these pillar pages is that, no matter where you are positioned in the security industry, there is a page which specifically targets your industry and problems. This shows our client to be an expert across multiple spheres and means they are delivering helpful, educational content to customers ahead of them even considering a purchase – the truly inbound way.
Investing in long-form content now and having the patience to wait for the results to show is a sound long-term marketing strategy. As Google’s ability to search for quality and relevant content is improving all the time, this kind of long-form content will continue to rank well.
Having a well linked-up pillar page with corresponding back-links from and to relevant blog posts ensures your content is carefully mapped out and as a result, customers are more likely to find you on Google. Pillar pages are also easy to amend, update, add to and refresh. You can easily add a new subhead, a box full of tips that relate to a new issue, or fresh links to current relevant content.
It’s excellent practice to drop in a video or a whole new chapter, or alternatively delete whole sections that no longer feel relevant. In other words, pillar pages are made to evolve – they are living, breathing pieces of content that need nurturing. This is a huge positive in a world where content dates quickly.
Any marketer tasked with creating a 3,000-word piece of content is likely to feel daunted. But there are plenty of great resources out there that can help and HubSpot (along with other CMS platforms) has a range of pillar page templates that can be customised along with examples of real pillar pages using them that work.
But before you set to work with a template, it’s essential to spend some time brainstorming ideas and collating existing content that you think you could weave into a pillar page. Pillar pages are a great way to link a collection of your existing blog posts together and because Google likes joined-up content, you’ll be boosting the ranking score of the existing content as well as improving the visibility of your pillar page. It’s win-win!
To grasp the basics, start by reading our guide to pillar pages above (or HubSpot’s explanatory guide to Pillar Pages). We also recommend following up with marketing thought leader Neil Patel’s excellent blog post on the topic of pillar pages. You can’t look at enough examples of strong pillar pages, like these picked out by Databox.
When you know what you like and you have a strong idea of what works and what is likely to appeal to your target customer, you’re ready to start writing.