The most successful organizations are ultra-clear with their customers about what they can offer and what they cannot—this defines their niches. And, as they say, the riches are in the niches.
Many companies have recently discovered, or rediscovered, a commonsense yet often under-utilized approach to communicating their core messaging.
It’s called Pillar Content.
Pillar content provides timeless, extraordinary value to a company’s core customers, and it defines what the organization and its offerings are all about.
Pillar content—in its most popular form, an online article—is generally much longer and more in-depth than other content. It provides immense value, and often carries its readers on a journey of unexpected discovery. Valuable content like this serves as a link magnet for your website. Your core audience loves it and loves sharing it. And when the Googlebot sees that, it will love it, too. As a result, pillar content helps companies identify and connect with their core audience, the primary group of customers who support the organization’s mission and make it successful.
It is a widely known that roughly 80 percent of a company’s revenue comes from just 20 percent of its customers. Healthy companies have a core customer base. Pillar content helps build that base.
With that in mind, below are the five load-bearing pillars of pillar content. If even one of these pillars fails to carry its weight, your pillar content will fall short of its objective.
The 5 load-bearing pillars of pillar content
Pillar content must be:
- Core to your organization’s unique value proposition(s).
- Thorough—digging deeper into a subject than most new readers would expect.
- Timeless—it applies to your business, forever (or at least for several years).
- Shareable—interesting, easy to find, easy to share, prominently displayed across all channels.
- Converting—by direct sales or other key performance metrics, such as social sharing or lead generation.
Any content that you think could meet these requirements should be tested as pillar content, but it must be proven to meet ALL FIVE requirements before it earns this highest, timeless designation.
Thereafter, it should be promoted and monitored constantly, and improved as needed.
With such a high bar for success, pillar content is not something one should strive to create on a daily basis. In fact, for most companies with existing content programs, it is not something one should strive to “create” at all. Instead, the most-viewed, most-shared, highest-converting content you already have is often the best content to identify and promote as pillar content.
If you are new to pillar content, this is the best place to start.
If it fails to meet all five requirements—particularly if it meets all but the ultimate metric, #5, conversion—improve it by clarifying points, reformatting, lifting the language, adding to it, and as last resort, rewriting, until it does. If it still does not meet all five requirements, then the topic probably isn’t strong enough to consider pillar content.
How does pillar content work?
Pillar content attracts your target audience.
Its length and detail demonstrate that you are a leading expert in your niche.
Its timelessness shows your dedication to your core audience.
Its prominence on your website and throughout all of your marketing channels, such as email, social and search, shows how much you and your readers think of it.
And the fact that it converts at above-average rates proves that your audience agrees with you about its extraordinary value.
Pillar content –interesting, in-depth and ultra-valuable—becomes a natural link magnet for your website. Not only does your core audience love it; they love sharing it with their like-minded friends. People researching your niche easily find your pillar content in Google search results. Professionals share it with their clients. The media interview you about it.
In a nutshell, pillar content describes why your organization exists and what only you it provides to your customers.
Where do I find or how do I create pillar content?
If your organization already has a content marketing program, as most online businesses do these days, your website visitors and social media fans are probably telling you every day what is and isn’t your pillar content.
In many cases, it is the content that your biggest fans are familiar with already. The content with the most long-tail traffic. The content that gets the most shares and likes on social media. The content that makes the most sales or generates the most email signups.
With that in mind, the best strategy—if you already have a solid content program—is typically to make a list of the following content pieces you already have:
- Your, your bosses’ and your colleagues’ favorite content.
- The webpages with the most organic traffic, excluding your homepage and contact page.
- The most informative and popular FAQs.
- The highest-converting webpages—be it sales, email acquisition, social shares, time on site, whatever your goal.
If you do not already have a content program, identifying and creating your pillar content will take more work.
The best place to start, in this case, is interviews with your boss, the founders and/or leaders of the organization, the top experts, the top sales and marketing people and your most loyal customers—the more the better.
Ask them open-ended questions like:
Why does this organization exist?
What do we provide to customers that no other organization provides?
What makes us different from our competitors?
For customers, ask questions like:
Why do you use our products or services?
What do you consider the most unique attributes of our products or services?
If you were trying to convince a like-minded friend to use our products or services, what would you say?
How long should my pillar content be?
Because pillar content should provide great detail, it is typically long. Pillar content, at a minimum should be 500 words, but in most cases it should be more like 1,000-2,000 words. Sometimes more.
If you are responsible for creating your organization’s pillar content, you cannot afford to miss a thing from your interviews. Avoid yes or no questions, because they will not provide you with valuable content. Dig deep into the subject matter. Ask multiple follow-up questions, such as, “Why is that unique?”, “Why is that important?” and “Can you give me an example of that?” Take detailed notes of the answers and explanations people provide. Audio record the interviews, if possible. Otherwise, ask a colleague or two to sit in on the interview and help you take notes.
Separate the responses from each interview into as few, tightly focused core topics as you can. The topics can be related, but each piece of pillar content must be obviously unique from any other. Finally, publish all of the significant details in an article or series of articles on your organization’s blog. If you have the time, talent or budget, don’t be afraid to experiment with video and graphic-driven pillar content. Though the popularity of infographics is waning, today’s top content marketing gurus like Neil Patel testify to their effectiveness.
If you don’t have a blog, consider creating one. If you do not have the time, budget or chops to write up the interviews into compelling articles, transcribe the interview as a Q&A, give it a great headline, write a short, interesting introduction for the expert you are interviewing—including why, how and where the interview is being conducted—and use that format until you can replace it with something more compelling. If you make it into a video or audio, also provide a text transcript or article version for those who prefer to read it and/or print it for later.
How much pillar content should I have?
The answer is simple: as much as you need.
OK, just kidding, but it is fairly simple.
An organization should have no more than a handful of unique value propositions, the things your organization offers that no other organization can rightfully claim. Many highly successful companies have only one UVP, and that is perfectly fine.
As they say, if you focus on everything, you focus on nothing. So do not go overboard with pillar content.
Most companies should have at least five pieces of proven pillar content, even if all of them cover unique points of entry into a single unique value proposition. Some organizations—those with wide audiences and/or wide product offerings—should have more like 10-20 pillar pieces. And an ultra-rare group of companies—those with very large and very wide audiences, usually spanning numerous niches—should have as many as 40-50 pillar pieces.
The best rule of thumb, however, is to have as many pieces of pillar content as you can reasonably track and manage—as long as they all meet the above five strict requirements.
Once I have my pillar content, how do I make the most of it?
Once you have identified the core topics for your pillar content, your next step is to review, edit, add to and lift the value of the content as much as you can.
If the content already exists, and you have pulled it from more than one page on your website, consider consolidating and redirecting all of the disparate pages on the topic into a single page or series of pages on your website. If the existing pages already rank well in Google, even better, as you will transfer all of that link juice to a single page, thereby boosting its rank. But be certain that the new page includes similar, if not identical, language, so that Google accepts the new page as valid and worthy replacement.
As you edit your pillar content, don’t forget to include popular keywords related to your topic in the headline, throughout the article, and in the meta data of the blog post. Sometimes companies take for granted the keywords that are vitally important to their niche, but they are the very words and phrases that Google and your customers are looking for to confirm your expertise. There’s no excuse not to include them.
Pillar content should be presented in a format that is both easy to consume and easy to share. Typically, your standard blog template is the best place for pillar content.
Next, you should prominently display pillar content on your website and share it frequently across your most active channels, such as email and social media. A “Featured Articles” category on your homepage or in your blog template is typically a good way to accomplish this.
I hope this helps. Now get started with your pillar content! OK?
Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or comments. I would love to get your feedback about how you are identifying, creating, sharing and testing your pillar content.
- Since an essential pillar of pillar content is timelessness, consider removing the dateline from your pillar content blog posts. Though views on this are mixed among content marketers, my view is that you never want your pillar content to seem dated. This is always a good idea for pillar content, but it is also a good idea whenever your blog discusses timeless subjects and/or you do not update it regularly.
- Any links that are permanent features of a template, meaning they appear repeatedly across your website – especially if they link to a different domain – should be no-follow links, so that Google knows you are not trying to stuff your site with keywords. Please do not confuse the no-follow link with the no-index tag. The no-follow link simply tells the Googlebot that you’re not trying to pull one over—you recognize the link is sitewide, so she need not waste her time following it every time, yet you are happy for her to index the page when she finds it through an organic path. Trust me, if you share your pillar content like you should, Google will find and index it. You do not have to worry about a measly no-follow link getting in her way. But if you do not use the no-follow link in this case, you may have to worry about Google penalizing your pillar content because she thinks you’re trying to funnel an unnatural flow of traffic to it.