How to Develop a Content Pillar Strategy (With Examples!)
Does your brand have a content pillar strategy? If your answer is no, your content strategy is likely disjointed — both from your perspective and your audience’s.
Pillar content provides an important foundation on which the rest of your content is built. It focuses on the topics you and your audience care about most, and it establishes your expertise in the eyes of potential customers, search engine crawlers, and industry peers.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about creating a content pillar strategy that works — the basics about what it is, steps to creating your strategy, and the benefits you’ll experience from having that strategy in place.
Ready to dive in? Let’s get started.
- Pillar content is comprehensive, long-form content that serves as a complete guide on a topic important to your audience.
- Pillar content is evergreen, meaning it has a long shelf life and earns compounding results over time.
- Brands must know their audience(s) and their pain points before you develop a content pillar strategy.
- Amplifying pillar content across other channels (like social media and email) builds momentum after it’s published.
- Pillar content must be updated regularly to reflect changing industry trends and best practices.
What is pillar content and why do you need it?
Pillar content serves as a complete guide to a topic highly important to your company and your audience. It is comprehensive and long-form, designed to answer any question the reader might have about the topic and tell them everything they need to know about it.
Former Moz CEO Rand Fishkin coined pillar content “10X Content” because it should be 10X better than the currently highest-ranking piece of content on the topic.
Image Source: Ceralytics
10X better?! That sounds pretty daunting — how can you create something that much better than content that’s already at the top of Google SERPs? The truth is that it does take time and effort — that’s why pillar content is reserved for the topics most important to your brand.
You should be creating pillar content around topics for which you absolutely need to show your brand authority. Once you have a strong pillar content library built, it will serve as the evergreen foundation for the more niche and long-tail content you create.
In other words, your pillar content is like the roots of your content tree — you grow a tall content library with lots of branches, but your pillar content is what keeps the whole blog performing at a high level.
Let’s dive into a step-by-step guide to creating pillar content for your company blog.
7 Steps to Creating a Content Pillar Strategy
Know your audience
Who are you creating content for? This should be the first question you ask yourself as you create (or revamp) your content pillar strategy. Understanding your audience is a necessary part of choosing the right content pillars.
On the flip side, skipping this step could result in you creating a whole lot of content your audience doesn’t actually need.
So how do you get to know your audience? Fortunately, there are proven frameworks you can use to do it. Buyer personas are one of the most popular.
Then, once you’ve got your target audiences down, you need to identify what their pain points are. Pain points are the actual problems and challenges your audience experiences that lead them to seek out your solutions. Keep in mind that most users don’t really care which solution they end up choosing as long as it solves their pain points.
In other words? If you’re at the top of their Google SERPs, they’ll see your content first, realize you can solve their pain points, and be more likely to choose you over your competitors.
The Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer is one of the most helpful tools you can use to uncover your audience’s pain points. Here’s how to use it:
Choose your content pillars
Next, it’s time to choose your content pillars. Once you know your audience and have a good sense of their pain points, pillar topics will likely be obvious to you. The exact right number of pillar topics really depends on the size of your company and the breadth of your offerings.
For most small- to medium-sized businesses, it’s usually ideal to choose 3-5 content pillars (and never more than 10). This way, your content pillar strategy stays focused on the topics that your audience cares about most (and, eventually, the subtopics that fall underneath them). You’ll still have a diverse and high-volume content library, but it will be consistent.
Most importantly, search engines will recognize topics for which you’re considered an expert and rank your content accordingly.
Perform keyword research
Once you have your content pillars, you should perform keyword research to determine how exactly your audience is searching for your pillar topics. Matching your focus keywords for pillar content with the queries people are actually making in Google search bars is an important part of earning high Google rankings.
Keyword research is made easier than ever by tools like SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool, which you can try out for free.
Develop titles for your pillar content
The blog article titles are the first thing people see when your content appears on their SERP pages. In short, it’s what helps them decide whether they want to click on your content or scroll on.
So how do you create compelling titles? Here are some tips:
- Use numbers or questions (ex: “8 Steps to Creating the Perfect Blog Post” is more compelling than “Creating the Perfect Blog Post”).
- Show value — in the title, tell your readers what they’ll get out of reading your article.
- Don’t be afraid to be snarky (our blog post, Personas are Great (Except When They Suck) has gotten lots of views thanks to its attention-grabbing snark).
- Always include your focus keywords. After all, that’s what brought users there in the first place.
- Be concise. Google SERPs only show the first 50-60 characters of your title.
Once you’ve got titles developed, add them to your content calendar so you stay on schedule to publish them.
Create awesome content
Now for the fun stuff — creating your content. Most brands think about pillar content in the form of blog posts, which are indeed effective, but you can also create videos and infographics to rank as pillar content as well.
Be creative! Think about what will be most valuable for your audience and go in that direction. Don’t be afraid to vary it up. For example, MIG has begun supplementing our pillar blog posts (like this one on How to Create the Perfect Blog Post) with more shareable infographics (see a portion of it below).
Image Source: Marketing Insider Group
Amplify your pillar content across channels
Incorporating a plan to amplify your content into your pillar content strategy is critical if you want it to reach its full potential. Share your pillar content on other channels when you publish it and do so again periodically to give traffic a boost.
Ideas for sharing: your company social media pages, employee social media pages, email newsletters, and links in email signatures.
Update your pillar content regularly
Last but not least, keep your pillar content updated. Every industry evolves and changes over time. Your content needs to reflect the most current best practices and key information for people to know. An easy example from Marketing Insider Group is the SEO articles we write for our blog.
A pillar piece on SEO strategy would have looked a lot different when we launched almost a decade ago than it does now in 2022. Google ranking factors, best practices, industry norms, and audience behavior have all changed in that time. To keep our pillar pieces performing, we need to update them to reflect those changes.
Benefits of Pillar Content for Your Brand
Unlike niche content or news, pillar content is evergreen. It stays relevant for a long time, and the shelf life of a pillar topic article is a lot longer than those you write for other topics. You can expect that they’ll continue to earn traffic over time, and that traffic will compound as your content earns more shares.
Higher Google rankings
The algorithms behind Google’s rankings are smarter than ever. They’re no longer looking for keyword-stuffed articles. Instead, they identify which articles offer real value to the audiences seeking information on that topic.
When your pillar content is comprehensive, current, and high value, you can expect it will earn higher Google rankings than other content.
A strong pillar content library establishes your brand authority on the topics that matter most to your audiences. People build trust in your brand through pillar content and even begin to proactively seek your content when they have a question they know you’ve likely covered.
Pillar content also earns the trust of industry peers, meaning it will earn you more backlinks (and thus more traffic) than most other content.
Killer Pillar Content Examples
Population Healthier from The Atlantic
If you search for high quality pillar content examples, you’ll see this page from The Atlantic on nearly every list. As you scroll, this content takes you on a journey studying one city in Massachusetts and how they effectively made their population healthier. The design of Population Healthier creates a story that’s easy to digest and leaves a lasting impression.
The content performs so well as a pillar, not only because of the beautiful design, but because of the high quality content it puts forward. The study of Lowell MA is evergreen. Sure, the future is unknown, but the process from point unhealthy to point healthy will always remain applicable.
How To Create a Content Style Guide by Impact
This example from Impact is a much more easily attainable form of pillar content. You don’t need a major in graphic design to write high quality content.
From the get-go the author explains exactly what you’ll learn in this pillar piece. So no need to waste your time if the outline doesn’t include what you want to know. They even list out who this pillar is for and why.
Impact explains from bottom to top what a content style guide is and how to create one with actionable tips every step of the way.
Battle of The Bots by HubSpot
Another graphic design stunner, this Battle of the Bots pillar page by HubSpot tackles a new, technical topic. It’s easy to get confused when reading about the world of tech. But HubSpot explains everything you need to know about bots in laymen’s terms with real life examples, making the whole concept much easier to understand. The content is timely as well, giving insight to the state of technology as we know it and the direction advancements are moving in.
They make it fun too! You have an army of robots following you along every step of the way.
What is Wine, Exactly? by Wine Folly
You don’t have to be a marketer to create pillar content! This example from Wine Folly is a fun method of explaining the core of the wine industry. The article starts off broad but the further you scroll, the more wrapped up in the information you’ll be.
They truly cover everything, wine grapes vs. table grapes, the content of a bottle of wine, even taste descriptors. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and felt lost when the server asked if you like a dry or sweet wine, this page is for you!
Wine Folly keeps things interesting throughout their pillar content. They even have memes to send to a certain someone you know…
Build Your Brand’s Pillar Content Strategy Today
A great pillar content strategy depends on great content itself — content that takes time and experience to create. If you’re running a business, you may not have the hours to write pillar content at the level you want to deliver to your audience. Marketing Insider Group’s team of writers and SEO experts can deliver you optimized, ready to publish content every single week for one year (or more).
Check out our SEO Blog Writing Service to learn more or schedule a quick consultation with me to get started!