Tips for Creating Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages to Boost Your Search Rankings
Among the different digital marketing tactics, using pillar pages and creating topic clusters is a lesser-used method. However, there’s no denying that it’s an effective one, assuming it’s done correctly and with the right tactics. It can be pretty easy to make some mistakes when putting together the numerous pages this technique will require.
Furthermore, using topic clusters is not for the faint of heart—it’s a risk that not many companies want to take. It’s worth noting that a lot of online businesses wish for quick results. They want their names climbing up the search engine result rankings immediately. In particular, startups want their name out there immediately, getting products shipped out and gaining good reviews from customers, who will continue to increase their popularity. And many other techniques may be able to do just that.
But it’s not as easy with pillar pages and topic clusters. This method is the long game. It may be a little more complex to put together, and there’s certainly more time involved in building it all, but as they say: fortune favors the bold. When done correctly, the topic clusters could reap more solid, long-term benefits than most marketing techniques.
Pillar Power and Clever Clusters: What is the Method?
You may be considering getting started on the road of implementing this strategy. If so, it’s critical to understand what it entails and what it will require fully.
A pillar page is simply defined as a website or a page in your website that covers a broad topic. If you want an idea of how this works, think back to the last time you got yourself lost on a “wiki-walk.” A pillar page will often have one major, broad topic that it will discuss comprehensively throughout the page. It acts as the central hub (or the central pillar) that holds up the rest of your page.
The extensive discussion of the big topic on your pillar page would get peppered with links to other sub-topics related to your larger, broader topic. Like in a wiki format, the links will lead to other pages to discuss that specific topic. It could also lead to smaller, individual pages of its own.
The smaller topics that connect back to the central pillar page can also interconnect with one another. If users can trace the information on several pages back to a single topic linked to, that’s what makes a topic cluster. A pillar page can link to several topic clusters, all under the broad topic, discussing the sub-topics and related topics at length.
Here’s an example:
An electronics company has a pillar page that discusses electronic communications in general. From this central pillar page, links go out to various electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more. These sub-topics become topic clusters, such as the different varieties of smartphones, discussions on tablet comparisons, and laptop technology’s recent advancements.
Another example is a dermatology practice. They might have a pillar page that discusses the skin and how to best care for it. The pillar page then branches out to topic clusters, which discuss recommended skincare products, various skin diseases and prevention, some of their prescribed skin medications, and even the practice’s cosmetic procedures. The list can go on.
But why use this strategy?
As you can imagine, using pillar pages and topic clusters for your website requires a considerable amount of content. The first pillar page alone will need a page that’s much longer than your average blog post to cover as much of the material as possible.
Next, building the content for the succeeding topic clusters will take time to build as well. And those pages will be linked to the pillar page. There are nearly limitless pages involved, and they have to be constantly updated to maintain relevancy over time. More pages get added, and each one of them needs to adhere to the best SEO standards. All of this requires a significant amount of work, effort, and time. Why go through it?
- Organization – If your business does plenty of work for a specific broad topic, all the data in your site and the blogs remains organized through this method. It will be far easier for your site visitors to find important information according to their needs.
- Informative Content – The user experience is an intrinsic part of the online business model. Users come to a website hoping that they find an answer to a question they’re asking. If your website is full of valuable, relevant content that gives them the information they’re looking for, they will keep coming back to refer to it.
- Establishes Authority – Part of what makes websites rank higher in search engine results (along with the rest of its pages) is a site’s “authority” on a topic. It’s a factor that search engine algorithms find valuable. If your website is full of informative and relevant content, and the search engine notes that many people visit it for this content, your site becomes an authority and ranks higher.
- Link Building – Another significant factor that the algorithms rank is how many good links to your website are made. Not only will the topic clusters be interlinked with one another, but other websites or blogs that find your site authoritative will link back to you too. As a result, the website’s pages rank
All of the benefits build up over time. The more the topic clusters and pillar pages build up, the more valuable the overall content and the site becomes. It’s assumed, of course, that all this is done correctly.
One Cluster After Another: Tips to Build Pillar Page Success
These helpful tips should get you started on the difficult road to carefully build a pillar page and topic clusters for your website.
Map out your structure.
Building your website’s content strategy should be no different from constructing a building; you need to start with a blueprint. This is best done by structuring out your initial pillar and your first few subtopics. Think of it like building the navigation menu on your website. Your core topic is the first level of content. And from there, it branches out to the subtopics.
If your company sells cars, for example, start with automobiles for your pillar pages. Then branch out to auto maintenance, accessories, big brands, and others as your subtopics.
Make sure you set up Google Analytics.
It may seem time-consuming, and it will undoubtedly take some manpower to monitor, but Google Analytics is your friend. You need to be able to keep track of what topics and information interests your visitors the most. Which pages get the most hits? What topics are popular? What areas are linked to most often?
Through this information, your content knows what other pieces to create and add to the compendium, ensuring that the material on your site remains exciting and valuable for your visitors. It leads to better conversions as well.
Optimize every time.
Your efforts in creating pillar pages and topic clusters will go to waste if your pages are not optimized. SEO remains one of the most critical aspects of this strategy. Choose the most competitive keywords and consistently review the quality of the pages. Meta descriptions, images, and other areas should all adhere to the best SEO practices. This helps boost the site on search engine rankings and further establishes your authority on the subject matter.
Start building your backlinks.
Part of the whole “cluster” is the building of backlinks. The pages must remain interconnected with one another. But it’s not just linking within your content—you also have to gain links from third parties. Your blog posts and relevant content should get linked back to or referred to by other authoritative sites to establish your content’s relevance and authority as well.
Guest posting is one of the best ways to do this. Your team should inquire about guest posts with similar blogs that can help build links.
Don’t limit your content to text.
Having blog posts and other text content is excellent—it’s one of the best ways to build a wiki-like interconnected structure for your topic clusters. But the text is not the only way to build content for your site.
Make use of infographics and videos, as well as microsites if possible. Internet users can have a short attention span, and they won’t all be receptive to so much text all the time. Visual content like graphics and videos hold their attention and still conveys essential information to them; sometimes, it’s even better than just having them read things!
Constantly update or “remaster” old content.
This part of the pillar page strategy is critical. Your content only remains valuable and relevant if it’s accurate. Therefore, it needs to be updated to the latest information possible every time.
Some of your old blog material could be repurposed and updated into new posts or engaging infographics as well. Algorithms take note of timely, updated material. Not only would your site be able to provide a better user experience through quality information, but it maintains a good performance on the search engine results.
The Pros and Cons of Building Around Topic Clusters
There are some pitfalls to avoid when putting your site together, so keep them in mind:
PRO: Pillar pages or significant topic clusters are more likely to get shared on social media. Sometimes, when people online are trying to explain a topic too big to put in a single post, they link others to the page instead. This also prevents them from having to google as much on related content.
CON: These pages, however, degrade in benefits the more they’re shared. In their initial iterations, the pillar page is advantageous to the website for marketing and sharing purposes. But SEO-wise, it needs to continue to be effective. You’ll need to make them more topic-focused or make them more interesting than others.
PRO: If you want to save time on a long-term basis, pillar pages are the way to go. A single pillar page can rank a lot better than many smaller blog posts. At best, the smaller blog posts will be a complement to your main pillar page. You won’t really have to write as many of them if your pillar page is already doing well as it is.
CON: While pillar pages do save time long term, getting them established in the first place takes a long time. They are longer and more comprehensive than an average blog post and will need twice the research and preparation. Depending on the topic or keyword you’ve chosen, it could end up being quite long and challenging to put together, especially if the topic is extensive.
PRO: Pillar pages and content clusters are often much better content than your typical set of blog posts. Because the posts are relevant to one another and interconnected, they are more informative and can provide explanations within explanations should the customer need to learn about them. It’s also an excellent means to roadmap future content.
CON: However, all this information has to be held somewhere. As a result, pillar pages will require a significant number of resources to host. Having many pages, images, or videos can quickly eat up website sources with page after page of interlinked archives.
And the more topic clusters are formed, the more storage and optimization they will need. Having too much of this information could potentially slow a website unless the company has enough room to hold it all. And gaining all the necessary resources to host it could mean that expenses can add up quite quickly.
So, the question here is: are pillar pages and topic clusters fit for what your company is trying to achieve? There’s no doubt that it’s an effective system of marketing. But it’s a gamble, like many other marketing campaigns. It banks heavily on a virtual treasure trove of valuable information and content that your target audience may find relevant.
But, as mentioned early on, this type of approach to website building is a long game. You won’t get results as quickly as other methods, and it will take a lot of time to construct. Furthermore, it will need a lot more resources to host and maintain in the first place. It’s a risk, and any company that plans on using it needs to weigh pros and cons.
Pillar pages are excellent and are generating plenty of buzz these days. But whether or not your company would (or should) roll the dice should always be met with plenty of planning, adjusted expectations, and patience for the eventual enormous payoff.
About the Author
Manuel Fornillos, the Chief Content Officer of Startup Credo, professional writer for topics such as social media, digital marketing, technology, mobile applications and business.