Creating content for your website, but struggling to get Google to notice?
The issue might be that you’ve got a vast library of content that isn’t structured well enough. Search engine spiders can’t find their way around your blog—and neither can your target readers.
Luckily, there is a content marketing strategy that can help: pillar and cluster pages.
In this guide, we’ll share the knowledge about topic clusters and pillar pages, so let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What Is the Topic Cluster Model?
The topic cluster model is a way of organizing your site’s content.
Originally created by HubSpot, it’s an SEO technique that links different (but relevant) content.
Each topic consists of a core pillar page, and several pages of ‘cluster’ content, all of which link between one another. It plays on the fact that search engines prefer sites with relevant links pointing to and from them.
Here’s what a topic cluster model looks like:
Let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the topic cluster method.
Pillar pages are the focal point of each topic cluster.
Think of them as pillars in a construction. They’re a robust structure that holds everything else up.
Likewise, your pillar pages are the authoritative pieces of content that support your smaller, more focused cluster content.
Pillar pages are a top-level (but exhaustive) guide or resource on a given topic—such as an ultimate guide to SEO for SaaS companies.
They cover the topic in broad terms but don’t go into too much depth on every section. Instead, the pillar page will link to other cluster pages that delve into different aspects of the topic in more detail.
How Long Is a Pillar Page?
The old saying “how long is a piece of string?” is perhaps the answer here.
More practically, a pillar page will usually feature the most extensive piece of content on your website.
Such pages provide a broad overview of a topic, which means they’re longer than a standard blog post.
You’ll be covering a lot of points; the aim is to introduce somebody to a new topic. A high word count is pretty standard.
The average page #1 result on a search engine results page has almost 1,500 words.
Yet pillar pages tend to have much higher word counts than that:
That is because they represent a comprehensive overview of a topic and contain links to cluster pages.
Cluster pages are add-on pages that go into more exact detail about a particular aspect of your topic.
There are links that lead to them from the pillar page (and vice versa) and between each of them where relevant.
Cluster pages are much more like typical blog posts. They tend to be shorter than their pillar page parents but cover a topic in-depth.
The aim is to cover everything a reader would want to know if they were diving deep into that subtopic.
There’s no limit to how many cluster pages you can have per pillar page. It depends entirely on the topic and how many different angles you can take with the additional pages.
Why Are Pillar Pages Important?
Pillar pages and topic clusters have a large number of benefits for your website. Let’s take a look at why you should be creating them.
1. Internal Links Are Great for SEO
The entire concept of the topic cluster model relies on internal linking.
The pillar pages dish out links to clusters where relevant, and vice versa. That’s great for internal linking—which is important for SEO.
Internal links help users navigate from one page or piece of content on your site to another. They also help search engines understand the structure of your website and identify important content.
The best part? Each of these links is uber-relevant. A link from a website design pillar page that points to your responsiveness test signals to search engines exactly what the page is about. There’s no doubt over its relevance.
2. More Internal Links Means More Content
Admittedly, more content isn’t always a good thing. It’s better to have a smaller volume of amazing posts than enormous quantities of poor-quality content.
However, when done well, pillar pages give you the perfect opportunity to create more precisely-targeted content for your audience and customers.
Covering the overarching topic with your pillar page allows you to touch on various themes, which you can further break out into cluster pages of their own.
For example, a pillar page on SEO gives you the opportunity to target these additional keywords:
- How to do keyword research
- How to create SEO content
- How to make a website SEO-friendly
- The best SEO tools
- The most important ranking factors
- How to maintain SEO rankings
Each of these additional keywords is more specific than the other—and therefore helps you target people further down the sales funnel.
People searching for those cluster keywords already know what SEO is. They just need some extra information.
3. Pillar Pages Help Eliminate Underperforming Content
Pillar pages are also helpful for removing poor content from your site.
When auditing your content, you’ll no doubt come across articles or pages that no longer drive traffic or engagement.
Removing those underperforming pages can be scary. But if they fail to drive any organic traffic or provide value to the audience, you’re littering your site with poor-quality content that drags down your rankings.
(One site increased traffic by 104% and content-generated revenue by 64% when it removed low-quality content.)
Pillar pages help you resurface that underperforming content, and either make it more comprehensive and unified or optimize and effectively republish it as a cluster page.
Either way, the overall standard of content published on your site improves.
4. You Can Target High Volume Search Terms
Strong SEO rankings and large search volumes are the holy grail of content marketers.
With pillar pages, you have a much greater chance of getting both.
Your pillar page targets a general theme or topic, which means the broad term is usually one with a high search volume—such as “what is web design?”
More people search for that information than something more niche like “how to design a responsive website.”
Add-on cluster pages are much more narrowly-focused, so they will target long-tail terms (which usually have smaller search volumes). Alongside the other cluster pages and the pillar page itself, these can add up to some impressive overall traffic numbers.
5. They’re Good for the User Journey
Topic clusters are brilliant for the online user journey. They link all of your content assets on a single topic together, so they are much easier to navigate.
Your website visitors are likely to read more content they can easily find, so they’ll visit more pages and spend more time on your site (all huge benefits).
That’s great for content marketers and SEO teams.
Metrics like time on site and pages per session increase. Not only are they ranking factors in their own right, but people begin to build trust when they invest more time into your content.
They’re getting valuable information and satisfying their knowledge gaps.
How to Create a Pillar Page
Ready to take advantage of the benefits of having a pillar page?
Here’s how to use the topic cluster method to get more organic rankings, build internal links, and target high-volume keywords.
1. Choose Your Overarching Topic
First things first, you need to decide on a topic for your pillar page.
It has to be something related to the services or products you offer, with enough scope to create comprehensive content.
Use a keyword research tool such as Ahrefs or Ubersuggest to validate your topic with search volumes.
A good search volume will prove that people are genuinely interested in the subject you’re going to create your pillar page around:
Therefore, users are likely to visit your page on such topics.
2. Map Out Your Cluster Content for Structure
Once you have your topic, start thinking about subtopics.
Remember: your pillar page is the blog post you’ll link to your clusters from. If you devise those before writing the pillar page itself, you’ll know exactly what to reference in the ultimate guide.
The structure of your pillar page should reflect the clusters you’ll be linking to.
How can you come up with cluster content ideas?
Search for your pillar page topic in Google, and look at the autosuggest long-tail keywords:
Next, hit search and make note of the ‘people also ask’ suggestions.
Finally, finish with the related searches at the bottom of the results pages.
You’ll get a solid list of terms related to your topic.
And, the best part: they’re all terms that people are searching for online, so you can help them by creating content around these terms.
Drop these into a spreadsheet, remove any duplicates, then put similar terms together.
You’ll be left with a range of subtopics that can form new content titles (or ideas) to structure your pillar page.
3. Write Your Pillar Page Content
Once you’ve nailed the structure of your pillar page based on the cluster topics to link to, it’s time to start writing.
A pillar page is a broad overview of the overarching topic. The people reading it are probably beginners, so make sure you don’t go in too much depth (or use too many unfamiliar abbreviations).
When you’re writing the content, always keep in mind your target customer. Think about:
- Who you’re making it for
- What you’re talking about
- Why you’re talking about it
- How it helps your user
This will help you directly address your reader’s needs when creating the content. The more invested they are into the pillar page, the more likely they are to read the spin-off cluster content.
4. Use Subheadings to Break up the Pillar Page
Subheadings are great for online content.
They allow people to skim read with ease—which is important, since the majority of web users simply scan the page rather than read word-by-word.
Subheadings have SEO benefits, too. Heading tags enable search engines to understand the content on the page and identify crucial areas of information. It’s how they assess a page and understand how to rank it.
Make sure to include the appropriate headings in your content to break it down into manageable, easily digestible sections.
5. Make the Page Easy to Navigate
A pillar page deserves care and attention in terms of design.
Sure, the key purpose of such a page is to provide a wealth of high-quality, accurate information.
But it should also be well-designed and offer a good user experience. Those two things convince readers to stick around, proving to Google that you deserve being rewarded by high rankings.
Take a look at this pillar page from Typeform, for example. It features strong imagery, custom graphics, and clearly marked sections that allow for easy scanning:
It also includes a table of contents that floats down the page as you scroll, making it easy to jump to sections of interest.
This is especially helpful for mobile users as it eliminates the need for constant scrolling with your thumb or finger.
The bottom line is: take the time to customize your pillar page with high-quality design to provide an exceptional user experience.
Improving the experience of a pillar page convinces the reader to look at your cluster content, too.
6. Add a Lead Magnet to Drive Email Sign-Ups
The pillar pages you’re creating will often be the ones with the highest traffic volumes. They’re broad and target search terms with high search volumes.
Once you get those people to your pillar page, don’t make the mistake of allowing them to leave without converting.
Ask them to provide their email address in return for a gated piece of content, such as:
- An eBook
- A PDF download of the pillar page
- A cheat sheet or swipe file
- A checklist
To get the lead magnet, users have to sign up to your email list—which then allows you to build a relationship and nurture them.
Here’s an example of a sign-up form on Help Scout’s pillar page:
You read the content and subscribe because you enjoyed it and want a PDF version you can print to make notes on.
Now, Help Scout have you on their mailing list.
They know you’re interested in remote management, so you’ll receive lead nurturing emails guiding you towards becoming a customer.
7. Add Some Internal Links
Before you hit publish on your new pillar page, make sure you’ve added the internal links to and from the cluster topics.
This is how readers (and search engines) find deeper dives into a specific section.
You can link naturally within the text whenever you mention a relevant topic, like this example from our guide to SEO for startups.
It links to the additional page with the cluster topic’s primary keyword, “long-tail queries”:
You’ll need to add internal links for two types of content:
- Existing content: Do a site search and see if there’s anything you can use as a cluster for your new pillar page. If so, edit the old page to add the new link. It’s an easy way of sending some authority to your brand new pillar page.
- Content published after the pillar page goes live: Make a list of your pillar pages. Each time you create a new blog post, figure out which topic cluster it falls under. Add a link to the pillar page from your new content. Then, edit the pillar page to direct readers to the new cluster.
A pillar page will make both of these types of content more easily accessible.
Ready to Create Your First Pillar Page?
A pillar page is a definitive resource dedicated to an entire topic. You can link to other pieces of content from that pillar page —and link back to it to build authority.
It takes time and effort to create killer pillar pages—but don’t let that put you off!
Follow the tips in this guide to create a pillar page that improves your organic traffic, encourages visitors to stay on-site longer, and drives qualified leads for your business.
It’s one of the best content marketing strategies for a reason.