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Content Pillars: The Ultimate Overview of Optimizing Your Content

Date published: December 15, 2023
Last updated: March 7, 2024

Creating content should never be a haphazard activity. With so much content online already, it’s important for businesses to invest serious thought and effort into creating high-value resources that genuinely and uniquely benefit their target audience.

One way to ensure you’re doing this is to formulate a content marketing strategy to guide you. It’s common to support this vast and intricate roadmap with content that focuses on a few key themes. These are commonly referred to as content pillars.

If you’ve heard of the term content pillar and you aren’t sure what it’s referring to, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s break down what it means to create “pillars” for your content and why that’s beneficial. From there, we’ll dig into how you can implement this powerful content strategy in your own digital marketing. We’ll even consider some examples of pillars to help guide you.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go.

What Are Content Pillars?

Content pillars are the primary topics that you focus on as a business. They are the essence of why your enterprise exists and the area that you specialize in above everything else.

It’s common to look at pillars as the “themes” that guide your business’s every move. When done well, pillars can help guide things like on-site content creation, email marketing, and social media strategy. They can also be inspired by, support, and tie into conversion pages across your website.

Content pillars provide clear, simple focal points for your promotional activity. This helps your marketing team focus on the right theme whenever they go to craft a blog post or create social media content.

Using Content Pillars to Create Sub-Pillars and Topic Clusters

A content pillar is typically an in-depth resource that lives on your company’s website. It explores a core concept at length and interlinks with various supporting resources called sub-pillars. These, in turn, are supported by individual, detailed articles. These are called “clusters” or “cluster pages,” which, taken together, make up a topic cluster.

Topic clusters allow you to create large-scale on-site content focused on one specific theme. You can flesh out details about that theme and demonstrate your industry knowledge, all while reinforcing the content pillar at the center of the entire effort. These various resources can link to high-performing conversion pages, as well, guiding readers down your sales funnel in the process. A good pillar also lays the foundation to develop further related content as part of your email or social media marketing initiatives, as well.

Why Are Content Pillars Beneficial?

Content pillars are a fairly straightforward concept. You build a massive resource and then surround it with a cluster of smaller, related resources. 

But why should you do this in the first place? What are the benefits that come from using a content pillar strategy? Here are a few of the top reasons you want to invest in focusing your content creation on building out a handful of powerful content pillars and their related clusters.

1. Building Authority

One of the most straightforward and important ways content pillars help is by enhancing your brand’s reputation with the right people. Semrush points out that these conglomerations of carefully orchestrated and clustered resources are essential in establishing authority for a brand. 

Pillars of content send messages to search engines and consumers alike (more on both of these further down). They demonstrate your comprehensive and deep grasp of knowledge within your field. This signals that you are a reputable source of solutions and builds trust between your company and its target audience.

2. Enhancing SEO

Content pillars can have a massive impact on your website’s SEO. As we’ll see further down, crafting and building out content pillars requires a lot of keyword research and link building. This infuses your website with keyword-rich, interlinked content.

This makes it much easier for search engines like Google and Bing to understand what information you are offering consumers. This leads to higher rankings in the right SERPs (i.e., in search results about the right topics). This can lead to higher-quality lead generation and more organic traffic.

3. Improving Audience Research

Content pillars can play a key role in helping you attract and retain the attention of the consumers that you’re targeting as a brand. SEO is an important benefit of content pillars, but at the end of the day, improvement in search engine rankings is only helpful if you can ultimately gain the attention of the people using those tools.

By investing in content pillars, you centralize your message. Building out supporting clusters refines that information and provides more targeted answers to specific pain points. This ensures that every piece of content you create has an optimized message and greater relevance for its intended audience.

4. Cultivating Credibility

Investing in off-site digital PR is one of the best ways to build credibility as a brand. The result is greater brand recognition and awareness — and often an added backlink to your website. 

When you have highly relevant pillar pages ready to link to, it makes digital PR much easier. Pillars create focal points and linking opportunities, as well as general inspiration for guest posts and other digital PR initiatives. The result is not just awareness but credibility as you show off your industry knowledge via your pillars and the guest posts they link to.

5. Using Resources Wisely

Content creation is expensive. It requires significant time, energy, and resources to brainstorm ideas, research keywords, create briefs, and then generate, edit, publish, and proliferate the content itself. The last thing you want to do is invest serious marketing money into empty or listless content initiatives.

Content pillars provide instant and potent meaning to every piece of content you create. They optimize and streamline the content process as you create content. They are also less work since you can confidently create a specific selection of limited content that will be effective and benefit from its interlinked synergy.

SEMrush example for the keyword "content marketing", showing what data is needed to create content pillars

What Are the Key Content Pillars?

If you’re sold on the idea of content pillars, and you’re ready to build your own targeted cluster of content for your website, an obvious follow-up question is: what do you focus on? What key content pillars do you need to invest in as your brand?

The obvious answer is that this will depend on your unique situation. But that’s not very helpful, so let’s dig a little further into the weeds for a second.

As you consider what kind of pillar page and related content you must make, start with a simple question. What are the main topics or themes that you want to be known for as a company?

For some, this will be clear from the get-go. For others, it may require a bit of fleshing out. Consider reviewing your mission and vision statements as a good starting point. You can also review what topics your competitors are focusing on, as this will indicate what your target audience is gravitating toward.

You want to consider how many pillars you want to end up with in total, too…

How Many Content Pillars Do You Need?

As you sort through your brand content focal points and define the themes that you want to be known for, it’s important to aim for the right number of topics. You don’t want a single central theme. That’s too simplistic, and it can limit your results. At the same time, you don’t want to be bouncing between a dozen primary messages at the same time.

Typically, aiming for a few themes is best. Identify three or four main areas or services that define your essence as a company and the value that you offer to customers.

As an example, a residential electrician building their website might focus on pillars like:

  • Inspections 
  • Rewiring 
  • Electrical repairs
  • New construction

Once you have three or four core pillar topics, you can begin turning them into central pieces of content for your brand.

How Do You Structure Content Pillars?

Before you come up with the pillar content itself, it’s important to consider how you’ll structure the core pillar piece of content. It should feel comprehensive and long — but not too long. 

Remember, you’re covering a topic from a 10,000-foot view. Don’t get too detailed. Instead, you should be careful to cover all of your bases. Treat the resource as a central repository for all of the basic information related to that pillar. Leave the detailed information for support pieces in the related sup-pillars, blogs, and social posts connected to the topic cluster.

With that said, there is no hard and fast rule for pillar content length. DemandJump suggests that each pillar page should be around 3,000 words long. Either way, the total is typically in the thousands. Some pillars even reach 10,000 words or more.

With so much room to run, it’s important to present your theme in a structured manner. Things worth covering in most pillars include:

  • Defining the term or concept.
  • Listing benefits and explaining why it’s important.
  • Laying out the various forms and nuances that surround the subject.
  • Giving examples of the theme in action.
  • Connecting it to your larger focus as a company.
  • Providing preliminary advice for how target consumers can implement the information for themselves.

As you begin to create content pillars, make sure you’re providing comprehensive but limited overviews of each subject. This paves the way for further supporting content to come.

How Do I Create Pillar Content?

Alright, before we wrap up, let’s take a moment to bring this all home in a relatable way. If you’re looking for a content pillar template that goes with your content strategy, you can use the steps below to craft a pillar page template for your brand’s main pillar themes. For a more detailed analysis of this process, you can visit our resource on how to create content pillars.

  1. Identify your main topics and themes: What are the three or four core topics you focus on as a company? What themes are especially relevant to your high-performing conversion pages?
  2. Choose one theme to start with: Ideally, pick one that you’re very comfortable with to make it easier to show off your industry knowledge while you get used to creating pillars.
  3. Decide what you’re making content for: Are you creating a pillar to build out on-site content? Or are you looking for content pillars for social media and email content to link back to? A pillar will help with both, regardless, but you want to know what your priority is as you go along to help guide your efforts.
  4. Review competing content: Look for popular, high-value content you can use for inspiration.
  5. Conduct keyword research: Use SEO tools to decide each piece's primary, secondary, and long-tail keywords. If you’re unfamiliar with these, you can contact a content marketing agency to help guide you through the process.
  6. Create a pillar outline: Consider the sub-pillars, blog articles, whitepapers, and other types of content that will ultimately link back to your primary pillar. Laying these out in a spreadsheet or similar program that makes sharing and collaboration easy is a good idea here.
  7. Establish a content calendar: Build out a plan for when you want to complete each part of your content cluster, as well as when you want to publish them and push them out onto your email and social media channels.

Once you’ve set the stage, you can begin creating and editing the content itself. Follow your content calendar and watch as your pillar begins to bring a centralized and powerful focus to your content marketing strategy.

What Are Examples of Content Pillars?

Finally, if you’re looking for content pillars examples to use as inspiration, well, you’re looking at one. To be more specific, this is a sub-pillar of Relevance’s pillar on content marketing strategy.

As a growth marketing agency, we focus on building authority, credibility, and visibility for our clients. Content strategy is the secret ingredient behind strong brand authority and, thus, a primary theme of our brand.

To emphasize this focus, we developed a series of nearly 30 resources, including five sub-pillars like this one, to support this pillar piece as a larger topic cluster. These break down what a content strategy looks like, why it's important, and what tools and tips our audience can use to create their own effective strategies.

Use pillar page examples like this to help guide your own content pillar creation efforts.

Using Content Pillars to Optimize Your Content

Content is a key part of 21st-century marketing. However, there is so much content out there that it has become necessary to be deliberate and unique with every piece of content that a brand creates.

Content pillars provide that sense of precision and optimization. Each targets a message and keep the focus on what your business does best. They also make it easier to meet Google’s updated E-E-A-T content guidelines and ensure that everything you make is helpful and valuable for your target audience.

They may be big projects to tackle up front, but content pillars and their accompanying cluster content are well worth the effort.

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