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What Do Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages Do For SEO?

Topic clusters are perhaps the number one SEO strategy for websites to grow their traffic and increase their user engagement. And the thing that powers topic clusters, is a pillar page.
Sadly, not many marketers focus on pillars and topic clusters when building content for their websites. And this is exactly why so many marketers struggle with getting their keywords ranked.
Creating a pillar page and topic clusters is not easy. It is time-consuming. If used properly, this strategy can increase your website traffic, improve rankings and vastly improve your visitor’s experience.
But if executed improperly, this strategy can negatively impact your site’s SEO.  
The way we used search queries has changed, and search engines have evolved accordingly to show us the most relevant search results.
To help you out with creating topic clusters and pillar pages, we have created this in-depth guide just for you.
Today, we’ll tell you:

  • What a pillar page is?
  • What are topic clusters?
  • Share examples of topic cluster and pillar pages (lots of them)
  • How to create a pillar page using topic clusters?

What Is A Pillar Page?

A pillar page is a primary piece of content that covers the main topic relevant to your website and links subtopics that are covered in depth. Consider pillar pages as a table of contents. You don’t cover content in-depth in TOCs, rather it is just to link individual chapters covering the topic in greater depth.
Pillar pages serve as landing pages. Pillar pages only cover the most important content for your website and provide a pathway for your visitors to find other related content on your website. When used in combination – pillar pages and topic clusters can improve your domain authority – allowing your rank on top positions on Google.

What Are Topic Clusters?

A topic cluster content strategy allows you to organize content by grouping related sub-topics that inform a singular topic.
The image below will help you understand how topic clusters work:

Image Source: HubSpot

When you write a piece of content that broadly outlines a singular topic, we can call this our pillar piece.  Then, creating subsequent shorter content focusing on sub-topic long-tail keywords and linking back to the pillar piece. 
This strategy helps Google realize that there’s a semantic relationship between the content you produce. It gives your site more authority on the topic itself. Thus, when a piece of content does well, then the whole topic cluster moves up in ranking as well!
What we recommend to our clients is to think about the topics you want your business to be known for.
The next step is to effectively craft subtopics to help structure the pieces of content. Not only it gives you clarity on what content you want to own but also gives you an awesome chance to construct a “web” that Google can easily crawl.

Pillar Page Examples

By now, we hope you have a clear understanding of the importance of pillar pages and topic clusters. Let’s now look at 4 examples of great pillar pages. 

1. GoodUI – Evidence

Coming across websites that offer genuinely good content for free is rare these days. We researching good pillar page examples, we happen to stumble upon GoodUI’s “Evidence” pillar page.
Here’s what their pillar page looks like:

If you scroll further down the page, you’ll see multiple data points with test results submitted by 115 people.
Pretty impressive right? 
The test results basically highlight the patterns leading to high conversions. If you click on any of the data points (circles in different colors), you’ll be presented with an expanded view of the result and detailed information.

What we also like about GoodUI’s pillar page is that at the end of each detailed view, there is a CTA that allows visitors to submit their own findings.
Remember, a good pillar page should make your visitors spend more time on your website and browse through different topics without leaving.

2. Cloud Elements

Next, we have a great pillar page example from Cloud Elements. Cloud Elements is an API integration platform. Their pillar page takes its visitors deep into the concept of software integration.
Here’s what their pillar page looks like:

If you pay attention to their pillar page, you’ll see that they’ve broken their API integration topic into smaller subtopics, making it relatively easy to digest the information. 
If you look at the image above, you’ll notice a TOC. Each TOC heading serves as a subtopic with detailed information.
If we dig further, we can see that through their pillar, Cloud Elements is linking out to different detailed subtopics. Also, each subtopic is linked back to the pillar page.

3. SaaS DNA Project

The Anatomy of a SaaS Marketing Site covers the dos and don’ts of SaaS marketing content.
Here’s what their pillar page looks like:

As you can see, like in the other example, this page also has a TOC. The main content piece is divided into small chunks (chapters). 
What we also like is that on the right side of the page, there is a downloadable guide and also a click to Tweet button.

4. GatherContent

Lastly, we have the best pillar page example. The reason why GatherContent’s pillar page is the best is that it is also a lead generator.
Here’s what their pillar page looks like:

They offer a comprehensive 63-page guide. Their pillar page is quite long and encompasses subtopics about UX design and experience that users can download as a PDF after providing their contact info such as name and email address.
Their pillar page not only executes internal linking exceptionally but also utilizes the power of pillar pages to rank its lead generating pages on to Google.

How To Create a Pillar Page Using Topic Clusters

Now that you know what a pillar page is all about, let’s start building one, shall we? 
Here are 4 pillar pages best practices you should follow:

Step #1 – Choose a topic on which you want to build your pillar page

The first step is to pick a topic for your pillar page. To do that, figure out who your audience is. You can take the help of a buyer persona to learn about your target audience. You want to think of a topic that is broad in nature. A pillar page topic should be broad enough so that you may cover multiple topics revolving around your parent topic.
Can’t think of any pillar ideas?
Well, think about “Facebook marketing” as an example. This topic is broad and we can write multiple topics surrounding our pillar page.
Does it make sense? 

Step #2 – Write your pillar page content

Now, it’s time to write your pillar page content. Your pillar page should encompass 4 key elements:

  • A proper table of contents that covers everything on your pillar page.
  • A detailed explanation of your pillar page topic in the first fold of your content.
  • Subheadings should cover specific topic-related keywords.
  • Pillar page content should only cover the overview of subtopics.

You might also have a pre-written blog post that you can convert into your pillar page – saving you a lot of time and effort. 

Step #3 – Choose keywords for subtopics

Once you’re done writing your pillar page, you need to do keyword research for the specific topics that you want to cover under your pillar page. When looking up keywords, make sure to target keywords with a lot of search volume. Your keywords should help you create subtopics that cover all the aspects of your pillar page content. 
To do keyword research, type your primary topic into Google, and then scroll all the way down to the end of search results. You should see a number of related topics that you can cover. You can also use tools like, SpyFu, and Ahrefs.

Step #4 – Start writing subtopics around your pillar page

Now that you’ve created your pillar page and done all the keyword research, it is time to start writing content based on the keywords you researched for your topic cluster.
Remember, you must link all your subtopics to your pillar page to unify your website visitors’ browsing experience. Helping your visitors and making them stay on your website for long durations will help you ultimately rank high on search engines.

How Do Pillar Pages Help Your SEO

As marketers, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear that Google has changed its algorithms.
It’s what keeps us on our toes, and gives some of us a jolt to our jobs. I meant that jolt is a good thing because we always need to be learning and evolving!‍
This change is always due to Google’s ability to pick up and learn how people search for information online.
For example, back in 2013 when Google released its Hummingbird update. It allowed the search engine to pick up on “phrases” as opposed to only individual keywords.
And introduced in 2015, Rankbrain. A machine-learning algorithm, designed to pick up on the context of a user’s searches and serve SERPs effectively (Search Engine Ranking Positions).

Image Source: HubSpot

Because Rankbrain is constantly evolving, it has recently picked up on the trend that searches are becoming more specific. This could be due to the fact that voice search is becoming more of a thing. Thanks to the Google Assistant and Alexa. But it’s more likely because searchers are now willing to specify their query to get to the right content quicker.
For us content marketers, that means evolving with the times of Rankbrain as it relates to our audience.  
One answer is organization.  We must become more organized when it comes to our content strategy.  And this is where content clusters and pillar pages come in.
A topic cluster model is an SEO strategy that focuses on topics as opposed to keywords.
Remember, Rankbrain makes its ranking decisions based on context and topic authority.  By organizing a clean web of information within your site, the Google web crawler can discover related content much easier.  How we accomplish this is by improving your site architecture by the use of topic clusters.
Think of the average website. It usually contains a homepage and a blog. Within the blog, there are a variety of articles that can fit in a myriad of categories. Think of it as a mixed bag of topics that can be characterized by Google as disorganized and unrelated. Recently, Google released its Broad Core Update on November 17, 2021. The update is focused on providing the best possible content based on relevance.
That being said, pillar pages aren’t all about organization content. They’re also absolutely crucial for SEO.
Here are three ways pillar pages can increase the traffic of your website:

It’s can make it easier for you to rank on high-volume keywords

Because you cover broad topics, pillar pages make it relatively easier for websites to rank on keywords with high search volume.
Pillar pages touch on many related topics and link those related topics through CTAs. As users become familiar with the content of your pillar page, they’ll narrow down their search to find other related content. This means that your visitors will spend more time on your website and browse through different topics without leaving.
As users become more familiar with a concept, they’ll narrow their searches to more specific long-tail keywords. Since pillar pages touch on many related themes and link to them through CTAs, users are more likely to remain on your website and consume your content.
Pillar pages also naturally earn backlinks. This helps your content to score a solid PageRank on search engines. Once your page increases its domain authority, you can use your pillar page to internally link other pages in your cluster to boost their rankings as well.

Pillar pages help improve site structures

Ask yourself this question. Will you be able to make sense of what a website is about if it covers a multitude of topics – all in random order – creating no relevance with other pages?
No right? 
Google can’t either. 
When Google crawls any website, Google’s algorithm doesn’t crawl pages individually. Instead, it looks over multiple pages together and sees how each page relates to the other.  
In order to understand your content, Google’s algorithm doesn’t just look at individual web pages on your site. It considers many pieces of content together, including how each page is related. If you have a lot of content, pillar pages unify similar subjects and create a hierarchical map.
Pillar pages help you create a hierarchical listing of multiple related pages to create uniformity. When content gets structured and Google can see the relevance between all the content pieces on your website, Google can make sense of your website’s expertise.

Pillar pages highlight your site’s expertise

When you build a series of content around certain topics, your website will be seen as an expert in your niche by Google. When search engines establish you as a recognized source of information regarding a certain topic, you’ll be able to secure top positions in SERPs.
Google wants only the best content to secure top positions in rankings – content that is helpful for its users. Pillar content and topic clusters allow you to highlight your expertise by covering content from every angle and for every use case.
For example, if you write about cars, you’ll cover care topics, car insurance, car parts, and all other topics revolving around cars. 
Does it make sense? 
Good! Let’s move forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the topic cluster model?

The topic cluster model is where you take a single page (pillar) and create multiple content pages that all relate to the hub page. All the content in the cluster model must link back to the pillar page and also to each other. Internal linking the pillar page tells search engines that your pillar page has authority on whatever topic you’ve covered, which will help it rank high over a period of time. The topic cluster model basically helps organize a site’s content and site architecture.

How many pillar pages should you have?

Each pillar should have 6 or more supporting pillars. Each supporting pillar should have at least 3 blogs supporting them. To sum up, a pillar page must be supported by at least 20 content pieces. If the topic of your main pillar page is too wide, there can be even more supporting blogs and pillars.

How long should a pillar page be?

A pillar page content should be worded between 2,000 to 5,000 words. It should be long enough to cover all relevant information but not too long that your readers would want to leave your page.

Wrapping Up!

When you fully inter-link your topic web with quality, digestible, and contextual articles, you can then expect a user to become educated. Thus, moving them further along the buyer’s journey. Cultivating brand authority through your content will help ease their decision to do business with you.
Good luck with implementing topic clusters and pillar pieces into your content strategy!  Please let me know in the comments below how you get on.

Manno Notermans

Manno is a wanderer of the world looking to make an impact and change the world for the better. He has over 10 years of experience working in various marketing positions. Manno’s main focus the past few years has been accelerating the growth of businesses, increasing revenue, and profit with out-of-box creative ideas and implementations.