Organizing your content into topic pillars or pillar pages is a great way to boost SEO for the core services you provide. We've created a number of pillar pages - and even a pillar page on how to create pillar pages. And as we’ve worked with more organizations on the same, we've identified five common challenges that businesses face in the process.
Sometimes these challenges prevent the pillar page project from even starting, or from being completed. But more often, organizations end up with pillar pages that aren’t as effective as they could be - they don’t increase traffic, they don’t improve SEO rank for core topic keywords, and/or they aren’t compelling to their target audience.
In this post, I’ll share these five key challenges, and along the way, I’ll provide tips that can help you overcome these barriers to create an awesome pillar page.
Challenge 1: Finding the Right Topic
Amazingly, this is a problem many organizations have, especially if they haven’t had a content marketing plan designed to target a specific audience segment.
There are many reasons why this might be the case. The challenging part is that pillar pages are a heavy lift - it’s not just one blog post, it’s multiple blog posts, an eBook, publication, continued promotion and so forth.
If you’re going to invest the time to do this, you need to identify the perfect topic - and analysis can lead to paralysis.
- Leverage one of your existing eBooks - Choosing an eBook you’ve already published - and which is still relevant to your audience - is one of the easiest ways to select a pillar page topic
- Keep the topic narrow - Answer a single question, or discuss an industry problem in depth
- List to what your customers are asking for - Review your online channels and see what your customers are asking for, then build a pillar page to provide that specific information.
- Ask your sales team - The questions salespeople routinely answer can make great content. You may have to work to find an overall topic which encompasses all queries, but this approach often pays off
- Look to other content and channels for inspiration - If you have other channels that are well-liked by your audience, see if you can leverage them. Think out of the box for this one - for example, if your YouTube channel is popular, leverage the "how-to" videos you've published. While video content won’t improve your SEO by itself, if you put those videos on a pillar page, along with well-crafted introductory descriptions which explain what each video shows, then it will
- Bring in outside help - An agency or consultant can help you narrow down your topics
Challenge 2: Finding the Right Topic Keyword and Related Keywords
Really, once your topic is selected, your work is just beginning. You then have to choose the right subtopic keywords, and the challenge here - whether starting from scratch with the intention to build content, or transforming an eBook into a pillar page - is that you have to choose your topic keywords based on SEO factors, not on what you believe the keywords should be.
You have to pick a topic keyword that you can rank for, and that takes research.
There are lots of tools you can use to help you brainstorm, research, and create pillar pages. SEO tools like SEMRush, Moz Pro, Ahrefs and others can help you identify keywords used in your industry related to your topics, and show you search volume.
You’re looking for:
- Keywords your competitors aren’t ranking for - Choosing keywords used by your competitors makes building rank that much harder.
- Longtail keywords that you can rank for - keywords that aren’t heavily used by others.
- Keywords that have a high monthly search volume
You have to do this research - conducting relevant investigation is the most important thing. If you don’t do it, or softball it, you could end up with a pillar page that simply people can't find.
- Ask your customers - Ask them how they describe the topic you’re going to turn into a pillar page. You may find some great topic keywords this way.
- Use your topic keyword everywhere - Once you choose a topic keyword, start using it everywhere on your website, in brochures, and on social, in order to build recognition and get others familiar with it and using it.
- Hire an SEO consultant - SEO can be daunting. Hiring an agency or consultant can take this burden off of in-house staff and speed up this part of the process. If you go this route, make sure your consultant provides you with relevant data to back up their recommendations.
Challenge 3: Choosing Which Existing Content to Leverage
Once your topic and keywords are chosen, it’s time to create the content for your pillar page.
Since pillar pages generally consist of between eight and twenty-two subtopics, the prospect of creating all of that content can be daunting, and while it’s always a good idea to leverage your existing content where it fits, some organizations stuff pillar pages with any content they can find, instead of making sure it closely matches the topic and subtopics.
The intentions may be good - someone may want to include a popular article loosely related to the topic. With all the content required for a pillar page, this can seem like a time saver, but it’s likely also diluting the core focus of your pillar page.
Remember, you’re creating a very long piece of content. It needs to be focused, relevant, and meaningful to the core topic and subtopics covered. If the content goes wandering off into other areas, your audience may turn off, resulting in a poorly received pillar page that doesn’t get backlinks and doesn’t keep generating traffic over time.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of making a pillar page, put effort into creating outstanding content that will compel visitors to keep reading.
- Update all content to make it current - Update the text, statistics, and links in the content you leverage.
- Keep subtopics focused on your main topic - If a piece of content doesn’t directly support the main topic, leave it out. If it’s a great piece of content, you can still mention it and link to it.
- Have people outside your organization (such as good customers) review it - Ask if all the content is relevant to the main topic and should be included in the pillar page.
- Hire outside help - Sometimes an agency or consultant coming in with a fresh set of eyes can be the best choice for selecting content to leverage, while retaining the focus needed to make a great pillar page.
Challenge 4: Making Long-form Content Compelling
The next element organizations often struggle with is in making their long-form content compelling. This is especially true when leveraging existing content.
It’s always a good idea to include graphics, bulleted lists, and relevant images in blog posts. Some organizations skip that step when creating shorter content - after all, if an article is only one or two pages long, they figure anyone interested will read it.
There are two things to remember:
- Any article or post, regardless of length, will perform better if you add graphics, lists, and relevant images. Be sure to always add these elements where possible.
- If you put eight to twenty-two short, text-only posts together to create a pillar page, you’re likely creating an engagement experience that's best described as "thick and chewy." Your visitors simply won't consume it.
Pillar page content needs to be scannable - it’s those scannable elements the data, and insights you call out, that will compel readers to engage and read the text, and download the eBook version of your pillar page to read later.
- Assign someone to do a graphics refresh - Make it a priority role and allocate them adequate time to do it.
- Statistics, key quotes, and data are all great candidates for graphic treatment
- Hire a graphic artist - If you don't have a graphic artist in-house, hiring one can greatly reduce the time it takes to do a graphics refresh. Graphic artists think visually - they can review content and easily decide which elements would most benefit from graphic treatment.
- Have a team of insiders and outsiders review the pillar page before publication
- Make sure the content is compelling and scannable
Challenge 5: Building In Potential Lead Generation
The last main challenge we see is that many organizations don’t use their pillar pages effectively for lead generation.
One of the key concepts around a pillar page is that pillar content is also offered as an eBook, because readers often like to download long-form content to read later.
Many organizations don’t add other content offers to their pillar pages. They should. Any relevant content offer is fair game to add to a pillar page. If you’re discussing something that relates to an offer you have, include a button, image or link to the offer landing page.
- Keep references to content offers short and to the point - Keep the pillar page focused on the main topic and subtopics.
- Put calls to actions near relevant content.
- Use links or button CTAs rather and image CTAs - Links or buttons distract less from the pillar content.
- Update other offer landing pages - Include information about why they’re relevant to the topics covered on the pillar page.
The Key Issue is Time and Expertise
It takes a lot of time, and a diverse set of skills, to do a pillar page right. Your team may possess many of the skills needed, such as knowledge of your products and services and your existing content. But they may not be able to cover everything in-house.
Managers usually want to get pillar pages done in a timely fashion, so the marketing team can move onto other things, and so the company can reap the SEO benefits. Problems occur when you start cutting corners to get the pillar page project done. The marketing team may fall back to what they’re comfortable with, and punt some of the more challenging issues I’ve listed in this article.
If a pillar page project is done fast, but not right, it won’t generate traffic, earn backlinks, and boost your SEO the way it should.
If you’re struggling with these issues, hiring an outside firm can save your team time, bring the skills your team doesn’t have, speed up your pillar page project, and most importantly, get your pillar page done right, so you see the SEO, traffic, and lead generation results you want.