A content pillar is a substantial, information-heavy piece of content. Whether it be about flying a state-of-the-art drone or selling an old car, content pillars usually come in the form of an e-book or in-depth blog post. That said, there are dozens of different content types that qualify - other examples include:
Content pillars are carefully researched and often include primary research or data. They are goldmines of information. A well-written and researched content pillar is invaluable to a content marketer for a number of reasons.
In an age where most online content is shoddy and derivative, content pillars lift blogs and brands out of the mosh pit. Search engines quickly recognize the superior nature of content pillars and bump them up in search results.
As Stuart McKeown has pointed out, it's virtually impossible to create quantities of valuable content without having a focus - content pillars act as natural theses around which future content can be built.
But despite all these potential benefits, content pillars don't always lend themselves immediately to social sharing. Posting an e-book on your Facebook feed probably won't generate a lot of shares or buzz. Fortunately, a few simple tricks can help make your pillars some of the most shareable content in your arsenal.
Break Things into Bite-Sized Pieces
The secret to successfully distributing content pillars over social media is to break them down into chunks. It might help to think about pillars quite literally - if you had to bring a marble pillar into your house, you'd never fit it through the door. You'd need to break it down and carry it through piece by piece, reassembling it once inside.
Imagine for the sake of illustration that your content pillar is a seventy-page e-book on Twitter engagement. If you keep the end goal in sight throughout the entire creation process, you'll already be thinking about eventual social media distribution, even as you produce the copy.
While gathering research and information for your content pillar, run a series of promoted polls over social media. When you interview thought leaders, bring a camera and record your conversations - the clips will make perfect, bite-sized content for social sharing. Before you've even finalized your content pillar, it can already have provided plenty of social ammunition for your business' various accounts.
Once you've gathered all your data and compiled it into a well-written e-book, the fun really begins. Take your statistics and build them into infographics. Then, write articles about the infographics. Write short blog posts about every finding that surprised you. Spin your findings into actionable advice, publishing a series of how-to articles in the process.
If you link all these smaller content pieces back to the original pillar, the pillar's page authority will improve quickly. Should your pillar eventually become a top hit on Google, the positive results for your company could extend far beyond what you ever thought was possible.
Small, yet intimate content pieces will perform far better on social media than a colossal e-book or lengthy blog post would have. The ultimate result for you will be more efficient content marketing and greater page authority.
Case Study: The New York Times
The New York Times is arguably the foremost news source in the United States, but its most popular articles often aren't articles at all - they're pieces of engaging content split from an original content pillar. In fact, The Times' most popular piece in 2013 was an online quiz offering to tell users where they came from based on their speech patterns.
A statistics student interning with the Times dug up a 10-year-old study conducted by Harvard on regional dialects in the United States. The report was academic, lengthy and intimidating, but the information it contained was intriguing. He used a series of algorithms to sort out the valuable information, making it more relevant and approachable for a global audience.
He then teamed up with a graphic designer and turned the statistics into viewer-friendly heat maps. At this point the Times expressed interest in the project and helped him turn the data into an interactive quiz which was eventually posted to The Times' home page.
Within a month, the quiz had already yielded more hits than any other article the NYT had published that year. The student, Josh Katz, was hired and is now a staff editor. You can read more about the quiz here.
- The New York Times found a content pillar (you don't always need to create them) and then broke it down into an interactive, shareable chunk.
- By choosing a highly visual interactive format (a quiz with graphics), they boosted engagement far beyond what a traditional article would have provided.
Choosing the Right Content Style
As a final note, be sure to think carefully about the social media platforms through which you'll be sharing your content pillar or content pieces. It would be ineffective, for example, to promote a white paper over Instagram - the platform's too visual and lifestyle-oriented. In this situation, LinkedIn would likely be a better choice.
DemandGen found in 2014 that 91% of web users are actively searching for more visual and interactive content. Quizzes, calculators, infographics and videos consistently outperform more traditional formats like articles and copy-heavy posts.
Content pillars are a must-have for marketers who want their companies to stand out from the crowd. By building solid content pillars and then distributing portions of them through social media, businesses can begin to see real, quantifiable results from their content marketing efforts.