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Implementing Your New Pillar Strategy with Topic Clusters

Last Updated: 1st February 2018
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The Steps of Choosing Pillar Pages

The pillar page must be the central piece of a much larger content network, topic clusters. The first step in this process is to choose which pages on your site are going to be considered your pieces of pillar content. Depending on the type of business, this could be anything from an important service page to an offer that you want to drive traffic to. If you don’t have any pages that you can elaborate on, or if there isn’t an already existing pillar page that you believe you need to add, there are steps you can take to create new pillar content. With that said, it is much more beneficial to choose a page that already has domain authority and ranking behind it.

How Buyer Personas Can Help

If you’ve started your digital marketing campaign the right way, you’ve already researched to understand your buyer personas. With this understanding, you’ll have a good idea as to what your buyer personas are looking for through keyword research.

After you’ve performed this keyword research, you’ll be able to understand if there are any gaps in your content. The first step is reviewing what you already have to see if you can alter it into a pillar page format. If you don’t have any content that can be revised, it’s time to start from scratch.

When choosing pillar pages, we take a look at the analytics behind the website pages to make an educated guess as to what pages will be the most beneficial to go after. This will help us get a sense as to what exactly our audience is looking for and make sure we are optimizing our site even further for those topics.

Of course, you can effectively create a pillar page from nothing, from developing a good, highly searched topic and publishing the new page on your website. But remember, a high ranking, high traffic page may have everything you need for a pillar page with some reworking.

Knowing when to create a pillar page versus a comprehensive blog post can be tricky.

In a best practice topic cluster strategy, there is the centralized, core topic. Behind that core topic is a single, live website page. This means that there is a page that needs to be optimized with basic SEO rules. However, as a general rule, the best pillar pages are at least receiving hundreds of searches per month for that core long-tail keyword.

Traditionally, inbound marketing has been reliant on blogging for keyword growth. Writing blog posts optimized for target keywords allows us to create content specific to that core topic, and somewhere in those posts is a link back to a landing page with a form. That is a super simplified version of the traditional inbound method.

This new-and-improved method attempts to optimize all articles for long-tail keywords. That is the core difference between the traditional model and the new model. The old way was to optimize for competitive short-tail keywords, and the new way is to optimize for long-tail keywords.

HubSpot’s SEO team published a recent wiki about how they decide whether if the page should be a pillar page or a blog post. These standards should help digital marketers and SEO experts alike.
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The Steps of Choosing Pillar Pages

The pillar page must be the central piece of a much larger content network, topic clusters. The first step in this process is to choose which pages on your site are going to be considered your pieces of pillar content. Depending on the type of business, this could be anything from an important service page to an offer that you want to drive traffic to. If you don’t have any pages that you can elaborate on, or if there isn’t an already existing pillar page that you believe you need to add, there are steps you can take to create new pillar content. With that said, it is much more beneficial to choose a page that already has domain authority and ranking behind it.

How Buyer Personas Can Help

If you’ve started your digital marketing campaign the right way, you’ve already researched to understand your buyer personas. With this understanding, you’ll have a good idea as to what your buyer personas are looking for through keyword research.

After you’ve performed this keyword research, you’ll be able to understand if there are any gaps in your content. The first step is reviewing what you already have to see if you can alter it into a pillar page format. If you don’t have any content that can be revised, it’s time to start from scratch.

When choosing pillar pages, we take a look at the analytics behind the website pages to make an educated guess as to what pages will be the most beneficial to go after. This will help us get a sense as to what exactly our audience is looking for and make sure we are optimizing our site even further for those topics.

Of course, you can effectively create a pillar page from nothing, from developing a good, highly searched topic and publishing the new page on your website. But remember, a high ranking, high traffic page may have everything you need for a pillar page with some reworking.

The First Criteria: Search Volume

HubSpot’s SEO team published a recent wiki about how they decide whether if the page should be a pillar page or a blog post. These standards should help digital marketers and SEO experts alike.

For a page to be a considered a viable pillar page for HubSpot, the monthly search volume for the core keyword topic has to be at least 50,000 searches per month. This is way more than our recommended triple digits, but keep in mind that this is for HubSpot’s pillar pages. The triple digits of monthly searches should a the bare minimum.

So first rule, first criteria for the core topic is that we want at least a 100 searches per month. That is criteria number one.

The Second Criteria: Current Rank

The second piece of criteria that we want is to be already ranking for the core topic in question. For example, does your local law firm appear in the first 100 search results for a long-tail keyword? If you do, you’re much more likely to get a larger ROI from creating a pillar page. The best pillar pages tend to already rank for your long-tail keywords in the first 100 search results, and when implemented with a best practice blogging strategy, can positively affect search engine rank.

Conversely, if you are not ranking at all for the long-tail keyword, it’s going to be hard to quickly impact rankings. Keep in mind that it’s not going to be impossible, but it’s going to be much more difficult.

Create Topics with “SEO Opportunity”

Each pillar page that is chosen or created is then translated into a topic. For example, if we have a digital marketing page, we will probably make that topic "Digital Marketing." An important way to determine if you have chosen a right topic is to do some broad keyword research around that particular topic to ensure it gets enough search volume and is worth targeting. If it is not, you may want to change topics for that page.

Additionally, each core topic is something that is educational or informative and must have supporting content. To keep with our earlier example of “digital marketing,” it can be supported by email marketing, content marketing, and even sales enablement.

My Business is Local, Are Topic Clusters a Good Strategy for Me?

Think of an auto body shop as an example. Even if you write a pillar page on how to do an oil change, which is a very competitive long-tail keyword, not many people in that auto body shop’s target audience will engage with that website page. This is because auto body shops have a very local audience, even if you can do a great job and rank first on Google, you could generate unqualified leads.

If your business is local, you may want to rethink whether or not a pillar strategy is an approach you want to take. Ideally, you need a national audience to make sure that potential leads that it generates are qualified. If someone from outside your area of service contacts you, then that pillar page isn’t going to generate qualified leads.

Remember, we are trying to optimize a main site page. Sometimes, we’ll want to make a current page a pillar page optimized to be at the top-of-the-funnel, educating readers on a topic. However, your pillar page could be more focused on bottom-of-the-funnel content so they can convert on your website.

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RankBrain & Keyword Rankings

Analyze Your Current Website Setup

Before you begin, you need to know basic information about your website. Here are the things you need to look for when analyzing your setup:

  • What is your website platform? – You need to know if your site is based on a modern or outdated platform. A modern platform, such as HubSpot, is fast, secure, and much easier to optimize. It is also more flexible when it comes to design and making small changes to your website. If your platform is outdated, I would strongly suggest switching over to HubSpot, or another more modern platform like WordPress or Marketo. It is sometimes cheaper to migrate platforms than to pay someone to optimize an outdated, confusing platform.
  • Do you need to change your current design? – It can be a tough decision deciding whether or not you need to change your website design. You may be totally attached to your current design, but it may not be the most user-friendly, well-designed website for SEO purposes. If you are changing to a new platform, this can be an easy process because you can usually just change it to a new theme and customize it how you want it.

If either of these issues exists, it is imperative that they are taken care of before the optimization stage. If your website is poor, out-of-date, or not user-friendly, an SEO campaign is going to have a very little effect. You need much more than just a good keyword and optimization strategy to succeed.

Topic Creation & Keyword Research

As stated earlier, it is very important that we are optimizing around topics rather than keywords. However, we still need to do some keyword research to see what types of keywords within that particular topic we want to optimize for as well.

First things first, we need to come up with the topics we want to focus on for the campaign. We do this during a brainstorming session. Write down as many topics as you can think of. A topic is usually just one or two words long, such as “Digital Marketing” or “About Us.” Ask yourself the following to get you started:

  • What are your customers looking for?
  • What products/services do you offer?
  • What message do you want to get across?
  • What topics do you want to write about?
  • What topics do you currently write about?

Once you have brainstormed the list, try to narrow it down as much as possible. Combine duplicates, remove any that are irrelevant/not necessary, only choose what you feel is most important. Keep in mind that you can always revisit this later down the road.

After the topics have been decided, it is time to do some research into what you want to optimize your website around. We use SEMRush for this, but there are plenty of other tools, like Moz or Rank Tracker.

 

A backlink is when someone else is linking back to your website. This is one of the top three ranking factors in Google and always has carried a lot of weight. It is extremely important that you are focusing on the quality of these links rather than the quantity. If you have a lot of poor quality backlinks in your profile, you could get penalized, and your rankings would plummet. It is very important to watch who is linking to you and making sure it is relevant.
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Once you have removed any toxic links, it is time to create more to build up your website’s authority. There are several ways you can create backlinks. Some quick wins that you can use are as follows:

  • Competitive Link Building - Many tools like SEMRush will help you look into your competitors’ backlink profile. By taking a look at what they are doing, you can try and get links on the same websites to try and compete for that top spot on Google. When using this tactic, you must be careful to choose the most powerful and authoritative links to obtain.
  • Industry Related Directory Link Building - Finding industry specific directories that have high trust and authority can be difficult. However, through this process, you can find a backlink that is extremely relevant to your space, it will be a great addition to your profile.
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There are plenty of other ways you can build links, especially when you think creatively. One thing I will tell you is that if you can leverage the relationships you have with other businesses and other websites, you can get some good quality link exchanges very easily.

The main goal throughout all of this is to make sure you are starting with a good understanding and foundation of your strategy is going to be and how you want to execute it. Once you have the strategy and goals defined, you can begin to implement the on-site optimization, as well as backlink creation process.

An important thing to remember is that a truly effective SEO campaign must be carefully managed and continuously optimized for the best possible results. SEO is not just a one-time deal. It can be very helpful to get your own SEO company to help with the ongoing efforts of an SEO strategy.

Video SEO

  • Create a compelling video title that is 5+ words with a broad keyword included.
  • Google cannot read a video, so make sure you let the video description. (Try a really, really short blog post)
  • Obviously don't forget links back to relevant external and internal sources.
  • Choose a pretty thumbnail that is actually going to get clicks, not the one they automatically choose for you.
  • If you can make the video longer...do it!
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