Creating Content Pillars


When I speak to digital marketers about keyword research – the most common reason for it not being maintained as a monthly task is its sheer weight of overwhelming data. When introducing keyword research to a person, they initially fall in love with it and get very excited by the opportunities they see hidden within the data. However, when I talk to them two months later – they immediately show their frustration with it because in most cases it’s the problem of ‘how to eat an elephant’? This is usually because they don’t have a framework to work from – we call this keyword framework “content pillars”.

The first rule of creating content pillars is knowing the products or services that a business sells. These products or services create the themes to help define each pillar – it’s the starting point of your research. I’m going to use two types of companies to illustrate how we can apply this thinking. A small architectural firm and a large fashion retailer.

Let’s start with the small architectural firm.
With my limited knowledge of architecture 🙂 I’ve broken down their services into the following:
Residential + architectural services
Industrial + architectural services
Office blocks + architectural services
Hotel & leisure + architectural services

Straight off the bat – there you have four example content pillars which can be converted into separate landing pages. Note that said separate, they mustn’t all exist on one page. This is a common problem amongst small businesses.

The next step is to expand on these topics using your keyword research skills and data that Google throws at you. Each main theme: residential, industrial, office blocks and hotel & leisure, become your main content pillars. Just like the real pillar holds up a building so do these pillars form the structure of the website. These I like to call the “money” pages because they have a direct impact on business. The more leads the business can get from these web pages, the higher the likelihood for the business to make sales from these leads.

However, these web pages cannot stand in isolation and this is where things can fall apart. They need to be supported by more content – more web pages. Generally speaking, these come in the form of blog or article content but they can also come from static pages like the home page, additional features, benefit type pages or even embedded slide decks or videos. The nice thing about blog posts, resource hubs or online docs is that they are more dynamic and can be quickly updated and changed to fit current requirements. All of these supporting pieces of content need internal links back to their associated content pillar.

Now, please, this is super important to note. Don’t go and create 100’s of links from these pages. That’s gaming the system and will confuse the hell out of the user. Generally, I stick to no more than three outgoing links per page but this is just a rule of thumb. It also depends on the length of content. If you have a high-quality piece of content that has say over 1000 words, then sure – place a few links to certain sections of your website but do it sparingly and do it in context of what you are saying in that moment of the person reading the content. So for example – if you are talking about residential decor ideas – don’t go and link to the industrial page. There’s no relationship between the two and you will only frustrate the user’s experience.

Lets go back to the 4 web pages that I spoke about earlier and how they influence their related supporting content. The idea here is that you develop content that supports these main content pillars. Let’s start by breaking down a content pillar further into more detailed content ideas.

I first start by Googling the keywords that make up the service or product for the business. If you scroll down on the search results page, you should see a set of suggested searches given to you by Google. From this you can get a good idea of what related topics people are searching for – depending on the search volume and data collected, Google generally suggests a few nuggets which you can use to formulate your own content calendar.

You might also come across a few questions that appear in your search results. These questions are also gathered by Google’s very intelligent algorithm. Generally speaking, users who are asking questions are getting close to the final stage of their buying cycle – so it’s important to be able to provide these answers to the users, so when they are ready to purchase, your brand is top of mind. We call this “tactical” content. We will unpack the buyer journey in the coming weeks. Right now it’s good to understand the slightly bigger picture to content and that it is used as a strategy to move the user down the buying funnel.

The next toolset is the Keyword Planner, used within the Google Adwords platform. I won’t go into the detail as to how to use this platform, we will provide additional reading and videos resources at the end of this module so you can do some more research of your own. The big reason for using Google’s keyword planner is to identify where the opportunities lie in understanding the search volume for each keyword or phrase.

What you will start to see is that the single keywords, which are called “short-tail” keywords generally have higher search volume and the keywords with 4+ words in them generally have a lower search volume. This does not mean you must only go after the high search volume keywords – it actually means the polar opposite because the more search volume there is – the more competition there is to rank for that keyword. And more competition means a lot more time and possibly more budget is required to rank for that keyword. So, generally speaking, and especially in the beginning stages of the campaign, you want to be going after the very niche, low competition keywords to get initial traction. Ahhh – remember that word? Traction? So using the traction model for SEO, you’d want to build on keywords that will generate traffic and leads as soon as possible. Make sense? Drop us a message if you have any questions on that.

Once you have identified your list of keywords and put them into context by adding them to your respective content pillars – you need to go ahead and add them to a spreadsheet. Google’s keyword planner has a nice export functionality to manage this process. Please go ahead and try Google’s keyword planner and google suggest for yourself as you will be quizzed on it later.

In my example, spreadsheet, note how I have created a ‘priority’ column and a ‘content type’ column. This is to ensure structure and focus for each keyword. From experience, if you don’t implement this type of structure in your excel spreadsheet – it will soon become overwhelming and it won’t get the attention it deserves. The quote by Benjamin Franklin rings true here, “fail to plan – plan to fail”.

I’ve also added another spreadsheet, which represents an example of a hypothetical fashion retailer. Once you’ve downloaded it, it will give you an idea of the detail you can go into. This shouldn’t stop you from going into more detail though – I’ve seen some spreadsheets from Signpost, our partner agency, who go into a lot more detail. They are pedantic about this stuff and you can see from their case studies that it works when done properly because so often it can become something that is an afterthought.

I urge you to go ahead and practice developing content pillars and researching supporting content ideas for them. We’ll get into more detail around website structure next week. You will then see how website structure and content pillars are so important and why it requires quite a bit of thought when planning website builds, especially the more complex ones.

If you have further questions about content pillars – please let us know. This part of our framework can make or break your growth strategy. So it’s really important you grasp the methodology.

Cheers 🙂

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