These days, most website owners are familiar with the basic concepts of SEO and why they are essential to running a successful site. However, when it comes to developing and managing solid SEO strategies, things get complicated.
There are so many details you need to take into account, so it can be hard to know where to focus your efforts.
Plus, the nature of search is constantly changing. Therefore, SEO is ever-evolving, so you need to be able to adapt and reiterate the techniques you use to achieve high rankings and gain more traffic from Google.
Which brings me to:
Using topics clusters and pillar pages.
This is one of the best ways to get content to rank on Google nowadays, and I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about it in the following lines.
Before we move any further, though, here is a quick rundown of some of the terms we’ll be using throughout this article. You know; so that we’re on the same page here.
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- Pillar Page (also referred to as Pillar Content) is a resource-driven page that captures the main aspects of the topic. Think of it as a main hub of content for an overarching topic.
- Topic Clusters. These are content pages that are related to that same topic as the Pillar pages. The pages are also related to each other, topic-wise. Most importantly, they link back to the pillar page. Think of them as complementary pieces of content that gravitate around the main hub.
- Focus Pages are the most important pages in your site, the pages that you most want people who land on your site to see. A Pillar page can and should be a Focus Page. So, it’s no coincidence that we named the place where you can do all the work to rank your top pages inside of Squirrly SEO this way (Focus Pages panel).
At its core, using Pillar Content and topic clusters represents a new way of organizing a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture.
Why the need to approach content this way?
As always, it starts with the user typing something into Google.
You see, instead of typing fragmented keyword queries into search engines to find answers to their questions, many users today search using complex questions, expecting an accurate and timely result.
Searchers who want a specific answer also use many different phrases in their queries, and now search engines are smart enough to recognize the connections across queries and even understand the topical context behind the search intent.
This is why Pillar Content appeals to search engines, making it easier for them to know what a page is all about.
Good. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s dive right in and see how to get started with building this approach.
First Things First: Know Where You Start
Before you try any new strategy, I recommend you take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture of your site. It can be quite a revealing experience, really.
After all, to know how to reach a destination, you first need to know where you currently stand, right?
There are two main features in Squirrly SEO (Business Plan) that will serve you a great deal of help at this point:
- The Squirrly SEO Audit which covers six essential areas in your content marketing game, including SEO. With the Business plan, you get on-demand Audit for 300 pages, so you can get access to the info right away. Go through all the points highlighted in the report; it will show you where you need to focus your efforts moving forward. It will also help point out technical issues, which is crucial.
! Before you do anything else, you need to make sure your site is crawlable, meaning it has accessible URLs that Google can crawl and parse. Without it, nothing else doesn’t really matter, because it means that Google will simply NOT see your site.
2. Rankings in Advanced Analytics. Here, you can find information detailing how many keywords you rank for now, as well as which are your top keywords. This gives you an overview of what your strong points are, as well as which are the areas you need to work more on.
It can also help you identify areas of opportunity that you can address with your SEO plan.
Know Where You Want to Go
Whether it’s directly or indirectly, websites use SEO to increase the revenue from their visitors. There is, however, a significant difference between a website looking to secure a quick sale and one that is looking to set up a long-term business relationship, for instance.
Using tactics without any strategy to back them up is a sure way to waste your time. There needs to be a clear intention behind every action you take.
This makes your plan actionable.
So, ask yourself:
What is your focus now?
For a site that is focused on gaining leads rather than direct purchases, the SEO approach should be different.
In this case, aiming for the early stages of the buying cycle and focusing on pages that describe and explain your product, services, and business is the way to go.
Know what is the most important thing you want to achieve with your site.
Are you going with direct targeting or indirect targeting? This will dictate the kind of keywords you should go after. For direct targeting, you’ll want to focus on keywords that convert, such as “buy weight loss plan”. This shows a strong purchase intent.
If you’re going for indirect targeting, you may want to create content that engages and educates your target audience. Therefore, the keywords to go after would be along the lines of “how to find a weight plan that works for you”.
Always keep in mind how you acquire your customers when defining your focus.
How to Create an Effective Pillar Page
Here are the main working steps to focus on when putting together a topic-based strategy.
1. Start Crafting a List of Topics that You Want to Cover
When you’re optimizing your site for Search, you have to be 100% clear about what exactly you want to rank for. I can’t stress this enough.
So, when it comes to pillar content, you should begin by creating a list of topics that are relevant to your business and niche.
I’m talking about topics that you would want to cover on your site from one month to the next, topics that you want people who search on Google to associate with your business.
Think of the topics that are most important to you, namely the topics that are most likely to interest your target audience, the topics for which you most want to rank on the first page of Google. These topics should be broad enough to allow you to cover them in your Pillar Content.
Let’s say you have a website that is all about health and wellness. The main topics for your pillar content could be:
Once you have that list, go to Squirrly’s Keyword Research tool to find the best keyword opportunities.
2. Find the Best Keywords using Keyword Research
Taking your goals into account and the main topics you want to cover, you can start researching the best keyword opportunities.
Sure, you could just start creating content and optimizing it for keywords such as: “nutrition”, “fitness” and “wellness”. But these are incredibly-competitive keywords, so your chance to rank for them is very small to none.
This is why I would recommend going after long-tail variations with low competition and a high search volume suggested by Squirrly.
So, for the topic of Wellness, for instance, you would have a list of associated keywords, such as:
Also, keep in mind that users who might be interested in wellness and making a lifestyle change may not necessarily type “mental wellness” into Google. Instead, they may type something like “how to improve my wellbeing”.
Tools in Squirrly to use at this point:
- Keyword Research Tool
A high ranking doesn’t mean diddly if it doesn’t translate into quality traffic to your site. Look for long-tail keywords that have high search volume and little competition that you can target in your optimization efforts.
!! If you get Squirrly’s Business Plan, you will get access to 300 keyword researches/month. (3x more than what’s included in the PRO plan)
3. Organize Your Keywords
This will help ensure that you are creating real content assets instead of just adding unnecessary weight to your site.
Instead of just creating content for random keywords your audience is searching for on Google, organize your content based on topics. This helps search engines like Google understand what is a user’s intent when searching on Google.
Also, this way, you focus on improving rankings for an entire topic – as opposed to single pages and articles on your site.
Your keyword list is a great indicator of how many Pillar Pages you should actually have.
Tools in Squirrly SEO you can use during this phase:
- The Briefcase feature which makes it super easy to group keywords based on topic. Simply create a label for your topic clusters. As an added benefit, you can keep track of how many articles you’ve created for every one of the keywords you’ve added to Briefcase. This shows you where you’ve been focusing your content creation efforts and where you still need to put more work in.
At this point, you should have a list of topics, each with their individual list of associated main and secondary keywords that all have the same search intent.
Let’s move on.
4. Build Your Pillar Content and Work on Making It Flawless inside the Focus Pages panel
Next up, you need to start building pages for each of the main topics you’ve picked. These will be your Focus Pages, and they will also include the associated keywords.
You can think of your Pillar Page as a table of contents – a blueprint of what your site is all about.
Focus on creating genuinely good, valuable content, the kind that earns amplification.
The kind that people will find so valuable, so interesting and so exciting that they will want to share with others on their social media accounts or on their own websites.
These are all signals that tell Google your content is worth ranking high.
Also, long-form content tends to perform better, simply because it tends to be more insightful.
Once you have created your pages, work on optimizing and making them the absolute best.
Google now has over 200 ranking factors that it uses to assess whether a page in your site deserves to be featured on the first page – and on which position.
To navigate all of them and ensure you have all your bases covered, use the Focus Pages panel in Squirrly SEO.
Tools in Squirrly you can use for that:
- The entire Focus Pages Panel, with all the tasks that you need to complete, was orchestrated to help you with ranking your most important pages, including your Pillar content. So, once you’ve created a Pillar Page, make sure to add it as a Focus Page. All you really have to do then is work on completing the tasks and turn the RED elements into Green Elements. Each page comes with 100% customized information and clear tasks that are relevant to that page.
5. Create other Blog Articles (Topic Clusters) that Link to Your Pillar Content
Create smaller articles optimized for long-tail variations of your keyword and then make sure you link to your Pillar Content Pages in them.
These are your topic clusters.
These blog articles should be consistent enough to serve as standalone posts – and support your core topic (the one covered in the Pillar content).
For example, if you have a Pillar Page that is basically a glossary of Workout Plans, you could also create blog posts around: workout plans to lose fat (that would be your target keyword), or workout plans to get abs or workout plans at home, and so on.
In those blog articles, you would make sure to link to your Pillar content about Workout Plans.
People who read the blog post are obviously interested in this topic, so it makes sense that linking to another resource that tackles it will only enrich their experience on your site.
Now, going back to SEO, this practice tells Google that your Focus Page is an important page that contains authoritative information. So, it’s more likely to rank it higher.
Tools in Squirrly you can use here:
- Squirrly Live Assistant for creating optimized content that is both Google Friendly and Human-friendly.
Monitor Your Ranking and See How Your Actions Turn in Results
Tracking and measuring your SEO efforts is crucial – and Pillar Content makes no exception.
A few best practices to keep in mind in this regard:
- Keep track and document the changes/improvements that you see on your site. You’ll be able to know which actions brought you the best results and do more of what works so that you can create Pillar content that will perform even better.
- Constantly monitor the rankings of your most important keywords, namely the keywords that bring in the most traffic. You’ll want to keep a close eye on these, as they are high-stakes keywords, meaning you have a lot to lose if you lose your rankings for them.
The only tool you need:
- Squirrly’s advanced Rank Tracking Tool that provides fresh and accurate data that you can rely on to make informed decisions and explore new ways to add more power to your SEO strategy.
GSC only gives you an average of ranking based on the queries users make in a certain period of time. With a Business Plan from Squirrly SEO, you have the guarantee that you’re not relying on ranking information that is weeks old.
This way, you can experiment and proceed with confidence.
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Squirrly SEO is your trusty co-pilot throughout your SEO journey, providing clear directions on how to take your business to the 1st Page of Google. You saw how it lets you do all the research and provides all the tools you need to do the work to rank your pages – in a single space.
The strategy I’ve described in this article is, of course, one of many others you can conceive for your site.