SEO: How to Create an Effective Topic Cluster and Pillar Page

By | August 16, 2019


Let’s review the relationship
between a topic cluster and a pillar page. First, you need a
core topic. This should be something broad, usually 2-3
words – something that can be dug into and explained on a deep
level. Sales qualification is a great example of a core topic.
Your core topic will take the shape of your pillar page; your
core topic will be what you’re trying to rank for on search
engines. Next, identify your topic cluster, which will be
made up of several relevant subtopics. A subtopic should be
strong enough to stand alone – in the form of a blog post or
video – but when combined with other like-themed subtopics, it
should be relevant to and support your core topic. In this
case, “What is a qualified prospect?” and “What is
BANT?” are examples of strong subtopics that support the core
topic of sales qualification. And what completes this content
pillar, which solves for both the searcher and the search
engine, is connecting everything through a series of hyperlinks.
By linking all relevant subtopics to the core topic
(i.e. pillar page), you’re funneling all of your traffic to
the main resource hub on this topic. Let’s see this in
action. If you performed a Google search for sales
qualification, this is what the first page listing would look
like. At the top, you’ll see Google generated a featured
snippet, which is the search engine’s way of answering your
question simply without you having to click through to the
page. In this case, Google assumes that if you’re looking
for information on “sales qualification,” then you’ll
find value in the BANT qualification framework –
information that’s pulled from a HubSpot resource called “The
Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification.” Below the
featured snippet you’ll see HubSpot also claims the number
one listing for “sales qualification” with the same
resource, “The Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification.” In a
world of trying to rank for broad keyword terms, this is
what you’re striving for: The featured snippet as well as the
number one ranking. Let’s say you’re interested in learning
more about the BANT qualification framework, so you
click the link in the search result to learn more. You’d be
taken to this page: After the first few paragraphs, you’ll
see a table of contents that lets you know you can navigate
through the guide by clicking each section. Each section title
has an anchor link attached to it, which, when clicked, will
take you to the specific section on the page where it explains
that topic in depth. You’ll also notice a “Back to top”
button. This feature is a must-have for a good user
experience on a page of this length, as it allows the reader
to jump back to the top after reading a specific section. The
last thing you want is your reader having to scroll back up
through a long-form content page to get to the top. Going back to
our example, you found yourself on this page because you clicked
through to learn more about the BANT qualification framework,
which is number four on “The Ultimate Guide to Sales
Qualification.” By clicking the anchor link, you’re taken
to the specific portion on the page that discusses the BANT
qualification framework in depth. And within this section,
you’ll notice there’s a link on “average of 5.4 people to
make a buying decision.” When clicked, it takes you to another
HubSpot resource titled “Why Custom Positioning Isn’t
Enough to Close Deals Anymore.” This is another
relevant subtopic that supports sales qualification. Not every
relevant subtopic you have will be referenced on the pillar page
(and that’s okay). That’s because you may have hundreds,
even thousands, of subtopic pages that support your core
topic. Instead, you can strategically link to relevant
subtopic content throughout your pillar page when it makes sense
and when it provides value to the website visitor. Just make
sure all important subtopic pages connect to the pillar
page, and use your best judgement on what content you
include. Remember, keep the user experience and the story
you’re trying to tell in mind. So that’s how this page solved
for the searcher by offering a positive user experience, but
how did this page solve for the search engines in terms of
traffic and visibility? This page receives more than 1,500
organic, non-paid visits from search engines per month. So how
do you create a pillar page? First, let’s review the two
most widely used pillar page formats. Let’s start with the
resource pillar page. The resource pillar page focuses on
internal and external links. The goal of this pillar page is to
be a helpful resource in connecting the reader with the
most relevant sources on a specific topic (even if it means
sending people off your site). For example, take a look at the
pillar page Help Scout, a simple customer service software
company, created on “customer acquisition.” This resource
pillar page is composed of multiple sections that offer
links to internal and external resources. Generally, you
wouldn’t want to send people away from your website, but this
approach is solving for the visitor, not your business. The
biggest advantage of a pillar page format like this is you
have the opportunity to generate inbound links from sources you
include on the page. This page has more than 300 inbound links
pointing to it, most of which are sources mentioned on the
page. For this type of page, you’ll need to develop an
outreach plan to let the sources know the page exists. Next is
the 10x content pillar page. The goal of this type of pillar page
is the same: To provide a comprehensive overview of a
specific topic. But the 10x pillar page is generally made up
of your owned media. The format of this page is similar to that
of an ungated ebook or a guide. Yes, I said ungated content.
Ungating thought leadership content in the awareness stage
helps solve for both the search engine and the website visitor,
not one or the other. It solves for the search engines because
they’re able to recognize the clustering of like-themed
content on a specific subject, and it solves for the website
visitors because it gives them the opportunity to view your
content before deciding to commit to downloading it. The
trick is making the 10x content pillar page conversion-focused
by packaging the page’s content into a downloadable
resource. You may be asking yourself, why the heck would
anyone give you their elusive email address if they can view
the same content on a website page without providing any
identifying information? Well, HubSpot did a study in March
2017, and we found that 90% of website visitors prefer to read
our lengthy content in a PDF as opposed to a website page. But
this preference is not limited to HubSpot’s content. It’s
human nature to want to take something with you if you find
value in it. Think of it this way: Let’s say you go to a
bookstore looking for a new book to read. You’d probably wander
up and down the aisles, flipping through pages of various books
until you find one that meets your needs. Once you find a book
you enjoy, you’ll probably go to the checkout counter and buy
it to take it with you, as opposed to staying in the
bookstore hour after hour and day after day, reading this
piece of content. This is the experience you’re trying to
replicate, but it can only be done if your content provides
value to the reader. We’ve reached this age where everyone
seems to have an ebook or guide, but the quality of that content
is a different story. Sure, you may be getting leads, but what
if people don’t find value in your content? They most likely
won’t continue building a relationship with you, so that
lead you captured won’t be as valuable as you think. In
contrast, the people who can view your content before
downloading it and who then choose to fill out your form
will be much more qualified because they’re willingly
giving you their information even though they’ve already
seen what your content has to offer. For example, take a look
at this 10x content pillar page on “email outreach” created
by Mailshake, a simple cold email outreach tool. This 10x
content pillar page covers a comprehensive approach to email
outreach with sectioned content. Let’s say you wanted to learn
more about what an effective outreach email looks like. Click
section three at the top of this page, “examples of good (and
great) outreach emails and what we can learn from them,” and
the link will direct you to that specific section on the page to
learn more about it. If you clicked a link in the table of
contents at the top, you’d notice Mailshake offers the
content as a packaged downloadable resource at the
bottom of the page. This way, if the visitor finds value in the
content, they can choose to take it with them. How well is this
page performing? Well, in less than a year, this page has been
viewed over 43,000 times, shared on social media 398 times,
attracted 372 inbound links, acquired 5,321 email opt-ins,
and acquired 402 customers. Whew. Now those are some serious
results for a piece of content that’s less than one year old.
Now that we know the types of pillar pages that exist, let’s
review how a company called Etuma created their business’
first ungated 10x content pillar page. Etuma is a company that
helps transform unstructured text data into decision-making
information for a business. While there’s more than one
way to create a pillar page, here’s a seven-step process
that Etuma followed to create an initial 10x content pillar page
and topic cluster for their business. Let’s review each
step in-depth. First, Etuma identified a core topic for
their 10x content pillar page. Etuma performed research on
keywords their primary buyer persona, Customer Experience
Manager Maggie, might use when looking for information online.
They identified the broad term “text analysis” and decided
on it as the core topic because it’s an awareness-stage
subject that Maggie would search for and it’s connected to a
product or service they offer. If you’re going to take the
time to create content that educates your audience, make
sure it connects to, and supports, at least one of your
products or services. If it doesn’t, ask why you’re
creating it in the first place. Second, Etuma identified their
topic cluster. You may already have content created in support
of your core topic. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, identify
current owned media that’s relevant to your core topic. In
this case, Etuma already had four pages of text
analysis-themed blog content and a series of YouTube videos. And
while it may be great that you have subtopic content already
created, don’t sell your business short. Brainstorm a
list of as many subtopics as possible that bring value to
your core topic that have yet to be published. Once you make a
comprehensive list of subtopics, narrow it down to six of the
strongest subtopics that support your core topic and its pillar
page. Remember, you can continue growing your pillar page, so
having a list of subtopics already identified will help
make that process easier. That comprehensive list you made is
the content gift that keeps on giving. Third, Etuma created
blog posts for their subtopic content. If you’re like Etuma
and you choose at least one subtopic that needs content
created, you’re going to need a way to bring it to life.
Create a blog post first because there are various opportunities
for repurposing it in the future. Etuma needed content for
their subtopic “categorization systems,” so they created a
blog post titled “How to Create a Customer Feedback
Taxonomy.” Once Etuma created this blog post, they had a blog
for each one of their subtopics they identified. Fourth, Etuma
repurposed their subtopic content into a downloadable
offer. Once you have all the content you need to create your
pillar page, repurpose the subtopic content into a
downloadable offer. Remember, the goal here is to use the
content you have to put together a helpful story for the reader,
which explains the core topic in-depth. Create the content
offer before the pillar page. This way, you’ll be able to
prepare a highly relevant conversion action (downloading
the content offer) to have on the pillar page so your business
can start generating leads as soon as the page is published.
Fifth, Etuma deconstructed their downloadable offer into a 10x
content pillar page. Etuma took the same content offered in
their guide and formatted it to fit on a website page. We all
know “content is king.” Matt Cutts, formerly with Google,
coined this phrase many years ago, but design is sometimes
forgotten, and it’s just as important, if not more
important, than the content on the page. You want people to
have a positive experience when they’re reading your content.
Think about the last bad experience you had at a
restaurant you visited. Did you go back? To make sure your 10x
content pillar page provides a positive experience, check out
these 13 layout tips outlined on Etuma’s example. Let’s
review each layout tip in more detail. Starting at the top-left
of the example, with tips one, two, and three, apply consistent
on-page SEO best practices, referencing the core topic in
your page title, URL, and H1 tag. Moving down to tip four,
include conversion-focused landing page elements. Really,
this is what a landing page should look like: text to the
left with bullet points to describe the offer’s value, an
image of the offer’s cover in the middle, and a form to fill
out and access the offer to the right. Insert the form directly
on the 10x content pillar page. Doing so reduces the amount of
conversion actions a reader needs to take to download the
resource. That being said, if you’re more comfortable with a
dedicated landing page with a form to access the offer, insert
a CTA on the pillar page to send readers there. Moving down to
tip five, add an anchor-linked table of contents below the
conversion point with the line “click the link to go directly
to a specific section.” This lets the visitor know they can
view the content first before deciding to take it with them.
Moving up to the top-right of the example and layout tip six,
you’ll notice there’s website navigation. The goal of
this page is to create a positive experience for the
visitor, not force them to convert as a landing page would.
Moving down to tip seven, there’s a definition of the
core topic. The core topic is defined at the top of the page,
which helps optimize the page to be chosen as a featured snippet
for that topic. A featured snippet is Google’s way of
trying to answer your search query simply without you having
to click through to a page. It’s the first thing people
see before the search result listings. Moving down to tip
eight, use relevant images throughout the page, with the
core topic referenced in the alt text. This helps optimize the
images used on the page for image search results. Moving
down to tip nine, use H2 tags for section headers – don’t
even think about just increasing the text size and bolding it.
Let’s keep it simple, consistent, and neat. Using
proper html structure helps provide a clean user experience
and makes it simpler to update the page. Moving down to tips 10
and 11, use relevant internal and external links to dig deeper
into resources. Yes, I said external as well. It helps to
use external links to validate your claims. Just use them
strategically, like to support a claim or data point you need to
reinforce. Moving down to tip 12, reference your core topic
throughout the page. But don’t just repeat the exact phrase –
search engines are smart enough to understand synonyms of your
core topic phrase. And lastly, tip 13, have a back-to-top
button. This way, when people click a section they want to
learn more about, they can easily jump back to the top.
People probably won’t read your entire page, but they may
find one section interesting enough and want to download it
and take it with them. You want to make this process as easy as
possible for the visitor. Forgetting this step would
require the reader to scroll endlessly, or it might feel like
it, which could lead to frustration, which could lead to
them leaving your page and going elsewhere. Sixth, Etuma linked
their relevant owned media content to their 10x content
pillar page. Once you complete your 10x pillar page, you’re
going to need to hyperlink your subtopic content to it, creating
your topic cluster. The goal here is to connect all owned
media that’s relevant to the core topic to the pillar page
using a hyperlink. The more content associated with your
topic cluster and pillar page, the better. And don’t just add
any old link text. Take the time to update the anchor text to
something descriptive that supports the core topic. Etuma
linked more than 20 relevant pieces of content to their 10x
content pillar page. And you’ll notice they took the
time to create descriptive anchor text to let the searcher
and search engine know where they’re going. Seventh, Etuma
created a conversion path for people to access their 10x
content pillar page. The goal here is to let people know this
content is available, because if you don’t, you run the risk of
a large portion of your website visitors never finding it.
Forgetting this step would be similar to building a new
addition on your house without a door. No matter how great that
room is, no one would be able to get in, so what’s the point?
Another placement to consider is a dedicated
section with a CTA near the top of the home page, with an image
and descriptive supplemental text. This doesn’t mean it
always needs to stay here on this page. You can promote the
pillar page for a limited time, possibly for two weeks or a
month, to support its publishing launch. And there you have it:
Seven steps to creating an effective 10x content pillar
page for your business. Etuma has been creating content
consistently for years, but this seven-step process helped them
make more sense of how to create, grow, and connect
effective content. But how well is it performing? After two
months, their VP of Marketing and Sales said, “We’re
receiving about four times the leads (if you measure by
quality) compared to before the text analysis content pillar.”
And why do you think Etuma’s quality of leads went up?
Because their content provides so much value that interested
visitors are willing to give up their information to take a
packaged download with them. If you’re looking for a place to
start with creating topic clusters and pillar pages,
consider deconstructing your existing awareness- or
consideration-stage offers into 10x content pillar pages. I
reverse engineered a DIY truck camper guide through a series of
blog posts for my website wildwewander.com. And in an
effort to solve for the best experience for website visitors
and search engine web crawlers, I deconstructed that guide’s
content into a conversion-focused pillar page.
The result? In four months, our non-paid, organic traffic coming
from search engines increased 329%. Remember, if you have
something valuable to say to your audience and the world,
don’t keep it locked up behind a form. Get it out there for all
to see. Just make sure to package it in a way that makes
it easy for people to take with them and enjoy elsewhere.

17 thoughts on “SEO: How to Create an Effective Topic Cluster and Pillar Page

  1. VISAL TYAGI Post author

    It helps a lot for me.. Thanks for Sharing such tips. Keep it up….

    Reply
  2. Aditya Nayak Post author

    Do you recommend sub topics to be structured as separate pages? or part of one big pillar content page? I am slightly confused by the video where in one section there was a mention of anchor links for the same page and at another time a separate blog post was mentioned.

    Reply
  3. Landing Videos Post author

    Hi Justin, can a pillar page be part of a topic cluster for another pillar page. For example banana cooking (pillar page) for the topic banana cooking but also part of a topic cluster for cooking with fruits (other pillar page). Not sure if I made the best example but I hope you get what I mean!

    Reply
  4. HubSpot Academy Post author

    What did you learn in this video? Tell us below!

    Reply
  5. Andy Grady Post author

    Great content. But in the spirit of what you are saying though, where can I find a transcript or worksheets to allow me to ‘take this content away with me’ in an easy and useable form?

    Reply
  6. Jonathan Hrovat Post author

    The lack of views shows why this works. Everyone is doing inbound but few do it well.

    Reply
  7. Camilo Andrés López Bernal Post author

    If I do not have my website hosted in Hubspot and create a Pillar Page in a subdomain, Do you think this will help in terms of SEO if the pages linked from my primary site are from the blog?

    Reply
  8. theempoleon78 Post author

    I just started a blog i'm gonna use this to see how much my rankings improve. This is also very similar to Brian Dean's Skyscraper technique.

    Reply
  9. Jason Thorarinsson Post author

    Where are you linking to the Pillar page from on the site? Is it part of the main nav? Is it part of the blog? For example, I couldn't find a link from https://blog.hubspot.com/sales to your Ultimate Guide in Sales Qualification

    Reply
  10. Anonym Anonymesten Post author

    I also found something in the video unclear. Hope you can clarify, although it´s an old video. I don´t get the difference between a "regular" pillar page like the one you show a template for first ( 2:48 – 4:00 ) , where you have the topic, navigation and a long text, and the 10x pillar page which you talk about later in the video.

    Reply
  11. Potti SuperFarm(HK) Post author

    How to use Pilar page and cluster topics in different sales funnel stages? Can you provide a few example? Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Adib Alami Post author

    I have watched mutiple very long videos about this pillar page concept. You have explained it the most clear in the least amount of time! What is unclear that I am trying to figure out for certain is as follows. Step one: Make a "pillar page" for me that is a free commercial roof inspection In that Pillar post (which is a WEB PAGE not on my main website menu just in the background correct?), I go on to mention in the pillar page what to look for in an asphalt shingle roof (link to sub topic, which is a BLOG POST OR ANOTHER WEBPAGE??!) and then briefly tile roof with (link to subtopic, again webpage or blog post?!). MY QUESTION that I need to know for certain to get started is, are the subtopics webpages or blog post? I know they have to link.

    Second phase of the question: Lets say I figure out if the sub topics need to be webpages (not included in the main menu) or blog post, either way linking to the pillar page and pillar page to them. Now I have all that set up. Now I go to hoot suite to post the links to my sub topic blogs to all the social media outlets. These post are exerts of my subtopic heading in the title, with a link to that sub topic on my facebook for example. Again same question, am I linking back to a sub topic blog post and in that a link back to the pillar page???

    Do I just post on social media the pillar topic like I would post the sub topics on social media?

    If the subtopics are also webpages and not blog posts, I still link the webpage to the main pillar webpage but then what do I do? Make a short blog post linking to the sub topic webpage which then intern links to the pillar webpage? Then take that blog post and post that title link to facebook/ twitter ect. Trying to drive traffic from FB>blog post>subtopic>pillar topic?

    PLEASE HELP!!!

    I may be over thinking it but its a lot of work (do it right the first time kind of thing) I am just confused on the technical route we are trying to drive traffic. from social post to webpage or blog post and are we suppose to link both pillar topic and sub topic on our social media outlets?

    third and final

    If I want to rank for commercial roof repairs plano tx. I would create that as the pillar title with links to many sub topics related to commercial roofing in Plano tx.

    I also want to rank for commercial roof repairs arlington Tx. Do I create a similar (not exact wording copy) pillar topic with similar sub topics just for Arlington?

    If you could please help me answer these 3 questions I would greatly appreciate the help. I am trying to avoid running circles in the drive way. Most of my competition is doing the old seo content so I am more confused than ever.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  13. luluvox Post author

    Pretty useful info, but the speaker's oddly placed inflections (plus the script's overgenerous inclusion of the buzz phrase "solve for") made this difficult for me to get through. #misophonia #blamethescript #imtheworst #iknow

    Reply
  14. Ana Isabel Paniagua Post author

    Very helpful. love all your content

    Reply
  15. Julio Castillo Post author

    🤩🤩Wow, like the crear explanation. Please forgive my naivety, those these pillar pages run along side to the other pages of my website, or are they the actual pages of my website? Or what's the ralation between the two? Thank you 👍👍

    Reply

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