The way people search has changed and, with that shift, so have technologies used to interpret searches and serve up results. According to Hubspot, search engines have changed their algorithms to favor topic-based content. Optimizing content to rank for long-tail keywords is no longer the best way to rank and publishers are exploring linking related content under ‘topic clusters’ on pillar pages.
- According to Hubspot, 64% of searches are four words or more. These longer-form ‘conversational’ search queries help people find exactly what they are looking for, with people using more detailed queries to find the information they need more quickly.
- Search algorithms are responding by penalizing irrelevant internal links and reading conversational queries holistically rather than as individual keywords, taking advantage of machine-learning to improve the accuracy of search results against specific terms.
- In practice, this means a search for ‘running shoes’ will now deliver results for ‘sneakers’, meaning publishers should think about organizing their content to address broader, but related searches. Writing on the Hubspot blog, Sophia Bernazzani explains:
Now, your site needs to be organized according to different main topics… to address as many searches as possible about a particular subject. Enter the topic cluster model.
What is a pillar page?
- Rather than creating content that targets specific keywords, publishers should identify the broad topics that they want to rank for. Adopting a ‘topic cluster’ strategy relies on creating broader search engine authority with content that ranks against topic keywords and related content.
- Pillar pages act as the focus for the primary topics that publishers want to rank for, building clusters of related content. The approach is sometimes described as ‘Hub and Spoke’ and on the Moz blog, Lauren Fox, director of marketing at content marketing agency Brafton, writes:
Pillar pages weave together a wide range of relevant subtopics and organize them in one place, showcasing your subject matter expertise and bringing SEO benefit.
Brafton discovered in a recent study that pillar pages were ‘magnets for links, organic traffic, and newsletter subscribers’ when compared to its regular blog posts.
Over a year, the agency’s internal research showed that, when compared to standard blog posts, its pillar pages:
- Generated four times the traffic of regular content
- Attracted 10 times more newsletter subscribers
- Captured five times more referring domains and 200 times more backlinks
- Accounted for 30% of total backlinks
- Earned 1,160 page-one search rankings
Exposing evergreen content
The logical content structures inherent in pillar pages work better than a chronological content structure where content gets ‘buried’ over time, regardless of how valuable it is. Brafton’s Alexander Santo says:
This format gives more exposure to evergreen content and helps users find what they’re looking for faster.
Fox points out that the pillar page approach to content strategy doesn’t mean abandoning regular content creation; you can’t have one without the other. For her the secret is content mapping with ‘well-executed’ pillar pages showcasing topical authority and regular content demonstrating breadth of authority within the topic.
In a very comprehensive post, she goes on to detail a range of tactics for identifying potential pillar pages, content mapping and ongoing content creation.