What are Pillar Pages? How They Help SEO Rankings

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • A pillar page is a high-level piece of content that broadly overviews a core topic and links out to in-depth articles about specific subtopics.
  • The pillar-cluster model is good for SEO because it showcases your expertise and authority, while adding context and improving PageRank flow via internal links.
  • Pillar pages are great for users because they completely cover a topic, predictively offering deeper dives into subtopics at just the right moment.

It’s hard to find a content strategy that grows website traffic and boosts user engagement as effectively as topic clusters. And the powerful engine that drives them is the almighty pillar page.

Yes, search engine optimization specialists have been using pillars and clusters for years. But, they never really went mainstream because there’s a lot that can go wrong with the strategy. Improperly executed, they can even hurt your SEO.

However, done right, pillar pages can drive more efficiency, more traffic, more conversions, and a vastly improved user experience. In other words, they truly help your SEO.

What is a pillar page, exactly?

Pillar Page

Definition

A pillar page is a high-level piece of content that broadly overviews a main topic and links out to in-depth articles about specific subtopics. Think of it like a table of contents, and the cluster pages like individual chapters.

Pillar pages are the cornerstones of your content strategy, often acting as the main landing page within a content hub. They represent your most important content themes and introduce users to related subjects. More importantly, they’re like echo chambers of context, relevance, and authority for search engines when used in a topic cluster strategy.

How long should a pillar page be?

what is a pillar page, and how long should they be

Pillar posts tend to be much longer than average blog content. While there’s no hard and fast rule, they are usually at least 2,000 words. But remember, they aren’t just long; they’re comprehensive.

It’s worth noting that pillar pages won’t work by themselves. Just like a bicycle’s wheels are reinforced by their spokes, pillar pages draw their strength from cluster pages.

If you’re unfamiliar with the topic cluster model, here’s a quick overview.

What are topic clusters?

image of balls connected by beams to represent topic clusters

Topic clusters are groups of related content tightly organized around a core topic in a hub-and-spoke model. Each cluster contains a central pillar page (the hub) and is surrounded by cluster pages (the spokes). The topic cluster model, which Hubspot introduced, is particularly useful if blogging is an important part of your inbound marketing strategy.

I’m a fanatic when it comes to this topic, so don’t miss my deep dive into content clusters. I cover best practices as well as the biggest mistakes that can fizzle out your results. You can also download a free topic cluster template from that post.

There are three main components of an SEO topic cluster:

  • One broadly focused pillar page
  • Multiple in-depth cluster pages
  • Strategically placed internal links

This is what cluster content should look like:

what are topic clusters and pillar pages

Topic clusters help to boost organic search rankings and traffic in multiple ways:

  • Google understands subtopics around a broad interest, so clusters mirror Google’s AI direction.
  • Topic clusters improve context, relevance, and PageRank flow.
  • Pillar pages and content clusters enhance signals that are important for developing expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T), which are vital to search rankings in many industries.

Pillar page examples

Let’s imagine you want to create a pillar page around the topic email marketing, for example. You could cover many underlying related subtopics, such as:

  • Why email marketing
  • Best email marketing platforms
  • Email marketing templates
  • Subject lines
  • Email deliverability
  • Best distribution times
  • Growing your email list
  • Segmenting your email list
  • Calls-to-action
  • Performance tracking

Each cluster page would cover one of those subtopics at a much deeper level. Then, in each of these posts, you would link back to the pillar page. In the pillar page, you would link out to the individual cluster pages. The cluster pages may link to one another, as well, when relevant.

Pillar pages cover topics, while cluster pages cover specific keyword phrases within those broad topics.

With one of our own examples, Terakeet published a pillar page for ecommerce SEO. The pillar page is extensive, with more than 6,900 words on the page. It covers subtopics such as:

  • Ecommerce SEO for product pages
  • Competitive analysis for ecommerce SEO
  • Ecommerce category page SEO
  • Keyword research for ecommerce websites
  • Technical ecommerce SEO
  • On-page SEO for ecommerce websites
  • Ecommerce SEO link building strategies
  • Along with an ecommerce SEO FAQ

And within each of these subtopics are more granular topics, as well.

Why pillar pages help seo

car driving fast on the highway

Pillar pages aren’t just about organization. They’re also performance powerhouses. Let’s look at several ways pillar pages increase traffic to your site.

Pillar pages improve site structure

In order to understand your content, Google’s algorithm doesn’t just look at individual web pages on your site. It considers many pieces of content together, including how each page is related. If you have a lot of content, pillar pages unify similar subjects and create a hierarchical map. This improves your site structure and makes it easier for Google to determine your expertise, as well as select the best URL for a given search query.

As a result, you’ll earn better rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

It’s easier to rank for high-volume keywords

Pillar pages are more likely to rank for competitive keywords with high search volume because they cover broad topics. In other words, users who search more generally probably want an informational overview of a topic. As such, Google favors high-quality content that mirrors that intent.

As users become more familiar with a concept, they’ll narrow their searches to more specific long-tail keywords. Since pillar pages touch on many related themes and link to them through CTAs, users are more likely to remain on your website and consume your content.

Due to their comprehensive nature, pillar page content is primed to receive lots of trustworthy backlinks. That means they have more PageRank to pass along through internal links. As a result, other pages in the cluster begin to rank well, which earns them backlinks to further amplify PageRank within the cluster.

It’s a virtuous SEO circle.

In fact, that exactly how Byrdie toppled billion dollar beauty brands without ads.

Pillar pages and topic clusters showcase your expertise

When you build an ecosystem of content around specific topics, your brand will be viewed as an expert — by customers, the media, stakeholders, and Google. And, when search engines recognize your website as a trusted source of information for a topic, they’ll be more likely to reward you with better rankings.

Ultimately, Google wants to give searchers the best, most relevant information. The pillar-cluster model allows you to cover a subject from many angles, demonstrating your expertise.

HOW TO CREATE A PILLAR PAGE

how to create a pillar page

What are the steps to create a pillar page? First, you need to develop a topic cluster. So, if you haven’t read that post yet, check it out. Ultimately, you need to uncover your keyword universe, and group each term into blog posts, clusters, and categories. Then, write all the cluster pages. I’ll review that process below before I explain how to write pillar content.

1. Decide on the topics you want to rank for

The first step in creating a content cluster is to determine which topic you want to rank for. The goal here is to think in terms of broad topical themes rather than specific keywords. Ideally, your theme should be broad enough that it requires multiple blog posts, but not so broad that it’s impossible to cover all the topics in a single pillar page.

For example, “business” would be too broad for a pillar page. In fact, it’s probably even too broad for a website.

When selecting a broad keyword for a pillar page, make sure it has sufficient search volume. But, you may also want to analyze trends data. Is the keyword growing in popularity among your target audience? Or, has it already peaked?

2. Do thorough keyword research

Next, do extensive keyword research to uncover the entire universe of search queries for your topic cluster. You need to know everything. Think about each of your personas, their pain points, and the questions they ask at each stage of the customer journey.

Use traditional keyword research tools, as well as Google Search Console or Answer The Public. This tool shows you the questions, prepositions, and comparisons people submit when searching for a particular topic. Here are the results when you type in “email marketing”.

answer the public topic cluster example

Another way to find useful queries is to pull ideas from Google autocomplete suggestions and the related searches at the bottom of the SERPs. This gives you even more insight into how people search.

3. Group keywords into blog posts and topic clusters

This is perhaps the most challenging part of creating a topic cluster. And it’s by far the most important step to get right. If you don’t group your keywords properly, your cluster pages will be too broad, too narrow, or too similar, and they won’t rank well.

First, you’ll need to group keywords into blog posts. I don’t recommend using formulas to group terms because there’s too much room for error. Instead, you have two options.

First, you can manually search each keyword and map it to an appropriate head term. For example, most of the same URLs rank for SEO strategy as do SEO website strategy, SEO marketing strategy, and what is an SEO strategy. That means if you target the keyword SEO strategy, you’ll rank for the rest of those terms with the same blog post. But, if Google returns different sets of URLs for each search term, you’ll likely need to target them with separate blog posts.

Second, you can leverage technology to replicate the manual process above. Some keyword grouping tools don’t use Google, and I’ve found them to be highly ineffective. One tool I’ve come to like is Serpstat. You should check them out.

After grouping your keywords into blog posts, you’ll then need to group blog posts into topic clusters, and you can further group clusters into categories. Here’s an easy way to group them with a spreadsheet:

pillar page and topic cluster example

4. Write your pillar page

I’ll assume at this point that you already wrote most of your cluster content. If not, you should do that before attempting to create a pillar page. Trust me. It’s much easier to sum up content when it already exists. If you try to write your pillar page first, you’ll feel the need to include too much information, making the cluster pages redundant.

Remember these two points as you draft your pillar pages:

  • Keep subtopics short so you can elaborate on them in your cluster pages.
  • Provide enough information to be valuable for the reader.

This can be tricky to perfect. You need to go deep enough into each subtopic so that the reader — and Google — feels like you sufficiently answered their query. However, you also need to leave them wanting more so that they visit the related cluster page.

Finally, optimize your page for on-page SEO factors, such as:

  • Including your primary keyword in the page title and subheadings
  • Create a compelling, clickable title tag and meta description
  • Implement structured data where appropriate
  • Use headers for each subtopic
  • Incorporate your primary and long tail keywords throughout the page
  • Use your target keyword within the first 100 words
  • Make sure your content matches search intent
  • Write readable text that includes plenty of headers and paragraph breaks 
  • Optimize images and add appropriate alt text

Pillar pages and internal linking strategy

In order for your topic clusters to be effective, you must have a strong internal linking strategy. Your pillar page should link to each cluster page from the appropriate subheading and vice versa.

Internal links are incredibly valuable for SEO. Yet, many still view them as a navigational tool to get from point A to point B. The truth is, there are many different types of internal links, and each one passes value differently.

I highly recommend you read my internal linking guide if you intend to create a content pillar strategy. I explain why internal links are important for SEO, as well as the different types, mistakes and best practices.

Remember to use descriptive anchor text when you add hyperlinks. Instead of saying “click here,” use keyword variations of the target page you link to.

Promote your pillar pages

promote pillar pages

The final step is to promote your pillar page by defining your content marketing tactics to earn high-quality backlinks. Effective ways for marketers to promote pillar and cluster pages include:

  • Guest posting on relevant authority websites and linking back to your pages
  • Leverage existing strategic partnerships and link to each other’s content
  • Create shareable infographics that can be embedded on other sites with a link back to yours
  • Find unlinked mentions of your brand and ask the site owner to link to one of your pages
  • Collaborate with micro-influencers to promote your pages and drive traffic
  • Use off-page SEO techniques to generate backlinks from relevant websites

Do the work, reap the rewards

Although an effective digital marketing strategy, it’s no secret that creating pillar pages and cluster pages is a lot of work. You have to find relevant topics that you want to rank for and the keywords that map to those topics. 

Then you have to develop your subtopics, map out your topic clusters, build your pillar page, and make sure everything is properly interlinked. When you develop the pages, you may need a great deal of long-form content, depending on the target keywords. Finally, you have to invest time and effort in promoting your pages.

By focusing on content creation within this framework, you’re far more likely to improve your search engine rankings and organic traffic. They help Google understand your site, how the pages relate to each other, and where you have expertise. And as each page rises in authority and ranking, it pulls other pages up with it. 

Don’t be satisfied with creating single pages around specific keywords. Go big and start ranking for entire topics!

Crush Your Organic Growth GoalsLearn to Dominate Your Product or Service Category in Organic Search.Let’s Talk