We often talk about pillar pages and the cluster and pillar approach to content marketing on our blog, but how do you decide what topic should be the focus of your pillar page and which pages should be the clusters?

In this post, we are going to be taking a closer look at what exactly are pillar and cluster pages and what research should guide you when it comes to choosing the topics for your pillar pages.

Search behaviour is changing, and the way people search is becoming more conversational. This is partly down to voice search, which by nature is conversational, but it is also down to the fact that Google has become much better at understanding conversational search queries and returning relevant results.

Covering a topic in-depth has become more important and one of the best ways to do that is using the pillar and cluster approach. It allows for easy categorization and demonstrates a clear indication of authority.

What is a pillar page?

Although we have covered this before, it’s good to clear this up before we get started.

A pillar page is typically a long-form piece of content like a guide, whitepaper or a detailed blog post that covers a particular topic in depth.

It will often act as the introduction to a topic that has a lot of facets and will provide the basic information about that topic, linking out to supporting cluster pages that cover each of the related facets in more detail.

A pillar page should be detailed and thorough but not look to cover every single aspect of a particular topic – that’s the job of the cluster pages and the pillar should link out to all relevant cluster pages and vice versa.

What is a cluster page?

A cluster page is a topically relevant page that relates back to the main pillar page. When you are identifying the topic for your pillar page, you will uncover a wide range of keywords within that topic that you would like to rank for.

These keywords may be broken down into sets, but in essence, you will end up with a dedicated keyword that you will target with each of the cluster pages.

A cluster page can take up any form – blog, news, video, podcast, product, solution – any piece of content that relates back to the main pillar topic. These pages will all link back to the main pillar page and often, will also link to each other as well. This tactic helps to showcase to Google your authority for a particular topic as well as helping to organise your content in a way that makes it easy for visitors and search engines to discover.

How to choose a topic for your pillar page

Now we know what a pillar and cluster page is, we need to decide how best to choose the topic for your pillar page.

This is the most important part of the tactic of using the pillar and cluster approach and like many things that relate to SEO, it revolves around keyword research.

Here are some of the steps we take when determining a pillar page topic for our clients:

1.      What is our audience looking for?

Whilst keyword research is important (see #2), our process always starts with identifying the content that our audience is looking for. Whilst keyword research can help to inform that, it’s important to understand the solution your business can offer before we start to do the research to determine the best keywords to target.

Instead of starting with keyword research, identify the topics that your audience are most interested in along with the solutions you can offer through your products and services.

It’s important to identify topics that will offer depth – a topic that delivers a simple yes/no response or one that could be answered in one standalone blog post is not really going to cut it in the pillar and cluster approach.

For example, “things to do in Queenstown” is more relevant as a cluster post, whereas, “A complete guide to Queenstown” is more of a pillar page approach as there is a huge range of topics that can be covered off in cluster posts including, “things to do in Queenstown”, “wine tasting in Queenstown”, “best places to eat out in Queenstown” etc. The guide page is the gateway to the clusters and will provide people with an introduction to Queenstown and the things people can do there.

2.      Keyword research

Once we have determined a suitable topic for our pillar page, it’s time to get into the keyword research. At this stage, we are now looking for the highest value keywords that relate to the topic we have identified – typically keywords or groups of keywords that have high volume and relatively low competition.

At this stage, we want to go into as much depth as possible and research every possible angle around our chosen topic as we are also researching the content ideas for our cluster pages at the same time. We may end up with tens, or even hundreds of ideas for supporting cluster pages depending on the amount of search volume around a particular topic and how our solution ties in with those topics.

3.      Review the SERP

As part of our keyword research process, we will also review the search results pages for some of the keywords we have identified with the highest search volumes.

SERPs are great places for conducting further keyword research and they always form part of our keyword research process.

From the SERP, you can find out what type of content is already ranking for the keywords you are going to target, uncover new potential topics through the People Also Ask section, see if anyone is advertising on the keywords you are thinking of targeting and establish not only the keywords you need to target but the type of content that already ranks well for those keywords.

We often use People Also Ask questions to add depth to our content page – either pillar or cluster pages – by using those questions as subheadings or even creating an FAQ section at the bottom of an article to directly answer those questions that appear in the PAA section.

Queenstown Guide Screenshot

If we are looking to create a Guide to Queenstown pillar page, we might want to include information about how much money people spend on average per day or how long people typically stay. We might then think about creating a cluster page with a 3- or 5-day itinerary for Queenstown based on these popular questions.

Things to do in Queenstown Screenshot

The example above shows some questions we might want to include in our “things to do in Queenstown” cluster post or we may want to create a separate post to tackle, “things to do in Queenstown for free”. The same topics are coming up in both search queries, however, so we know that lots of people are looking for 3- and 5-day itineraries so there is a great place to start.

4.      Avoid duplicate content

If you already have an established blog or content hub on your website, you will definitely want to conduct an audit of that content to make sure you are not already covering any of the topics you are proposing within your pillar or associated clusters.

The easiest way to do this is to run a crawl of your site (we like to use Screaming Frog) and then categorise all that content into topics. That way, you can easily identify the pages that are similar. It may be the case that you already have some awesome content that would make an ideal cluster page for a new proposed pillar or maybe you even have a strong page that could be expanded to create a new pillar.

It’s important to know what you already have if you want to succeed with the pillar and cluster approach and this is a great time to audit your existing content and make sure you avoid duplicate content.

What you will hopefully end up with is a detailed list of all the topics you are currently covering on your site. From there, you can set up a spreadsheet that shows content you already have that needs updating, content that may need to be removed or repurposed and new content that needs to be written.

Why should you use a pillar and cluster approach?

We are big fans of the pillar and cluster approach at Digital Hothouse, and we try to take this approach with all our clients where possible and relevant.

A pillar and cluster approach is one that is customer-centric and is solution-focused. You are looking to cover a topic that is highly relevant to your audience in as much detail as possible and this can only be a good thing for visitors to your website. You become the one-stop shop for information relating to a particular topic and you have created a section on your website that is easy to navigate and interlinks all the relevant content together.

This is also great for Google.

Google can quickly crawl the internal links on your pillar page and discover a wide range of highly relevant and related cluster pages, all focused on the same topic. This is music to their ears and helps to showcase your authority on the topic in question.

When structured well, this approach can also guide visitors through the sales funnel and answer any questions that they might not have otherwise found.

The pillar and cluster approach is a long-term strategy as well – the topics you identify will typically favour evergreen content and whilst you may need to make tweaks to those pages periodically, it is likely that they will rank not only for a huge range of keywords but also consistently well once established.

If you are struggling with your content strategy and want a fresh approach, talk to us today and see how we can transform your content and drive more sales and revenue.

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