Structuring Your Site for SEO: Pillars, Subpillars and Clusters

Content Strategy / 30 Sep 2022

Structuring your site for SEO: pillars, subpillars and clusters blog header. Two people playing jenga in a box next to the blog title

SEO. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Seriously – you can’t live without it. According to BrightEdge, 53% of website traffic comes from organic search.

That’s not a number most businesses can afford to ignore; and make no mistake, it’s going to keep on creeping up. The problem is, as more companies wise up to the value that SEO brings, the internet is becoming increasingly oversaturated.

That means competition is fierce. Each Google query generates millions of results, but only those who make the first page get clicks. In fact, results on the second page of Google have a dismal click-through rate of less than 1%.

Here’s why it’s not all doom and gloom. While the competition is strong, the quality often isn’t. Thousands take the time to produce quick-fire SEO content, but few put in the sustained time and energy it takes to provide the high-quality content which Google rewards. 

If you do, you have a genuine chance of climbing the rankings, beating out your competitors, and improving the ROI of your content and SEO costs. 

It’s easier than you think – it all comes down to content strategy. Specifically, a pillar based marketing content strategy.

What is pillar based marketing?

Pillar based marketing is a specific structure used to organise your website and create a cohesive, comprehensive content library.

It’s arguably the best site structure for SEO, and as a content strategy agency, we use it for ourselves and our clients. 

Pillar based marketing aims to structure your website by creating connected layers of content centred around core topics. These layers come in three components: pillars, subpillars, and content clusters.

The goal is that through these three components, you will progressively build comprehensive coverage around a topic.

You become the go-to resource and authority around the subjects of your content pillars by producing not only fresh content, but also continually building and expanding on existing content.

Diagram of the pillar based marketing model, showing one pillar page linking to three subpillars, which then link into three blogs each.

Pillar pages

When following a pillar based marketing structure, you must start with your pillar pages. Think of it like building a house: your pillar pages form the foundations upon which everything else is built.

Your pillar page acts as an ultimate guide to the chosen subject of your content pillar. Ideally, it’ll be over 3000 words long and will delve deep into the topic. In terms of keywords, this is where you’ll target competitive, short-tail keywords: copywriting services, for instance.

That’s one of our own content pillars. We’ve got three: copywriting services, SEO content writing, and content strategy, one for each of our core services. Pillar content acts as exhaustive, comprehensive guides where we explore what each of these services is and answer some of the most pressing questions around them.

Subpillar pages

Then you have your subpillars. You’ll need three of these for each pillar. Choose suitable topics that fall under the pillar’s umbrella, which you talked about on the pillar page.

The goal here is to dive a bit deeper into these subjects. Again, they should be comprehensive – 2,000 words at a minimum, going up to around 2,500. The subpillars support the pillar pages by offering more depth for the user.

For instance, our subpillars are the specific solutions we offer through our core services. 

For copywriting, that includes email, landing pages, and case studies. 

For content writing, it’s blogs, websites, and e-books. 

And for content strategy, it’s building buyer personas, conducting competitive analyses, and performing content audits.

Cluster pages

Finally, we have cluster pages – better known as blogs. Your blogs support your pillar and subpillar pages by answering commonly-asked questions, typically through long-tail keywords.

Where pillars are broad and comprehensive, content clusters are specific and targeted, focused on topics surrounding the subjects of your pillars. Every blog written must loop back to your content pillars in order to, with time, create an exhaustive overview of the subject.

If your pillar page was around copywriting, and your subpillar was email copywriting, your content cluster would be something specific, like “the biggest trends in email copywriting for 2022”. 

The goal is to build out a structurally sound library of content that satisfies site users. This, in turn, puts you in good standing with search engines.

Example of the pillar based marketing model. “Copywriting services” links to “email copywriting”, which links to “email marketing trends for 2022”, “power words to improve your email open rate” and “tips for email copywriting that converts”

Why bother with pillar based marketing?

Does this process sound time-consuming and fiddly? That’s because it kind of is. At least, it takes a bit more effort than instructing your content writer to whack a few phrases into Answer The Public and see what sticks.

Pillar based marketing relies on thoughtful planning and organisation, which is why we consider it a strategy as well as a structure. If you don’t have the time to commit to implementing it properly, why not partner with a content strategy agency to take it out of your hands?

Either way, all of the hassle is worth it, we promise. Here’s why.

It’s the best site structure for SEO

And it isn’t just us who think so, either.

Hubspot – one of the certified Big Dogs of content marketing – used the pillar and cluster marketing model to transform its sales blog. As a result, they experienced positive month-on-month growth in the number of keywords ranking on page one of Google.

So, why does it work? Well, Google’s primary purpose is to please its users. That means it wants to generate the best result to help them with their query.

If Google sees your site as a comprehensive resource that not only answers its user’s question but provides additional information around it – so that user spends less time searching – it’s more likely to boost your site’s rankings.

Google’s AI-powered algorithm understands that users searching for a particular query typically want as much information as possible, usually in the most efficient way. They prefer using one website to find all their answers rather than multiple. If your site can do this, Google will reward it.

This also enables pillar content to rank higher for competitive keywords, which would usually be challenging to climb. 

It improves user experience

We often complain about Google’s ever-changing algorithm. But truthfully, it benefits us. As it develops, it’s becoming more user-orientated, so making changes to impress the SERPs will usually be preferred by people, too.

By building a thorough library of comprehensive content, you won’t just satisfy the search engines. You’ll be providing a better user experience for the actual humans that land on your websites.

Because Google is right about them: they’re busy, pressed for time, and don’t want to spend hours browsing websites. If you can provide all of the value they need in one place, you’ll be building a more positive relationship with them – which is what content marketing is all about.

It builds authority 

One of the main reasons we bother with content marketing is to build credibility and authority by establishing trust. 75% of marketers surveyed by Content Marketing Institute say they do so for this very reason. 

The more valuable and comprehensive your content library is, the more authority you’ll build. To become the authoritative voice in your industry around your products or services, you need to produce more content that makes you credible.

Pillar based marketing makes this simple: define your content pillars around your specific area of expertise and provide endless amounts of value.

It organises your content

This has two benefits.

One is about SEO. It’s one of the things that makes the pillar based marketing model the best site structure for SEO.

Google doesn’t just look at specific pages on your site alone. Instead, it looks at your site as a whole. It considers the content across different pages and the ways that they interlink.

It understands how your pillars, subpillars, and clusters interact and support each other. That makes Google more likely to recognise you as an authority on the subject, which improves your rankings.

In turn, this is helpful for content strategy, too: organising and structuring your content makes it easier to establish direction and stay on track when planning and implementing your blog strategy.

Google’s Helpful Content algorithm update

Google’s Helpful Content algorithm update launched in August 2022.

Designed to shake up the world of digital content creation by rewarding high-value work and penalising the subpar efforts which tend to dominate the SERPs, its goal is to make sure content is:

  • Original: articles that reiterate what others have already said won’t cut the mustard anymore. It wants to cut down on unhelpful, duplicated content.
  • Genuinely helpful: user experience and providing value will become more crucial. That means comprehensive content, like pillar pages, will be rewarded. 
  • Written by people, for people: not by AI, for AI. Don’t create content exclusively for search engines – consider what your audience actually wants to see.

The introduction of this update means two things:

  1. If you’ve been relying on AI or content mills, your job is going to get harder. 

Google’s Helpful Content update is an incentive to invest the time and energy that good content requires. Work harder for your users, and the SERPs will reward you.

  1. There’s never been a better time to switch to a pillar based marketing structure

An exhaustive pillar, subpillar, and cluster content library perfectly ticks each and every one of these boxes. 

If you want to make your content work harder, improve your site’s SEO ranking, and stand out against your competitors in the digital space, pillar based marketing is the way to go. It’s time to implement this model into your content strategy – or, if you don’t have the time, let us take it out of your hands.Drop us a line or book a discovery call. Let’s kickstart your content strategy.