Empire Building 101 Series: The Power of Pillar Content

A few weeks back, I wrote a stunning post (hey, you have to admit it was pretty good!) where I talked about how a custom content strategy will help you build a blog worthy of your wildest empire-building dreams.

By now I’m sure your content strategy is all mapped out and . . . .

what? . . . .

You haven’t started yet? . . . .

Good Lord, what I am I going to do with you slackers?

Oh well, maybe it’s good that you procrastinated because now I can talk about the importance of including lots of pillar content in your content strategy.

What’s pillar content?

Good question! Lucky for all of us, I have a definition handy.

Pillar content, also sometimes referred to as ‘foundation,’ ‘flagship,’ or ‘cornerstone’ content, is just a fancy-pants way of describing strong, solid writing built to endure over time.

Basically, if your blog was a house, pillar content would be the foundation, framework and roof, while list posts, link posts, review posts, etc., would give the place lots of charm, character, and curb appeal.

You’ll know for sure you’re looking at pillar content when it’s:

  • Insanely useful. Your readers say, “I’m going to bookmark this.”
  • Evergreen. It will help a reader three years from now as much as today’s reader.
  • Stellar. The writing is excellent. Truly cake-worthy.
  • Substantive. This isn’t some lightweight fluffy-doodle stuff. No, this baby packs a hefty word count of 500 words or better . . . probably more like 750-1000+.

Now, I’ll admit it takes time to write pillar content, but before you put on your pouty face, think about all the cool stuff it can do.

Pillar content can:

  • Establish you as an authority in your chosen niche. (translation for our empire building friends = “Bow to me, earthlings.”)
  • Motivate readers to subscribe because they want more of this good stuff.
  • Build incoming links. Other bloggers will link to your pillar content now and in the future.
  • Save time. Answer a frequently asked question in your pillar piece and from now on you can send out a quick link instead of answering the same question 1.75 gazillion times.
  • Be recycled. Most bloggers re-use their pillar content in ebooks, free reports, consulting materials, etc. More writing today = less writing tomorrow. Woohoo!

So, when should you start writing pillar content and how much should you write? Two words come to mind. Now and often. Really, it’s up to you, but think about that “blog as a house” picture I drew earlier. Do you want a solid, growing, structure or something that looks pretty today but falls into a sad, crumbly pile tomorrow?

Let’s not do the sad, crumbly pile thing, okay?

Before you start thinking there’s no way you can write this stuff because it has to be waaay too hard . . . ask yourself, this . . .

If it were hard, would I be doing it? Heck no! I’ve written quite a few “how-to” posts that meet the ‘pillar content criteria test,’ and I swear on my stack of slightly-drooled-upon Johnny Depp pictures, it didn’t hurt a bit.

Here’s how easy it is:

  • Choose your topic. Thinking about both today’s and tomorrow’s readers, look for common problems. Scrap ideas that focus on today’s trends, and instead, provide timeless solutions.
  • Select your format. Some bloggers write almost all of their pillar content as stand-alone pieces. Others will write an exceptionally long post and break that down into a series to roll out over several days or weeks. While most pillar content is in the form of ‘how-to’ or informational posts, there’s no rule that says a pillar piece can’t be written as a list post or in some other style. Just keep it evergreen and super-useful, and you’re good to go.
  • Take your time. Not to put any pressure on you, but tomorrow’s reputation rests on today’s work. Go the extra mile and revise, proofread, and pick out the perfect image so you can be proud of this piece for years to come.
  • Link. Don’t be afraid to link to other quality blogs/resources to enhance your pillar post, and by all means, link to your own archived posts.
  • Do Some Keyword Research. I believe in writing for readers, not search engines, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a little keyword research and make a couple tweaks so it’s easier for readers to find your great content.
  • Promote. If you’re breaking your pillar content into a series, promote it in advance for maximum mileage. No matter what, you’ll want to market the heck out of your pillar content today and in the future. Link back to a favorite pillar piece when you do a guest post, or send out links to archived pillar pieces in future tweets. Also, promote pillar content on your sidebar or in special pages accessed from your blog’s navigation bar. You work hard to write pillar content, so make sure that it’s organized and promoted to keep working hard for you in the months and years ahead.

And that’s all there is to it. Except for the actual sitting-down-to-write-it part, which I’m sure you’re going to be getting at any minute now . . . .

Your turn: Do you have pillar content (timeless, helpful, etc.) on your blog? Got any tips to share? Questions? Comments?

Related  Posts:  Empire Building 101: Designing a Custom Content Strategy

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58 Responses to Empire Building 101 Series: The Power of Pillar Content

  1. darrenlcarter June 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Hey Jean,

    Really awesome post. I love thinkign about it like a house and the imagery of pillars. You got me thinking about how I should design my house (blog) and what my pillars should be. Really great and useful metaphor. Thanks for posting this!

    Peace,
    Darren L Carter

  2. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Thanks, Darren. It's so easy to just caught up in that old post-promote-post-promote routine without thinking about what the heck we're doing. Producing something that's going to have lasting value might take a little longer today, but it's sure worth it in the long run.

  3. Sarah Loewen June 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Jean,

    I love this post. Its really helped me think about stepping back from just writing a post and imagining how it will fit into a bigger picture. I’m motivated to sit down and map out some posts ove time, rather than just writing about what comes to mind – although I like that to :)

    It also makes me think about a great book on strategic planning. I think its helpful for businesses and organizations of all sizes – including those with a staff of one. Its called Dream With a Deadline. http://www.amazon.ca/Dream-Deadline-vision-tomorrow-today/dp/0273708686/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1275416227&sr=8-1

  4. k0zm0zs0ul June 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    Great post Jean! So so important this pillar stuff. :) Now I'm off to read about your content strategy.. sounds like something I need to work on, lol. I'm a sort of fly by the seat of my pants girl usually, but have been working on being more organized and strategic!

  5. Katie Tallo June 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    Great information Jean and, in fact, I shall bookmark it and use it as my checklist to build content that sustains. You certainly have that down to a fine art. Useful, engaging and inspiring.

  6. matthewneedham June 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    Great points here Jean. I like the Evergreen content, as that's the stuff Google will refer to time and time again. I have once such post on a review of a hotel I stayed in last year for my birthday. It was an appalling experience and I'm sure the hotel lives to regret that they never responded to my complaints when I raised them. Everyday 2-3 visitors come to my site based on various Google searchs on the hotel. In some searches I have a higher rating than TripAdvisor!

  7. Blog Angel a.k.a. Joella June 1, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    I try to write at least one or two “pillar pieces every few months. They are the posts that get the label “featured content”. I think of these as my “meat and potato” posts. The rest are good too, but they are more the fast food variety, likely to be software, tool and resource reviews.

    Every blog need to built on pillar articles if it is to endure.

  8. Angela Artemis June 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

    Hi Jean,
    Great post – as usual! I'm still trying to figure out how to set up the Cornerstone page! Thank you for reminding me that I need to add this to may already long list of stuff that needs to be done on my blog!

    I do have a number of posts I'd consider cornerstone/pillar content. I will have to find the time to organize this. I must admit I haven't done much keyword research though.

    Thanks for this!

  9. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    I've really been focusing on the bigger picture a lot lately myself, Sarah. We put so much into these blogs that it would be nice to have something of real value to people down the line, as well as today's readers. I still like the 'off-the-top-of-my-head' posts too though :) Thanks for sharing the link!

  10. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    Yeah, get cracking on that content strategy! No slacking off :) I've been sort of scaring myself with the whole organized/schedule/focused thing lately. I'm normally an ace procrastinator but this whole wanting-to-be-outside-for-summer thing has really shaped me up. Just need the right bait for some of us :)

  11. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    Thanks, Katie. Your niche seems like it lends itself to pillar content. Lots of timeless topics to choose from, and your blog is the type where people could really settle in and read lots of articles.

  12. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 10:02 pm #

    I'm going to have to check out that review of yours Matthew :) Outranking TripAdvisor on a hotel search is pretty amazing!

  13. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    Hi Joella. Thanks for stopping in and taking the time to comment. You're smart to have a 'featured content' area. That's something I'm aiming for too. It's nice for our purposes, of course, but it's a great service to readers.

  14. Blog Angel a.k.a. Joella June 1, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    The truth is that I use to have a featured content area. Then my server got destroyed and things aren't all back in place yet. But the featured content slider should be back up within the next week. Keep your fingers crossed for e!

  15. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Hi Angela. Don't you just love those to-do lists? :) You've definitely got pillar content on your blog. I've read it :) I'm pathetic about keyword research too. I'll likely go back some rainy (or snowy?) day and do some work in the archives to improve the SEO of some older posts.

  16. Karen Ruby June 1, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Hi Jean,

    It's amazing what kind of traffic you can get from your evergreen/pillar articles, if you can do them right. The information is timeless and people will bookmark you (and Stumble you if you're really lucky).

    One thing I noticed on your site is that you don't have a Related Posts or Further Reading at the end of your articles. This is a great place to highlight some pillar content as well.

    Karen

  17. virginbloggernotes June 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    Karen, you just made my 'to-do' list a little longer :) This is usually done with a plug-in right? I'll also need to get some sidebar links up. Thanks for the tip!

  18. Hulbert June 2, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    Hi Jean, what a great post! It is definitely important to try your best to create pillar content for your audience, and I really like your analogy of a good blog post to the foundation or framework of a house. One thing I would add to your list of how easy it is is always try your best, and if it doesn't work from the first time, you can always learn from your mistakes and create another post. I think sometimes we can get discouraged when our blog posts aren't up to par and then we quit. That's why it's important to keep practicing until you eventually get to that pillar content!

  19. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    Good point about doing our best and taking things one step at a time, Hulbert. I was reading somewhere (Problogger maybe) that they went back after a couple years and deleted a few posts because the writing had improved over time or the posts didn't fit the overall goal of the blog. I figure any step in the right direction is a good one!

  20. Scott Barron June 2, 2010 at 2:08 am #

    Let's see. Do I have pillar content. Absolutely. But I'm building a Tee-Pee so I have very few pillars. I also have 3 other websites. I was going for the Igloo motif and my pillars melted.

    Yah, I agree with you on the pillar idea. That's hard to do!! Sometimes I feel if I write too much that people won't read. Now, a series is a great idea. Like Alex is working on. Hmmm. I better get busy!

    What Do You See?

  21. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 2:23 am #

    Oh don't give me your 'hard to do, chatter.' Just get on with it :) See, the thing is . . . they might not read it all right away, but the pillar content is often what they bookmark or come back on a Saturday morning to read with coffee. And while they're there, they may decide to do a little Saturday morning shopping to purchase one of your fine products . . . hmmm, just what does one sell from teepees and igloos?

  22. Karen June 2, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    Jean, you can use the YAARP Plugin or like me, do it manually. I like to highlight certain articles that are popular or ones that I'm particularly proud of in my Related Posts section. It's an easy copy/paste.

    While I'm looking at your sidebar, your Facebook widget is showing “This public profile is not visible”. Might want to add that to you todo list, too :-)

  23. alexwhalley June 2, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    PML!!!! You're such an idiot Scott. The most endearing idiot I have ever met. Don't change man!
    Coming back in a sec Jean to comment good and proper, I'm going for the 'pillar comment'

  24. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 2:59 am #

    Thanks, Karen, I like the sound of that manual option. And I think I'll put it right where that facebook thing is that I'm going to rip off the sidebar and stomp on :) Another blogger and I have been going round trying to sort that out. On my end, everything looks and works just as smooth as can be, but users either see nothing or get sent off into nowhere. I had the follow button set up for the 'fan page' and that didn't work for anyone but me either. Crazy!

  25. Angela Artemis June 2, 2010 at 3:02 am #

    Say What? Now I have to go back to my old posts too and put in key words? I was just thinkin' I had to do more keyword stuff on new articles. Geez – this list never ends!

  26. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    I feel your pain, Angela :) Too bad we don't live closer together. We could have a rainy day, SEO tweaking party. I first heard about the idea in a problogger article, which sort of gave me a headache . . . http://bit.ly/9vnYlJ

  27. TheInfoPreneur June 2, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    Hey Jean…you always write good stuff. Don't go selling yourself short. :)

    And “slackers”…whoo-weee. It's all coming out on this one. 😉

    I really like working on my posts for “tomorrow”, today. Unless something strikes me hard and fast, I come up with my better posts when I'm not under any duress. but, occasionally, it hits fast, and you just have to take advantage of the moment, right?

    Take care,
    Brandon

  28. Mike Roosa June 2, 2010 at 3:22 am #

    Good tips Jean. I think your pillar content is determined by your readers, would you agree.

  29. mark June 2, 2010 at 3:31 am #

    (I just bookmarked & stumbled this.)

  30. mark June 2, 2010 at 3:32 am #

    Hey Jean,

    This is a blogging concept that I have never really attempted to understand or care about. Thanks for the introduction! I don't know that i have written anything like this yet.

    Now you are giving me more to do!

    Have a good day!

  31. Angela Artemis June 2, 2010 at 3:56 am #

    I'll put the Problogger article on my list to read! lol

    Hey, if you ever visit NY – you're welcomed here and we'll have that SEO party!

  32. alexwhalley June 2, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Jean. Fantastic post that sums up all the really important points about Pillar content really well. I come from the Yaro Starak school of blogging and he speaks often about the importance, and power of Pillar content. I like how you have constructed this post and love the irony that your pillar content is starting with a 'how to create pillar content series' That's just awesome.
    I also love your response to when you should start, saying 'now and often' I completely agree and as Scott reminded me just now, I need to get my arse into gear and finish that series.
    You noted about the importance of leverage. Good! That's the best thing about Pillar content, once you have created it, you can use it in email marketing, an ebook, forum post references, the list goes on.
    Thanks for another great post, it's always a pleasure to read your writing

  33. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Thanks, Brandon. I've been veering off my own content plan a fair bit lately because of all the ideas that have been hitting my brain now that I'm outdoors more. I still make sure everything fits with the overall brand and has some long term value, but I love those creative sparks!

  34. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Yep, Mike, I do think readers have the final say in what constitutes 'true' pillar content. But it can take time too. Some bloggers claim their pillar pieces don't do as well as they hoped right out of the gate but a few months down the line they get some new life and do well.

  35. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    You need more to do, Mark. I've been concerned about that for quite some time now, so I wrote this article to ensure that you would have much, much more to do :)

  36. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    Truly a pillar comment here, Alex :) I just read an interview featuring Yaro about 10 minutes ago and there too he was talking about the importance of solid content, especially in the early years. He stressed the principle of working on your content now so that it's there to work for you later. Love that concept!

    Count me in as one of those looking forward to the rest of your series, by the way. Not to put any pressure on you, but get cracking :)

  37. James King June 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    Excellent content. I didn't realise how powerful Pillar posts are. I guess it is about promoting the fact you are doing a successful pillar post. It's just like reading an ebook. I like to do guest posts for link building but pillar posts sounds like “leave the best for yourself”.

  38. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Hi James, thanks for stopping in. I love the look and feel of your blog by the way. Can't wait to read more of your great posts. One thing with pillar posts is that you can still get lots of 'link love' because of them. Other bloggers link to pillar pieces a lot, especially tutorials, so if you have a great tutorial on RSS (or whatever) there's a good chance a link will get included in other bloggers' posts on RSS for months/years to come. Good stuff :)

  39. Sally_Neill June 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    Fabulous Jean, I think this is my favourite post by you so far.

    If I said I bookmarked the page would you believe me? Cos I did.

    Really helpful to me right now, I am going to try and start to link back to my “pillar” posts as often as I can, maximum exposure for them.

    Do you know something, I never realized blogging was so complicated until I started, when I need help your the first one I am asking!!!

    Sally :)

  40. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Thanks, Sally, and I believe you about the bookmarking :) There really is a lot more to this blogging adventure than meets the eye, isn't there? I'll keep studying, learning, and experimenting so hopefully I can answer any questions you fire my way. Have a great day!

  41. Manal June 2, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    Jean,
    This is a pillar content post. Very useful and timeless. I have been writing more rich content lately. It isn't intentional just going more in depth. People respond and appreciate depth.

    Now I'm going to go dig into the Problogger post you linked to and probably meet Angela there since I've never done any keyword search and optimization work before.

  42. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    Thanks, Manal. I've really been enjoying your posts lately over at One With Now too. The other day when talking about creativity you said, 'embrace the confusion and the mess.' Now those are some words I can live by! Sounds like we'll be having a party in the Problogger archives soon :)

  43. Heather June 2, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    Should have taken the time to come by here sooner (I plead busy schedules!). That was a fantastic post Jean, really well written.

  44. virginbloggernotes June 2, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Thanks, Heather, and I'm glad you stopped by today. I know how busy life gets sometimes, not to mention there are so many blogs out there that a person would go nutty trying to keep up. Which may go a long way to explain my mental status :)

  45. Heather June 2, 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    Hehe, if this were a couple of months ago I'd have upwards of 300 blogs in my reader =P I've gained some sanity since then and don't subscribe to everything I see any more (actually sat and removed most of them… took hours), but honestly its tempting.

    Suppose the question we should be asking is 'Where's the balance between enough information and overload?' 😉

  46. ralphcarlson June 3, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    Jean,
    Bang up material. This is the simple stuff that escapes noobies and even non noobies who can't seem to get things going.

  47. Kaizenvision June 3, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    Jean, you have an amazing way of simplifying complex concepts. I've been pondering pillar content for a long minute ( 2 months) – I have it in my mind when I write – but I'm printing this out to keep it in front of my eyes.
    You have mastered the art of communicating extremely useful information!!!

  48. virginbloggernotes June 3, 2010 at 1:34 am #

    The simplest, most obvious things are usually the easiest things to ignore in blogging. It's a lot more fun to think that there's some magical blogging secret out there somewhere. Turns out, there isn't a secret after all – just hard work and using our heads for something besides hat racks :)

  49. virginbloggernotes June 3, 2010 at 2:07 am #

    Two months truly is a rather long minute, Aileen. Haha. You've been doing great with your blog plus guest posting now too. Woohoo! That meditation piece you wrote the other day had a lot of the hallmark signs of pillar pieces didn't it? I don't recall how long it was, but that's a perfect example of something that is extremely useful, timeless, and could be made into a series (adding articles on other forms of meditation) etc. Good stuff!

  50. Kaizenvision June 3, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    Thank you for that idea, making it into a series. I'm liking that suggestion …not 100% sure how to, but that's okay – I like it!! Thanks for the inspiration!!

  51. Keith Davis June 3, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    Hi Jean
    I think I'm doing this already, but I didn't realise that it had a name – Pillar Content sounds good to me.
    I was beginning to think that some of my posts were too long and was thinking about splitting them down into several parts.
    Good to know that my long posts are Pillar Content.

  52. virginbloggernotes June 3, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    Keith, I love your blog! It gives me hope that perhaps one day I can speak in public without feeling like a pile of goo. Your blog is packed full of pillar content . . . really great stuff! You really do a great job with layout of the longer posts by adding the images, bolding text, using the text boxes, etc. I might have to bring a wheelbarrow next time so I can carry away a pile of clues.

  53. Keith Davis June 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Hi Jean
    Thanks for your supportive comments.
    Feel as though I have made a new blogging friend.

  54. k0zm0zs0ul June 5, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    Hmnn.. mayhap I need to figure out my own bait. lol The summer weather
    would entice me more if it wasn't so dang hot already! But you're right, I'm
    on it, I'm on it! 😀 XoXo

  55. Eric June 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    This is certainly a great article. It's not too hard to write pillar content and I believe I've written a few articles as such. It's great when you can truly help others out with your articles not just now but even years down the road. That shows something.

  56. virginbloggernotes June 5, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    Thanks, Eric. I don't find it too tough to write pillar content either, but I'm used to writing for other venues so I have that on my side. You've definitely got pillar pieces on your site. I know cause I've scoped them out :)

  57. Eric June 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Thanks!

    Yeah I love to write and having a blog makes it a lot of fun to do so for so many people. :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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