5 Steps to Developing Successful Pillar Content

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It’s been well-established that running a business blog on your corporate website is a great way to both build the content needed to enhance your site’s SEO strategy and to connect with your audience on a more personal level.

That said, there’s a big difference between a business blog that’s chock-full of lackluster, uninformative posts and one that’s bursting at the seams with the type of high-value content that naturally draws in readers.  As you’ll obviously have better business results with the second scenario, you’ll want to take the time to create the “pillar content” that solidifies your blog’s reputation as a go-to source for good content within your industry.

Pillar content, as it relates to business blogging, can be defined as the series of posts that represents your site’s best work.  These are the posts you’ll refer new visitors to, as well as the ones that will continue to be useful to readers – long after they’re initially posted.

But because pillar content goes above and beyond standard blog posts, it requires some extra effort to develop.  If you’re interested in making use of this potent business tool on your own website, take a look at the following 5-step process for creating your own series of pillar articles.

1 – Understand your audience

Building pillar content for your personal or business blog might seem like an individual pursuit – after all, isn’t this your opportunity to pour out your innermost thoughts and most meaningful pieces of advice to your readers?

Well, yes and no.  Writing pillar content that’s uniquely yours is important – but it’s even more important that the topics you choose to address resonate with your audience members.  If you’re counting on these critical articles to represent your business in the best way possible, it’s important that they be of the greatest possible use to your readers.

To do this, you must first understand who your audience is.  Take a look at your social networking profile analytics tools, Google Analytics and any customer databases you maintain in order to answer the following questions:

  • Is my audience primarily male or female?
  • What is the average age of my audience members?
  • Which ethnic groups do my audience members belong to?
  • Where are my audience members located geographically?
  • What do I know about my audience’s average education level?
  • What is the average socioeconomic status of my audience members?

Answering these questions will give you some idea about how to best address your audience members within your pillar content posts, but you’ll need to conduct an even more thorough analysis on the following subject before you start writing.

2 – Identify your readers’ most pressing needs

Now that you know who your audience members are, it’s time to uncover the things that are on their minds – as understanding their pressing needs will help you to develop topics for each of your pillar posts.  There are a number of different ways you can do this:

  • Are you a member of your target audience?  If so, try to remember how you felt and thought when you were a beginner in your industry.  Think about the questions you had and the things you were most desperate to learn, and then use these ideas as the basis for your pillar articles.
  • What are your audience members talking about on Twitter?  If you aren’t a member of your target audience, you can still get a glimpse into their mindsets and interests by monitoring ongoing conversations on Twitter.  Read through your followers’ posts and take a look at which topics are mentioned, which articles are shared most frequently and which messages get retweeted most often.  This information should give you a starting point for producing your pillar articles.
  • What types of pillar content do other bloggers in your industry have?  If you’re still struggling to come up with topic ideas, take a look at the content pieces that are popular on other websites for guidance.  As long as your audiences are similar, the topics that are playing well on other sites in your industry will likely translate well to your own audience (just be sure not to plagiarize!).

Because you’ll be investing significant resources into developing your pillar content, give the specific topics you’ll cover some serious consideration before moving on to the next step.

3 – Create damn good content

So, by now, you should have a few ideas for pillar content pieces that’ll meet your users’ needs, now and in the future.  And that means that it’s time to start creating your pillar articles!

As you approach the content creation process, keep one thing in mind.  Your pillar content articles should be so helpful and engaging that audience members feel compelled to bookmark your pages and share them with their friends and family members.  As a result, half-assing the creation of your pillar content pieces simply isn’t going to cut it!

When it comes to creating good pillar content, consider the advice given by popular internet marketing blogger Corbett Barr in a fascinating post title “Write Epic Shit”:

“Write things that make people think. Inspire people. Change lives. Create value. Blow people away with your usefulness.”

Don’t just crank out another set of lukewarm blog posts and slap the label of “pillar content” on them.  Take the time to revise and edit several drafts of your pillar content posts before publishing them – asking yourself each time whether or not the content you’re sharing goes above and beyond what your readers will expect.  If your initial drafts don’t meet these lofty criteria, keep revising until you’re sure you’ve got a winning set of articles.

4 – Promote your pillar articles regularly

Once you’ve created and published your pillar articles, the last thing you want to do is let them sit and languish on your website!  Instead, keep them in front of your audience by promoting them in a number of different places:

  • On your “About” page
  • In your website’s sidebar
  • Within current blog posts
  • To your email newsletter subscribers
  • On your social networking profiles

As long as your pillar content articles are as good as they should be, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about promoting this same series of posts over and over again.  After all, if you’ve carried out your research and content creation processes correctly, these articles should continue to have enduring value to your audience – making them worthy of being shared regularly.

5 – Update pillar content as needed

Finally, keep your eye out for any industry changes that require you to update your pillar content.  If shifts within your industry make your articles out-of-date or irrelevant, you’ll want to make changes that ensure your pillar content continues to provide excellent value to your audience.  This is especially true if you plan to promote your pillar articles frequently, as referring visitors to out-of-date or incorrect information can really do a number on your reputation!

So overall, while it may take significantly longer to create your pillar content posts compared to the traditional blog posts you’ll post to your business blog, you should find the extra search and referral traffic – not to mention the number of new sales and repeat sales you’re able to secure as a result of the relationships your pillar pieces grow – to be well worth the effort.

Image: teedlo

3 Responses

  1. Kylex

    That questionnaire is really worth a note, AJ.
    Regarding looking for ideas by spying on your Twitter followers, I have not found it beneficial as I see either promote their own blog posts or share their daily activities like “Had a great day this seminar” blah blah blah

    Further, the twitter trends are also not that helpful as they are most probably not related to my niche.

    Is there a way to sort out the Twitter trends by niche or keywords?

  2. Mark McLaren

    AJ – This is all well and good. You are preaching to the choir. Pillar content, quality content, content that changes lives: that’s the way to go. No question. The struggle is that many clients can’t see the payoff. They don’t really want to do the work required. Creating and promoting great content takes a ton of work.

    Most SMBs lack the staff and motivation to do what’s necessary to get great content in front of enough eyeballs to see a return on their investment. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but identifying killer topics and following through – completely – it takes a special kind of client to pull that off. Don’t you feel like half your energy (or more) is spent selling the idea of content strategy before you can even get started?

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