Last week I wrote a post analyzing the success that Pat Flynn has had over at his Smart Passive Income blog.
One of the conclusions I came to was that part of Pat’s success was down to his repeated use of pillar articles. Now this was a successful post – when I show you the traffic spike in the next traffic report you’ll see just how successful. And almost immediately I got emails asking for more information on ‘pillar articles.’
I did a bit of research and found that this was one of those topics where there is some information out there – but none of the information was particularly contemporary.
And no one has written what might be considered the definitive resource on creating pillar articles or pillar content.
So I set myself the task of researching a comprehensive article on creating pillar content. (And yep, I’m totally aware of the irony of creating a ‘pillar article’ about creating pillar articles.)
I almost certainly won’t get it 100% right first time – but hopefully with YOUR help I can get suggestions to edit the article so that over time it will become a great resource for bloggers and content marketers.
So let’s dive in. First we need to define exactly what constitutes a pillar article or pillar content.
So What Is A Pillar Article?
There are several terms for the type of content we’re talking about. Yaro Starak – who I believe originally came up with the concept – calls this content a ‘pillar article.’
Brian Clark over at Copyblogger refers to this type of content as Cornerstone Content. Chris Garrett calls it Flagship Content. If I were trying to get credit for this type of content, the name that I would use would be Tent Pole Content.
Whatever name you’re using doesn’t matter – you’ll know the type of content when you see it.
Yaro originally defined Pillar Articles like this:
“ A pillar article is usually a tutorial style article aimed to teach your audience something. Generally they are longer than 500 words and have lots of very practical tips or advice…. This style of article has long term appeal, stays current (it isn’t news or time dependent) and offers real value and insight. The more pillars you have on your blog the better.”
That original definition was OK, but IMO is lacking some specifics. Here are the elements that I believe you’ll find in posts and articles that are considered pillar articles or pillar content (or flagship content…or cornerstone content…or tent pole content!): )
- A pillar article or pillar content is a highly detailed article teaching the readers of a blog how to perform a particular task for themselves.
- A pillar article no longer needs to be confined to written format. Pillar content can be presented in multimedia formats – principally video or audio
- Pillar content has an enduring appeal
- The target market for pillar content or pillar articles is usually the ‘newbies’ in your market area
- There should be a high ‘how to’ component to pillar articles. Theoretical content is fine – but it needs to be underscored by solid information that is easy to understand and can be implemented by your readers.
- A really good piece of pillar content becomes the ‘reference point’ on that topic in your market area.
- Pillar content will almost certainly need to be updated to reflect changes in your market area.
Pillar articles or pillar content are not the kind of content that you can put together in an hour or so. You’ll need to spend time both in researching the content, as well as executing it.
And that begs the question: is the time taken to research and write pillar articles or pillar content really worth it? Let’s take a look at the benefits.
What are The Benefits of A Pillar Article?
If you didn’t read the article on Pat Flynn and Smart Passive Income that I published last week, then go have a read before we move on:
One of the cornerstones of the success that Pat has had – both with his Smart Passive Income blog, and his niche duel security guard site – is the use of pillar articles and pillar content.
You gain these benefits if you create useful and actionable pillar articles and pillar content:
- You get perceived as an ‘expert’ in your market area. Our society is accustomed to being taught by teachers – and we are accustomed to respecting teachers and conferring them with expert status. Pillar articles tap into this by teaching the people in your market area a useful skill that they can implement.
- With the increase in the perception of your expertise comes an increase in the ‘trust’ factor from your audience. Trust and expertise go hand in hand….if your blog is a part of your business strategy, you need to build trust to successfully start selling your products or services.
- Creating pillar articles or pillar content that gets results when it’s implemented by your audience…in the words of MasterCard, that’s priceless. Once you’ve shown someone how to do something – and they do it and get results – where do you think they are going to go when they want to learn something else? Pillar articles increase your engagement with your audience.
- As your engagement with your audience goes up, so does the action that you want them to take. Want them to subscribe to your newsletter – good pillar content will get more readers to subscribe. Want them to look at a sales page for an eBook or course – good pillar articles will convert more readers to buyers.
- SEO Benefits. Pillar articles are the kind of content that almost by definition will contain a whole heap of long tail keywords. Over time, those pillar articles will bring you a steady stream of traffic. How much traffic will depend on where you rank and your market area – but a good pillar article will attract search engine traffic.
- Pillar content gets linked to by other websites and other blogs. That will send you traffic from the readership of those blogs and increase your rankings in the search engine, helping you with your SEO traffic.
- Pillar articles can be repurposed to send you traffic from other sources (see Promoting Pillar Articles below)
So there are plenty of compelling reasons to create pillar content – and plenty of tangible benefits if you do. But some of you are probably wondering exactly how you find topics that you can turn into pillar articles.
The easiest – and best – way to find topics to turn into pillar articles is to ask a Target Profile.
The Target Profile and Pillar Articles
A target profile is a concept developed by my mentor Sean D’Souza – and something I’m currently working on in a copywriting course with Sean. (And although our application of target profiles relates to sales and sales pages, it would work like gangbusters here too).
A target profile is a person – just one person- who is an ideal member of your audience. Your target profile is the kind of person who you’d give your right arm to get a thousand of in your audience. Or ten thousand.
And here’s what you do, when you’ve found that person you email them and ask them if you can phone them up and briefly interview them. If you have to give them quid-pro-quo to get them on a call, then do it. For most target profiles, a free 30 minute consult would probably have them doing cartwheels and back flips in delight (especially if you charge for consulting).
When they’ve agreed to the interview – and most will if you approach them correctly – then you hook up some kind of recorder to Skype and speak to them.
And then ask them questions like:
- What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve?
- How far on your journey have you got?
- What are the three biggest problems you’re currently facing?
- For each problem, go into more detail. Why is this holding you back? What are the issues you’re struggling to overcome? What solutions have you tried? Why didn’t these solutions work? And so on.
- For each of those three problems you want to get a precise understanding of how the target profile is struggling – and why.
- Don’t make notes. Don’t steer the target profile by superimposing your own ideas and your own vocabulary. Let them talk – and LISTEN.
When you’ve finished the interview – and said thank you! – then sit down and listen to the interview again. This time take notes.
For each of those three problems you should be able to identify a problem area, identify why it’s a problem area to your target profile (and by extension, every member of your audience who is like your target profile), and then set about teaching your target profile how to overcome that problem.
Bam. That’s your pillar article.
For this to work, you need to have an audience already – and be engaged with members of that audience so you can say: Sam would make a great target profile. I want a thousand readers just like Sam. Or Stan. Or Eugene. Or Sheila. Or Adrienne. Or whoever it is that fits the bill.
If you don’t currently have an audience where you can identify a target profile, then the next best method of finding topics for pillar articles is from Forums in your market area.
Pillar Articles And Forums
Just about every Market Area has one or more dedicated Forums.
And these Forums are a great substitute for a target profile interview if you haven’t yet developed an audience.
On most Forums you’ll find common problems being asked by newbies. And as you find these common problems, you’ll find topics that can be turned into pillar content by answering the questions.
For example, I just hopped over to The Warrior Forum – which is the biggest Forum for online marketing/internet business – and looked at the first couple of pages.
And instantly found three topics that could lead to pillar content:
- How to sell a domain name (website flipping)
- WordPress problems (there were two questions specifically about WordPress security)
- How to format an eBook for Kindle
Now a quick caveat – of those three topics, only the third would interest me personally. But for other bloggers focused on other areas of online business – those other two topics could form the basis of great pillar content.
The point is you’ll find people on Forums asking questions about stuff that’s driving them nuts. Those questions are perfect places to start planning your pillar content.
A third way of generating pillar articles is to use Frequently Asked Questions.
Pillar Articles and FAQs
I found – and used – a great example of a ‘pillar article’ that answered a frequently asked question today.
I needed a new external hard drive to back up my bass guitar videos that I make. So I ordered a 1 TB drive from Amazon. When it came I plugged it in to my Macbook and tried to back up some video footage.
Wouldn’t work though.
So I headed over to the manufacturer’s website, and a small amount of searching and working through menu options lead me to a detailed article with screenshots that walked me through the process. (As my Macbook is an Intel based Mac there was a specific format that the HD needed to be configured in for it to work properly with my Macbook).
Depending on what your market area is, there might be 5, or 10, or 20 of these frequently asked questions. Creating a pillar article to answer each of those questions will lead to all the benefits we talked about above. And if it relates to a product, and getting that product to work, it will make your customer thankful. And there will be more chance of getting repeat business.
So never trash the emails you get that ask questions –they should be stored safely in a folder where you can retrieve them, and pan through them for those golden questions which can generate fresh pillar articles.
Creating these types of pillar articles enhances your expertise in your audience’s eyes – because when people ask these questions in future (and they will,) you can just send them a link to a detailed solution. That is really elegant.
Think how the person who gets that will feel too.
So there are the three primary ways to create ideas for pillar content for your website or blog. The next step is to actually create the pillar article.
And that’s what we’re going to look at in Part 2 of this article on Thursday.
It’s common advice to newbie bloggers to create pillar articles for their blogs.
In today’s article – Part 1 – we looked at what a pillar article actually is, why it’s important that you actually create pillar articles, and three methods you can use to generate ideas for pillar articles.
In Part 2 we’ll look at how to actually create a pillar article. And just as importantly – how to promote it.
Today I’ve got some questions for you:
- Are you convinced of the need for Pillar Articles yet?
- What pillar articles or pillar content do YOU plan to include on your blog?
- If you’ve created pillar articles, what kind of success did you have?
- What do you think would make good topics for pillar articles on One Spoon At A Time?
Take aim in the comments area and fire away…..and I’ll be back on Thursday with Part 2.