Despite specializing in search engines, SEO experts will gladly gain any visitor regardless of the channel. Even though these marketing professionals focus on organic search traffic, they don’t mind getting clicks from social media, paid advertisements, email visitors, and referral marketing. In the end, it’s all about making sales.
Nevertheless, when creating content, some pages will always have a higher priority than others. We call these articles cornerstone content pages. Unlike your regular blog post, these pages are much more focused and are meant to “carry” your entire website.
In this article, we’ll explain the term and why it is so important for your SEO strategy.
What is cornerstone content?
The cornerstone article is the focal point of your website. It’s the main post you’d like to rank and is highly relevant to your business. For example, if you have a pet shop, you’d like to rank something like “How to find the best pet shop in your area?” or “Why do your pets need quality food?”
These types of articles are best explained as “High risk, high reward.” They usually belong to the category of Ultimate Guides and are meant to provide extensive knowledge on a particular topic. However, to better understand cornerstone articles, you first need to understand the concept of pillar pages.
What are pillar pages?
A pillar page is an extensive article supported by numerous smaller articles. The point of creating a pillar page is to have a single, enormous source of information backed up by various ancillary posts. For example, if you’re using “Ultimate business guide” as your pillar, your ancillary posts will be “Guide to banking,” “Guide to accounting,” “Guide to marketing,” and so on.
The point of these pillar pages is to create a structure where you can support the main page (pillar page or cornerstone content) with internal links. By connecting all the posts together, you can propel the cornerstone article from within the blog. Of course, you’ll also need external links and good user engagement to rank, but it will be much easier to do so with this tactic.
Given that cornerstone content is generally hard to rank, you’ll need every help you can get. Ideally, you should use the pillar page technique to increase its chance of gaining traction.
Cornerstone content benefits
The main reason why we create cornerstone content is so we can rank for relevant keywords. These pieces are incredibly important for our business and should drive the majority of traffic to our blog. In many cases, it’s much better to spend several months building and promoting a cornerstone article than to push numerous irrelevant pieces.
Here’s why cornerstone content is so important for your content marketing:
- These are the best-converting pages
- Ranking such a piece can supercharge other blog posts
- They don’t require as much keyword research as some other posts, so you should inherently understand what is the most lucrative keyword for your business
Basically, cornerstone articles are the most relevant content for your business that can put your brand on the map.
Cornerstone content drawbacks
While ranking cornerstone articles might sound like an enticing proposal, it’s much harder to execute a cornerstone content strategy than some people might think. Most notably, these articles usually revolve around competitive keywords that are ideal for your target audience. In other words, other bloggers have invested a pretty penny in this type of content.
That being said, here are a few issues with these pages:
- Extremely hard to rank
- Require smart internal linking structure
- Need lots of additional content
- Need lots of links
- They should always be up-to-date
Because of their complexity and, specifically, difficulty in ranking, many SEO experts prefer going for small wins.
7 Steps for creating cornerstone content
For the most part, creating cornerstone articles is very similar to making other posts. The main difference is that the entire process is taken up a notch, being noticeably more complex.
1. Select the main topic
Choosing the pillar page is the focal point of the entire cornerstone strategy. Most SEO experts and blog owners inherently know what to look for, so they don’t need as much research. Here are a few tricks that should guide your hand:
- Cornerstone content is mainly used to scale a business. That being said, conversions should be your main priority. Choose topics that are highly relevant to your business, although not necessarily commercial
- Focus on user engagement. Nowadays, satisfying visitors’ needs is crucial for ranking in search engines. Not only should you provide relevant information, but you also need to answer any potential questions they might ask
- Find your ideal content format. The most generic types of cornerstone content are Ultimate Guides and How To posts as they attract the most attention
When creating cornerstone content, it’s vital you have extensive knowledge on the topic. Keep in mind this post is meant to go viral so visitors and other bloggers will judge your business based on the knowledge presented within.
2. Keyword research
In a way, doing keyword research for a cornerstone article isn’t as important as the regular pieces. You’re not necessarily looking for low-hanging fruit, nor are you trying to discover the right balance between search volume and difficulty. Instead, we mostly do this step to discover ancillary pages and to determine how much traffic we can expect from the pillar page.
The basic premise of cornerstone content is that you’ll create this blog post no matter what. As it’s so important for your business, it makes sense to at least try and create a few interlinked, relevant pages. Even if you don’t get any traffic from Google search for this particular phrase, you can still reroute visitors to it.
That being said, you’ll use the main topic as your seed keyword and try to learn more about keywords relating to it. Some of them can be used as the basis for your ancillary pages, while others can be utilized as subheadings in the cornerstone article.
Among others, keyword research and competitive analysis can tell you a lot about user intent. Just by checking the pieces on the first page, you can figure out if the existing blog posts are covering the topic properly and whether there are some exploitable gaps.
3. Content planning
When you’re writing a regular piece, you can finish the entire process within a day, from keyword research to planning and execution. This isn’t the case with your cornerstone content strategy. Given the importance of this post for your business, you need to approach it as a strategic marketing campaign.
Here are some of the main things you need to consider during the planning phase:
- Team resources
- Total number of articles
- Total number of links
First off, a company needs to set a budget and timeline for executing cornerstone content with all its ancillary pages and promotions. They also need to consider how many people will work on the project and whether they need to outsource some of the work.
During previous phases, the SEO manager should’ve had a better understanding of how many articles are needed. The same goes for external links; you can use tools like Ahrefs to predict how many links are required to propel content to page one. Lastly, your team needs to establish track KPIs.
4. Content creation
Content creation is significantly different with these posts than your usual articles. You should always remember that successful cornerstone content should reach numerous people. Besides site visitors, it’s meant to dazzle influencers, news outlets, and other industry stakeholders.
Because of that, the piece needs to present different data than you would find in other articles. You need to perform extensive research and sprinkle your findings within the blog post. Alternatively, you can create a new intriguing theory that would cover the topic. Whatever the case, you should separate yourself from the field to make an impact.
Using internal linking is vital for any type of funnel, cluster, and, thus, cornerstone content. These pages should be connected to ancillary pages and other resources on your blog. With this, you achieve several things:
- Make it easier for Google bots to find your content
- Increase average time spent on website
- Improve overall impression and boost link-building
Through internal linking, you can ensure that Google crawlers quickly find your post and index it. Internal links will also prolong the time spent on site and can boost overall engagement. As such, this might also improve your link-building efforts.
Whether directly or indirectly, all of these things will help your cornerstone content rank higher in search engines.
Promotion is what makes or breaks this type of content strategy. Even if you have the best article on the web, it won’t do you much if you can’t attract users to it. Nowadays, Google analyzes the interactions on the site and assigns rankings based on that. So, you’ll always need that initial traction to show Google that you’re a legitimate source of interaction.
Here are a few ways you can attract those initial visits to your cornerstone articles:
- Be careful who you’re sharing the content with. Ideally, you should start your outreach with people who are most likely to read the post in its entirety. That way, you’re sending a strong-quality signal to Google and other search engines
- Promoting pillar pages warrants a PPC campaign. Whether you’re advertising on search engines or social media, it’s vital that you get those initial visitors to your page
- Social media is optimal for outreach, but only if you have sizable followership
- You’ll definitely need links from external sources. Ideally, you should get them from pages and websites that are related to your blog post. That way, not only will you get better traction from the link, but you’ll also gain more relevant direct traffic
- Sending emails to influencers within your industry is perhaps the best method of promoting cornerstone content. These users generally engage more with the post and are more likely to give out links
If the content quality sets the basis, promotion is what makes it go viral. Like every other part of the process, it’s crucial that you have a good plan. Starting from the most relevant audience and promoting through the most relevant pages/channels are the things that will put you on the right track.
It’s vital to keep all the articles on your blog up-to-date, and this is especially true of cornerstone content. These pages are evergreen content and should have an impact on your business for a longer period. If you ever manage to rank them, they’ll need continuous polishing to yield the same results.
Besides updating information, it’s a good practice to check how it scales in terms of SEO. For example, once page speed became an important factor, many bloggers had to revise their approach to hastening their blog posts.
Best practices for cornerstone content
Here are a few extra tricks that will help you out when creating these pages:
Think of budget
Regardless of its importance, bloggers shouldn’t create cornerstone content if they don’t have enough money. Just creating the initial articles can be expensive, especially when we consider the amount of research you need to put in. After that, you’ll likely need lots of external links to boost your placement.
Research as the focal point
Cornerstone content is very different from your usual blog posts. You can’t just go online, copy-paste what’s written on the other blogs, and expect great results. Instead, you need to invest heavily in research.
Some of the options at your disposal are surveys and data tracking. You can also quote other authoritative resources and studies, but you’ll also need to add something of your own. While other parts of the process are easy to calculate (like hiring content writers or buying links), research can easily break your budget.
Outsourcing as an option
If you’re already looking to invest in SEO, you’ll probably have to spend money on forming an internal team or hiring an external one. The very process of creating and promoting cornerstone content will take several months, so this is something to keep in mind.
Of course, MiroMind is a great option if you wish to outsource your content creation or link-building.
The competitive analysis is vital for cornerstone content, as with all other posts. However, in this particular case, you’re not necessarily trying to steal ideas from other bloggers; you’re trying to avoid what they’re doing. As mentioned, you need to ensure your post stands apart to get maximum exposure.
Create a table of contents
Cornerstone content is significantly longer than the usual posts. To improve skimming, it’s wise to add links and a table of contents. That way, people can skip to different sections and get the most from the piece.
Perhaps the best way to present complex data is by using visuals. Charts and other graphics are fantastic when you wish to share lots of information or to compare data. You can also use a Venn diagram to visualize data. Of course, depending on your business focus, you might also need professional photos (for example, for tourism and fashion blogs).
Add external sources
Almost every authoritative resource features other relevant content. While many SEO experts are reluctant to share other articles, these links can boost your authority and relevancy. By adding links to studies and other high-value blog posts, you also show readers that the information is based on quality information.
Many tools nowadays have metrics that show how many links ranking articles received. This is a good starting point for determining how many external hyperlinks your blog requires as well. Besides focusing on quantity, we also suggest that you go through all these links that the top 10 ranking articles received and figure out whether you can replicate their effort.
Create a list of influencers
When reaching out to other bloggers, start with those who are most likely to read and link to your post. Although hyperlinks from direct competitors would be perfect, it’s really hard to get those. Instead, find news outlets and similar resources that are within your industry but aren’t commercial competitors.
Of course, your best bet is people with whom you had prior relationships. Make sure to store all the data in an Excel sheet or within your outreach tool as a reference point.
Creating cornerstone content is a risky and expensive endeavor. Then again, this is the best way for a blog to gain traction and gain relevant organic traffic. Due to its complexity, this process should be handled by a veteran marketing team. You need people who are well-versed in research as well as link-builders who can increase the exposure.