A content pillar is a broad piece of website content that's comprised of and connected to a series of owned media topic clusters that cover a specific core topic in depth. 

Learn why you need one and how to create one from HubSpot Professor, and digital nomad, Justin Champion.

This blog post is part of Your Definitive Guide to Lead Generation blog series.



Video Transcript

Why we create content is to be found, and this is a great example of that. This is of a Hubspot customer that I've worked with on many occasions. They're in their software security space and they're completely bought in by the idea of content and how it can help them grow their business. As you can see, they've been successful with it. This is ... This graph is of their unpaid, organic traffic coming from search engines. But something interesting to note is this traffic did not happen overnight. There was many ... there was a lot of dedication, there was a lot of consistency, there was a lot of conditioning. This whole process is similar to a marathon and not a spring, which really can deter a lot of folks in the first place because a lot of people really try to spring when they're creating content. They want the results immediately. When they don't get the results, they think that content marketing is not something that's helpful for them and they're not going to be successful with it.

Now this marketers not alone in understand this. And this is a stat I really like so 'white content marketing costs sixty-two percent less than outbound marketing, it generates more than three times as many leads.' Think about that for a minute. Not only does it cost much less, but over time it has the potential to grow your business even more.

Yet, thirty seven percent of B2B and B2C content marketers have a documented content strategy. So the majority of people who are creating content, they're not even one hundred percent sure why they're creating or what they're trying to build towards but they've just been told to create content and they don't have a document.

Forty seven percent of these B2B and B2C content marketers have a challenge producing engaging content. So, even the ones that are creating this content ... they're not even sure if it's bringing an impact, if it's providing a positive experience for their audience. So, yeah, with out a road map or a defined process trying to achieve results can be so difficult. Especially if these people are trying to sprint constantly, and like we know, you cannot spring a marathon. Trying to understand this, I've been very curious over the past couple of years of trying to figure out the solution to this and I think the thing you need to do first is you need to identify what are those common road blocks to creating content because if you want to solve a problem you need to identify what that problem is in it's entirety to make sure that the solution is actually valid. Let's talk about these common road blocks to creating content.


Common Roadblocks to Creating Content

The first is limited bandwidth. These people don't have enough time to create content, or they're not making it a priority to create this content.

Next is that they're not fully committed. They're just dipping their toes in it. They're sprinting. They're not really in for the long game.

Next, there's a lack of a long term content plan. So, again, these people are creating content but they're not sure exactly what they're trying to build towards. So as they're creating this content ti can be very disjointed.

They don't have a documented content process. So, internally that can provide a lot of headache because there could be a lot of inefficiencies with creating content. Even if you're somebody who is consuming this content, like if you're their audience, you might not be able to build that trust or credibility with them because there's not that experience or the content that you're looking for in a consistency standpoint.

You're not sure where to start with this creating content. You might know your business very well, you might even be a subject matter experts in a couple of different areas within your industry but you're not sure where to actually start ... what content should you be creating that's actually going to attract these people?

You're unsure of how to provide a positive content experience. So, you're creating content but you're not sure that the way that you're showcasing or putting out into the world is actually being received and you're getting value with it.

And lastly, there's a lack of business alignment. Like ... a company's made up of many different departments. For instance, sales, marketing, services. I've worked in every single one of these ... every one of these departments and one thing I've always found interesting is that they always seem to have competing interests, right? Like, marketing team has to send leads to sales and sales says the leads aren't qualified but really what's happening is there's not a common goal ... there's no unity between the departments to try to provide the best experience possible for their audience.

So, understanding these problems is really the first step. Because if you can understand these problems then we can start to put together a solution. This is something I've been working, researching and testing and researching even more, and the way to think about it is you must think of your content like a series of pillars. The stabilizing foundation that guides and winds your ongoing content efforts to create a much more sustainable plan.


What is a content pillar?

So what is a content pillar? A content pillar is a broad piece of website content that's comprised of and connected to a series of owned media topic clusters that cover a specific core topic in depth. That's kind of a mouthful. I'm surprised I even got through that without tripping up. And I'm a much more visual person so lets break that down and actually see what it looks like.

So to start, you need a core topic. You need something that's broad ... something that really can be explained ... content that really can go around supporting it. In this case, sales qualification would be a great example of a broad topic. Something that you can create a lot of content around.

Now once you identify this core topic, you can identify the series of subtopics around it. What a subtopic is ... it's a piece of content that by itself provides value ... maybe like a blog post or a video, but when put together with all these other subtopics, help tell the story or provide value to this core topic. Some sample subtopics could be what is a qualified prospect? Qualification frame works. What is bant? These are all things that by themselves provide value ... again, if it's a blog post or a video ... but put together they're really supporting sales qualification.

Now let's say you had content for all of this, right? Like if you have everything here, this is not where the value is going to happen. One important thing to say is that sales qualification, that core topic, is going to take form of the pillar page. So if you have all this content really where the value is going to come is when you connect everything together. So, if you're a user that's coming to the page, you're easy to see the links and how it goes to the next step and find out where you're suppose to go. If you're a search engine you can crawl through those links and then the search engine will understand that it has all these related pieces of topic around this specific topic.

So if we were to go to a search engine and type in sales qualification this would be your first engine ... this would be your first page search engine results. So, at the top you have this featured snippet. Now, what a featured snippet is ... it's Google's way of trying to answer your question, understanding the context of it, before you even click through to a page to learn more. So in this case, by typing in sales qualification the featured snippet is about BANT which is the sales qualification framework. And you'll notice that it attaches ultimate guide of sales qualification from Hubspot. And then you'll even see that the number one Google ranking is for the ultimate guide of sales qualification. The same exact piece of content. So in an ideal world, when you're creating a content pillar this is what you're trying to achieve. You're trying to get the featured snippet and you're trying to get the number one ranking on Google. And again, it's for a broad topic, which is a lot more difficult than if you're trying rank with like a long tail keyword that's much more specific. This is very broad.

Now, if you click through ... lets say you want to learn a little bit more about BANT. You click through to the page. This is what you're going to see. You'll see right here again that you have this table of contents that has these anchor linked sections in it where you can learn a little bit more about it. IT breaks it up a lot easier for you. You ... lets say you saw the featured snippet, you wanted to learn a little bit more about what BANT is, so you click BANT. You go down to that specific section on the page, learning more about the BANT qualification framework. You click this and then in that section you'll see that there's another link that takes you to another page on Hubspot about why custom [inaudible 00:07:50] isn't enough to close deals anymore. Very specific. Again, it's another subtopic yet its linked to this page.

Now with this ... the result of what this page brings ... it gets over fifteen hundred visits from organic, non-paid website traffic a month from search engines. I know if I'm creating content ... if I'm creating content pillars this is a result I would be looking for. I would be very happy to get that amount of traffic for that specific term.


How do you create a content pillar?

But how do you do this? Like, how do you create a content pillar? So, lets review how I helped this marketer create their businesses first ungated, conversion focused content pillar. Now why am I gonna recommend making it conversion focused?

To get their information, thank you Holly. We were talking a bit earlier. To get their information, exactly. Its not just enough to get this traffic ... if we were just in the game of bringing people to the website and showing them what we had ... that's not really gonna help you grow your business. What's gonna happen is if you have the ability to attract these people and then you have this convergent point to allow them to take it with them. That's what the goal should be ... is to be able to build that trust and credibility when they want to take it with them.

Now, I've had a lot of people ask, "If I'm given all this content away, why would anybody in the world ever want to download it? There's no point ... I'm providing all my leadership content ... what's the point of it?" Well, Hubspot did a study on and we found that ninety percent of website visitors prefer to read through a PDF as opposed to a website page. So it's all about the packaging. It's all about the value. I feel like everybody now-a-days has an eBook and the value of the content has gone down but what you're doing here is saying hey listen, I have this content, it's valuable and by showing it ... that person finds one section ... their probably not gonna read the whole thing on the page, their gonna download it and take it with them.

So, lets talk a little bit more about Etuma and who this business is that we're going to be talking about ... the example. Etuma helps businesses transform unstructured text data into business decision making information. This is what they do. This is not necessarily what they should write about though. Because, before you start creating effective content you need to determine why you're creating content in the first place.

Now Simon Sinek, who is most well known for his golden circle principle, has this quote I really like and its, "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." They buy the passion, they buy the education, they buy the though leadership, that's were trust and credibility comes from. And to do this you need to develop a content mission statement. Now what a content mission statement is ... it's gonna be a way of you being able to differentiate the content that you're creating from your competitors. It's going to help you set the entire tone for your content strategy.

Etuma's content mission statement is "We sell an application that transforms unstructured text into business decision making information. However, when it comes to content strategy it's not about marketing our text analysis application. It's about the idea that everyone should know that there's an automated solution to categorize comments and detect emotions in real time in multiple languages. This is their why. This is what they're trying to communicate. Not necessarily about the text analysis application, as much as it is that there is a solution out here for this person that can help them categorize their comments. That's what were looking for is the why and why we are creating content.


Planning Your Content Pillar

Let's talk about how you're going to plan this content pillar. So why should you plan content?

Let's talk about some of those reasons.

The first is that it gives your content a road map. So now you have an idea of the destination of what you're trying to go to and by doing that, you can connect your short term content tasks to long term content goals. Which I love because we all have weekly tasks that we're doing. We have blog posts, we have social media posts, we have videos. But now we can actually make sense of those because we have an end destination of what were trying to go towards.

It identifies opportunities and uncovers potential road blocks. There is nothing worse than when you get halfway through a campaign and you realize something pops up, it derails your campaign ... you might not even be able to finish it. So, planning can be something that can help circumvent those issues.

It ensures content has a purpose. So now you're not questioning whether or not your content is actually making a statement or if its bringing impact because you know how it's connected to this larger picture.

It identifies cross channel content opportunities. So, it's not much about a Facebook strategy or a Twitter strategy or a youtube strategy as much as it is a content strategy where you have this message that you're using these platforms to get it out based on that platform's use case.

And then lastly it creates business alignment. So it helps bridge together all the different departments that you have within an organization and helps understand how we can create the best experience for this end user ... for this person that we're trying to turn into a customer. Which, is actually going to make the process of them doing business with you a lot easier.

When you're creating content, you really should be supporting two things: buyer personas and the buyers journey. It is possible that you probably already have both of these, but for the point today, just go through and update one of them if you have one. Because what we're going to do is ... we'll see how everything somewhat connects later on.

Buyer Personas

So lets start off with buyer personas first. Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your idea audience based on quantitative and qualitative analysis. Really, what that means folks is that we all have businesses that we work for. Those businesses have specific products and services that they're trying to sells, and those products and services are meant to attract a specific audience. In this case, think of that audience made up of your buyer personas.

Now there's many different facets that make up a buyer persona. But, we only have two hours today and there's five things that if you focus on initially, it will help make sure that the content that you're creating is something that will be effective.


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This first is the background. Who is this person? Maybe they're the VP of marketing. What is their demographic? Maybe they're between the ages of thirty-five and forty. So these are on the quantitative side of who this person is but who ... lets talk a little bit more about ... the qualitative side of who this person really is.

So, identifiers. Maybe they're using google to perform research. So now we know where they're going online to get their information. What are their goals ... what are they trying to achieve? Maybe they want a sustainable content creation process. But what's keeping them from this goal? What are their challenges? Maybe their teams bandwidth is stretched thin.

What I really want to say is with the content mission statement that you have ... it is extremely important to the success of your content that your content mission statement aligns with either the goals the challenges or both. Because if you're creating content that's not solving one of these two things, then you might not actually ... you might be missing this person. You really need to make sure that that connection exists.

So lets review Etuma's primary buyer persona CX manager Maggie. Her background ... She's a customer insights manager or a director. She's usually a woman between the ages of thirty and fifty. Now our identifier ... she's tech savvy ... we know that she uses search engines to perform research. Now let's look at her goals. She needs to identify what drives customer loyalty so her company can increase number of loyal customers and decrease turn. Now that's a big role because its essentially saying that she needs to understand why people either stay or don't stay with their business that she works for and if she can solve for that then she can essentially keep those customers longer.

Now, something important to note in this goal is that this is generally a new position for Maggie so she's already kinda freaking out a little bit because she needs to prove the value because this is a new role within the company.

Now let's look at her challenges. This first one right off the bat; her text data is unstructured and she needs a solution to help make sense of it. She needs to be able to categorize and sentiment detection. She's doing this manually right now. She doesn't even know that there was a solution that existed to help her do this. Another big challenge that she has is that her boss doesn't understand that this is a problem in the first place. He hired Maggie to do this. So now not only does Maggie need to educate herself, but she needs to be able to educate her boss because he's the one that would actually buy off on a tool if the tool existed. So he needs to find the value as well.


Need help creating buyers personas for your business? The free buyer persona workbook is all you need.


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Originally published May 26, 2017, updated August 24, 2018
Tags: lead generation Inbound Marketing content marketing marketing technology lead nurturing