What’s a Cornerstone Content Strategy for SEO?

girl with a laptop in an office text reads what is a cornerstone content strategy for seo

Written by Kerry Campion de Santiago

Find out what a cornerstone content strategy is and how it can help you with your SEO efforts.

You’ve done a little digging… 

You’ve come across the term cornerstone content on your travels through the internet… 

But you’re not quiiiiiiiite sure what it actually means. 

Then throw in the fact that people also call it pillar content, evergreen content, pillar pages oh and content clusters what are they?

Aggh! 

via GIPHY

Breathe, I’m going to clear up what a cornerstone content strategy is, why it’s important for SEO and how you can make cornerstone content that Google just loves.

What is cornerstone content?

Cornerstone content can either be a page or a blog post that contains in-depth information about a topic that’s central to your website. As a result, it’s usually longer than most other content on your site, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. 

Let’s say you’re a course creator who helps designers specialize in the area of UX Design, your cornerstone content might be something like “How to Become a UX Designer.” 

You would create an in-depth and insanely useful resource for people who are interested in becoming UX designers. You’d go through what UX is, talk about the skills they’d need, where they can find a job, how to build their portfolio, what prerequisites they’d need to get started, what resources they can use to learn more and upskill…

You’d also make sure that this piece of content is easy to find and is linked to, where it makes sense, in your other content. 

Think of it as your own magnum opus. It will answer the most important questions that your audience has and will be directly related to the services or product that you offer. 

“The most important thing when it comes to cornerstone content is to meaningfully answer the questions your audience has.” @KCdeSantiago

What is a content cluster?

A content cluster is built around your cornerstone content and it’s basically other content that supports and adds more insight and value to your main cornerstone content piece.

You see, in your cornerstone content piece you’re going to go very in-depth about a topic, but in the spirit of not absolutely overwhelming your reader, there may be sub-topics that are best explained in other, stand-alone articles. 

hubspot image illustrating what a cornerstone content pillar and content clusters look like
Image credit: Hubspot https://blog.hubspot.com/hs-fs/hubfs/assets/hubspot.com/research/CHARTS/Topic%20cluster%20report/Cluster%20model.png?width=696&name=Cluster%20model.png

Let’s go back to our UX Design example. 

If the main piece is “How to Become a UX Designer” some sub-topics in that might include; “How to build a UX Design Portfolio (with no experience)”, “Personal Branding for UX Designers”, “Best UX Design Courses 2021” etc. 

You’ll hit on these topics in your cornerstone piece, your magnum opus, but you’ll go more in-depth in other articles. These all combine to make a content cluster.

Why is a cornerstone content strategy important for SEO?

Creating engaging cornerstone content is great for SEO in a variety of ways. 

  • Longer articles (around 3000+ words) tend to get more social shares. (https://www.semrush.com/blog/anatomy-of-top-performing-articles/
  • It helps show Google that you are an authority on a specific topic because you’ve covered it in such depth. Google likes sites that are specific. 
  • It helps you create a strong internal linking structure, especially if used effectively with a content cluster 
  • It can keep people on your site for longer, dropping your bounce rate 
  • It can genuinely help your target audience, and giving searchers exactly what they’re looking for is what Google is all about
infographic showing the benefits that a cornerstone content strategy has on seo
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How do you make cornerstone content that Google loves?

Understand the user’s intent and what they really need

As with anything SEO related, you need to help the end searcher find the answer they’re looking for. 

Okay, obvious, right? But let me explain… 

You need to be hyper, crystal clear about what that end user is actually looking for. For example, are they looking for a guide, a course, a listicle, resources or what?

Once you work out what they’re looking for exactly, then it’s a question of not only making your article as helpful as humanly possible, but to also make it stand-out in some way from the crowd. 

This is usually where your own brand voice comes into play: make it engaging and don’t be afraid of conversational copy – trust me it works. Entertain, educate and delight the person on the other side of the screen.

Keyword Optimization

Cornerstone content pieces usually target more ambitious keywords, because you’re playing for the long game. Then with your content cluster pieces (the smaller, more specific articles) target more long-tail keywords that are more likely to rank.

Pillar content is generally focused around a broad keyword with a high search volume, whereas topic clusters are focused on more specific keywords with smaller (attainable) search volumes.

Search Engine Journal

What I also do when targeting keywords for my clients’ content clusters is to create a hierarchy of keyword difficulty. For example, the most ambitious keyword for the main cornerstone piece, and then the content cluster focus keywords vary in difficulty like a scale. 

Good Formatting

Good formatting for your content is way more important than people think. Google likes structure, but it only likes structure because guess who else loves structure? 

Yup, the person reading your article. 

In the words of Ry Schwartz, don’t throw bricks at your reader. In other words, don’t just fire  out blocks of text that aren’t scrollable or navigational. Break your content up with proper headings, bullets, quotes, bold and italics. 

People rarely read every single word of your article (beautifully written as it may be). They scroll and jump around looking for the most important bits of information that they need so make it easy for  them to find it.

Strong internal linking

Internal linking is just you linking to your own stuff. Make sure that you’re linking back to your cornerstone content piece where it makes sense in your other content, but also don’t neglect to link to other posts where relevant. 

This helps evenly spread link equity on your website and also helps the end user find more of your super useful content. 

How long should cornerstone content be?

Generally speaking as you’re creating some type of in-depth piece of content, you should be on the higher end of the word count scale. It also depends heavily on your niche and the topic being explored, if the end user is better served with a shorter article then it might make more sense to give them just that. 

I would bounce between 2,500-3,5000 for cornerstone content and wouldn’t recommend going below 1,000-1,500 words. Do your due diligence though, and check what’s ranking well on your competitors’ sites and understand your end user inside out and what they need from you. 

Longer isn’t always better.

Cornerstone Content Examples

It’s always nice to see some examples so I’ve collected three different ones for you. 

Cornerstone content example #1: Hubspot

screenshot of hubspots cornerstone content related to inbound marketing

If there was ever a website to wow and amaze – it’s Hubspot. This is an example of a cornerstone content piece that targets the very competitive keyword “inbound marketing” (8.1k searches per month in the USA). 

It makes sense for them because inbound marketing is exactly what they want to be known for and they offer various inbound marketing solutions. 

Available: hubspot.com/inbound-marketing

 Cornerstone content example #2: Copyblogger

Copyblogger specializes in content marketing so guess what they chose to focus on for a cornerstone content piece? Yes, content marketing (14K searches per month in the USA). 

This piece of content is insanely in-depth and is so important to the website that there’s a link to it right in the primary menu bar.

Available: https://copyblogger.com/content-marketing/

Cornerstone content example #3: Moz

screenshot of moz cornerstone content piece about seo beginner guide

With this description on the hero section of their homepage it’s pretty clear what Moz is all about: “SEO software and data to help you increase traffic, rankings, and visibility in search.” 

So they created some cornerstone content around a beginners’ guide to SEO and how search engines operate to help their audience learn the skills necessary to use their software.

Available: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo

Should you outsource your cornerstone content strategy?

I’m not gonna lie to you, as an SEO copywriter I have a vested interest in telling you to outsource this, especially as I have a cornerstone content package. But, I’m going to be totally transparent here and tell you why and when you should hire and when you’re best actually keeping things DIY. 

When should you hire an SEO copywriter?

Creating cornerstone content and content clusters is an absolutely exhausting task. I mean, take a look around my site – I do this for a living and haven’t even gotten round to it yet. I can just about get my regular articles out on time. And I already have the tools and know-how to plan it out, write it and optimize it. 

I get it, you’re skeptical – I WOULD say that, right? Well, apparently I’m not the only one:

“Because cornerstone content is so important for your site, producing it takes a lot of time and energy. It requires lots of keyword research and competitive analysis as well as a ton of writing. If you’re a small team, that can be a major time-suck, and it pulls your in-house team members away from other activities.”

Kaleigh Moore, SaaS Marketer, at https://blog.alexa.com/cornerstone-content/

Apart from the effort it takes, there’s also all the research that goes into creating this type of content. This research requires time, skill and special tools, usually expensive ones, to get the job done right.

So apart from taking time away from your schedule, you also run the risk of pouring in all that time on creating content that might not be that sound in terms of data or strategy.

Having said that though, I also know that sometimes it’s NOT the right decision to outsource to an SEO copywriter, let’s look at why now.

When to keep your content DIY

For a start, if you’re still working out who your target audience is and what they need from you then you should definitely hold off hiring a copywriter. 

We need you to understand your business and audience well so we can do our best job. Copy and content work best when we are super specific about who we’re serving and what our own USP is. If you’re still unsure of those then definitely invest more time into exploring that rather than rushing to outsource. 

Another big factor is budget. I’m not team “outsource by any means necessary” because sometimes it just doesn’t make sense for the budget you have. If, right now, you’re more time rich than revenue rich, then I’d keep honing my own skills and wait until my profit margins are increasing and my cash flow is a bit healthier before investing in outsourcing. 

If you’re not sure if you have the budget to hire the likes of me, you can check my SEO content writing services here.

So, now we’re clear on what a cornerstone content strategy is, right?

I hope this article has been helpful and if you have any questions feel free to either drop a comment below and I’ll reply as soon as I can. 

Oooh and one more thing? You see those little social share buttons below? Would you mind hitting one and sharing this article with your followers? I’d sure appreciate it. 

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