You know content is important… right?
I hope so.
After all, back in 2014, when DigitalMarketer was a young company that nobody had ever heard of, it was content that helped cement our authority and launch us into the international brand we are today.
And do you know how many pieces of content it took to begin that dramatic transformation?
That’s what it took to launch the DM brand.
Just 10 amazing pieces of content.
And if you don’t believe me, check out this recent post from Ryan:
Now when we say all you need is 10 pieces of content, these aren’t just any old blog posts you can put together in 45 minutes. These are big, meaty, strategically positioned pieces of content that we call “pillar posts.”
And in this article, I’m going to show you how to create your own pillar content so you, too, can build your authority, your brand, and your business through better content marketing.
When you’re done reading this article, you’ll have a simple 3-step system you can follow to create a pillar blog post that continues to bring new website traffic and leads to your website—and pre-sells them on the value of your product or service—for years to come.
But before we get started, there’s one question you need to ask yourself.
Are You a Publisher?
Many people have the mistaken belief that in order to succeed with content marketing, they have to post a new piece of content every single day.
Luckily, that’s not true. At least… not for most of us.
Most companies out there do NOT need to create a ton of new content on a hyper-regular basis. The only exception is publishing companies.
Publishers are companies whose business model is “publishing.” These companies make their money by serving ads on their content. And in order to maximize their revenue, they also have to maximize the amount of content they produce each day.
Classic examples include The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Now if you’re a publisher, volume is the name of the game… which means you DO need to publish a lot of content. Because that’s how you make your revenue.
Gizmodo, for instance, publishes 6-8 pieces of content per day. theCHIVE produces 40 a day!
That said, this post isn’t for publishers.
Because the strategy I’m about to teach you doesn’t really apply to companies like Gizmodo or The New York Times. If you are a publisher, you may find our “Ultimate List of Blog Post Ideas” helpful.
But if you’re a company that sells a product or service—whether it’s a physical product, a service, a SaaS product, whatever—then this process of creating pillar blog posts WILL work for you.
At this point, you might be wondering…
What the Heck is a Pillar Blog Post, Anyway?
Think of a pillar blog post like the columns in the ancient Greek temples. The pillar is what holds up the building. It supports the weight.
A pillar post does the same thing. It’s the foundation that supports the rest of your content marketing.
Pillar posts are big, meaty posts. They’re useful, actionable, well-written, and engaging. They’re filled with relevant images and audio/video files to support the points you’re making in the text.
As a result, pillar posts have something that 99% of other blog posts don’t have: longevity.
The average blog post gets a spike of traffic when it’s first posted… then it quickly dies down. After 48 hours, most blog posts are basically dead. They never again bring in more than a trickle of traffic.
Pillar posts, on the other hand, provide long-lasting ROI. They’ll continue generating new visitors to your website day after day, week after week, even year after year.
Some of our pillar posts at DigitalMarketer are still generating massive organic traffic, even 5 years after they were initially published, like our “101 Best Email Subject Lines.”
Finally, the last thing that separates a pillar post is that they pre-sell your product or service.
It’s not enough to simply publish a blog post that’s somewhat relevant to your product or service. Your content should actively pre-sell your audience on the value of whatever it is you offer by providing them with the education they need to fully understand why your product or service is so incredibly valuable.
It might sound complicated, but I promise it’s really not. In fact, the whole process can be boiled down into 3 simple steps…
Step 1: Choose Your Topic
The first and most important step is to simply decide what you’re going to talk about.
Don’t rush this step. In order for this process to work, you need to spend a little time here and really come up with a topic that is going to resonate with your audience.
Remember, I said that a pillar post is designed to help pre-sell your product or service to the reader. Well, in order for that to happen you need to really think about your audience, what their problem is, what they want, and what kind of content would be most helpful to them.
Here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself about your ideal customer to help come up with great topics for your content. Trust me—the topic for your pillar post is hiding in those answers.
1) What does your prospect need to believe in order to buy the product or service you’re selling?
For example, if you’re selling a marathon training course, maybe your prospect needs to believe that they can run a marathon—even if they work full-time and can only train on nights and weekends.
Or maybe they need to believe that they can run a marathon, even if they’re over 40 or 50 or even if they’re currently overweight.
Because if your prospect doesn’t believe they can run a marathon because of their job, weight, age, etc., then they aren’t going to buy your marathon training course.
So it’s your job to educate them and answer their most common objections with a post like:
“How to Run a Marathon, Even if You Work 40 Hours a Week”
Here’s another example of an article that does a good job of this. It’s called, “5 Reasons why Small Businesses Should use A CRM”:
Clearly, this company has identified some of the beliefs that their customers have (particularly the small business owners) need to be overcome. Then they turned that into a blog post that helps to overcome those common objections.
2) What do your prospects research before they buy your product or service?
So our marathon company that we mentioned earlier needs to figure out the kind of things that marathon runners research before they run a marathon, and thus, buy your product.
Are they searching for marathon training tips?
Best marathon shoes?
Here’s another example from REI. They’ve put together a checklist of mountain biking equipment:
This is a great post for new mountain bikers who are researching what kind of gear they need to get started. And, of course, the list has plenty of hyperlinks to products you can buy right on the REI website.
3) What conversations are going on in the mind of your customer before they buy your product or service?
Now you have to really dig deep into the minds of your customers.
When people are thinking about running a marathon, what kinds of things are they thinking about?
Maybe they’re wondering if marathons are good for you or not.
Maybe they’re wondering if running long-distance will hurt their knees, or cause muscle wasting, or 100 other similar questions.
Here’s a great example from Glassdoor. Clearly, they’ve identified some of the doubts that tend to run through people’s minds right before an interview:
Here’s another from Charles Schwab. It’s a timely topic for parents (like myself) who are just starting to think about paying for their kid’s college and so on.
Become the Answer to These Questions
These questions are super important because they help you to identify all the hot-button topics that are on your customers’ minds during the buying process.
And once you know the questions your prospects are asking, you can start being the answer to those questions. This will be the foundation for your pillar blog post.
Are you having trouble figuring out what kinds of questions your prospects have? If so, here’s a little hint.
Get out there and ask them!
Check out forums dedicated to your niche. Attend a local meetup. Or just see if you can interview some of your company’s previous customers to find out what sort of things they researched and thought about before they purchased your product.
HINT: Think About the Way Your Audience Self-Identifies
People often go through a process where they suddenly decide to self-identify a certain way.
As a guitar player. A chef. A photographer. Someone who’s fit. Etc.
For instance, maybe you have been mountain biking off and on for a while. But one day, you find yourself biking more and more often, and you realize you really enjoy it. And then you stop thinking of yourself as a guy who goes mountain biking… and start thinking of yourself as an actual mountain biker.
And just like that, the way you identify yourself in your mind has changed.
People do this all the time, and when they do, it’s a great thing for savvy marketers who know how to take advantage of it.
Because anytime a person decides to self-identify as something, they have a tendency to buy a lot of stuff.
When you start to think of yourself as a mountain biker, you’re going to want to own all the things that mountain bikers generally have—like a hardcore mountain bike, protective gear, mountain biking shoes, and so on.
Those possessions are a way of reinforcing your new self-image.
And the trick, when you’re coming up with a topic for your pillar blog post, is to figure out what is going to speak to that person who has just now started to self-identify as a customer who uses the same type of product or service that you provide.
Now, this isn’t necessarily an exact science. There’s always a little guesswork involved. Which is why 1 blog topic idea isn’t enough. Instead, I recommend coming up with a list of at least 10.
Create a List of 10 Content Ideas
When you find the perfect topic for a blog post—I mean that 1 blog post topic that absolutely hits your target prospect right where they live and makes them hungry to read more—that 1 piece of content might be all you need to connect with your audience and launch your content marketing success.
That’s what you’re looking for: that 1 idea that will truly resonate with your audience.
And if you take a closer look at Ryan’s post, he says the same thing:
For DigitalMarketer, it was a post called “Customer Value Optimization: How to Build an Unstoppable Business.”
The bad news is that you probably won’t pick the perfect topic right off the bat (ask me how I know). It will probably take a few tries until you hit on a content topic that really works for you.
So, start with a list of at least 10 great content topic ideas.
Then follow the rest of this process for each of those 10 ideas, one at a time, until you hit that home-run.
Step 2: Pick a Type of Post
Now that you know what your content is going to be about, the next step is to choose how you’re going to present it.
And there are 2 post types that I recommend you start with here. These aren’t the only way to format a pillar blog post, certainly, but in most cases these are the 2 best formats to use if you’re writing a pillar post.
And the 2 perfect pillar post types are…
1) The “How To” Post: Describe how to execute a process, and use images, video, or audio to enrich the post
This type of article teaches the reader how to do something—whether it’s how to lose weight, how to change a flat tire, or even how to create a pillar blog post. (Woah, meta.)
If you choose to write a how-to post, make sure to go into detail on every step so that the process you’re explaining is super clear to the reader.
The awesome thing about how-to articles is that they have the natural side-effect of positioning you as an authority in your niche.
As a company that offers training programs, DigitalMarketer would want their prospects to view them as an authority in the digital marketing niche. So creating how-to posts is a natural fit for them, which is why DigitalMarketer writes a lot of them.
An example would be DM’s pillar post on customer value optimization:
This post goes into great detail in explaining how to nurture leads into customers and then how to maximize the value of those customers using a marketing funnel that runs largely on autopilot.
2) The Listicle: Create a list of books, tools, resources, or literally anything else your audience will find useful
The other type of post I recommend is a listicle. This is a big old honkin’ list of things that will be useful for your reader. It’s a good choice when there are many different ways to accomplish whatever it is your reader is trying to do.
It’s also a great choice for a lot of B2C companies who want to give their customers new ideas about different ways to use their product. For example, here’s a listicle post from an essential oil company showing people all the different ways they can use essential oils:
If Those 2 Post Types Don’t Fit…
Chances are pretty good that your pillar post idea will work best as a how-to article or a listicle. So try those 2 post types first.
But if those don’t seem to fit, then check out our blog post called The Ultimate List of Blog Post Ideas. And appropriately enough, this is actually a listicle that contains over 50 (and counting) types of blog posts you can use to deliver your content online.
Then, the last thing you’ll need to do is…
Step 3: Find Your Angle
At this point, you have your topic, and you know what format you’re going to present it in. So now you just need to start writing… right?
I can almost guarantee that your post is going to need some kind of angle. Some way of presenting your topic that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them want to click and read that post.
Because here’s the thing. Just about every topic under the sun has been covered before. So it’s not enough to simply write about your topic in a straightforward way.
Instead, you first have to find a way to differentiate your post by adding an angle to it. Something that makes it more interesting, more attention-grabbing. Something that makes it stand out from the pack.
Don’t Skip This Step!
Choosing an angle for your post is the step that most people skip.
And that’s a shame because there are a lot of really great posts out there—super helpful posts written about topics people are interested in—that never got the traction they deserved…
All because the creator didn’t write the post in a way that made it stand out from the competition and grab people’s attention.
Here are the 5 main post angles that I recommend for your pillar post:
1) Benefit: A direct angle that speaks to the reader’s self-interest
In this angle, you present your topic as something that will benefit the reader. And everything about that post—from the title to the way you lay out and write the text itself—needs to focus on that benefit.
Because this angle is pretty straightforward, it needs to make a big, bold promise. It needs to tell the reader what they’ll gain or learn.
Here’s an example of a “benefit” angle…
…which promises to show the reader how to be a good leader.
2) New: Use this angle when you are revealing something novel or previously unknown to the reader
People love things that are new and exciting.
New developments, new technology, new announcements—if there’s anything about your topic that you can portray as being new and exciting… something people haven’t seen before… then this is probably the angle you’ll want to use.
The great thing about this angle is that it will appeal to people who are already well-read in your niche.
Take this example from our friends at Social Media Examiner:
If someone has already read 100 articles on how to monetize blogs, they probably won’t want to read a blog that looks like it covers the same thing they’ve already read 100 times.
But you just might grab their attention when you mention “New Research” in your headline, promising them something NEW that they’ve never read before.
3) Threat: A form of the “benefit” angle, this post speaks to the avoidance of pain
This is basically the inverse of Angle #1. Only this time, instead of focusing on how taking action can benefit the reader… you’re focusing on the ways in which NOT taking action could harm them.
Here’s an example of a post with a “threat” angle:
4) Piggyback: Leverages the authority or popularity of someone or something outside of your company
A piggyback is when you leverage something else that’s well-known to lend extra interest and credibility to your topic.
Here’s an example from Inc.com that piggybacks off of the authority, credibility, and success of Richard Branson:
Richard Branson didn’t write this article. But the author can take advantage of his popularity by writing a post that talks about some of the principles that Richard Branson has talked about or written about in some of his books.
5) Curiosity: Piques interest without providing direct information
The last angle, curiosity, is when you write a post that makes people curious to read more.
You’re not necessarily promising a benefit, or something new, or piggybacking on something else… you’re just piquing the reader’s interest as a way to draw as many people into your content as possible.
Here’s a great example of a “curiosity” post:
This was a super shocking headline, but it made perfect sense for this post because most people (including myself) didn’t know that James Chartrand is actually a woman.
Note: You have to be a little careful with curiosity angles. Don’t try to get too cute or too clever with your angles until you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing a post headline that doesn’t really speak to anyone.
You Can Combine These Angles Together
Now that you know the 5 most common angles for pillar posts, keep in mind you can also Frankenstein these things together to create an even more enticing post angle.
For example, you might combine a benefit angle with a new angle to create a post like:
“Research Shows This New Face Cream Reduces Wrinkles by 90%…”
Or you could combine a threat angle with a piggyback angle to make this post:
“Warren Buffet Warns Investors: Do NOT Invest in the Stock Market Unless You Do This First!”
3 Tips to Help Extend the Lifespan of Your Post
Remember, the goal of this process is to create a post that will live for a long time, bringing you more and more organic traffic even months or years after you publish it.
If you follow the 3-step process I outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that goal.
But just to make sure you’re armed with all the content firepower available, I’m also sharing these 3 tips to help make sure your posts live a long and healthy life.
1) Update Them Regularly
If you want your posts to continue bringing in traffic year after year, you need to update them and add to them on a regular basis. (Once a year is a good goal.)
This does a couple things.
First, it lets Google know that your post is still up-to-date, still relevant. Google rewards pages that are updated more often with better organic rankings, so this is a way to let them know your post hasn’t fallen behind the times.
It also makes the post itself more relevant, interesting, and useful for the end reader. Because no matter what topic you’re writing about, there’s bound to be some new information on that topic every year.
And by keeping your post up-to-date, you’re making sure that it continues to be the go-to resource for people who are researching that topic.
2) Create Something 10x Better Than Anything Else Out There
Before you write your post, it’s a good idea to find some of the other pieces of content out there on the topic. Read through that content and see what your competitors have already done.
Then do 10x better than that.
If you aren’t willing to go way above and beyond what’s already out there, then this process isn’t worth your time.
If you want people to choose your blog post over someone else’s (especially a blog post that’s already out there and getting organic traffic), then you have to give them a good reason to do so—and you have to make sure that your content is the best, most helpful resource out there on your topic.
3) Buy Some Website Traffic
Once you publish your blog post, don’t be afraid to pay to send some web traffic to it.
There’s a lot of competition out there for people’s attention, and you can’t always just publish content and hope that people will notice it.
“Hoping” isn’t a strategy.
Instead, it’s your job to make sure that people notice you. And one way you can do that is by spending some money to get your content in front of the right kind of people.
How Many Pillar Posts Do You Need?
The last thing I’m going to talk about in this post is: how many times should you go through this process?
In step #1, I recommended coming up with 10 pillar post topics.
And that’s a good number to start with. When I first started at DM, that’s what I did: I started by creating 10 awesome pieces of content.
And that was enough.
Those 10 blog posts were enough to grab the attention of our market and really launch us into the brand we are today.
So come up with 10 post topic ideas. Then complete the rest of this process for each of those ideas, 1 at a time, until you have 10 amazing pieces of content.
But don’t stop there!
Once you’re finished with your first 10 pieces of content, do it again. And again.
And watch your audience, your brand, and your business grow to new heights.