Many years ago I coined the phrase “Pillar Article” or sometimes called, “Pillar Content” or “Pillar Post“, to describe how to create great blog content.
To my surprise, it caught on in the blogging about blogging community and many thousands of bloggers use it to describe what good blog content is.
If you have never heard of this concept before, you can read the original article here (warning — it’s old!):
The video at the end of this blog post has an introduction to the Pillar Article concept, including formats you can use to attempt to increase your chances of creating a pillar article. It is quite old, recorded from a presentation I did during my long hair days, but it’s still a fantastic introduction to this idea (and it’s only 5 minutes long).
Is The Pillar Concept Still Valid?
When I first wrote about the Pillar Article, some of the formats I suggested included the “How To”, “List”, “Definition” and “Opinion” formats for blog posts.
All of these are still valid and still effective, but it’s pretty clear the internet has become a lot more crowded since then. Because of this, just doing the basics when you use these formats may not be enough to trigger a “pillar event”.
REMINDER: A Pillar is not any one format, it’s about outcomes.
You might use any type of blog content format, but it only becomes a Pillar when things like the following trigger as a result of the content:
- It’s shared via social media (Facebook/LinkedIn Shares, Twitter Tweets, and so on)
- Other sites online reference and link to your article in their content
- People talk about your article and recommend it to other people, possibly in real life and also in online media like videos and podcasts
- As a result of the above, you gain incoming links to that article, helping it to rank high in search results
- And thus, it continues to deliver an ongoing stream traffic long term
The most important outcomes are traffic and engagement. A Pillar Effect usually includes an initial rush of audience, followed by a long term stable stream of traffic, usually driven by search results, but also from all the different places online that link to it (called referral traffic in your web stats).
Side benefits from a pillar effect may also include ongoing sales of your product or an affiliate product from within the article, a stream of new newsletter subscribers coming from traffic to the article, bookmarking of your site and an overall increase to your repeat daily readership and improved brand recognition.
There are varying levels of the “pillar effect”, and you may or may not enjoy every outcome above. The most important thing is that traffic comes and it keeps coming, even if you just let that article sit there.
It’s safe to say that most blogs on average do not enjoy pillar effects with every article produced. In my own experience, maybe one article out of every 10-20 at best gets this result on a scale that matters to my traffic stats.
It has become harder to trigger the pillar outcome compared to the early days of blogging, however there is always more we can do to go after the result. The key is knowing what formats and techniques work best, especially in today’s online environment, and being willing to put in the extra effort required to get the result.
Let’s take a look now at some “new media” formats you can use to create better content and give yourself a chance of trigger a pillar event…
What Has Changed?
The reason why it’s harder today to create pillar effects is because –
- The Internet is more crowded, more content is being created by more people on more websites.
- Due to this, attention deficit sets in, so you need to do more to gain attention.
- People are used to a multimedia web, not just basic text and graphics, they expect more as a standard.
- The way content is consumed and created has changed – mobile, itunes, youtube, tiktok and the convergence of old media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines) as vehicles to distribute new media, or simply replaced by new media, has everyone scrambling to become multi-disciplinary online media producers. That’s hard work, but the people who do it consistently win, or at least have a bigger impact.
In short, just writing content using basic text-only formats, while a great start, may not be enough.
A lot of it comes down to the quality of your competition. Many small niches can enjoy streams of ongoing traffic from Google search only, if they hit the right topic/keywords and get some incoming links, if there are not other quality sources of information.
Take for example my very niche specific company, InboxDone.com. This business has a specific goal, to attract people who want to hire our email management assistants. As a result, all of our blog posts are on topics related to this need.
We have several blog posts on InboxDone.com that bring in steady traffic, even though they were published years ago. Not a lot of traffic, but very targeted traffic. These posts form the pillars of this business because they bring in new clients.
No matter what niche you are in, preparing for things to become more crowded and doing a better job with your potential pillar content today, is a good practice.
To help you with this objective, here are my suggestions on how to create pillar effects with your blog content, in today’s multimedia and social media driven world wide web….
How To Create Pillar Content In Today’s New Media World
Here are four formats you can leverage to give yourself a better chance of creating pillar articles.
1. The Mega Top List
The traditional list format has always been a winner. Write a paragraph or two, list seven dot points of information and a concluding paragraph, and you are done.
That’s still a great format, but if you want to increase your chances of bringing in rivers of traffic, rather than just trickles, you need to super charge your lists.
To do this, go big and go multimedia.
Instead of the top 10, give people the top 50 or top 100. Use pictures to go with every point, especially if your list is about people, because then you can include their photos.
For example, in a niche I love, tennis, you could create the “top 50 best tennis players of the last 100 years“, one for men and for women. Write a few highlight sentences about each player and why they are in the list, with a photograph, and you have a potential pillar article ready to go.
You can replicate something like this in every niche. On this blog I could do a list of the top 50 most successful self made internet millionaires (*scribbles note on to-do list*).
To take it to the next level, use multimedia like video when making mega-lists.
There are countless ideas you can use for the Mega-List format, and it will always out perform a small plain text list. Of course it’s no small task to create such a list, but I bet if you produced one a month it would do more for your traffic than writing small lower quality articles every day.
2. The Infographic
The infographic is a style of content that in recent years has risen to prominence. It’s built perfectly for viral distribution and thus produces pillar effects almost effortlessly. The challenge is putting a good one together.
An infographic gathers statistics or information and presents it in a large flowchart graphic, using compelling style and imagery. They are always big, sometimes several pages long. The best are incredibly interesting because they contain compelling information and the visual presentation grabs your attention.
Providing embed code to copy and paste, so other people can post your infographic to their website or blog, is the real secret behind the success of this content format. With each embed of your graphic, you get a link back to your site for traffic and SEO benefit, plus the kudos that comes from being the source of a potentially industry defining information source.
My post on why you should switch to a stand up desk circulated throughout online media a couple of years ago.
To create an infographic I suggest first you curate your data. Know what information you want to present, then find the creative person to put together the graphics, unless of course you are graphically talented yourself.
Create Infographics With Infogr.am
A resource to help you produce an infographic by yourself is http://infogr.am/.
This site provides an entire graphic suite and editor to help you design and compile your infographic.
This one technique alone may be enough to put your blog on the map. Do not underestimate the power of a virally shared infographic.
3. The Mega How-To
The “How-To” article is the original, and in my opinion, still the best format for a Pillar Article.
While a good chunk of the Internet is used for entertainment purposes, an equally good chunk of people use it to solve problems. That’s where your blog and your how-to articles come in. Provide the step-by-step instructions on how to do something and you have a winning formula for a popular blog post.
To up the ante and bring the how-to format into line with today’s multimedia world wide web, integrating all formats of information distribution is a must (Video, Audio, Graphics, Text,).
IMPORTANT: Cater To All Learning Modalities
Everyone has a preferred learning modality. When it comes to the internet, they typically fall into these three categories –
- Reading words
- Listening to audio
- Watching and listening to video
There are more modalities, for example some people learn best through experiential learning (actually doing something physically), but it’s hard to do that through a computer screen unless you are running a live interactive webinar.
If you want to reach more people then you have to cater to as many modalities as possible.
For example right now, people who are not fully engaged with this article are probably not readers. They might have just watched the video at the start, scanned the article text and that was that. Readers on the other hand, skipped the video and went straight to the words.
On the internet we have the potential to give people all these different modalities. You can even use multiple formats to service each different format, for example providing a text blog post and a text PDF transcript with pictures and graphs.
To have maximum impact with this article you are reading now, I should make the audio version available as a stream, an episode on my podcast and transcribe it into a PDF with pictures along with the content from this article for download and easy printing. I could also make a video version with me talking and visuals to explain the Pillar concepts to you.
Phew, that’s a lot content and a lot of work!
Therein lies the biggest problem for most people producing this level of “How-To” content – there’s a lot you need to produce. Having helpers to transcribe your work, source pictures, upload files and edit video and audio certainly helps, but it’s still no simple task.
That’s what makes it worthwhile. Most people don’t put in the effort, so if you produce amazing how-to tutorials and take the time to give people different formats to consume it in, you produce pillar content.
There’s no secret, it’s just hard work.
How-To Pillar Examples: The Old And The New
One great example of the Mega How-To Pillar Article format is Pat Flynn’s How to Start a Podcast – Pat’s Complete Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial
Pat’s post includes an article, lists, links to resources in lists, and SIX videos – it’s a mini-course that Pat could certainly have charged for.
Even without PDF downloads of each video or podcast only MP3s, it still hits the mark and definitely is a pillar article looking at how many people have shared it (and here I am linking to it as well for probably the third time in my blog).
If you want to see how things have changed when it comes to producing pillar content, take a look at one of my first ever pillar articles, in fact one of my first ever blog posts from way back in August 2005 (six months into this blog’s life) –
The article brought in lots of links and search traffic after it was published. For years it ranked on the first page of Google, for the phrase “what is a podcast“, which had been one of the top 5 referring search phrases in my traffic statistics for years.
Of course today there is so much more competition for the question of what is a podcast that my old blog post doesn’t show up anywhere near the top of Google.
If you want to do a compare and contrast, as Pat states in his podcast post, his article and videos took over 30 hours to produce. My article on what is a podcast took less than two hours to write, edit and publish. They are seven years apart in publication and it’s pretty clear Pat’s article has way more value than mine, yet all those years ago that’s all I had to do for a pillar effect.
Of course, if I published my podcast article today it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact. It wouldn’t rank well, it wouldn’t pull in much traffic because most people know what a podcast is today and it only features one learning modality, written text. In short, I strongly doubt it would be a pillar.
Today, you have to work harder and deliver more value if you want the pillar effect.
If you put in the effort to distribute in all formats you reach and impact more people. You also get the benefit of making it easier to share you content and do so using many of the great social tools and sites we have today.
Distribution channels are everywhere, and you never know how other people use the web, so make it easier for them by giving every format you can.
4. The Dynamic Content Portal Page
Not all blogs are teaching tools. Many of the biggest blogs are purely news and entertainment sources. For these blogs, content frequency and recency is most important.
One of the best new content concepts I have seen for the news style blog, which can be used by any blogger, is what I call the Content Portal Page.
These are almost like blogs within blogs to cover a specific topic. There is a central page that collates all the information, usually presented in chronological order. The page itself contains content updates using all formats, video, audio and text. The page also links to more articles within the same site about the same subject.
These types of portal pages usually develop when a major issue hits. They are topical for a week or two and keep people up to date as things unravel. That doesn’t mean you have to create these only for hot news when it happens. This concept can work any time you have a lot of different information about a certain subject.
In Australia where I grew up the main two news sites I frequented were News.com.au and BrisbaneTimes.com.au, since I live in Brisbane. These are mainstream news site run by News Limited and Fairfax Media, the largest media agencies in Australia. They are not blogs, although they do have some blog columns within.
Years ago Brisbane had a major flood (actually this happened several times!). At the time it was the biggest flood in over 30 years and the first to hit with the internet and social media to cover it.
The Brisbane Times created a dedicated page, updated in real time, to cover the floods. When the event was ongoing, this page had rolling time-stamped coverage presented top to bottom in chronological order, as it happened. You could literally keep your browser on this page and every few minutes something new would pop up.
These are two, of many such pages, that exist to collate all the information about one big event as it happens. A content portal page.
The nature of this technique – combining a hot topic with lots of different media and content all collected in one constantly updated page – makes for a potentially huge pillar effect.
For an individual blogger, this may be too much content to produce, unless you happen to be at the event as it happens.
However if you are running a news style blog, especially if you have multiple writers, or even if you think you can pump out ten or twenty pieces of content about a specific subject in a couple of weeks, and keep people anticipating the next release, it might be an option for you.
Is This All Too Much Work?
I can hear you groaning now.
All of this is just too hard. Too much work.
It’s tough enough to keep up with the basics like writing a blog, let alone mastering and publishing podcasts, videos, content portals and producing all kinds of different media (and let’s not forget keeping social media updated too!).
In my experience, it’s important you become very good at one thing.
Pick one format, video or podcasting or writing, and put in the time and practice to develop a skill. From there, leverage other people and affordable outsourcing to offer other formats (hire freelancers or agencies to help with social media, for example).
At the very least, try and work in one extra content modality into your posts.
Write an article and do a quick talking head video reviewing the same content. Hire a freelancer to help with transcriptions and get them to make a downloadable PDF to go with it, including pictures. Or a video editor could make a quick slide show version of your content to use as a video.
One thing I can tell you with the benefit of my own experience creating content is you get better the more you practice, and new tools, technology and services emerge to help you.
This means you can get more done in less time, which opens up the door for dabbling in other content formats. It’s fun too, so if you keep an open mind and keep practicing, you might surprise yourself with what you can create.
As your business grows you will reach the point where you can quit any jobs you have that are not part of your business. This will give you more time to skill-up in different formats to help you produce better content.
Setting up systems and income streams that don’t require much ongoing maintenance once established also helps, because you can dabble in new content formats and put in more effort, without the pressure of needing income from it straight away.
What you mustn’t do is let the pursuit of perfection stop you. It’s okay if you don’t do video or audio or have transcripts for everything you produce. Become really good at writing and perhaps start with improving your work by including more amazing pictures as step one.
Don’t stress too much about this – you can build a platform by being good with just one medium.
Build your skills as you build your platform, focus on output rather than perfection and enjoy the learning process.
It’s more important to keep pressing publish than anything else.
And with that in mind, that’s exactly what I am going to do now.
Good luck with your pillar articles.
P.S. Here is the video I did about this article –