I was writing an article the other day and I needed a reference to what is good blog content. I realized despite being (I think) the blogger to coin the phrase “Pillar Article” I’ve never actually published a definition of it to my blog. Time for that to change.
The below is my definition and examples of the Pillar Format, taken directly from the Blog Profits Blueprint. This is based on my original thinking of what goes into making good blog content.
The concept was first used in this guest post on Problogger back in February 2006, where I suggested the following tip for finding more blog readers –
Write at least five major “pillar” articles. A pillar article is usually a tutorial style article aimed to teach your audience something. Generally they are longer than 500 words and have lots of very practical tips or advice. This article you are currently reading could be considered a pillar article since it is very practical and a good “how-to” lesson. This style of article has long term appeal, stays current (it isn’t news or time dependent) and offers real value and insight. The more pillars you have on your blog the better.
The Pillar title was later joined by similar phrases to essentially describe the same thing – good blog content – such as “Flagship Content” by Chris Garret and “Cornerstone Content” by Brian Clark, two articles definitely worth reading if you want to know what makes a good blog a good blog.
Now here’s my definition and format examples of how to write good blog content.
What Is A Pillar?
A pillar is blog content, usually an article, which does some very important things:
- It will bring in a rush of new readers and backlinks (other sites linking to your blog).
- It will continue to bring in more readers over time as you and other people refer to it, even though it may be buried in the archives of your blog.
- Eventually it will bring in traffic from search engines (this is largely because so many other web pages link to it).
- You can list it in a separate area (like an articles/start page) with all your other pillars so your best content can easily be accessed and your value clearly demonstrated.
- It is not time dependent, so in twelve months’ time it will still be relevant and popular.
How Do You Create A Pillar?
There is no exact formula for producing an article that will become a pillar, however there are definitely some key characteristics you can work on. You may be surprised when articles you write become pillars when you didn’t expect it, or the reverse where you pour your heart into a great article and it doesn’t do much for your traffic at all.
Here are typical pillar article concepts that you can post to your blog:
1. The “How-To” Article
This is a staple pillar article concept. Think about your industry and write an article that teaches how to do something in it. Be certain to only write how-to articles on topics you genuinely understand how to do and have experience with.
Some possible examples:
- If you are a marketing consultant, write some advice on how to market a business using no money.
- If you blog about dogs, write how to choose an appropriate dog name.
- If you blog about how to write a book, produce a how-to guide on approaching publishers.
- If you blog about food, write recipe guides on how to prepare popular dishes.
- If you blog about your life, write how-to guides on self development from the life lessons you have learnt (e.g. How you got a job, how you dealt with breaking up with your boyfriend, etc.).
It should be reasonably obvious which how-to topics are popular and relevant to your audience and which you feel capable of explaining well. Remember to tell a story if you can!
2. The Definition Article
Many industries have key concepts which new readers won’t know. If a concept is complicated, produce a pillar article that defines the concept, clearly explaining what it means and how it can be implemented.
It may seem simple and obvious to you, but remember you are an expert in your field, so explain it to the newbies in simple terms and, of course, try and tell a story as an example.
A glossary definition page is a good pillar article. If there are a handful of key concepts in your industry, write an article that lists the concepts and provides a one-paragraph definition for each. A resource page like this is good as a reference piece and often referred back to by other bloggers and websites.
You may say why bother doing this if most terms are already defined elsewhere on the web at sites like Wikipedia?
It’s okay to link to other websites for definitions, especially in the short term when you are just getting things set up, but it’s a lot better if you write your own definitions. It keeps readers on your blog, increases your pageviews (the total number of pages of your blog readers view) and visitor length (how long readers stay at your blog).
You can describe a concept in your own words, using your own unique story and voice. This helps to build credibility and trust.
It’s always smarter to include your own version of a definition if you are capable of explaining a term or concept, rather than link to other sites and drive traffic away from your blog.
3. Present a Theory or Argument
If you blog about politics, writing an article discussing your theories about communism, democracy or capitalism can make a great pillar article.
The important thing here is to present some unique thought. Give your opinion on a major issue in your industry, or even on a mainstream topic that you suspect your readers will take an interest in.
Try not to simply rehash what other people have said and clearly present your own thesis argument. Stimulate conversation, perhaps controversy, about a topic that is often discussed and is not time-dependent and you will draw traffic to your blog.
4. Create a resource like a free report, whitepaper or e-course
This is one of my favorite pillar concepts. A document such as a whitepaper (a small document, 2-10 pages, which teaches how to do something) or a series of articles combined to create a course, is a fantastic pillar.
You have a couple of options to present this information:
- Create a PDF which your readers can download. The benefit of this method is that the file can be shared easily (forwarded through email for example) and you may benefit from viral marketing effects, especially if you produce a top quality e-book or report.
- Type the content into several blog posts and interlink them together. You can also highlight them as a stand-alone series in your archives or articles page.
If you visit the articles section of my blog under the “Free Reports” heading, you will see an example of a PDF report that Brian Clark and myself put together, which is a good example of free resource pillar content.
If you can’t decide what is the best method to distribute your free resource, my suggestion is to offer it in as many ways as possible. Make a PDF available for download, publish the articles individually and make them available from an email list too. That way you maximize your exposure and cater to the widest possible audience.
The important thing with this concept is to create a complete all-in-one solution to a common problem. Similar to the how-to article, a free resource is a powerful pillar concept because it demonstrates your expertise and brings in consistent traffic.
5. One of the most popular pillar concepts is a List Article
You have probably seen many of these at other blogs. The usual titles are “Top 7 Ways To…” or “10 Tips To Improve…” etc. These work well for a couple of reasons –
- Lists are easily digested by human beings. It’s been tested and proven that articles in the 300-700 word range with lots of clear dot-point bulleted lists and a compelling headline are good traffic pullers. In this case it’s all about simplicity of consumption for people with short attention spans – i.e. most web surfers.
- Lists provide directly actionable lessons and people love to share lists with other people. Consequently list articles are often linked to by other bloggers and added to social bookmarking sites that drive traffic.
Provided your list follows all the standard pillar concept rules – timeless, original content, problem solving ideas – and you keep it directly applicable to your audience, most lists will become pillars.
Be wary of doing lists of topics well covered by other people or on really simple concepts. As usual the more “you” included through stories and a unique style, the more likely your list will perform well.
6. A Technical Blueprint
A technical blueprint is very much like a how-to or a whitepaper, but is focused on the technical aspects of a problem. Technology-focused bloggers are good at blueprint pillar articles because they love to use graphs, spreadsheets and images to demonstrate how to do something.
A technical blueprint is a step-by-step, visually enhanced article demonstrating exactly how to complete a task. Often the pictures tell the story more than the words do. Designers and programmers use this style of blog post to show how they code a website, design an image using Photoshop, code software, or simpler activities like attach a file to an email.
You can apply the principle to almost any industry that has common tasks which may be complex to understand. In this case it’s more about the imagery and less about the story.
Personally, I find it easier to write an explanation using words rather than take lots of screenshots or photographs, but this may not be the same for you. If you have access to the necessary resources, making a blueprint-style blog post that clearly demonstrates how to do something is a perfect pillar concept.
That covers some of the most basic and powerful pillar article concepts you can apply to your blog and test. If you write an article each day using one of the concepts above, you will have a solid foundation for a successful blog.
The Blog Profits Blueprint