Pillar pages are an excellent way to harness and amplify the SEO potential of frequent content creation, and to widen the range of competitive terms that you can rank highly for and acquire traffic from.
To understand what the traits of an effective pillar page are, we looked at the pages of some of the recognised leaders in the strategy including Help Scout, Typeform, Profitwell, Gather Content and HubSpot - plus our own pillar page performance, e.g. The Complete Guide to Effective B2B Website Design
While we found that all the companies mentioned above took slightly different approaches with their pillar pages, there were common themes and trends that overlapped between them.
Based on these examples, and what we know to be the reasons behind the success of the pillar page strategy, here are the elements that we believe take one from good to great.
Main website navigation
Unlike conversion optimised landing pages, pillar pages are focussed on search engine optimisation and traffic acquisition first and foremost.
While distractions like navigation links should be removed from a conversion optimised page, to focus all attention on the conversion offer, you want visitors to a pillar page to be able to continue a journey on your website after they arrive.
One way to achieve this is to include your websites main navigation in your pillar page template. Doing so means every visitor can easily go on to explore other areas of your site and are, therefore, more likely to do so.
In addition, including your main navigation ensures that your pillar pages effectively support the SEO of your main site pages, and vice versa.
Not all of the pages that we reviewed featured the main website navigation - this may indicate differences in the strategy behind them and may also be an indication of their age. The older pillar pages in the set were perhaps created with a view to acquiring backlinks via outbound content promotion. The more recent pages have probably been created with the organic traffic acquisition strategy in mind.
Main navigation (and page title) on HubSpot's pillar page on customer feedback
Pillar pages will typically be targeted at keywords that are short, broad and competitive. These keywords should feature very prominently in the page title.
The majority of the pages we looked at used short page titles that consisted of the SEO keywords and little else.
Page title from Yoast's pillar page on SEO copywriting
Long-form, un-gated content
The entire pillar page strategy is based on the creation of lengthy, comprehensive content, presented openly on page.
Long content requires careful layout, with special consideration given to structure, typography, use of images, and more.
While a pillar page can succeed using a simple template and layout, getting a designer and a developer to help you with the creation of a bespoke template for your pillar page can help you to optimise the content for reader engagement.
All of the pages we looked at, naturally, featured long, comprehensive content (no surprises there). They ranged in the level of design finesse that had been applied and some were most definitely easier to read than others as a result.
Given the likely length of the content on a pillar page, it makes sense to break it down into logical sections. Sections can aid readability and engagement, helping readers keep their place or find the specific information they are looking for more easily.
Content sections are often introduced at the start of a pillar page but can make reappearances within internal navigation and other design elements.
In most of the examples we looked at all of the sections of content were presented on one page, with one notable exception. Profit Well's SaaS project has content sections presented on individual pages - an approach that is justified by the incredible length and depth of the piece which is really made up of multiple pillar pages on closely related topics.
Content sections on Typeform's pillar page on customer success
Building on the long format nature of the content and the need to for logical sections within it, another popular element of effective pillar pages is internal navigation.
Internal navigation is an important way to help readers engage with long content and to prevent them feeling overwhelmed by it. It can help them consume the content effectively over multiple visits, or jump to the sections that interest them more easily.
Internal navigation is handled in a wide variety of ways on the pillar pages we looked at. Popular approaches included contents/index sections, floating sidebars, horizontal navigation bars, dropdowns, pop-outs and burger menus.
While the optimal approach will depend on the content, our favourite style is a sticky, secondary navigation - when done well.
Internal navigation (including download offer) on Gather Content's pillar page on content strategy
External resource linking
Making pillar pages useful to readers is important for achieving high search engine rankings for the desired terms, engaging visitors and building trust. One way to do this, and to signal the fact to search engines, is to include links out to useful external resources.
Research by HubSpot found that the more related external content a pillar page linked to, the higher it ranked in search engines.
Relevant external links should be included in context, where they make the most sense. They can also be presented in groups, alongside or at the end of relevant sections of content.
Linking internally, to your own relevant resources, is also valuable but should be balanced with external linking and not overdone.
Resource linking on Help Scout's pillar page on customer acquisition
Calls to action
Like your blog posts, pillar pages are probably going to attract visitors who are in the early stages of their decision making process. Your main website navigation allows them to continue their journey if they wish, but strategically placed calls to action (CTAs) can help visitors jump off and dig into topics that interest them, creating more opportunities to convert visitors who enjoy your un-gated content into known leads.
A banner CTA at the end of the content is a good idea, but consider using text CTAs at relevant points throughout the page. Text CTAs are less disruptive to the reader that wants to continue on the pillar page but are effective at converting those visitors who are scanning long form content or have reached a point at which they might exit the page.
Call to action on HubSpot's pillar page on customer feedback
While a pillar page must be un-gated to be effective - so that it can be indexed by search engines and give you the full SEO benefit of the long form content - the option to download and take the material away gives your reader the freedom to consume the content how they prefer, and enables you to convert some of the traffic into leads.
Possible places for the download call to action include the header, intro, end, or in the navigation. All placements have their pros and cons so its worth including more than one. You'll need to look at the design of your pillar page and the desired user experience to inform your choices.
Pillar pages are perhaps one of the permissible applications of exit intent pop-ups. If a reader has reached a certain point in your pillar page, or dwelled on it for a certain amount of time, offering them the opportunity to download it when they indicate that they may be leaving could actually be seen as a positive, rather than the horrid, needy interpretation that they usually attract.
Download offer on Help Scout's pillar page on customer acquisition
Just as with your main website navigation, you should include your website footer on your pillar page.
For visitors arriving at the end of your pillar page, website footers provide valuable links to additional information, enabling them to continue their journey. Footers are also important for SEO, linking to key pages within your site in ways that help search engines rank them more highly.
A pillar page can be a success without all of these elements - the content being the most important aspect.. If, however, you do follow example set by the great pages we have looked at, and include some or all of the elements described here, you're putting yourself in a great position to succeed. A pillar page with all the components outlined in this post is geared to maximise traffic, engagement, lead generation and, crucially, contribution to demand.