Creating Content Pillars from Keyword Research

As content marketers, we need to understand the significant role content and the architecture  of a website plays in SEO.  We also need to recognise how important SEO is because it delivers on exceptional ROI. Ever heard the saying “Content is King” ? We know this but creating a lot of content doesn’t mean we have met the demand of “Content is King”. It needs a clear strategy and goals along the way. Content without a strategy is a waste of time and energy. Let’s admit – it is not that easy though, we have to be able to understand Google and its indexation techniques. How do we build content to take advantage of these fundamental requirements from Google?

We often get the question: “how often should I blog?” and quite honestly, it all depends on the competitiveness of your industry and the potential community size (your market share). This could be 1 post per week to one post per day. Marketing teams need to get their customers attention through engaging content and they use their blog as a starting point to do this. They optimise their blog posts so search engines keep on coming back to index their content. Content that builds “organic” links and conversations off their website ultimately builds their authority in Google’s “eyes”.

Companies that blog have 97% more inbound links
– Hubspot

For a while now there’s been a misconception as to what is the best way to optimise content and we recently started addressing this issue with a few websites we work on – how do I organize content to accompany my content strategy?

Its not only about your product/service page or home page. Creating website integrated blog posts are a way to show what content you are producing. Furthermore by producing engaging content like videos, imagery, digital ebooks and slideshows you are able to feed your audience. This is essential in acquiring the attention of major search engines i.e. Google. However,  if you are doing this – it doesn’t guarantee your success. You need structure and you need a strategy.

Introducing Content Pillars

Only recently, have we found ourselves in a place where we could clearly define the meaning of  “Content Pillar”. For many years we’ve adopted this approach, however it didn’t have a specific name. As a result content pillars never got the attention it deserved. We see a content pillar as page on your website where you can break down a certain topic or theme into variations, therefore creating pieces of content over multiple channels within your website.  These could be lead generating forms, product pages, blog posts, ebooks or any other medium you feel is appropriate and relevant to your audience. Remember, your content should be written for human consumption, a trait Google adores!

How to create content Pillars

Creating content pillars is fairly easy in principle but depending on your website structure it can be made difficult. Unfortunately for some, it does mean that your website gets a restructure. Consequently, it’s important that both content marketers and developers embrace this methodology. Developers need to challenge clients if they are pushing for a different solution. For example let’s take something simple as “shoes”



With an average search volume of 6600, there has to be a tremendous amount of opportunity just from that simple term.

Let’s consider breaking our main theme (which is shoes) and consider the season of the year as well as trends – we can then start breaking them down into “content pillars” which is a means of content segmentation, right? derivatives could be “flip flops”, “ ladies pumps”, “Beach sandals”, “ ladies fashionable footwear”, “mens footwear” etc…

This is how content pillars allow us to create tons of content which essentially allow us to convert users by our internal linking strategies, lead generation forms and product pages – it’s all about making use of the on-site opportunities.

Below is an example of what food related website architecture should resemble. Note the top level keywords (high search volume) will represent category pages. The long tail individual product or blog posts (depending on the type of website) will be structured below it.


Once you have created these content pillars in an excel spreadsheet, you will need ensure your website architecture can compliment these clearly defined content pillars.

Download Content Pillar template excel template.

Your long tail ( search volume, niche) keywords will act as the supporting content for your main content pillars, depending on your industry they can be defined as, individual product pages, blog posts and engaging content. These web pages cannot work in silos though, they need to be integrated with the content pillar webpages. By “integration”, we mean clever internal linking. Internal linking is a process that is highly undervalued by content teams. It needs careful consideration for every content piece.

This may sound contradictory, but our favorite content pillar is blog posts, the reason for this is the ease of optimization, blog posts allows us to generate traffic on existing and trending topics. The social aspect of Liking, Plusing, Tweeting and Commenting can also be argued that it has SEO value. You can’t rule out the power of a blog post to rank for highly searched keywords i.e. short tail. The reason why we like it so much is because when optimizing a blog post, we have complete control of how we use a short URL string, this means that as soon as the next season / research piece comes in we can update it with fresh content but still keep the ranking potential (if not increase) of the blog post. With the updates, it allows us to push the content via social channels again giving it another boost of traffic and to hopefully generate more authority out of the post. See our top 10 blog posts for October – notice a few of the URL strings mentioned in our Top 10 are short and do not contain detailed words like the title contains. We see this as a new trend in SEO.

Here are a few examples of shortened URLs:





So hopefully next October we can add new trending topics or posts to this existing blog post and add on to its ranking value. Note our URL for this blog post “/blog/content-strategy”.

Engaging content is delivered through blog posts. On an external level, it can also be delivered through platforms like slideshare.net. Using Slideshare is a fantastic way to build links from engaging content.

There is a growing need for large retail companies whose customers purchase for different seasons to employ / outsource the services of research analysts to identify trends, we emphasize the importance of this research process to businesses so they can build their company website accordingly from the ground up.


Which tools do we use?

Online tools are in abundance, but we have only grown accustomed to a few of them. Tools such as Google Keyword Planner allow us to find the most suitable keywords. Some SEO people might frown upon this, but we also check the density (the amount  of times a keyword is used) with SEOBook’s keyword density tool. This is a good tool to use because it helps webmasters understand the importance of keyword placement – it is best practice to use a keyword at least twice for every fifty words. If you feel you would like to use a specific keyword more often, just use a variation of the word. For example: USB, flash drive or thumb drive. These variation type keywords are known as semantic search terms. Google is getting increasingly better at identifying these search terms. If you don’t feel comfortable with Google’s keyword planner, an alternative is keywordtool.io, which is very useful but doesn’t provide those variations like Google’s keyword planner does.

Once you have defined your content pillars you will need to track your performance. Head over to http://pro.webgrowth.co.za and visit Social Metrics >> Social Engagement >> Social Citations to give you an overview of your content performance.

To add and track your keywords also go to http://pro.webgrowth.co.za and visit Marketing Analytics >> Rank Tracking >> Tool Summary >> Settings (top right) >> Add Keywords



The result

Outranking our competitors through content strategy

Within 6 months of executing this content strategy we were able to overtake our competitors for “training” and “course” keywords relating to digital marketing.

So in summary, here’s an action list to get you going:

  • Identify your product / service keywords
  • Research these keywords using a keyword research tool
  • Identify other highly searched for keywords that you hadn’t thought of before
  • With these keywords in mind, create your top level content pillars in the spreadsheet provided
  • Commence more detailed keyword research for each individual content pillar
  • Add the long tail keyword variations to the spreadsheet provided
  • Identify further content pillars that can take the shape of a blog post. These keywords must have a high search volume
  • Create a content plan to complement the Content Pillar structure
  • Start writing, internal linking and social sharing
  • Insert your targeted keywords in a keyword tracking tool
  • Track your performance
  • Rinse and repeat

Neil Pursey

Founder of Webgrowth. He has been optimising websites since 2006. He has since done guest talks on SEO at Wordcamp, University of Cape Town, Blogger Food Indaba and others.. Co-founder of the GROW Academy, a South African initiative to educate the youth in digital marketing. He heads up the SEO sessions at the GROW Academy.