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34 min read

How a topic cluster content strategy really works (HubHeroes, Ep. 18)


In our last episode, we went off during a fiery discussion about what content strategies really are, and how marketers, leaders, and sales pros need to rethink their approach to content going into 2023.

We also talked extensively about how the answer to what is a content strategy has changed substantially in the past 10 years. Why? Because the technology and algorithms used by search engines to rank our content has radically changed

Enter stage left, topic clusters and pillar pages

Topic clusters and pillar pages are the building blocks of the modern content strategy – I don’t care what industry you’re in, if you’re using content to drive traffic, leads, and sales, that statement applies to you. And yet, as essential as topic clusters and pillar pages are to your content strategy, so many marketers and business leaders don’t know how to effectively executive a topic cluster and pillar page based strategy.

πŸ”Ž Related HubSpot education:

Or … you might think you do, but you’re making mistakes in your strategy and execution that are costing you big time when it comes to seeing ROI from your content marketing

So, if you’re a content marketer, a marketing leader, or a business owner who is looking to topic clusters to drive big results in 2023, you absolutely must listen to this episode. Even if you think you’ve got topic clusters and pillar pillar pages down to a science, trust me when I say you’re going to learn something that will have direct, bottom-line impact in this episode.

Here's what we cover in this episode ...

  • What has changed about how Google and other search engines rank your SEO content, and why did they make those changes?
  • What are topic clusters and pillar pages, really? And why the heck do they work so well?
  • What are the most common topic cluster strategy myths and mistakes we see others fall prey to that is stunting their ROI?
  • What do great pillar content pages all have in common? (And how "design-y" do they need to be?")
  • Are we building all this content for robots or humans ... or both?
  • What can the Cheesecake Factory teach you about content strategy best practices?

And that's only the beginning! 


If you want to become an absolute topic cluster strategy Jedi who can generate content ROI in their sleep n 2023, you need to sign up for the SEO Content Strategy Masterclass, which starts in January. 

Beyond that, develop your fluency on these topics and understand that, even though it sounds like more work to implement a topic cluster strategy, this approach will make your life so much easier ... if you do the work to get it right.



Intro: Do you live in a world filled with corporate data? Are you plagued by silo departments? Are your lackluster growth strategies demolishing your chances for success? Are you held captive by the evil menace, Lord Lack? Lack of time, lack of strategy, and lack of the most important and powerful tool in your superhero tool belt, knowledge.

Never fear hub heroes. Get ready to don your cape and mask, move into action, and become the hub hero your organization needs. Tune in each week to join the league of extraordinary inbound heroes as we help you educate, empower, and execute. Hub heroes, it's time to unite and activate your your powers. Before we begin, we need to disclose that both Devin and Max are currently employed by HubSpot at the time of this episode's recording.

This podcast is in no way affiliated with or produced by HubSpot, and the thoughts and opinions expressed by Devin and Max during the show are that of their own and in no way represent those of their employer.

Liz Moorehead: Welcome back to another episode of the Hub Heroes podcast. As always, I am Liz Murphy, content strategist extraordinaire, which I get to say since I'm announcing myself.

George B. Thomas: Yeah.

Liz Moorehead: That's right. That's right. But I'm also the official nerd wrangler of the Hub Heroes podcast. And with me today, George, it's just you and me again, bud.

George B. Thomas: I know it's back to backs. I love the fact that when you introduce yourself, you can say what ever the crap you wanna say, and nobody can really stop you. And what's interesting too is, again, the 2 of us are gonna lay down some information on topic clusters, pillar pages. It's gonna be a crash course. Again, we missed our hub hero host, league of heroes, leaders, Max George,

Liz Moorehead: you are so emotional. You can't even sentence today. Max, Kevin, come back. This is what I'm left with. Yeah.

George, you're great. Hi. How are you?

George B. Thomas: You're great too. First of all, let's talk about this on the socials. The amount of people who are saying that they are enjoying the witty humor of Liz Murphy on the Hub Heroes podcast is it's astronomical. So, a, if you weren't here, this would be a really boring episode of just me talking, or I would have canceled, which would have sucked for the listener. So I'm glad that we're here.

I'm glad we're still adding value, but I still do miss Devon and Max because I like rocking out with them on these episodes.

Liz Moorehead: I do too. And this is that awkward moment where Liz has to pretend she's good at taking a compliment. So thank you. And with that, in our last episode, if you haven't heard it already, make sure you either go back and listen to it first or you queue it up to listen right after this because George, I think it's safe to say that you and I quote unquote as the kids say, went off with a little fiery discussion about what content strategies really are and how marketers and leaders and sales pros really need to rethink their approach to content going into 2023. And we also talked extensively about how the answer to the question of what is a content strategy has drastically changed in the past 10 years.

Because the technology and the beep boop robot algorithms that Google and I guess Bing all use to rank our content has substantially changed. And enter stage left, topic clusters and pillar pages. We said there is so much we had to talk about on this topic alone that we were making in another episode. So guess what kitten? Here we are.

Topic clusters and pillar pages. They are the building blocks of the modern content strategy. And I don't care what industry you're in when I say that because if you're using content to drive traffic or leads, or sales, what I just said applies to you. And yet, George, oh my gosh. How many people get topic clusters and pillar pages so horribly wrong?

Well meaning marketers and business leaders just like completely blow

George B. Thomas: it. Not only do they get it wrong, but they choose on purpose to ignore it. One of the things that you just said was, like, I don't care what industry you're in. I really don't care what industry you're in, what business you have. If you are by the way, if you're listening to this and you're not creating content, we have a bigger problem.

But if you're creating content and you're not figuring out how to structure it in a way that makes sense for the humans and the robots as Liz did the bebop boops of of being in Google and DuckDuckGo and all of the other search engines that are out there. If you're not taking time to do that, then you're not gonna reach the success that you could have.

Liz Moorehead: I completely agree. And here's the other thing too. I see this as someone who so let's say, like, over the past 7 years, I have really sunk my teeth into topic clusters and pillar pages. It's something where I've not just called a core competency, it's a specialty area of mine. But it only became a specialty after I poured my heart and soul into pillar pages only to watch them be completely dead on arrival.

And that is the worst possible thing that can happen with your content. Whether you're talking about pillar pages or subtopics or blog articles, but pillar pages always feel a lot worse because you do put so much energy into them. So what we're doing today is whether you're new to topic clusters or pillar pages, or you've been doing this for a while, I am telling you, do not go anywhere. I don't care if your children want dinner. Tell them quiet kids.

Mommy and daddy or whomever is learning how to do business good.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. Because especially if you think you're doing it good. Because again, if you haven't listened to last week's episode, you need to, but 80% of the audience for my inbound talk thought they were doing pillar pages great until we got about 4 sentences into what they needed. And so I'm glad we're talking about this today, Liz. And, also, I hope people know that since pillar pages came on the scene, AK even when Brian Dean was calling them skyscraper pages, I was a big nerd, big nerd about that.

And and I've just always I'm very passionate about pillar pages, topic clusters, content structure. And when back in the day when I worked at the sales line, I would go out and do HubSpot workshops where we would get into these content conversations. And before this strategy, I was starting to teach people about precision content instead of what I back then called shotgun content, where it was a keyword here, a keyword there, a keyword there. And if you mapped it on a whiteboard, it looked like it was like a scatter plot that you're out duck hunting or something.

Liz Moorehead: Why are you attacking me so early? Look. 2014 Liz Murphy at Quintin Marketing was trying her best. Okay?

George B. Thomas: Yeah. Now so so, I mean, this is something that for a a lot of years a lot of years, I've been teaching in, you know, workshops. I've been teaching in client type onboardings and meetings. And so I'm really glad to just be able to push it out to the world, to the Hub Heroes community so that people can get value from the conversation we're about to have.

Liz Moorehead: Yeah. And that's why I wanna dig right in here. Let's start right with the top question. I know some of you've been listening for a while. No.

I like to start with some trivia or whatever, but we have so much ground to cover today. We are digging right in. Now before we get into the what and the why and the how of topic clusters and pillar pages, I wanna do a quick recap of something we did talk about last episode because it speaks to why topic clusters and pillar pages are so universal. Kick us off. What's changed in the past 10 years about how search engines rank our content that has led us to where we are today?

George B. Thomas: Yeah. First of all, content has gotten easier and harder at the same time. It's gotten less sophisticated and more sophisticated at the same time. Google, which has gotten smarter over time, they've also tried to really pay attention to where people were gamifying SEO and search opportunities, and even lean in further to where what are you really looking for? Back in the day, back in the good old days, Liz, if you woulda searched for, like, Japanese restaurant near me, Google would have laughed at your face and be like, here's a Japanese recipe.

But now today

Liz Moorehead: Where are you?

George B. Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't even know. Are you in Australia?

But now, like, it's gotten so sophisticated that they they understand intent. Right? So the intent of the search and the actual location of the searcher. And so, again, there are so many more things that we should be thinking about, but also it all it comes down to this idea of we need to be thinking about these things when we're answering these questions that these humans that we're serving are having a problem with the things that they're aspiring to actually get rid of and a place that they're trying to head to.

Liz Moorehead: So you bring up a lot of good points there, George, because there there are a couple of things that you touched upon. Number 1, what it took to rank well in search has become it's a much steeper hill to climb. And that's for two reasons. 1, Google has gotten smarter at people who are trying to game the system. For example, keyword stuffing, where it's every other phrase is your face.

Would you like to learn about content marketing? If you're a content marketer interested in content marketing, you have come to the number one content you get when I'm saying like goodbye. They're also ranking things like they're also ranking things like the page experience. Are you making it insufferable to use your website, whether that's on mobile or on desktop? But then there's the other piece that you just mentioned there.

So they've introduced things like RankBrain, which is their AI, which they're goo they, by the way, meaning Google, has introduced RankBrain, which is their AI and machine learning component of their algorithm to serve more relevant search or hold on. To serve more relevant search results faster that meet the intent of the searcher better. But here's the kicker, and you just laid into it, which is searchers have also greater expectations now. Right? We expect to get better search results faster from Google by giving less information near me.

Guess where I am mother flipper? Am I in Greenland? Am I in Annapolis, Maryland? Figure it out, Google. So Google and search engines, they're not trying to make our lives harder.

Although we may all feel personally victimized by it. The reality is that it's become more challenging for these search engines to figure out what are the relevant search results. What is the best content to serve up? So they've developed all of this technology where they're trying to figure out what your site means faster, what you talk about faster and more effectively. And when you had 1,000 or 100 of disparate pieces of content that maybe were somehow all hung together or linked together, that's near impossible, which is where we're at today.

George B. Thomas: I wanna unpack something you said though because I need people to realize, and I think they do, but we never really stopped to break it down. Actually, Google's job is only to care about you and make your life simple. And you're you're like, wait. What? No.

As a marketer, they're making it more difficult. They don't give to squats that you're a marketer. Their job is to make it easier for humans no matter what your job title is. So when you get out of work and you're not a marketer, air quotes, anymore, and you say closest Japanese restaurant to me, and it knows that 0.4 miles down the road, you should turn right, and you're gonna have some amazing sushi. You love it because they did what their job is, and that is to serve you, their customer, with fast relevant results so you can fill your tummy.

Now where this gets all convoluted is when we think as marketers. Yeah. As marketers, it's got more difficult, but it's not more difficult as a user.

Liz Moorehead: It actually makes a lot of logical sense that I don't know whether it's because it's near to lunchtime and you're talking about filling our tummy and the analogy that just came to my head is a menu. Is that I want you to think about it like this. Google is showing up at your doorstep and it's hungry for something specific. If all of the stuff that you have to offer is not categorized. Let's say you have an ice cream sundae, followed by a filet mignon, followed by mozzarella sticks, followed by a side caesar salad, followed by a diet Coke, followed by you get what I mean?

Let's say instant, like, you've been to the Cheesecake Factory. You've been to the Cheesecake Factory. That menu is like 50 pages. Now imagine if it didn't have any categories and everything was mixed up in a completely arbitrary order.

George B. Thomas: Yo. I've been to a restaurant like that. Like, I've literally been to a restaurant where I looked at the menu and I was like, somebody needs fired. Because I I couldn't make head I couldn't make heads or tails of it. And I was like, I am so paralyzed right now from confusion.

And by the way, US marketers should hop on the board or US marketers should hop on the boat that I think Google is on, and that is they're trying to remove any ability to be confused.

Liz Moorehead: Exactly my point. So when we talk about top of clusters and pillar pages, because that is where we are headed. In fact, we're knocking on this door now. All Google is trying to get people to do is to embrace a content architecture model that makes it easy for Google to understand what your content is and how it's all related and connected to each other. Unless you just wanna be the disorganized Cheesecake Factory.

So, George, what's the topic cluster? Talk to me about it.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. So I like when I talk about topic clusters, I'll tell you what always comes to mind because I love movies. I know you love movies. And I wanna say this to marketers because, a, creating a topic cluster, it can be a little bit of additional work, but it's going to my Jerry Maguire moment where help me help you. And Google is literally saying, help me help you.

Like, if you can just focus on a way that you can take multiple pieces of content grouped by a shared topic or related subtopics, and then actually make them make sense this kind of comprehensive coverage of this specific subject that you're trying to educate on that enables visitors to satisfy their search query, go back to Google is trying to serve up something for them that is not confusing to the visitors by site. So again, if I break all the words that I said down into what you'll find online as a real definition for topic clusters is the fact that there a topic cluster is multiple pieces of content grouped by a shared topic or related subtopics. As a whole, these pages offer comprehensive coverage of a specific subject that enables visitors, AKA humans, to satisfy their search query while visiting your website. That's what topic clusters are on just a general sense.

Liz Moorehead: I have to disagree with you on one point though, not on the definition. You started this answer by talking about how it may feel like things are a bit harder. That this is more work. And I can agree that it may appear that way but as someone who has, let's face it, I already owned up to it. 2014 Liz was making a lot of choices when it came to content strategies and I was the person making that giant spreadsheet with this, this keyword and then maybe this keyword and how about this one times like a 1000.

Like I've been that person and now I am this person who builds topic cluster strategies. And what I will say is that while it can quote feel a little painful, feel like a little more work when you're first getting started, honestly, I found it's actually streamlined things. I'm making smarter choices. I'm wasting less time making content that either isn't related to a business objective because topic clusters not only make it easier for search engines to understand what it's about, what your website is about, it also makes it much easier for you to be really focused on what are the things that we actually want to be known for, what is actually aligned with our business objectives. Overall, I'm just wasting less time and then also making the search engine visibility of the content I'm creating that much better because it's all working together.

It's that rising tide raises all ships mentality.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. I hey. I'm glad that you disagree with me. By the way, I don't disagree with you at all. Oh, let's see.

What I'm saying is that in most people's minds that I've helped historically, they go, oh, I just need to create some blog content. And then you layer in this idea of a topic cluster, and they're like, woah. Wait. You're now you're telling me that I need to map my blog content to an actual content strategy. Wait.

But that now I need to have other moving parts to understand that, and, of course, that leads us into HubSpot topics tool. That leads us into a spreadsheet. And what's one of the funniest things I had a conversation earlier today, Liz, talking to a client, and they literally were, like, you you made me cry a little bit when I saw you documenting what we were doing in an actual spreadsheet. And I started laughing. I said, yeah.

Because one of the biggest things I've seen people struggle with is 2 years, 3 years, 6 years into them creating content, they actually then do a content audit. But if you're actually adding your content to a document and auditing each piece as you go, guess what? 2 years, 3 years, 6 years from now, you don't have to do a content audit because you've set yourself up for success. And so what I'm talking about when I say it's more difficult is, yes, there are more moving pieces. But I totally agree with everything that you just said is that once you get those additional moving pieces in place, once you understand the less pieces of content that you randomly have to create because you are focused on the strategy that we talked about last week, then all of a sudden this becomes like the content marketing Nirvana.

Liz Moorehead: Oh, yeah. Because here's the thing I will tell you. If you're clinging to the idea of, well, like, topic clusters, like, we have too many things that we wanna talk about, blah blah blah blah blah. Here's the thing. Do you know who you are?

You are me trying to find Chapstick in my giant ass tote bag, and my husband being like, have you ever thought of cleaning that out? I'm like, hold on a second, it's here, I know where everything is. And then a little bit later, I'm like shaking that tote bag out and I'm still trying to find it. Except in this case, you're like, hold on. Somebody wants a ChapStick.

Here's my tote bag. Let me shake it all out. You try to find it. Like, come on, guys. Get a little bit more organized.


George B. Thomas: tell me Liz, before you move forward by the way, just so everybody knows, that is one place I refuse to go on this planet, by the way. Just letting you know

Liz Moorehead: your wife's tote bag?

George B. Thomas: I will not go into my wife's purse.

Liz Moorehead: Nope. Like the Sarlacc pit in Star Wars. Like, something

George B. Thomas: Not Yo. Something will absorb me. No. I refuse to go there. Alright.


Liz Moorehead: It depends. It could either be like the Sarlacc pit Sarlacc pit in Star Wars with little chomp chomps in Return of the Jedi or alternatively depending on how well it's cleaned out. It's like that suitcase in Pulp Fiction that Marcellus watches with the gold. That's how I view it. My husband thinks it's terrifying.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. It's terrifying to me.

Liz Moorehead: So let's talk about the actual architecture. Right? So we top the cluster. Right? It's all this interconnected content that's related at a high level to a very broad topic that you wanna be known for.

For example, let's say if you're an inbound marketing agency, that topic may be inbound marketing.

George B. Thomas: I think that's a very hold up. Don't go any further than that for a second. I think that's a very important piece to understand broad topic. Because, Liz, tell the story about how many times you've went to do, like, a pillar page punch out. Right?

Where you're looking at the pillar page to see if it's headed in the right direction or the content around it, and it it's too niche. It's too

Liz Moorehead: Oh, god. I cannot tell you the number of times. So I do like little content therapy hotline hours where people are like, can you just take a look at this content and tell me what's wrong with it? It's been surprisingly a service that people take the most advantage of. Make sure.

And a lot of times, it's pillar pages and I cannot tell you the number of times somebody says, hey, this pillar page isn't performing how it should. And I go and look at it. And there are like maybe 20 little tiny things that I can list out to them where I'm like, hey, maybe consider putting this up here. You could think about doing the table of contents this way. We should probably take a look at the linking strategy.

But 75% of the time, the video feedback response begins with some version of there are a lot of things you did right here and there are also a lot of ways you could fully optimize this page. However, none of that matters because we have a much larger problem. You could optimize this page until the cows come home, but you have written a pillar page about the wrong thing. And usually the mistake that people make and I will use a real world example. So I'm working with a client right now and they had a pillar page that is geared around a keyword that is more long tail.

So it's about trade show marketing strategy. That is a blog post, that is not a pillar. But what is a pillar? Trade show marketing and trade show marketing strategy is related to it. And how that manifests is in a number of different ways like literally the title of your pillar should just be like the ultimate guide in like tiny little subtext.

H1, trade show marketing, inbound marketing, SEO content strategy, something like that. And then a little bit of heading text to say who it's for and what the value is that they're going to be getting out of it. And then the URL should only be Instead of how to create a blah, blah, blah, like they are optimized by blogs, they are picking the wrong topics and it freaking kills me. So let's actually get into pillar pages because what I wanted to highlight here is that, so we say it's this big interconnected web of content but we know topic clusters have something that live right at the center and it's called a pillar page.

A pillar page is the hub of your topic cluster. It's the thing that connects all of the stuff together. It is the massive definitive guide to whatever it is that is the thing that you absolutely need to be the authority on to your ideal customers. Right?

George B. Thomas: Yeah. First of all, I love pillar pages. And, again, it it's skyscraper page, pillar page, like, whatever you wanna call it, 10 x page, whatever you wanna call it. It can be called whatever you wanna call it, but it is that piece that Liz just so eloquently talked about being in the center of the content cluster. It is the maestro, if you will, to the actual orchestra that is happening on your website around the topic that you wanna be known for.

Liz Moorehead: Another way to put it that I like to say, George, is you ever see those, like, pan over shots of LA on TV shows, and they have little, like, helipads? Think of your pillar page like the helipad at the top of a giant skyscraper. It is the thing that is like, Google, come here, come here. All of the stuff for wigs, it's the thing that ties everything together. It is the beacon in the ocean.

It is whatever horrible ham fisted metaphor. It is the thing that is beckoning. It is the milkshake that brings the search engine boys to the yard.

George B. Thomas: Oh goodness.

Liz Moorehead: Stop me.

George B. Thomas: Stop me. My goodness. Hey. Here's the thing. If it's your helipad, I hope it's heli good.

Let's just throw that out there.

Liz Moorehead: Listen to that joke, man.

George B. Thomas: So here's the thing, though. What it's not, right, it's not a landing page. It's not a service page. It's not a product page. It has some specific jobs to do, which is I think why I geek out on it so much because there's a lot of design.

There's a lot of experience. There's a lot of story. There's a lot of journey that has to happen on these pillar pages to keep people wanting to scroll 5, 10, 20000 words. And then there's a whole strategy conversation that can be had around textual audio and video content and how that plays into the pillar page itself and actually the content that that surrounds it. So, again, hopefully, you haven't created something too niche, and, hopefully, you haven't created a wall of text that nobody on the planet wants to try.

Like, if I get to the page and I feel like I'm trying to decipher, like, Egyptian hieroglyphics at a point 8 font size, I'm out, and so is everybody else that visits your page.

Liz Moorehead: Like, a piece of content is not something I would make out with at a party, I'm not interested. Is it hideous to look at? Is it only talking about itself? Is it clearly only built for the company and doesn't really give a crap about who I am?

George B. Thomas: There's so much right there. If your piece of content doesn't have an educator mentality, meaning it's showing up at work every day to help those who actually are in the classroom, AKA visit your website page, AKA are trying to move themselves from point a to point b mentally on the thing that is the hurdle or the pothole or, again, derailing them from where they're trying to get. A pillar page has to have at the base of an educator mentality.

Liz Moorehead: The way I like to think about it is and we're gonna start getting into what are the most common mistakes people make with pillar pages because I think it's a really important topic. But the way I like to think about it is this. Often what people will educate or teach people about pillar pages is that it should be the Wikipedia of the topic. Wrong wrong. Could you be more wrong?

Welcome to wrong town population you, mayor of wrong town. Really what a pillar page should do is it should be the definitive guide on that topic. However, it should solve a specific problem for a specific audience segment. Preferably people you sell to or want to become clients. Like that's like for example, George, let's talk about the fact that you have a pillar guide called the SEO content strategy guide.

You could literally write SEO content strategy, and it could be just a big old textbook. Right? You could cover everything under the sun. But I want you to talk to me a little bit about how you architected the strategy. By first talking to me about what was the mindset you went into it with?

Who are you thinking of when you built it?

George B. Thomas: That's the thing. And, again, last week's episode was about content strategy. We went into this with a strategy of who are we trying to serve. We're trying to serve the owner, the marketer that would not consider them an SEO guru or ninja. We're also trying to serve the people who are trying to lean into and understand the conversation that we had last week and today around strategy and topic clusters, pillar pages, who is trying to embrace a modern way.

Dare I say, it's the end of 2022, by the way, when we're recording this. Dare a modern way in 2023 and beyond of how do we tell a story that is focused on the actual potential consumer? How do we create a experience or journey that the searcher and search engines both enjoy? How do we pay attention to multiple content types? How do we, leverage all of this, by the way, to be a conversation starter at probably a couple of different layers?

Right? So one of the things I like to talk about in pillar pages, and we don't need to get that deep this week, but is the idea of in a pillar page, you could have multiple conversion opportunities. A conversation starter, by the way, is a conversion. So for us, one of the strategies, Liz, was at the very top. If you wanna take this away as a PDF, you can take it as a PDF.

Boom. Can't tell you. There's been a good amount of people who want that as a PDF. And by the way, this is one thing I'll state for all of you listening. Quit having your own mindset dictate what you do for your marketing that doesn't matter because other people do different things differently than you do them.

And that's probably a re

Liz Moorehead: I'm a printer. So I'm the person who prints out stuff because I don't wanna look at things while I'm staring at a computer screen because I spend all day staring at a computer screen. Sometimes, I'd like to pretend there's something called the outdoors, and I'll take myself with me.

George B. Thomas: I love the outdoors. So the idea here is maybe there's an awareness conversation starting point. Maybe there's ration or decision conversation starting point. So that guide was for those people who are trying to educate folks in a way that makes sense, that doesn't waste a metric butt ton of their time, and are wanna focus on the right things that matter for them as far as a micro, like tactical meta descriptions, titles, topics, keywords to a macro user experience, story, buyer's journey. Let's get them all of that.

Let's get them successful in 2023.

Liz Moorehead: So that's fascinating. So what I'm hearing then is that if we were to package that altogether, you and it when you say you go into it with an educator's mindset, you first have to know who you're teaching to. Like you're not just in there with an Ellis Island style auditorium where everybody come learn. You had specific people in mind, growth focused marketers and business owners who knew content was going to be a key component of how they drew organic search traffic, leads, and sales for their business, but they don't know how to execute it properly. So you created conversation starters, conversion points, you made it very digestible for them.

But all of those conversion points, I bet, were things that were actually related, which is where the topic cluster model comes into play.

George B. Thomas: That's the thing. And you have to have and by the way, I keep referencing inbound. This is where 80% of the people lost their mind. If you aren't creating content that you can link out to from a lead conversion standpoint or a continuing education standpoint, and hopefully, it's textual audio and video, so podcast, video gallery, whatever it is, different content types, different conversion points, education points that you that are around this thing, then it's not truly a pillar page. It's just a really long ass page on your website that maybe adds a little bit of value.

But here's the other thing too, Liz, when you were talking about that that I wanna plug in here. What the educator's mindset is imagine if you went to math class and they only taught you how to add and subtract and divide, but they decided that they wanted to charge you how to actually learn how to multiply. Now that is crazy to me, but that is what a that's what a lot of businesses are doing is we're gonna we're gonna teach you 3 out of the 4 things. But if you want that 4th thing, then you gotta pay me, pal. Here's what I'm trying to say by that.

When I go into creating or teaching people how to create these pillar pages, it is on the level of with an educator, there is no secret sauce. I'm gonna teach you everything that I can teach you about this thing. And if you so happen to need help because you are a busy human and don't have the time to do it yourself, then you can go here. If it's be you need help because your team needs or they need education on why we're doing it. Hey.

Then you can go here. But by no means am I ever advocating for people to create a pillar page that leaves somebody on a cliffhanger of and now you need to pay me $576,000,000,000.

Liz Moorehead: You know what? Okay. So there are a few things I wanna unpack here. Because number 1, I if you did not hear that clearly, you need to go rewind that and listen to it again, and let that sink in. Because gate Guess where I'm going?

Back to Google with someone who will give me that information for free. Educators make deals, Educators make sales. Gatekeepers just send people running in the other direction.

George B. Thomas: Which by the way, we gotta be careful because there's a difference between being a gatekeeper and selling a product or service that is worth its weight in gold, which by the way, if you listened to last week episode, you'll know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the SEO masterclass. I'll talk about it at the end of this episode too. If you're somebody that's listening to this and you're like, wait, George. I do courses.

I do master classes. I do workshops. I am no by no means talking about the services or offerings that need to be paid for. The the right? Like, you you go to college for a reason from high school.

Some people do. Right? You get that next certification because you need it or or whatever. So there is a place for yes. I need to pay for some of the education that I'm getting.

But if it's a blatant yo. I can just go find that junk, and it has no intellectual, like, property of the person that's educating it added into any yeah. I'll get off my horse.

Liz Moorehead: Oh, no. I completely understand. So here's a perfect example. So for myself currently, I'm working on a pillar around brand messaging. I'm giving away everything.

I'm talking about my frameworks, I'm talking about my methodologies but I'm doing so from an education perspective. I'm talking about my quote unquote secret sauce because I genuinely believe that brands should be empowered with that education. However, that's not gonna change that people are going to pay me to come in and make the strategy for them because these are things that you do or sell because the clients that you're serving don't have the time or the in house resources to do it and sometimes you just need an outsider expert. Gatekeeping is a little bit different, gatekeeping is I'm not gonna tell you how much something costs. Got a call for a quote.

Gatekeeping is what you just said. Right? The multiplication thing, but let's put it in a different context. Let's pretend for a moment you wrote that SEO content strategy guide and you talked about topic clusters, but we're not gonna talk about pillar page strategy. I need 4999 in order to get that information.

That's giving people incomplete information that's just annoying. Don't be icky. I love it. Okay. So let's bring this all together, right?

I want us to rattle off back and forth style. Pew pew. The most common mistakes we see people make with their topic cluster strategy or pillar page, I will go first. Your pillar page links out to your stuff, but that stuff doesn't link back to the pillar page, or all of the subtopics in your pillar in your topic cluster link to the pillar page, but that pillar page links to nothing. This is a huge problem.

The only way this interconnected network of topic cluster content does its job is if everything is linking out to the pillar page and the pillar page is linking back to everything in that topic cluster. If you do not have that linking strategy going in both directions, you will continue to see very stunted organic results. That is the number one thing I see people make. Mistake I see people make. Your turn.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. So if you're not paying attention to the font size or line height or the font you use to make it easily readable, as well as the width of the column that the content is in so that my eyeballs don't have to scroll across my entire screen. Meaning, are you paying attention to all the micro pieces to make it easily readable for the user where they don't get tired and hit the back button? Then you're making a big mistake. Again, that has a lot to do with design, and it has to do a lot with usability.

Liz Moorehead: But, George, do I have to have robust crazy graphic designs in order to have an effective eye pleasing pillar page?

George B. Thomas: No. You can keep it super simple. And when I'm talking about font, line height, and font size, those are the simplest never becomes like a wall of copy where all of a sudden I'm like, yo. Never becomes like a wall of copy where all of a sudden I'm like, yo. I didn't eat my Wheaties or my spinach this morning.

I can't read through that. That's too heavy.

Liz Moorehead: I got a text message from a friend. I don't know if you've ever seen, like, this joke, but, like, I'll get this, like, randomly massive essay, and I'm like, I'm not reading that, but congratulations or I'm sorry.

George B. Thomas: 1 of the 2.

Liz Moorehead: I don't I have no

George B. Thomas: clue. No.

Liz Moorehead: I know what we're talking about here.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. No bubble should be that tall.

Liz Moorehead: So you don't need to be, like there are some teller pages out there that are incredibly aesthetically pleasing. They clear they're clearly built by a talented designer or design teams, but you and I have both seen really minimalist clean streamlined pillar pages that do their job really well, which is making it easy for people to navigate the different sections, understand what your content is about. It's easy to read, it has a good blend of visuals and text. It includes videos if you got them. It's got some nice headings and subheadings, and bulleted lists and stuff to break things up.

It's not just like, wow, this is a monolith of words. I will never read congratulations or I'm sorry.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. No. Here's the thing. What I'll say is the way I teach this from a design perspective is that design should always be the salt and pepper or the condiment to the meal. The meal is the content.

Right? So the content has to be laid out properly, and then you can design it around it. Because one of the biggest mistakes I've seen is that it's over designed, and so it takes away from the attention of what I'm trying to educate, a k a educator mentality. And so, yeah, it can be minimalist, or it can be uber creative, but creative in a way that again leads the content to be the hero on the stage. Now one place though that I'll say from a design perspective that I've seen a major issue is with that table of contents character that we have.

Because if you have a table of contents and it just lives at the top of your page, and when you scroll past it, it disappears to be seen no more, it truly is only doing half of its job. Let me explain. The table of contents, one thing it needs to do is it needs to allow your users to immediately diagnose value. Oh, section 4 is exactly what I'm looking for. Let me click on this link and go down and start to read.

Because if we historically think about how humans interact with blog articles, we'll do a search, we'll get to the blog article, we'll scroll down the page and look at the h twos and h threes, AKA the subheads. We'll say, oh, this is gonna be add value. This is for me. I'm gonna scroll up to the top, and I'm gonna read this blog article. You cannot ask somebody to do that with 5, 10, 20, 40000 words.

So the table of contents, job 1 is I can diagnose value. Is this for me or not? The second piece of this though is can it easily help me get to the next section that I wanna read after I'm deep in section 4? And so one of the things I always talk about with table of contents, and again, you can visually do this a couple different ways. It could be at, like, a sticky header.

It could be a sticky sidebar, but it's sticky somewhere where no matter if I'm in section 2, 5, or 17, I can get to that table of contents. I can get back to the next section that I wanna go to, or I can just get back to the top of the page and download that PDF and go for a hike and sit at the top of a mountain and read it in, like, paper form if I wanted to.

Liz Moorehead: But see, good sticky, though, not icky sticky. We already said we're not here for content. So another

George B. Thomas: It's not it's not the gum on the bottom of your shoes sticky. It's like post it note useful. Oh, yeah. Remind yourself to do something sticky.

Liz Moorehead: Before I turn my next mistake, one of the things I do wanna mention is I did a pillar page. I don't know if it's still live anymore, but a long time ago, that was about blogging tips. And I've seen for the most part, people tend to write their their pillar pages in a very linear chronological fashion. In fact, my content is so hot, you can hear the cops. That's what's up.

That's what's up. That's right. Seamlessly blending in background noise as part of the story. No. I'm just kidding.

But one of my favorite things that I did on that blogging tips one is instead of going like chapter 1 blank, I went, I need help with introductions. I need help with outlining. I need help with picking a topic. And so I made it more choose your adventure style because the topic itself, it didn't really have like beginning, middle and end. Technically it did, but you can create opportunities for people to just dive exactly in where they need to go.

Now the next mistake that I see a lot and we touched on this a little bit earlier is, is it good to have a form on there? Absolutely. Most of the pillar pages I have made have had anywhere between 15 to 35% conversion rates, which is on par with landing page averages, assuming everything was gated. Seriously, people will download these things. However, if you have it fully gated, I had this happen, somebody submitted a thing, hey, can you take a look at our pillar page?

It was just a landing page with a form, and it was a downloadable PDF. And I had to just repress every urge in my body to be like, I regret to inform you, this is a new book, not a pillar pitch. If it's gated, you got a problem. If it's fully gated and no one can access it, it is the cornerstone of SEO content strategy, guys. If it's gated and search engines can't find it, what are you doing?

George B. Thomas: So as we kinda wrap up with this episode, the one thing I'll say that just fundamentally blows my mind when I'm looking at pillar pages for folks, which by the way, if you would be interested in Liz and I together or separately looking at your pillar pages and giving you some type of diagnosis, hit us up and let us know on socials or somewhere. And because I have an idea that might be a really cool additional show in the future around pillar page content, but I digress. One of the things that blows my mind is that if I get done reading your pillar page and I have zero clues where I'm supposed to go or what I'm supposed to do next to either educate myself more or embrace your brand in a product or service, we have done ourself a disservice. What are the next step actions after I have 5, 10, 20,000 words of education under my belt? Thanks to you, the hub hero who has created the content.

Liz Moorehead: George, there I wanna give my one thing. I'll just go ahead and get my one thing out of the way. My one thing is that no matter who you are or what you do or what you sell, topic clusters and pillar pages, they may evolve over time, but you need to embrace the fact that the way we architect our content strategies has fundamentally changed. And you have to make a decision. Are you gonna be Cheesecake Factory?

Or are you gonna be disorganized Cheesecake Factory who will never get my money no matter how good your avocado egg rolls are? Like it just won't happen because I won't be able to find them in the menu. So there's that piece of it, but I could also imagine a scenario in which people are walking away going, I feel like I just I've gotten so much information, but I still have lots of questions. How How do I know what topic clusters are right for me? I still am struggling to really wrap my brain around the changes that Google has made.

I get the idea of being an educator on our pillar page but like how do what is that lather rinse repeat strategy that I can use every single time when I'm building a pillar page? And, George, I know you have something to share. We talked about it last week, but let's bring it back.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. So first of all, by the way, my one thing for this episode is

Liz Moorehead: I didn't wanna know. I didn't

George B. Thomas: want I'm just kidding. I'm gonna give you that though first. Is simplify the complex. Simplify the experience simplify the copy simplify the design simplify the process that Google and the searcher have to go through to educate themselves on the things that they need to know, and you will be victorious. Now here's the thing.

How do you simplify all of this complexity that we've talked about for the last 2 weeks? You head over to forward slash SEO, and you actually sign up for the SEO content master class where you have the instructors, which are myself and Liz. For 6 weeks, you have access to us for an hour for each of the meetings, plus you know how we roll. If you hit us up via email and ask questions or hit us up on social, we're gonna be there to help you be successful. But if you get a premium seat, you get even another level of our eyes and brains on the content that you've created or will be creating in the future, and it really is a way to just put a flag in the sand or draw a line of sand or put a flag in the ground or whatever analogy you wanna use of for 2023, we're gonna do this.

We're gonna educate ourself on it, and it's gonna impact the content return on investment or content ROI for our company in ways that we can't even fathom at this point. And it's just by getting the education you need to simplify this complexity around blog pages, website pages, topic pages, conversion points, storytelling, experience, all of the things that are like, whoo, it's a lot.

Liz Moorehead: It it reminds me of something, and again, maybe this is because it's almost lunch time when we're recording this. Think about your content strategy like a beautiful steak. Now I'm not here to start any wars about what anybody considers to be their ideal temperature. But for me, that's a sweet little medium rare juicy that I want. Right?

Here's the problem. Here's the problem. If you serve me a content steak that is well done to the point of overdone, I don't care what kind of bearnaise sauce there is. I don't care what kind of Roquefort cheese crust you're putting on top. I don't care the mushroom glaze that will be atop of it.

It still sucks. I still won't want it. I'm going to take one bite of it and just be angry at you forever. So if you'd like your content to not be like a sad steak from sad restaurant, you need to be at this master class. Because over 6 weeks, we're gonna be talking about why we're here.

We're gonna go in more in-depth about the technology piece of it. How you actually develop topic clusters and pillar pages, where you're not only putting in the correct effort around the right things, you're always going to see that ROI in the bottom line of your business. We're gonna talk about how you develop topic clusters around what you do or sell. How you build pillar pages with an educator's mindset. How you make people excited about the content that you're creating.

How you actually report on the ROI of your content so people can see you're always bringing home the revenue. Okay. I'm just really hungry. I'm sorry.

George B. Thomas: Yeah. But here's the thing. First of all, 2 things, and then we'll let you get out of here, ladies and gentlemen. 1, when I heard you talk about the steak at all the different sauces, I realized to myself how sad I was and that I must be eating at the wrong places because half of those things, I don't think I've ever tried on a steak.

Liz Moorehead: Wanna say. What Have a steak with Minneapolis, man.

George B. Thomas: I need to because I'm very sad right now. But here's the other thing that I realized that the Hub Heroes listeners need to realize, and that is because they are a Hub Heroes listener, they can use the word hub hero or the word hub heroes at checkout, and they will actually get a special little prize, which is a 10% off of either basic or the advanced seat. Whichever one they pick, they're gonna get a discount for being a Hub Heroes listener.

Liz Moorehead: And on that note, George, it's been a pleasure. I hope everybody who celebrated whatever holiday you're celebrating around this season had a great time with friends or family or your cats or your dogs or your guinea pigs. But from us here at Help Heroes to all of you, happy New Year, Merry Christmas.

George B. Thomas: Holiday, Kwanzaa, all the things. Like, here's the thing. What I'll put this, just happiness and joy. And you know what? Here's to kicking ass and taking names in 2023.

Okay, hub heroes. We've reached the end of another episode. Will lord lack continue to loom over the community, or will we be able to defeat him in the next episode of the hub heroes podcast? Make sure you tune in and find out in the next episode. Make sure you head over to the hub to get the latest episodes and become part of the league of heroes.

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