Many years ago I coined the phrase “Pillar Article” or sometimes called, “Pillar Content“, to describe how to create great blog content.
To my surprise, it really 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 –
The video above 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 a couple of years old, 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, so watch it).
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:
The most important outcome is traffic. 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 long term, 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 a month 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…
The reason why it’s harder today to create pillar effects is because –
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 too. 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 any other quality sources of information.
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….
Here are four NEW formats you can leverage to give yourself a better chance of creating pillar articles.
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.
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.
Here it is embedded, click it for the full scale version –
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 inforgraphic. Thanks to Blaine Moore for sharing this resource with me.
This one technique alone may be enough to put your blog on the map. Do not underestimate the power of a virally shared infographic (*again, scribbles down note on to-do list*).
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.
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 –
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.
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 content 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 track from my video available as a direct download MP3, a podcast on my iTunes channel and transcribe it into a PDF with pictures along with the content from this article for download and easy printing. I could also add to the MP3 version by reading out the words of this article too.
Phew, that’s a lot content and a lot of work!
And 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.
Of course that’s what makes it so 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.
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 month’s into this blog’s life) –
You probably can’t tell because social media wasn’t around when I wrote it, but that article was and still is a pillar for EJ, bringing in lots of links and search traffic for years after it was published. It still ranks on the first page in Google, at least for me in Australia, for the phrase “what is a podcast“, which has been one of the top 5 referring search phrases in my traffic statistics for years.
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 as 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, just as Pat did, 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 options are countless, and you never know how other people use the web, so make it easier for them by giving every format you can.
Don’t forget beyond what I already mentioned, written text, PDF download, audio MP3 download and podcast, video download and streaming video, there is also the recorded webinar and teleconference format and other newer tools like Google+ Hangouts, which can be streamed live, recorded and then published in all the different modalities.
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 at most and keep people up to date as things uravel. 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.
Here in Australia the only two news sites I frequent are 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.
Two years ago Brisbane had a major flood. It was the biggest flood in over 30 years and the first to hit with the internet and social media to cover it.
You can see the portal page Brisbanetimes created to cover the floods here –
Note the big white space at the top was where the latest news video and previous video coverage links appeared when the news was current.
When the coverage was live, this page had rolling time-stamped coverage presented top to bottom in chronological order, just as it happened. You could literally keep your browser on this page and every few minutes something new would pop up.
Right now as I type this, tech news site The Verge has what they call a “Hub” page for their coverage of CES, the big Consumer Electronics Show in the USA. CNET has a special coverage page just for CES too.
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.
You might even look to my How You Can Start Page here on EJ an example of this format, although it’s not dynamically updated, it’s more like a library set in a specific order.
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.
I can hear you groaning now.
All of this is just too hard. Too much work.
It’s tough enough just 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 or quick and cheap methods to offer other formats.
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. If you have an outsourced transcriber, you could 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 hindsight, is you get better and quicker the longer you practice, as does technology. 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 press 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. The video below is an example of producing content that is “quick and cheap”. My Yaro.TV daily videos take less than 15 minutes to shoot and upload.
I use my VADO HD pocket camera, press record, talk it out, transfer the file to my computer, upload it to YouTube and share it via social media. Done.
Here is the video I did about this article –
And learn how to build a better blog.