Cornerstone content helps users and search engines understand your area of expertise.
Once search engines view you as an authority for a particular topic, you’ll find it easier to rank for keywords related to that topic.
This makes cornerstone content essential for every SEO strategy.
In this post, we’ll discuss how to create cornerstone content and various examples of excellent cornerstone content.
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What Is Cornerstone Content?
Cornerstone content, sometimes referred to as pillar content, is a long-form blog post that provides a general overview of a broad topic.
Cornerstone content pieces often have “ultimate guide” or “beginners’ guide” in the title as they are designed to provide a complete snapshot of a topic. Most cornerstone content is well over 2,000 words long, though some can be over 5,000 words long.
An example of a cornerstone piece of content is our content marketing guide.
The content marketing guide provides a general overview of what content marketing is, though rather than going into too much detail on any one subtopic, it links out to other blog posts on each subtopic. For example, it links out to specific blog posts on content marketing examples, content marketing strategy, generating content ideas, and creating a content marketing calendar.
This internal linking structure is a key characteristic of cornerstone content, which makes it such a critical aspect of a high quality SEO strategy.
What Is The Benefit Of Cornerstone Content?
Cornerstone content is helpful for SEO.
Search engines want to show their users content from experts, and one method they use to determine your website’s authority and expertise on a topic is analyzing how thoroughly a website covers that particular topic.
To illustrate this, consider the following scenario.
Website A has over 100 high quality (quality is still critical) articles on cat health, whereas Website B only has two articles on cat health among hundreds of other articles related to travel tips.
In this case, Website A will likely be seen as the more authoritative source on cat health.
(Note: topical authority isn’t the only consideration search engines take into account when determining rankings, though it is a significant factor.)
So if you want to dominate the search engines for a particular keyword, create a cornerstone blog post (e.g., “cat health”) and then add internal links to your other blog posts targeting various subtopics mentioned within the cornerstone piece of content (“best cat supplements” “wet food vs. dry food for cats,” “how much to feed a cat,” etc.) can help your website establish itself as an expert on that topic.
As a result, you’ll likely see all your content related to that topic rise in the search results.
Below, we’ll tactically discuss how you can create cornerstone content, from finding the best topic keyword and writing to post to implementing an internal linking strategy and promoting your new cornerstone article for maximum reach.
How To Create Cornerstone Content
Below we’ll discuss the step-by-step process of creating cornerstone content.
Step 1: Identify The Main Topic And Keyword
A cornerstone content strategy typically doesn’t require detailed keyword research because the keyword you’re targeting is just the main topic (often referred to as the “head term”).
An example of a cornerstone keyword might be “cat health.”
A common concern is that head terms are the most competitive keywords, and few websites have the authority necessary to show up for them in the SERPs.
For example, “cat health” has a difficulty level of 64 (quite high) and is dominated by an authoritative website like petMD.
It’s true that you likely won’t rank for that keyword right now if you have a newer website or a website with a fraction of the links.
However, creating a cornerstone piece of content for that keyword is still relevant if cat health is the main topic you plan to discuss on your website. This is because great cornerstone content anchors the rest of your content targeting long-tail keywords.
So even if the cornerstone content doesn’t rank for the head term, you’ll likely see your other content targeting those longer tail keywords rise in the rankings because search engines can see that you’re an authority on that topic.
Without that cornerstone piece of content, it would be much more difficult for search engines to deduce that you’re an expert on cat health.
Nevertheless, most websites only ever need one piece of cornerstone content.
Even here at Copyblogger, while the website generates over 50,000 monthly visits and has a very high domain rating, we only have eight pieces of cornerstone content; content marketing, search engine optimization, copywriting, email marketing, internet marketing, landing pages, conversion rate optimization, and sales pages.
And even eight pieces is probably more cornerstone content than necessary.
So, there probably won’t be a lot of keyword research at this stage. Instead, select the head term that best matches the main topic you want your website to be viewed as an authority on.
Step 2: Map Out Various Additional Subtopics
Once you’ve defined the main topic that you’ll create your content cluster around, map out the various subtopics you’ll discuss within the cornerstone content piece.
Essentially, your cornerstone content should provide a general overview of the topic and address frequently asked questions that people typically have regarding that topic.
You can use ChatGPT to help you build your outline, though be sure to edit it yourself. For example, I asked it to create an outline for my article on “cat health:”
Here’s the full outline it generated:
This is pretty good, but you might still want to edit the outline yourself to add any critical subtopics that someone searching the main topic would want to know about or omit any sections that are irrelevant.
Remember that for each subsection (e.g., “grooming and care,” “exercise and physical activity,” etc.), you’ll eventually create individual blog posts that go into more detail for each of those topics.
Step 3: Creating And Optimizing The Content
The next step is to write the content for your cornerstone content. Like any other piece of evergreen content, follow the best practices for creating a high quality blog post, like:
- Including the keyword in the title tag and the first paragraph of the post.
- Providing unique value from all of the other content ranking in the SERPs.
- Using a tool like Surfer or Clearscope to add relevant keywords throughout the blog post.
The only major difference is that you don’t need to go too in-depth on any particular subsection within the content because you’ll be linking out to a blog post that covers the topic in more detail.
Instead, the cornerstone content page is more of a map that people can use to explore various subtopics within the broader topic.
Therefore, adding internal links is critical to creating a successful cornerstone content page.
We touched on internal linking above, but an internal link is essentially a link to another page on your website. In this case, it would be a link to a blog post on a particular subtopic you discuss in your cornerstone content.
For example, the screenshot below is one subsection inside the content marketing guide. You can see that the words “content marketing strategy” are linked to a blog post dedicated specifically to creating a content marketing strategy.
So even though the content marketing guide provides a brief overview of how to create a content marketing strategy, the link sends the reader to a more detailed guide on creating a content marketing strategy with more tactical information and examples.
This helps search engines find your related posts, and it also makes it easy for users to go deeper into your website. Keeping users on your website is a positive engagement signal to search engines, which can help increase your rankings, and it also helps you build a stronger relationship with your readers.
To maximize the benefits of internal linking, be sure to also link back to the main cornerstone content page.
So a great internal linking structure looks like this:
It’s also important to note that most cornerstone content pieces are lengthy – often well over 2,000 words.
Most people won’t read the entire blog post. Instead, they’ll just scroll through the post and pause at the sections that are most relevant to them.
So if your post is difficult to scroll through, they’ll probably just leave it.
To make it easier to scroll and quickly find the sections they’re most interested in, include a table of contents, sticky sidebar, and subheaders.
Here’s a great example of an outstanding user experience from SEMrush:
While it may seem counterintuitive, making it easier for people to skim your blog post will actually keep them on your website longer, as most people will simply leave your website if they are immediately overwhelmed by a block of text.
You can also optimize the content for readability by adding screenshots and graphics, using bullet points, and bolding or underlining important concepts.
Backlinko‘s blog also offers an excellent outstanding user experience. You’ll notice that the sentence structure is short and to the point, none of the paragraphs are very long, and there are plenty of bullet points, graphics, and images to easily communicate key points.
Step 4: Promoting Cornerstone Content
After publishing your cornerstone content, there’s a good chance it won’t immediately rank for the desired keyword – especially if you’re in a highly competitive niche.
In fact, it may be years before you rank for the head term.
As mentioned earlier, creating cornerstone content is still useful both for earning topical authority and increasing rankings for long tail keywords.
Yet one powerful strategy to increase the likelihood of ranking for the main head term is earing backlinks from other authoritative websites in your niche to the cornerstone content.
While there are many different methods to earn backlinks (and they are always changing!), the common denominator of all successful link building methods is that they provide value to the other website/company you’re asking for a link from. Some common methods to provide value to other websites include:
- Offering to refresh their content for free in exchange for a link.
- Identifying outdated or broken links to content similar to the new cornerstone content you created.
- Paying for a link.
It’s important to note that these active link building are discouraged by Google, but the reality is that links can significantly improve your rankings. So, use these methods with caution.
Instead, my favorite method is to either create content that attracts links or build legitimate relationships with industry influencers so that they organically link to you.
Here are some methods to attract links to your cornerstone content:
- Include new statistics or data
- Discuss case studies or unique examples
- Include quotes from industry experts
Here are some methods to build genuine relationships that result in links:
- Offer to do a content collaboration (podcast episode, video, etc.)
- Offer to sponsor an event
- Offer to promote their content for free
At the end of the day, building real relationships with people is the most sustainable method to earn links, as those relationships can compound and result in more links down the road and other higher-level collaborations that can help promote your brand.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in KPIs like brand awareness, organic traffic, and backlinks, it’s important to realize that the end goal is to build the business, and building real relationships tends to contribute the most to both earning links and other larger business goals.
You can also do influencer marketing collaborations and ask industry leaders to promote your cornerstone content through their newsletters and social media channels.
Step 5: Content Updating And Refreshing
Finally, your cornerstone content is never really “done.” As you build out more blog posts targeting subtopics related to your main content, update your main pillar content with short sections on those topics, or at least add internal links (when relevant).
Updating content not only helps your content targeting longer tail keywords rank higher, but it also shows search engines that your content is fresh.
Given that search engines want to show their users up-to-date content, making these minor content refreshes is helpful.
It’s also important to eliminate any information as it becomes outdated and add new information as necessary. For example, this piece of content is actually a refreshed version of an older blog post targeting the same keyword.
Since the original version of this blog post was published, a lot has changed. For example, you can now use ChatGPT to create an outline. So updating it to include these new strategies that are more efficient than previous best practices is important.
Excellent Examples of Cornerstone Content
You already saw that the Copyblogger content marketing guide is an example of a cornerstone piece of content, though here are a few additional examples of cornerstone content.
Example #1: Bankrate: How To Buy A House
Bankrate specializes in financial education, so it’s no surprise that one of their main cornerstone content pages covers the topic of buying a house.
It has an excellent user experience and includes bullet point lists under each subcategory that make it easy for the reader to quickly scan.
You’ll also notice that it includes internal links to other more detailed blog posts on subtopics, like maintaining a home.
Example #2: Healthline: The Ketogenic Diet
Healthline also has an excellent example of a cornerstone piece of content on the ketogenic diet.
It includes information on what the keto diet is, how it works, a sample diet, benefits, risks, and even healthy keto snacks. For each section, there’s a link out to a more specific blog post on that topic. For example, this blog post links out to a blog post with a more detailed sample keto meal plan:
They also offer a summary at the end of each section:
Example #3: Moz: Beginners Guide To SEO
Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO is the poster child of cornerstone content. It is a full guide with individual chapters for each of the SEO topics it discusses.
Each chapter also links out to more specific blog posts on relevant topics mentioned.
For example, one of the sections mentions anchor text, so it links out to a blog post about anchor text:
Example #4:HubSpot: Guide To Creating A Sales Process
HubSpot has plenty of excellent examples of cornerstone content, and one of them is their guide to creating a sales process.
It delivers an excellent user experience with clear chapters and plenty of design elements that make it easy to skim:
You can also see that they have an excellent internal linking strategy. For example, they link out to blog posts on “prospecting” and “qualifying new leads” within each of those sections:
Take The Next Steps Today
Creating cornerstone content is a great way to organize your content for search engines and establish your website as a topical authority in a specific niche.
Following these steps will help you build your cornerstone content, though if you want more assistance with your broader content marketing strategy, you can join the Copyblogger Academy, where you can ask me and the Copyblogger team specific questions. You’ll also have access to courses on content marketing, SEO, personal branding, and other marketing topics.
Though even more importantly, you’ll have access to a group of peers who are also dedicated to improving their content marketing skills.
Alternatively, if you just want a content strategy done for you, reach out to the Digital Commerce Partners. They’re the team behind the Copyblogger brand and can create and execute a content strategy for you.