Cornerstone content revisited: how to boost your site rank and traffic
Last Updated on April 1, 2021 Getting traffic to your website can be a brutal process, especially if you don’t know where to turn. And paid traffic from Facebook or Google Ads stops as soon as you finish paying. So in addition to a paid strategy, it’s essential to make your site and your content search engine friendly so that you can gradually increase your rank and discoverability.
Cornerstone content is a crucial element to help make this happen.
If you are familiar with basic SEO concepts:
Then read on, because one of the most effective ways to boost your site rank and traffic is to use cornerstone content.
Once you understand how cornerstone content can be applied to your website, you will notice improvements and clarity in the way Google algorithms index and rank your content, and the chance of your articles appearing on page one of search results increases. It takes a bit of time to kick in, but SEO activities are seldom a “quick fix”, and more often an investment in a long-term and ever-green approach.
This article will explore what to include with your cornerstone content, and how you can use it to boost traffic and link your existing content to it strategically.
If you are pretty new to SEO:
Some people think of SEO as a confusing and complex set of technical tricks for people to discover your content on search engines. The reality for many businesses and blogs is that there is a lot of competition out there for popular search keywords and that their site does not have the overall search engine authority to help them rank their articles anywhere near the top page of search results.
However, with a little work and patience, an investment in understanding how search engines work is well worth it. If you are new to the topic, please check out our completely free course on SEO, a resource designed to provide easy to follow steps and recipes to increase your site’s visibility and rank.
The course is geared towards podcasters, but everything in it also applies to blogs or business sites following a content strategy.
What is Cornerstone Content?
Cornerstone content is made up of your hero content, such as pages and blog articles on your website. These should be your most compelling and essential pieces.
They should answer your site visitors most significant questions, explain your business approach and topic of interest in great details, and in general be content you are most proud of.
The articles should reflect your business, communicate the mission, and provide well-written explanations.
How does Cornerstone Content Work?
Cornerstone content relies on an internal link building approach. Most other articles on your site should repeatedly link to your cornerstone content by way of explaining important and repeating concepts on your site.
These multiple links then create a roadmap for search engines to recognize that these cornerstone articles are the most important pages your site has to offer, and this will increase the rank of these pages on Google and other search engines.
Google loves well-organized content, and this overall linking strategy creates a spider web of internal links Google loves.
We’ve illustrated this spider web of links to your cornerstone content in the main graphic for this post, click on this small thumbnail to see the full-size version.
Using Categories to Select Your Cornerstone Topics
If you are already running a site with well-organized content, the likelihood is that categories help organize it.
One approach to cornerstone content is to create a hero “cornerstone content” post for each category. All the other articles in the category should then refer to and link to this post.
Of course, some people have way too many categories on their site, and from my perspective, this is a mistake. In my opinion, a handful of categories are more effective than dozens. Perhaps focusing on launching your cornerstone content is a good opportunity to clean up your categories and tag structure. There are easy methods for category cleanup out there to help do this.
Importance of Keywords
When you’re deciding on your cornerstone content, you need to consider the keywords you want to rank for carefully.
In our aforementioned SEO course, we provide many tools, tips, and tricks on how to conduct keyword research that is effective for your site.
Do not fall into the trap of trying to rank for keywords your site has no chance of ever achieving a page 1 result for – your keywords need to be commensurate with your current site rank, and this can be different from site to site. (We have a formula for that in the course)
For this reason, I like using the term “key phrase” better than “keyword”, which implies a single word. Often the key phrase will be a combination of two or more words that people are actually searching for on Google.
So you are looking for key phrases that are low in competition (The concept of keyword difficulty), but relatively high in search traffic.
In any case, you should make these keywords unique, and use them only once on your site – for your cornerstone article. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that repeatedly optimizing pages for the same keyword is helpful: it will only dilute the importance the Google algorithm assigns to the page.
Blog articles or pages?
There is often some amount of debate among SEO experts if cornerstone content should consist of blog articles or of pages on your site. Many marketers recommend setting up cornerstone content as pages. I agree, but there is no technical SEO advantage to creating pages over posts, they are ranked the same.
The benefit is that pages have over posts are
- In most themes, pages do not display dates, and it is good for your cornerstone content to appear timeless
- Pages can be organized in menu structures, making them easy to find
But there are ways to get around this, on some WordPress themes you can suppress the display of dates on blog posts.
This brings me to another SEO trick: from time to time it is good to update your cornerstone content to keep it fresh. Personally what I do is to put a “Last updated XX/XX/XXX” at the very beginning of the post, and I have seen Google increase the post rank after doing this. So this is a “trick” to get a small additional boost for cornerstone content created some time ago.
As far as making cornerstone content easy to find, for me, most traffic is coming from search and social media.
This means people are likely to land on my blog, and not focusing on navigating my menu structures. So what I have done is to position cornerstone articles prominently and permanently on the top of my blog page, in a “sticky” manner. Besides, you can easily include blog articles in your menu structure if that helps.
So in my case cornerstone content is easily left as blog entries instead of converting these articles to pages.
Article Quality as Well as Length Matters
The goal of cornerstone content is to serve your site visitor, not just to increase your rank.
It goes without saying that your cornerstone articles should be of great quality, communicate your value proposition, are easy to read, have lots of images, and be SEO optimized with all the tips and techniques we teach in our free SEO course for podcasters and bloggers.
But how do you define quality? Spare a thought as to what would make a really useful resource for your audience and topic, one that people would love to share on social media, are likely to bookmark or revisit as a reference from time to time. If you can manage to make your page or post so compelling that people bookmark and share, then you will have won half the battle.
So a 300-word quickie article will not cut it, and the likelihood is that your site visitors would be more impressed and bookmark a 5000-word manifesto. Which brings us to length.
You SEO veterans out there will be aware that article length matters to Google. Google attributes more importance to articles over 300 words in length. Another inflection point occurs at 700 words, and then again at 2000 words.
So when it comes to cornerstone content, longer articles still are even better, but they should definitely be over 2000 words.
We’ve seen cases where we ranked a client’s page to be #1 on Google within a week, using a specifically designed and optimized long-form article for the search term desired.
Google “customer experience podcast” for example, and you should see our client’s article in position #1: What we did is to create an article to summarize the experience and insights for the first 50 episodes of her podcast. We SEO optimized the article, and her fans and listeners loved it and shared the article widely, and within a few weeks, her post ranked on the top for the desired search term.
Writing Clearly: A Confession And Three Tips
Cornerstone content should be written clearly. I have a confession to make, I seem to have a hard time doing this. There are tools out there to provide a “readability score”, and I tend to get a failing grade quite often. English is not my first language, but that’s just an excuse. So if you are like me and tend to express yourself with complexity, here are some tips and tools to help:
- Keep your paragraphs super short
- Break up content with frequent headings
- The Hemingway App is a wonderful online tool that evaluates your writing in real time and then starts marking your content progressive shades of red as it gets too complex. It will keep you writing with Hemingway-esque brevity. And punish you for using too many adverbs:)
- Grammarly is another writing tool that is useful for both advanced spell chack and grammar suggestions, however it does little in terms of simplification.
Some Cornerstone Content Ideas For Inspiration
I am sure you can come up with a ton of ideas for your blog, site or topic, but here are some cornerstone content ideas for you to consider and to help get you started.
A Definitive Resource Guide
A collection of curated external and internal links, resources, sites, video, podcasts, books etc. Describe each resource and do not just provide a list of links, but go into detail about why they are useful and in what scenario they lend value.
A Manifesto Post
A detailed explanation of your worldview, philosophy, approach to your topics, summarizing your truths and then going into detail explaining your position. These can be controversial in nature, which adds to the shareability.
A Research Results Post
Conducting your own primary research around a topic in your niche is one of the best ways to build blog content that gets attention. Go into details, include graphics and references.
Create a multi-part tutorial on a topic you know your audience would love, but which also represents your site’s topic well.
Crowd Sourced Influencer Post
Bring multiple influencers together to answer a single question in short form. When you get 10 influencers to give you 300 words each on a single topic – you’ve got a powerful blog post.
Podcast Episodes Roundup
If you have a podcast summarize the insights and best resources gathered in your last 50 episodes.
Internal Site Linking To Cornerstone Content
Once you have created a piece of cornerstone content, it is time to identify all the other articles on your site that should link to it. One approach would be to go into a list of every article within your chosen category or to use a list of related tags.
However, there is a more effective method to identify content that Google already thinks is related: Using Google Internal Site Search.
Go to Google and search for your keyword or key phrase in the following format: (for multiple words making up a key phrase, place these in quotes as in my own example below)
So on my site, for example, this is what it would look like for a piece of cornerstone content about podcast production
site:polymash.com "podcast production"
This will result in a list of articles Google already thinks are relevant to the topic. The last step is to modify each of these articles to link to your cornerstone content article from within the text.
It is important to note that links in the sidebar of through a footer widget do not carry as much weight as links from within these posts themselves, so find a paragraph with some text from where it makes sense to link to your cornerstone content article.
External Links to Related Content
Don’t think that cornerstone content should link only to your internal articles. Providing links to other authority sites is helpful to the reader, and establishes other resources to consider on your general topic.
However, I have one caveat: I usually provide external links near the bottom of my articles, because I want to encourage people to read my article first before jumping off somewhere else. This also helps reduce my bounce rate in the process, another SEO ranking factor.
Case in point: Here are some great external articles on Cornerstone Content:
- Copyblogger: Cornerstone Content Defined in 60 Seconds [Animated Video]
- Yoast: Using cornerstone content to make your site rank
- Rank Tree: What is Cornerstone Content?
The Landing Page Approach
Another useful way of thinking about structuring cornerstone content posts is to take a landing page approach.
This means removing menus, distracting sidebars, and adding a table of contents near the top. Of course, you still want to enable your visitor to find menus and navigation for the rest of your site, but this menu can occur on the bottom of your page (Also sometimes referred to “Upside Down Home Page”, one of the inbound design patterns we often talk about.)
Cornerstone content should attract visitors to easily find core information about you, your topic, service or industry. When done right, it will serve your visitors and help put your other content into context, while at the same time helping you rank for more difficult and competitive keywords.
Using these simple tips and tricks will ensure your cornerstone content is ready to go.
Last Updated on April 1, 2021
Juergen you have enlightened and motivated me alot more in not only the writing aspect of my own cornerstone writing, but have also clarified the way in which linking TO a new cornerstone article should work.
I have lots of existing blog articles I ca menticulously go through and work from, but it is good finding this one “tutorial”….thank you!
Thanks Dan, fun cartoons – can’t wait to see your cornerstone article once it’s up and running…
This is a well written post. But I have a few questions.
Please, what is the recommended number of internal links to a page?
Hi Lawrence: From the articles I have read on the subject, there should be at least 5 supporting articles linking to a cornerstone piece of content. So the way I think of this is to plan 1 cornerstone article, and then 5 additional articles to link to it.
And perhaps there are already existing older articles on your blog you can use to link to the cornerstone article, it’s just a matter of going back and editing these slightly. (PS, updating older articles is also a great opportunity to add a small comment at the top each articles that says “last updated on XX/XX/XXXX – which also helps SEO)
Hope this helps…
Juergen, thanks for that tip.
When I saw your reply to my comment this evening, a thought came to my head.
Even though that I know you must be very busy, I will like you to consider this project below in your spare time.
So, I am sincerely begging you to conduct an SEO case study on wether a brand NEW domain with no backlink whatsoever can be ranked on Google for a medium or high competition keyword using your “PILLAR CONTENT” strategy.
LOL done this several times already. You can’t really rank a new domain for medium to high keywords immediately – until you’ve targeted lower value and longer tail keywords. The real trick is to carefully select WHICH keywords, ones that your site is commensurate with in terms of ranking power. I use a formula and KWFinder for this and I’ve written about the approach here:
Part of my free SEO course for bloggers and podcasters here
So it is a ramping up effort. 3-6 months…
on a page not more than 100 internal links including everything like categories url, products url, buy now urls etc.