These days, everyone knows they need content. It’s hard to find a website without a blog.
But that need also creates a unique challenge: The web is full of noise. There’s an ocean of content to compete with, and if you want to stand out, you have to be remarkable.
400-word mini-articles that barely address a topic just aren’t good enough anymore. If you want to rank well and capture the finite attention of modern web users, you must craft content with tremendous value.
You need cornerstone content.
What is Cornerstone Content?
Cornerstone content refers to web pages that are essential to your site’s purpose. They are filled with fundamental, comprehensive information that your visitors need to know. They are well written, designed to rank highly on Google’s search results pages, and worth linking to. Cornerstone content pages are also used to attract visitors and carry them throughout your website.
Cornerstone content pages are just what they sound like: Pages that support your other content. They are gateways your visitors use to discover your website and explore its pieces.
A cornerstone page is a long, in-depth article that completely covers a topic and links to other pages of your website. It’s a “hub” leading visitors into deeper pages.
Carefully crafted cornerstone pages are highly shareable, rank well on Google’s search result pages, guide visitors to other parts of your site, and collect backlinks. Because of their tremendous value, these pages should be placed high in your website’s structure.
Cornerstone content has several names; it’s often also called hub and spoke content, pillar content, flagship content, home base and outpost content, head and shoulder content, etc. All these terms show that cornerstone pages are critical to your website’s performance and the foundation of a good content marketing plan.
They’re so important, in fact, that creating cornerstone pages should be a priority for anyone who is building a new website or promoting an existing website. Once they’re created, they should be reviewed, updated, and optimized regularly to stay fresh.
A cornerstone page should be text heavy. Multimedia like videos, images, and embedded Tweets are useful, but Google needs lots of text to evaluate a page. These pages should be 1,000 words at the minimum, but longer content performs better (notice this page is more than 3,000 words).
Most importantly, cornerstone content should be pages on your website, not a YouTube video, Medium article, or Facebook post. You need complete control of the content and you want to benefit from the SEO value.
In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of cornerstone content, show you several examples of excellent cornerstone content, and tell you how to create your own.
The Benefits of Cornerstone Content
Before you spend hours creating cornerstone content, you should know why you’re creating it. Let’s go over the benefits.
1. Cornerstone content captures backlinks.
Your cornerstone pages should be informative and comprehensive. They should cover their topics so completely and effectively that they are the obvious choice when another content creator wants to link to a source.
2. Cornerstone content attracts a lot of traffic.
Your cornerstone pages will rank well for short-tail keywords, meaning they’ll appear high on Google’s results pages for terms that people search for often. This creates an impressive flow of traffic into the top of your website’s marketing funnel.
3. Cornerstone content captures subscribers.
People love web pages that add value to their lives. If you can associate your website with tremendous value and usefulness, your traffic will be happy to subscribe to receive additional content. This effect is amplified if your cornerstone page entices readers with a lead magnet. We highly recommend using content upgrades to collect subscribers.
4. Cornerstone content makes other content more accessible.
Your cornerstone pages will excel at sending traffic to other portions of your website that go into more detail on subtopics. For instance, you might have a cornerstone page called “Accounting for Freelancers” with a subheading about useful accounting tools. That’s an excellent spot to link to another page that reviews the best tools.
5. Cornerstone content creates an easy-to-understand structure.
Your cornerstone content will function as arrival pages. From there, visitors will move into the topics that most interest them. (They might visit them all, depending on their needs.) By using a cornerstone page to create structure, you make it easy for visitors to find value and reduce index bloat.
6. Cornerstone content helps you come up with topic ideas
At some point, every content creator struggles with generating topics. With a cornerstone page in place, all you have to do is go through the copy and identify any phrases or concepts that can be expanded in their own post.
Cornerstone Content and SEO
Search engine optimization is a complex topic, but it’s easier than it used to be. Instead of worrying about the countless variables Google uses to evaluate web pages, your goal these days is to produce a website that creates as much value as possible for your readers.
That said, there are a few things you should consider to make sure Google has all the information needed to rank your site properly. Not optimizing your website is like leaving money on the table.
A cornerstone page acts as a central hub that links to supporting pages. This top-down structure is appealing to Google. The search algorithm likes to see a neat architecture that identifies the relationship between pages helps visitors find what they need. It’s especially useful for targeting competitive terms.
For example, “How to Get Consulting Clients” is a big topic. Consultants are always looking for ways to get more clients. Ranking for a popular term like that would be challenging.
But a cornerstone page gives you a competitive advantage. You would craft an in-depth article on capturing consulting clients, and then link to supplementary articles on separate pages. These articles might be titled “How to Sell Consulting Services" and "Consulting Cold Pitch Templates."
This pyramid structure to your website tells Google which pages are more important. A page at the top of the pyramid is obviously more important, so Google knows to bestow it more value.
For best results, follow these SEO tips for your cornerstone content.
- Cornerstone pages should target short-tail keywords while other pages should target long-tail keywords. “How to Get Consulting Clients” is a short-tail keyword, so it’s a perfect cornerstone topic. A great subtopic would be “How to Get Your First Consulting Client” because it supplements the main topic.
- Link to your cornerstone pages from your home page. Ideally this should happen in a main content area of your home page, not a sidebar, menu or footer. (Google awards elements that appear on every page as less valuable.)
- Articles that your cornerstone pages links to should also link back to the cornerstone page. This should be easy since the topics relate. Place your links naturally through the body of the page’s content.
- Link to your cornerstone pages as much as possible throughout your website. Any time a page mentions a cornerstone topic, you should link. An easy way to do this is to use the link suggesting feature in Yoast’s plugin. Once you designate a page as a cornerstone page, the plugin will recommend linking opportunities. (We’ll talk more about Yoast in a minute.)
- Follow basic SEO on-page optimizations. These are simple, but essential. We’ll talk about them more below when we show you how to create your own cornerstone page.
Now that you know what cornerstone content is and why search engines like it, let’s talk about how to create it.
How to Create Cornerstone Content
The goal of cornerstone content is to create a resource that’s substantially better than anything that currently exists on the web. We recommend applying Moz’s 10X Content principles here so that your page is the best resource on its topic.
This means that creating a cornerstone page requires thoughtfulness and strategy. To make an excellent page, follow these steps.
Step 1: Choose a topic.
Your topic should be relevant to your website’s overall theme. If you’re a business coach, you wouldn’t create a cornerstone page about auto repair. It might attract auto enthusiasts, but that traffic wouldn’t be valuable. Instead, you might create a page called “Marketing a Consulting Business” because your clients need clients of their own.
Step 2: Research effective keywords.
Google is getting better at determining the meaning of a web page, but it still relies heavily on keywords. By matching the words and phrases used on your website with the words and phrases used by searchers, Google can send traffic to the right pages.
So to make a great cornerstone page, you have to research keywords. We recommend using a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush, but Google’s Keyword Planner is sufficient if you don’t want to spend money. (If you’re serious about content marketing, however, a paid SEO tool is essential.)
A quick look into an SEO tool tells us that “Marketing a Consulting Business” isn’t a valuable keyword. It would be smarter to create a broader page called “How to Get Consulting Clients” which more monthly searches. Remember: We don’t mind working with competitive keywords when we’re creating cornerstone content.
Our keyword should also have plenty of long-tail search opportunities for additional pages. As you can imagine, there are thousands of potential topics around starting a restaurant. Over time, supplementary content you create about opening a restaurant would reinforce the cornerstone page’s value, in Google’s eyes.
Structuring content (like using this cornerstone approach) means planning content in advance, so you need a content calendar. Read more: How to Create a Blog Content Calendar [FREE TEMPLATE]
While you’re inside your keyword tool, browse for as many long-tail keyword opportunities as possible. Keep a list of these somewhere in a spreadsheet to use as you create supplementary content.
Step 3: Examine the top competitors.
Your SEO tool may show you the top pages for the short-tail keyword you chose. Alternatively, you can simply Google the keyword (use Chrome’s incognito mode for an unbiased search).
Dive into each page that appears on Google’s first page of search results. Read them thoroughly. What makes them the best? Why does Google think those pages are superior to everything else that exists on the same topic? Do they have any special features, design or information that makes them especially valuable?
As you examine each page, keep an open mind. You may learn something useful that you could add to the page you’ll create. Of course you should never plagiarize someone else’s work. That is ethically wrong and it could earn you a duplicate content penalty from Google.
Step 4: Create your cornerstone page.
Now that you’ve researched your keywords and examined your competition, it’s time to craft your page.
Your headline should be compelling and enticing. It should also be honest about what the article includes. Don’t disappoint your web visitors by making a promise with your title that the article doesn’t fulfill.
Most importantly, use your primary short-tail keyword early in the title. Your title should be wrapped in an H1 tag. If you’re using WordPress (and we highly recommend you do because it’s an excellent cornerstone content management system), your theme should automatically use this tag around the title that you put into the back end editor.
Even though you’re trying to rank for a short-tail keyword, it can’t hurt to rank for a long-tail keyword as well (they aren’t mutually exclusive). Add modifiers to the title like “review,” “guide,” or “of 2017” to rank for long-tail versions.
Every great piece of content begins with a connection to the reader. This rule goes beyond blog posts. Mystery novels, biographies, screenplays, comic books and everything else finds a way to emotionally hook the reader at the start. Be as engaging as possible to convince the visitor to read further.
Use your primary short-tail keyword within the first 100 words and the last 100 words of your post. Sprinkle it throughout your content casually and naturally, especially in subheadings that get wrapped in H2, H3, and H4 tags.
Longer pages tend to rank higher on Google’s search results pages. More content means more value, typically. However, that doesn’t mean you should add content to your page just for the sake of length. Don’t include unnecessary or repetitive information.
Length is good, but only if it adds value. Trim your content down for a better user experience. Read more: 7 Words To Cut From Your Content Immediately (Less Really Is More!)
Your body should be educational. Spend some time on this portion. This is where the visitor will find the most value. Use supporting facts, data, or social proof to boost your credibility.
Keep your paragraphs to three or four lines to help readability. Use lists, subheadings, tables, videos and images to break up long spans of text and add more value.
Conclude your page with a paragraph or two that reminds the user of the value they received and encourages them to take additional steps.
Example: “Now that you understand how to get your own consulting clients, you should be able to run a profitable business with strong cash flow. Use this information to stay busy and keep money flowing in the door.”
The Call to Action
Finally, your cornerstone page (and every other page) should end with a call to action that relates to one of your business goals. You might want them to subscribe to your email list, schedule a consultation call, request a proposal, sign up for your service, purchase a product, or something less traditional. Create a well-designed link that stands out and drives your visitors to the next step in your funnel.
Step 5: Proofread and edit.
Your cornerstone page will become one of the most visible pages on your website. Don’t dissuade visitors from trusting your expertise by showing them typos, grammar mistakes, low-quality images, or (worse of all) inaccurate information.
After you’ve read your own work a few times, have someone else give you an outside perspective and an unbiased edit. Be sure you’ve caught everything before you post.
Step 6: Optimize for SEO.
Make a quick pass over your page to optimize it for search engine availability.
1. Make your <Title> tag clear and descriptive. Use your short-tail keyword. Searchers will see this title on Google’s search result page, so make it compelling.
2. Include a <Meta> description. This doesn’t affect SEO anymore, but searchers will see it on Google’s search results, so it helps convince them to click.
3. Use your short-tail keyword in the first 100 words and last 100 words of the page.
4. Make sure your page (and your whole website) is responsive so it collapses nicely on mobile devices.
5. The file names of your images and the ALT attributes in the <Img> tags should use your keyword. Example: <img src=”http://www.your-domain.com/your-keyword.png” alt=”your-keyword”>.
6. Pepper LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords throughout your copy. These are synonyms to your keywords that help Google understand the page’s purpose. For example, “automobile” is an LSI keyword of “car.” Use LSI Graph to find these.
7. Link from your cornerstone page to as many other pages as you reasonably can.
8. Link from other pages to your cornerstone page as often as possible.
9. Link to relevant off-site pages that help Google determine your page’s topic.
10. Your URL should be simple and keyword-focused. Your keyword should appear as early in the URL as possible.
Bad URL: http://www.your-domain.com/blog/wp-content/07-15-17/your-keyword
Good URL: http://www.your-domain.com/your-keyword
Step 7: Hit publish.
The beauty of publishing on the web is that it’s always in your control. Find an error? Just change it. That mistake isn’t stuck with you forever.
This means there’s no reason to delay hitting publish. If you find a way to expand or improve the page later, it can always be adjusted. Google will index your page more than once, especially if it’s valuable and highly trafficked, so your new or improved content will eventually be reviewed.
Examples of Cornerstone Content
Now that you understand the theory of cornerstone content, let’s get to some concrete examples to give you an idea of what you’ll be making.
1. Neil Patel - Growth Hacking Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide
Why we like this cornerstone page:
Long and educational. No one can doubt the value of Neil Patel’s articles.
Lots of links to other pages on his website and other relevant websites.
Custom images, videos and charts that support the content.
Calls to actions throughout to move visitors through his funnel.
Neil is extremely active in the comments, which cements his authority and value.
Bonus: The “Guides” tab of one of his sidebar widgets links to other cornerstone pages.
Why we like this cornerstone page:
Beautifully designed so it’s easy to follow and understand.
Long and comprehensive (though it could go into more detail).
Lots of links to supporting pages on the Amplitude blog.
SEO is thorough, but elegant and natural.
Why we like this cornerstone page:
It explains everything a person needs to know on its topic - from beginning to end.
The headings and links are optimized well for SEO.
The whole purpose is to guide visitors to other parts of the website.
Several opt-in options (both with lead magnets) present on the page.
We’re particularly proud of this page because we made it. :)
4. Vero - 40 Tips for Dramatically Better Emails
Why we like this cornerstone page:
Well designed and easy to follow. That table of contents is excellent!
So comprehensive you can’t help but bookmark it.
Lots of custom imagery that creates tremendous value.
Plenty of links to internal and external pages.
Several opportunities to subscribe for additional content/value.
5. Hubstaff - What is Time Tracking?
Why we like this cornerstone page:
The design imparts a lot of value. It’s more like a book than a web page.
The page covers everything you need to know about time-tracking.
The page relates closely to the business: a time-tracking application.
Excellent use of short- and long-tail keywords.
Custom images and icons means the author of the page cares.
Why we like this cornerstone page:
The buttons that show/hide different types of strategies is an excellent feature. It lets the reader pick what they want to consume.
As an SEO resource, it’s no surprise this page’s SEO is on point.
The “download this post as a PDF” is an excellent way to capture subscribers.
The information is highly actionable, so it’s easy for the reader to bookmark the page for future reference.
7. Dr. Axe - Vitamin B12 Benefits That You’re Probably Missing
Why we like this cornerstone page:
This page comprehensively teaches everything you need to know about its topic.
The custom images and infographics add a lot of value and reader-friendly design. They’re easy to share, too.
There are countless links throughout the website that enhance the user experience and the page’s SEO value.
Lots of opportunities to opt-in to their email list.
That was a lot of information! If you stuck with us to the end, well done! We wanted to make sure we gave you as much information as possible.
If you have crafted your cornerstone content thoughtfully, you should be proud of it. It should be a resource you want other people to find, love, and bookmark. But once it’s published, it needs to be promoted to broaden your reach and amplify how quickly it’s discovered.
Distribute your content through whichever social media channels your brand uses. Schedule a series of posts over time using a tool like Edgar or Buffer. Post several times during the week you publish the content and then continue to post over time if the content performs well.
Notify your email subscribers as well. You know these people like your stuff, so make sure to inform them whenever you make something new. Send a simple, text-based message letting them know something valuable is available. Over time, tweak your emails based on their performance.
Not sure how to write great emails? Get started with some customizable templates. Read more: 10 Email Templates To Empower Your Company with Content Marketing
To really empower your promotion, identify influencers who have decently large audiences. Buzzsumo is an excellent tool to identify relevant people. Then reach out to each. Ask if they would be willing to share your content to their followers. (This is also a good opportunity to ask if they’ll accept a guest post from you that links back to your site.)
Hopefully you understand the immense value cornerstone pages can provide. They create an excellent experience for your users, push your business goals (leads and sales!), and help Google rank you properly.
The main takeaway with cornerstone content is this: Add value to the web.
Search optimization and lead generation are important, but at the end of the day you should create a resource that other people want to use, bookmark, and share with their friends.
If you create something truly valuable, you’ll earn a reputation as an expert that others will want to work with.