A Practical Guide to Cornerstone Content & It's Impact on SEO

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Editor's note: Cornerstone Content is a term we learned from Yoast when we first started blogging. We still feel the concept is still sound, however, since we became a HubSpot Tier Agency, we've now adopted the "Pillar Strategy". The two terms are nearly synonymous - with a few tactical differences.

Engaging visitors with strong, well-crafted cornerstone content keeps traffic on your site, shows authority to Google and improves visitor experience. It also makes for a good foundation for your content strategy. Plus, this content can boost your SEO, raising your place in search results and bringing even more traffic to your pages.

Make a great first impression by introducing relevant, informative flagship content. Many businesses utilize a series of helpful or introductory pieces on their welcome page, which can increase returning visitors.

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If you haven’t produced well-written cornerstone content for your site, now’s the time to get started. Here’s how to create cornerstone content that Google will love.

Part 1: The Basics of Cornerstone Content

What is Cornerstone Content?

Cornerstone content is the most important, well-written, and explanatory information your brand has to offer and serves as the flagship pages of your website. Essentially, you’re building the entire website on the fundamentals of your market.

Examples of Cornerstone Content

Cornerstone content examples include introductory blog posts, frequently asked question pages or other pertinent information like warnings or instructions. Anything a new visitor should know about your niche, product, or service should be featured as cornerstones.

How Many Cornerstones Are Necessary?

In general, there are no rules as to how many cornerstone posts brands need, but you should plan to have at least four or five items. Each piece should be informative, concise, and well-researched.

Depending on your industry, you may need more cornerstones. Don’t be afraid to get creative and write about other topics as they arise. Keep your cornerstone posts updated regularly, and you’ll build a solid foundation for your site.

Which Posts Should Be Cornerstone Content?

When deciding what posts should be cornerstones, consider which pieces you’d want a viewer to see when first visiting your site. Pretend you’re someone new to the site who is unfamiliar with your business. What information are you searching for? The posts that reveal this information should be cornerstones. These posts typically are the most basic information your site offers.

The Yoast SEO meta box is where you can indicate that your article is cornerstone content

Cornerstones should always be content posts. Blogs are acceptable, but long-form content that covers an entire subject often is effective. Separate sections with clear headers, which makes reading easier. If possible, include an index at the beginning of the post to help the reader navigate between headers.

It’s also important that your cornerstones feature keywords you want to rank for. “How to” posts tend to make great cornerstone items, since people often search for helpful tips. When you offer informative content, the viewer will begin to associate your site with knowledge. This leads to return visits and, eventually, purchasing your product or service.

Why Are Cornerstone Posts Important?

There are several reasons why it’s important to learn how to create cornerstone content that Google loves. First, cornerstones are the information a viewer needs to determine whether your brand is an industry authority. Cornerstones guide a new viewer into your website and help them find trust in the services you’re offering.

Second, cornerstone posts act as a hub for every post, article, or graphic that you have about a particular topic. The cornerstone acts as an introduction to a subject, which can lead to further research and discussion. Once a reader finds a cornerstone post useful, he or she may delve deeper into related content.

How Can Cornerstones Help My Brand?

Ultimately, cornerstone posts improve your website by encouraging return visits and retaining regular readers. Authoritative content also establishes your business as an industry expert, increasing trust and boosting sales. Now, we’ll explore how adding cornerstones to your site can enhance your SEO efforts.

Part 2: Cornerstone Content and its Impact on SEO

Cornerstone Content SEO

According to Joost de Valk at Yoast.com, “Sites don’t rank – pages rank.” One of the biggest benefits to utilizing cornerstones is that they help you rank for popular keywords. Without strong cornerstone pieces, it can be difficult to rank. Presenting your cornerstone pages properly will help Google understand which pages are the cornerstone and which are supplementary. Otherwise, you may find yourself competing with your own content in search results.

Fortunately, helping Google distinguish between the flagship and supplementary is possible with a well-organized linking system. Here’s how to optimize your site and boost your search rankings.

Linking Structure for Cornerstone Content

When developing a linking structure for your site, think of it as a graph. Your homepage is featured at the top, and the less-important articles appear near the bottom. These supplementary pieces are filtered down from more important content. Cornerstones should be near the top of the graph and, ideally, linked on the homepage.

As cornerstone topics are discussed in other posts and areas on the site, be sure to link back to them. Google’s crawlers will then interpret the cornerstone pages as more important than the other content. The process is continuous: Every time you write a new blog post relating to the cornerstone post, link it to the original. This internal linking structure will increase the likelihood of the cornerstone post ranking on Google.

For example, you can link “How to” or “The Different Types of” articles back to an “Ultimate Guide” cornerstone post. This encourages the reader to spend time on your site while making your cornerstones more apparent to Google.

The landing page is one of the best options for presenting cornerstone posts. Linking your subtopic pages to the landing page allows readers to find it immediately. If the pages link together, be sure to include a way that the reader can navigate between pages.

Using Cornerstones with External Links

Sometimes, high-value links are found from external sources. Take advantage of this by having the source link back to one of your cornerstone posts. Cornerstone posts compete for competitive keywords, so it’s important to give priority to these high-value links. This is an especially useful tactic if you wish to rank for more difficult keywords.

External linking is also essential for brands aiming to increase content outreach. Contacting the owner of a popular blog or website and asking them to share your cornerstone post is an excellent way to gain more traffic. Sharing cornerstones on social media is another cost-effective way to increase site visitors.

Conducting Cornerstone Analysis

It’s likely that you already utilize several tools to determine the readability and effectiveness of your current articles. However, a deeper analysis is often necessary for cornerstones. Cornerstones should be held to a higher standard; this means that the demands on the content will be stricter. When analyzing a cornerstone post, look for the following characteristics:

  • Readable
  • SEO friendly
  • Optimized with internal links
The yoast internal linking tool with article suggestions

Many online analysis tools are available today, so do some research to determine which program is right for your brand. By analyzing your cornerstone posts and using links to your advantage, you’ll set your key pages up for success.

Part 3: Visitor Engagement

Engaging Visitors with Cornerstones

You’ve learned what cornerstones are and how they can boost your SEO – but how do they engage visitors? Simply put, cornerstones engage visitors because they're your strongest pieces. A reader entering your page searching for answers should find what he or she needs through cornerstones. The reader shouldn’t have to search through your site to find information relevant to his or her search.

Adding cornerstones to the forefront of your page also encourages the reader to stay on your website. According to a study from the Nielsen Norman Group, large numbers of visitors leave pages in less than 30 seconds. However, that number gradually decreases the longer the viewer stays on the page. If you can persuade visitors to stay on your page longer than 30 seconds, it’s more likely they’ll be retained.

Well-planned and thoughtful cornerstone post often hold visitors past that critical 30-second mark. And when the user remains on the page, it gives you the opportunity to showcase your products and services.

Creating Cornerstone Post Content

While you may have a thorough understanding of the importance of cornerstone posts, you may not be sure how to create them. The key is to craft content that would stand as a guide for newcomers. Everything you present should be well-researched and concise.

Researching your niche ahead of time is critical to the success of your posts. You’ll learn which topics to cover, what will capture a reader’s interest, and what trends are no longer relevant. Plus, you’ll likely find valuable links and resources when studying your industry.

Brands that already have ample content should select the pieces that best represent the company’s mission and expertise. If you haven’t created content yet, gather a list of questions that most people would ask about your product or service. Incorporate keywords that are popular among your target audience. Your first piece of content should incorporate the keywords that are the most compelling or relevant.

7 Best Practices for Writing Cornerstone Posts

Are you ready to create your cornerstone posts? Here are seven tips that will help you get started:

1. Determine what keywords should be used

As with most SEO strategies, your keywords should be based on the words your target audience uses during search. Once you’ve decided on the target keywords, focus your content around them.

2. Use keywords in your metadata, including your title and meta description

Both the title tag and meta description appear on search engine results, so it’s imperative to make them eye-catching. They should also reflect the content of the post.

3. Examine the competition for cornerstone content examples

Sometimes, a competitor won’t have strong cornerstone posts, which gives competing brands a chance to gain traffic. However, you’ll need to get creative if your competitor has excellent content. Setting yourself apart from the rest is possible with a dynamic linking strategy among cornerstones.

4. Attract readers’ attention with intriguing stories, special offers, or explanations of what your content offers

It’s difficult to get the attention of busy readers, so make sure your introductions are strong.

5. Break up your content and add visual appeal by using subheadings and bullet points

Readers often prefer long-form content, but it must be readable.

6. Illustrate your points using bullet points, infographics, and photos

Not only do they add color and creativity to your posts, they also capture the viewer’s attention.

7. Analyze your content regularly

Don’t forget to update posts to keep them current and relevant. In fact, Google prefers newer content over older posts. So, analyze your content metrics on a regular basis.

Marketing with Cornerstone Content

One technique for crafting effective cornerstones is to consider them a product. Cornerstones are introductions to your brand that attract new visitors by answering their questions. While you're marketing your products or services through cornerstone posts, it’s important to avoid writing them as if they were an advertisement.

Create cornerstone pieces with the intent to educate the reader – not to sell your product or service. Over time, people will continue to visit your site for resources and information. Plus, interesting educational content is often shared on social media, increasing your brand’s exposure.

Cornerstone Posts and Calls-to-Action

The goal of cornerstone pages is to increase visitor engagement, so be sure to include an appropriate call-to-action on each page. This will guide readers to the right spot once they’re ready to find out more about your products. Cornerstones should be easy to find, and so should the pages you wish to direct people to.

Your Turn

Cornerstone content are vital parts of your website infrastructure and will help improve your SEO.

When developing cornerstone assets, remember that you don’t have to write a series of all-new posts. Instead, you can improve existing posts, adding more information or CTAs, if necessary. Ultimately, the time you spend developing relevant, engaging content will pay off as it draws new visitors to your website. 

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Eric Melillo