You’ve heard it often enough that in order to be viewed as a thought leader, to grow your email list, and to increase the SEO power of and traffic to your blog, you need to produce pillar content.
What is pillar content?
Pillar content is content that thoroughly and authoritatively explores a topic and provides the audience with a good understanding of that explored topic via case studies, references, testimonials, etc. It’s content that every website owner loves; however, it’s not the easiest type of content to produce.
A good white paper or report might take a week to research and write. Case studies and testimonials require interacting with customers and/or even setting up interviews.
In brief, pillar content is not the sort of content you can polish off in the space of an hour while watching TV.
Because it takes some time to produce, pillar content should be generated only after audience needs are assessed. By performing such user testing, you are not wasting your time producing pillar content that no one reads. How can this be done? There are several ways, as outlined below.
Social media posts
Social networks can easily be used to determine which topics are trending and what people are saying about those trending topics. For example, on Twitter, you can use Hootsuite to track popular topics via #hashtags that have a large number of comments or reshares. Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ posts can also be mined for popular content.
With social media, you don’t have to passively absorb what people are posting or commenting on; you can also join the conversation. You can ask commenters to better explain what they meant in this or that post. You can even query commenters on what topic they’d like to see an explanation or rebuttal posted, or what content they are struggling to understand better. This information helps you assess what to produce for pillar content.
Posting Google AdWords, Facebook or Twitter ads is another way you can learn about your audience’s needs. In effect, online ads are very small samples of content that come attached with reporting functions. By A/B testing your online ad, you quickly learn which content performs the best in terms of views, clicks and engagement. You can also test ad content side by side and only switch out certain keywords, which helps search engines deliver the exact content your audience is looking for.
Online ads do cost some money to run; however, if you’re about to spend two weeks writing an in-depth case study for your audience, or a 50-page e-book, shouldn’t you first find out if anyone will even appreciate your efforts?
Before I offered ITT readers a freelance writing course, I polled them to learn what they wanted to learn in my course. This provided me with good direction for creating and presenting my writing course- and whether such a course was needed in the first place.
Surveys may seem like a waste of time due to their typical lackluster response rates. However, those few hundred individuals who do in fact fill out your survey are a highly motivated bunch that are interested in what you’re offering. As such, these individuals provide a marketing funnel which you can take advantage of when later presenting new (and paid) content and products.
The old stand-by, when assessing audience wants and needs, is the blog post. Here, you can create a sample of your pillar content, publish it, and see how it fares in the online world. Here, you can not only poll your audience but post the content to social media. You can even create online ads out of blog posts.
Blog posts aren’t as short as Facebook posts or as “in your face” as surveys. They certainly take some effort to craft well. However, if you’re looking to gauge your audience on its emotions about a given topic, the classic blog post just can’t be beat. You can also reuse your blog posts and create a pillar article out of them at a later time.
Why spend weeks or even months trying to grow your online audience following your pillar content launch when you can do it right now, and before your content piece is even ready? With sales pages, you not only gauge audience interest in your proposed content, but you also gain their email addresses. This helps you establish long-term relationships with your readers and get in-depth feedback on future proposed content pieces, products, website designs, etc. Having a ready subscriber list also results in higher conversion rates for any products you eventually offer.
Sales pages can also be linked with landing pages. Here, you can A/B test different content headlines, formats, etc. Having such information ahead of time helps you avoid releasing content that is incorrectly positioned and/or marketed.
The Bottom Line
Pillar content takes significant time and effort to create, so why not engage your audience ahead of time and get their feedback before you begin? By doing so, you not only avoid fruitless efforts, you also increase your likelihood of improving subscriber numbers, engaging with your future audience, and maybe even improving your sales conversions.