WTF Is a Cornerstone Content Strategy for SEO?

You’ve done a little digging… 

You’ve come across the term cornerstone content on your travels through the internet… 

And sure, it’s like “important content” or whatever, but how do you actually build it out and write your cornerstone content?

Do you really need to beast out a 7,000 word article covering every conceivable topic that you’re writing about?!

Aggh! 

Breathe, I’m going to clear up what a cornerstone content strategy is, why it’s important for SEO, and why I disagree with traditional advice on how to create cornerstone content (probably the same advice that led you here…)



What is cornerstone content?


Cornerstone content is a post that contains a broad overview about a topic that’s central to your website. As a result, it’s usually longer than most other content on your site, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Let’s say you’re a course creator who helps designers specialize in the area of UX Design, your cornerstone content might be something like “How to Become a UX Designer.” 

What are the most important things someone needs to know about becoming a UX designer? Bear in mind, you can give them a masterclass in this topic, but not a Master’s Degree.

By that I mean you will talk about all the main topics related to becoming a UX designer, but without going into excruciating detail for each topic.

You might discuss what UX design is, what skills they need to become one, if it’s a lucrative career, what training they’ll need to do etc

But then you’d use that cornerstone content to link out to smaller articles that cover one particular topic in-depth.

Here are 2 real-life examples

I was going to include a section in this article titled “cornerstone content examples” but I have deliberately left that out because it’s a keyword on its own and I stand a much better shot at ranking for it with an article that’s dedicated to that one topic rather than stuffing it in this article and hoping it’ll rank as part of this article.

I also have a client who ranks very high (like first in most countries) for an article about the best resources to learn Spanish. I was going to advise that she create subcategories to also try and rank that article higher for keywords like “Best Websites to Learn Spanish” or “Best YouTube Channels to Learn Spanish.”

But I didn’t.

When I searched those other keywords the only thing showing up on the SERP were articles dedicated to that topic and that topic ALONE.

So now I’m advising that she build out other articles that target those keywords and make sure they’re linked to from that other high ranking article.


When it comes to cornerstone content think breadth, not depth.

What is a content cluster?


A content cluster is built around your cornerstone content and it’s basically other content that supports and adds more insight and value to your main cornerstone content piece. 

Example of a topic cluster based around becoming a UX designer. There's a circle in the middle with "how to become a ux designer" with lines pointing out to other pieces of content
Example of a topic cluster based around becoming a UX designer

You see, in your cornerstone content piece you’re going to cover a lot about a topic, but not necessarily in a lot of depth.

Then from that cornerstone article you link out to articles that cover sub-topics in more detail. 

Let’s go back to our UX Design example. 

If the main piece is “How to Become a UX Designer” some sub-topics in that might include; “How to build a UX Design Portfolio (with no experience)”, “Personal Branding for UX Designers”, “Best UX Design Courses 2021” etc. 

These all combine to make a content cluster.


Why is a cornerstone content strategy important for SEO?


Creating engaging cornerstone content is great for SEO in a variety of ways. 

  • Longer articles (around 3000+ words) tend to get more social shares.
  • It helps show Google that you are an authority on a specific topic, but it needs to be supported by other, related articles to show that your site truly is an authority on that topic 
  • It helps you create a strong internal linking structure, especially if used effectively with a content cluster 
  • It can keep people on your site for longer, dropping your bounce rate 
  • It can genuinely help your target audience, and giving searchers exactly what they’re looking for is what content is all about

How do you make cornerstone content that Google loves?


Understand the user’s intent and what they really need


As with anything SEO related, you need to help the end searcher find the answer they’re looking for. 

“User intent is what a person truly wants when they’re Googling something. Not just what kind of content they want, but something quite a bit deeper than that. We’re talking “hopes and dreams” level deep. – Brendan Hufford

Okay, obvious, right? But let me explain… 

You need to be hyper, crystal clear about what that end user is actually looking for. For example, are they looking for a guide, a course, a listicle, resources or what? 

Once you work out what they’re looking for exactly and WHY, then it’s a question of not only making your article as helpful as humanly possible, but to also make it stand-out in some way from the crowd. 

This is usually where your own brand voice comes into play: make it engaging and don’t be afraid of conversational copy – trust me it works. Entertain, educate, and delight the person on the other side of the screen. 

Psssst! I cover the importance of search intent (using my dog as an example) with my article on the skills you need to become an SEO copywriter


Keyword Optimization


Cornerstone content pieces usually target more ambitious keywords, because you’re playing for the long game and the topic is broader. Then with your content cluster pieces (the smaller, more specific articles) you target more long-tail keywords that are more likely to rank. 

What I also do when targeting keywords for my clients’ content clusters is to create a hierarchy of keyword difficulty. For example, the most ambitious keyword for the main cornerstone content (but not ALWAYS), and then the content cluster focus keywords vary in difficulty like a scale. 

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to expensive SEO tools like SEMrush for your keyword research, check out Keywords Everywhere and Katlinks


💡
(Very) General Rule of Thumb with Keyword Research & Clusters

Cornerstone content is generally focused around a broad keyword with a higher search volume, whereas topic clusters are focused on more specific keywords with smaller (attainable) search volumes.


Free Keyword Research Course!

Master the fundamentals of keyword research with my free 5 day email series Keyword Research Fundamentals.

Good Formatting

In the words of Ry Schwartz, don’t throw bricks at your reader.

In other words, don’t just fire  out blocks of text that aren’t scrollable or navigational. Break your content up with proper headings, bullets, quotes, bold and italics. 

People rarely read every single word of your article (beautifully written as it may be). They scroll and jump around looking for the most important bits of information that they need so make it easy for  them to find it. 


Strong internal linking


Internal linking is just you linking to your own stuff. 

Make sure that you’re linking back to your cornerstone content piece where it makes sense in your other content and that your cornerstone piece is linking out to your cluster pieces.

This helps evenly spread link equity* on your website and also helps the end user find more of your super useful content. 


Jargon buster: link equity or link juice

if a page has a lot of links pointing to it, typically it’s easier for that page to rank higher in the search engine results page (SERP). And if that page is linking to other articles on your site it means they can also benefit from this as Google uses links to discover new content.


How long should cornerstone content be?


Generally speaking as you’re creating some type of broad piece of content, you should be on the higher end of the word count scale. It also depends heavily on your niche and the topic being explored, if the end user is better served with a shorter article then give them that. 

I would bounce between 2,500-3,5000 for cornerstone content and wouldn’t recommend going below 1,000-1,500 words. Do your due diligence though, and check what’s ranking well on your competitors’ sites and understand your end user inside out and what they need from you. 

Longer isn’t always better. 


Should you outsource your cornerstone content strategy?


I’m not gonna lie to you, as an SEO copywriter and content marketer I have a vested interest in telling you to outsource this. But, I’m going to be totally transparent here and tell you why and when you should hire and when you’re best actually keeping things DIY. 


When should you hire a Content Marketer to Create Your Cornerstone Content Strategy?


Creating cornerstone content and content clusters is an exhausting task.

Apart from the effort it takes, there’s also all the research that goes into creating this type of content. This research requires time, SEO skill, and special tools to get the job done right. 

Usually you want your clusters all planned out and a content production schedule in place BEFORE hiring a writer and this is where hiring a content marketer can really help.

Having said that though, I also know that sometimes it’s NOT the right decision to outsource , let’s look at why. 

💡Super important related post: How to Hire the Best Content Marketer for your SaaS Company


When to keep your cornerstone content DIY


For a start, if you’re still working out who your target audience is and what they need from you then you should definitely hold off hiring. 

We need you to understand your business and audience well so we can do our best job. Copy and content work best when we are super specific about who we’re serving and what our own USP is. If you’re still unsure of those then definitely invest more time into exploring that rather than rushing to outsource. 

Another big factor is budget. 

I’m not team “outsource by any means necessary” because sometimes it just doesn’t make sense for the budget you have. For instance my minimum rate for working on retainer with clients is over €2k a month.


Controversial Opinion: A Cornerstone Piece of Content Focuses on Breadth, not Depth


You’ll read a lot of stuff out there saying your cornerstone piece has to be like 10,000 words long and cover every single nook and cranny of a topic in order to rank.

I call bullshit and here’s why;

  • It blows your article out of scope
  • That type of content rarely satisfies user intent
  • You stand a much better shot of ranking articles that are highly specific to ONE topic

Your cornerstone piece of content should touch on all the important subtopics then link out to articles that cover those subtopics in more detail.

To help get you started on your cornerstone content piece all you have to do is answer a very simple question;

What do you help your readers achieve?

Turn that into your cornerstone content.

Build an outline and start generating related articles from there.

Happy posting.



Kerry Campion

SEO Copywriter & Content Marketer

Kerry Campion is a content marketer and copywriter for SaaS brands who are fuelling the creator economy. Her gig is creating customer-centric content marketing plans and writing SEO copy that sounds nothing like SEO copy 😎. Get in touch if you’re interested in working together!

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