A cornerstone is foundational. It’s the very first stone that’s set, and all other stones are set in reference to it. The cornerstone determines the position of every other piece in the entire structure. This concept isn’t limited to bricks, though — it also applies to content marketing.
In content marketing, the cornerstone of your strategy is long-form content, such as whitepapers and pillar blog posts. It serves as the anchor that your other content efforts are tied to. These pieces of content are foundational for any robust content marketing strategy.
But if you’re among the 59% of B2B marketers who don’t have a documented content strategy in place, you might not see how long-form content can fit into a content strategy and drive results. So let’s dive in!
Whitepapers and pillar blog posts can catalyze content creation. When you develop one of these long-form pieces of content, you can take the “content map” approach. With this approach, you can repurpose the insights in the long-form content to create lots of other pieces of content in a variety of formats, including blog posts, guest-contributed articles, infographics, worksheets, checklists — the list goes on! It looks something like this:
Creating an abundance of related content — and linking among the various pieces — yields a linking ecosystem that signals to search engines that your content is valuable. And it keeps readers engaging with your content longer, allows you to get your expertise in front of new audiences, and helps you communicate a consistent message about your brand. Not to mention that repurposing content is a time-saving tool that enables you to maximize the value you see as a result of your content creation efforts.
Long-form content also has immense sales enablement potential. When prospective clients have in-depth insights at their fingertips in the form of pillar blog posts, they can gain a wealth of knowledge about your industry, company, and services, making them more qualified leads. And when whitepapers are placed behind a gate asking readers to share their contact information in exchange for your content, your sales team can follow up with those leads and send them more targeted information. Then, once those leads are ready, they can enter the sales process and potentially become paying customers.
Both whitepapers and pillar blog posts can help you realize the above benefits, but which one you focus more of your energy on might depend on what your primary content marketing goal is.
Search engines are changing their algorithms to favor topic-based content. That’s where pillar blog posts come in.
A pillar blog post is an in-depth, long-form blog post that covers all aspects of a single topic on one page. These posts are generally at least 1,500 words long and can range up to 3,000 words. They often contain additional elements like graphics or videos, and they can even include a hyperlinked table of contents at the top to make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for.
Pillar posts are a vital component of an SEO strategy because they serve as anchor pieces that you can build related links to. Creating a content strategy that centers around key pillars of content signals to search engines that you are an authority on that subject and, in turn, can increase your visibility for those terms.
To execute on such a strategy, you can use the topic cluster model by taking these steps:
For example, you might produce a pillar blog post about content marketing, which is a very broad topic. From there, a couple of your pieces of cluster content might be focused on blogging and guest-contributed articles, which are more specific keywords related to content marketing.
Pillar content isn’t only valuable for SEO, though. If your primary content marketing goal is thought leadership, you can also tap into the power of pillar blog posts. Offering such an in-depth piece of content and then providing links to other related content that delves into more specific components of that larger subject communicates to your audience that you’re a highly educated expert. Plus, SEO fuels thought leadership. If your thought leadership content can’t be found on the first page or two of search results, it’s less likely that you’re going to be perceived as a credible expert in your field.
Like a pillar post, a whitepaper is a long-form piece of content. But a whitepaper usually contains design elements and is packaged in a PDF. That PDF is often “gated,” meaning readers have to fill out a form before downloading the content. (Here’s an example of a landing page that allows readers to exchange their information for a free whitepaper download.) This information exchange makes whitepapers great for lead generation.
When readers are consuming the content you’ve published in online publications or on your blog, they often make great leads because they already have some background knowledge about your industry, your company, and what you do. And many of them are looking for deeper knowledge in the form of whitepapers. In fact, according to the “2018 Content Preferences Survey Report,” 71% of buyers reported using whitepapers to research B2B purchase decisions within the past year.
Whitepapers can cover specific niches within your business, but it’s often better to start broad and then create more specific ones over time. That way, you can begin with a foundational piece of content that can be linked to more easily within other pieces of content you produce and, therefore, be promoted more often. For example, the first piece of gated content Influence & Co. ever created was “The 4-Step Guide to Exceptional Content Marketing.” This was a great starter piece because it enabled us to seamlessly link a wide variety of our other content efforts to it.
To give your readers access to that deeper information and take them a step closer to becoming leads, you can follow a process like this:
If you follow this framework and link to your long-form gated content from your shorter blog posts, you’ll have more opportunities to lead readers to your gated content. Once they’re there, your sales team can secure their contact information and follow up with them — an essential component of a lead generation strategy. And readers are more inclined to share their information than you might think. The content preferences report I mentioned earlier found that 75% of respondents would share their information to receive whitepapers.
Even if your primary content marketing goal isn’t lead generation, you can leverage whitepapers to reach your content marketing goals. If your primary goal is thought leadership, you can use whitepapers to provide deeper insights than you can share in shorter content like guest-contributed articles, blog posts, and press mentions. Once you’ve created a whitepaper, you can place it behind a gate, signaling to your audience that your content is high-quality enough to be worth that exchange of information. Then, when you have that information, you can send those contacts newsletters that further your thought leadership and provide them with valuable content on a consistent basis.
Long-form content is foundational to any effective content marketing strategy. By creating whitepapers and pillar blog posts and then developing more targeted content from there, you can produce a web of content that keeps your audience engaged, makes your SEO efforts more effective, and enables your sales team to turn more leads into customers.
I'm a content-obsessed word person with a passion for finding the coziest coffee shop in town. By day, I'm the director of content at Influence & Co. In my downtime, you can find me reading a book, sipping a latte, drawing, hand lettering, or watching "The Office" for the zillionth time.