As search engines and their users evolve, SEO strategies continue to adapt to these evolutions. In recent years, we've seen a drastic shift in the way users use search engines and how search engine algorithms have been perfected. This post will walk you through Competency Pages, also known as Pillar Pages, (and their closely related cluster content), as they are rising in popularity and necessity as a tool for SEO and content management.
In recent years, user search queries have become more precise and lengthy, as opposed to the stereotypical 2-word-Google-search of the past. This is primarily due to the overwhelming amount of content that can be accessed through search engines - most of which is low quality and undesirable. By being more precise in their searches, users hope to avoid low-effort pages popping up on their Search Engine Results Page (SERPs.) As well, the rise of voice-activated searching, through the means of Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa, for example, has also naturally contributed to the development of phrase-based searching.
In response to this development, search engines have become much better at delivering the best possible results for longer search queries
. One of the main ways they have done this is by emphasizing the importance of keywords within searches. So, for example, typing "where to buy a swimsuit near me" in Google will also connect you to all sorts of relevant keywords - such as "bathing suit," "swimming trunks," "swimming gear," etc. - now more than ever.
Knowing this development of search engine algorithms and how their users interact with them, how should content creators adapt to make the most out of the current SEO trends? Learning about Competency Pages and making use of them is one of the best places to start.
What is a Competency Page?
A Competency Page is a foundational piece of content on a website. As the more commonly used name implies, it serves as a pillar for the content it supports. But it's not just a core page, filled with information. Instead, it's a key support to your website, with a comprehensive outline of the breadth of your content. Hence, we find the term "competency" to be a more apt name. These pages are more focused on offering a broad answer to essential questions. They are not hyper-focused and detail-oriented. Instead, they are long, general pages that serve as a sort of "hub" for a broad topic. Your pillar page shouldn't be treated as any other article or blog post: it should be an introduction to a given subject, from which the user can easily access additional content. It's best to think of it as somewhere between a home page and an article - it's not just a list of links to go to, but it's also not very detailed and specific.
This distinction may seem abstract, but once you understand cluster content, the idea of a "hub"-style Competency Page will become more apparent. Cluster content is the content that is supported by your Competency Page. All cluster content relates back to the Competency Page, and the Competency Page provides direct access to cluster content. Cluster content is complementary to Competency Page content since it fills in the gaps that your Competency Page leaves: detailed, single-issue articles and posts that answer specific questions.
Cluster content is your "real" content: it should be what drives traffic and interest to your site. You don't want all your questions to be answered in a massive Competency Page - you want this key location to provide very vague information on a plethora of issues, and then point the reader toward relevant pages of cluster content that contain the detailed answers they are looking for.
So how is using a Competency Page system different from what you're used to seeing? Historically, blogging sites have had their content scattered in a disorderly manner under simple topics or tags. For example, you'd have marketing blogs appear under the "Social Media" tag or the "SEO" tag, but not much more than that. Trying to navigate a site organized in this manner is like visiting a library that only categorized their books as "Fiction" or "Nonfiction" - outside of the tags, it's total chaos. This page acts as both your safe-house and your map: you know where to find it at all times, and you know it will show you where to go.
How to approach using the Competency Page system
Creating a Competency Page is an ambitious project, but SEO trends show that it is becoming more and more necessary. Here are a few things you can do to start creating your own Competency Pages:
- Break up your usual “tags” into smaller (but still broad) Competency Page topics.For example, if you have a "Social Media" tag for your blog posts, you wouldn't want to make a "Social Media" Competency Page - the topic is just too vast. Instead, try breaking it up into smaller sub-topics that can still be general enough. "Social Media" can be separated into multiple Competency Pages like "Twitter Optimization," "Instagram Strategies," etc.
- Get your cluster content in order.Always remember that the goal is to get the users to your cluster content since that should be the content worth reading on your site. Don't make a Competency Page for the sake of making one: your Competency Page serves your cluster content. This means that you need to organize your cluster content in a way that allows you to create a Competency Page for them. To stick to the previous example, this would mean finding and grouping up all of your Twitter-related posts in preparation for your Competency Page.
- Use hyperlinks and internal linking.This cannot be overstated. While interlinking is already important within traditional blog posts, it is the Competency Page system's bread-and-butter. Hyperlinks are the primary way in which you transform your Competency Page from just an oversized article lacking detail to a hub for all your cluster content. Links to your cluster content are the primary focus of your Competency Page - this means that you should write your Competency Page in a way that would enable you to insert hyperlinks to your cluster content.
- Keep your Competency Page updated.If your Competency Page serves as a map for users to navigate, then it should always correctly reflect the cluster content it is trying to promote. This means that if your cluster content expands beyond what your Competency Page is currently offering, you should look to update your Competency Page immediately. This can be as simple as adding a small paragraph, or even a couple of sentences to the page and making sure to properly insert hyperlinks to the newly expanded cluster content.
The easiest way to learn this method is to draw inspiration from strong examples. To end this article, here is a list of useful Competency Pages, referred to by the individual sites as Pillar, and a few things you can learn from them:
- Cloud Elements “API Integration” Pillar Page: This page displays mastery over the use of internal linking. The Competency/Pillar Page has numerous links that go to pages that develop the general ideas of their Pillar Page further. As a bonus, if you visit cluster content pages linked in the page, you will always find a link back to the Competency/Pillar Page. This idea effectively reinforces the user's understanding of the Competency/Pillar Page as the hub from which they navigate other related blog posts.
- Hubspot’s “Instagram Marketing” Pillar Page: Look to this page to figure out what the content of a Pillar Page should look like. There is a lot of information here, but nothing too specific. It’s enough to be informative, but it would feel incomplete without the cluster content it refers to. Also, Hubspot is the general locus of the term "Pillar Page" and has some of the most comprehensive information on the topic
- 3PL Central's “State of the Third-Party Logistics Report” Pillar Page is another good example of how successful a Pillar content can be. Since adopting this model, 3PL’s traffic has increased nine-fold, and their conversions two-fold.
Taking a cue from these examples, and building out this key foundation, will help you master your SEO and content management practices.