How to Create Cornerstone Content That Google Loves

Imagine with me for a second… someone has just arrived at your website, and this person has no idea what you’re talking about. And this is an important visitor.

Pretend further that this single visitor could make the difference between success and failure for your business. She has no time to waste poking around your site trying to figure out what you’re all about, so she immediately picks up the phone and calls you, demanding an explanation.

What do you tell her?

You’d likely explain by giving her the essential information about how you can help, and why you perfectly meet her needs, right? And I’m betting you’d want to explain it in the most compelling fashion you could, given what’s riding on the deal.

In a nutshell, that’s what Google wants you to do with the content on your site.

When trying to rank well for the one or two topics that your entire site is built around, creating flagship content is your best bet. Whether it’s a tutorial about search engine optimization basics, blogging for beginners, or copywriting, a frequently asked questions page, or an inspirational mission statement, this content serves a vital function in creating a relevant, compelling, and useful cornerstone to build a site around.

A cornerstone is something that is basic, essential, indispensable, and the chief foundation upon which something is constructed or developed. It’s what people need to know to make use of your website and do business with you.

And when approached in a strategic fashion, this content can rank very well in the search engines. The key is creating compelling content that’s worth linking to, and then finding a way to get the word out.

Here’s a 5-step strategy that I’ve found useful when developing cornerstone content and getting it to rank well.

1. Keywords

Taking into account the above, and what we know about keyword research, choose the most appropriate keyword phrase for your content. In other words, what is the relevant question that searchers are asking that your content and business will answer?

Will answering that question aid a visitor to your site in getting the most out of the experience? Are enough people asking that question to make ambitiously answering it worthwhile?

2. Title Tags and Headline

There’s a lot of debate among SEO practitioners about what works and what doesn’t, but no one disputes the importance of using your targeted keyword phrase in your title tag. Search engines want to offer relevant results, so those results should prominently reflect the words the searcher is using in the title of the page.

But remember also, the title tag is a headline. You want to speak back to the prospective reader in their own chosen words. Plus, you want to wrap those words in a compelling headline structure that promises to answer the exact question the searcher is asking with the query.

And finally, writing the perfect headline makes it more likely that someone will simply use your title to link back to you. To the extent link anchor text is a component of a particular search algorithm, this can only help.

3. Content

Can a 500 word article rank well for a competitive search term all by itself? Absolutely, because a lot of what determines how well a page ranks depends on the overall authority and age of the website it appears on. And perhaps for some topics, a short explanation is all that’s really required from a user-gratification standpoint.

But if you have a newer website trying to rank for a competitive search term, you’ll need links from other authoritative sources to make it happen. That means your content must be impressive, both in quality and in scope.

Develop an awesome multi-part tutorial. Write an inspirational manifesto. Answer the question so much better and comprehensively than the competition does, and chances are better that your effort becomes worth linking to.

4. Content (SEO) Landing Page

If you’re going to be ambitious in scope with your content, it makes sense to make things easy on the reader from a usability standpoint. A landing page is designed to instantly communicate what’s going on to the visitor as soon as they arrive, and also acts as a table of contents (via links to each part) that increases clarity.

Here are some of the benefits of the landing page approach:

  • Retention: Keeping a reader from hitting the back button is crucial to just about every aspect of successful cornerstone content. You can’t score a reader, customer, or link if the benefit of the resource is not quickly communicated.
  • Bookmarks: When presented with a beneficial, if somewhat overwhelming, piece of content, the first impulse is often to bookmark the page for a return visit. When that book marking occurs at a social site like Delicious, it can lead to long-term traffic. And when a whole bunch of those bookmarks happen in a short period of time, you can enjoy a viral effect that leads to more bookmarks and lots of links due to being highlighted on the Delicious popular and home pages. Landing pages help you score the bookmark.
  • Links: Likewise, a visiting blogger or webmaster might be instantly impressed with your work, and link to you based on the benefits and scope communicated by the landing page itself. The quicker you can impress a potential link source, the easier you’re making it for them to follow through.
  • Optimization: Tweaking on-page copy can boost your ranking after attracting those links, so a landing page is a key benefit. It’s a lot easier to optimize a landing page than your 5,000 word opus.

5. Related Content

You may have noticed that I’ve used the word “website” throughout this post, rather than blog. However, I would never try to undertake this strategy without having a blog involved.

Search engines favor websites that have a lot of relevant, frequently-updated content, and they also like a lot of general link authority. Given the ease-of-publishing blogging provides, it’s smart to utilize blog software from a content-management standpoint. And given that active blogging allows for constant participation in the social media space, it’s a critical way to build general site authority via links, delve into specific and related topics, and to reference your cornerstone content.

You will certainly feature a link to your essential content in the sidebar. And if you’ve done your job correctly when selecting the focus, it will be perfectly natural to continue to cross-reference link to your cornerstone piece from within future posts as well.

Don’t go overboard, but do provide context when discussing advanced topics that require an understanding of the basics. Never assume that everyone is aware of your cornerstone resource or understands the basics. Periodically cross-referencing your cornerstone content allows for continued exposure and links, assuming it still meets the needs of the audience.

In Conclusion

The first goal of cornerstone content is usefulness and relevancy to the website visitor, no matter how they arrive. The second goal is to make that content so compelling and comprehensive that people are willing—no, make that excited—to link to it.

If you focus on these two goals in a strategic manner, the search engine thing has a good chance of working itself out. Since attracting links is so important, we’ll next explore ways to proactively get the word out about your cornerstone content.

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Comments

  1. Hey Brian,

    What a great post to kick off the year.

    Question for you though — in WordPress, can you have dynamic “titles” … I haven’t found a plugin for that yet. Every post on every page has the same one for me.

    Cheers
    Tony Hung
    DeepJiveInterests.com

    PS … hey, first comment! Whohooo!

  2. Hey Tony. Not sure what you mean by dynamic titles, but every time you create a post or page in WordPress, you’re creating a title tag with the words in your post title.

    The only thing I might suggest is making a php tweak so that the title of the post or page comes before the name of your blog in the title.

    Anyone out there have the code to do that handy for Tony?

  3. You know what? You’re absolutely right. Nevermind!

    MAN, I have got to get some more sleep these days! :)

    Cheers
    Tony.

  4. I know the feeling. ;)

  5. Great content. I appreciate your thorough posts!

  6. Yes, great post!

    Thanks,
    JF

  7. This is the first or second post i am reading on this topic. You make things look quite simple. I am feeling like ‘i understood what you are talking about’ Thanks, that’s good feeling! It encourages me to read you more.

  8. Hey Brian – you keep hitting it out of the park again and again. One weekend I’m gonna get myself a bottle of scotch and settle in and read every post you’ve written and jot down notes.

    For Tony, here’s the code that makes the title of a post appear first (hopefully it displays right):

    This code goes in the header file.

  9. Damn it, it didn’t display. Let me try again…

  10. Doh! I give up. ;-)

    Tony: send me an email – soho @ tpg.com.au and I’ll send you the code if you want.

  11. That’s smashing stuff.
    I will try to follow those two goals to get the desired output.
    The post is a very good guide for the young bloggers to improve their content and attract the masses.
    Cheers!!!

  12. Tony, you may be interested in the OptimalTitle WordPress plugin, which adds some additional customization with the title tage display.

  13. Sorry, almost forgot the URL:

    http://elasticdog.com/2004/09/optimal-title/

  14. I have been spending all morning reading your posts and have found it very helpful.

  15. Hi Brian

    thanks for a great post as usual. A couple of thoughts…

    To the question from Tony, have you set up your blog to show titles in full – until recently my blog had the default number of post setting. Also if you have a long title, you can use the post slug to shorten it and make it key word rich.

    Secondly I am constantly suprised how much Google loves key words. I’m running a strategy this year of turning some of my blog posts to articles for article submission.

    I’m kind of a purist and want to write valuable content but realise that this won’t bring me more clients through natural search.

    I experimented last week and one post I took and adapted it for an online article directory.

    The post was short but very valuable content and within 48 hours not only did I see the article posted on other peoples blogs (I track my name and my blog name with Google Alerts) but also in my Google Alerts for that key word.

    Getting found in Google is key – my biggest challenge at the moment is how to get sign ups to my newsletter and weekly teleseminars – perhaps you could cover strategies for traffic conversion in your next series please!

    Thanks

    Krishna

  16. Really good tips.I will try to work on them.Thx so much

  17. Hmm… I’m not sure I’m really getting it! I’m a newbie to blogging, but have had successful websites in the past. I’ve got 6 blogs now. Just starting 3 weeks ago. Cornerstone content is a new idea to me and I’m not sure I get it. I’m not sure WHAT the questions are that are being queried on when people come to my site because my google stats are weak at the moment and I get a small clue what people are using to reach me. Mostly it’s referrals from others sites right now. Is “cornerstone content” a large sitemap of sorts that tries to explain in words everything that my site offers and why I made a site to begin with? I’ll re-read this 6 times until I figure it out – but, if someone could explain for a newbie – I’d really appreciate it!

  18. Vern,
    Cornerstone content can be a single page, blog post, or article as well as a series of posts or articles. It is supposed to be content that focuses very specifically on a topic that visitors to your site need to know about.

    For example, a web designer’s site might have its Cornerstone be a series of tutorials on CSS. A dog breeder might have an article about the importance of a pedigree.

    The key is to make the Cornerstone a central focus that can be useful for a long time. Readers have to not only enjoy and find the article useful, they must love it so much that they refer other people to it. Or even better, link to it on their site.

  19. ahhhh. OK I got it. It’s nothing more than creating great articles around a keyword or phrase. The article covers all questions about the keyword others use to reach your site – and anything they could want to know is either answered or referenced and pointing them to another spot on my site. Make it likeable and complete so it is somewhat viral and passed around as an authority on the subject. I think I got it – that explains a LOT. Thanks Aaron for taking the time to answer me!

  20. Vern, you’ve got it, and thanks also to Aaron for stepping in.. I’ve been busy all day. :)

  21. That’s what I’m trying to do on my blog now.. any chance you could visit my blog for a while.. pin point what can I improve.. and what i have done right and wrong?

  22. this guy knows what he is talking about, absolutely correct, GOOGLE LOVES CONTENT, i typed in google GOOGLE LOVES CONTENT and this blog appeared number 1 ranking, awesome

  23. Tony & the others: I have really good experience with “All in One Seo Pack” plugin for WordPress. With this plugin you have total control over how does the title look like and you can change keywords in meta tag (I know, they are probably obsolete to this day).

  24. how does the control plug in work???

  25. @Kalmir:
    Have you any experiences with the SEO title tag plugin? Which one’s better? All in one or SEO title tag?

  26. Kalmir, the meta keyword tag is pretty much obsolete. However, it’s certainly worth your time to put a relevant and focused meta description on each page as Google displays this in the results.

  27. I’ve been struggling with SEO on one hand and “hypnotic” writing on the other hand, and I’m still trying to tie them in (if that’s possible?) to get the best of both worlds.

  28. Brian,
    This is good stuff. I have been reading and reading and coppyblogger has officially become my go to place to remind myself on how to develop the right content and keep the basics in mind.

    Thanks!

  29. Content is King.

    As usual, this post proves that content is much better marketing then marketing.

    ~Igor

  30. The hardest thing I do in keeping my blog going is finding new material to write about. i see that I am forgetting about SEO and the reader. This is a great reminder of what I need to do to make it readable and hopefully build a good following of readers.

  31. Fantastic article, I really need to look at the copy on my page and decide if it is doing the job and conveying to the potential customer in right way.

    I think maybe I need to go back to the drawing board with writing with conviction and really focusing on the intention of the copy.

    Great tips and thanks for writing such interesting blogs.

  32. It’s all about content. I’ve never bothered with any SEO stuff at all. I just wrote and wrote and wrote and readers just started coming.

  33. I know i am so late to read this post.. but after reading this post i feel very proud because at least i know how to optimize my site without help of any seo consultant… So thanks for sharing wonderful post.

  34. Some people underestimate the power of blogging and posting great content. Only recently has it opened my eyes, as I have been finding some killer articles that were drafted over 2 years ago, and they were exactly what I was searching for. Get the content out, be passionate about your niche, and see the magic work.

    Thanks!
    Ron

  35. Building the foundational content to set the pillar for your blog is crucial. I like to think of these as breakthroughs, that will make people remember your site and who you are rather than somebody to skim over.

  36. Lots of Fantastic information in your blogpost, I favorited your blog post so I can visit again in the future, Thanks.

  37. I love the term “Cornerstone Content.” Simply asking oneself, “What would I like the cornerstones of my site to be?” can provide some valuable insight on how to improve a website, or to determine if one is still on the right track.

  38. Yes, landing pages! I preach landing pages all the time – especially for the more competitive keywords – that way, even if your site doesn’t focus on a specific keyword or phrase but at least part of the pages on your site pertain to that subject you can have the keywords included in a relatively main (linkable) url.

    Great post.

  39. Brian – Glad I found your site. Great information, nice webpage design, continue the good work.

    Ciao Fabio.

  40. Now more than ever, content has to be solid – built around factual information that’s relevant and unique. I’d been writing for years, before I’d ever been introduced to “scraped and spun” content… and wow, how anyone would ever put there name on this is beyond me. I’m amazed it’s taken this long for search to start sorting through the mess that’s become “The Internet.” Panda bear sure has them on the run, now :)

    I’m impressed with the talent coming from NZ (I’ve become a recent reader of Mark Ling, too). And, I see you’ve already started planting your flag on as many quality properties as you can… though, I think they’re all lucky to have you, imho. I recently purchased Premise and I must say, the quality of products associated with and co-produced by Copyblogger Media is impressive. It’s not hard to imagine myself returning again and again.

    Signed up and bookmarked!

  41. Brian,
    This article is such a breath of fresh air. One of my pet peeves
    is people cramming their opportunity, tool or last gadget down prospects throat
    and they forget people want to be valued, not sold

    Thank you for your contribution,
    Jeff Faldalen

  42. Nice Google analogy Brian. I have to say I have never actually looked at it this way before.

  43. Never heard of this concept until now. Still not sure if you’re talking about one killer article, or a page of several articles-separate from your main post?

  44. Hi Brian,
    Great article. I totally agree with every word

    I think to many people get caught up with traffic
    instead of what kind of traffic they’re site is attracting

    Not that I have ever done this :)

    It always seems to come down to the famous word of
    Focus

    Thank you for your contribution,
    Jeff Faldalen

  45. Quick question, in your opinion what would be the minimum amount of words you’d suggest a post should contain?

    And thank you very much for the post, very informative.

    Thanks,

    Jesse Fogarty