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.
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.
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.
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.