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The Importance of Pillar Articles and why Obama and McCain are Idiots

In this post – relatively new blogger CJ from Wise Money Matters shares what they’ve learned about using Pillar Articles (sometimes called evergreen content) to Grow Traffic to Your Blog.

I started blogging only 4 months ago. In the grand scheme of things, this is a very short time and my blog, wisemoneymatters.com, has a long way to go before I can become a “ProBlogger” like Darren. Due to my relative inexperience with blogging, I have spent the last 4 months scouring through various “how to blog” blogs such as Problogger, Copyblogger and have watched all of Yaro Stark’s BecomeABlogger videos. Through my studies I’ve heard about the importance of key core posts, also known as “pillar articles” but only recently have seen the effects of them.

Since my full-time work schedule doesn’t allow me enough time to fully market my blog via commenting on other blogs and engaging heavily in social media, I rely a lot on Google to pick up my posts. I do try to comment on at least 10 blogs per week, but to really jump start my blog, I should be doing closer to 10 per day. In the last month or so, since my blog has started to gain some steam and other bloggers are linking to me, my Google rankings for various search terms have been going up and certain pillar articles have really been the focus of most of my traffic.

In fact, here is a graph of my traffic sources via Google Analytics for the past month:

pillar-articles-traffic.png

In my personal opinion, while you need a good mixture of commenting on other blogs and social media interactivity, I find Search Engine traffic to be the best source of traffic for several reasons.

The primary reason is workload. Commenting on other blogs requires that I frequently visit those blogs to comment. I naturally comment on the blogs I already enjoy reading, but sometimes find myself simply going to various blogs to get my own name out. It’s simply work and not very fun. Frankly, I think it’s also kind of selfish as I’m not really adding much to the other blog but rather just trying to add to my own. Occasionally I make a good relationship with another blogger, such as Mr ToughMoneyLove from ToughMoneyLove.com, but that’s rare.

Social Media is even harder work. It requires constant attention which is something I don’t have. Maybe if I get to a “ProBlogger” status like Darren (he even took the time to add me as a friend on Facebook rather than waiting for me to add him… how cool is that?!?), I could find the time to devote to Social Media but until then, working my day job to pay the bills is more important.

With Search Engine traffic, it’s consistent traffic. As long as you don’t significantly lose your spot on a Google search term, you will get traffic over time. Little extra work is needed aside from making sure your posts are updated as needed. The traffic just keeps flowing.

Secondly, it’s attracting people who actually want your content. Often times when I comment on another personal finance blog, the only return traffic I get is that the owner of that blog comments on mine. While this can be good (see making good relationships above), it’s not really productive overall. The results of such efforts are often minimal. Granted, they do add up over time so I’m not suggesting stop commenting, but they aren’t as solid as someone who is actually searching for the information you are providing and seeing your site listed for the search term.

With things like Digg, you often have to go out of your way to make articles which specifically attract Digg users. Such articles often stray from the original core mission of your blog to get the “shock effect” that Digg users like so much. Worse than that, Digg users are there one day and gone the next. Don’t get me wrong, getting a good Digg has it’s rewards, but it requires so much energy for little consistency. I’m more of a passive blogger type of guy. Write a really good article which gets a good ranking on a popular Google search term and just let the people slowly stream in.

So don’t misunderstand me. You do need a good mixture of techniques to get your blog known but if time is a constraint, getting good solid Pillar Articles listed on Google should be your top priority and do the other stuff when you have extra time. Wait… does anyone actually ever have extra time?

Anyways, on to two types of Pillar Articles…

Seasonal Pillar Articles

Once the United States primaries had been pretty much finalized, I started to look at the two Presidential Candidates. I figured I could do a post comparing the candidates. Since my blog is a personal finance blog, I decided to look specifically at their economic stances. I wrote one blog post about each candidate. To give it a little spice, I titled them “Why Barack Obama is an idiot” and “Why John McCain is an idiot.”

I figured those titles would at least draw the attention of a few people. However, I never thought it would be so beneficial to my blog. Since the election has really become cutthroat, those 2 posts have been 2 of the most viewed posts on my blog.

Here is a list of the top 10 search terms from Google which landed on my site (click to enlarge):

pillar-articles-2.png

As you can see, those two posts make up the entire top 5 search terms for my site.

The keys to seasonal pillar articles

Key #1: Timing. This is the most important. You need to be the first for a particular subject. I wrote these posts when the candidates for both parties were initially decided. I could have written those posts last week, but I would have only had 1 week to get the traffic. On top of that, due to my low overall Google Pagerank, other similar articles were bound to be written and I wouldn’t have been able to get to the top of the Google listings.

For instance, if I type “Obama idiot” into Google, my page is 4th on the list. When I first wrote this article, there was only one other article with a similar title. Now the search is filled with such articles. For “McCain idiot,” I’m ranked 10th. When I first wrote this article there were no other articles with such a title and I was ranked #1. Due to my low PageRank and other factors, I’m now 10 being pushed out by the bigger websites.

So the key is to get in quick and early. The only downside is that when you notice such trends, you need to make sure and stay up to date on the post. For instance, when I initially wrote the McCain article, he had very little information available about his economic policy other than wanting to lower taxes. Now his plan has shaped and the information is now a little outdated. Also, both articles were written before the big decline on Wall Street and all of the bailouts, so neither of those issues were addressed.

Key #2: Good content. Frankly this is almost as important as #1. Timing will initially get you a high spot on Google searches, but good content will keep you there. This is something I struggle with because I’m not naturally a good writer. It’s important to continually check posts that make such a huge effect on your blog and remove any obvious mistakes. I edited the language and grammar of both of those posts at least 3 times after publishing them and realizing their popularity.

Key #3: Think outside the box. Since my blog is a personal finance blog, I was tempted to title the posts “Obama’s economic policies” and “McCain’s economic policies.” While both of those titles may have received some traffic, they most likely would not hold their place against the major media channels who typically cover such topics with similar titles and frankly those titles are just plain boring. They don’t evoke any emotion and would track minor attention. However, due to the strong opinions on both sides regarding the current candidates, the titles I chose were perfect. I did expect them to get some Digg traffic, but I do realize the actual content of the posts aren’t really Digg material so I’m not necessarily disappointed that they didn’t.

So when you combine those keys listed above, you can drive some serious traffic to your site for the course of the event or season. Now I fully expect these posts to fall off the radar after the election, but for the time being, I’m reaping the rewards. Also, I suspect that at least one of these posts will remain popular after the election. Which post will depend on which idiot gets elected.

I will also admit one downside to this particular example. Much of the traffic that comes to the site will be a one time visit (see my comment on Digg at the top). I realize that most people searching for these terms are not looking for personal finance advice. The flip side of that is I am reaching an untapped audience. The blogosphere is cluttered with personal finance blogs. Many people looking for a personal finance blog have already found the one or two (or ten) blogs that they are looking for. This gives me opportunity to reach an audience who may want personal finance advice but didn’t know it yet.

Further Reading from the ProBlogger Archives

All-time Pillar Articles

If you notice on the top 10 search terms in the image above, 4 of the top terms were related to “Top Paying Jobs.” This falls under an All-time Pillar Article. This drives a consistent amount of traffic to my website every single week. It’s currently listed as my most Popular Post on my website according to my site’s popularity plugin.

pillar-articles-popular-posts.png

I actually came across this by accident and wrote 2 posts about it. I did some research because I was interested myself in the top 50 highest paying jobs. I found a good list and basically cross posted it with my own comments. Then I was wondering about the top 50 highest paying jobs which don’t require a career. So I cross posted that as well. The results are great.

Again, this goes back to the passive traffic idea. I consistently receive traffic from these search terms. It’s not the quantity of the Seasonal Pillar Articles because the highest paying jobs is not the hot topic of the month, but it is consistent. That is one thing to remember when stumbling across such Pillar Articles. Don’t expect the masses to flock to your latest genius post. Give it time and let Google run it’s course. Sometimes you hit it and sometimes you miss.

There is however 1 primary key to making Pillar Articles that I learned from this experience. Post about what you want to know or learn. The only reason I have a post about the highest paying jobs is because I was curious. Since I don’t have a college degree myself, I was also interested in the highest paying jobs with no degree. The key is that if I’m curious about that, there has to be other people that are curious as well.

Now realize that Google has it’s preferences. If there is a hundred articles about the very post you are interested in writing, don’t expect to jump to the top. You should still write the article as over time your blog should gain a reputation (and therefore a higher PageRank) and the post will likely rise, but don’t be discouraged if that perfect post goes nowhere. Just keep writing great content and the traffic will follow.

I’d love to hear any other suggestions regarding tips on Pillar Articles as that’s what I really focus on and if you liked this article, please Digg it or Stumble it. I’m sure Darren would appreciate the extra traffic.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. JB says:

    C.J., great job with the pillar post, it is an interesting idea, but do you feel like it will ever tun-off some of your subscribers by misleading them?

  2. Dimitri says:

    I never thought of that, great material and very practical too. Thank you…

  3. Keral Patel says:

    LOL nice timing on those posts though. Great marketing tactics.

  4. Caleb says:

    Now this describes a refreshing strategy because I too found out this thing by accident about making posts that coincide with something presently going on in the world…just didn’t have a name for this concept(Pillar Articles).

    Lately I’ve been feeling the same way as CJ about using social sites. As for commenting on other relevant blogs, it does require more time,but it has proven to be productive for me.

    Of course,if one has the extra bucks,buying traffic media would be ideal.

    “Post about what you want to know or learn” is exactly what I do and I only do what works!

  5. Andy T says:

    Pillar articles? An article, which has a high interest that everybody would likely to search, to read. How many of your article can qualify as pillar article? 1 out of 10, 20?
    I believe everybody would like to have in their blog. However, I don’t think my post will ever qualify as pillar article. So… I don’t care. I just write what I enjoy to write about. If you like to read my post, enjoy! If you do’t like it, sorry! See you!

  6. Very offensive!!!

    I didnt even take time to read the post because the title is offensive.

    Its even more offensive when it come from an Austrailian person.

  7. Joi says:

    Great information. I side with those who disagree about our candidates being idiots, but we read the post right?

    Point taken!

  8. I wrote a ‘pillar article’ on my book review site a few months back and was quite surprised when it ranked no1 in google and brought in more traffic in a day than the year to date! Even now I receive 200-300 hits a day – which might not sound a lot but it was a niche topic and now I’ve added an adsense block to the article I’m even earning a few cents!

  9. Jeremy Day says:

    I like the idea, but not the approach. While it is clever it may do more harm to your brand then good. I agree that it may bring some people that don’t already subscribe to a personal finance blog, but I say it may be few. Take it for what you will, but I think you should write more articles like your 50 highest paying careers rather than spicy political articles that will get you flamed and possibly ruin your rep. Just my 2 cents…

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  10. Vinayak says:

    Great use of title!

  11. Ganesh says:

    I was really surprised to see that you are receiving most of your traffic from search engines. That’s really awesome. It only goes to show how good you’ve been blogging and promoting your blog. :)

  12. Karen says:

    My experience has been similar, don’t have much time to social network, but people are finding the blog via searches, and seasonal posts have attracted a lot of visitors. Great article!

    http://favoritechildrensbooks.blogspot.com/

  13. Peter S says:

    Thanks, Darren. This is all new to me. I’ll be writing a pillar article on my blog this weekend!

  14. farouk says:

    i strongly agree with you, my first website gets around 400,000 hits a month and i never depend on blog comments or forum posts for traffic, mainly i get 83% traffic from Google and yahoo.

    Building traffic through search engines is the slow guaranteed way while building it through comments and posts is the fast risky way that might or might not work