What is cornerstone content? A simple (but complete) guide.

what is cornerstone content
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One of the most frequently asked questions I get about SEO is about Cornerstone Content.

Digital marketers and Growth hackers talk about it lots. And it’s one of the most important elements in Search Engine Optimisation to know if you want to drive tons of traffic to your site.

This article answers everything you ever wanted to know about it.


Definition

In a nutshell, it’s the most important content on your website for driving traffic.

Essentially, it declares a post (or a page) to be the most definitive content on the subject matter you are writing about. This tells search engines that it’s probably the sort of information someone would want to read to get a complete overview of a topic.


Why Cornerstone content is important

Marking the right content is not just important, it’s EXTREMELY important.

Articles marked as cornerstone help you to rank for highly competitive search terms. That is words (or more likely phrases) which people search for a lot.

Of course, terms which are popular tend to mean more people write articles about them, which makes it even more challenging to rank for these terms.

If you have a good ‘keyword’ or ‘keyphrase’ strategy then you probably have a fighting chance of getting your article to rank. But if you want the best chance of getting up there, you need to pick your cornerstone articles very carefully.


Yes, but what actually IS IT?

Cornerstone content is basically foundation content, in other words content designed to build traffic and brand awareness.

Your cornerstone content needs to be highly relevant and related to what your business does – it helps you establish your brand as an authority in your industry. The goal is to show up in lots of search terms, so people read your article, and ultimately they get a feel for what kind of an expert you really are. Maybe later, they will engage with you and buy a product or service.


Characteristics

Blog posts and pages which are marked as cornerstone generally have most (if not all) of the following characteristics:

  • Long form
  • Highly authoritative
  • Very linkable
  • The key pages you want people to land on
  • Ideally they are NOT selling a product or service, but providing the reader with information.

Long Form

Long form posts mean they have lots of words, normally over 900 words as a minimum. The ideal is usually around 1500 – 3000 words, but don’t get caught up in word count. It’s better to have MORE words than TOO FEW words in cornerstone content.

Highly Authoritative

Highly Authoritative content is that which, as it’s name suggest, has lots of authority. In other words, it’s the knowledge, the complete, total, this is all you want to know knowledge. It’s the ‘professor mentality‘ of the content – is this the complete information a student would need to know (authoritative)? Or is it just a basic few headlines and a bit of text that requires more in depth research? (not highly authoritative)

Very Linkable

Pages which are ‘very linkable’ means that other posts may well have lots of links into them, mainly because they are subsets of this topic.

Think of a spiders web. Your cornerstone content is at the heart of the web, and there are lots of other articles linking to it.

For example, if you sell financial products, you might have a long, in depth post called ‘Everything you ever needed to know about pensions’ which would be good cornerstone content.

Linking to this you might have more in depth articles about specific financial products such as the different kinds of pensions or strategies for choosing a risk class. The diagram below shows exactly what I mean here.

cornerstone content diagram example
Showing the difference between ordinary posts and cornerstone articles

Key Pages

Cornerstone articles are what you want people to land on. It might be (and probably will be the case) that this is the first time they have found you. Now you want to ‘wow’ them with how great your writing is. The last thing you want them to do is browse off elsewhere. You want them engaged, from start to finish.

Not selling

Some people think that their main selling point is the cornerstone content. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s useful to be able to have some form of call to action in your content (maybe giving people the opportunity to sign up to get the latest tips and tricks for example), but this is not the place to be flogging your wares.

Posts and Articles marked as cornerstone ideally should be purely informative or educational. This comes again down to ‘marketing psychology’. If people are searching for particular topics, they don’t want to be sold to, they want information.


How do you decide whether to mark a post as Cornerstone?

It’s sometimes not the easiest thing to work out. Try asking yourself these few questions to decide whether to mark content as Cornerstone or not:

  • Is it a complete guide rather than a basic overview?
  • Is this a ‘high level’ foundational topic?
  • Does my content give a good all round understanding of this topic?
  • Do you have other posts which are subsets of this topic?
  • Are there lots of other posts which could go into more granular detail about some specific area of it?
  • Is this likely to need regular updating?
  • Is it related closely to what my business does or offers?
  • Does it keep away from very granular, specific or niche technical details?

If you can answer YES to most of the above questions, then it’s likely you are writing a Cornerstone article

Cornerstone posts essentially are saying ‘hey, you must read this article’ to those interested in that particular topic. In essence, it’s going to be telling the search engine that you are dead keen on making sure everyone knows this is the ‘only post’ they want to see on the subject because it will tell them everything they needed to know. And if they need to know more about something in particular, well, great, there are loads of articles which link to this too.


Is Cornerstone content the same as Pillar content?

I get asked this question a lot, and the answer is well, yes and no.

They’re basically kind of the same thing, content which you want people to land on lots, and to rank highly for. But there is one very important distinction which you should be aware of.

Whereas Cornerstone Content ideally needs to be updated and revised regularly, Pillar content is designed to be written once, and that’s it. It doesn’t get updated or edited in the future.

A good way to think about it is this.

What is a brain: This would be pillar content. It doesn’t change. Brains are brains. You only need to say it once. No need to update it.

How to keep your brain sharp: This would be a cornerstone article. It might need to be updated regularly as our knowledge of brains expands.

The best brain games of 2020: This would be more ordinary content. It might well be obsolete in a few months, and another similar article for 2021 might be linked as well.


Use Yoast SEO on your WordPress site

If your website runs on WordPress, the best way to mark your content as Cornerstone is by using the free Yoast SEO plugin. This is one of the most downloaded plugins in the world, and it will transform the way you do business (and the number of visitors you get).

Once you’ve installed and configured Yoast SEO, you will see it at the bottom of the page. It’s a very simple option which allows you simply to turn it on or off. Remember, use it sparingly, and focus it on top level topics.

Showing the Yoast SEO cornerstone content box in the WordPress post editor
Defining a page as containing cornerstone content using Yoast SEO

And even if you aren’t using Yoast for your WordPress website, why not? Get it. It really will make optimising your website loads easier.


Conclusion

If you actually want to rank, and get visitors to your website, you really need a good Keyword and SEO strategy. Using Cornerstone content is absolutely vital to getting seen, and it’s one of those things that unfortunately simply takes time to do, but is ultimately worth it in the end.

Don’t scrimp on SEO. If you do it right, you will be getting lots of organic visitors to your site. If you do it wrong, well, ok, but the chances of ever getting found will be slim.

Dylan Leighton

Dylan Leighton

Dylan Leighton is an expert in marketing automation, Sales Funnels, Blockchain and Human Behavioural Psychology. Born and Bred in Yorkshire, England, he now works predominantly as a growth hacking strategist, working with brands from all over the world to improve user acquisition and customer retention.

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