What is cornerstone content? How can it improve your SEO? How can the Yoast plugin help? Find out in my guide to using cornerstone content to increase blog traffic…
Cornerstone content should be a key part of your SEO strategy and done properly can seriously increase blog traffic.
But there are A LOT of myths and misconceptions surrounding cornerstone content (see below). Many bloggers have simply not heard of it at all… or are just plain confused by the notion!
But actually, when you get your head around it, cornerstone content is REALLY EASY! And it can have some pretty amazing results in terms of blog growth and SEO.
In this guide to cornerstone content I am going to take you step by step through the main questions bloggers have about cornerstone content. Plus, I’ll be busting those myths and showing you just how you can create your very own cornerstone content strategy.
Before you read this guide to creating awesome cornerstone content, I strongly advise you to read my beginners’ guide to SEO and also my post on how to use the Yoast SEO plugin to grow your blog. These will really help you to understand how cornerstone content fits into SEO as a whole.
What is cornerstone content?
So first up, what exactly is cornerstone content?
Put simply, cornerstone content is the most important articles on your website – the pages or posts you want to rank highest for in the search engines.
Cornerstone articles should be:
- Long: at least 900 words, but probably longer
- Evergreen: in other words, timeless – not tied to a particular year or season
- Complete, informative and authoritative: such as an ‘ultimate guide to…’
- Extremely well written: take your time, they should be your very best writing
- The most important pages on your website: reflecting the main topics of your blog
- The posts/pages you would most like your readers to read when they first visit your website
- Regularly updated
- Easy to find on your blog
You should write cornerstone articles about the keywords you most want to rank for. Typically, you would write 1 piece of cornerstone content for each of your main categories.
And crucially, these cornerstone articles should be the content on your site with the most internal links pointing TO them. Every time you write an article on your blog you should ensure there is a link pointing to the most relevant cornerstone article.
Why is cornerstone content so important for SEO?
Cornerstone content is super important for your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy because it tells Google about your site structure. Crucially it tells Google which is the most important content on your website.
If you write lots of blog posts on similar subjects, you need to tell Google which one is most important. If you don’t, you will end up competing against yourself in search results. But by using cornerstone content properly, including correct internal linking (more of that below), you are telling Google which article is the most important on that topic.
Cornerstone content also helps you rank better for hard-to-rank search terms. By writing a cornerstone article incorporating those competitive search terms, you have a better chance of being visible when people search for that topic.
The concept behind cornerstone content is to help establish your site as an authority in your niche. This gives more credibility to the rest of your blog, both in the eyes of your readers AND search engines.
If your blog is seen as authoritative in your field, you will find other websites will link back to your content, giving you valuable backlinks that will also boost your blog in Google searches.
How to create and optimize cornerstone content
If you have years’ and years’ worth of content on your blog already, you may well have several pieces of content that can be easily transformed into cornerstone content. However, if you don’t have anything suitable, or if you are new to blogging, you may need to create your cornerstone content from scratch.
Here’s how to do it…
Step 1: Define your main categories
What is your blog about? What are the 5 or 6 main topics of your blog? Which are the keywords you most want to rank for on your blog? For example, on this blog it’s Start a Blog, Blog Content, Grow your Blog, Email Marketing, Monetise your Blog and Productivity Tips.
Being clear about your main categories helps your readers understand what your blog is about, and it makes it clear to search bots too. Ideally your main categories should also be clear on your home page, so readers can see at a glance what you write about on your blog.
If you have more than 5 or 6 main topics, you should think about making some of these sub categories. Start by creating one piece of cornerstone content each for your top-level categories. Then once you have some awesome top-level cornerstone content, you can look at creating cornerstone content for your sub-categories too.
Step 2: Choose your keywords
For each piece of cornerstone content, you should be aiming to rank for 1 search term: a keyword, or more likely a keyword phrase (sometimes known as a longtail keyword). The keywords you target for your cornerstone article will usually be a bit more general than the ones you target for individual blog posts. Remember, these are meant to be ‘ultimate guide’ type pieces, with everything a reader needs to know about a particular topic in that article.
Use my FREE KEYWORD RESEARCH CALCULATOR to find the best keyword phrases for each of your cornerstone articles.
READ MORE >>> How to do keyword research for bloggers
READ MORE >>> How to actually DO keyword research: a step by step guide
READ MORE >>> FREE KEYWORD RESEARCH TRAINING
Step 3a: Write awesome content
When you write each cornerstone article it should be your best writing and as optimized as possible for SEO AND readability. It should be relatively long in comparison to your other blog posts (and at least 900 words long), and it should be very informative on the topic you are writing about. Think of it as an ‘ultimate guide’ even if that is not what you call it. It should be authoritative and complete. Don’t miss anything out!
Ensure your content answers the key questions your readers will have on that topic.
For example, say you are a food blogger and one of the key topics on your blog is ‘jam’, you should write an Ultimate Guide to Jam Making which includes absolutely everything your readers need to know about making jam. Put yourself in the shoes of a newbie jam maker. What do they need to know? What questions will they have? Cover everything!
Cornerstone content should also be super easy to read and include lots of headings, perhaps even an index, to make the content easy to follow and for readers to find just what they are looking for.
Step 3b: Repurpose existing content
Alternatively, you may well have existing content on your blog that can be easily transformed into cornerstone content.
Look for the best and most complete post for the keyword(s) you want to rank for, ideally a piece of content that is already popular, and rewrite it.
Step 4: Ensure there are tons of internal backlinks pointing at your cornerstone article
This is a crucial part of cornerstone strategy. Cornerstone articles should have the most internal backlinks pointing at them out of all the posts and pages on your blog.
Multiple internal backlinks tell Google that your cornerstone article is the most important article on your blog for that keyword. So find every post on your blog that is relevant to your new cornerstone article. Then go into each of those posts and add a link back to your new cornerstone content. Ideally the keyword should be the anchor text.
So taking our jam example, go to every jam recipe on your blog (and any other post related to jam) and make sure there is a link back to your Ultimate Guide to Jam Making on each one. Make sure the anchor text (i.e. the text with the hyperlink) is ultimate guide to jam making NOT, for example, click here or read more.
Do make sure your internal links back to your cornerstones are within your actual content. Links from within your content are much more valuable that links from footers/sidebars etc.
Going forward, when you’re writing new blog posts and write a topic related to one of your cornerstone articles, make sure you include a link back to it!
This internal linking structure will increase the chance of your cornerstone content ranking in Google searches.
Step 5: Promote your cornerstone content
Don’t forget to promote your cornerstone content! Share it everywhere: social media, your email list, linkies and roundups – use this post on ways to promote your blog posts to help you.
Try to get opportunities to do guest posts on your key blog topics and include a link back to the most relevant piece of cornerstone content. This will boost your authority, your visibility AND give you a valuable back link.
Step 6: Keep your cornerstone content regularly updated
Cornerstone content should not only be in depth, authoritative and informative. It should regularly be kept up-to-date. Even if you don’t have time to keep the rest of your content up-to-date, make sure your cornerstone content is regularly checked and amended to take into account anything that’s changed in that area and/or anything new you have learnt.
How to optimize your cornerstone content with the Yoast SEO plugin
The Yoast SEO plugin has several features which help you with your cornerstone content strategy.
1. SEO analysis of cornerstone content (free)
In the Yoast metabox section at the bottom of every blog post, you will find a toggle to indicate if a blog post is cornerstone content. If you check this cornerstone content box, it will make the SEO analysis and the readability analysis a little more strict. For example, a normal blog post needs to be over 300 words but cornerstone content is expected to be at least 900 words. Use the Yoast SEO analysis to make your cornerstone content the best that it can be.
This is what Yoast says:
“Our SEO analysis will help you optimize your blog post for the search engines. For cornerstone content, you have to go the extra mile. Make sure you use the focus keyword enough, mention your focus keyword in a few headings and optimize your pictures. Readability is equally important though. Our readability analysis helps you to, for instance, use enough headings and to write in short, easy to read sentences and paragraphs.
“Your cornerstones should be the best. They should be better than your other articles and the demands on your writing should be higher. Our cornerstone analysis will help you to raise your standards (and stick to it). It will be harder to score that green bullet. You have to do all important things right!”
2. Post Overview Filter (free)
If you go to the post overview page of your WordPress dashboard: (go to POSTS => ALL POSTS), you can filter by CORNERSTONE CONTENT. This will help you quickly and easily identify which articles you have flagged as cornerstones. This means you can easily work on updating and improving them.
3.Yoast SEO text link counter (free)
One particularly useful feature is the Yoast SEO text link counter. Again, on the post overview page, you will see two columns with icons featuring arrows. The first column is the number of links in that post (arrow pointing outwards), the second column is the number of links pointing to that post (arrow pointing inwards).
If you click on the icons you can sort these columns into ascending or descending order. If you click on the number of links pointing TO the post (arrow pointing inwards) and sort this column in descending order you can see which posts have the most links pointing to them. These should be your cornerstone articles.
If they are not, you need to work at adding more links to your cornerstone posts.
For those just starting out with cornerstone content, this can be a good way of finding content that can be repurposed into cornerstone content.
If you don’t see these Yoast SEO text link counter columns in your post overview page, you may need to do 1 or 2 things to make them visible. The first thing is to go to the Yoast SEO plugin (marked as SEO on the LH side of your WP dashboard) and to the sub-menu TOOLS. Click the purple button marked START SEO DATA OPTIMIZATION.
If you still don’t see the Yoast SEO text link counter columns in your posts overview page, go to screen options at the top RH of the posts overview page and make sure ‘# links in post’ and ‘# internal links to’ are checked.
4. Internal linking suggestions (Yoast SEO Premium only)
If you buy Yoast SEO Premium, one of the extras you get is internal linking suggestions. Yoast analyses what you write and, by using the most prominent words in your post, suggests related articles you might want to link to.
The Internal linking suggestion tool will give priority to the articles that you mark as cornerstone content, meaning you’ll never forget to link to your cornerstone on a certain topic if you write about something related.
How to take cornerstone content strategy one step further
If you really want to capitalise on the power of cornerstone content, there are a number of things you can do.
Create an opt-in for each piece of cornerstone content. If someone is interested enough in a topic to read your (detailed, in depth, long) cornerstone article, they will probably be interested enough to be willing to part with their email address in return for more information. They are also likely to be really great subscribers who regularly open your emails and click on links because they are really engaged with the topic, thus pushing up not only your subscriber numbers but also your open rate and click through rate.
READ MORE >>> How to grow your email list with a free opt-in offer
2. Guest posting
Guest posting is a great way to gain greater visibility for your blog as well as gain valuable backlinks, which in turn will give you an SEO boost and help increase your perceived authority in your niche. You can maximise the value of doing guest posts by ensuring that each time you do one, you link back to the most relevant piece of cornerstone content on your website.
This will mean, in addition to creating fantastic internal authority for your cornerstone content, via internal linking, you will also be creating amazing external authority for your cornerstones by having lots of external backlinks pointing at them. All of this will have an incredible effect on your blog’s SEO, which in turn will lead to greater traffic and greater revenue.
READ MORE >>> A beginner’s guide to guest posting for bloggers
Another way to encourage more external backlinks to your cornerstone content is to participle in roundups by other bloggers. Make sure you are in plenty of blogging Facebook groups, so you hear about these opportunities. You can start by joining my Facebook group: Productive Blogging Community.
Alternatively create your own roundup on the topic of one of your cornerstones, feature your own cornerstone article in that roundup and invite other bloggers to submit their articles. Although this won’t give you backlinks, it will drive extra traffic to your cornerstones because those other bloggers are likely to share your roundup with their followers too. Extra traffic will also result in an SEO boost.
Common myths about cornerstone content
There are lots of myths surrounding cornerstone content… here’s just a few of them…
1. Just checking the box on Yoast will do something magical
Nope – just toggling CORNERSTONE CONTENT on in the Yoast metabox does absolutely nothing for your SEO. It is simply a tool for you to identify which of your posts are cornerstone content, so you can work on them and make them the best that they can be.
What the Yoast SEO plugin DOES do is make the analysis criteria stricter to help you make your cornerstone content better and even more SEO friendly than the rest of the content. It also helps you find your cornerstone content quickly and easily in the posts overview page, so you can update it and check how many links you have pointing to it.
But no, I’m afraid checking that box does nothing magical – sorry!!
2. You should make all your most popular posts cornerstone content
No again! Cornerstone content is not strictly about popular posts it’s about your most complete, authoritative and important posts.
That said, if you use cornerstone content strategy well, it is likely your cornerstone articles will become your most popular content over time as they will receive a lot of traffic from search engines.
3. The more cornerstone articles the better
Nope. Cornerstone content, by definition is your very best content. The best of the best. That means you will have relatively few cornerstone articles on your blog – probably just one or two per category.
4. Those Yoast green lights TELL Google your post is cornerstone content
Er no. What tells Google your post is cornerstone content is if that content it long, well written, authoritative, optimized for search engines and if it has lots of links pointing to it.
5. You need to get a green light for everything
No, this is a common misconception about the Yoast plugin in general. While you should try and get green lights where possible, you don’t have to get a green light for absolutely everything to do well in SEO.
In fact, striving for a green light over common sense may make your post perform less well on search engines: remember the golden rule is, if there is a choice between what your readers want and an SEO ‘rule’, always go with what your readers want – ultimately you are writing for people not bots!
6. If you don’t check the cornerstone content box on Yoast when you create the post you can’t go back and check it later
Nope. You can absolutely decide to check that box later. In fact, if you already have an established blog, it’s probably better to choose a piece of established content to be repurposed into a cornerstone article, rather than starting afresh. Choosing a piece of content that already has established links and already performs well in searches will give your cornerstone content strategy a head start.
7. Cornerstone content has to be pages not posts
Absolutely not. Actually, it can be anything: a post, a page, a category… so long as you make it epic content and ensure it has lots of backlinks pointing at it, it really doesn’t matter what format it is in. But personally, I prefer to use posts for my cornerstone content.
8. Cornerstone content is impossible if you are a food blogger
No, it’s not impossible, but it can be a little harder. You need to think outside the box a bit more for some niches and food blogging is one of those. Think about what your main topics are and create a post you can link back to from as many recipes as possible. For example, if a lot of your recipes are slow cooker recipes, perhaps an ultimate guide to slow cooking; if you write about healthy vegan recipes, a post called ‘How to be a healthy vegan’ might work well as cornerstone content. Think about something which will answer lots of questions your readers may have on that topic, be really comprehensive, authoritative and evergreen. And ensure every related recipe links back to that cornerstone post.
How does cornerstone content increase page views?
When used as part of a good overall SEO strategy, cornerstone content can help seriously increase your search engine traffic and therefore page views. Not only that, but you will be attracting the right kind of people who will hopefully be interested in going deeper, reading other articles you have on that topic and maybe opting in to your email list or following you on social media. This, in turn, will increase your page views.
By also focusing on including your cornerstone content in guest posts and roundups you will be building up authority and vital backlinks, which will again boost your SEO and page views.
By including cornerstone content in your overall SEO strategy, you will be creating a virtuous circle which should lead to more and more page views and put you ahead of so many bloggers who haven’t even heard of cornerstone strategy, let alone put it into practise!
Want to nail cornerstone content strategy?
Then why not take my 7 day Cornerstone Content Challenge? 7 days to create one piece of killer cornerstone content and create a solid plan for the next steps…
Sign up here…
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I know SEO and cornerstone content can be super confusing! So please do feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments below, or head over to the Productive Blogging Community Facebook Page and ask them there!
A beginner’s guide to SEO
How to use the Yoast SEO Plugin to grow your blog
How to optimize your blog’s site structure for SEO
How to create a content plan for your blog
SEO Jumpstart – A jargon free SEO course for bloggers!
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