Foolproof Method for Writing Epic Cornerstone Articles Website Visitors Love

Girl writing massive article on red sofa

Sometimes simple eludes us.

It has me, that’s for sure.

I’ve written and published well over 1 million words online.  It must be 2 million plus.  I don’t keep track, but it’s a lot.

Yet, not once until recently have I ever put much effort into planning all that content into cohesive chunks.

Even with this site (Fat Stacks) and my other big niche sites, I’ve generally barfed up content, slotted it into a category and called it a day.

Of course over the last few years I’ve focused on content that attracts visitors from social media.

While I always consider the engagement factor, I’m now putting a lot of effort into my niche sites to attract organic search traffic.

The thing is it’s hard for articles to be big hits on social media and also perform well in the search engines.  I’ve had such hits, but it’s not common.  That’s why most viral sites don’t get a whole lot of organic search traffic and vice versa.

When I say viral, I’m not talking about a couple of hundred shares.  Many websites focusing on SEO can get a few hundred shares.  I’m talking about those articles that get 10,000 or 100,000 shares (organic and paid).  That’s when you get some serious social traffic hitting your site.

But this doesn’t need to be the case.

The good news is you can have your cake and eat it too with planning.  This article explains how you can create great content for search engines plus get some nice social media action.

I didn’t invent this approach.  It’s essentially siloing content, but within the silos including high-engagement content.

Of course, the top of the silos are what’s called cornerstone content (a.k.a. pillar posts).

What I want to step you through here is how I can crank out 20 to 30 article silos and essentially write the pillar post at the same time followed by then crafting your high-engagement articles.

How to research, plan and write epic content loved by search engines and social media

Here’s what I do…

Step 1: Keyword Research

Step 1:  Keyword Research

Because I really want to create content silos that will pull in free traffic for a long time, my silos begin with keyword research.

Tool #1:  Google Keyword Planner

Sample Niche:  Cars (I’ll use “cars” as a sample niche for illustrative purposes throughout this post).

Sample Silo topic:  Luxury cars (which has a decently high engagement factor)

GKP monthly volume search for “Luxury cars”:  33,100

33,100 is sufficiently high enough to warrant an epic article with 20 supporting articles a hopefully a few high engagement articles (I’m usually with 1 high engagement article because I can milk that with paid traffic for months).

Therefore, “luxury cars” will be the topic of the cornerstone article.

Continue keyword research with GKP:

Continue putting together a list of keywords, which will form both the content of the cornerstone article and supporting articles.

Quickly scanning the list I find:

  • luxury car prices
  • affordable luxury cars
  • best used luxury cars
  • most expensive luxury cars
  • best new luxury cars (2015)
  • best luxury sports cars
  • best luxury sedans
  • best luxury family cars

Not a bad start, but there must be more decent topics under the “luxury cars” topic.

Tool #2:  Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest spits out Google’s auto suggest phrases.  It’s a good keyword tool for discovering long tail keywords.

Using Ubersuggest, I get more keywords:

  • luxury cars hybrid
  • luxury cars under $40K
  • luxury cars under $50K
  • luxury cars under $100K

Tool #3:  SECockpit (paid tool): Because I subscribe to SECockpit, I ran “luxury cars” through it and get the following:

  • most reliable luxury cars
  • most expensive car
  • luxury imports
  • luxury domestic
  • Japanese luxury cars
  • entry level luxury cars
  • small luxury cars
  • safest luxury cars
  • best mpg luxury cars
  • most comfortable luxury cars

Within 15 minutes I have a list 23 topics very relevant to “luxury cars”.

Total monthly search volume for all keywords:  >100,000

FYI, by incorporating “expensive” into the search terms, the search volume goes way up.  If I were pursuing this niche, I’d definitely continue keyword research with “expensive” because that may a better term than “luxury”.

Step 2: Outline the Cornerstone Article

Step 2: Put together the “Luxury Cars” Cornerstone Article

With the above list keyword phrases, I can easily construct the outline of the cornerstone article.

The following is the outline of the cornerstone article I would put together:

Title:  Luxury Cars 2015: Definitive Guide

  • Introduction (100 to 200 words)
  • What is a luxury car?
  • How much do luxury cars cost?
  • How do you choose the best luxury car for you?
  • What are the main types of luxury cars?
  • Is there such a thing as affordable luxury cars?  If so, what are they?
  • What are the best used luxury cars?
  • New vs. Used luxury cars?
  • What are the most comfortable luxury cars?
  • What’s the most expensive luxury cars (and how much do they cost)?
  • Luxury imports vs. Luxury domestic vs. Luxury Japanese cars
  • Are luxury cars reliable?
  • Do repairs on luxury cars cost a lot more than non-luxury cars?
  • What’s a great entry-level luxury car?
  • Are luxury cars safer?
  • Are luxury cars good on gas mileage?
  • Are luxury cars worth the money?
  • Lease or buy?  What’s best?

I suspect with more keyword research, I’d come up with more, but you get the point.

The cornerstone article covers 17 topics all related to luxury cars based on keywords people use when researching luxury cars.

When you compare the topics in the cornerstone article, many of which are questions, you’ll see the topics essentially cover the keywords.

Should you structure headings as questions?

That’s up to you.  You don’t have to.  You could do the following:

  • Luxury Car Definition
  • Cost
  • Choosing the Best Luxury Car for You
  • Main Types of Luxury Cars

You get the point.

I sometimes use a series of questions; other times I don’t.

How much should be written for each section in the cornerstone article?

That’s up to you.

My approach, and I’ll definitely be experimenting with various approaches, is to cover it sufficiently in the cornerstone article, but to leave out the minutiae, which will be covered in the supporting articles.

The point of the cornerstone article is to cover the topic broadly so people learn the basic answers to key questions, but if they wish to learn the details, they’ll click into the supporting article for that topic.

Step 3: Plan and Publish Supporting Articles

Step 3: Plan and Publish the Supporting articles

By now you know the supporting articles are the list of keywords set out above.

In some cases, you’ll want to organize the content into 2 or more levels.

For example, for the keyword “best new luxury cars in 2015”, you could turn this into a sub-cornerstone article listing out great luxury cars across types of luxury cars.

There are many types of luxury cars such as:

  • luxury sports cars
  • luxury sedans
  • luxury family cars
  • luxury hybrids
  • luxury electric

Once the “best new luxury cars in 2015” article is done, you could publish supporting articles that deal with each specific type of luxury car.

This would result in a “luxury sports car” article, “luxury sedans” article and so on.

What would you write about a narrow topic such as “luxury sports cars”?

This would be a pretty simple article to put together.  You could publish it as a “best luxury sports cars” or “fastest luxury sports cars” or “types of luxury sports cars”.  You could do all three.

This article would essentially become a listicle.

Be sure the information is great.

It should also include a lot of images.  In fact the cars niche should have loads of images throughout – for every article.  When possible, dress up your images (here’s a good site showcasing images and digital tutorials).

Don’t forget to do your research

For every one of the articles, you’ll want to do a decent amount of research so that your lists and suggestions are solid.

Be sure to cite those references.

Research many solid sources so your information is thorough.

If you can, go test drive several vehicles in the luxury car market or get in touch with people who do drive them.

The key is you want your content to be authoritative and in order to be authoritative, the information provided must be based on sound sources.  Personal experience is best, but I realize it’s not possible to test drive every luxury vehicle.

Step 4: Publish and Promote High-Engagement Content

Step 4: Publish High-Engagement Articles from the Content

I realize some niches are far more engaging on social media than others.  However, if you’re creative, you can create engaging content in any niche.

It turns out the luxury cars niche is reasonably engaging.  People love cars, especially dream cars.

I’m not sure specifically what topics would do well on social media, but I suspect any listicle within the luxury cars niche could do well.

For example, luxury family car topic would resonate with men who have young kids.

Another example:  Ferrari resonates with people on Facebook who have indicated an interest in Ferrari.

With Facebook ads, you can target by interests, which is fantastic.  There are a lot of people who are interested in Ferrari, which means some of those people (hopefully tens of thousands) will click your Facebook ads to read about your Ferrari article or sports car article.

Again, ensure your high-engagement content offers solid information.

At the bottom of your high-engagement content, offer links to related content on your site… get traffic flowing throughout the silo.

It’s still a lot of work

If you’re into publishing only high engagement content and don’t care for organic traffic, this is pretty simple.  Test several pieces of content and ads until you have a winner.

However, why not take the time to create high-engagement content that’s slotted within a powerhouse silo that will in time attract free traffic?  This was a big mistake I’ve made with my niches sites… a mistake I’m currently correcting.

While I can’t prove it, I’m convinced from my own niche sites that traffic and social engagement can help with SEO rankings.  It’s the only way I can explain getting to 10,000 daily organic search visits without any serious link building and without paying much attention to on-site SEO (other than inputting meta titles and descriptions).

Yes, some sites have linked to my niche sites, but that’s probably a result of promotion.  Besides, I don’t have a ton of inbound links… but over the last 18 months I have sent a truckload of traffic to my niche sites and a lot of those visitors have shared the content.

While this is a lot of work (researching and writing 23 articles takes time), the wonderful aspect of publishing niche sites once you have revenue is you can easily outsource the heavy lifting, which is the researching and writing.  Your content is your product which can easily be produced with financial investment instead of sweat equity.

Once you can outsource the work, scaling is a breeze.

Remember, I completed keyword research and an outline for “luxury cars” in about 15 minutes using 3 keyword research tools (two of which are free).  If you outsource, you can literally plan and pull the trigger on 5 to 10 silos in one day.  Yes, you’ll need to review the work as it comes in, but it won’t take long for your team to understand what you want and they’ll be able to publish everything without your careful review.


Do I have any results from silos?

Nope.  Not yet.

Like I said above, I’ve historically just barfed up a lot of content into blogs with little effort put into organization and structure.

By incorporating silos, I’m not really changing anything except organizing my content better.  I have 800 articles to organize and will be commissioning another 300 to 500 to fill in the gaps (i.e. go after keywords I’ve missed).

Will this work?  In other words, will I get more organic traffic by doing all of this compared to publishing content without any organization within the site?

I’m betting ,000 to ,000 on new content that it will.  I’m also betting 4 to 6 weeks of my time on reorganizing my sites that it will.  It’s a big gamble, but I’m sure in the long run it will pay off.

Worst case scenario, it won’t hurt.  Siloing content is simply organizing content.  In fact, it’s going to create a better user experience for my readers.

The fact is, silos make sense to me.  Frankly, I’m surprised I have as much organic traffic that I do have because SEO was never much of a focus for me.  Which tells me, perhaps with a little on-site SEO effort, I’m likely to dramatically improve my organic search traffic.

Not only am I organizing content better, I’m creating custom sidebars for each category so that I can include category-specific navigation menus for each category.

For example, if I published a site on “cars”, the “luxury cars” silo would have it’s own sidebar with a menu linking to the key articles within the “luxury cars” silo.

How are the silos structured?  Are they 2, 3, 4 or more levels?  Posts or pages?  What’s the internal linking structure?

These are all important questions when siloing content.

I’m no silo expert, but Chris Lee is (I say he’s an expert because he’s absolutely killing it with SEO and Adsense by publishing silo style niche sites).

I’m following the exact blueprint set out by Chris Lee in his amazing SEO and Adsense course RankXL (you can read my RankXL review here).

It wouldn’t be fair to Chris to spill the beans on how I’m actually structuring the content within the site and setting up the silos.

14 thoughts on “Foolproof Method for Writing Epic Cornerstone Articles Website Visitors Love”

  1. Good article. I think it makes sense to vary the types of articles, too. I read a post on Yoast’s blog that he was doing a 301 redirect of some posts that he turned into pages. You can’t categorize pages in WordPress but I read somewhere that they rank better. So perhaps an effective silo strategy is to create pillar pages with supporting category posts?

    For all of the effort that you put into a building a site, why not make it worth reading? Blackhatters seem to think their strategies are faster, but in the long run, they have to change their tactics every 3-6 months anyway. How many times have we heard someone in the industry lament that all of their sites were trashed because of a Google algo change?

    In any case, the way I think of these sites is to model what Conde’ Nast Travel, HGTV, and Forbes do and you can’t argue with their success.

    Chris Lee’s course is definitely worth the investment, just as your course is! (Now I sound like a groupie!)

    1. Hey Edie,

      Thanks for the great comment. As I go about restructuring my sites, I considered changing some posts to pages as Yoast recommends and does. However, I decided against it because I see no reason why a post can’t operate as a pillar or cornerstone piece of content. Even Yoast admits to pages being difficult to manage, which was the principal reason I decided to stick with posts for everything. I’ll see how it goes. I can always switch to pages later.

      I have so much content to restructure that I’ll probably try different structures and see what works. Unfortunately I won’t see results, if I do at all, for several weeks or months. That’s one thing I hate about SEO… it takes too long. BUT, when SEO works, it’s worth the wait.

  2. Great article Jon! It’s helpful to read examples of how you utilize specific strategies whether within your own courses or those like RankXL, which I continue to review & study at your suggestion. Thanks for the teachable content.

  3. Nice read! I am busy with the same concept, I just call it “The cluster model”. It’s good to see I’m on the right path. I’ll be using this article as a nice reference for the tools etc.

    Trying to build a hybrid site, mix of a viral/SEO content and using this type of structure should be perfect for it.

  4. Awesome article, Jon!

    This is the exact method I had in my mind, which I’m starting to use in my sites and definitely planning to use in new ones! I’m definitely gonna bookmark this for future reference! Great job!

  5. I love this article Jon.

    I came across your site after seeing a recommendation for Niche Tycoon. I have already purchased Rank XL and have started to implement it’s suggestions. Like yourself, I have gone through my niche site and added SEO to the pages/posts and have started to develop a structure.

    I am looking to establish best practices in my business, so my question is, would I gain benefit from purchasing Niche Tycoon? If so, in what way can it help build on what I have learned in Rank XL?

    I may get a biased answer as you are the vendor, but from what I can see on this site you come across as a honest guy.

    Looking forward to a quick reply, as I am ready to hit the ‘Buy’ button if it will help my cause.

    1. Hey Terry,
      It depends on your niche. Niche Tycoon focuses on social media traffic and paid traffic to build up sites. As the course evolves, I’ve added quite a bit SEO info (on-site mainly), but the meat and potatoes of the course is buying traffic and using social media. This only works in niches that are fairly large and have high engagement potential. The advantage with Niche Tycoon, if you can make it work is you can get a lot of traffic and revenue quickly. BUT, it’s not a sure thing. RankXL, assuming you go after decent keywords, will work in due course.

      I would suggest not buying Niche Tycoon right now. Follow RankXL and build out your site per Chris Lee’s instructions. Do a super job. Be patient. Get some traffic and revenue and once you get there and would like to add paid/social traffic, check out Niche Tycoon. The best thing you can do is focus and since you’ve started with RankXL, I strongly suggest you focus with that for the next 6 months.

  6. hi Jon…..great , to the point post as usual…i have a little concern about this app which is when i leave the article in the middle of it to check something or word meaning at Google then come back , the article start from top again so i should scroll down to the point i have stopped at..if it could be fixed it would be very nice…many thanks

  7. Hey Jon, this article really helped me clarify the structure of a new site I’m building. I’ve finally ventured out of the world of online marketing services and am building a B2C site and this will help tremendously. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

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