Almost five years ago I launched the original version of NickThacker.com–Online Marketing for Small Business.
Two years ago I threw in the towel.
I had 12 comments, 15 newsletter subscribers (I think 14 of them were just different emails for my mom), and almost 100 posts about blogging, business, marketing, and small business. I was frustrated, tired, and ready to give up completely.
Now, my blog is growing steadily, though I certainly don’t have numbers to scoff at: over 200 newsletter subscribers, about the same RSS subscribers, and quite a few more comments on new posts. I’ve done a few things differently, like spending time on crafting catchy headlines, actively pursuing guest-posting opportunities, and generally taking more time to just be more awesome.
But there’s one thing that I’ve started doing recently that not only hands-down the best way to grow a platform, it’s also, nowadays, absolutely required.
It’s changed the way I approach my business, my blog, and my writing in general, and it can launch you from “no-name” to “successful writer/blogger” faster than you’d ever dreamed possible.
Write Awesome Content
You’ve heard the term “content is king,” I’m sure. And while it certainly is true, it’s also pretty clear to anyone who’s ever tried to launch a blog that it’s not always the most intuitive explanation of how to be successful in blogging.
Writing and publishing content online is something many, many people have tried to do, reaching many different levels of success (and failure!). I’ve launched at least six blogs on completely different topics in my life, and most of them have been massive failures.
But you don’t get to enjoy that much failure without learning a little bit along the way.
I’m no expert, but there’s one thing that I have learned about “online content” and how to get people to read what you have to say:
Introducing “pillar” content
Pillar articles or posts are the bread and butter of your website or blog. You’ll be launching a creative platform on a website (at least, you’d better!), and that “home base” will be the core of your online model for success.
Pillar content is the core of your online writing success–the content that pretty much sums up what you have to say from now until kingdom come.
These pillar articles are the backbone of your philosophy; your brand. They will support and thoroughly flesh out your ideas, your creative process, and your business endeavors.
As such, it’s highly likely that they’ll be the longest, most well-researched, and best content on your entire site–if not the best writing you’ll do anywhere else online.
This current incarnation of my own blog, LiveHacked.com, will eventually have pillar content that I can send people–they will be the first place I recommend reading after my About page, and most likely, they’ll be the articles that people link back to the most, and comment on the most.
If you’re online to talk about personal finance, these articles will explain your philosophy of personal finance.
If you’re all about restoring old cars, these posts will be the most detailed descriptions of how you do what you do.
And if you’re a creator, you’ll use these articles to explain how you create, compel, develop ideas, etc.
Your platform exists because you have a certain mindset about whatever it is you do. If you’re a writer, you write a certain way because of something, and your pillar content needs to explain this.
Start with Pillar Articles
S0, how do you go about creating Pillar Content?
I like to think of it as the “Top 5 Things People Want to Know About What I Do:”
- What do you do?
- Why do you do it?
- How do you do it?
- How can you teach someone else to do it?
- How does it make you money?
Obviously, you’ll come up with slightly different twists on these questions, but you can safely start here. Please note, these “questions” aren’t necessarily good headlines for articles, so you’ll want to tweak them in a way that makes them more compelling. Once you’ve figured out what your pillar content is going to be, all you have to do is write it!
For a blog about writing (as in, how to teach people to write better), you might choose these as your Pillar Articles:
- The Absolute Best Thing You Can Do to Write Better
- 7 Steps to Creating Focused Writing that Sells
- The Definitive Guide to Building and Launching a Platform as a Writer
- The Ultimate Social Media Guide for Writers
- How to Make Money Writing What You Love–Guaranteed
See what I did there? First, I used topics that are general enough to draw large audiences, but also large enough that allow me to really get deep into the subject matter and offer real, actionable tips and advice. Second, I made sure I crafted headlines that would make people want to click and read. With more time, you can create headlines that are so compelling we can’t help it but click through to see what’s up!
Make sure you’re qualified enough on the topics to actually offer great value to the reader. Otherwise, we’ll feel misled or cheated.
The “problem/solution” Pillar Article
Some of your pillar content will be in the format of uncovering and acknowledging a problem, hardship, or obstacle you’ve personally dealt with (the personal part is important!), and offering a solution that worked for you.
You don’t have to be the world’s most renowned expert on your topics, but should have personal experience overcoming the problem with a solution that’s able to be duplicated.
You don’t have to have written forty novels to talk about “The Best Way to Outline Your Fiction Novel,” but you should have at least written one or two, had some hiccups and obstacles along the way, and overcome the problem of having a bad (or nonexistent) outline with a solution we can use, today.
That’s why there are literally thousands of “expert-status” blogs out there:
The world doesn’t have that much room for true experts, but it always has room for one more way of doing something better.
Take the time to research your topics, try some stuff out, and work out a solution to a problem you’ve had, and then write it down. Add some detail, rewrite/edit, and then work out a great headline. Here’s one good outline for creating Pillar Content about the problem/solution method:
- Figure out what problem you’ve had recently.
- Write out your solution in a concise and specific way.
- Rework it into a “show, don’t tell” format: use analogies, stories, and personal accounts when possible.
- Craft a compelling and “clickworthy” headline.
- Brush it off and send it out into the world!
Once you’ve written a few problem/solution pillar articles, work on your “philosophy” content:
The “personal philosophy” Pillar Article
These posts should actually be easier to write, as there’s not going to be as much experimenting/testing and research. These are in-depth posts about who you are, and what you do (or want to do).
Still, be specific–use personal accounts as much as possible, but be charismatic, stylish, and draw people in to your personal testimony. Here is a framework for a “personal philosophy” Pillar Article:
- Figure out your brand/philosophic message in two sentences or less (“On Living and Writing Well”)
- Create a list of what your brand means/what you’re trying to accomplish.
- Add in personal accounts–why you’re trying to accomplish these things.
- Tell us why we should care. What’s in it for us? Why does it matter?
- Create a compelling headline.
You’ll notice I didn’t include “send it off into the world” as a step. I feel like these “personal testimony” articles are the kinds of sticky content that I prefer to find naturally, as I’m browsing through a blog or website. Maybe they’re linked from the “About” page, or maybe it’s a “Start Here”-type series, but I don’t usually want to “send these out into the world” in the same way.
The reason for this, I think, is that the content, while compelling, is still not “what’s in it for me” enough to draw a crowd. On Twitter, I’m more likely to click a link titled, “The Ultimate Social Media Guide for Writers” than one called “Prepare, Practice, Persist–A Personal Manifesto.”
Both are great examples of Pillar Content, but only one is really viable for “viral” status. You don’t want to seem spammy or too self-promoting to focus much energy on these latter posts, in my opinion. Feel free to debate this in the comments!
Putting it all together
Using these two different types of “pillar” content, you can launch an entire platform. If you keep it up, writing every post like it’s Pillar-worthy, you’ll probably find success that much faster.
It’s up to you–you have a choice in how to grow a platform. Content is definitely still king, but put the emphasis on quality, not quantity, and you’ll be much closer to breaking out of the land of mediocre blogs and mediocre content.
What do you think of Pillar Articles? Have you used them to create awareness for your brand or market? In the comments section, add some links to your own pillar articles, and I’ll definitely check them out!