What Is Cornerstone Content, And Why Is It Important?
Cornerstone content refers to evergreen web page content that is both incredibly informative and relevant to your business’s area of expertise. Typically, a web page that could be considered cornerstone content covers basic foundational knowledge for your service or industry in a very clear, concise way. Examples of great cornerstone content include guides, how-tos, definitions, concept breakdowns, FAQs and other types of informational profiles.
Put simply: cornerstone content is a one-stop resource for a subject where many people regularly need answers to their questions. The easiest format to settle upon would be a “Complete Beginners Guide to ____.”
However, not every page that could be considered cornerstone content takes the form of a guide or how-to. Sometimes, an in-depth product review can be popular and relevant enough to become a highly trafficked area of your website. Wordstream highlights the fact that their Free Keyword Tool remains the most popular part of their website—despite the fact that it was first created nearly a decade ago.
This caveat highlights an important rule of cornerstone content: you don’t always get to choose what audiences and search engines consider a cornerstone. Instead, the page just naturally tends to rank or earn traffic. Over time, repeated traffic sends a positive feedback loop where the content page becomes highly linked to or retrieved in search engine results, leading to more traffic.
So, instead of setting out to purposefully make something into a piece of cornerstone content for your site, first consider the qualities that define the concept in the first place.
Cornerstone Content Props Up Your Site and Makes It Foundationally Strong
The term “cornerstone” is a metaphor that refers to the most important stone in building masonry. Originally, the cornerstone was the first stone placed for a building’s foundation. Every subsequent stone would be set in reference to this one as the structural support for the building gradually took shape. If the cornerstone was laid poorly or on unstable ground, the entire structure could potentially collapse.
Over time, the “cornerstone” took on a more symbolic presence. Instead of being laid for the foundation, where no one was ever likely to see it, the cornerstone was placed on a visible portion of the building. It often contained inscriptions or decoration to make it stand out. More often than not, the cornerstone noted the year in which the building was commemorated.
Sometimes, the cornerstone would even be hollow inside to contain newspapers and other materials, as a type of time capsule.
Use of the word “cornerstone” as a metaphor began in the biblical era. Much like the literal stone dictated how strong, stable and organized the eventual building would be, metaphorical cornerstones referred to key concepts or traits that would define the success of an organization or the quality of someone’s character.
Moving into the current time, people use “cornerstone content” to refer to web pages that essentially support the navigation of the website and its success at earning traffic through various referral sources.
For instance, a company intending to help small businesses improve their digital marketing could have an article on “How to Get Your Business on Google Maps” that qualifies as a cornerstone page. That page can become the main source of traffic for the site while simultaneously exemplifying what the company is all about.
Criteria for Creating Rock-Solid Cornerstone Content
There is no one set approach to defining cornerstone content, but we’ll go ahead and list what we consider to be the most important traits:
- Comprehensive—The content should start from the basic concepts and cover every bit of foundational knowledge the person needs to know to feel more comfortable with the subject. You don’t have to define every single term you use, but you should absolutely write with someone in mind who’s completely unfamiliar.
- Extremely Valuable—Cornerstone content wouldn’t occupy its position of prestige if people weren’t able to extract a ton of use from it. If someone’s trying to explain a topic to someone else, they should be willing to say “here, just look at this,” with a link to the cornerstone content and no other context. The content itself is everything you need to get started.
- Easy to Follow—Avoid lofty concepts or extremely verbose paragraphs. Break everything down into simple sentences. Let one bit of logic flow to the next. When possible, insert extra subheadings or transform concepts into lists that are easy to skim.
- Highly Relevant to the Rest of the Site—The best cornerstone content provides ample internal links to other parts of the website. In a sense, the content is the site’s navigation. It also provides a launching point for people to move from basic to more in-depth concepts.
- Well Optimized—If your cornerstone content satisfies the above criteria, you’re already well positioned from an SEO standpoint. Just make sure you use relevant and semantically related keyword phrases so people know they’re in the right place.
- Constantly Maintained—Unlike the actual masonic bricks, cornerstone content should be constantly changing. For one, you want to regularly reread the content and edit parts that are unclear or don’t flow well. The more structure you can apply to make the concepts easy to follow, the better. Your content should also be updated with new references and information. Don’t let it get stale!
- Exemplifies What You’re About As a Company—Cornerstone content isn’t just a useful tool; it’s also an ambassador for your website and your business as a whole. Think about how you can change the content to better reflect your unique expertise or branding values. Sometimes, you may even want to use cornerstone content as an example to improve the rest of your site!
5 Steps to Creating Cornerstone Content
Any topic you are willing to cover in a piece of cornerstone content should be something you know backwards and forwards. You must be absolutely comfortable with the subject to the point where you can explain it in a second. Or, it should be something that shows how much of an expert you are on the topic without necessarily making people feel like they’re in over their head.
So, the best way to start creating cornerstone content is to start writing.
Step 1: Create a Blog or Guiding Document Covering Your Cornerstone Topics
The more you write about something, the better you will be able to create an in-depth or particularly valuable guide to that topic. It’s like navigating a city; if you’ve been somewhere before, you can get there faster and without danger of being lost. Over time, you may even discover shortcuts to get there—or an entirely different destination that’s even more useful than the first one!
Start by blogging about your cornerstone topic. Try to cover just a little bit of the topic at a time in a series of articles. Alternatively, you can create a technical-style document covering the subject that’s meant more for you than any layman audience.
Practice makes perfect, so at least create one first draft and consider it for a few weeks before committing to the real deal.
Step 2: Research Audiences, Keywords, Competitors and Formats
There are a million different ways to cover the same topic. You might go about it in a single list, or you can break down each component into its own separate “chapter.” Or, you could go for broke and run down every important bit of information from start to finish until you are done.
The best way to consider what would work for your topic is to research. Define the audience you want to reach, and then seek out the types of content they read most enthusiastically. Study a few different article formats and consider their pros and cons. Make a point to even look at articles you hate, even if it’s just to decide why they don’t work for you. Competitors can be your best resource in this department.
Once you’ve narrowed down your audience needs and a format that can appeal to them, come up with a list of keywords on the topic. Remember that it’s more important for your keyword list to cover lots of semantic bases rather than just run down exact synonyms. For example, a “Guide to Cleaning Your Pool” can include phrases like “chlorine PPM” and “pool chemistry” instead of just “scrubbing your pool,” “keeping your pool clean,” etc.
Step 3: Write the Content
After researching the content and settling on a format, go to town! Try to get as much out as you can all at once.
Then, go back and edit. Try to break up long sentences or reword concepts to be more concise. Where you can, add formatting and things like definitions to be as clear as possible.
Step 4: Decide Where in Your Site Navigation Your Cornerstone Content Will Be Placed
Your cornerstone content is a structural support for the rest of your site. That means it should be linked to either on the homepage or on a list of basic/core concepts found easily from your homepage.
Ensure that you use lots of interlinking within your cornerstone piece so that people can navigate from it to your more specific blog posts or service areas. Your aim is to conveniently connect people to the next logical thing they’ll want to learn about—not trick them into clicking.
Step 5: Publish, Promote, Measure and Optimize
When you publish your cornerstone page, give it the fanfare it deserves. Promote it on your home page, social accounts, email and maybe even a press release. Be sure to link to it whenever you upload new blogs that cover related topics—especially when guest blogging.
Also, recognize that you should never rest on your laurels. For the first few weeks, pay close attention to your website analytics to determine important insights like your best referral sources. Respond to any questions or criticisms people have, and consider updating your content if the same problems keep popping up.
Above all else, be willing to revisit your content at least once or twice a year to keep it updated and see if you have any ideas for how to add polish. Often, something that looks great to you now will feel like it needs a ton of re-work down the road. This is a good thing! It means you’re becoming a better writer who is more in tune with your audience.
What If No One Likes My Cornerstone Page?
What if you built a house and nobody moved in? This is actually not as big of a problem as it sounds in the online marketing world. The fact of the matter is that your cornerstone content will always provide value so long as you put the due amount of work in it. If it fails to help you in your marketing goals, it still provides an important component for your website navigation while planting the seed for SEO gains.
Like we said above: you don’t always get to choose what people and search engines consider your cornerstone content. But you can provide value to your audiences and your industry as a whole by putting out good content that can answer common questions.
Your work is also hardly for naught. Just take what you’ve learned and try again with a new topic!