In the comments of one of my articles, Lucy Dee asked:
It’s a great question.
First, we need to define some terms!
What is Cornerstone Content?
Brian Clark coined the term Cornerstone Content, I believe.
In SEO we use Cornerstone content as a continuously referenced article or landing page for a term.
Marieke van de Rakt on the Yoast website describes Cornerstone Content as:
You could consider this article as a cornerstone for explaining the subtle differences between these different types of content. It can be constantly referenced rather than explaining the concepts over and over.
What is Pillar Content?
Pillar Content is a phrase coined by Yaro Starak who describes it as:
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What About “Bait”?
Just by using the term “bait” in these content types, we can already tell that there is some controversy over those tactics. The first should be avoided, the second is a powerful tool and as with most power tools, should be used carefully.
What is Clickbait?
Clickbait headlines often use words like “You won’t believe,” “This is crazy,” or “This will change your life” to pique the user’s curiosity.
Essentially they just want you to click through and commonly do not even attempt to deliver on the exaggerated claims made in the thumbnail or headline.
Readers and viewers then, of course, end up going away feeling cheated rather than satisfied.
What is Link Bait?
Linkbait, on the other hand, must deliver on the promises that it makes for it to work out in the creator or client’s favor.
If you are successful then that one piece of content will generate more valuable links for the site than it would ordinarily attract, and it will get a boost in the Google search results as a consequence.
See: What is Authority?
Authority and Flagship Content Versus Linkbait and Clickbait
The weird thing about content is you can achieve traffic, links, and authority, but you can also end up gaining none of those things.
Authority content provides value for the reader in a way that builds the profile of the author, but it is not a given that this kind of content will attract links or bookmarks.
Think of Seth Godin. He is known for posting small, thoughtful articles.
You can read and understand those posts very quickly and you do not really need to return to them.
Over time a blog that consistently puts out such information will grow links steadily, and it will grow a loyal following, but it might not get the big landslide of links that an article specifically created for that purpose might. You get the love but not necessarily as many links and bookmarks.
Along the same lines, I could post an article here that is funny, sexy, provocative, or offbeat and entertain you so much that I get a ton of links and bookmarks, but my authority needle will not have shifted a millimeter from where it was before.
- Clickbait will get you a spike in traffic but will not improve your brand or create loyal visitors.
- Certain types of controversial linkbait can get you a ton of links but could damage your reputation.
Next up, is the difference between Pillar Content and Flagship Content.
Pillar Content and Flagship Articles
Again, an article can be both Pillar Content and Flagship Content, and that is where the confusion lies, as it is not exactly clear what the difference is.
The way I would put it is to picture Pillar Content as being the foundation of your blog. The pillars support the structure.
If you launch with a good, strong foundation, everything you build on top of it will also be strengthened.
If you are launching a blog about a breed of dogs then you might want to have pillar articles about where to find your puppy, the first few days of dog ownership, training and obedience, feeding, insurance, etc.
All good, valuable, useful, evergreen information that over time will contribute greatly to your authority.
Flagship Content takes the concepts mentioned above one notch further.
As well as being valuable, as well as attracting links, it also builds its own momentum, gets shared around, and it, therefore, delivers targeted visitors back to you.
It works as an ambassador for your blog and for your brand. Flagship Content is content that represents you in the most positive light. It’s an authority builder.
Examples of Flagship Content
When I think of Yaro now I often think of his Blog Profits Blue Print ebook (sadly no longer available).
I’m sure there are those among you who originally found me through my free Killer Flagship Content ebook. As an example of how that was not just a pillar of this blog or a cornerstone, people actually reviewed that free ebook – Talk about attracting links!
Brian’s example would be his Copywriting 101 series. That series opened up many doors and opportunities for him.
If you are a keen digital photographer I have no doubt you have heard of David’s Strobist Lighting 101. Since 2006 it has earned over 3,000 links.
Would you say these were also good linkbait examples? They certainly all attracted a lot of powerful and on-topic links.
Why Not Post Linkbait All the Time?
If Linkbait is so good at delivering traffic and links, why would you not want to post bait all the time? People love to link it, read it, and bookmark it, right?
Actually long term, they don’t.
Any “Bait” is great when used tactically, but will not be as effective at growing a loyal audience when overused.
Ideally, you need a mixture of posting styles to maintain a readership and I believe there is such a thing as “bait fatigue”.
What happens when you post a linkbait piece is quite like a shot of espresso with 9 sugars. You get an enormous but short-term high.
As anyone who has had a few espressos in a row will tell you, the effects of each are diminished, the first hit is the greatest, and the aftereffects are not at all pleasant either.
I will always repeat this. We have to understand the readers’ needs. I don’t know about you but if I visit a blog that has bait day after day after day I don’t feel valued.
Where is the feeling of community? Where is the three-dimensional human being behind the blog? Are readers just traffic to drive advertising impressions or valued more than that?
As well as attracting new readers you have to keep your current audience happy, otherwise you end up with a revolving door of new replacing the old.
That means not riding the caffeinated highs and lows but keeping them nourished with consistently good stuff.
Bookmark-ability in Content
Back, finally, to the question posed above.
Why do people bookmark your articles, versus not?
Let’s think about why YOU would bookmark things. You want to come back to it at some point in the future, right?
Why did you not get full value from it right this second?
- Perhaps you don’t have time right now but you can see that you need to remember where to find this information.
- Perhaps you are not ready to use the information at the minute but you will get there at some point.
- Perhaps there is just too much there to consume all at once?
I find the articles and resources that get the most bookmarks are:
- Obviously super valuable.
- Multiple steps or multiple concepts.
A good idea could be a tweet, a resource that you want to bookmark will have future utility and can not be memorized in an instant.
If you want people to bookmark your content, keep those factors in mind.
The Content Value Ladder
We have limited time and resources so not every article can be a mega 4,000 word “Ultimate Guide”. How do you decide?
In my mind, there is a hierarchy with a cut-off where you are better not posting than posting just for the sake of it:
- Filler content – The me-too stuff that many blogs copy and paste from press releases and other blogs or push out just to hit an arbitrary deadline. We see a lot of “AI” generated content fitting this criteria right now.
- Good, original content – Anything that delivers on the blog’s promise in an original and valuable way
- Authority-building content – Content that positions the blogger as an authority in the niche
- Pillar Content & Cornerstones – A blog’s solid foundation of resource pages and tutorials that you can link back to over and over. You would also anticipate these posts being strong examples of linkbait. What is linkbait if not something that you want and expect to get lots of links?
- Flagship content – Articles and resources that go above and beyond, creating significant value in a way that draws in readers for years to come
Could I be wrong? Certainly, I can’t speak for Yaro, Brian, Yoast, or anyone else! You have to make up your own mind, but that is never a bad thing.
The point is not the definitions but the intentions.
How can you consistently create the most compelling, remarkable, and viral content that provides significant reader value and builds your brand? If you can answer that it won’t matter what you call it!
Let me know on social or via email what you think.