Are Pillar Pages Making Ebooks Obsolete in 2019?
April 30, 2019 | David Cunningham
When it comes to driving traffic and capturing leads, pillar pages and ebooks make a great one-two punch. But, if you only have enough time to build one, which would it be and why? In hopes of answering this question, we partnered with the research team at Databox and asked 25 marketers this, and a few other questions.
As expected, it wasn’t much of a contest—pillar pages are the new ebooks.
Marketers are overwhelmingly planning on creating pillar pages in 2019. But that result is a bit misleading without a bit more context. As you’ll see, many have already published ebooks and want to supplement with pillar pages. Or, they’re experimenting with both to see which works best for their customers.
No matter what they’re planning in 2019, it’s clear that marketers have made good use of both strategies in the past.
Almost every marketer we surveyed has at least one ebook on their company’s or clients’ websites, and some have many more. Ebooks have become a mainstay content type for capturing leads. But that doesn’t mean pillar pages aren’t already popular too.
Again, the vast majority of marketers have created at least one pillar page for their company’s or clients’ websites. And some have created 50 or more. But that’s the past. We’re looking to the future. What will marketers be doing in 2019?
How Pillar Pages are Being Used in 2019
Over 60 percent of the marketers we surveyed said they’d be publishing more pillar pages than ebooks in 2019. Of course, we had to find out why there was such a landslide victory. Here are the main reasons that marketers are leaning heavily on pillar pages this year.
Pillar Pages Are Better for SEO
“Over the past year, we have seen a 2x increase in traffic to our pillar pages,” says John Holloway of NoExam. “We hope to keep our growth strong in 2019 by improving our existing pillar pages and publishing new ones as well.”
Holloway specifically mentions organic traffic as a reason that NoExam’s pillar pages have been so successful. The company’s Top 10 Best Life Insurance Companies pillar page is a clear example of a pillar page built for SEO. It answers many common questions and contains an interactive comparison tool.
“We funnel visitors to it from all of our other pages and it performs great at driving new leads,” says Holloway.
UNINCORPORATED is, “focusing on pillar pages because we’ve found success developing evergreen content that generates leads month-over-month without requiring our clients to pay for traffic or do extensive outreach,” says Ian Evenstar.
Interestingly, Evenstar shared a pillar page that breaks one of the main assumptions about effective pillar pages: that they have to be long. Instead, this pillar page builds ranking power by directing readers to other highly optimized pages and an interactive quiz.
“Since March, the pillar page and assessment landing page has earned over 10,000 views and generated over 2,300 new contacts, more than 90% of which came from Organic Search and Direct Traffic. Because the pages are linked properly, have complete on-page SEO, and have a high click-thru rate from Google’s search results, the page is rewarded with a high page ranking and a consistent flow of new leads every month.”
Other marketers made great points about SEO, too. Jay from Referral Rock pointed out that on-page content is going to help a lot more than a PDF for ranking (and showed us what a great pillar page table of contents looks like).
Revenue River’s Juliette Tholey brought up the same point. She says, “By un-gating content (ebooks, white papers, etc.), we focus primarily on site structure and topics instead of keyword implementation or PDFs that do not provide that much SEO value. We began implementing pillar pages and since then we have seen a pretty dramatic uptick in organic traffic.”
Tholey also pointed out that pillar pages are good for user experience, something echoed by Zac Johnson of Blogging.org: “By creating pillar content, this allows us to continually reference and update the same article or resource, while also making sure it provides the latest and most accurate information possible.”
Un-gated Content Is Better for Lead Generation
Interestingly, several marketers made the case that un-gated, long-form content is better than ebooks for lead generation.
“[P]eople have become so accustomed to lead forms, and they just know they can expect a sales call from filling it out,” says Thorstein Nordby of Nettly AS. “From our experience, a landing page with an e-book can also produce a lot of ‘junk leads.’”
“There are many drawbacks with gated content like ebooks. One, you reduce the audience size that can consume the content. Second, that valuable content is often presented in a PDF, meaning that you can not build links to that asset and it will not give you any advantages regarding SEO. Lastly, the user experience of a PDF file is terrible on many devices, especially on mobile phones where users need to zoom and drag to read the content.”
“With a pillar page, you can make all that content you have worked hard on accessible from any traffic channel, and the potential audience size becomes much bigger. You can also rank a pillar page, as it contains in-depth content, you can build links to it, and it is a more user-friendly and engaging experience than a PDF file.”
“However,” says Nordby, “we will still offer visitors a content offer like a checklist or short brief that summarizes the content in the pillar page. In addition to that, we will use IP tracking to see which companies visit our website, and also have a chatbot to convert readers into leads.”
Daniel Daines-Hutt from AmpMyContent chimes in with a blunt assertion: “Gated content is madness. If you create long-form, un-gated content, then it does a few things for you,” says Daines-Hutt. “It appeals to your audience, helps them convert, attracts traffic via ESO, and gets social shares along with inbound links”
“When you gate the content, you turn away 98% of the audience (standard opt-in rates are 2 percent). You spend all this time trying to get traffic, and you turn them away at the first hurdle. You’re far more likely to get a reader to take an action, when you build authority and trust. That happens after they read your content.”
Daines-Hutt gives the example of AmpMyContent’s pillar page on promoted content. “It has an 82 percent email opt-in rate. And it‘s continuing to build links, traffic and shares… Imagine if I had gated that from my audience, the difference it would make to my business?”
Jennifer Lux from LyntonWeb gives another interpretation of why ebooks don’t convert especially well. “Due to both general content saturation and an overload of ebooks on the internet, forms aren’t converting contacts as well, especially if the visitor doesn’t know and trust your brand.”
And some brands just find that pillar pages convert more visitors. “We find [pillar pages are the] best way to drive qualified organic traffic to our site and generate leads,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray.
“We took that decision by tracking our analytics and based on the data we gathered, pillar pages are very effective to generate leads. Even if ebooks have better conversions than pillar pages, pillar pages drive more traffic. After calculation, we found out that creating pillar pages bring a better ROI to our business.”
Here’s another example of pillar page lead generation: “Even though . . . we have employed pillar pages for SEO results, this pillar page has mainly performed well by delivering leads which have turned into customers,” says Equinet Media’s Eric Swain. “We built it to deliver our complete vision of a topic that is central to what we do for customers—inbound marketing.”
Use Pillar Pages to Promote Ebooks
“[W]e already have plenty of ebooks available across our website network,” says Mike Schiemer of Bootstrap Business. It was something we heard from quite a few marketers. It often comes back to the same issue: “pillar pages provide a lot more SEO value than ebooks. Ranking is more competitive than ever before and pillar pages can help give your websites an edge on Google,” says Schiemer.
“I see the pillar page being the vehicle to drive more traffic to the premium content, and ultimately the sale,” says Cline Design’s Lorraine Cline. “My client is in the commercial and industrial construction industry where long lead times and high ticket purchases are the norm. The decision stage takes time and trust to develop, and this strategy will help us begin that process sooner.”
While using the two in sync for moving customers through long sales cycles is something we heard about from other marketers, Cline Design “already had premium content (ebooks, checklists, etc.) created.” Cline is focusing on creating pillar pages like this one about Design-Build, a concept in construction.
“Most of this content was already available to users, but it wasn’t as organized or comprehensive,” says Cline. “What we found was the average bounce rate of the pillar page is lower than previously published pages on the same topic and the time on the page is higher. It also enables us to feature more internal links and provides more opportunities for premium content, such as ebooks, checklists and project profiles.”
“We are seeing a higher CTR on premium content featured on the pillar page and we now rank higher for keywords specific to our topic. We constructed the page with subtopic navigation so users could pick and choose the specific content they sought, and we focused on guiding them to other pages on the site that would illustrate our client’s expertise.”
“Ebooks are great as lead magnets, but they provide little to no SEO benefits,” says Luis Silva-Ball of Digifianz Inbound. “On the other hand, pillar pages are a great way to provide valuable content to your readers in a way that’s readily available. Google indexes the pillar pages and uses the link structure to better understand what the page and the entire site is about.”
“That being said, what we find works best is using pillar pages while including CTAs to download them in PDF (ebook). If the content actually provides value to your readers, they’ll probably want to download them to keep reading later—so you can still use them as lead magnets. We’re actually going to be turning most of our previous ebooks into pillar pages in this way.”
Kristin Anderson from Prime Publishing shares a few thoughts on the topic: “For RecipeLion, we like pillar pages and ebooks for different reasons. Ebooks are a great added value when we send cross promo mailings across our food email lists. Readers love the free downloadable content.”
“That being said, we have plenty of evergreen ebooks currently, and so we will be looking at more pillar content in 2019. Pillar pages are great for RecipeLion because there are more organic traffic opportunities, which bring in new unique subscribers. We use buttons and call outs on the page to encourage conversions and can further promote our brand with video content, original test kitchen recipes, and more!”
Add Interactive Content Tools to Pillar Pages to Capture Leads
“We’ll be focusing most of our efforts towards building more interactive pillar pages,” says GlobalOwls’ Raul Tiru. “It’s easier than ever to add tooling to your content and it’s getting harder to get people to download an ebook because you can get great quality ebooks on many popular websites in your niche.”
Bridges Strategies is moving in a similar direction, says Jake Fisher: “We are replacing almost all of our static inbound offers, such as ebooks, with interactive offers, like assessments and calculators. Those offers convert better and provide us (and our clients) with better prospect information.”
Pillar Pages Get More Social Shares
“A well-done pillar page is bound to attract lots of backlinks and shares,” says Kenneth Burke of Text Request. “This grows your authority, and gives you something to reference throughout your other content.”
Burke gives this pillar page on texting statistics as an example. “It’s performed really well—our number one blog post for backlinks, number two for traffic.”
Sold Yet? Turn Your Ebooks into Pillar Pages
Chris Lee from RankXL shares a tactic for creating more pillar pages: “Over the past year, one of the major changes we made to the RankXL blog was turning ebooks into pillar pages. We felt that getting as much search engine traffic as possible was much more valuable than gating that content and collecting emails.”
“This allowed us to get a handful of new pillar pages up on the site that were 10,000+ words long. Ultimately, since the ebooks were already written, we could publish giant resources on specific topics overnight simply by transferring content.”
“I think ebooks are still effective in getting leads. However, I don’t believe that the content should be completely gated. What we did was publish all the content on our blog as pillar pages, and we would offer an ebook as a PDF download.”
“The pillar pages are extremely long, so we used that as our opt-in incentive: ‘This page is 10,000+ words long. Save it as a PDF for reading later or offline.’ And that has helped us continue to generate leads with the same ebook, while getting thousands of new visitors every month from our pillar pages ranking in Google.”
Lee gives RankXL’s “How To Build Powerful White Hat Backlinks (With Outreach)” page as an example.
“There are many blog posts out there on the topic, but few that go as in-depth as ours. Since we’ve published it, it’s become one of our most popular pages on our blog. The number of shares and backlinks are far greater than our average blog post.”
“The biggest challenge with producing pillar pages is organization of content. Slapping 10,000 words into a single blog post can work, but is usually not the best. Therefore, we created a custom designed layout specifically for this pillar page.”
A Few Are Still Doing More Ebooks this Year
“We decided to focus on ebooks,” says CrazyCall’s Jakub Kliszczak “as we think there are more ways that we can re-use them as well as they bring more profit to the business.”
“You can use an ebook to create a great value-prop, build or expand the email list using that ebook, and share it throughout forums, groups, and spaces. Also, ebook seems to bring more value as it reflects more time and effort put into the creation of an ebook.”
“How to Close a Sale: Your Sales Checklist for 2019” is one of CrazyCall’s successful ebooks. “It was well-timed, well-promoted, and it brings great value,” says Kliszczak, “which is the most important feature of every successful ebook.”
Richard George of Print4Hospitality also plans on publishing more books than pillar pages in 2019. “We have found ebooks and downloads very useful (including gated content)… Downloadable documents tend to get shared peer to peer via email and messenger apps from peer to peer.”
“Also, when people go to the trouble of providing their contact information via a form on a landing page, it is a strong indicator they are interested in our offering. The reason we decided to do more books this year is because of our success with collecting leads on a series of smaller campaigns over the past few months.”
George gives this brochure design checklist as an example of an ebook that has worked for Print4Hospitality. “This one hardly classifies as a lengthy ebook, but we have found repeatedly that people want answers to this question quickly. If the content can be conveyed in one page, why spend time and resources developing a 50-page document!”
Some Are Doing Ebooks and Pillar Pages
While pillar pages are the most popular option for 2019, several marketers say that they’ll use pillar pages and ebooks in equal measure. Most of them used the same line of thinking.
The Combination Optimizes for Conversion
Kiwi Creative’s Jen Lombardi sums up this thinking succinctly: “This year, we’re going to split up premium content between un-gated pillar pages for SEO and gated ebook downloads for lead gen.”
Gabriel Marguglio of Nextiny sees the two types of content similarly:
“We are committed to creating more pillar pages this year, but we are still creating PDF versions of these pages for people to download through forms, lead-flows and chatbot conversations. This helps with our SEO strategy and at the same time, we can convert leads from people downloading the PDF version of the page. We have seen that pillar pages and the creation of topic clusters in conjunction with related blogs help these pages grow on Google, and the use of chatbots and live chat is helping us turn these visitors into leads.”
“Our SEO topic cluster is the fastest growing section of our website. By combining our new pillar page and the multiple blog posts that we already had about SEO, we have seen this whole cluster grow in multiple ways. We are seeing more page-views, more time on-site and more entrances through these pages. Of course, we are also growing organically with related keywords.”
WebMechanix has seen good results with the combination as well, says William Chou. “Publishing high quality and high quantity of pillar pages has exploded our traffic. We’ve almost doubled our leads (and sales pipeline) by doing so. We realized our blog was a major hub for how prospects saw us as well as attracting other prospects through SEO.”
“Ebooks was a fantastic way for converting that traffic obtained once they landed on the page. If it wasn’t for ebooks, users would bounce without opting in and giving us their contact information so we can nurture and win them over as clients. Both are vital.”
Anna Kaminova from Markentive and Kristen Craft from Tettra both noted that pillar pages are good for traffic, and ebooks are good for converting that traffic (craft specifically noted that ebooks have been beneficial for growing Tettra’s email list).
They Serve Different Purposes
“As a content strategist for a marketing agency, I create ebooks and pillar pages for my clients,” says Autumn Sullivan of Big Sea. “The ebook is the ‘big rock.’ From that rock, we chisel out appropriate pillar pages, blogs, infographics, etc. They’re not an either/or, in my opinion.”
Trish Lessard from Media Junction agrees: “They both have their unique benefits and their place for consumption. It is hard to ignore one over the other especially when you have diverse personas.”
And P5 Marketing seeks to publish an ebook for every pillar page they produce, says Robert Donnell.
See What Works Best for You
Josh Mendelsohn gave a very honest answer to our question about pillar pages vs. ebooks. Privy will be using both, Mendelsohn says, because “[w]e’re not sure yet what will drive the most organic traffic for our website. We want to invest in both to learn where we should spend the most time in 2020.”
As with most other marketing tactics, your audience should determine your priorities. Some will respond well to pillar pages. Others will respond to ebooks. Take the time to figure out which provides more benefit to you and run with it. Or do both to maximize the value you provide to everyone.
Check out our latest ebook, Moving Beyond the MQL: 3 Ways to Improve Marketing Measurement, to learn how you can evaluate the success of your marketing activities and demonstrate ROI.