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What is Cornerstone Content: What It Is and How to Use it

what is cornerstone content

Last Updated on by Mafalda Taborda

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Wether you are new to blogging and content marketing or a seasoned pro… chances are you’ve wondered what is cornerstone content all about anyways?

Used correctly, cornerstone content can make your site more focused, more SEO friendly, more user friendly, all of which will lead to better SERPs rankings, leads and sales.

Not used, or not used correctly, can have the inverse effect essentially keeping your blog’s performance lower than what it could be.

In this article, I’m going to break down what exactly a cornerstone piece is and how to use it effectively to grow your website’s traffic and increase your brand’s awareness online.

So, if you like learning strategies to grow your brand and website… stick around!

What is Cornerstone Content?

Okay… so let’s jump into the basics of cornerstone content already!

Cornerstone Content Definition

The definition of cornerstone content is any high value content you create for your website that is intended to be a focus point with many other pages and articles linking to it.

Put another way, that means it’s a piece of content with MORE value than say an average blog post you publish. The idea is that additional value of that content will help build your traffic and leads for your website.

Most of the time, cornerstone content pieces are longer informative blogs or guides, downloadable resources, web applications, or similar, that provide more value than a typical blog post.

That leads us to talk about why it’s important.

Why is Cornerstone Content Important

Cornerstone content is important to your website and brand for a few reasons:

  1. By having a better piece of content Google may rank that post better just due to the content alone.
  2. Having a lot of other articles on your site linking to your cornerstone tells Google it’s important to you and that also may rank it better.
  3. By genuinely being a good piece of content, people are more likely to link and share it, which in turn gives you more exposure and once again, Google may rank it better.
  4. The extra value provided by these pieces should help increase your brand’s expertise and trust, which once again help rank you better with Google.
  5. Lastly, by providing focus or goals to your site, you help increase the user flow and intent and that should help drive visitors to your end goals better.

All in all… that means using cornerstone content helps you rank better online AND helps your usability and conversions on your website… all while positioning you as a expert in your field.

Cornerstone vs Regular Post

The difference between a regular blog post or article and a cornerstone one can be a bit difficult to grasp fully. This is mainly due to that it’s all relative to your normal content output.

We’ve already established that a cornerstone post should be of more value than a regular post, but how do we define that? And… how do we quantify that?

That’s what makes it tough. Here’s my basic thoughts.

When I create a website, I want to think in goals. I want to break those goals into chunks, sometimes referred to as funnels or value ladders. A basic website should probably have at least 3 of those steps:

  1. Regular free content: this includes blogs, pages, infographics, social posts, youtube videos, and probably email. This content should “funnel” traffic to your cornerstone piece.
  2. Cornerstone content: this is a higher level content, guide, download, free app or tool, etc. Most of the time you’ll use this as a method to get leads or email opt-ins.
  3. Conversion event: at some point you need to convert the visitor into a customer and this is the point you do that, typically with some form of lead nurture campaign or followup sequence.

So, essentially you use your blog content to help drive traffic to your cornerstone, which helps drive leads, which then turn into sales for your businesses.

Types of Cornerstone Content

There are a lot of “types” of cornerstone content. I’ll review a few of the big types here, but know that any form can technically be a cornerstone piece. It’s more about the value you drive with that piece than the physical form.

Either way, here’s a list of common types:

Ultimate Guides:

Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO
Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO

A guide, ultimate guide, or chaptered resource would be a large in-depth guide to your subject matter.

Let’s say you’re a family lawyer. You may write a weekly blog about different legal tips to consider. But, these are not organized in a chronological way, but rather they are written to answer specific micro subjects.

A guide, on the other hand, would be a well organized long form content piece designed to teach you a full or more complete version of that subject matter.

Typically these guides being regular web pages don’t have lead opt-ins and the purposes of these would be to garner more traffic and links.

One of my favorite examples of a great guide is Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. I’ve thought about creating one, but there’s no point… it’s really well done and is updated at least annually!

E-Books/Whitepapers:

E-Books are among the most common form of cornerstone content. You may take the guide idea from above, put it into a PDF e-book and now you have a downloadable resource.

One great idea for combining the ultimate guide and the e-book idea is to create the guide as a regular web page that doesn’t require an opt-in, but have a downloadable version available that requires your email to get it. Maybe even promise to give a few extra secretes for those that download!

Infographics:

Infographics are a great and easily sharable form of content that can be a cornerstone content piece.

The trick here is to make sure it’s really valuable… and honestly most are not valuable enough. But, if yours is, then you have a great visualization to your subject matter that will also help build you links via social sharing.

use the free advertising ROAS calculator to predict and plan your ad campaigns profitability!

Web Apps:

This is probably my most favorite form of cornerstone… free web apps. Chances are you have bookmarks for some right now!

A web app is any webpage that does something interactive for you. Think of things like finance calculators, trip planners, keyword tools, size/weight conversions, and many more.

In fact, I’ve built a number of these and had great success with them including my most recent one a free advertising ROAS calculator.

The reason web apps are so great is that they typically gardner the most shares and backlinks of any other form of content currently being used. Why?

Because they solved things that people need to solve over and over, so they bookmark and keep coming back!

Video or Email Micro Training:

One really great method of taking a regular website visitor and turning them into a lead and a strong close potential, is to build a micro course and give it away.

This course can be done a number of ways including using an LMS (learning management system) or more simply ways like having a email follow up sequence that provide either written or video content.

For example, let’s say you’re a personal trainer, you blog about training, and you have a paid master class. You may give away a free 14 day fit class for free.

The goal might be to get them fit and help improve their lives, but to also position your advanced course for money.

Webinar:

61% marketers use webinars as a tactic for their content marketing strategy.

Similar to the micro training above, webinars are consistently one of the best methods to connect with your audience. The main differences between a webinar and a video series training is going to come down to how they function and which is best for your material.

Webinars are schedule events that can be either live or pre-recorded… but a series of emails is over many days. So, the personal training course mentioned above would work great for a series and bad for a webinar.

However, if I wanted to give you a free overview training on how to setup and run a content marketing plan to grow your website traffic, that would be a great way to do it.

Final thoughts on the type: select the form of your cornerstone piece based on what works for your message, but make sure you focus on driving real value and don’t turn this into a sales pitch!

How to Use Cornerstone Content

So, now that we have a few basics of what cornerstone content is, let’s dive in to how to use it to grow your brands reach, audience, and hopefully sales!

Step 1 – Define Your Website Goals (MDA)

The first step is to set up your website’s goals… your business goals that you will use your website to help you execute.

A common mistake people make with their website is trying to do too many things, attempting to be everything to everybody. If you want to build and attract, you need to focus!

how to use cornerstone content

This starts with having a well defined customer persona and a very clear understanding of their wants, needs, and pain points. You should write all of this down and keep this handy.

Once that’s done you need to figure out how you can help them and how your products or services align with those needs.

Sometimes, you’re going to need to shift your services, or maybe everything is fine and you just need to find a content path to help drive leads and customers.

Once you’re aligned with the needs of your customers and your value proposition as a company, then it’s time to write out the goals of your website.

For most, the goal will be to create leads, but if you have an e-commerce product you may sell it digitally so sales are your main goal. Or if you’re an affiliate marketing, maybe referral links is your goal.

Point is, you need absolute clarity on what your website’s most desired action is, or MDA, and you should write it down.

Now that you have that… we’ll use that along with customer persona to develop the rest.

Step 2 – Build a Customer Value Ladder

Okay, so next up, we want to build a path, funnel, or a value ladder. These all really mean the same thing fundamentally, except they illustrate them differently.

value ladder example

Let’s just focus on creating a value ladder since it’s the easiest depiction and doesn’t required much technical experience.

All we’re going to do is work backwards from your website’s MDA and create as many steps as we need to get the job done.

If you’re looking for leads, your value ladder might look like this:

  1. Blogs & Social Content: use this to drive traffic to your website. Then have an offer on your pages (sidebar, popup, after blog, etc) that draws attention to your next step.
  2. Cornerstone Webinar: this webinar would take them to the next level up in their understanding of the topic, but you’ll also use this time to create trust and authority, and at the end you’ll have a CTA for the next steps.
  3. Set Appointment: using the link from the webinar to drive them to a page they can set an appointment using a self scheduling tool, you’ll now have a bookings with people interested in talking that have read as least one blog and watched your entire webinar.
  4. Close deal: now that you have all that expertise and trust, you should be in a better position to easily close the deal without high pressure sales tactics.

Now this is just one example, and you could swap out this cornerstone piece with a guide or any other form listed above… or you can get creative!

Step 3 – Create a Cornerstone Content Piece

Alright, so now that you have the plan in place, it’s time to make your cornerstone content! Here’s some basic tips to help you along the way.

tips to write your cornerstone piece
  • Positioning: you should ensure that your positioning on your cornerstone has more value than your common blog and social content, but less than your paid solution. This is why we mapped out the value ladder above!
  • Focused on the Persona: all levels of your value ladder from free content, to cornerstone content to your paid services or products need to solve the solution your customer persona is looking for. Make sure there is a common theme here and stick with it!
  • Value Ahead: the concept with any content is called “value ahead”. That means you’re giving away information of value ahead of any offer or money exchange. That builds trust and if/when that person needs your solution, they will remember that and you’ll be a trusted brand.
  • Get Feedback: regardless of the form of your content, get feedback… and not from your mom, friends, or co-workers. Get feedback from your customers, website visitors, leads, or anyone else that matches your persona. This is the ONLY feedback that matters.
  • Iteration: Facebook didn’t become the multi-billion dollar company they are by not taking action on their customer’s feedback. No, they listened then iterated changes/improvements over time. Don’t change your piece daily or weekly, but periodic updates based on feedback is critical if you want to stay relevant.

Other than that, just have fun, give it all you can and your users will engage with it and you’ll build a better brand.

Step 4 – Promote Your Content

Okay, so now that you have the world’s best cornerstone content piece, it’s time to get some traction and drive people to it. Here’s a list of basic ways to drive traffic to your cornerstone content:

97% of marketers are using social media to reach their audiences.
  • Website Sidebar: on most blog themes there is a sidebar. Ditch those basic wordpress meta widgets and be intentional with your design. Use bold colors and layout a call to action area to drive people to your cornerstone.
  • Website Header: same as above, but using your header. Make a top content easy to find with buttons, navigation, utility bars, or other.
  • Website Popups: popups can be great to drive people to an offer… but equality great at driving people away if done wrong. My advise is to ONLY use exit intent popups. Those only show when someone is already about to hit the back button and leave your site. No timed popups allowed. They’re annoying and you’ll just loose people.
  • Social Sharing: Driving people to any of your content, including your cornerstone, from social is a great idea. Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all work great! Engage your users and drop that link to where they can take the next step (aka… get more value).
  • Email List: This should be common sense if you have an email list, but going to mention it anyways. Email is the highest converting communication method besides phone, so if you have a list, use it. If not, the new content piece you’re doing can help build one for you!
  • Paid Ads: If you’re content is great and the landing page is optimized for conversions, then you might have success by using paid promotions using Google, Facebook, or other ad platforms. Just be careful to watch out for your advertising ROI to make sure you don’t waste money!
  • Influencers: reach out to peers and influencers and ask them to share your content. Provided it’s good, and it helps their audience, you can get in front of a lot of new people this way!
  • SEO: don’t forget about search traffic and optimize that article for search! Use long tail keywords throughout, optimize your internal linking, build external links, and more so your cornerstone content ranks in search terms!

Cornerstone Content Recap

Okay, so we covered a TON about what cornerstone content is, how to use it, and lots of tips and insights along the way.

If you have any tips that have worked for you, or questions about anything, just drop them in the comments below!

Also… we’re working on a brand new ultimate content guide which we hope to launch in the next month or so. If you’re interested in learning more, click here to sign up to be notified when that’s available. (yes, this is a cornerstone content article)

If you’re looking for web or content help for your brand, click here to set a time to chat with me and my team to see if we’re a good fit to help you grow.

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Air Force veteran and online marketing authority, Micha is a pragmatic problem solver with relentless dedication to his clients’ success-- with a passion for helping businesses achieve exponential and sustainable growth. He serves clients as a strategic partner who believes in addressing their digital challenges head-on by implementing quantifiable best practices. His hobbies include billiards, chess, mountain climbing, and traveling with his loving wife and kids.

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