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Google’s front page is a battleground.
With more and more companies prioritizing SEO as a marketing channel, competition is only getting tougher. It’s no longer enough to just have a great product page or well written blogs.
Content hubs are one of the best ways to cut through the noise and distinguish your business from the rest, both to your customers and to Google’s algorithm.
Great SEO content hubs provide excellent user experience, invaluable linking opportunities to strengthen your site, and a chance to revitalize your existing content into top-performing pieces.
Encouraging users to engage with a content hub takes some finesse. You need to determine the best ways to structure and present your content so that your prospects are drawn in and converted into buyers, rather than scared away by walls of text and meandering links.
There are a lot of different techniques being used, so you need a very thorough understanding of your existing content archive in terms of breadth and depth, your seller and buyer engagement preferences, and a bit of design flair to really pull this off.
Now, before you rush off to build your content hub, it’s important to understand why you’re doing it.
Digital content hubs can be excellent navigation tools for your website, and they can be a powerful boost to your SEO factors (through links, keywords, and word count), as well as improve your user experience (intuitive navigation, relevant info).
With all the potential success to be had with a content hub, it can be easy to get carried away and over-optimize, which can actually hurt your efforts.
If you try to cram in keywords and links to your other content, you will ruin the user experience. No one wants to sort through irrelevant content, struggling to find what they’re looking for.
On the other hand, if you try to focus solely on UX, you risk creating a page that doesn’t rank well enough, meaning your efforts are basically going to waste.
When creating your content hub strategy, it is paramount that you balance SEO and UX to achieve the best results. You’ll want to develop a deep understanding of your users and how to best communicate with them.
Consider using tools like Product Messaging Templates and Ideal Customer Persona Templates to help with these efforts.
One source of confusion around content hubs is their differences and relation to pillar pages.
Pillar pages are large, comprehensive pieces of content used to present a topic as thoroughly as possible. Typically written as long-form blog pieces, these pages boast high word counts (roughly 3000+) and have plenty of high value internal links as well.
Pillar pages tend to do very well in Google, since Google prefers in-depth content, so they can be expected to outperform standard blogs.
The thinking behind pillar pages is to gather all of your information on a topic and house it on one page, or at least use one page as the main staging area. This will position your business as an authoritative and attractive source of information to your users, ideally leading to further reading, and eventually a purchase.
Content Hubs, while similar in intent, are executed very differently. Hubs often forgo the high word count and information density that pillars rely on. Instead, they opt to go for a more dry and direct navigational structure that will lead the user to their desired location.
Content hubs are more concerned with leading a prospect to the right link than they are explaining anything on the actual page.
While some styles opt for short blurbs or descriptions, many hubs simply link out to subsequent content that goes into detail about that specific aspect of your content hub’s subject matter.
In this way, Content Hubs are more flexible and easy to structure than pillars, as your concern is creating different sections in order to fully explore the topic through supporting blogs, rather than writing the content yourself on the hub.
While content hubs are primarily used to house written content, they are certainly not limited to this.
A robust content hub should have images, graphics, and even videos to encourage interaction and further engagement. Presenting a diverse range of media to your users will allow them to pick which content suits them best, and can also provide you with insights into those user preferences and trends.
Gathering and organizing all these assets can be a real headache, so consider using a sales content management system, like Content Camel, to automate where you can, and keep focus on the most important tasks.
When creating a content hub, particularly the first for your site, you’ll want to pick a subject for which you have already produced a significant amount of content.
These pieces should be high-performing and optimized further to ensure their success. You can conduct an audit of your content library to determine the best picks, and also give you an idea of how much optimization your library needs in general to make the most of your assets.
This first content hub’s ranking can help get your entire site to a more visible position, as a strong hub can end up on the coveted front page of Google. As they say; a rising tide raises all ships.
As you lay the foundations of your content hub, there are a few schools of thought around how best to position your content. Remember, you’re going for a balance of SEO and User Experience (UX), so it’s a good idea to do some research into what styles best appeal to your audience.
Our own research and experience has narrowed down the options to three top performing models, each with their own strengths and weaknesses:
Structuring your content hubs by topic is a fairly straightforward and intuitive practice.
Atlassian utilizes a topical style, with short descriptions for additional reading blogs.
It allows you to group your content based not only on relevance, but it also allows you to tie new pieces into top performers through linking. It’s the most flexible of these options, and the easiest to edit or add to after going live.
Topical structures are able to take advantage of your keyword research, typically using top ranking keywords to determine your topics and sections in the content hub. One serious advantage of topically structured hubs is the ability to build your hub not just around keywords, but around their more broad search intent.
Building your content hub in stages based on reader experience level will yield some immediate benefits.
Smartsheet uses reader experience level to ensure their users are always able to match their understanding to the content.
This structure enables your users to find relevant information instantly, as they can determine their own experience level and then start growing as they learn and move through the sections.
It also provides excellent visibility into the level and depth of your content; you should aim to provide roughly equal amounts of assets for the amateur, professional, and expert readers to present your hub as holistic and well-rounded, with something for every type of user.
Weighing your hub down with too much content in one section could make you appear inaccessible to certain users. If you have too many expert pieces, you may lose new and curious users who could learn more and become customers.
Too many entry level pieces reduce your authority by making you look like you only have an amateur understanding of the content, driving away expert and even professional level readers.
This is a key problem with a lot of SEO content out there today, and this can be a valuable differentiator.
You’ll need to determine the average experience level of your users, and this will be used to inform your categorization.
This is the most difficult structure to successfully implement, but it has some powerful benefits that will make it worth the effort.
Firstly, a narrative or chapter by chapter style structure will present your company as an authority figure on the subject matter, as you’ve basically constructed a syllabus for your users to engage with and deepen their understanding of your product/service.
Smartsheet’s content hub is also organized into chapters, which encourages continued
reading through the entire website section, and looks good, too!
Narrative structures are fairly intuitive to users, but that benefit only comes into play if they actually stick around on the site and keep reading the new chapters.
Often, users just want information on specific subjects or products, and will leave your site once their query is answered.
That’s the tricky part of the narrative structure: you need each piece of content to organically flow into the next, encouraging further reading without changing the focus too much for the reader. Gaps in your content and isolated pieces need to be addressed, as these will be the main breakdown points in this structure.
Another limitation of the narrative style is the difficulty of adding new content once your chapters are established.
You may have a ten chapter hub with great ranking and highly relevant and actionable information, but later on down the line you may publish a new piece, with great potential and relevance to your hub.
Introducing this new piece as a new chapter at the end risks confusing the reader, as the piece may not be associated with what precedes it, and it will likely not conclude your section as well as your original final chapter did.
Adding the new piece into the chapters retroactively could also cause some issues, as you are altering and disrupting the original flow of the hub.
Since Content Hubs are relatively new on the scene, there aren’t hard rules to their creation.
While the structures described above can be very effective, they don’t need to be followed prescriptively. Your industry, business, and product will all have unique qualities that you will need to explore in your hub, and so rigid structures can often be confining.
What many are finding success with is a combination of the different hub styles, taking advantage of the benefits of each.
This can be done through organizing topical hubs by experience level, staying within the desired subject matter but offering content to any level of reader.
Similarly, a hub with a narrative structure can be built to support readers from their initial introduction to a topic, with guides, how-to’s, and use cases, and then shifting to higher levels of content as the reader improves their knowledge.
For more ideas about structure of content hubs, Content Harmony has a listicle covering 5 types of content hubs and over 30 examples.
Content hubs are immense value generators, and not just because they can draw in eyes and encourage continued reading. A huge benefit of content hubs is the extra mileage it allows you to get from your existing content.
Low performing blogs can languish in obscurity for ages, drowned beneath better pieces and lost to obsolete tags. With a content hub, you will be able to find and refurbish these old pieces as you audit your content.
Once you’ve found old blogs that are relevant to your hub, you need to determine whether they meet your standards. It could be that editorial changes have happened since it was first published, or it could be that the research is out of date, but whatever the cause, you should be looking for ways to pivot the content into something publishable.
An optimization process can be put into place to ensure all old content is appropriately updated and conforms with your current standards and goals.
This may seem like a fair bit of work, but optimizing old blogs will take much less time than researching and writing entirely new ones, and it allows you to take advantage of previous efforts. You can even optimize blogs that were formerly high performing, but have slipped in the rankings over time.
It’s critical that the hub be structured as intuitively as possible for ease of navigation.
For example, positioning “challenge/problem sections” next to “benefit/solution sections” in order to speak to pain points and capture the reader’s interest by mentioning specific pains of theirs, only to follow up with the solutions your product/service is able to offer for those issues.
To be truly effective, the content hub needs to be designed to address three distinct factors:
As you build your content hub, the two biggest user-facing issues are ease-of-use and actionability of information.
Your content hub needs to be very accessible, usually with their own dedicated section of your website navigation. This allows new users to locate them immediately, providing value and encouraging further interaction.
Once they arrive at your hub, a clear and defined structure will allow them to quickly find any specific information that they are seeking, whether that is based on topic, experience level, or buyer stage.
The value afforded to businesses by hubs may not be as obvious as the benefits that users enjoy, but they are powerful advantages to anyone looking to hit Google’s front page.
One such advantage is that content hubs allow you to compete on keywords that would normally be way out of reach. Top performing keywords are often used by the biggest names in the industry, and dethroning these titans is indeed a herculean task for regular blog content.
With content hubs, however, you’re not just providing text and a few links, you’re creating a piece with:
These will all score huge points with Google’s algorithm, even compared to blogs by the very best in the business.
Another key benefit of content hubs is the visibility they provide on your content. As you organize your blogs, you should be keeping in mind any patterns or similar themes, and use these to inform the sections of the hub.
For example; if you have a ton of blogs about project management mistakes, a “Pitfalls and Challenges” section could house such pieces.
As you build out your sections, you will also notice that some are more dense than others.
Odds are, your sections are uneven because you never strategized your blog content in this way.
And that’s fine, because now you can.
The gaps in your content hub can represent key gaps in your sales content strategy, as you come to appreciate how much focus, or lack thereof, you paid to different aspects of your topic.
In this way, your content hub can help to inform you on what your content priorities should be, while potentially paving the way for months worth of new content as you work to fill the gaps.
It would be a serious mistake to not consider the impact of successfully implementing an SEO strategy with your content hub. Much of the business value of your hub will be lost if this isn’t implemented correctly.
What you are looking to achieve for search engine crawlers, and therefore increased search engine rankings and traffic, is:
A seamless navigational journey is a core factor to content hub success. The problem with blog posts is that as your library grows, your posts are increasingly farther away from the home page.
Many large websites end up having pages and sections that are very deep linked, making it difficult for Google to crawl and reducing the internal link value to the deep pages
So what can you do?
As a content hub’s purpose is to raise the profile of your site and improve rankings, it only makes sense to house the hub in a central, top-of-hierarchy position in your navigation.
This can be a location in the main menu navigation, a prominent place on the home page, or a link in the footer. It could even be all of these!
You want your hub to be visible and eye-catching immediately when a user visits your site.
Every second they spend on your page without being intrigued is potentially their exit from your business, as they’re enticed by other websites, or their interest simply drops off.
Content hubs may not necessarily have a rulebook, but they’ve certainly got best practices.
Once you’ve chosen your subject, audited your content, and started organizing it in a hub structure, you still have some technical decisions to make.
Your content hub’s word count is a bit of a tricky thing.
Is it a pure content hub or will you try and do double duty as a hub/pillar page?
It’s tempting to try to combine your content hub and pillar page into a single piece; creating content that is intended to rank for a specific set of queries, while also linking to sub-topics as additional pages. However, you can’t just slap the information down right there on the page, or no one will follow your links.
The trick with content hub word counts is that each section’s actual text should be as concise as possible, in order to minimize confusion and maximize content visibility.
Where the hub’s large word count will likely come from is the volume of sections in your hub. Each one will require a brief description of the subject matter within, and may also provide short descriptions for subsequent links.
Remember; this isn’t a pillar page! You want to write just enough to entice the reader’s interest, without giving any secrets away.
Well-made content hubs support their text and links with visual design to keep the reader engaged. This can be through graphics or images, or simply through the layout of the page itself.
Most hubs are structured vertically, and many companies make the mistake of simply publishing a long, dry index of resources. This leads to more scrolling than reading, and can quickly fatigue the reader or make them lose their place.
A truly valuable content hub will leverage the available white space on the page for a table of contents (as hubs can get quite long) or similar supporting content, maintaining user interest and acting as potential jumping off points for additional content.
The main strength of a content hub is its links.
A well-made linking infrastructure will enable you to refurbish and utilize old content, and generate value for new pieces.
If done correctly, your content hub will be more than a simple hub and spoke model, it will act as a roadmap for your users to go from novices to experts on your products and services.
You’ll want to prioritize the presentation of your links on-page, ensure that they are highly visible, easy to understand, and lead to relevant content.
While organic links throughout content are often powerful SEO tools, content hubs enjoy the advantage of being purpose-built for navigation, and so they can arrange their links in a much more dense and categorized manner.
Topic and User Experience based hubs are best able to leverage this advantage due to their flexibility.
Many of these hubs opt to include an “additional reading” section below the featured blog. This allows readers to quickly see what other related content is available without drawing too much focus from the headline piece.
When creating these “additional reading” sections, there are still some techniques to follow.
You’ll want your anchor text to be a reflection of the blog title to which you are linking (an exact match is recommended). Since you researched and optimized your blog titles for the maximum SEO and UX benefits, your anchor text will similarly be strong and keyword packed.
In cases where the subject matter is especially complicated, or there is a lot of overlap, you can add a short 1-2 sentence description after the link. Be careful with this though, as adding descriptions to too many links will clutter your page and defeat the purpose of intuitive navigation.
Adding descriptions to too many links can create a cluttered wall of content that can be difficult to read
You’re almost through!
Now you just need to make sure you’ve followed each step and built a great hub.
We’ve narrowed down the major points above and created this short cheat sheet to help guide you through your process.
The list may make it look easy, but constructing SEO-focused content hubs can take weeks, if not months, and it can take even longer if you don’t have the right tools for the job.
A purpose-built sales content management system like Content Camel is the ideal way to organize, categorize, and access all of your assets.
Many sales enablement tools can help manage your content, but they can also be very expensive and come with a lot of feature bloat. Content Camel is a cost-effective solution to organize your content for marketing and sales and make it easy for everyone to find the right content when they need it.
If you are evaluating tools, the key feature you need to look for in your sales content management system is advanced searching and tagging.
This will minimize the time you spend searching for specific pieces, and ensure that you are always using the best, most up-to-date content available.
Personalize follow up. Easily share content. Track results.
Content Camel is a sales enablement tool used for sales content management. High-growth sales teams use our system to quickly find and share the right content for each specific sales situation and measure content use and effectiveness.