How a Content Hub Can Revolutionise Your Digital Marketing (if you do it right)
Posted by: Megan Harrison - 07.01.22
The days of targeting specific keywords through stand-alone articles are over. To successfully attract and convert traffic today, brands must offer visitors answers to all of their questions in a seamless online experience.
In this article, you’ll find out what a content hub is, why the ‘hub’ structure helps content succeed, and the results a well-executed content hub could help you achieve.
Underperforming content? You aren’t alone
You click ‘publish’ to unveil your latest piece of content to the world.
‘Google will surely love this one’, you think, ‘It’s got keywords in it and everything‘.
Two weeks later: ‘Only 12 views?! And most of those were probably from our own team’.
What went wrong?
We call this the ‘black hole of blogging’.
Despite your best efforts to create engaging, shareable content, most of its visibility and engagement metrics suck.
Search engines and your target audience have no idea it exists, and eventually, it will become buried under a big list of other equally underperforming posts.
You can’t figure out why your content isn’t gaining traction or what your next step should be.
Should you continue to produce content at great expense in the hope that something will stick? Or do you start planning a retreat from content marketing altogether because you’re beginning to question its long-term ROI?
Sound familiar? Don’t take it personally. An analysis of 912 million blog posts showed that a staggering 94% have zero external links.1
In other words, nine times out of 10, when a brand publishes a piece of content, no one considers it useful or interesting enough to reference it.
As a result, it struggles to rank and attracts little to no traffic.
Google stressed the importance of links in its ‘How Search Works’ report.
And it’s not just personal and B2C blogs that get dragged into the black hole. An almost identical proportion of B2B blogs (93%) have the same problem.
Lack of links isn’t the only issue. 75% of all social shares come from only 1.3% of published content.1
Content is still king, but the struggle is real
The reason so much content struggles isn’t because content marketing is a bad strategy. In fact, content is becoming more popular and therefore more integral to brand success every day.
A recent survey of over 3,000 marketers showed that 70% of brands actively invest in content marketing.2
- 69% of B2B marketers have a content strategy (up from 39% in 2019)3
- 86% of marketers have used content marketing to create brand awareness successfully3
- 72% of marketers say content marketing boosts engagement and leads4
- Nine out of 10 consumers expect brands to provide content.5
With so many brands using articles, videos, podcasts, tools and other content types to fight for the attention of the same audiences, it’s no wonder that content marketing is getting harder.
For content to successfully attract, educate and acquire customers, it can no longer be a half-baked optional extra. Merely publishing decent articles every so often just won’t cut the mustard.
Instead, your content must be more helpful, more interesting and more entertaining than your competitors’ and be structured in a way that makes it effortless for people and search engines to explore it.
This is where content hubs come in.
What is a content hub?
A content hub is a dedicated go-to space on your site where you publish high-quality and well-structured content.
In other words, a curated collection of content that search engines and real people love.
But that definition barely scratches the surface of what a content hub is and what it can help you achieve.
You might even think it sounds similar to a traditional blog.
But content hubs are different to blogs in at least 10 important ways.
|Typically presented in a linear, chronological order
|Information is organised by topic and subtopic according to audience demand and relevance
|Articles published whenever your team has time
|Follows a specific publishing plan
|Topics chosen as and when new posts are required
|Topics planned well in advance based on search demand, knowledge gaps, product/service tie-ins and seasonal factors
|Uses a ‘fingers crossed’ SEO approach
|Follows all best practice SEO guidelines for well-optimised on-site content
|Mostly consists of text-based articles with a few images
|A conscious mix of content types creates a rich user experience
|Calls to action (if present) are tagged onto the end of posts
|Content is strategically shaped around the user journey and buying cycle, with CTAs incorporated more organically
|Posts occasionally link to each other, but are mostly unconnected
|Internal linking is used to strengthen the site’s content architecture and encourage the user through the marketing funnel
|Considers basic analytics (e.g. visits, ranking keywords)
|Measures all aspects of user engagement, including behaviour flow into, across and out of the hub
|Content exists mostly in a silo
|Is put to good use across channels wherever possible (email, social, lead generation, etc.)
|Posts succeed or fail, but are rarely improved over time
|Content audits reveal what’s working. Struggling content is reworked, merged or removed. Content showing potential is strategically updated
How content hubs are structured
The biggest difference between a content hub and a standard blog is how the content is structured.
The old-fashioned approach to publishing content involved choosing a topic based on a keyword you’d like to rank for. For example, ‘What type of credit card is best?’. Next, you would create a stand-alone page on your site that explores this topic, e.g. a blog post.
There are two problems with this approach:
1. Google may not consider your page the best fit for the topic.
Google’s goal is to give searchers the perfect information for their search query. To spotlight your page above thousands of alternatives, the algorithm needs strong evidence that it’s more useful and relevant than them. It’s hard to demonstrate that level of authority through one or two pages, even if they offer amazing information.
Using the example above, how does Google know that you really understand credit cards? After all, anyone could throw together a quick blog article on the same topic.
2. The days of obsessing over individual keywords are over.
Thanks to its Panda, Hummingbird and RankBrain updates, Google now understands the intent behind searches in a way that transcends specific keywords. It’s better than ever at guessing what you want when you give it just a fragment of information.
For example, here’s what it shows when we search for ‘pizza’.
Google knows that the intent behind ‘pizza’ is probably to find local restaurants and takeaways.
But ‘margherita pizza’ is more likely to mean I’m looking for recipes.
So, Google now understands the context of information and what people are looking for on a much deeper level.
It also cares about selecting a source that is an authority on the topic.
Together, these facts explain why publishing the odd article here and there isn’t enough to rank first.
Instead, you need to demonstrate your authority on the topic across a range of high-quality, interconnected content.
To show you what we mean, let’s see who ranks first for ‘What type of credit card is best?’ and how they’re doing it.
MoneySuperMarket’s page ranks first. The search term appears within the page title and page contents. But the page doesn’t exist in isolation as a blog post might.
It’s part of a credit cards content hub.
More than 40 credit card subtopics are housed under /credit-cards/, and each one links to the main credit cards landing page.
This is the structure at the heart of content hubs.
Important landing pages (‘pillars’) are supported by subtopic pages (‘clusters’).
The pillar page gives a broad overview of the main topic (and links to key products/services), like this:
Meanwhile, the clusters explore specific subtopics, often based on long-tail searches, like this:
This way, pillar pages can be optimised to convert visitors into customers, while cluster content is optimised to attract traffic.
And, crucially, the value of the cluster content is passed to the important pillar page through internal links and descriptive anchor text.
So instead of the content being structured using a flat hierarchy, with lots of overlapping articles on only a few focus topics, like this:
The bulk of the content is organised into topics and linked to respective pillar pages, like this:
Supporting pillar pages with cluster content in this way makes a big difference.
In the example above, the /credit-cards/ pillar page ranks for around 1,200 keywords.
Whereas the whole /credit-cards/ content hub ranks for nearly 30,000 keywords.
In other words, over 95% of the hub’s organic keywords are thanks to its diverse range of cluster content and only 5% come from the pillar page.
However, all of the cluster content is linked, to benefit the pillar page (which will ultimately make money).
The cluster content passes traffic to the pillar page and creates a rich ‘universe’ of related topics and terms that support it, like scaffolding surrounding a building.
The advantages of content hubs
A content hub that’s planned and executed to perfection will deliver multiple benefits.
High-quality content that’s well researched, comprehensive and easy to digest shows that your brand knows what it’s talking about, cares about what customers need and is willing to help in any way it can.
In every piece of hub content, you demonstrate your thought leadership and industry knowledge, and thereby build your brand authority.
The vast majority of searches are informational, meaning the user isn’t looking for a product or service (yet). Instead, they want to learn more about a topic.
Without a wealth of informational content on your site, you won’t appear in organic results for these searches. But with a content hub that’s packed with guides, Q&As, lists, how-tos, videos, infographics, and more, you can tap into this major source of traffic.
Sales pages are important end points in the user journey, but they don’t inspire engagement by themselves. It’s top and middle of the funnel content that people spend time digesting, sharing, signing up to and enjoying.
Content hubs give you a better chance of attracting visitors and keeping them engaged with information they find valuable across their journey.
By sharing valuable information with visitors up front, you make a more persuasive case for why they should invest time on your site and trust you with their personal information.
A content hub presents dozens of ways to capture leads, including:
- Contextually relevant CTAs
- Ebooks, white papers and industry reports
- Guides, courses and tutorials (video and podcasts)
- Trials and demos
- Templates and tools
- Contests and events
- Multi-part email series.
Stand-alone blog posts can only tell you so much about what your readers enjoy and for what type of content your site ranks well. A well-structured content hub, however, offers a wealth of useful analytics data.
You can monitor behaviour flow between pages, compare engagement across similar articles, and actively prune and improve content that’s underperforming or not adding value to the user journey.
Content hub challenges
Content hubs organise information in a way that outperforms standalone articles. So far, so good.
So what’s the catch?
Your content still needs to be incredible
Adopting a content hub structure won’t bring success by itself. Your content still needs to be more original, useful, and enjoyable than competitors’.
Otherwise, achieving success would simply be a case of adopting a different content structure, and Google would be back at square one, trying to sort the good from the bad.
Links are crucial
Inbound links act like votes of trust. The more incoming links Google notices, the more trustworthy your content will appear and the better chance you’ll have at ranking on the first page.
Building visibility is a gradual, organic process, and some content – no matter how great it is – will never rank well unless it achieves a certain number of links.
You’ll need to wait for links to appear naturally as a product of the quality of your pages, manually build links through strategic content sharing and outreach, or adopt a combination of the two.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
One study of two million pages found that ‘only 5.7% of all studied pages ranked in the Top10 search results within one year for at least one keyword’.6
In other words, it takes a while for content to achieve visibility. (Even the 5.7% of pages that ranked more quickly needed approximately 61-182 days.)
You should never expect a new piece of content to rank highly overnight. Instead, you need to give it the best chance to achieve visibility while continuing your broader content strategy.
Your brand’s mission and ethos must stand out
When a hub’s content is based purely on keyword research, it can easily end up feeling like a cold and uninspiring place.
The best content hubs seamlessly combine search-demand with the brand’s identity, strategy and a deep understanding of the target audience.
Our content hub expertise
It takes a lot of time, effort and knowledge to create and maintain a thriving content hub. That’s why half of companies outsource at least one content marketing activity, with 84% of those saying they need support with content creation.3
For example, when our client My Menopause Centre launched their groundbreaking online menopause clinic, their goal was to provide women with one of the richest sources of free menopause information on the web.
We took on the challenge of producing over 100,000 words of expertly written content, aligning it with their brand voice and strategy, and organising it into a content hub that maximises user experience.
Before embarking on content creation, we planned the content in detail through competitor and keyword research, plus a sentiment survey of 200 women.
Our analysis of search data revealed that half of menopause searches relate to women looking for information on specific symptoms, while just over one third relate to solutions, treatments, and tests.
This suggested a widespread lack of knowledge on the basics of the menopause, which our content needed to address.
As part of the inbound marketing strategy, we also developed a free Menopause Questionnaire which helps the user discover where she is in her journey, what symptoms she has and how she can be treated.
Based on her answers, she’s sent a unique email that lists her specific symptoms and signposts places to get more support and information.
Read more about how we provided strategic insight, an SEO strategy, and content creation in our My Menopause Centre Case Study.
Google has made it clear that one of the key factors in determining page quality is E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness).
For My Menopause Centre, we needed to emphasise these values because menopause is a YMYL topic (Your Money or Your Life).
YMYL topics are those which could ‘potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety’.
As such, Google puts extra scrutiny on the E-A-T of the content to ensure it will help rather than hurt searchers.
We worked closely with the business founders, including Dr Clare Spencer, to guarantee all information was medically reviewed and up to date.
Finance is another YMYL topic for which expert-level research and writing are essential.
Our client Yorkshire Building Society saw an opportunity to provide over-55s with impartial information to help plan their retirement.
As part of a wider campaign, we developed a content hub and named it Our Money Movement – a library of carefully researched, well-structured, strategically chosen inspirational and educational content about the key things you need to think about if you’re 55 or over.
Through extensive keyword research, four key topics emerged that we used as pillar pages:
- Planning your retirement
- Getting the most from your pension and investments
- Using your home to fund retirement
- Planning longer-term care
We then generated ideas for cluster pages and articles. These link to and from our pillar pages using the key questions we know people ask from our keyword research.
Competitor research also provided topics for additional pages and guided their ideal length.
In six months, the content hub has accumulated nearly 1,000 ranking keywords and 100 backlinks.
10 of the 24 pages rank on the first page for their focus keyword.
There have been significant ranking improvements for previously underperforming topics. For example, the site once ranked 68th for ‘Can I afford to retire early’ but now ranks first.
Is a content hub right for your brand?
There’s little point in publishing content on your site unless it has the best possible chance of being seen and appreciated by your target audience.
A content hub organises the information your customers are looking for into a single, seamless destination that attracts and engages them more deeply than sales pages or standalone blog posts ever will by themselves.
However, we know that there’s a big difference between deciding that a content hub is a good idea and getting an amazing one up and running online.
Where should it be hosted? What should you call it? What happens to your existing content? What does an MVP content hub look like for your brand and how much will it cost?