blog-hack.pngWhat kind of information do you provide to your contacts? In what ways do you provide them such information? Through content, of course.

So what is the best strategy to get content to your contacts? Develop a content strategy framework that works with search engines and you'll win the content strategy game in 2018.

Justin Champion, HubSpot Academy's content guru, is going to walk you through a content strategy framework that will dominate search engines and set you up for success in 2018 and beyond. He will cover three key aspects of content strategy: 

  • An overview of content strategy
  • Getting started with pillar pages and topic clusters 
  • HubSpot's content strategy tool

Let's dive in with Justin on how to rock your content strategy for 2018.
 

What is Content Strategy?

Google now processes over 5.4 billion searches per day. That's a lot of people looking for information to problems they're trying to solve. The search engine's role in this transaction is to connect people with the most relevant and valuable content based on their search query.

But with more than 2,000,000 blog posts being written per day, someone finding your content can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. With all of this content being produced, search engines like Google are being forced to better organize and showcase the content they think would be helpful to the searcher. This led Google to release a zoo of updates over the years.

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The first notable update, which really shook things up, was Google’s “Hummingbird” algorithm update in 2013. This update focused on parsing out phrases rather than focusing on specific search queries. Many search engine optimizers and content marketers viewed this as an initial shift from a keyword and topic focus to content creation and website organization. 

The next major update happened in 2015 — Google’s RankBrain algorithm update. RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system that interprets people’s searches to find pages that might not have the exact words they searched for. Google is able to do this by associating past search history with similar themes and pulling together keywords and phrases to provide a better context-driven search engine results page.

As search engines evolve, we must adapt if we want to be found online. And search engines are evolving, all the time. 

All this change brings opportunity for content marketers to be found and, more importantly, found by their ideal audience. That’s a key facet to creating successful content in today’s online environment. Most content creators forget it’s not just about creating content for the search engine.

  • Search engines aren’t the ones filling out the forms on your website.
  • Search engines aren’t the ones sharing your content on social media.
  • Search engines aren’t your customers; humans are. 

If you want to create effective content that converts visitors into leads and eventually into customers, you need to create a helpful, positive user experience that solves for both the searcher and the search engine, not just one or the other.

Here’s how your content can solve for both: Create targeted clusters of relevant content that each cover a specific core topic in depth. These targeted clusters then need to lead to a centralized hub, known as a content pillar.

What is a content pillar?

A content pillar (aka pillar page) is a website page that covers a broad topic in depth and is linked to from a cluster of related content.

Let’s review the relationship between a topic cluster and a pillar page.

First, you need a core topic. This should be something broad, usually 2–3 words — something that can be dug into and explained on a deeper level. Sales qualification is a great example of a core topic. Your core topic will take the shape of your pillar page; your core topic will be what you’re trying to rank for on search engines.

Next, identify your topic cluster, which will be made up of several relevant subtopics. A subtopic should be strong enough to stand alone — in the form of a blog post or video — but when combined with other like-themed subtopics, it should be relevant to and support your core topic. In this case, “What is BANT?” and “What is a qualified prospect?” are examples of strong subtopics that support the core topic of sales qualification.

And what completes this content pillar, which solves for both the searcher and the search engine, is connecting everything through a series of hyperlinks. By linking all relevant subtopics to the core topic (i.e. pillar page), you’re funneling all of your traffic to the main resource hub on this topic. 

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Let’s see this in action. If you performed a Google search for sales qualification, this is what the first page listing would look like. 

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At the top, you’ll see Google generated a featured snippet, which is the search engine’s way of answering your question simply without you having to click through to the page.

In this case, Google assumes that if you’re looking for information on “sales qualification,” then you’ll find value in the BANT qualification framework — information that’s pulled from a HubSpot resource called “The Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification.” Below the featured snippet, you’ll see HubSpot also claims the number one listing for “sales qualification” with the same resource, “The Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification.” In a world of trying to rank for broad keyword terms, this is what you’re striving for:

The featured snippet as well as the number one ranking.

Let’s say you’re interested in learning more about qualification frameworks, so you click the link in the search result to learn more. You’d be taken to this page: 

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After the first few paragraphs, you’ll see a table of contents that lets you know you can navigate through the guide by clicking each section. Each section title has an anchor link attached to it, which, when clicked, will take you to the specific section on the page where it explains that topic in depth.

Going back to our example, you found yourself on this page because you clicked through to learn more about the BANT qualification framework, which is number five on “The Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification.” By clicking the anchor link, you’re taken to the specific portion on the page that discusses the BANT qualification framework in depth. 

Something important to note: Not every relevant subtopic you have will be referenced on the pillar page (and that’s okay). That’s because you may have hundreds, even thousands, of subtopic pages that support your core topic.

Instead, you can strategically link to relevant subtopic content throughout your pillar page when it makes sense and when it provides value to the website visitor. Just make sure all important subtopic pages connect to the pillar page, and use your best judgement on what content you include.

Remember, keep the user experience and the story you’re trying to tell in mind.

So that’s how this page solved for the searcher: by offering a positive user experience. But how did this page solve for the search engines in terms of traffic and visibility? This page receives more than 1,500 organic, non-paid visits from search engines per month.

Want to learn a seven-step process to reverse engineering a topic cluster and pillar page? 

Sign up for the Content Marketing Certification now!

How can you get started with creating topic clusters and pillar pages?

During January of this year, I hosted a content experiment with the goal of helping people create content that solves for both search engines and the website visitor. During this experiment, I used my website, Wild We Wander, to experiment with creating a pillar page by deconstructing a 76-page DIY truck camper guide that my wife, Ariele, and I wrote last year.

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The result? In less than four months, our non-paid, organic traffic coming from search engines went up 329%.

Yeyuh! Instead of shoving all this valuable information behind a landing page, we opened it up for search engines to find, which also gives website visitors the opportunity to view our content before downloading it.

Let’s review another example.

In October 2017, one of HubSpot’s Diamond partners, SmartBug Media, decided to undertake a project to turn one of their most popular ebooks into a pillar page to try out this new content format. They chose an offer that had some great results, but was aging: The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing Personas. It was originally created in May 2013 and had been downloaded more than 4,500 times since then. Additionally, SmartBug recognized that they had a dozen or so relevant blog posts and could easily create another dozen to form a topic cluster on the subject matter. With a highly successful ebook at the core and existing ancillary blog posts, this fit perfectly with the pillar page model. SmartBug created a cross-functional team to complete the project including:

  • Copywriter – Trent Reed
  • Two Marketing Strategists – Jessica Vionas-Singer, Juli Durante, and Mary Cate Spires
  • Project Manager (CEO) – Ryan Malone
  • VP of Sales and Marketing – Jen Spencer
  • Director of Creative Services – Danielle Riley
  • Web Developer – Evan Futterman

Everyone had different pieces to pull together with the first item to tackle being the actual content in the ebook. Since it had been four years since the original release, Mary Cate and Juli did a comprehensive audit of what existed in the ebook. Trent then took the current copy and beefied it up (which is quote the understatement as it actually double in size!).

At the same time, Danielle began designing what the pillar page would look like on the SmartBug website. Once the team signed off on the design, she passed it over to Evan to code everything. And while all that was going on, each person signed up to write an additional blog post after brainstorming about potential titles.

This effectively doubled the amount of blogs that would link to the pillar page. Once all the content was finished, other team members could contribute by adding resources to each section in the pillar page, linking the existing blog posts to the pillar page, creating the thank you page, writing social media posts, and developing an announcement email. The entire process took six weeks from start-to-finish.

Early success signals for SmartBug’s pillar page are strong. In the first two weeks, the page received 1,806 views and 330 submissions, converting at 18% and growing. The page has also yielded 122 net new contacts. While the majority of page views have initially come from direct search and email marketing, organic search and social media have generated 20% of the total views to date.

SmartBug is seeing tremendous engagement from LinkedIn specifically with 76% of social media-related traffic coming from that channel. This comes as no surprise as LinkedIn is the social media channel of choice for SmartBug’s primary persona for this campaign. HubSpot’s campaign reporting tool also indicates that within this short, two-week, time frame the campaign has already influenced four closed deals at $77,250 in revenue.

Want to learn how to create a content marketing strategy in HubSpot?

Check out SmartBug's documentation of their process in this helpful, step-by-step guide.
 

How Can HubSpot’s Content Strategy Tool Help?

Let’s check out a company that’s taken the time to grow their topic clusters and pillar pages into the backbone of their content strategy. That company is Townsend Security. They’re a full-service data security provider.

With cyber security dominating the news, Townsend Security helps enterprises meet compliance and mitigate the risk of data breaches with encryption and key management.

In 2015, the marketing team at Townsend Security started creating content that aligned with their buyer persona and the security solutions they sell.

In early 2016, Townsend Security started to see real results from their content creation efforts. The result: Their traffic held steady in 2015, and in the first quarter of 2016, they had a 27% rise in organic search visitors.

But all that changed in the second quarter of 2016. Competition for their narrow band of keywords increased as new competitors entered the marketplace, and their larger rivals outspent them on online marketing. After a record high March and April, they saw a 38% slippage in organic search visitors during the next three months (with a 28% slippage in one month alone). Their hard work from the previous year evaporated. While they fought back and did recoup some of that traffic, they still struggled to regain their high ground in organic searches.

In late September of 2016, Townsend created a comprehensive pillar page around a broad topic. The goal was to become the thought leader on “encryption key management.” And that’s exactly what they did. 

At the time Townsend Security built their pillar page, they also started using HubSpot’s latest content and SEO tool, content strategy. Ken Mafli, Townsend’s Demand Generation Manager, said “The content strategy tool has been great for helping us map out the content that we will be making. It has insights into the metrics we need to make decisions about which content to create, and maximize the time we spend creating content.” 

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Mafli then added his pillar page on encryption key management in content Strategy and linked all the related blog posts to the pillar page. This helped establish for search engines that all these pages are related, and any visitors that encounter a blog post have a natural conversion point to the overall encryption key management resource. Mafli said, “Content strategy is a great tool that helps us, at a glance, see what topical content we should create, our information architecture, and most importantly helps track our progress over time.”

The result? Townsend’s unpaid, organic traffic coming from search engines went up 55% in less than three months. 

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Want to learn how to create a topic cluster in HubSpot’s content strategy tool? 

Check out this helpful HubSpot Academy knowledge article!

Next week on this series

Tune in next Thursday when we'll explore why behavorial email is an important aspect of your email marketing strategy.

 

Curious to learn how to create effective content that grows your business’ awareness and builds trust and credibility with your ideal audience? This foundational knowledge is taught in HubSpot Academy’s free Content Marketing Certification course, which over 15,000 people have earned since its launch in November 2016.

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Originally published Nov 30, 2017 9:00:00 AM, updated December 20 2017