When it comes to SEO, the only thing you can know with any certainty is that search engine algorithms are always changing.

Your SEO strategy that might have worked in 2017 might not work as well in 2018. And if you're still planning your SEO strategy like it's 2012, then it's guaranteed not to be the most effective plan for right now.

The HubSpot keywords tool has been a core piece of the SEO toolkit for most of our users. This tool had remained largely unchanged since 2012, and over the years, it became less relevant as SEO changed rapidly.

Users loved the keywords tool for seeing and tracking where they ranked for certain keywords, but the truth is this:

Universal "rank" for a keyword simply isn't a thing anymore.

During INBOUND 2017, HubSpot introduced the content strategy tool to help marketers plan, validate, execute, and measure the results of their content better than the keywords tool could and in a way that's in-tune with how search actually works today.

Planning Your Content

The biggest strength of the content strategy tool is in how it helps you plan your content by starting with the main topics you want to be seen as experts on.

How does it work? Well, start with your main topic at the center and then decide on the most important sub-topics you'll also cover. The end result will be an extremely comprehensive and informative pillar page along with numerous shorter blog posts on your sub-topics that form a topic cluster.

Once you create all the backlinks from the sub-topic posts to the central pillar, you're sending signals to Google that all of these pieces of content are deliberately arranged and relevant to each other.

The success of one piece of content in this cluster can have a spreading effect to the rest.

The old keywords tool, on the other hand, lent itself to more of a dartboard approach. Brainstorm as many keywords as possible, select the low-hanging fruit, and write posts tailored to these keywords (in a usually arbitrary order). There was no built-in functionality that would help you actually plan and organize your content strategy.

Validating Your Content

As you input your pillar and sub-topics, the content strategy tool will help you validate your choices by showing you the estimated monthly search volume, similarity to your core topic, and relevancy to what your website is already known for.

These are guardrails to make sure you're staying focused on your central pillar topic.

The above metrics are quite different from what users were accustomed to in the keywords tool, which would give you a nice big table of all the keywords you added showing search volume, rank, difficulty, and estimated CPC. This often led to users scanning and filtering the table to try and find easy targets that might have low difficulty and decent search volume. While this strategy isn't completely invalid, it would often lead to users choosing keywords that they thought would be easiest to rank for, even if they weren't the most important keywords for their business.

The content strategy tool avoids this type of thinking. The idea is to start with the pillar topic and sub-topics that are most important to your business and not obsess over these estimated metrics. We believe this is the better strategy in the long run and ensures you create content that will be relevant, informative, and demonstrate your expertise to visitors.

Executing Your Content

The content strategy tool is designed to neatly organize your pillar and sub-topics into a cluster of interlinking posts. It's these actual hyperlinks that hold the cluster together and the tool's UI confirms whether you have a link between a subtopic page and your pillar page.

The keywords tool did not offer anything like this since it was primarily a research tool and not helpful with the execution of content.

But of course, the actual execution is ultimately up to the content writer, regardless of which tools they use.

Measuring Your Content

How do you determine if your content was successful? Did it result in increased traffic, inbound links, new leads, and ultimately new customers?

If the answer to any of those is "yes," then I think it's safe to call it a success. The content strategy tool automatically keeps track of that for you. While in the keywords tool you relied on the dubious "rank" keyword. Did rank increase for a keyword you wrote about? Can you specifically attribute that to content you created?

I think it's clear that measuring success based on actual business results, like leads and customers, is a far better approach than watching your rank. Remember that search rank and SEO in general is only one reason to create content. You're also creating content to prove your expertise, inform your target personas, and build trust.

To get started with content strategy, HubSpot Academy has a free lesson on Creating Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages.

For a deeper dive, check out the free Content Marketing certification.

Access free tools and training in the learning center.

Originally published Mar 12, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated March 08 2018