Content Hubs: How to Beat the Big Boys in 7 Steps
Online competition is intense. Close to 2 million blog posts are published every day. That’s a lot of content. A bit discouraging, isn’t it?
But take a moment to think about the nature of competition. Online competition is based on topics. In Google, in social media, and in the minds of your audience, competition for attention is always specific to a topic.
Popular topics are crowded with competitors: famous blogs, big companies and sites that have invested in content for years. If the topic is small, small websites can win attention, but it may not be enough to generate leads and sales. It’s hard to thrive in a tiny, micro-niche.
So How Do You Beat the Competition For Bigger Topics?
First, you have to understand this: those bigger competitors win because they have more content and better content. This is how they become relevant for that topic in search engines, in social media and with their email subscribers.
So to compete, you need to focus on a topic and build up a set of content around it. You need to be more organized and focused. To beat the big boys, you need content hubs.
When content is focused on a topic, it piles up, reaching higher above the competition and gaining visibility. If a content hub were drawn in 3D, it would look like a mountain, with a central peak surrounded by a wide base of sub-topics.
Most marketers aren’t very focused. They publish a bit here and a bit there. These are just small hills that never rise high enough to be visible.
So What’s a Content Hub?
A content hub is a set of content (usually web pages) organized around a specific topic (usually a central page). It could be a category on a blog or a section of pages on a website. So content hubs are relevant to both web design and ongoing content marketing.
Website sections are content hubs for related services. Ecommerce product catalogs often resemble content hubs. Make sure to use descriptive navigation and pay close attention to internal linking. See How to Make a Sitemap for details.
Blog categories can be topic-based and often serve as content hubs.
- Content Strategy
A publishing calendar can focus on a specific topic for a specific time frame.
Content hubs are the key to winning attention in a crowded field. They work because they have a structure: a wide base around a high center.
DON’T: Build a pile of medium quality blog posts that all say similar things.
DO: Create a well organized hub of diverse assets, in many formats, in many places, created by various people.
- Content in different formats
“What” you publish should vary. Appeal to your audiences’ various learning styles using various formats: blog posts, guides, videos, infographics, audio, etc.
- Content on other websites
“Where” you publish should also vary. Write for other publications
- Content created together with influencers
“Who” creates this content? You don’t have to do all the work. Co-create content with people your audience trusts, people who have already built an audience that overlaps with yours. Collaborate with influencers.
How to Create a Content Hub
Here’s the fun part. The general idea is to simply create more stuff, focused on a topic, organized around a central hub. But you’ll get better results if you take a more strategic approach:
1. Pick a topic that’s valuable to you and important to your audience. Think about the questions your content can answer, the problems your business solves, and the phrases your audience is likely to search for. Make a list of these questions, answers and keywords. They should be closely related
2. Check the competition by searching for the phrases in Google. Use the MozBar to see the domain authority of the high ranking sites. Use Open Site Explorer to check your own domain authority. Normally, you’d need an authority in the high end of the range of the high ranking sites. But since we’re building an entire hub of content, we can win even for the more difficult phrases.
3. Find the influencers who are relevant for these topics with your audience. You want to start making friends with these people early in the process. Follow them, share their content, comment and do anything else that slowly wins their attention in a positive way.
4. Publish the central hub. This will be the center of the content hub. Make it your simplest, strongest and most useful piece of content on the topic. Optimize it for the most valuable and competitive keyphrase. Give it a clear call to action.
5. Publish supportive content. Put your best advice out there. Each piece can target its own phrase, which are subtopics of the central hub.
Make sure to create visual content that looks great when shared on social networks. Also, make sure everything links back to your hub. Use the target phrase for the hub in some of the links.
6. Co-create with the influencers who are now in your network. Interview them, ask them for quotes, include them in a survey, poll or research study. Make them aware of the hub you’ve created and politely request that they share. Invite them to contribute a guest post or offer to write something for their site…
Note: Big thanks to Lee Odden of TopRank Blog for his clear-sighted presentation about influencer outreach at Social Media Marketing World. Inspiring as always, Lee!
7. Publish on other websites. Pitch related posts to relevant blogs and media sites. These could be alternate versions of content you’ve published, created through a process of ethical content spinning. In each case, they should link back to the hub.
By the end of the process, you should be able to check Analytics and see if you’re winning attention. It will look like a steady stream of search traffic for the related phrases, and small spikes of social traffic each time something is published.
If you’re not winning, you’re not done yet. Build higher. If you are winning, congratulations! You’re relevant for the topic. Now go build another content hub.
Why Do Content Hubs Work?
There are specific reasons why hubs are necessary and effective:
- Search Benefits: Google’s “Hummingbird” Update
As Google gets smarter, they’re focusing less on keyphrases and more on the meaning, as in topics. The fancy name for this is “semantic search” and Hummingbird is the code name for the new version of Google that does this.So content hubs align perfectly with the direction Google is going. If you’ve been blogging for a long time, but you’re not getting much search traffic, this may be the problem. You’re not deliberately creating sets of content, organized around central topics.
- Social Benefits: Friends with Relevance
Every social stream is a curated list of posts and conversations. If you direct this stream toward a specific focus, you’ll gradually earn followers and attention from people who care about the topic.Now your network will grow in that direction. You’ll make friends with people who are relevant to the subject, increasing sharing and building more useful relationships and opportunities to collaborate.
- Mindshare Benefits: Attention and Retention
When visitors come to learn about a topic, one page may not be enough to satisfy them. But if they find themselves in a hub of content, they’ll dig deeper, increases the average pages per visit and average time on site.Give them more and you’ve got a better chance of being top-of-mind when people think of the topic. Eventually, when people ask “Where was that site that had all that great information on how to do this?” …they’ll think of you and they’ll come back.
Example: The “Lead Generation” Topic
Orbit Media builds two kinds of websites: ecommerce sites and lead generation websites. Knowing it would be worth a serious effort to win attention for “lead generation,” we decided to target the topic. But the competition for that topic is fierce. So we knew that a page alone would not be enough. We needed a small content hub.
Here’s what we created:
- Central hub: “Lead Generation Website Best Practices”
- Infographic: “How to Generate Leads”
- 3 guest blog posts, including “Your Lead Generation Pipeline is Broken” (this post is mistakes and is the evil twin of the best practices content of our hub)
This content was published over several months in several formats on several sites. The central hub was published first on the Orbit site, and subsequent posts all link back to it. We emailed some of these to friends who write and share this kind of content and invited their input.
That was enough. Results kicked in within a few months. Here are the numbers:
- First page one in Google for “lead generation website,” alongside some very famous websites.
- A steady stream of 20-40 visits per day from search. These visits would cost $23 per click if we bought them using Adwords. That’s about $700 worth of free traffic per day.
- Around 10,000 total visits, including email marketing, social and referral visits.
- Around 500 social media shares
- Around 60 newsletter subscribers
- Links from 12 different sites, including the guest posts and influential friends who mentioned the posts on their sites
That last number has the added benefit of making our entire domain more credible, making the next mountain / content hub easier to build.
Nothing is hard or easy. But some things take longer than others.
When the attention is valuable, it takes longer to win but it’s worth the effort. If you’re surrounded by mountains, build tall. Be focused and organized. Build a small mountain of helpful information.
Be the Wikipedia for your industry. Be the People Magazine for the influencers relevant to your audience. Don’t make a page, make a section. Don’t write a blog post, write a series.
Give the best answers to the questions your audience is asking, and organize those answers into hubs of content. That’s how to win online against tough competitors. Let’s wrap with a kickass quote from Bruce Lee…
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. – Bruce Lee
Ready to move mountains? Let’s do it! If you have questions about content hubs or tips to share with your fellow readers, you know what to do. We’d love to hear from you…