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A New Approach to Inbound Content: Topic Hubs

By Ross Andrew Simons

Inbound_Marketing_Comic_-_Everything_You_Need_to_Know_About_Neuroscience_in_400_Words_or_Less

You’ve heard it before…content, content, content. Content is king. Content converts. Create remarkable content. Content, content, content, etc., etc., etc. This blog post is not going to tell you about “10 Ways to Create Killer Content” or “55 Ideas for Remarkable Content”. You’ve seen those before, and if you haven’t—Google it.

No, this blog post is about a new content strategy I’m testing that achieves the following things:

  • It brings web content back to its roots, albeit with an inbound marketing twist.
  • It addresses some of the key concerns with blogs, landing pages, and SEO.
  • It discusses a content strategy that will be Google-proof.
  • It outlines a plan to increase marketing qualified leads, and sales qualified leads.

Have I caught your attention yet? Good. But first, a story.

 

Months ago, I was participating in a LinkedIn discussion that was about the “death of the PDF”. The discussion was one I’ve seen before: is it really a good idea to hide all of your best content (ebooks and whitepapers) behind forms? Think about it: a good conversion rate for a website is 2%. That means that only 2 people out of every 100 visitors will ever download a whitepaper. In other words, only 2% of your visitors will see your best content.

Around the same time, I was participating in a Reddit discussion in the Marketing subreddit. One of the Reddit users linked to one of his online guides. Shockingly enough, I didn’t have to give him my contact information to view the content; he had all 5000 words or so right there on his webpage. When I said, “Hey, this is stellar content. Why not put this behind a form for lead capturing?”. His response was “I’ve thought about that, but I’d rather benefit from the traffic I get from sharing it right on the page.”

These two interactions have been in the back of my mind as I worked on my client’s accounts. Recently, I was doing an analytics report for one of my clients, and was happy to share their rapid movement up the rankings for specific keywords. However, I was not happy to share that some of this movement had plateaued. No matter how much we blogged, and how many internal links we sent back to those ranking pages, we weren’t able to get that line to continue going up.

The reason seems obvious now: the content was imperfect. Yes, it received many internal links from our content activities, and inbound links from sites like the Better Business Bureau—but that can only move it so far up the rankings. To get it over the next hump, and onto the front page, it needs to also be incredibly valuable.

Big surprise, right? Google has been saying this all along. Produce valuable content, and they will deliver qualified visitors. The recent Hummingbird update to Google's algorithm that emphasizes content quality, the new changes in keyword reporting (hint: it’s going bye-bye), and the trend towards social performance as a ranking criterion are all components that give further evidence of this trend towards valuable content.

What's More Important: the Contact, or the Contact Info?

But somewhere along the road, inbound marketers got lost in the shuffle. In the overreaching desire to convert anonymous website visitors into leads, they neglected the very foundation of inbound marketing: creating great content first, and dealing with the rest later. How many websites have you seen that are simply a shell? I know you’ve seen them. They have a total of 10 site pages, but 25 landing pages, and 10 whitepapers.

To get to the meat, the killer content, you have to give your personal information, knowing that you can now expect email communication from this company. If you don’t want to give your information, then there is usually nothing on the website compelling enough to make you want to engage with their products and services. The entire website isn’t designed to give valuable information; they are designed to give as little information as possible to convince you to download a whitepaper. No wonder conversion rates are 2%. Meanwhile, you have 20,000 words of super valuable whitepaper content, hidden from Google in PDFs. This is not ideal for anyone in this equation:

  • Google: they can’t crawl PDFs, meaning they’re missing out on seeing all this content that writers have poured their time into. 
  • Users: they are not getting the valuable information they need and want—the very same information that would make them trust and value the company. For the 2% that agree to exchange valuable contact information for valuable content, how many of those actually read the whitepaper? I know I’ve downloaded many whitepapers that I never got around to reading.
  • Marketers: we don’t move up in search rankings, since none of our site pages are designed to give users all they need to know about a subject without jumping through hoops. We have a low number of marketing qualified leads, and sales qualified leads, because all of our focus is on producing and marketing TOFU whitepapers.

Content Length vs. Inbound Results

Now, while writing this blog post, I came across this excellent post about content length vs. marketing results from Neil Patel over at Quicksprout. If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should. Here are the sparknotes:

  • Research performed by serpIQ shows that many of the search results on the front page have long-form content (2,000+ words).
  • Research performed by Moz on their own blog reveals that there is a direct correlation between the word count and the amount of inbound links that a particular blog receives.
  • Long content is more likely to be shared in social media.
  • There is an ongoing trend for users to use longer search terms when they are trying to find information.

When you really put that all together, it seems obvious:

  • Are you trying to rank for long-tail keywords? Having longer content makes it more likely that you will be able to have the right set of words to rank for those creative long-tail  searches that uses are so fond of doing.
  • Of course long content is more likely to be shared in social media. Would users want to share a 300 word post about one aspect of a type of software (cloud storage, for example), or would they be more inclined to share an online guide to the same subject? Remember, users share in social media for a few key reasons. They want to share useful content amongst their network, and they also want to display to their network that they read a particular thing.
  • It’s no surprise that long-form content will receive more inbound links. The same principles apply: are people more likely to feature an incredibly useful online guide on their own blog, or another person’s 400-word blog post?
  • Finally, there’s a good chance that long-form content will be more useful to the reader. After all, your whitepapers are ultimately the most valuable (and useful) content you have. The more downright valuable your web content is, the more likely Google will deliver it on the front page. Simple as that.

All these experiences (the writing class, the LinkedIn discussion, the Reddit conversation, my experiences with my clients, and the crazy good blog post by Neil Patel) started slowly revealing to me that there may be a better way to do content marketing that will provide value for our readers, provide conversion opportunities, and be google-proof.

My proposal for you: stop thinking solely about forms. Stop thinking single-mindedly about lead capturing. Stop thinking exclusively about increasing your top-of-the-funnel conversion rate from 2% to 2.2%. Take your best content, repurpose it as online guides, and have these online guides be the centerpiece of your content strategy. This is called the Topic Hub.

Topic Hubs

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It’s a single page on a company website that acts as the authority on any given subject. Think of it as a mini-whitepaper, that can constantly be updated and improved by the marketing team, and can be crawled by Google. It can also be read by visitors without needing to share their personal information.

It’s called a Topic Hub because it is meant to be the centerpiece of your content strategy around a given subject. If you talk about cloud data storage on your blog, then you should write an in-depth Topic Hub about the same subject. Then, each of your individual blog posts would act like spokes that pass SEO value to your topic hub, pushing it further up the rankings and pushing blog readers to your most valuable online content. Now, people begin liking it on facebook, talking about it on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Plus. Other content producers in the industry begin linking to it (just as I did to Neil Patel’s post).  Before long, you truly have a hub that acts as a central base of knowledge about a particular subject. That’s a google-proof content strategy. 

Convert Your Traffic with a Topic Hub

Don’t worry, I’m not proposing a radical reinvention of the industry. I’m not telling you to stop using your website to convert anonymous web visitors into leads. In fact, I still think you should develop the same whitepapers, hidden behind forms, and promoted on your blogs through call-to-action buttons. These are inbound marketing best practices and they have done a lot of marketers a lot of good.

However, you should reproduce these whitepapers as web content. In a sense, this web content will act as your top of the funnel “whitepaper” for the other 98% of visitors who never download your eBooks. Then, you can focus on middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel offers instead. Make those strong, market those on your topic hub, and reap the downfunnel rewards. Instead of converting 2% of visitors into TOFU, we can focus on getting a 2% conversion to MOFU and BOFU offers instead. If you can get 2% of visitors jumping straight to the middle of the funnel instead of starting at the top of the funnel and then having a 75% drop-off rate, then you could dramatically increase your success in obtaining sales-qualified leads and customers.

So what exactly does one of these pages look like?

This page is proposed to have the following components:

  • A CTA at the very top that explains what the page is about and allows them to click the CTA to download the PDF version. This will provide you with a conversion opportunity and allow visitors to download the PDF (if they prefer that format).
  • Introductory content to get the reader started.
  • More advanced content that will further educate the reader on the topic, and build trust and credibility for your organization.
  • Common questions (like an FAQ) that are asked in the industry about the topic. You can have your sales team help out here because they likely get asked questions all the time by prospects. But, remember to keep it educational, not sales-y.
  • Some extra resources for readers to view and download. Pro-tip: make some complementary offers (checklists, glossaries, templates, spreadsheets, etc.) that are value-added and will inspire readers to convert: “Think you know everything you need to know about password security best practices? Is your organization following these best practices? Download our free checklist.”
  • A MOFU or BOFU banner call-to-action to promote the next steps.
  • A sidebar that includes CTAs for MOFU and BOFU offers
  • A blog feed that pulls in all blog posts that are tagged with the topic. This will be a feed that constantly updates over time as you continue to write blogs about the subject.
  • A comments module that allows users to comment on the content.

Give It A Try

Tell me this: how many web pages out there are providing this level of content and education around a specific subject, all on one easy to access page? How many modern marketers are giving their best content away for free (without having to give up your contact information)? How many of your own visitors are seeing your best content? How many web pages are out there that balance the needs of the reader (high quality content that is easy to access) with the needs of the marketer (increasing leads, and ultimately, sales)? If you guessed “not many” to these questions then you are probably right.

Give it a try. I am.

As always, leave comments below; I would absolutely love to hear from you.

 

Stay classy San Diego,

Ross Andrew Simons

Tags: Inbound Marketing, SEO, Lead Generation

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