I was recently fortunate enough to get accepted to speak at Confluence Conference in my old stomping grounds of Oklahoma City. I’ll be making my marketing conference debut on the 20th with a talk about content hubs, which is an extremely powerful tool for both SEO and effective content. This post is meant to both boil-down and supplement that talk, but it should also prove useful to you, dear reader, whether or not you’ve seen the live talk.
The content hub strategy is a synthesis of SEO and content strategy that has been a core component of the Portent playbook for years now. Ian Lurie first wrote about the idea on the Portent blog nearly a decade ago, and since then we’ve revisited it from the angle of user experience. Surprisingly, I don’t think we’ve ever plainly given our definition of a content hub. So, without further ado:
What is a Content Hub?
The content hub strategy is an internal linking strategy that involves linking several pages of related content (sometimes referred to as “spoke” pages) back to a central hub page.
Content hubs work by driving link authority and topical relevance from the spoke pages into the hub page. By concentrating internal linking onto one page, you improve that page’s ability to rank. For a real example, we could turn our Content Strategy page into a hub by linking to it from all blog posts on the site that are related to content. However, that wouldn’t be necessary, because the Content page is already in the main navigation. Since pages in the navigation are linked to from every page on the site, they’re each a kind of content hub already.
Types of Content Hubs
As far as we’re concerned, there are two kinds of hub strategies you can implement on your site.
- The “true” content hub follows our definition to the letter. Relevant spoke pages link back to the hub page, as is depicted in the image above.
- The descriptive navigation hub uses the universal site navigation to link back to the hub page from every page on the site.
There are pros and cons to both of these approaches. The true content hub achieves better topical relevance since the internal linking is more deliberate, whereas descriptive navigation is more of a “brute force” method. On the other hand, the sheer number of internal links that a page placed in the navigation gains can be more effective than a few carefully chosen links.
A descriptive navigation hub is much harder to implement than a true content hub. Clients are often (rightfully) protective of their site’s navigation, or there may not be any room for an additional link. It might also not make sense to put a link to a would-be hub page in the navigation, especially if it’s a deeper subpage on a large site. Use your best judgment in deciding how to make a content hub for your or your client’s site.
Creating New Spoke Pages for Your Hub
A major hurdle to creating a content hub is if you’re working with an underdeveloped site without many good candidates as spoke pages. Content creation and ideation is a big part of what we do at Portent, so I’ll get to rest on the laurels of my predecessors and point you to resources we’ve already written.
A little more than a year ago, Portent’s very own Director of Content, Katie McKenna, wrote this in-depth guide on the tools available for content ideation. At the top of the list is a site that people don’t often think of (and a great source of laughter for Katie and me), Quora. Like a grown-up version of Yahoo! Answers, Quora is where you can see what real people on the internet are thinking and asking about.
For an even deeper dive into how to capitalize on these tools, check out Ian Lurie’s guide on content ideation. If Katie’s tips weren’t enough for you, Ian’s got some great tips for using Amazon and social media to come up with ideas you might not have otherwise.
This tool can come off as a bit of a joke because of the way we’ve wrapped best practices in grammatically challenged pop culture references. But you’d be surprised at the gems you’ll find in our Idea Generator.
No matter what tools and tactics you use to come up with content ideas, the point of a content hub is to interlink related content. Try not to stray too far from your core topic! If your content hub is about energy-efficient light bulbs, a post about Nikola Tesla might be a bit of a stretch.
Troubleshooting Your Content Hub
As we SEO practitioners know, the recommendations and strategies that we implement don’t always work as well as we’d like them to. So, what can you do if you’ve crafted this beautifully interlinked content hub and you’re not seeing results?
Check Your Tech
This step should arguably happen long before focusing on an internal linking strategy, but, if you haven’t already, make sure there’s not a technical reason your pages aren’t being rewarded properly. Crawlability, indexability, site speed performance, and so many other little details could be holding your content hub (and your entire site) back. If you want an even deeper dive, check out the Technical SEO ebook our CEO wrote.
Build More Authority
The practice of SEO has “died” and been reborn dozens of times, but through it all, backlinks still matter. One of the foundational pillars of a content hub is to drive authority internally to a central page, so if your spoke pages don’t have many (or any) backlinks, you’ll want to change that.
Set Realistic Goals
It’s always a possibility that the keyword you’re aiming to rank for is a bit too ambitious of a target. If your hub page climbed in the keyword rankings but didn’t quite break onto the 1st page of results, check the SERP to see who your competition is. If the top 10 is dominated by high-authority, well-crafted content, adjust your targets.
A Parting Exhortation
I hope this final note goes without saying, but it’s important enough to say anyway. Use descriptive, keyword-focused anchor text in your links! This is true for any internal link on your site and especially important for a content hub. A descriptive navigation link of “Solutions” tells users and search engines very little about the page they’re clicking to. Spoke pages linking to a hub page with the words “here” or “blog post” might as well not be linking at all. I wrote a little more about this in my site navigation blog post earlier this year.
Check back in on this post in a few months: hopefully, we’ll have access to a video recording of my talk at Confluence Conference by then, which we’ll post here.