Using Hub and Spoke Content to Rank for Head Terms: Webinar

Tom Smith 1 week ago

This November, Zazzle Media, Stickyeyes and Reprise Digital hosted a full day of webinars!

The content on the day ranged from Voice Search, and multi channel marketing, to user emotions! But don't worry if you missed it, you can find all the recorded webinars saved on our BrightTalk channel, Straight Talking Digital Marketing.

But here is one of our webinars, on how to use the hub and spoke model for content, to rank for your most important search terms. Find the webinar presentation below, accompanied by the transcript. You can also watch the webinar on demand now, and plan a smarter content and search strategy for next year!

Webinar

Listen on demand here: https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/16065/342948

Transcript

Aims of hub and spoke

First thing is first then - the title is a click-bait headline. We’re not talking specifically about ranking for head terms here. This strategy is supposed to show how using a combination of tactics together can help us rank for every keyword within a topical group - and as most people will be familiar with the below graph, long-tail search is responsible for a greater amount of searches combined for any given topic.

What I am trying to deliver is a comprehensive strategy for ranking for keywords at every stage of the journey, from initial interest to key money terms, and how in developing this strategy you demonstrate such a breadth and depth of expertise on the topic - this helps you to rank for those head terms your bosses most crave.

But it's not even just about search. The hub and spoke strategy can be used to improve brand awareness and recognition, and to push users through the funnel using owned, earned and paid promotion of your hub content.

So there you have it, this blog post isn’t about just head terms, nor is it even about search.

What is hub and spoke?

Hub and spoke is the use of content and technical elements to create a relevant and authoritative structure to your websites themes.

You might hear the phrases content hub or content silo be used interchangeably with the term hub and spoke, because they all represent the same collection of ideas.

Example of hub and spoke

Below is an example of the hub and spoke strategy applied to a digital marketing website. I’ve only broken down by a single service here - SEO - but as we can see there are lots of unique parts which will all come together to demonstrate a breadth and depth of knowledge on the topic.

The elements on the left are the commercial section. These are your big money pages which you want to drive traffic to.

You'll also have a main hub which will be targeting generic digital marketing or content marketing search terms.

You then have your main categories which is targeting the SEO services key terms.

Next there are your subcategory pages. These add an additional layer of targeting by allowing us to rank for more long tail commercial terms which are higher converting, but also provide an extra layer of expertise, demonstrating the depth of knowledge on the topic.

The elements on the right are the supporting content section. Separating it this way allows us to deliver additional layers of relevance and expertise. As you can see there are individual categories based upon our commercial themes. It’s important that these category pages do not conflict with commercial pages, and are just used for navigational purposes for spiders and users alike.

Finally the blog posts. Here is your chance to run wild and create thought leadership content on your category and subcategory themes. This content is looking to expand your relevance for the topic by targeting additional keywords.

Providing your content is on point, the traffic you can generate here can be as valuable to you as those landing on your money pages. Not only that, but it is far easier to gain links to informational content: so these pages can be valuable in building authority which can then be pushed to commercial pages within the silo structure.

Blog/informational content really has so many benefits it should be a part of every digital marketers armory.

We also have additional categories for case studies and about us sections. Whilst these are unlikely to generate landing traffic, these sections are invaluable for a user and should not be ignored from the silo structure.

So how do you go about building this? Start by identifying your key category pages which you want to apply the hub and spoke strategy to.

Commercial strategy

To recap, the commercial section of your website allows you to:

  1. Rank for additional 'bottom of the funnel' keywords.
  2. Improve your number of conversions by appearing more visible for commercial terms.
  3. Improve EAT signals through a breadth and depth of expertise.

This all starts with keyword research. There is enough depth on the topic of keyword research to write ten posts, so I am not going to go into this in much detail here, but Zazzle Media’s own keyword research guide is a good place to start.

Just from a top-level approach keyword research should cover the following areas:

  • What you already rank for (found through Google Search Console or Adwords)
  • What 3rd party sites suggest
  • What your competitors are targeting
  • A matrix of keyword possibilities
  • Autocomplete and People Also Ask suggestions

From here then, you should have a very healthy list of key terms which directly relate to your commercial pages. Please make sure you avoid informational terms from the following step or else you will ruin your assessment of the commercial potential of the page.

You’ll then need to categorise your keywords by which topical theme they belong to. Much of this will be done through intuition, but if you are really struggling to work out whether a keyword should be in category X or Y, or whether it needs its own subcategory, just do what you always do when you have a question in your life and Google it! (Other search engines are available...)

If you see a large difference between the SERP and the SERP of your parent or alternative category, then this is a unique category/subcategory. But if there is lots of similarities then keep it within the same category.

So next up you need to understand what the priority is of your key categories and subcategories. Here is how we measure keyword priority at Zazzle Media:

  • Search traffic/potential clicks
  • Commercial possibility
  • Difficulty
  • Current position/expected improvement

Search traffic/potential clicks

Search traffic and potential clicks is the basic estimation of how much traffic you will be getting for your current position. To do this we use CTR models and to calculate the expected CTR of the position you are ranking, times by the search volume.

You can then compare this number to the maximum amount of clicks for the keyword, and then group this number by category and subcategory to gather the current and potential traffic you can get to your site through non-branded traffic. This gives you a basic understanding of the importance of the keyword.

The below graph then visualises this data. As we can see, category I is the clear winner.

Commercial possibility

Next up you want to put an actual figure on this number. You need to calculate the conversion rate for people currently coming into that category, what a conversion or lead is worth to you. From here a simple calculation will tell you how much a your current and potential traffic is worth for each category.

Whilst the example data hasn’t shown us much new information, it is possible that you may have high traffic/low margin categories which will reduce their importance with this calculation.

Difficulty

The data you’ve already got might be sufficient for some, but most companies out there probably can’t go and rank for the biggest keyword categories in town straight away. We have to think about the short term. What this means is working out a difficulty metric for the keyword, how likely we are to be able to increase our share for this category.

Essentially we need to calculate how we relate to the competition in the following areas:

Brand strength - the compound brand search volume for your target keywords versus the average of the top ten competitors. Compound means “brand name” + “keyword”. If you are not well known compared to the competition, you are going to struggle to get much movement.

Referring domains - take the average referring domains of the top ten competitors versus the referring domains from your site to get an understanding of how many links are required to rank strongly within the SERP.

Product range - this is a subjective measurement, but how good is your product range compared to your competitors? How likely is it that a user will land on your page and be satisfied with the results? You can use bounce rate and conversion rate metrics to gauge the internal importance of your categories, but try to use traffic from a single source, preferably PPC traffic, to measure this as it is much more likely the audience is very targeted.

Merge the metrics together to give an understanding of the difficulty of the category, and take a weighted average score (by commercial potential) to give and overall average for the category and subcategory.

Current position/expected improvement

The final metric is based upon your current position on the keyword. This is an important metric as moving from position 11 to 9 will be far more valuable than moving from position 40 to 20. So even though one keyword may be far more difficult to rank, you may be able to stretch out a small gain that results in a big improvement.

You can now combine all the data together to give you the following information by category and subcategory:

  • Current traffic/revenue
  • Maximum available traffic/revenue
  • Projected short term traffic/revenue

You can then use a blend of maximum and short term traffic/revenue to understand the priority of your categories and subcategories. This then informs which silos you want to optimise for first, which subcategories you want to create, and where to begin the content research.

Here is an example of what the data might look like for short term potential.

Reinforcing your hubs

You’re now in a position to create your categories. The following section has the important technical elements you must consider when creating your pages.

Avoid overdoing it

One important consideration when it comes to creating categories and subcategories on site is to keep it lean. This may sound like conflicting information however it is probably best summed up through this.

Think about one website with a total of 10 pages and 100 links. This is quite simplistic but, each page has a link score of 10. Well, think about another website with 100 pages and 200 links. Yes they might have more total links, but their pages on have a link score of 2.

When creating new categories you have to keep in mind the amount of authority your website has, and the priority of the categories created. Do not go overboard creating category pages for every category you have. Just start with the top priority ones, focus on building silos and supporting content for these pages. Once your strategy is up and running and you are bringing in new equity for those silos, then you can start to expand.

Trim the fat

It goes without saying you should follow SEO best practices when creating these new pages through unique, valuable, optimised on page elements.

I’m sure most of you will already have existing websites with existing silos, so it is important that you audit these pages to ensure that every page is pulling their weight. Common issues I see on websites includes; thin pages or pages with duplicated targeting, pages without category content or without products. Or issues with functioning parameters which cause a large amount of URLs to be indexed, for example sort or filter pages.

Again a good indication of this is pages with a high bounce-rate or exit rate in Google Analytics. But it is also necessary to audit the site as well.

Another way you can determine if you have issues here is through checking the index of a particular directory using the site: search and comparing this number to the number of pages which are receiving traffic within Google Analytics. A matching number is probably not possible on larger sites, but you want this number to be as close as 1:1 as possible.

URL structure

The URL structure is a valuable method for demonstrating parent and child relationship within your silos. You can get additional relevance here by including your keywords, but as a broad rule of thumb you should try and keep URLs as short as possible, missing any linking words.

Here is an example of a good URL structure:

/services/seo
/services/seo/technical-seo
/services/seo/local-seo
/services/seo/seo-copywriting
/services/seo/penalty-recovery
/services/seo/ecommerce-seo

Another thing to consider is to avoid over-optimisation of your URLs. The above examples are fine, but what if we had grandchild pages for example:

/services/seo/technical-seo/javascript-seo

Here we’ve probably pushed the boat too far in terms of including the term SEO in our URL. If you know you’re going to create grandchild pages then certainly avoid all unnecessary terms and instead opt for something like this:

/services/seo/technical/javascript

Internal links

Internal links are the most important aspect for demonstrating a connection between pages. There are lots of different methods for internally linking, but broadly internal links help with the following:

  • Demonstrating importance
  • Improving relevance
  • Funnelling equity
  • Improve UX

Here are the specific considerations of the types of internal links:

Menus

Main menus serve to funnel link equity from your entire website into the chosen pages within the main navigation. For this reason, they are an awesome method for pushing your priority pages.

There can be issues with including too many internal links on a page as this will dilute the effectiveness of the links as the equity flowing to the page is reduced. This is exacerbated with the main menu because you’re reducing the effectiveness of all of your pages, so you want to keep it as thin as possible.

This is going to depend on the size of your site and the amount of equity you have. As a rule of thumb, you want to ensure that all your key pages are no more than three clicks from the homepage, so those with a larger website will need to include more links.

Vertical linking

Vertical linking relates to pages linking down the site hierarchy. This serves to push relevance and equity from the pages at the top to the deep pages. This is important for internal pages which are not included within the main navigation, but also demonstrates a relationship between these pages.

Horizontal linking

Horizontal linking relates to pages internal linking between pages of the same level. Here you want to avoid cross linking outside of your silo unless it is really relevant as this will only serve to reduce the relevance and equity in the categories.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are awesome for SEO. They help push equity back up the chain, can be eligible for rich results through schema, and also giving the user an understanding of where they sit within the site.

Anchor text

Anchor text is the clickable text element of an internal link. Initially Google heavily relied on anchor text of inbound external links to decipher the topic of the page. This was quickly spammed by old-school SEOs which led to the Penguin penalty tackling over-optimisation of anchor text. In an anchor text data study we did in 2017, we actually found that the converse is now true, and that sites with a large amount of exact-match inbound anchor text actually have lower rankings for the keyword.

The new wave of anchor text optimisation comes from internal anchor text, which is not subject to the same penalties and is a great opportunity to use diverse anchor text to make your keywords relevant for a broad range of related keywords.

Bear in mind your main keyword and use this the most, but try to work in variants where there are some, but always keep it legible.

Supporting strategy

There are definitely gains to be had from creating and reorganising your commercial content, but unless you are a giant player in the game, it is unlikely that you are going to be able to create a few categories and immediately start ranking really well for all those terms.

In reality, you’re probably going to have to keep your hub pretty lean at this point in order to avoid spreading your equity too thin.

We need to start to create supporting content for our hubs at this point. There are many ways this content is going to help benefit us:

1. Supporting content can rank for top (and middle) of the funnel keywords. This will improve brand awareness, which can boost direct/branded traffic, but also non-brand CTR through the increased recognition.
2. By creating a variety of content journey types, we can use other channels to push users down the funnel e.g. email or PPC retargeting.
3. Supporting content can act as a link magnet, and can be created off site with the purpose of pushing traffic and equity back into our site.
4. We’re also going to improve our topical relevancy and EAT signals for our hub categories through the breadth and depth of content creation.

In order to make the content which satisfies the above, we need content research, which can be split into two buckets:

Informational content research: queries users have about your products or services which can be informed through keyword research and user surveys on pain points, as well as validating your ideas with general content research and content principles.

Engaging content research: content directly or indirectly about our goods or services that will resonate with our target audience or groups of people within an online community. This is informed through competitor research, social & online community research, as well as validating your ideas with general content research & content principles.

Informational keyword research

Informational keyword research should be relatively straightforward considering the comprehensive list of commercial keywords you should have at this point.

We’re going to follow the same principles as commercial keyword research to gather your informational search terms. Which, to recap, come from the following sources:

  • What you already rank for (found through Google Search Console or Adwords)
  • What 3rd party sites suggest
  • What your competitors are targeting
  • A matrix of keyword possibilities
  • Autocomplete and People Also Ask suggestions

It's worth stating that you can use informational modifiers such as who, what, where and why, and should, combined with your commercial keywords within 3rd party tools and autocomplete suggestions to help generate this list.

Then apply previous principles such as categorisation, difficulty to rank and estimated traffic. But this time we also need to consider seasonality and customer journey stage to the content.

To assist with this data, we can then take customer surveys and live chat information and map particular queries or pain points over our informational keyword research, as an extra form of validation.

Engaging content research

Next up, engaging content research. This one is a bit more tricky as you don’t have specific queries with which to definitively show the popularity of the idea.

Instead you need to reverse engineer topics which have performed well. Use a variety of sources to find the topics, such as a competitors blog, social or online forums, or particular websites which create/host content around your specific topics.

Here we’ll look to gather a range of metrics such to validate those topics.

Below we’re looking at social shares and referring domains for specific topics:

We can also look at which content types are working well:

We can even look at how long we our pieces should be:

All this data will help us inform our decision as to which topics are the most fertile for our specific goals. It is worth stating here that we shouldn’t forget our creative spark in this endeavour. Whilst this analysis can help to inform us as to what has done well previously, it is not going to help with new, innovative ideas, or putting new twists onto old ideas. Creativity is massively important for engaging content and just following the data will just lead to re-hashing what has gone before.

Validation and promotion

Typically content validation relates to these question; who is going to see the content, and why are they going to care? Informational content is relatively dry, but providing you use data to inform your content you’ll know there is an audience looking for these questions. So informational validation is pretty straightforward.

Engaging content validation however is more tricky. If there aren’t any keywords then it isn’t going to be visible in search, so you have to consider how it is going to be promoted, and once it is going to be in front of people, is it going to stick in their minds?

The below framework is a set of questions to determine how people are going to engage with your content:

  • Simplicity - can we sum up the content idea in a headline?
  • Uniqueness - is there something new about the idea?
  • Concreteness - is there room to misinterpret the idea?
  • Credibility - are we using authoritative sources to back up out idea?
  • Emotion - does it generate feelings within the reader?
  • Story - is there a message or cause we are promoting?

Should content pass the above tests then we know it is going to stick in the minds of the reader, but we still need to give the content a bit of a push so it is seen by people.

Using owned, earned and paid channels to promote your engaging content is a must here.

  • Owned: blog, social and email
  • Paid: PPC, display and paid social
  • Earned: blogger and influencer engagement

Using the earned channel is also a fantastic method of pushing equity back into your site. At Zazzle Media we repurpose our engaging content into different content types which can be seeded to a variety of earned media.

We use a variety of content types such as guest articles, infographics, videos to expand the pool of websites which will be interested in taking our content, thus expanding the reach and equity we will get for this piece. We then use hub and spoke principles of internal linking to funnel that equity from our content pieces back into the commercial hubs we’ve built.

Supporting content considerations

Finally then some important considerations to maximise the effectiveness of your hub and spoke content. Much the same as before.

Avoid content overlap

If your search terms produce wildly different results pages then these should be contained on different posts. Don’t try and cram everything into one post because you won’t rank for either. Similarly, don’t produce multiple guides on a single piece as these will just end up competing internally, and this doesn’t mean both will rank well - neither will rank well.

Internal linking

Utilise internal linking between relevant content pieces, and link back up the chain into your commercial hub pages. Use content categories, authors and tag pages to improve the internal linking on your site.

Make sure you manage the navigation pages to ensure they do not conflict with commercial pages. If there is significant volume around content categories then potentially optimise these pages for search, but otherwise they shouldn’t be indexable.

Make sure to utilise a variety of exact match anchor text with your internal links here as well.

Test and tweak content

The best form of content research comes from your own content itself. As much as the previous data can help, real world data from your customers interacting with your content is going to be far better.

Every 3-6 months plan a content review and analyse which of your pieces has performed better and why.

Main takeaways

A killer hub and spoke strategy requires patience. You will always have long-term goals but it is important to balance them with what will actually get you results now, which in turn will help you secure more backing in the future to go after the bigger prizes.

Start by creating a lean hub and spoke strategy, only go after a few key categories. Once you begin to improve the relevance and equity, then you can expand you strategy

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