Content marketing has changed a lot in recent years.
Many of these changes are due to the rapidly evolving search landscape, as well as a huge change in the way people are actually discovering content.
New, more sophisticated search algorithms, changes in the use of search engines, and new ways marketers are actually developing their content are just some of the factors and results that will help.
Even so, many marketers still face the same problems they had over five years ago:
- “I am struggling to measure the ROI of the content I create.”
- We make great content, but we don’t seem to rank highly on Google for our target keywords. “
- “So I did my keyword research. Now what?”
In response to these problems – the second in particular – many marketers will continue to create more content. Unfortunately, creating larger volumes of the same underperforming content often leads to the same unconvincing results – only at a higher price.
Adding more content to poor existing website architecture can make it even harder for Google to find and rate your content. This is not a situation a marketer wants to be in.
The answer to these problems goes well beyond the number of blog posts published each week. The real problem lies in the way most content strategies are designed and organized.
SEO is evolving and marketers need to change with it.
Fortunately, there are ways you can overcome these obstacles and produce powerful results for your marketing team.
Here we discuss the changing search status and how marketers can keep up. Continue reading this page or use the links below to jump to a specific section.
Search engines change
Before we dive into solutions to succeed in the changing world of content marketing, let’s dig a little deeper into the driving forces behind this change.
First we need to talk about search engines. Updates to how search engines process and rate content have brought about drastic changes for SEO in recent years. As a result, the old success metrics are no longer as reliable as they used to be.
For example, one way that content producers rate content performance is to review keyword rankings on search engines. However, there has been much discussion about the actual credibility of keyword rankings as a metric, and the reason for this is mainly due to the fact that the ranking changes depending on the context.
Simply put, depending on how and where you search, you will get different search results. Therefore, it is difficult to evaluate success based on keyword rankings alone.
A simple search for the term “where to eat pizza” illustrates this perfectly. If you search for this query in Boston, the results will be very different from those in San Francisco. In fact, the results page for this query is likely to have thousands of different variations at any point in time.
Against this background, how can you precisely determine your ranking for this keyword?
Aside from problems with keyword ranking, search engines have also determined how content should be structured, especially due to the increasing occurrence of featured snippets.
Google has been introducing more and more snippets in search results. A 2017 study found that 30% of 1.4 million searches contained a snippet. Those numbers have likely increased since then.
These fields attempt to answer the searcher’s question without having to navigate to the content.
The reality is that the content ranking within the featured snippet section often receives a much larger percentage of the traffic for the given query when compared to non-featured snippet SERPs.
Publishers are now having to restructure their content to try to appear in these featured snippets, of which Wikipedia ranks first – an estimated 11.2% of all featured snippets.
On a more general level, Google in particular has made huge investments in machine learning and introduced RankBrain into the core algorithm used to index and rank content. Ultimately, RankBrain enables Google to better understand the intent behind certain queries without the search query specifying it – all with the aim of delivering more relevant results to the searcher.
This brings us to the next big change in search: the viewfinder.
How people search
More important than the way search engines develop themselves is the way searchers communicate with search engines.
With the rise of mobile and voice search, inquiries are becoming more and more talkative. A few years ago, many people entered fragmented terms into search engines. Nowadays it is more common for people to ask complex questions using complete sentences. Google’s updates over the past two to three years have focused on better understanding these types of queries through natural language processing, especially with the introduction of Hummingbird in 2013.
The introduction of this new search algorithm, which analyzed phrases rather than relying solely on keywords, marked an important move from keywords to topic-based SEO for the search giant. In 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that one in five queries on its mobile app and on Android devices were voice searches. Because of these new developments, the increasing importance of addiction topics shows no signs of slowing down.
What takeaway here for content marketers? The traditional way of viewing “keywords” in search has changed. Where a few years ago maybe 10 to 20 “big keywords” were searched for ranking within a topic, there are now hundreds or thousands of long-tail variations that are regularly searched for within a topic and change depending on the location. Dominating just a few words is no longer enough to achieve successful results.
Content strategy in 2021 and beyond
With advances in the development of search engines and searchers, the way marketers define their content strategy must change – especially when it comes to driving organic search forward.
The way we approach this at HubSpot is by looking at our visibility across a topic as opposed to a specific keyword. By organizing content into topic clusters rather than individual, unrelated posts, we can capture a large amount of search traffic in an ever-growing pool of relevant keywords. This also enables us to align our brand with several recognizable core themes. By incorporating the theme cluster model, we were able to completely change the way we create and organize our content.
A good example of this is inbound sales, an area that we have already covered in detail. Google’s “Autocomplete” section shows that there are a number of important links to HubSpot – with our Inbound Sales Day, Certification, and The Methodology Is Top 3, as well as a direct mention of the HubSpot brand.
We’ve managed to align our brand around topics directly related to our buyer personalities and as a result of this topic cluster model we are generating millions of relevant visits to our web properties.
What is a topic cluster?
The basic requirement for creating a topic cluster content program is to enable a deeper coverage of a number of core topic areas while creating an efficient information architecture.
You’re probably thinking, “That sounds difficult to implement? How can I use this strategy for my own content marketing?” Don’t worry, it sounds more complicated than it really is.
In simpler terms, a column page provides a comprehensive overview of a specific topic. You can think of it like a summary or a street map. We have created column pages for each of our main focus areas. The link to the pillar content consists of a series of content covering individual, more specific subtopics, also known as cluster content. Each cluster topic page for the pillar is focused on providing more detail for a specific long tail keyword related to the main topic. The column is linked to each cluster page, and each cluster page is linked to the column with the same hyperlinked keyword.
The advantage of this model, in addition to organizing your site architecture, is that a high-performing clustered page can increase the search rankings for all other pages linked to the same column.
By aligning web pages in topic clusters this way, you can manage the internal links between pages more efficiently, improve your search rankings, and provide a better user experience for visitors.
Building a solid information architecture is incredibly important to rank well in organic search across a wide range of topics. Creating hyper-focused clusters of content that are focused on a specific topic not only helps solve that problem, it also allows you to continue to focus on creating content that actually interests your audience. This means greater efficiency for your search engine marketing and less time wasted creating repetitive content that doesn’t help achieve your search goals.
The typical way of structuring a thematic cluster of content that we outlined earlier is to have larger content that largely covers the core topic, also known as columnar content. Here is an example to illustrate this:
In the example above, the core topic is “Training Routines”. Each of the surrounding subtopics focuses on a more specific branch of the core topic, e.g. B. “Exercise Routines to Build Lean Muscles”.
The role of the pillar content is to fully cover the core topic while converting visitors into leads (or whatever your conversion goal is). The cluster organization also signals to search engines that the content has more detailed information on the topic, which in turn gives your columnar page a higher level of authority on the topic, while also allowing for higher search rankings through proper linking.
The beauty of this model is that you can spend a lot more time tweaking your columnar content for conversions and your cluster content for traffic. This saves a lot of time compared to the traditional model of optimizing each individual post. It also makes it easier for you to get a better user experience while sending positive signals to the search engines with this site architecture.
For example, the typical organization of a blog looks like this, with lots of overlapping and repetitive posts on a few key topics:
A clustered blog would look like this, with multiple posts, each pointing to their respective pillar pages for each core topic:
An example of columnar content we’ve created at HubSpot is our Blog Topic Generator tool.
This column of content brings in a significant amount of new leads and traffic every month. Tools are especially good for columnar content because it is often evergreen content and shared a lot.
We have developed a wide range of cluster content linked to specific subtopics. An example of this would be our blog post titled “How To Make Up Blog Post Topics In An Hour For A Year,” which has an internal link pointing to the Blog Topic Generation Tool. For more inspiration, check out these great examples of column sides.
This content will direct the traffic to the column content and send positive link signals to the search engines, increasing the visibility of the organic search as well as the leads generated from the entire topic cluster.
How to create a themed cluster plan
Before you start creating your own new topic clusters, it is important to determine if this is the right approach for your website. You can find out by asking yourself three simple questions outlined in the table below.
- Does the topic you are trying to rank for have enough search volume to be worth the time and effort?
- Do you already have content on the topic? In that case, it might be better to use what you have and add internal links.
- Would you like to cover the topic in detail? If you have made it this far and the answer is yes, you can start creating your own topic cluster.
When it comes to actually assigning topic clusters, there is a general process that works particularly well. Follow these steps to make your own pillar page:
- Plan for 5-10 of the core problems your buyer personality is having (use surveys, conduct interviews, and do secondary research in online communities).
- Group each of the problems into broad subject areas.
- Build each of the core topics with subtopics using keyword research.
- Plan out content ideas that align with each of the core topics and their respective sub-topics.
- Validate any idea with industry and competition research.
- Create, measure and refine.
This is a simple overview, but it should help you prioritize brainstorming and content production. By completing this process, you can organize your editorial calendar for the topic cluster content model.
But how do you find out which content to focus on? This is where keyword research comes in. Keyword research is a great way to determine what content your target audience is already looking for, so that you can reach them in a way that is relevant and effective to them.
First, make a list of general topics that are important to your business. Then fill in each topic with potential keywords that your target audience will be looking for. It’s better not to edit yourself at this stage and write as many keywords as you can think of. For example, if your main topic is Instagram marketing, your subtopics could include Instagram business accounts, Instagram captions, Instagram hashtags, and Instagram analytics.
When you have your list, search for these terms or use a tool like Ubersuggest to find related keywords and terms that you may not have originally included on your list. Make sure you have a mix of long tail and short tail keywords.
After you’ve finalized your keyword list, you can use a service like SEMRush to see how your competitors are ranking for each of them. This helps you find gaps in your search strategy and single out key words and phrases that you are targeting in the columnar content you have created. After completing all of these steps, use Google’s Keyword Planner or HubSpot’s Keyword Tool to narrow down the list of keywords.
Now that you have developed your core topic and cluster content, create a tracking document to keep track of your existing content and cluster strategy. Tracking documents can help you organize your clustering process to ensure that all of your content has been linked correctly. For HubSpot customers, you can automate clustering using HubSpot’s content strategy tool.