SD Inbound just hosted another San Diego HubSpot User Group featuring Brittany Chin, Product Manager at HubSpot.
Brittany led a team to organize 14,000 blog posts into Topic Clusters at HubSpot. With that background, she flew in from Boston to meet with the San Diego crew and share the best practices for utilizing SEO tools inside HubSpot.
Chief Martech Officer team and Brittany Chin at SDHUG
Organic Traffic Plateau
Between 2016-17, HubSpot saw a 0% growth in Organic Traffic. It was the first time that had ever happened. Since a lot of their business is driven organically, this raised a red flag. After researching, HubSpot identified that they:
- Were missing out on relevant featured snippets by not optimizing for long-tail keywords
- Had inconsistent authority on Topics, with two blog posts for certain Topics and hundreds for others
- Had a messy site map that was making it difficult for Google to crawl their website
Google searches changed a lot in 2017: SERPs started showing new things like images and featured snippets on top, making it even harder to get people’s attention.
Over 40% of search terms now have featured snippets, and 80% have Paid Ads and other search features. In addition, Google is constantly making changes focused on the searches and the users, trying to deliver a search result based on the intent behind the search, not simply based on a keyword.
With all that, the first organic result is usually already in position 4 or 5. Organic ranking has never been more challenging.
Introducing Content Strategy
We know all that might not sound very motivating, but working on your organic traffic is still a great way to grow long term. On-page optimizations are still important, but it’s a smaller piece of a bigger whole.
Make a list of questions considering the following:
- What do you sell?
- What solutions do you provide for your customers?
- What do you care about?
- Do your customers and the search engines know you do all that?
- How are you going to differentiate yourself in this area?
- What are your competitors doing?
Effective content creation involves the same, classic steps we already know. The big change we are covering here is the idea of Topics over keywords. Keep in mind that humans are looking for solutions on the internet, and Google is getting better at understanding people’s intent when they search for something. The result: a more accurate search result.
Focus on a Topic you want to win, not a keyword. Remember that every piece of content you create should serve a specific purpose to avoid redundancy.
Organized, understandable, discoverable—that’s what you want for your content.
Learn how HubSpot uses blogging to rank #1 on Google
Moving from Keywords to Topic Clusters in HubSpot
Now that you know what you want to be known for, you can start looking into HubSpot’s SEO tool. This tool lives under Marketing > Planning and Strategy > SEO.
There are three things you want to hone in on: Topic, Subtopics related to that Topic, and a Pillar Page, which is like a central hub that covers all the Topics and connects your content into a single, long-form page.
To start thinking about what broad Topic can serve as a Pillar Page, make another list considering:
- Your primary keywords and Topics
- The content that you already have. What’s performing well? Which content best represents your business?
- Look at what your customers are searching for and where they are in the buyer’s journey
- What should you prioritize for broad, high-level content?
When you decide to add a Topic on HubSpot, it will take you to the Validation Metric tool that will show you what opportunities you have, and how difficult it will be to get on page #1 with that Topic. When you add a Subtopic, it will show search volume and potential for related content.
After you identified your high-level Topic, you can move on to Topic Clusters, which are groupings of content that are topically related to each other. Make a list of semantic terms and long-tail keywords to identify potential “cluster content.”
6 to 8 Subtopics for each Topic Cluster is best practice, depending on the size of your content strategy. Sometimes more is better. For more important Topics, up to 30 posts is ideal.
How to create Topic Cluster and pillar page
Organizing Existing Content
Once you identify your Topic Clusters, it’s time to audit the content you already have.
Look at your blog posts. Are they just a list of disconnected ideas?
Map your Topics, and see what is performing well. You can audit once, and when your Content Strategy starts, you might not need to do it again in so much detail.
*Tip: Do your audit manually, so you can step into searchers’ shoes and really understand their searching journey.
In the workshop, we learned four steps to cleaning your content:
- Keep - Content that is performing well for relevant keywords
- Update - Content that is still relevant, but out of date? Give it a refresh!
- Recycle URL - Create brand new content for an existing url that carries a poor post but has relevant URL and existing backlinks. (Backlinks are hard to get, you don’t want to lose those!)
- Combine - Combine content and redirect one url to another for posts that are cannibalizing each other’s traffic by competing for the same keywords and Topics
At this point you will probably realize you currently don’t have all the content you need to fulfill your high-level Topic. That’s why identifying gaps is so important!
Make a list of the Subtopics you need and start creating them. Decide what the url will be, know the purpose of the content you are creating, and analyze how it fits into your Topic Cluster.
Is it similar to something you already have? Can you change to rank other keywords? Can you create a featured snippets?
Remember every piece of content serves a specific purpose, and everything in your site links together. The high-level content on your Pillar Page will be relevant next week, next month, and hopefully in a year. This is your core Topic that will help you build authority. It requires a little ongoing maintenance; simply update it as you go.
Lastly, make sure all your pages are properly linked together and that each one has a thread that leads back to the Pillar Page. That step will ensure your Pillar Page will start gaining authority over time, and start building connections to your visitors and Google.
With that engine running, track your Topic Clusters over time through urls.
How to use Topic Clusters and Campaigns together
You now have your Content Strategy in place. At the same time, your marketing team is running Campaigns.
A good way to make these two play together is to use your Topic Clusters to fuel your Campaign performance. Campaigns help you increase your Topic’s authority in the short term. Your long-term Topic Cluster authority helps you actually get more traction during your Campaign, and that Campaign should give a short-term boost to your Topic Clusters by getting more inbound links, more shares, and more traffic.
To navigate this tool inside HubSpot, go to Marketing > Planning and Strategy > Campaigns. There, you can track all your campaigns and campaigns assets.
Check out Brittany's SEO slide deck
Want to learn more about HubSpot and master your Content Strategy inside the platform?