05 Mar 2015

Build your Content Marketing Around a Hub and Spoke Model

Developing successful digital marketing strategies is often about lessons learned. Content marketing as a digital marketing strategy has really taken off in the past 4-5 years. Prior to that, you could game the search engines by stuffing pages with keywords, creating backlinks in networks, and other tactics that were about manipulation rather than about helping and educating your potential customer. The ongoing, rolling updates from Google including the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird have virtually eliminated the ability to game the system while ensuring that sites with great content will rank. In fact, if you’ve been focusing on SEO, you already know this. You know that SEO means “search engine optimization,” not “search engine gaming,” and that content marketing is the new SEO.

So, with the sophistication of the search algorithms and the way users search today, you have to publish authoritative content in order to rank well, capture your audience, and meet them with answers to their questions in each segment of their buyer’s journey. We have learned the old traditional marketing strategy of interrupting your potential buyer or trying to game the system has passed.

If you’re serious about growing traffic to your site and becoming a thought leader and authority in your space, content marketing is a must. Put yourself into the buyer’s frame of mind, because you, yourself, are a buyer too. When you want to make a decision, you look to the Internet to search for answers to your questions, to become educated on options and the variety of choices. You also want to know what your friends think and what others think about the product or service you are searching for. If you, as a business or marketer, don’t have the answers to buyer’s questions, if you’re not educating them, if you’re not having conversations through social media about their concerns, you will not be an option in their decision.

The Zero Moment of Truth

In 2012, Think Insights along with Google established the ZMOT or Zero Moment of Truth where they actually identified a brand new step in the buying process. According to their research, buyers now include a fourth step in their buying process (formerly stimulus (advertising) – buy – experience). This new fourth step is ‘consulting’ and on average buyers consult 10.4 sources before they make their buying decision.

Jim Lecinski, Google’s Vice President, Americas Customer Solutions said it best, “We saw that people are increasingly making these decisions at the Zero Moment—the precise moment when they have a need, intent or question they want answered online. These questions can be anything from “Which brand of diapers will help my baby sleep through the night?” to “What toothpaste is going to make my smile brighter?” or “What will remove crayon marks from my wood dining table?” A brand that answers these questions at just the right time scores a double win: It helps improve a consumer’s life and stands to gain a competitive advantage over brands that don’t.

Over the past 9 years, Vertical Measures has learned a lot about how to be successful with digital marketing. We’ve seen the market shift, and quite frankly have been thought leaders in content marketing, evangelizing the concept and developing successful methodologies and strategies around it (8 Step Process).

We’ve learned many lessons and one of the most important of those is to have a plan, a strategy, a detailed roadmap to publishing content. The strategy allows us and our clients to look ahead and plan rich pieces of content in a variety of formats that are promoted and referred to in other ancillary pieces of content. We call this a Hub & Spoke model of content marketing. Certainly not a unique concept, we’ve embraced it at Vertical Measures and it’s part and parcel of our content deployment. Why? Because it works. In fact, 60% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on its site.

The Hub and Spoke Model

Conceptually, you research, produce and publish a main piece of content, which becomes the actual hub, and then you create many spokes that relate back to that significant piece of content to support, promote and drive significant traffic to it.

The hub is published first and the spokes are published continuously for 2-3 months afterward (sometimes longer depending on the focus of the piece) in many different formats and many different channels to support the hub.

The spokes are published to drive traffic to the hub, and the hub helps drive conversions to the spokes. The hub is important because without a hub, the spokes would just be miscellaneous pieces and formats of content and not tied to any specific content marketing goals or strategy. The hub and spoke model are tied together. They need to be done in tandem, because without the spoke content promoting and distributing, the hub wouldn’t get enough traffic to be successful.

Think of this model as an image or illustration (see below). The hub is located at the center and the spokes are all connected to the hub, just like a wagon wheel. As the wheel rolls forward, it gains traction and moves traffic along the spokes directly to the hub. In distributed computing, it’s known as a star network.

Hub and spoke content marketing

Not to be confused with a blog section on a website, the hub part of the model we are describing is a free guide, user guide, buying guide, how to guide, white paper, case study, a buyers comparison (versus) guide, a sophisticated, animated infographic, a high level video or webinar, etc. The commonality of these content pieces is their depth and breadth. The content is rich and high quality. It is a piece of content that a user would be happy to trade their email address for. The hub content should reside behind a lead capture form. By capturing an email address, marketers can start to lead-nurture and develop a deeper relationship with this new contact.

The spokes can be a series of blog posts related to the hub (which include a link or call-to-action to download the hub content), press release announcing the guide, tweets, Facebook posts, infographics, videos, native advertising, paid promotions, webinars relating back to the guide or other rich piece of content, etc. Often times we’ll actually take a portion of the hub content, reformat and re-purpose it making the most out of our time investment in the project.

The spoke content reaches back to revive the hub content and extends forward to create, promote and distribute the new content. You can continually revive this hub content because it is generally ‘evergreen’ and only needs to be refreshed from time to time.

Here is a list of spoke content examples. What would you add to it?

  • A series of blog posts.
  • A series of interviews/videos
  • A SlideShare presentation
  • A motion video
  • An infographic
  • A series of graphics pulled from the infographic
  • Syndicated articles
  • Guest post(s) on other sites
  • A series of Facebook posts
  • A series of Tweets
  • Include references in an email series

For more content type examples, check out Tom Pisselo’s post where he writes about ‘content leverage’…using every piece of content in multiple ways and formats in order to get the highest return on investment (ROI) from every piece of content.

How to Deploy a Hub & Spoke Model

The best way to initiate this model is to treat each piece of hub content like a brand or product launch. Promote and distribute it to the widest audience possible based on the keyword focus, the influencers in the space and the appropriate distribution channels you’ve identified.

This is an example of how we do it at Vertical Measures (see image below). We launch a big piece of content and feature it on our home page, then we market the heck out of it for 90 days – and in this case even longer. As I mentioned earlier, we treat it like a product or brand launch. It’s a big deal.

Hub and Spoke content marketing

Our Penguin Recovery Kit, which gives you the knowledge and information on how to revoke a Google Penguin penalty, has been very successful. (See how I just referred back to that hub piece of content with an exact match keyword phrase?) This post you’re reading is actually an example of a piece of spoke content. We also sent emails, distributed a press release, scheduled social messages, and more.

Then we launch another piece of hub content and do the same thing, rinse and repeat. Our hub content publishes on the frequency of about once per quarter.

All of the content lives on the Vertical Measures site forever. And if you read this post, you will see that some of our best performing content in 2014 was created in 2013 or even as far back as 2010. You can’t say that for paid advertising. We have paid advertising we ran 5 years ago that is still driving traffic to our site – said no one ever.

Paid advertising has its place and can be very effective and produce a strong ROI, but once you turn it off the traffic stops unlike content marketing that continues to drive traffic over time.

Using the hub and spoke content marketing model is not easy and it does take considerable resources to deploy. If you’ve just started down the path of content marketing, don’t feel like you have to jump right into this model.

Learn the basics; get your production resources in place until you have a repeatable, easy to train process in place. Once you have the fundamentals in place and you’ve proven you can create quality content and meet deadlines, then start producing this kind of robust hub content. Another path to take is to engage with a recommended content marketing partner and get your rich, high quality content published sooner.

Examples of Hub Content

I included examples of hub content to give you an idea of the quality and scope needed. To view some of these, you will have to give up your email address and in some cases even more information. This is also another advantage of the hub content. It allows you to capture a lead that you otherwise would never have a chance to nurture over time. Consider the variety of businesses that are producing these.

Yale Appliance – An entire appliance resource center

Powerhouse Dynamics – Energy Efficiency in Restaurants

Dave Ramsey – Guide to Budgeting

River Pools – Fiberglass Pool Buyers Guide

Intelligentsia Coffee – Brewing Guides

Content Marketing Institute – 100 Content Marketing Examples

A Sample Hub & Spoke Schedule

Take a look at the following six-month content marketing plan. It includes hub and spoke content. What do you like about it? What tweaks would you make? What content and formats would you add to it. Can you share your thoughts on hub and spoke along with how you would implement a plan?

Month 1

  • Create eight (8) blog posts
  • Create one (1) Free Guide
  • Promote Free Guide in Social Media channels
  • Promote Blog Posts in Social Media channels

Month 2

  • One (1) Press Release for Free Guide created and published month 1
  • Create five (5) blog posts
  • Create one (1) guest blog post and link back to Free Guide
  • Create one (1) graphic to support Free Guide
  • Promote Free Guide in Social Media channels
  • Promote Blog Posts in Social Media channels
  • Publish a slide deck on SlideShare.net about the Free Guide
  • Use LinkedIn or Facebook to promote the Free Guide

Month 3

  • Create five (5) blog posts
  • Create one (1) guest blog post and link back to Free Guide
  • Create one (1) Case Study
  • One (1) Press Release for Case Study
  • Promote Case Study in Social Media channels
  • Promote Blog Posts in Social Media channels
  • Use LinkedIn or Facebook to promote the Case Study

Month 4

  • Create five (5) blog posts
  • Create one (1) Webinar to support the Free Guide
  • Promote Free Guide in Social Media channels
  • Promote content in Social Media channels
  • Use LinkedIn or Facebook to promote the Free Guide/Case Study

Month 5

  • Create six (6) blog posts
  • Create one (1) guest blog post and link back to Case Study
  • Create one (1) Infographic
  • Promote Infographic in Social Media channels
  • Promote content in Social Media channels
  • Use LinkedIn or Facebook to promote the Infographic

Month 6

  • One (1) Press Release for Infographic created and published month 5
  • Create six (6) blog posts
  • Create one (1) guest blog post and link back to Case Study
  • Create one (1) Free Guide
  • Promote Infographic in Social Media channels
  • Promote content in Social Media channels
  • Use LinkedIn or Facebook to promote the Free Guide/Case Study/Infographic

Homework

  1. What 4 hub pieces of content can you create this year? Four hub pieces would allow you to publish one per quarter.
  2. Name 5 experts in your industry or community that you could interview for either a blog post or video interview and link back to your hub content.
  3. What 3 presentations have you given recently that you could post on Slideshare.net and link back to your hub content?
  4. What 3 customers can you interview for either a blog post or video interview and link back to and/or promote your hub content?
  5. Name 3 major events, conference or holidays you could create content around and use to promote your hub content.
  6. What 3 webinars or podcasts could you create in the next year to promote your hub content?
  7. What social media channels would be appropriate to promote your hub content?
  8. What high traffic websites in your industry could you guest post on and promote your hub content?