As part of a broader content marketing strategy, knowing how to properly structure content is critical. Visitors to your site need to be able to easily access and navigate it, and search engines need to be able to connect the dots – especially if you’re targeting broader, highly relevant keywords.
The solution to this problem is to implement content centers on your site. They allow you to build and expand your knowledge on a particular topic, while ensuring that this group of content is centralized and easily found by both people and search engines.
In this article, we’ll try to explain exactly what a content center is, why having one is good for your business and, of course, how to create your own in 2021. We’ll also cover how Semrush can help you achieve your content marketing goals in this context.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is a content hub in SEO?
Simply put, a content hub is a destination on your site that contains content on a specific topic. It is the focal point for a specific topic or subject matter known as core content. Typically, this content is intended to provide a high-level overview of the topic at hand and can either be a long read or just a centralized hub page (depending on the type of your site and the topic in question). Either way, you should treat this page as the core of your central content.
This core content is then supported by other content, which tends to address various elements of the same theme in more detail. This is clustered content that can be in any media format. Your core content should always link to the cluster content, and vice versa.
So what does this look like in reality? Imagine you’re running an online auto parts business and you want to focus on tires. Your first step might be to create a “definitive guide” to tires, including how they work, the different types of tires and how to care for them.
The problem here is that even these three subtopics have radically different keyword focus. So it’s a good idea to create a cluster of articles, guides and tips around this core material to attract related and long-tail keywords, with these supporting articles describing the sub-topic in much more detail.
Later in the article, we’ll give you a step-by-step explanation of how to do this.
Why are content hubs important?
There are several reasons why you should use content hubs, but first and foremost they are useful for SEO.
If you have a lot of high-quality, detailed content on a particular topic, it helps establish you as an authority on that topic. Well-organized resources that cover various elements of a broad topic are also more conducive to getting backlinks, which, again, can increase the authority of your domain.
As a result of this cycle, you’ll have a better chance of ranking higher for the best keywords, allowing you to have well-positioned content at several stages of the content funnel. In particular, you’ll be able to attract more traffic at the top of the funnel, allowing you to generate more leads.
However, it’s not all about pleasing the search engines. Ultimately, it’s about our audience and the experience we create for the users who come to our site. An underlying content center structure allows you to plan your content more efficiently and have a clear, defined spend – which your customers will probably appreciate, too.
It also allows you to plan future content more efficiently and analyze existing content based on topic blocks rather than individual snippets (which we’ll talk more about later).
How to create a content hub
So, now that we know what content hubs are and why they should matter, it’s time to get our hands dirty. Here are the seven basic steps you need to follow to create a content hub from scratch.
1. Determine the topics you want to cover
First of all, you need to brainstorm and identify the key topics you’d like to cover in your content. To help you in this process, you can refer to the following materials:
- Your Buyer Persona. When creating an image of your ideal buyer, think about what level of knowledge he or she is likely to have. For example, if you sell digital cameras, is your buyer persona an entry-level photographer who has little or no idea what kind of camera they should buy? Or is it a seasoned professional looking for a very specific technical solution? This will immediately give you an idea of what kind of problems your target audience wants help with.
- Your sales team. If possible, reach out to your sales reps to find out what customers are telling them and try to figure out the most common difficulties customers are reporting. Ask your sales reps for their opinions. What types of content could make their job easier and create a more effective sales funnel? The answers to these questions can often provide some great topic ideas that fill a very valuable gap.
Another alternative is to analyze customer feedback, customer service questions and monitor social mentions to identify potential topics that your customers bring up.
You can also use existing Semrush workflows, which are especially handy if you’re short on time or starting from scratch. For example, you can use:
Organic Research → Competitors → Select a relevant competitor → Positions
This will allow you to compile a list of relevant keywords, which you can then run through the topic research tool (which we’ll talk about below). You can also use the Keyword Gap tool to identify potentially valuable keywords already covered by your competitors.
Once you have ideas in your head that are valuable to both you and your audience, you need to figure out if they are viable enough to make up an entire block of content.
Choosing a main topic
With that in mind, Semrush’s Topic Research tool is the perfect place to start.
To illustrate this, suppose you run a small business selling your own brand of coffee beans.
Using the initial keyword “coffee beans,” you turn to the Topic Research tool, which offers a number of potential themes:
Using just one initial keyword, you immediately get a list of potential major themes. But how do you know which topics are worth considering and which are unlikely to succeed?
Generally speaking, the topic you choose should meet three key criteria. It must:
- Have informational meaning and purpose. If we look at the “coffee beans” example above, we see that almost every sentence is based on a search for information. For example, users want to know how to make cold brew coffee; what is one variety of coffee; which is healthier, instant or ground? Here, ignore product lists or irrelevant local targeted content, and focus only on topics that will solve the user’s problem or answer a specific question.
- Have search potential. This may seem obvious, but there’s no point in looking for topics that don’t attract search engine traffic. In Topic Research, you can filter results based on volume (popularity of the topic), difficulty ranking, and topic effectiveness (especially handy if you have a low authority site), so check what level of traffic and attendance you can potentially expect.
- Be broad enough to support your subtopics. This is probably the most difficult criterion, as you want your theme to be broad enough, but not so broad that it doesn’t meet search engine objectives or can’t compete. There is no perfect number of subtopics to create (it depends on the format of your content center and the content of your site), but your main theme should be able to convincingly support them.
For example, in our example, if we choose the “Cold Beer” card, we get the following list of ideas:
In this case, a good idea would be to use “cold beer” as the main keyword for your main content, and then create a cluster of subtopics that explore each of the related issues in more detail.
Once you’ve identified a topic that meets all three of the above requirements, you can mark it as the appropriate topic for your content center.
When selecting subtopics, keep in mind that they must be related to the main theme. If we go back to the automotive parts example, for example, we won’t include a guide to checking oil levels in the Tires hub (although that’s a great topic and it’s appropriate for another hub, such as Basic Car Maintenance).
Instead, you should look at the cluster content as an opportunity to delve into topics that are only touched on in your main content.
For example, let’s say you blog about craft beer and with the help of topic research, you’ve identified your main topic as “how to make your own craft beer.”
The tool offers many supporting subtopics that expand on the procedures and processes involved in making beer. Some of the best subtopics offered by the tool include:
- Expanding the capabilities of dry yeast with simple rehydration
- How to check the alcohol by volume in your homebrew
- How to use priming sugar to bottle your homebrew
- How to overfill and siphon beer
These subtopics are ideal for supporting clustered content, and Topic Research’s tool has already determined that they get enough traffic to make them worth pursuing.
2. Auditing and updating existing content
Once you’ve identified your main topic, it’s worth doing an audit of your existing content. Perhaps you’ve already covered some of your new topics, or there are certain elements in your old content that can be reworked, updated and reused.
For example, perhaps you’ve already written a “how-to” guide on a certain topic that can be tweaked and updated, or you’ve already touched on that topic in another article that can be used.
This process is important because it not only saves you time and resources on potentially repeating content you already have, but it also avoids cannibalizing your own keywords.
This can be a daunting task (especially if you have a large content library), so use the Content Audit tool to automate the process. This will allow you to see which content needs to be updated and which can be removed, saving you the time and effort of analyzing each piece of content individually.
Once you’ve identified those snippets that may be relevant, make any recommended changes and make sure they are structured and targeted to fit with the rest of your hub’s content.
3. Check your competitors.
Once you’ve identified your topics, the next step is to get an idea of what the format, length and structure of each piece of content should be. The best way to do this is to check what your competitors are doing successfully.
You can do this by simply typing your target keyword into Google and looking at the top 10 results. How in-depth are the top results? How relevant and accurate is their information? What do they cover and, importantly, what are they missing?
This last factor is especially important because your content needs to address the gaps that your competitors are missing. So you have to try to figure out where you can provide the kind of insight and value that others didn’t have. After all, you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, you want to provide more comprehensive and valuable content than anyone else.
When it comes to writing content (or preparing a brief for another writer), the Semrush SEO Content Template tool can help. It automatically analyzes your competitors’ top 10 articles based on your chosen keyword. As a result, it provides you with actionable recommendations for keywords, readability, length, backlinks and other important elements for your content. It also lists your top 10 competitors to make analysis easier for your writers.
Don’t assume that if the first results have significant credibility, you can’t compete either.
Remember: one of the key benefits of a content center is that it allows you to become an authority on a particular topic, so don’t be put off competing for more complex keywords and phrases.
4. Research influencers and link builders
An important part of building authority for your content is having it endorsed by experts and influencers in the field. Take our coffee bean example for example: ideally, you’d want your content to be backed by information from professional baristas, coffee bean farmers, or coffee bloggers who have a sphere of influence among your target audience.
In most cases, the purpose of this step is simply to give weight to your content, but it’s worth noting that in some cases it is a must. For example, if you write about diets, healthy lifestyles, health care, or anything related to science, your content should surely be backed up by experts in those fields.
Also, analyzing what’s currently trending among thought leaders in your field will help you better understand which content will resonate and generate more backlinks.
So before you start creating content, you should start researching and networking with relevant people and making relationships that you can use later on. You can do this in the following ways:
- Follow their social media pages.
- Respond sincerely to their posts
- Follow and comment on their blog posts
- Connect to professional networks such as LinkedIn.
- Contact directly through email or forms on the website.
You can also use the Semrush Brand Monitoring tool to identify potential partners and influencers in your niche.
5. Content Creation
Once you’ve identified your topics, seen how your competitors approach them, and made contact with relevant experts, you can get to the heart of the process: writing the content itself.
Of course, whether you outsource content writing to your own team or outsource it to a reliable third party, it’s important that it follows all the best practices for successful content.
You can use the SEO Writing Assistant to make sure your material is SEO-friendly, readable and consistent in tone.
There are a few additional things to keep in mind when working with hub content.
In what order should you write material for your content hub?
First, you should write content in the right order. The Content Marketing Institute recommends writing clustered content first because it reduces the risk of duplicating key points. This also means that when you write your main content, you’ll already have all the links you can insert in the text.
How do you distribute topics between the main page and the cluster pages?
Another important thing to keep in mind is that your cluster content should be a deep dive into the subtopic. This means that in your main content, you should not discuss the subtopic in great detail (ideally no more than a paragraph). That way, you can present your main content as an extended content section in a book, where each part of the clustered content represents a corresponding chapter.
Finally, you should also pay close attention to the title and structure.
Choice of Title
Of course, the title of your article is crucial, both from an SEO perspective and from a search engine intent perspective. It’s always a good idea to write down headlines that use your top 10 competitors (see step 3), since these are the headlines that obviously meet these two requirements most effectively.
From a content hub perspective, however, it’s doubly important to make sure your headlines don’t contradict each other, as that would confuse both readers and search engines. For example, if you have one article called “10 Tips for Baking Bread” and another article called “6 Things to Remember When Baking Bread,” this can be confusing, even if the target keywords are different.
Creating a node structure
Again, you can look at your competitors’ article structures and determine what you need to cover, but you can also use case study to cover all your bases and make sure you’re not missing anything.
To do this, open the topic card of your choice (in this case, “how to make beer”). In the “Questions” section on the right, you’ll see a broad list of common questions that searchers often ask about the topic. These can serve as the basis for your entire article and give you a great idea of exactly what you should cover, since that’s the information your readers want.
You can compare this to what your competitors have already discussed and then fill in any additional gaps they missed, thereby adding additional value and relevance to your article.
Finally, contact the influencers and link builders you’ve reached out to before and ask them if they can give you a quote (or contribute to your new content in some other way). At this point, they are more likely to help you because you have already made the effort to establish a relationship with them, rather than contacting them for nothing. Once you have some expert opinions, you can start incorporating them into your content.
6. Publish the content!
Once your clustered content
- Has a suitable title;
- Is able to compete in depth with other top-10 search results;
- Is unique and truly valuable; and
- Is backed by expert opinion ;
…then you can start hitting the publish button. As for how often you should click this button, there is no right or wrong answer. However, it’s obvious that you’re more likely to see an increase in traffic and engagement if you publish, say, five pieces a month rather than one.
You also don’t have to wait until all of your cluster materials are published before you publish your main material. In fact, it’s recommended that you keep creating more and more content around that main material and keep updating it so that it always remains the most practical, accurate and informative solution for readers.
Once your content is up and running, there are a few more things you need to consider.
Interlinking is one of the most important steps in this process because – at least from an SEO perspective – it’s the whole point of the content hub model.
So make sure that in every piece of clustered content, you put a backlink to the main material (you’ll have to do this after you publish those pieces that will be published before your main material). It’s a good idea to use the target phrase for the hub in the anchor text of some (but not all) links, and vice versa.
Of course, your hub is interconnected, so try to establish links between parts of the cluster as well.
Content Hub Location
Simply put, there is no right or wrong way to place a content hub. From an organizational standpoint, however, it’s a good idea to present content in a way that makes it easy for readers to navigate and understand each piece of content in the context of the entire hub.
A good way to do this is to put links to the entire cluster in one place. For example, suppose you’ve written material for a post that talks about how to brew beer at home. On the sidebar of your web page, next to the main text of the article, you could place links to all the supporting material in logical order: “Beginner’s Guide to Bitcoin” at the beginning of the list, then:
- “How to make beer at home.”
- “What equipment do you need?”
- “What are some easy beer recipes?”
… and so on. Then, when you select a particular link, the main text changes, but the sidebar remains, with an indicator indicating which article you are currently reading.
This approach makes it easy for readers to navigate and find the content they want, and ensures they don’t get lost. It almost acts as a table of contents for one huge article, which makes life very easy for your site visitors.
7. Promote your content center
Once your content center is up and running, you need to start promoting it – both internally and externally. There are several promotional steps you can take, such as:
- Email marketing. Ideally, you should already be promoting your content to subscribers, but in the case of your content center, you want to emphasize that you’ve put together something comprehensive and useful. There are several ways to do this, but a popular method is to send out emails every one or two days with a new cluster of material within the series.
- Social media. Again, you should already be promoting all of your content on social media, but there are additional steps you can take for your content center. Don’t just “share” your blog posts and move on; create a campaign around the content and build individual posts around interesting facts, ideas or quotes from the content. You can even use custom graphics to differentiate yourself from other posts.
- Influencers. An added bonus of using contributions from influencers, experts and link builders in your content is that you’re also creating another channel of promotion. They will want to publish the article and share it on their own accord, even without you asking for it. If they have a significant number of followers on social media and blogs, this can be a powerful boost to traffic and backlinks to your site. Even if you don’t include an influencer in your article, you can still reach out to them. Some bloggers and thought leaders will gladly share your extensive and insightful material with their audience if it’s relevant and credible.
As with “regular” blog posts, you can also turn to PR channels and online platforms such as Quora, Reddit and other relevant industry forums. You can also reach out to blogs and media sites that are relevant to the topic you are writing about and offer guest posts in which you can link back to the content.
8. Analyze your content center
More often than not, content effectiveness analysis is done on a page-by-page basis because it’s easy to view and track metrics that way. However, this can make it difficult to assess the true impact of all of your content on a particular topic.
The Semrush Content Audit tool can help in this regard, as you can regularly check the effectiveness of your content, from the number of backlinks to views, engagement metrics and the number of search queries (thanks to integration with Google Analytics and Google Search Console).
The tool allows you to add custom columns that you can use to label different pieces of content depending on which content hubs they belong to.
Different types of content hubs
As we have already seen, there is an element of flexibility in how to structure a content hub, as long as the principle of their relatedness and interconnectedness is maintained. As a result, there are several different types of content hubs that can be adopted.
Here are some of the most popular formats:
This is the most traditional content hub model that most people are familiar with. It essentially consists of one main page (hub) and 5 to 20 static auxiliary pages (spokes).
This approach is best used if most of the content is evergreen and doesn’t need to be overhauled.
A good example of the classic “hub and spoke” format can be found at CoinTelegraph, a cryptocurrency news site that also has an education section. Each of the major currencies (e.g. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, etc.) has its own hub, which is built around supportive ever-relevant content:
If you publish content across a wide range of categories (as is common in blogs or media publications), the content library format is probably the best way for your readers to make sense of it all.
It works by listing various sub-topic categories on a central page, which then link to their own sub-topic pages. From there, readers can access individual pages and articles.
A good example of this is CareerAddict, which advertises posts by category on its center page.
You can click on the “Alumni” link to find individual articles in that particular category.
If you find that you don’t have a clear way to sort your content, and you cover a lot of areas, this approach would be ideal for you.
The theme gateway format is similar to a content library, but the key difference is the breadth of content. If you have a lot of supporting content, but the topic is still fairly narrow, then this option is probably right for you.
Essentially, it includes one extended piece of central content that serves as an overview of the topic and then links back to the ancillary content. Thus, there is virtually no difference between a node-based topic gateway and a huge post like “Ultimate Guide to Topic X”; the theory and purpose are essentially the same.
DietDoctor’s “Keto for Beginners” guide is a good example of a topic gateway format. It covers every conceivable subtopic that a beginning keto dietitian might be interested in, and contains links to a wide range of supporting material.
This format is usually best for directories or glossaries, where you have a large number of pages that are almost impossible to list in an article or on a traditional hub page. Readers can usually filter these articles to find what they need.
Some cases where this format may be appropriate include:
- If you blog and have published a large number of reviews of individual products.
- If you run a fitness website and have written hundreds of articles, each detailing how to perform a particular exercise.
- If you run an interior design website and want to showcase a large number of your previous projects.
Audubon’s North American Bird Guide hub page is a great example of a content database hub format, where each supporting piece of content links to articles about a selected bird.
Topic matrices are not often used because visually they can be a bit overwhelming, but in cases where you need to categorize pieces of content very precisely, it’s a good option.
Medical sites, such as the NHS site and Mayo Clinic, often use this hub format because it works well for informational types of content. It is closely related to how you create your site and URL structure, and prioritizes clear navigation and access to information over aesthetic creativity.
Content hubs are a very effective way to structure your site’s content, both from an SEO and performance standpoint. If your content is well organized, properly linked and able to provide authoritative solutions to a wide range of search queries, it greatly increases the chances of your content strategy succeeding and achieving your content marketing goals.
As we saw in this article, the Semrush Content Marketing platform offers a number of specific tools that can help you in this process, so be sure to check out the full toolkit to see how they can help you create your own content hubs.