Regardless of our industry, company size, or role, we all want the same thing: to see one of our articles ranking on the coveted first page of Google.
Actually, most of us want a lot of our articles to rank on the first page of Google. Doing so helps us secure organic site traffic. Organic site traffic is how we hit our goals. And hitting goals is how we keep our jobs.
It’s not easy, though. Google is incredibly smart, and sometimes, Google is tricky. To land on the first page, or in that highly desired SERP zero position, requires cracking the content marketing code.
In a year, we secured a lot of real estate on that first page of Google. How’d we do it?
In this article, we’ll discuss exactly what we did to take an entirely new subdomain and in less than twelve months, bring in more than one million monthly organic visitors.
It wasn’t easy. There were late nights, early mornings, and a lot of trial and error.
Since we launched the G2 content marketing team and our Learning Hub in January 2018, our mission has remained the same. We have always wanted to become the go-to resource for professionals on all things business-related.
So in our earliest days, with a team of just three writers, we set out to do just that. We wrote about all things business related.
We bounced around between software-as-a-service and public relations. We’d publish an article on project management one day and eBook design the next, while somehow making time to write a quick 4,000 words on account-based marketing.
We covered everything, but nothing particularly well.
Yes, this is your classic start-up cautionary tale. We spread ourselves too thin and tried to do too much. In turn, we didn’t make any actual progress.
This isn’t to say that those topics weren’t worth covering – they were. The issue is that to cover each one of them comprehensively would require more attention and time than we had to give. So instead, we covered them at a high-level, and on a one-off basis. Rightfully, Google didn’t love this, and we didn’t see much (read: any) traffic in those early months.
Not to mention, we weren’t publishing nearly as much as we should have been.
Regularly switching between topics meant that with each new article, the writer had to start research from scratch. This could add at least an additional day (if not more) to the writing process, depending on prior knowledge of the topic. And that’s not to mention the additional time our team spent ideating all of these new topics.
Needless to say, we knew we had to pivot. And then, we had our first win.
One of the writers started focusing exclusively on event marketing. Instead of covering a wide variety of topics at a high-level, she dove deep into the world of tech conferences, name badges, and post-event surveys, writing a total of 15 articles on the subject.
For the first time, we started seeing significant, organic traffic.
Six months in (but trust me – six months without traffic feels much longer), and we had our first taste of success. Now, we just needed to figure out how to keep our numbers trending up.
Enter the hub and spoke model of content marketing.
What is the Hub And Spoke model?
The event marketing series taught us an important lesson: if we tried to cover everything, Google wouldn’t recognize us as an authority on anything.
So we shifted gears and started testing out the hub and spoke model.
The hub and spoke model is a content strategy that focuses on building out a comprehensive topic using a single content “hub” and multiple supporting articles that act as the “spokes.”
The content hub will be a general look at the larger subject (Event Marketing 101, Ultimate Guide to Public Relations, etc.), while the spokes address sub-topics, related keywords, downloadable assets, and more. Each one of these subjects, with all its hubs and spokes, is also known as a topic cluster.
With that in mind, we decided to go all in on social media marketing.
We still had a smaller team of writers – up to five, at this point – and decided to write everything there was to write about social media marketing. We used keyword research to determine which articles had significant volume and tackled everything from LinkedIn analytics to the perfect Facebook cover photo size.
This model has become widely adopted in the content marketing world, and it’s no surprise as to why.
For content marketing teams strapped for time or resources (and aren’t we all?), the hub and spoke model is a much more efficient way to get your work done. Here’s why it worked so well for us.
We ideated faster
Ideating topics is the most essential part of content marketing, yet also one of the most time-consuming. With the hub and spoke model, the process speeds up a bit, as each “hub” serves as a starting off point. In our experience, it was significantly easier and faster to ideate sub-topics that surround a larger theme.
Using Ahrefs, our SEO tool, we could easily find long-tail keywords and related topics. By doing all of this research early on and front-loading our content calendars, our writers always had another project in the queue when they finished an article.
We published faster
When each writer owns a particular topic, they quickly become a subject-matter expert. While the hub and spoke model doesn’t eliminate research altogether, it definitely speeds up the process. Speaking from personal experience, having to start research from scratch with every new article assignment was not easy. It’s hard to speak as an expert on a topic when in reality, I had only scratched the surface. With just hours of research under my belt, I wasn’t confident, and it showed. The writing process was slower, and the writing itself was worse.
There was a clear shift when I turned my focus to social media marketing. The articles still required a little research, but significantly less than before. With an understanding of the jargon, I was able to write faster and more confidently. A deeper understanding of the subject changed everything, and we knew this approach was working.
Our articles ranked faster
Content marketers often underestimate how smart Google is. I know we did.
But here’s the thing – Google loves topic clusters.
Topic clustering, an SEO strategy that focuses on creating comprehensive hubs of knowledge on a single subject, is strongly favored by Google as it helps to establish the site as an authority on the given topic.
Because we built out multiple clusters, Google started to recognize G2 as an authority on a variety of topics. When we would publish another article from a topic, we’d see it picking up keywords almost immediately. Sometimes, it would rank on the first page of Google within days.
Our interlinking strategy
Implementing topic clusters into our content marketing strategy was essential, but it required we take a good look at how we were linking pieces internally. In the world of SEO, this is known as interlinking.
Internal linking, or interlinking, is how you connect one page on a website to a different page on the same website. Internal links aid in website navigation and help users discover other relevant site content. That said, if you’re not strategic about your interlinking, you’re actually doing more harm than good.
Before, we were linking internally whenever the opportunity presented itself – and unfortunately, even when it didn’t present itself.
In an article on Facebook marketing, we’d include a link to a piece on press releases. Was that press release article actually relevant to the reader? Probably not, but we did it anyway. So when that reader found themselves reading an article on how to write a press release, when they thought they were learning about Facebook marketing, they probably bounced pretty quickly.
We’ve learned since, and entirely reevaluated where we lead our readers.
Our topic clusters have made this easy on us.
Today, we make a point to only interlink within our topic clusters to ensure we’re offering the best user experience possible and directing our readers to an article that actually resonates. Additionally, we use exact-match anchor text whenever possible, so the reader has an accurate understanding of where that link will take them.
Revamping our interlinking strategy has lowered our bounce rates because readers are getting directed to content that’s related to the original topic they were researching.
These lowered bounce rates are a “plus” in Google’s book, so it’s a win-win.
Where we’re going from here
Since January 2018, we’ve scaled our team from just three to 16 full-time writers. With significantly more resources, we’ve made strides on becoming the go-to resource for professionals. Today, each writer fully owns a single topic (more on that later). Because of this, we’ve made serious moves on becoming the number one resource for all things business.
To ensure we’re giving proper coverage to a variety of spaces, we’ve divided our writers into three sub-teams: the growth pod, the management pod, and the tech pod. The pod they’re in determines the general theme of their topics.
Our growth pod covers all things marketing, sales, customer success, and design. Management focuses on human resources, small business, recruiting, and more. The tech pod writes on artificial intelligence, data analytics, app building, and related. Within the pods, each writer owns a single topic for anywhere from 6-12 weeks. Typically, this means writing anywhere from 20-50 articles, depending on the topic and its complexity.
For our team, this strategy works quite well.
Our writers become subject experts within a matter of days. They own their topic from start to finish, and because they’re so well-versed on it, are able to take creative approaches and think outside of the box. In addition to just publishing on G2, they use this knowledge to participate in Twitter Chats, write guest blogs on other sites, and establish themselves as thought leaders on social media. We didn’t anticipate our team members using their topics to build their personal brands, yet they have – and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
When I say there was a lot of trial and error over the last year, I’m not kidding.
And despite the significant process we’ve achieved, it still feels like we’re only just beginning.
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but there is still so much to learn. And while we’re excited to share our success with you, we urge you to do your own research, test our processes, and find out what works for you and your team.
That all said, being one of the first members of G2’s content marketing team has been an honor.
So, what are we planning on doing with all of this traffic?
Read on to learn how we’re using it to build a community and drive revenue.
Claire is a Senior Marketing Manager at Blueprint and a former growth marketing team manager at G2. Born and raised in the Chicago area, her brief stint in Ohio (University of Dayton) gave her a new appreciation for deep-dish pizza, but left her well-versed in Cincinnati-style chili and "cities" with a population fewer than 400,000. While not writing, Claire can be found practicing calligraphy, seeking out the best dive bars in Chicago, and planning her next trip. (she/her/hers)