Keyword Research for the Hub & Spoke Content Structure

This is part of our series on hub & spoke content marketing. Begin here: Executing The Hub & Spoke Content Marketing Strategy

If you’re creating content for the web, you have to consider search engine optimization. There’s no avoiding it.

Many organizations who create content don’t bother with SEO because they don’t understand it. They can’t or won’t invest the time to learn it, or they fear that “it’ll be dead soon anyway.” (That last excuse is a common myth that’s perpetuated due to the first point: People don’t understand SEO.)

SEO is simple: It’s using the words (in the right places) your customers use to find you on search engines. Pretty simple, right? If customers use a word to find you via Google, you want that word in key places on your website.

Notice I said “customers”—not “people,” “traffic,” or “visitors.” You shouldn’t worry about anyone who won’t potentially become a customer. Some people are going to consume your content without ever intending to buy your product. We only care about the habits of would-be customers.

There’s a lot of advice on the web about generating and using keywords. We’ve written about it once or twice ourselves. But using keywords for the hub and spoke content marketing strategy is a bit different.

Long and Short Tail Keywords

The hub and spoke content marketing strategy takes a structured approach to using keywords. Since you’ll be creating “packages” of content around a main theme, you want the keywords used in the page titles and throughout the articles to reflect that relationship.

(Remember: Our goal with the hub and spoke strategy is to create cohesion between pieces of content, so it needs to be made clear when pages are related to one another.)

First, let’s talk about the difference between short tail and long tail keywords.

A short tail keyword is a basic phrase that addresses a broad topic. Short tail keywords are searched more often than long tail keywords. They also turn up in more results.

For example, “customer success” is a short tail keyword. There are a million topics that could fall under the umbrella of customer success because it’s such a broad term.

A long tail keyword is a short tail keyword with additional words that specify the topic. Because there is more information for search engines to evaluate, the results are far more specific.

For example, “customer success manager job description” is a long tail keyword. Notice how there’s a short tail keyword within it, but it also has extra information that specifies the search.

Long tail keywords have the benefit of making your pages visible to the people who are most interested in that specific topic. A page about customer success manager job salaries would appear when someone searches for “customer success,” but it would be so far back that no one would ever see it. But when someone searches for the far more specific “customer success manager job description,” your page will show up closer to the top.

This is why marketers and bloggers have universally recommended that you always target long tail keywords for your articles. However, the hub and spoke content marketing strategy takes a different approach.

Keywords and the Hub & Spoke Content Structure

Your hub page should target a short tail keyword. Using our example from before, it would be quite alright to use “customer success” in the title without additional qualifiers. (Yep, we know we’re going against traditional best practices here.)

We can do this because hub and spoke content packages have significant SEO value. The components of the package (the hub and the spokes) support each other. This unique value lifts the entire package in the search results. Since our hub will be shown higher, you can use a short tail keyword to increase your overall exposure.

The spokes of your hub and spoke content strategy should target long tail keywords, just like traditional blog posts. Since each spoke is a narrower topic than the hub, it makes sense that the content would target narrower keywords. This creates a top-down flow of SEO equity.

Google sees this structure and says, “Ah, this content is all related. This is much more valuable than an isolated blog post.” You can amplify this effect by generously linking between spoke articles and the hub.

For clarity, let’s use an example. Below is a hub and spoke content package surrounding the customer success topic. Notice how the hub targets a short tail keyword and each article targets a long tail version of that same keyword.

Hub: Implementing Customer Success in Your SaaS Organization (keyword = “customer success”)

  • Spoke: Fighting Churn with Customer Success (keyword = “customer success churn”)
  • Spoke: Who Should be on Your Customer Success Team? (keyword = “customer success team”)
  • Spoke: A Sample Customer Success Manager Job Description (keyword = “customer success manager job description”)
  • Spoke: How Customer Success Improves Client Retention (keyword = “customer success retention”)
  • Spoke: How to Scale Your Customer Success Team (keyword = “scale customer success”)

From Problems to Keywords

Generally, your customers are searching the web because they have problems. They need answers to a question. They need to understand a concept. They need a process, worksheet, template, or some other resource.

Even if your customers are specifically looking to buy a product or service, that drive stems from an underlying problem. To create the best content for your SaaS organization, it’s smartest to target these problems.

Let’s say you offer a SaaS tool for physician’s offices. Your tool does everything. It schedules appointments, manages the flow of patients inside the office, handles billing, etc. You want to get your tool into every healthcare provider’s office in the country.

Your first task is to identify the problems of your customers. If you know the industry well, this may be easy for you. If you don’t know the industry, you need to spend some time talking to your ideal customers. (Ideally this is something that should have been done before you built your product, but it’s better late than never.)

Ask your customers about the challenges they face, the struggles they deal with every day, and the things that make their job tough. Ask what could be done to complete their jobs better, faster, and with less stress. Pay special attention to problems that your solution resolves.

In our example, your customers might say that they have trouble getting patients to show up for their appointments, which causes an empty slot in the day and lost revenue. They also report a messy accounts receivable department and long waiting times in the office.

These three problems are excellent opportunities for hub and spoke content. A stakeholder in the business might search “How to get patients to show up”, “How to track invoices,” or “How to reduce wait times in my office.” Each of those problems could serve as a hub main topic. You would create spoke articles that provide solutions.

Once you understand your customers’ problems, the next step is to punch those words into a keyword tool. At Audience Ops, we like SerpStat. There are plenty of other tools that will do the job, such as the free Google Keyword Planner.

Backlinko has a comprehensive keyword guide. We recommend that you instruct your team to read that and follow their advice. You’ll use your problem words as a starting point to find words that are being searched consistently without too much competition.

A Note About Keywords

While keywords are important for allowing traffic to find you, don’t force them into the content. Every year Google optimizes their algorithm to better understand a writer’s intent, so keyword stuffing and strict adherence aren’t as necessary as they once were.

Have your writers use keywords in the page’s title, headings, early in the content, and late in the content, but never let keywords sacrifice the writing’s quality. Focus on providing value and solving the problems of your audience and people will find your content.