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Using Your Website As Your Content Hub

There has been a continued push for corporate and even local business blogging since marketers started discovering the potential benefits several years ago. We're often told that a blog is where you put your content that doesn't necessarily sell your product, and that an offsite-blog is the way to go. In today's content marketing world, both ideas are wrong.


Content

The one constant in internet marketing (and everything else in life) is change. Ideas that worked yesterday may not work today, but may work again tomorrow. It's the nature of the beast. Content marketing is a portion of internet marketing that has evolved rapidly over the years. In recent months, it has become arguably the most important component of an internet marketing strategy because both search engine marketing and social media marketing have become extremely dependent on the quality and style of content.

Blogging is something that every business should be doing. Many are. The challenge is that the concepts of the past are starting to become less valid. For example, many (including us) have said that blogging off of your domain either on a standalone URL or a subdomain of the primary was the best way to go. It allowed for more powerful link-building from a search perspective as well as giving an additional destination that wasn't tied into the primary website. In short, you put your business material on your website and your human material on your blog.

There were those who believed that bulking up the primary website by putting the blog as a subfolder of the primary domain was the way to go. Today, this is correct, but not for the reasons that most once argued. Blogging is no longer an appropriate SEO play, at least not from a "bulk" perspective. The concept that you should blog to get more pages for Google and Bing to index is antiquated. Yes, you should be putting high-quality content on your website, but blog content in the traditional format doesn't quite qualify. Putting content on your website on or off the blog and using it as individual content "hubs" is the (current) right way to do it.

That can change. It almost certainly will. Thankfully, it's not one of those strategies that must be unwound later when things change.

 

Defining the Blog Versus Site Content Strategies

Pohanka Hyundai i.oniqWhether you put the content on your normal website template or add it to a folder such as "/blog" is determined by a few different factors. There are several different strategies to consider; here are a handful:

  • Blog-Only - With this strategy, every piece of content that you publish that isn't directly associated with selling, business information, or other services goes on the blog. This is ideal if you don't publish very often.

  • Blog "Fun Stuff" and Put Other Content on Your Website - If you're busting out a good flow of content on a regular basis, you may choose this strategy. In it, you'll post "fun" content such as employee-of-the-month or customer-highlights on your blog, but relevant content of general interest on your primary website. The example to the right uses this strategy. In it, a Hyundai dealership posts a promotional video and interesting images of a concept vehicle. This is relevant but not directly associated with selling anything in particular.

  • No Blog - The old ideas of what blogging should and shouldn't be have been blurred over the years. Just about any type of content can go on a blog, but that same content can find a place on the primary website as well. Rather than a chronological posting style, this technique employees categorization in the menu. If you post a customer testimonial, it goes in that category. If you then post a video and images of a concept car, that goes in another category. It doesn't matter when they were posted; both get equal treatment in the menu bar.

Once you've established a style, it's time to get the content out there.

 

Content Size is Important But Not a Guiding Factor

Size MattersThe biggest mistake that marketers make with blogging is to believe that there are size constraints. Some want all of their posts to be 300-words, 500-words, or larger. Others like to keep it quick and easy. In reality, content is content and as long as it brings value to the visitor, it's worthy regardless of size.

That does not mean that you should post only a paragraph or two with every blog post. Just because it's not a make-or-break deciding factor doesn't mean that you should opt for the shortcut. Let your content size be determined by the potential value it brings. If you have a killer video that tells the whole story, a paragraph will probably be enough to make it a valid piece of content. The video is the star of the page in that scenario, so highlight it.

On the other hand, a resource list of tools that people can use to buy a car should be more than just a list. Describe the pros and cons of each tool. Give a little history about them. Describe why you believe one tool is better than another tool for certain needs.

Above all, remember that high-quality, unique content is what you should be striving for in each piece that you create. Bring something to the table. It's better to spend the time to make a page that people will want to share rather than posting unworthy bulk content over and over again.

Say what you need to say to bring value. No more. No less.

 

The Importance of the Hub

Hub and SpokeThe hub and spoke model has been used in business, government, and life in general for centuries. You have a centralized focus point from which other components can branch out and draw their strength.

You website content should be your content marketing hub. Some have chosen to turn other tools into their hub such as Facebook, niche communities, or even Tumblr. These strategies can be effective if done right. Doing it right is the challenge; they are extremely difficult to pull off, particularly in a retail setting. Complex strategies surrounding these different styles may prove to be the best way to go in the future, but today the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks.

Using your website (whether through a blog or your primary website itself) is by far the easiest way to get both a search and social benefit from the content you create. Depending on resources, time, and the type of business you're running, creating your content hub can be approached from different directions but the end result is the same:

  • Make your website sharable

Your goal is to put content on your website that others will be willing to share. The various types of social media sites out there give you a tremendous pool of potential share venues. Facebook and Twitter are the most common, but one mustn't forget Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and some of the other social sites out there.

A website that gets shared on social media gets benefits from three fronts. The first is obvious; any time your website is shared there's a chance that people will come and visit it. Depending on the power and reach of the profiles sharing it, you might get a nice spike in traffic. Even though it's the most obvious, it's also the least important. Visitors are nice, but those who come from social media shares are often the lowest value.

The second is becoming more important every day. Social signals are important to Google and Bing in their search rankings. They're becoming more important with every update. The more your website content is shared, the better the domain can rank.

  • Notice that I said, "the better the domain can rank."

It's not just the page itself that gets a benefit from your efforts. The domain gains credibility from the shares. If you're a car dealer, there's a good chance that people are not going to share an inventory details page of a vehicle they just found. They're not going to share your service appointment page. They're not going to share your oil change specials.

They will, however, share an interesting video and great images of a Hyundai concept car that they found on your website. By sharing this and similar pages, the search engines give it an authority bump.

The final front from which social media sharing can help is in sheer public perception. This is of light importance today but will grow in coming months as the social sites focus on domain shares. What's happening is this: widgets and apps are displaying "most shared" or "other pages from this domain" on the social sites themselves as well as offsite. The perception that content is sharable on a particular domain is going to become more valid in the near future. If your website has lots of good content that people have shared, they're more likely to explore your website. Again, this is minor today but is growing in importance.

 

Further Questions

QuestionsIn upcoming articles, we will cover:

  • How to make content that people will want to share
  • Finding content ideas by exploring
  • The proper content sharing structure to gain maximum exposure
  • How to build power accounts that can make "going viral" a possibility

In the meantime, keep reading everything you can about content marketing. It's not just the future. It's already here. Those who do content marketing properly are able to bypass traditional search engine optimization and social media marketing strategies because the content can be positioned to do all of the work for you.

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Tags: J.D. Rucker, SEO, article marketing, blog, content, marketing, search engine, social media

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Comment by J.D. Rucker on October 29, 2012 at 9:10pm

Great points, Ralph. One of the benefits of working through Dealers United for SEO is that we have had the luxury of playing around with over 40 automotive website platforms. You are correct about Clickmotive and Dominion, but Cobalt, Dealer.com, KPA/TK Carsites, DealerOn, VinSolutions, and many of the other website providers have suitable content management systems to employ this strategy.

I also agree that a broad strategy on multiple domains and different platforms is effective, but that's a different component of marketing. The two strategies are not mutually exclusive.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on October 29, 2012 at 6:30pm

Brian, J.D. and Tim, Good productive discussions, and as much as it pains me to state something that may be perceived as "grand standing" or being an "I told you so" moment, I have been a proponent of "Hub and Spoke" and "Content Marketing" components within automotive digital marketing strategy for many years and have written, published and created entire teams of people to deliver what is essential a hub and spoke social media marketing strategy.  HOWEVER, I may be in disagreement with several points in this article and the comments made beneath it... Or, at least having a different perspective. 

Because most dealership websites are provided by Cobalt (an ADP Company), Dealer.com, Clickmotive, KPA/TK, Dominion, or any number of other established providers, in many cases the result of an OEM mandate or endorsement, I do not recommend and have not seen much noteworthy success with using one of these fairly "standardized" dealer website platforms as the dealer's "Content Hub" of choice.  I believe that a different type of site platform should be put into service by car dealers as a content hub within their "Hub and Spoke" social media marketing strategy, at least the part that is focused on content marketing.

As all three of you and many others know, I once created over 600 dealership content hub sites for use in an extensive and for the most part grossly over-reaching "Hub and Spoke" strategy when my team launched the ADP Social Media managed services solution for ADP Dealer Services in 2008... By the end of 2010 we had 660 dealerships on the program, and there was a whole lot of learning during that 2 years development and launch program.

Please believe me when I say that even as far back as 2009 there were many people within the ADP Digital Marketing team that wanted and insisted that content for marketing purposes should all be published on the dealer websites supplied by various ADP dealer website solution teams.  Even before the latest changes to Google's SERP generating algorithms and subsequent updates, we found that trying to take website platforms designed primarily for promoting dealership inventory and not built for frequent content postings, and sharing of that content by all visitors to the site, was simply not very effective.  

What we found a couple years ago, and what I still find to this day, is that the compromises required by the OEM mandated dealer website providers for the 10,000 of 17,000 or so total number of franchised dealers who are even remotely willing to consider content publishing for marketing purposes, so reduces the effectiveness of a content marketing strategy as to neuter it.  Yet, when we use a website platform that is optimized and designed to be used as a "Content Hub" with application layers syndication to the major social media networks, easily and readily adapted to multiple content sharing and appending apps, such as "If you like this article, you may want to check out these related posts..." type of technologies, along with Google verified authorship compliance, category and tagging features and other more social media 2013 type technologies... THEN the hub and spoke concept simply rocks and drives so much traffic, engagement, marketing communications objectives and SEO benefits to both the hub and the dealer's eCommerce random access website (RAW - Larry Bruce) when appropriate reference and citations are implemented specific to relevant content posted and distributed from the hub, that we have a WINNING CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGY.

So what types of platforms make good "Content Hubs"? Well, let's start with the Ning Network platform that the ADM Professional Community, dealerELITE.net, AutomotiveSocial.comAutomotiveReputation.com and several other Content Hub purposed sites targeted to car business people have been built on by professionals such as myself, Brian Pasch, J.D. Rucker (@0boy), David Kain, Chris Saraceno and several others have done.  Not saying it is perfect, far from it, I have monthly meetings with the development team at Glam Media and they can be quite frustrating, but it does work, as shown by the success of the ADM Professional Community and over 30,000 monthly visitors from SEO alone.

Then there is Wordpress and all the various "Theme" builds and templates designed to make it function as a great "Content Hub".  Joomla, Drupal and many other platforms are all far better designed to serve as a content hub than any of the top 5 dealer website platforms that I am familiar with.

As for how to manage the schizo appearing strategy of having more than one website... That has been covered so many times I do not feel the need to repeat it in a comment.  But, once again let me state that due to the low costs involved and the increased effectiveness of purpose specific platform selection, along with the marketing reality of not wanting to take a "Buying Today" car shopper and send him/her right back up-funnel and into the research and info gathering mode by thrusting all sorts of content in front of their faces, which may distract them from their initial purchase intent that brought them to the website... ONE WEBSITE IS NOT ENOUGH FOR AN OPTIMIZED AUTOMOTIVE DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGY at the dealership level. 

 

A Content Hub strategy requires a site platform optimized for its use as a centralized publishing point and a high frequency of such publishing in order to be as effective as possible.  And... Publishing a steady stream of content, much of which is relevant to customers focused on research and info gathering to a dealer's eCommerce site may not be in the best interest of that site's role as a lead, phone call and showroom traffic generator.

Comment by Brian Pasch on October 29, 2012 at 1:49pm

Tim

I have also seen recently post the Google "exact matching domain" update that sub-domains, as a whole, faired much better on the update.  The key determination that I see is how much content will the dealer be creating each month.  If they don't have a content partner involved, then I would not create a sub-domain.  If they want to increase content using partners, then a sub-domain can be useful. 

Comment by J.D. Rucker on October 29, 2012 at 1:37pm

Tim and Brian,

There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to subdomain strategies. The primary disadvantage going forward is that the social signals on a subdomain do not transfer directly to the domain. There is a small carryover, but not enough to note.

Most importantly is that a subdomain strategy is extremely tricky. Dealers doing it themselves should not attempt it - too much risk. If, as Tim mentioned, they are hiring an SEO partner, then that partner should have the knowledge to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks.

At KPA, we employ both strategies. This article was definitely intended for the savvy ADM audience who is likely doing a lot of it themselves, in which case they should stick to the plan detailed above or something similar. If they hire PCG, Wikimotive, or KPA, the strategies these three companies use can be a bit more intense because we're "living the game" and learning more every day (often from each other).

Comment by Timothy Martell on October 29, 2012 at 12:00pm

I agree brian, that it seems this opinion is certainly being proliferated. I just haven't seen much in the way of evidence to support it. Most of the "reasons why" are associated with theory and not to do with SEO. 

When you launch a subdomain, you have to build up it's authority and such basically from scratch. You can use it to create an extension of your site's main theme without messing up its categorization in the search engine's indexes and you can use a subdomain to boost up other pages within the website and main URL. Another reason this could be beneficial is of you are going to run multiple blogs or if you plan on having multiple categorizations or multiple sites with multiple themes.

The subdomain allows the main URL to remain consistent within it's categorization and indexing, while the subdomains are able to build up their authority and classify themselves as extensions. Additionally they can add the site to new categories with less damage to the main URL. And using the subdomain by building up authority and using its juice to benefit pages on the main URL is another strategic advantage.

The downsides are less specific. 1) you have to start from scratch and build the authority. This might be difficult for a dealer attempting to do this on their own with no SEO expertise, but certainly not for a skilled SEO company.

It is often considered to be bad for branding in the case of human error. IE you tell people to find your blog at blog.yourdomain.com and they type www.blog.yourdomain.com and don't find you and get frustrated and give up. 

But realistically, most people will find your blog when they visit your site or your social media channels by clicking the button or icon that says "blog."

Having your blog on your main site is beneficial for easily adding content to the dealers site. A fine alternative considering most automotive SEO companies don't seem to want to create content on a dealer's main website. This is something Wikimotive does, because it makes sense and achieves results. 

I guess the reasons to have a blog on your main domain are more to promote or allow "laziness" rather than a superior SEO approach. Most dealers won't create their own content. Most dealers also won't take the time to blog, so this seems like a poor solution to that problem.

Putting the blog on the main domain is an easy way to promote internal link building, adding content to the main site and authority to the main URL. 

The downside to having a blog on the main URL is that if you write about numerous topics, even if they are related, you can confuse SE's and start to LOWER yourself in SERPs. If you lack authority on the base URL, categories, site map, within search engines, a strong internal link structure,  and/or having your site in perfect condition, you could end up HURTING your chance for ranking for your high traffic, high conversion terms and have to work twice as hard to get and keep them.

Having your blog on your main site is great if you have limited resources if and ONLY if you are committed to producing great content everyday and work VERY hard to become an internal SEO expert. A very popular website vendor gives dealers a blog on their main domain. But the blog doesn't roll up in RSS, is very difficult to share and often just automatically posts inventory to itself as a means of providing content that dealers are unwilling to provide themselves.

Understand this isn't a slam against dealers. Having spent the last 21 years in automotive retail, I empathize with the reality dealers face. In many cases there just isn't time or resources to commit to best practices. The real issue I see is an unwillingness of vendors to provide the services that we preach are so necessary.

Why provide an SEO service if you are not going to build content consistently on a dealers main website? Why provide a blog if you are not willing to blog on the dealer's behalf? Why provide social media tools the dealers have to use when you can help provide the content that people will like and share?

That's my take any how. I would be interested to look at any case study anyone has that supports actual SEO benefit from onsite vs offsite blogging. 

Comment by Brian Pasch on October 29, 2012 at 11:25am

Tim

In regards to sub-domains, it seems that a change of opinion is building within the SEO community that the blog should not be on a sub-domain and rather it should be a part of the main domain. 

Comment by Timothy Martell on October 29, 2012 at 9:11am

If this is correct then wouldn't the best solution to build a blog on a subdomain of the company website? The domain would still benefit from social sharing, and there would still be some benefit from a linking stand point. Perhaps not the back link strength of a well respected primary domain, but certainly more valuable than an internal link. Would you agree?

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