TAMPA, FLORIDA – What started as a request to write an article about hub sites – sites with lots of authoritative content from multiple writers – turned into an internal debate recently between Ali Husayni (Millionairium’s CEO) and me.
I love and embrace SEO, but as someone who also specializes in public relations, I see how easy it can be to get caught up in the methodical steps of SEO if you’re not careful. I envision someone with a robot voice spouting phrases such as “Must get more links” and “Need more keywords. Must stuff keywords into article.” Before long, you forget that when it comes to increasing sales and gaining customers, we’re dealing with people – not machines.
I wanted to approach this topic of hub sites not as “It’s the latest new thing you should try to improve your ranking! It’s the magic bullet!” but more as an in-depth look at the pros and cons of setting up your site to be a hub for content.
First, let’s clarify some terminology.
Hub site: a site with lots of outgoing links to other related sites, including competitor sites. It also can be an authority site and a niche site. About.com and Wikipedia are good examples.
Authority site: a site with lots of incoming links. It’s usually also a hub, but it doesn’t have to be a niche. Moz is an example of an authority site.
Niche site: a site targeted to a specific topic/audience. It serves customers looking for unique content. It doesn’t have to be an authority or a hub. WebMD is an example.
Ali thinks hub sites are valuable. I’m a cynic because I think striving to become a hub may be pointless.
Here’s some of the dialog Ali and I shared on the subject.
Me: So when we break it down to the types of clients we serve, why should they work to be hub sites? Why should they have their competitors writing on their sites? Why would a competitor want to write on the site? Or, would the hub site simply link to the competitor’s sites and reference good posts they have on their sites?
Ali: First, other experts don’t have to be competitors. Take an orthodontist for instance; his only competitors are the handful of orthodontists in his immediate market. Outside of that, other orthodontists are just his peers. Second, imagine Dr. X has a site. He invites Dr. Y who is in his immediate market to be published on his site. “Dr. Y, I really respect your work. I would be happy to publish your article on my site on this specific subject matter, on which you and I disagree, for my patients to see a different perspective. Would you mind?”
Me: I love that!
Ali: Dr. Y would love the publicity. He would love that he’s being treated as a peer and not a competitor by Dr. X, and he hopes he can capture some of Dr. X’s patients this way. Dr. X benefits because his patients see that he’s open to other peers in town. He has a friendly relationship with them and they trust him because they are willing to be published by him. The benefit goes both ways, and the end result is that Dr. Y will encourage his patients to see his article on Dr. X’s site, resulting in more popularity for Dr. X.
At this point, I’m willing to grant Ali this: I can see where having a hub site can help with Google when it comes to a website’s ranking. But let’s talk about where the rubber meets the road: will that increased ranking genuinely result in more customers?
Bryan Eisenberg, a partner at Eisenberg Holdings and a bestselling author, isn’t so sure.
“A hub site may get you visibility, but then it doesn’t really make you an expert yourself on those topics,” Bryan says. “Even having visibility doesn’t necessarily mean people will associate that a blog post came from you.”
After all, we all share articles via social media that we find engaging, but how often do we remember where they came from or who wrote them?
“This seems like just another strategy to chase eyeballs, as opposed to focusing and delivering value to the customers,” Bryan says. “It sounds like the strategies from the turn of the century, when people used to measure hits.”
For Bryan, “hits” is an acronym for “how idiots track success.”
Bryan’s advice is to focus first on what you can deliver. Build your reputation. Develop a real network. He uses the popular website Copyblogger as an example. This site now has guest authors blogging, but it was primarily built on Brian Clark’s reputation.
Armed with Bryan’s argument, I went back to Ali for another discussion.
Me: Bryan says if good posts get shared via social media, lots of people never remember where they came from and therefore don’t necessarily associate the post with the hub site.
Ali: I disagree. Many times when I read a phenomenal article online, I check out what site it’s printed on so I can frequent that site later. I have developed a list of a few favorites in the past several years.
Bryan’s statement kept ringing in my ears. I believe a hub site may get you visibility, but that visibility doesn’t necessarily translate to you being perceived as an expert on those topics.
Ryan Lee, a successful author and entrepreneur, says it boils down to association. Let’s say I have a blog that covers public relations topics and Peter Shankman writes a guest post for my site.
“People will think, ‘Lorrie must be good if Peter Shankman is writing on her site,'” Ryan says.
I like the sound of that. (Peter, call me. Let’s talk.)
Association is how Ryan got started in the personal training market. He built a successful online empire by reaching out to other fitness experts, personal trainers, and trainers who had worked with professional athletes. They started writing on his blog and that translated into more business for Ryan.
He compares hub sites to magazines. They have a variety of authors and contributors, which lends credibility to the publication. He also fully embraces abundance, he says. Contributors can help each other and work together because there’s enough for everyone.
He’s in the process of building seven hub sites in different markets.
“I think it is important for every business, every company to benefit from becoming a hub site,” Ryan says. “So few are going to do it because it takes time and effort. It takes some work and a lot of people aren’t willing to expend the effort.”
After gathering all this information, here’s my takeaway: for the right business, having a hub site doesn’t hurt, and perhaps it may help increase traffic and sales.
If I’m seeking professional services such as SEO, public relations or Web design – to name a few examples – I might give stronger consideration to a company that has blog posts from other professionals in that field. At the end of the day, however, I want to know what THAT professional can do for me. What do previous clients say about them? What are some examples of their work?
If I’m looking for an oral surgeon to pull my wisdom teeth, I don’t care how many other oral surgeons have posted on his blog. I care about how many surgical procedures this dentist has performed; his educational background; whether he holds a board certification of some sort. Those are indicators that I’ve selected the best professional for the job.
What are your thoughts about hub sites? Chime in below in the comments.