Soundtrack for this post: James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”
As a content marketer, you’re fully aware how rapidly the industry is evolving. You’re constantly on your toes, taking note of new tactics and trends, adapting your approach to meet your audience’s changing needs and interests.
So when one of the influential giants of the inbound marketing industry makes wholesale changes to its wildly popular blog, you take notice.
I’m talking, of course, about HubSpot. The company recently re-launched its blog as a sleeker, better organized content portal it’s calling Inbound Hub. And in the process it may have just established the new blueprint for corporate content sites going forward.
Jay Acunzo (@jay_zo), Senior Manager of Content at HubSpot, was kind enough to answer my questions about the redesign and offer some insight into what’s it’s like to take on the challenges of scaling and expanding content’s role at one of the tech industry’s biggest marketing innovators.
“Now we have way better infrastructure for serving our audience and continuing to experiment, learn, scale, and hopefully stay ahead of an increasingly saturated world of content.”
1) What was the motivation behind the redesign and what is the vision for the site moving forward?
So we re-launched our blog as Inbound Hub last week, with a completely new homepage and better content discoverability. It lets us go deeper in our core area (inbound marketing) along with three new sections — inbound sales, a section for industry insiders to publish their expertise, and a features-and-opinion section called Up and to the Right, run by Dan Lyons (@realdanlyons) and some super creative guests.
The rationale was this: We’re really up against the known edge of what content can do to drive business right now — nobody knows what this stuff looks like at great scale. When I joined HubSpot to head up content, I saw how our scale — the volume, variety of post topics, different goals and formats, and a big network of contributors — was starting to break that standard single-column business blog. It’s totally new territory compared to a company struggling to publish weekly without going dark.
With that one column, I felt like we were stuffing a bunch of content down the pipe to the same subscriber base, which felt less than ideal to them and also didn’t serve our company goals. Plus we had to hold every single post to the same editorial standard — it’s like we had the HuffPost featured section but no topics around that, no discovery or navigation options, and every single post held to the standard of a lead article. If you wrote a guest post about a niche topic, you were HubSpot’s blog for that moment in time, so we had to edit you accordingly.
Now we have way better infrastructure for serving our audience and continuing to experiment, learn, scale, and hopefully stay ahead of an increasingly saturated world of content. And not many business blogs are destination sites, which we want to become.
1b) Breaking that question down into more bite-sized chunks — what were some elements you knew you wanted to incorporate and others you knew you wanted to steer clear of?
We knew we had to really nail the navigation and information hierarchy. The navigation bar was actually the hardest part to decide. We probably got most of the way there and plan to keep listening to feedback and testing things to improve.
We also wanted to create more topic-specific and reader-friendly subscriber options, since we admittedly publish a lot of content — not much by media standards but a lot by corporate standards.
The Insiders section was a no-brainer, too. We have tremendously smart and talented partners and friends of HubSpot who weren’t getting onto our blog as much as they should have. Now we get to scale that out, as well.
Lastly, we wanted to reserve some places to do really interesting testing around headlines, personalization of content, and more. The homepage is basically our team’s “product” to test and improve.
We wanted to steer clear of, well, banner ads! Totally not aligned with our belief in inbound marketing. And wouldn’t it be refreshing to someday have a pinnacle destination site without a single irrelevant, obnoxious ad to be found?
2) Based on the experience you had with this redesign, what is one thing companies should be extremely conscious of when laying out their content?
The navigation bar and discoverability of your content reign supreme at scale. That was the absolute hardest part about wireframing this project. We really needed to think about the right topic tags and overarching section titles to use, along with descriptions for each section when a visitor clicks through.
3) Do you have any tips you can share in terms of thinking about segmentation?
It’s all about figuring out the best way to help and add value. If one single column and one single publishing process helps educate or entertain your audience and doesn’t confuse them at all, then that’s the right approach. In our case, we needed to segment to better serve our readers and make sure every single thing we published resonated with each audience group we’re trying to engage. We also needed to operate more smoothly internally to keep scaling and expanding.
For us, segmentation was a way to place more control back into the hands of our audience, since they can subscribe specifically to what they enjoy most. If sales-related content is irrelevant to you, then you don’t need to subscribe to it. You as the consumer hold the control — as it always should be.
4) What are some other content sites you look to/admire personally?
I try to step outside the marketing bubble as much as possible — it’s not a cliche, it really does help you get perspective and create better content. But in the industry, I’ve been reading more from PSFK, any of Doug Kessler’s SlideShares, and some of the usuals like Copyblogger and HBR. Outside the industry, Quartz and Grantland give me tons of ideas and insight into growing something special through content.
5) What’s the most important/surprising thing you’ve learned about content working at HubSpot so far?
It doesn’t get easier or more automated as you scale. The robots really haven’t replaced the writers. That’s a wonderful thing for those of us betting careers on content, but it’s still a manual job done by humans — businesses need to accept that.
In a world full of tech-aided everything, it’s the people behind what you create who matter the most. It’s actually awesome. Big fan of humans.
6) What’s the next big project in the works?
We have SO MUCH to experiment with and explore. We’re working on some things behind the scenes, but I’m open to suggestions. Here’s my handle, tweet me maybe? (cringe).