Hubs vs. Pillars: What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of words that get thrown around marketing meetings, Twitter threads, and client calls that lack clear meaning. This is the problem with marketing jargon—words find their way into our parlance but are used so often and by so many people that no one really knows what they mean anymore.

Companies and teams develop their own meanings for certain words, usually based on the very specific context of their work. These definitions often don’t align with the meaning that other companies/teams assign to the same words. For example, does “bottom-of-the-funnel content” mean the same thing to you and me? As we found out recently, it almost certainly does not.

One glaring example of this in the content world is the language used around hubs, spokes, clusters, and pillars. Each alludes to an SEO strategy that calls for a lot of content to help rank for a competitive keyword. We hear these terms used interchangeably, but each has its own nuances and its own place in a content strategy.

Today, we’ll explain how we define these terms. You may disagree, and that’s fine! In fact, if you do, please leave a comment so we can learn from each other.

What Is the Hub and Spoke Strategy?

The hub and spoke strategy is most effective when you are writing about a topic with many obvious subtopics. It is most commonly used to tackle a single competitive keyword—the thinking is that you can win by throwing more firepower at it. One blog post per keyword is usually not enough, especially for sites without strong domain authority.

A hub’s purpose is to send visitors to the spoke pages, not to keep them on the hub page. The hub is a table of contents that links out to many articles that cover subtopics. To maximize efficacy, hubs should link to all spokes. Each spoke should link other spokes and should link back to the hub.

The hub and spoke strategy tends to work well for a few reasons:

  • The hub and spoke strategy leverages site structure to beat competitors who aren’t very good at executing technical SEO.
  • You create multiple pages with the potential to rank. Ideally, each page earns at least some organic traffic, even though the ultimate goal is to earn organic traffic for the hub page.
  • The hub page tends to have a very low bounce rate. This is correlated with better search rankings (source). (Please note the difference between correlation and causation!)
  • Internal links pointing from the hub to each spoke, from each spoke to the hub, and from each spoke to the others make navigation simple, which increases dwell time. This is also correlated with better search rankings (source).

Here are a few examples:

We often hear the word “cluster” used to describe a hub and its spokes. While others may have different definitions for the word, we consider a cluster to be the same as a hub and spoke.

What Is Pillar Content?

A pillar is a single, usually very long, piece of content that covers a topic in exhaustive depth. It is designed to attract a reader and keep that reader on the page. Pillar content is also sometimes referred to as cornerstone content, skyscraper content, flagship content, (and probably other names too).

The main difference between a pillar and a hub is that a pillar contains all the content in one place. Often, content marketers will break pillar pages into multiple sections, then use a table of contents at the top of the page to help readers navigate. If you took a hub and all of its spokes and then folded it into a single page, you’d have a pillar.

Pillar content tends to work because:

  • Long content pieces tend to attract more backlinks, which helps those articles rank in search. According to Brian Dean, “Content longer than 3000 words gets an average of 77.2% more referring domain links than content shorter than 1000 words.”
  • Readers may prefer a single, comprehensive article rather than a collection of shorter articles.
  • Long-form content conveys authority. This is hard to quantify in the abstract, but we see over and over again that SaaS companies earn more conversions from long content than from any other type.

Even though pillars aren’t surrounded by spokes, it’s a best practice to build plenty of internal links to them. Assuming a pillar covers a topic that’s very relevant to your business, there should be plenty of linking opportunities.

Here are some examples of pillar content:

Hopefully, this clarifies your thinking on these terms. While you’re at it, we also recommend reading about SEO silos. This is the most useful way to think about turning site structure into a significant advantage. It’s a framework to help you use tools like the hub/spoke and pillar content to even greater success.

Do you have different thoughts on what these terms mean? Drop a comment to let us know.