Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
December 19th, 2018
Update, January 2019: This change has now gone into effect -- the Content Strategy tool is now officially renamed "SEO." But my thoughts below still stand.
Look, when it comes to the HubSpot Marketing Hub, changes are part of the package deal. In fact, I know I'm not alone in believing that HubSpot is only such a powerful marketing, sales, and service automation platform because of the HubSpot team's agile approach to how the product is developed and updated.
However, I'm not fully onboard with their latest announced change.
TL;DR: HubSpot is renaming the "Content Strategy" tool to "SEO." Absolutely nothing else will change about the pillar content and topic cluster builder and tracker. It's all about the name.
When will this change happen? "Soon."
Why don't I like this change? Two reasons, but first...
Unfortunately, no matter how many times HubSpot explicitly said that Keywords was going away because (a) it was no longer effective or accurate, and (b) Content Strategy was going to deliver more value to HubSpot users, given the way search and content had changed, people freaked out.
(Then, like clockwork, marketers filled the void with endless lists about what tools marketers could replace the Keywords tool-shaped hole in their hearts -- us included. For example, SEMrush.)
That's why part of me understands and is not surprised.
Even though HubSpot explained the seismic shift in how we should be thinking about our SEO and content strategies -- and how the two strategies really should be one in the same -- the disconnect in the minds of many HubSpot users remained.
Not only did a lot of users feel like something was taken away and not effectively replaced, I've witnessed first-hand how many HubSpot users still don't understand the purpose of the Content Strategy tool or how to effectively use it.
So, by changing the name of "Content Strategy" to "SEO," HubSpot makes the connection more explicit and brings more focus to the tool in general.
That's a win-win, right? Well, not so fast.
Now, I Put on My Chicken Little Hat
Maybe I'm worrying over nothing. Maybe I'm overthinking this change to a degree that is completely unnecessary. Maybe my pedantic posturing is simply a manifestation of my usual resistance to change, because I hate when things move around after I finally get used to something.
I'm self-aware enough to admit those as being potential truths.
But I still see two major issues with this change that I can't set to the side without sharing them with you first.
The Concept of Content Strategy Is Deprioritized
First, my gut is twisting into knots over this apparent deprioritization of "content strategy" as a concept via rebranding.
When they first announced the Content Strategy tool, I was beside myself with joy to see HubSpot bringing order, structure, and a set of best practices by making content strategy a banner headline in their suite of marketing automation tools.
"It's not enough to just create content," they were saying. "You need to be strategic."
It opened up an entire discussion around how we solve for one of the biggest challenges we face as inbound marketers -- how do we create content strategies that are actually strategic and search-driven, instead of just a bundle of haphazardly-curated topics that are arbitrarily focused on keywords?
Maybe I'm alone in this, but when the Content Strategy tool came around, my mind was blown. All of a sudden, the disparate puzzle pieces of blog articles, pillar content, topic clusters, long-form content, and keyword strategies came together.
I even based my entire IMPACT Live '18 talk around it:
Now, it feels as if we're taking a step backward.
Content strategy is, once again, taking a backseat -- even of only on a subconscious level -- to a more one-dimensional SEO banner.
I believe this will potentially exacerbate the disconnect people already felt between the concepts of SEO and content strategy at a high level, or how they can more effectively create content strategies that are genuinely strategic.
Also, the heart of the tool is building out and tracking content strategies. SEO and search should make up the foundation upon which those strategies are built, but they're not the point.
Will People Even Use It Correctly or Understand It?
Next, let's talk about how many times HubSpot users just go into a tool and tinker with it when they think it's super simple, without understanding how much strategy needs to go into their efforts before they even think about touching HubSpot.
HubSpot workflows are a perfect example.
By a show of hands, how many of you have you gone into the workflows tool without having planned your workflow in advance?
"I'll just figure it out as I go along," you say!
👋 I have.
(If you say you haven't done that at least once, I refuse to believe you.)
This never works, of course. Then, we get frustrated. "My workflows aren't effective," we huff and puff, instead of just admitting that we should have whiteboarded out a workflow strategy and refined it before we powered up HubSpot.
Unfortunately, even though this has gotten better over time with the Content Strategy tool, I cannot tell you how many times I've seen marketers "try to understand the tool" by randomly typing in the keywords and subtopic keywords they think matter, and connecting some HubSpot-suggested content to it.
"Boom, I've got a topic cluster. That wasn't so hard."
No. That's not how any of this works.
This may sound hyperbolic, but while this flawed logic is easy enough to course-correct with a tool like Workflows, Content Strategy requires a pivot in our thinking about content and search in general, as well as a willingness to spend a ton of time tinkering with topic clusters, measuring their efficacy, and then tinkering some more.
So, if my previous hunch is correct -- that this change will undo some, most, or all of the clarification and prioritization of content strategy, as a global concept -- and we can all admit we're not exactly the best about how we use our HubSpot tools, this change has the potential to create even more confusion.
Because, bottom line, renaming "Content Strategy" as "SEO" is a throwback to the name "Keywords," which was essentially a data entry and tracking tool that runs itself. That is not what this tool is.
"Liz, You're at a 15, & You Need to Be at a 5"
OK, I know I'm one smashed champagne flute and a set of shoulder pads away from being right at home on an episode of Dynasty.
I'm also aware that, for some, this may seem like a response that is disproportionate to the size of the seemingly small change we're talking about here. Still, I stand by my concerns.
I appreciate that HubSpot is making an effort to help people clearly understand that content strategy development is how they should be thinking about SEO going forward, instead of has a dysfunctional patchwork of unrelated keywords.
However, I can't help but worry we're about to take 10 steps backward in helping people understand what a content strategy should look like, and how much work is involved in developing one that is effective.