Content clusters: why you need them

When you’ve got an eBook to promote, you create a landing page for it and drive people to it. Simple.

And when you’ve got a full, content-packed microsite, like Salesforce.com’s  Social Success site, you can drive people to each specific piece of content or to the site’s home page. Pretty simple, too.

But there’s got to be something between a content landing page and a full-on microsite or content library.

There is. We call it the Content Cluster and it’s simple idea that solves a sticky challenge: how do you package up and promote a handful of content assets around a specific issue or theme?

What’s a Content Cluster good for?

It’s good for aggregating your content into something bigger than the sum of the parts. It makes it easy for your audiences to discover all the relevant content and get it in one place. It also creates more weight than a single content page, so you hope more people share it and link to it (and that Google may notice and boost your page rank).

How is it different from a content microsite?

A content cluster is just a landing page with several pieces of related content hanging off of it (each with its own lander, too).  Where a content microsite needs regular injections of fresh content, a Content Cluster can be standalone forever and may never need updating (though you can, of course, add to it).

As long as the issue is relevant, the Content Cluster will be relevant, too.

What about content duplication with the main resource library?

Geez, these are good questions! You’re a knowledgeable dude. If the content in your cluster has to also live somewhere on your site, you can manage it by telling Google which page is the one to spider. Or you can build your microsite from existing landing pages, with a new navigation (the Cluster Home) – if you can maintain some design consistency.

Got any examples?

As it happens, yes, we do.

Here’s one called Zero Touch Windows that we just did for 1E, a fast-growing company that helps IT departments stop wasting money. The issue in question is the migration of massive application estates from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 (a timely issue as they’re sunsetting XP soon).

It’s a simple, site with a funky little animation to kick it off and give the user a sense of arrival. The Ta-Da factor. Plus a natty navigation device.

Four pieces of content — a new eBook (that we wrote and designed), two existing white papers (we re-designed for the cluster) and a case study (also redesigned). Check out the site itself. It’s more fun.

1E zero touch windows migration site

Got any others?

Okay, one more. This time for our friends at LeasePlan, the world’s biggest (and nicest) vehicle leasing company. The issue here is Telematics (sticking black boxes in your cars and trucks so you can manage them better).

It features a super-sexy video we did with ace animators Sebas and Clim, plus a Slideshare and product PDF. All on a page designed in the look created for the wider content program. Do check it out — especially the video.

Telematics - Fleet management the smart way - from LeasePlan

So should I be making Content Clusters?

Yes, you should – if it’s the right tactic for your goals. Like if you’ve got a handful of pieces that relate to an issue and you want to boost your clout on that issue. Or want to let prospects choose the content that best meets their purchase stage.  Or want to rescue some old content that’s been neglected.

If you’ve seen others out there that you like, do drop the link in the comments below. We’re students of content presentation tricks and love to see how fellow content marketers solve the challenges we’re facing every day.

Comments

Interesting, Doug. But I’m not sure I understand the difference between the Cluster and Microsite (aside from the fact that “Cluster” makes me crave nuts and caramel.) Possibly I’m just dense. But isn’t a Cluster essentially a small-ish Microsite?

Well, I guess there’s no clean line between microsite and cluster — except a cluster:

— tends to have fewer pieces
— may stay a cluster forever rather than grow
— has that nut/caramel connotation that ‘microsite’ just doesn’t manage

We sometimes propose a cluster as a transition point from landing page to full-on, content-rich microsite. So instead of building a major site that signals, “Come back soon! More fresh content coming,” (then scrambling to fulfil the promise), it signals, “Here’s a complete kit for slam-dunking this issue.”

Love it. It is like an infographic but then for content not for data.

Doug,
Love the concept of content clusters. As you know, I think about the best ways to organize content, and I think this is a nice way to package information that is very doable. It’s not the investment of a microsite — which I do think needs to be updated reguarly — but it’s a page that can grow and change. Love it!

Doug, I like it. I think, to Ann’s point, a microsite might in and of itself have a ton of content available to consume (our example might be stateofinboundmarketing.com) whereas the cluster is a grouping of related items to pick from and THEN start your consumption. Does that sound right to you?

We try these clusters periodically, but we tend to put them together on a thank you page — the landing pg is the entry point, then you get your pick of several pieces of content (example: we gave away free stock photos, and on the thank you page, we offered buttons to snag business themes vs silly vs others based on your preference. Could have easily put a guide or checklist or some more educational materials too).

They seem to work fairly well but wondering if you’ve seen conversions increase or decrease when the landing page aka front door offers multiple options? I always think more is better, but then my more conversion-focused friends remind me too many calls to action can confuse and lead to drop-off so we tend to offer 1 clear call to action.

Hi Jay

Yeah, it feels like the Content Cluster is a mini-browse around a topic that lets you choose where to enter (a choice that will also signal things to the marketer, like your buying stage, persona or key issue).

I really like the idea of doing this on a Thank-You page. It’s a great way to use a cluster (though of course, the page doesn’t exist for search spiders and can’t be promoted separately).

I have the same struggle between making one single offer (best practice for landing pages, apparently) and giving people a choice. We ought to test a cluster against a single landing page with follow-up content — though we would lose some of the benefits of a cluster.

I guess it comes down to goals. The clusters we’ve done have been intentionally designed to build a critical mass beyond a single landing page and to get people to select a piece of content (so we get the signals). So the content conversion from the cluster may be a bit lower than a single-piece landing page – but we’d attract more traffic (and hopefully more downloads). But that’s testable…

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