One of the hypotheses when creating Content Hubs was that, by aggregating (and organizing) content into a single interface, we can increase engagement and provide a better content experience for users.
We strongly believe in content marketing and as such Hubs is also a core part of our own overall strategy. This means that we put our own solution to the test daily and can quickly test and validate the effectiveness of new or potential features. We’re not only the provider, we’re also the customer.
So, we thought we’d share what we’ve learned in the past several months. We’ll look at our engagement metrics, lead generation, how we leveraged Hubs and some of the product and business related challenges ahead.
Why we built it (and the problem with traditional blogs)
There were a few reasons we set out to create Hubs. The most compelling was that our customers (who were using our first product, Flipbooks, at the time) wanted a home for all of their content. A central place for their whitepapers, eBooks and magazines. But isn’t that just another form of content? Wouldn’t it be great if they were able to pull all of their content into one easy to navigate spot?
As we spoke with more and more customers, we realized that we were experiencing the same kind of fragmentation. Our blog didn’t truly encompass all of our content in a way that was easy to digest for our audience. We wanted it to be as easy as possible for people to jump from a blog post to a white paper to a video about the same topic.
Traditional blogs just aren’t set up that way.
So the concept of Hubs was born, with the goal of increasing your content's discoverability. A way for brands to centralize all of their content into a single (and pretty awesome looking) interface by pulling content from your social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, your blog, eBooks, and white papers.
The idea was that people would be able to move from a blog post to a video to an eBook in the blink of an eye, finding more of what they want and ultimately spending more time with your brand.
In essence, we wanted to build something that both included our blog in the framework of a richer content experience and replaced our blog where you would traditionally find it on our main site.
By the numbers (comparing our old blog to our hub)
Last month, we did a comparison of some key engagement metrics looking at the 3 months prior to launching our Hub (using the metrics from the old blog) with the 3 months post-Hub (where our Hub has essentially replaced our blog). Here’s what we found:
- Time on site increased by 80%
- Pages per visit increased by 49%
- Bounce Rate decreased by 10%
- Returning Visitors increased by 21%
Looks like pulling our content together into one experience has paid off in terms of engagements. Our readers are hanging out with us longer than ever before.
What’s more interesting, though, is the 800% percent increase in the number of free trial signups from our Hub compared to the number of free trial signups from our blog over the 3 month periods.
Sounds ridiculous, right? Not if you break it down. Let me explain.
Prior to moving to a Hub, the Uberflip blog was used to “educate, inspire and entertain” readers about marketing, content and digital trends. While we included a CTA (call to action) on the blog homepage and throughout our content, we found that they weren’t really enticing people to take action.
When we moved from our blog to a Hub, everything changed. Let me be clear in that the focus on lead generation was intentional, so the increase in free trial signups was expected.
A Hub is built to make it easy for brands to leverage their content into qualified leads. But the same content marketing rules apply. If your content sucks, it won’t work no matter how pretty the wrapping paper.
Here are the other key factors that led to higher engagements and signups.
Hub CTA placements
On a traditional blog, CTAs are static and eventually become easy to ignore. With Hubs, we sprinkle CTAs throughout our content. They’re more dynamic, meaning that CTA placements are constantly moving and can quickly and easily be changed by your marketing team (read: no dev required).
By keeping our Uberflip Hub CTAs relevant and fresh, and placing them strategically throughout different types of content, we’ve seen consistently higher conversion rates than their static counterparts on the old blog.
Custom content streams
One of my favorite features is Marketing Streams, which also have a major impact on how well our CTAs perform. They’re highly targeted content streams about a topic, buyer persona, campaign, event, or anything else you can think of. So, we can cherry-pick specific pieces of content and put them in one place that is tailored to a specific audience.
One example is the “Everything HubSpot” Stream which contains select pieces of content that we created when we first announced our HubSpot integration. This includes blogs, eBooks, and videos all about HubSpot. Most of the time, we didn’t talk about the integration itself, but simply talked about HubSpot from the perspective of a user.
Since this was a pretty niche topic, we were able to get hyper-targeted, promoting it specifically to HubSpot users. This Stream proved to be one of our most engaging content streams, coming in second only to our blog Stream.
Instead of asking our audience to sift through loads of content to find what they’re looking for, we’re able to curate our own content in a way that appeals to their interests. Similarly, you can see a broader shift towards a more customized approach with Twitter’s Custom Timelines and LinkedIn’s Showcase Pages.
UI / UX Effects
A ton of time was initially spent on the UX/UI architecture of Hubs. Since we were building a new product within our existing organization, we had to manage our resources and hired a local company to give our product team a hand with the concept. Since then, we’ve gone through a few iterations to get to where we are today. Here are the key UX/UI elements that contributed to the increase in engagement:
Infinite scroll – The Pinterest-like endless scroll has proven to be addictive and this is something that people immediately experience when they land on a Hub homepage. It’s easy to continue to discover more content, in different formats.
Mobile ready – Our Hub is completely responsive, meaning that content is accessible anywhere. Our blog wasn’t, which is another factor that led to higher engagement. When we dig in a bit, we can also see that the percentage of visits from mobile has increased when we compare our old blog with our Hub from 16.45% to 20.73% (I expect this will continue to increase).
48% of people feel frustrated and annoyed when they visit a site that isn’t mobile-friendly which is probably why you’re losing out (as we were) on higher conversion rates and better engagement metrics.
It looks sexy – Jenny Lam gave an awesome presentation at MozCon where she talked about the importance of design in building trust with your audience. If your audience doesn’t trust you, there is virtually no chance they’ll become customers. Like it or not, an attractive looking destination for your content is a must-have. Add to that, the predictions that content will be more visual moving forward, and the case for a great design has never been stronger.
The (somewhat bumpy) road ahead
We’re pretty pumped about the numbers we’ve seen so far from a product perspective. But there are definitely a number of challenges ahead (both product and business related).
Redefining our identity
Uberflip went from being a PDF solution to an all-encompassing content experience management platform. Trying to balance the needs of existing customers with a drive towards growth in a new market is tricky. At first, it resulted in muddled messaging and confused customers. We had to make a decision, and that decision was to go all in with Hubs. Flipbooks is now one piece of a much larger puzzle, whereas previously it was the focal point.
Onboarding is less straightforward
Another challenge is the onboarding process for Hubs, which is more involved than Flipbooks. With Flipbooks, the signup process was incredibly tight. You could start using the product in seconds, even before providing an email address (you can try it out here). With Hubs, you have to go through at least 4 steps to get to the point of true engagement with the product.
On average, about 50% of people aren’t making it through the full signup process on the first go, so they don’t reach the point of full engagement. We’re getting a handle on this now but it will likely be an ongoing process with many iterations.
We changed EVERYTHING
We changed way too much in one go: landing pages, signup process, pricing and packages. As a result, we weren’t sure what had the biggest (negative or positive) impact. Since then, we’ve streamlined the process and are more diligent about testing in a controlled environment, rather than making haphazard changes (although every now and then one of those sneaks through).
Our subscriber rate sucks
As we continually test new CTAs via our Hub, we’ve seen click-through rates anywhere from 4.8% to 50% (if we’re seeing one less than 4%, we kill it and try something else). What we’ve realized is that in order for subscribe CTAs to be effective, they have to be placed everywhere. But this would limit other types of CTAs which might be more aligned with our goals at any given time. So, we’re working on baking in a different kind of subscribe CTA which, once proven, we’ll roll out to existing customers.
The beauty of having a product that we use daily is that we can quickly and easily test new ideas, provide feedback and iterate on what we already have.
In the next few months, we have some lofty goals which include increasing our Hub subscribers (which by default means giving our customer the tools to do the same) and overhauling our onboarding process.
We’ll post updates as we go and hopefully you’ll glean some insights and practical takeaways as you follow along.
About the Author
Hana is the Head of Marketing at Shopify Plus.Follow on Google Plus Follow on Twitter More Content by Hana Abaza