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Horizontal and Vertical Content and The Right Way To Use It

Horizontal and vertical content topics - which one is right for your campaign?

Content has many different categories, and there are plenty of divisions and subdivisions of it. Further down you go, the more it seems like a rabbit hole of division and subdivisions. People have a tendency to overcomplicate things and make them appear harder than they are. But there are, in fact, only two divisions of content and a specific, right way of using it.

Horizontal and Vertical Topics

The two divisions of content can be divided into horizontal and vertical topics, and all content falls into these two categories.

Horizontal Topics

We will start with the easier of the two. The easiest way I can explain horizontal topics is by using the “T-Shaped model.” Most people understand the T-shaped model because it’s mostly applicable to business and life choices.

With a T-shaped model, you start wide and try out several different things. It’s like a lot of big pools where you simply dip your toes in. You go around and dip your toes in multiple pools, simply scratching the surface of each and figuring out which pool is currently the best one to jump in.

A T-shaped model is exactly that — you go wide on multiple topics and audiences, figuring out which is the best one.

The horizontal topics are created to stir some water in multiple different pools without going too deep into any one topic or focusing too intently on any one audience. Going deep requires a lot more energy and time, both of which are scarce resources in today’s world.

Here is an example. Let’s say you work as a recruiter. Your job when creating a horizontal topic is to stir the pools of:

  • People looking to find a co-founder
  • People looking to hire their first employee
  • People looking to hire their core team
  • People looking to hire a remote team
  • People looking to hire in a different time zone
  • People looking to hire a middle manager for the first time
  • People looking to hire freelancers
  • People looking to expand their employee count beyond the Dunbar number (over 150 employees)
  • People looking to hire a C level-person
  • and many more

All of these are different pools —with different specifics, wants, needs, problems, and details. But all of them are interested in a single broad topic: recruitment.

So you create content that appeals to everyone a little bit, but not 100 percent to any single group. You use horizontal topics as benchmarks to see which target group has the biggest potential/return on investment (ROI). You define what, for you, is the biggest ROI. And once you see that, you double down on that group by creating vertical content.

The needs of someone looking to hire freelancers is very different than someone looking to hire their first employee. The problem with freelancers is accountability, communication, and/or time zones. The problem with the first employee is the buy-in potential (invested 100% in a startup) and ability to juggle multiple hats.

The typical recommendation is to use horizontal content as a lead magnet and, in general, as a way of getting people to notice you. After they notice you, you can give them a full-on, detailed plan of how to solve the exact problem that specific target audience has.

Vertical Topics

In our T-shaped model, a vertical topic is a topic which goes deep into a single specific topic. That’s the long, narrow arm of the T-shaped model.

Once you see which target audience brings you the biggest/highest ROI, you decide to solve the specific problem of that segment of your target audience. You do that by creating content just for that segment of your target audience. 

Image via Flickr by ami_harikoshi

Continuing with the example above, let’s say that we have decided to focus on people looking to hire a remote team in a different time zone.  So you ignore all the other segments and create a vertical type of content that goes into details on how to hire a remote team in a different time zone.

You don’t talk about co-founders or crossing the Dunbar number in that content. You only focus on providing a solution for people who want to hire a remote team in a different time zone. That means talking about solutions for problems such as team communication (using different applications to stay connected), online meetings (when to schedule a meeting to be most productive), and accountability models (how to make sure everyone does their share of the work without micromanaging).

Once you have your specific segment of the target audience, all that is left is to create that content for them and do some marketing of it. The content will talk specifically to the people in this group, and they will feel “like it was written personally for them.” This is the effect you are trying to create with vertical content.

The best way to use vertical content is to have it serve as a lead-nurturing tool after you have already generated leads. You use vertical content to show your target audience that you have authority in your field or use it as a sales tool for converting leads into customers.

Vertical content always goes late in the sales funnel because that’s where it’s most effective.

Making the Different Types of Content Work for You

People will convince you that there are many content divisions and subdivisions, but there are only two true types — horizontal and vertical content.

You use horizontal content to stir many ponds and see which one will bring you the highest and biggest ROI. Your content is broad, and you are talking to a wider group of people.

Once you establish the segment of your target audience for which the ROI will be highest, you target only that specific group by using vertical content. This is the type of content where you dig deep and show your audience your expertise and authority.

Horizontal content is best used as a lead-generation tool, while vertical content is best used as a lead-nurturing and a selling and/or closing tool.

How do you use your content?

About the author

Bruno Boksic

Bruno Boksic is a writer at Medium.com. An avid reader of personal development books, with a 7-year long experience of helping people become the best version of themselves. I don't have all the answers, but the ones I do, I share through my writing. You can contact me at boksicbruno@gmail.com