How to continue winning with content, when writing great blog posts is no longer enough
Content has helped us grow Groove to $5m in annual revenue and form some great relationships with some of our most loyal customers.
I guess you could say content is a big deal to us, which is why we’ve always been very focused (and transparent) when it comes to producing content that stands out.
However, over the last few years, it’s become harder to drive visitors and acquisitions through content, so we decided to take a break and figure out how to re-invigorate our content marketing—and content distribution—program.
Content Shock or why content marketing has become so darn hard
The reason content is so challenging is that there isn’t a magic formula to succeed with it—contrary to what some people try to tell us, neither length nor following a specific template can guarantee that your content will be a hit.
Yet, for most people, it’s easier to follow concrete advice, even if there are no guarantees it’s going to work.
Publish 5 times a week.
Write 3000-word posts.
Do expert roundups.
These are just some of the advice that leads to an explosion in the amount of content produced.
There are now very clear signs that we’re suffering from what Mark Schaefer has dubbed content shock.
The amount of content is growing exponentially, while demand for it remains more or less constant.
The competition for attention is becoming harder—that’s obvious—but there’s another effect that’s still not well understood.
As the amount of content grows, readers are much less likely to link back to and share that content. According to BuzzSumo social sharing has gone down by 50% since 2015.
This has already led some experts to the somewhat depressing (especially if you consider yourself a writer) conclusion that we should be spending more time promoting our content that we do producing it.
If you are at all involved with content, this isn’t a new revelation, but spend more time promoting usually turns into a quickly scribbled plan to Tweet X times and Share on Y subreddits.
That’s not enough.
Instead of thinking about content promotion, marketers should be creating strategies for content distribution.
What is content distribution (and how it’s different from promotion)
Content marketing distribution captures all elements of how your brand will effectively deliver its content to its intended audience.
Your full content distribution strategy covers multiple aspects:
- who you’re producing content for (your audience),
- where you’re going to connect with them (channels),
- how you will entice them to consume your content (tactics),
- why they should care about your brand (content quality and alignment with audience needs),
- what it will bring for your company (traffic, shares, conversions)—because what’s the point of doing distribution in the first place if it doesn’t add to your bottom line?
Content promotion, on the other hand, is the tactical part of distribution where you actively push your content to the different channels to connect with your audience.
In the following sections, I want to give you a blueprint for how to think about and put together a content distribution strategy for your business.
How to distribute content successfully
When we look at successful content marketing programs, we can’t help but notice that they’re all getting more sophisticated.
As both planning and producing content are getting more resource-intensive and scientific, content distribution needs to follow.
It all starts with a solid plan.
Start with a strategy
Start thinking about distributing your content before you produce it.
Even as you start researching your next blog post (or white paper, or video), you need to know what your aim for it will be—search engine ranking or success on social media—and what will give it the best chance of reaching that goal.
Achieving success in different channels often requires different mindsets and techniques.
For example, there’s very little correlation between the number of shares a piece of content gets and how many backlinks it attracts. What works well in one channel often performs poorly in another.
Therefore, succeeding with SEO will require a radically different approach in everything—from producing the content to how you go about promoting it—than if you want it to go viral on social media.
One thing that is common, no matter what channel you’re betting on, is that you need to be producing content that is uniquely good. Your content needs a moat—an advantage your competitors cannot replicate easily.
This can be the unique experience you have on your team (or through an industry leader you know) that you will be sharing with your audience.
This approach has worked wonders for Groove—apart from making great customer service software, we’re probably best known for our Startup Journey blog in which our founder Alex has shared everything he’s learned about entrepreneurship.
The combination between sharing experience earned in the trenches and being incredibly transparent while doing so is something few companies can replicate. Most founders are too busy running their business or not comfortable sharing what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Another source of such a moat can be data only you have access to.
The BuzzSumo article I referenced above is a great example of this approach. They use data gathered through their tool, which is not publicly available, to create a piece of content which is unique, insightful, and likely to go viral on its own.
As part of your strategy, you should also figure out what channels you’ll be using for promoting your content.
This should be done based on where your audience likes to hang out and what type of intent you’re trying to capture with each specific piece of content you produce.
Similarly, if you want to reach people looking to buy a solution to run their dropshipping business, it might be better to focus on ranking highly for relevant Google searches because that’s where you can reach the segment of your audience which has the intent you’re looking for.
Understand how the different content marketing distribution channels work
Although the number of specific channels marketers can use has grown beyond counting, they all fall within 3 main groups:
It is important to understand these groups in order to be able to combine channels effectively.
Channels that are directly controlled by you (even if they’re on a platform owned by someone else) fall under this category.
Your website(s) and blog(s) come first in this category, but some marketers tend to overlook properties such as social media profiles, Medium publications, etc.
If podcasts and video are part of your strategy as well, the properties where you host and publish them (your YouTube channel for example) will also fall within this category.
Owned channels are key to the sustainability of your content marketing strategy because this is where the majority of conversions will happen. Planning and executing a promotion strategy without making sure they are optimized is like trying to sail with a hole in your hull. You won’t get far.
You need to make sure you have a clear vision for the role of each of your owned channels—some will drive awareness and traffic (for example social media), while others will focus on generating and nurturing leads (your email list).
Next, figure out the format of each piece of content you plan to produce and where it will live—as a landing page on your marketing site, an article on your blog or your Medium publication, etc.
Finally, since content marketing is a lot about creating an audience, you need to think about the channel that will serve as a direct line to your audience.
For most brands that will be their email list, however, it is surprising how many businesses still overlook this element of their promotion strategy.
Earned channels can be used to draw awareness for your content.
The key to success here is to participate and provide value beyond just promoting your brand, thus, earning attention and trust for yourself.
They are critical for the distribution of your content marketing because they give you the basis for building your audience.
Except for a few specific niches, search engines are probably the most important channel in this category. Organic traffic tends to play the biggest role in nurturing growth over time.
First, because it is sustainable—ranking on the first page for a keyword that gets a high number of searches will produce stable traffic over time.
Second, because its effects add up over time. As you produce more content that targets additional keywords, you will start appearing in more and more searches and more and more people will click and visit your website.
Social media works well for some industries—news sites for example—but in general, its effect is fleeting. Going viral with one piece of content will produce a short-term spike in traffic, but it will hardly bear any fruit beyond that unless you have a solid system to capture that traffic through lead magnets and retargeting.
Finally, communities like forums and discussion-based social networks have become an important channel for drawing attention to your content. Websites such as Hacker News, GrowthHackers, and Inbound.org and networks such as Quora and Reddit are often mentioned in this category, but what you should use really depends on the industry you’re operating in.
Content marketing is increasingly becoming pay to play.
Paid channels can be a really easy way to burn through your unneeded cash (like we don’t all have some).
However, over the last years, they have gradually emerged as a good way to reach highly targeted audiences with content.
Social media ads are quickly becoming the preferred channel for achieving that.
Facebook is dominant in this space because it provides superior targeting capabilities, allowing marketers to define and reach very narrow audiences that exactly fit their target customers.
Other networks offer opportunities to reach specific audiences—for example, LinkedIn is the go-to place for B2B businesses.
When using paid social ads, keep in mind that you have to pay close attention to targeting, if you want to make the best use of your dollars.
Use distribution tactics that work in 2018
The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs states that over time all marketing tactics will wane in effectiveness.
That’s why it’s important to always be on the lookout for the next tactic that can help you sustain your content marketing distribution strategy.
Focus On Building Up Your Audience
Content marketing is a long-term play that requires engaging people continuously before you earn their trust and get them to become customers. That’s why having a captive audience is crucial for success.
Notice that I’m not talking about building up your email list (at least not just about it). Today, audience building can happen in many places—it can be a Telegram channel (especially popular if you’re into crypto/ICOs), or a Facebook Group.
Whatever works best for your business, focusing on building up your owned channels should be the primary focus of your distribution strategy.
For B2B and/or SaaS companies like ours, content upgrades and lead magnets are still key to growing an audience because they allow us to be helpful to our target audience and earn their trust. In fact, using content upgrades allowed us to quadruple the conversion rate for Groove’s email list.
Participate in communities related to your business
We all know that Reddit, Quora, and HackerNews can be a great source of traffic for your content. However, blasting links to your latest blog post on a selection of relevant subreddits is more likely to earn you a ban, rather than overnight success.
That’s why it’s essential to make participating in those relevant communities a part of your distribution strategy.
The key to this is to be active and helpful in those communities all the time—not just when you’re trying to drive traffic to your website.
Or as one Reddit master put it:
If you can’t stay active, Reddit isn’t for you.
(Check out the whole guide linked above, it’s packed full of gems on how to do marketing on Reddit and a lot of the advice can just as easily be applied for other communities.)
I know this sounds hard and time-consuming (and it would be if you’re doing it properly), but that can also make it sustainable over a longer period. Few competitors will be willing to commit the resources. Make sure it’s worth doing and if it is—do it right.
Think of SEO as part of your distribution strategy
We already discussed the importance of search traffic as an earned channel, but it is important to think how SEO fits in your overall distribution strategy.
It might seem odd to be talking about SEO in a piece that discusses content marketing distribution, but we believe that both on- and off page optimization are essential for popularizing your content.
Think about it this way—if you have a blog post that’s ranking on Google just below the first page for a competitive term, moving it up a few spots will result in sustained growth in traffic. This is what distribution is all about.
Backlinks are still one of the driving forces behind SEO success and it’s becoming harder to build them, even for brands that are actively doing outreach. You will need to find a productive and scalable way to get links for your content if you’re to succeed with SEO.
Roundups are dead.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to leverage the authority and audiences of experts to promote your brand.
One of the best tactics I’ve seen in this space is using the expertise of proven experts to create pieces of content packed with actionable advice.
This is quite different compared to the standard roundup practice of getting 10+ people to cramp their thoughts into a few sentences, hoping that gives them enough motivation to promote the final blog.
First Round Review is an example of what this improved approach looks like in the wild. They conduct in-depth interviews with various entrepreneurs and high-profile startup operators and turn them into long, extensive articles full of actionable advice.
This tactic works great because none of the content shared in it is fluff—you know that when the CEO of HotelTonight is talking at length about making the company profitable, you’ll learn something valuable.
This same approach can work with multiple experts, like in a roundup, but you need to make sure you truly add value by curating the information in a way that helps readers connect the dots.
Content distribution shouldn’t be an afterthought
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about your content distribution strategy, but the approach we laid out in this post can help make it easier.
The core of this approach are the following three steps:
- Start by creating a distribution strategy as an integral piece of your content marketing strategy;
- Consider all major channels that can work for your content based on the formats and topics you’re covering and figure out how they’ll be working together;
- Come up with tactics that can help you be successful in each of the channels you’ve chosen.
The most important thing is to NOT try everything at once. Figure out what channels would work best with your audience and then start exploring them one by one.
If you manage to master a channel and drive sustainable traffic, start thinking about expanding into another one.
Keep in mind that no channel will remain profitable forever. You need to constantly be on the lookout for the next big distribution tactic that can help you drive the growth of your content marketing program.
Finally, always choose quality over quantity. It might seem tempting to do a little bit here and there—answer a few questions on Quora, post a few comments on GrowthHackers—but over the long term you’ll always get better results from focussing on the most relevant channel and putting all your efforts in it.
Just make sure it’s a channel your audience likes.
Hang in there—content marketing will continue to be one of the best ways to generate awareness and customers for digital businesses.
However, that doesn’t mean you should fall into the just keep plugging along trap.
Make sure you stay ahead of everyone else—read, participate in discussions, learn from your competitors.
Over time you might even realize that connecting with your audience is one of the best parts of doing content marketing.