Google has been using some pretty effective scare tactics  to warn marketers off link building lately. Scalable link building – even tactics that used to be seen as white-hat, like guest blogging  – are steadily coming to be seen as black-hat. Instead of focusing on links, Google says, just build your brand by creating great content!
The problem is, everyone and their best friend has already jumped on the content marketing bandwagon. This noisy space is getting even noisier! Over 90% of B2B marketers use content marketing  – for obvious reasons:
- Two-thirds of consumers say they feel better about and are more likely to buy from  a company that delivers custom content.
- Interesting content is a top 3 reason  people follow brands on social media.
So when everyone is doing it, how do you stand out?
Creative content is important, but concept and creation is only part of the process – once you've built it, content promotion helps you get in front of the right audience at the right time. And most marketers have no idea how to promote their own content, so it has only a fraction of the reach it could have, then dies a quiet death that nobody mourns.
As the competition for attention increases, marketers need to adopt new strategies to stay ahead of the curve. However, despite the fact that the majority of both B2B and B2C marketers are participating in content marketing, only 32% of B2C marketers consider themselves effective  at it. Having a strong brand is a massive sales driver, so it's more important than ever that brands learn to tap into the power of content promotion for brand building.
This was the issue I addressed in my session at Pubcon New Orleans 2014 : How can you use content promotion to better build your brand?
In this post, I’ll dispel some of the myths around content promotion and outline a framework for successfully promoting your content to build a stronger brand.
First, we need to establish something.
SEO is Terrible for Brand Building
Content promotion matters because SEO is a terrible tactic for brand building. SEO allows you to target people who know what they’re looking for but aren't sure where to get it. This is important for exposure, but does nothing to build your brand.
I learned this the hard way. For the last six years, I’ve grown my organic search traffic by over 8% per month. My blog today does nearly 600k visitors/month. I thought we were kicking butt!
Unfortunately, on closer inspection, I realized things were not as great as I had thought.
Problem A: Low Visitor Engagement
The WordStream blog had very low user engagement. People would find our site and stay for about 94 seconds, on average. Around 80% of those visitors would never come back.
Problem B: No Branded Searches
Another problem was that only 3% of our organic traffic came from branded searches . This meant that 97% of the time, my visitors weren’t familiar with my brand.
Our SEO was strong, our traffic numbers were skyrocketing, but we were the rocking internet marketing company that nobody had ever heard of. It was a total disaster.
Here’s how we fixed it.
Build Your Brand with Content Promotion
At WordStream, we do about one big content promotion project every quarter. In my Pubcon presentation, I shared the strategy and results of one such content promotion project from just over a year ago – this effort generated over 10,000 press pick-ups and over 10 million unique visitors.
This didn't happen by accident. I’m going to show you how we did it and how you can replicate the process.
Start with the End in Mind
Most content promotion efforts are doomed before they even start, because great content promotion starts long before you even start creating content. If you create the content first and then think about ways to promote it, you're going at it backwards.
At WordStream, we employ a reverse funnel approach to promoting content.
Where Do You Want Media Coverage?
We start with our goals first:
- What kinds of publications do we hope will cover this story?
- What kind of stories do those publications love?
Basically, rather than trying to get news organizations to cover things we want to talk about, we produce content we think they want to cover, and is therefore more easily promotable in the first place.
For example, I found that many reporters love to cover large-scale, breaking stories, especially those including visual data elements. Even better if we’re covering big brands (like Google or Facebook).
Our Big Idea!
We looked at the calendar and saw that the Facebook IPO was a month away. So our big idea was to put together a head-to-head analysis comparing ads on Facebook vs. the Google display network .
We would release this just days before the big IPO and ride on the coattails of all the Facebook IPO coverage.
The So What? Factor
The key to content promotion is having a strong hook. Since there are many different types of publications out there, it’s important that you have different hooks that appeal to their various interests.
For example, a financial publication such as the Wall Street Journal would be interested to know if Facebook’s ad product will generate revenues for businesses. A general technology publication such as Wired magazine, however, might be interested in who actually clicks on Facebook ads.
I call this having a “So What” factor in your stories – as in, “So what, why should someone care about this?” Often, this comes from finding the angle that no one else has found yet, so your content stands out . Having checked the box on the above requirements, we then created the content and published our story just three days before the IPO.
Promoting Your Content (It’s more work than you think)
No, our story didn’t go viral on its own. Let’s talk about the various content promotion and content distribution strategies that we used.
Leverage Twitter for Pitching
Reporters hang out on Twitter because they’re looking for breaking news. I sent messages to specific people who were covering the story, like this guy from the Guardian, who promptly wrote up the story and sent me a link back in just a few minutes.
Pitch Influencers, Too
Early on, I pitched industry peers like Danny Sullivan  and Rand Fishkin, who helped me by tweeting the article and submitting it to inbound.org. Beyond people in our industry, there are many other super-connectors on social media with huge followings who can help.
For example, I once pitched Tim O’Reilly. He’s the publisher of O’Reilly Media and has over 3 million followers on Google+. He posted a link to the story on his timeline that generated over a hundred re-shares and tens of thousands of visitors to our content.
Create Visual Assets
To help with content promotion, we created some easily sharable visual assets . In this case, we did a full infographic; however, we’ve also had great success with smaller, professional-looking figures and charts.
Since our content included visual data assets, we found that Pinterest was remarkably effective for content promotion.
We got over 1000 pins and all I had to do was to include the pin button.
Plan on Doing Follow-Up Stories
I think of my content projects as campaigns, rather than individual stories. I always come up with a minimum of three follow-up stories ahead of time. Think of it as long-form content  broken into parts. In this campaign, for example, we had reasons to buy Facebook stock, reasons to sell Facebook stock at the IPO, why General Motors dumped Facebook, etc. These follow up stories all refer back to the original story and keep it alive for another news cycle. Momentum is key for really strong promotion, and helps add to the amplification effect.
Use Sponsored Tweets/Posts on Twitter & Facebook
You may have already noticed that the organic reach for your Facebook posts  is trending toward zero. In addition to organic content promotion efforts, be sure to allocate some budget toward promoting your content with paid posts on Twitter and Facebook. Sure, it’s not free but neither is content creation.
Another critical content promotion channel is remarketing . Remember that the point of your content marketing and promotion efforts is to build your brand. Cookie everyone who reads your content and make sure they never forget about your brand, by chasing them across the Google Display Network with your image ads.
On the Google Display Network, you’ll be able to reach 84% of your visitors 10-18 days out of the month, across 5-10 different sites! That’s a huge way to build your brand.
Seriously, use remarketing. It’s so amazing that of the million dollars I’m spending on search marketing each year, more than half of it is being used to remarket to people who read my content.
Repurpose & Syndicate
It takes a lot of time and effort to create original research, so we repurpose our content. Talk to blog managers. Tell them that you did this interesting story and ask if they’d be open to you summarizing the findings for their audience. We also syndicate our blog content on sites like Yahoo Small Business Advisor.
Don’t Forget Radio & Television
Search marketers tend to focus on web publications, probably because they’re looking for a link. But you may not realize that TV and radio stations, just like web publications, have journalists and editors looking for stories to cover, too.
We’ve been covered on radio from NPR and BBC and on television stations like Fox Business – these venues have huge audiences, often millions of listeners and viewers! This can be an incredible opportunity to build your brand and further drive press pick-ups.
Target International Press
About 50% of the over 10,000 press mentions we got were from international publications. Targeting the international media is easy – you target media outlets that translate articles from one language to another, like AP, AFP, Thompson Reuters, Dow Jones and IDG. Also, some large companies like TechCrunch and Wired internationalize their content. Once you’ve done that, local news reporters will pick up the story organically.
The Domino Effect of Content Promotion
There’s a domino effect  in content promotion. To make a story break though the noise, you need a certain amount of activation energy, and once you have it, your efforts accelerate greatly. Make sure all of the above efforts are good to go at once.
Finally, leverage every in-house asset at your disposal, including your email newsletter, blog and social channels. Go all-in on content promotion.
Build Your Influencer Network
This is important: nurture your influential friends in the media. Don’t just pitch them your stories. Who wants to be your friend and help you out if they only hear from you when you want something?
For example, I’m sure we all saw Dan Barker’s tweet that got 35k retweets.
What you probably didn’t know is that I drove the lion's share of media coverage on that story. I was the first person to retweet the thing, then sent along the tweets to my friends in the media, who thanked me for the tip and wrote it up for their publications.
By periodically sending along interesting stories that have nothing to do with your company, they will think of you as a helpful, influential person, and they’ll start coming to you when they’re looking for a quote or a story.
A Note on Quality vs. Quantity
Just a quick note on article quality vs. quantity here: quality articles win by a landslide. This is illustrated clearly in the fact that 4% of the articles on our site generate nearly half of the traffic.
Furthermore, 4% of our content generates 85% of all of the shares we get on social media. And 5% of our content generates 95% of the high-value links.
This is why we don’t bother with crap content. Instead, we spend 80% of our time on content promotion and only 20% of our time on the creation of fewer, more awesome stories.
Set Yourself Up for Easier Content Promotion: Be The Expert
After you do these kinds of content promotion efforts for a while, you end up building great relationships with influential people in the media and they inevitably end up asking you to be a contributor to their publications. After all, you have some pretty awesome insight to share!
Become a Columnist
I’m a columnist at nearly a dozen different publications. It’s important to understand how this works, because this can happen for anyone. I started out a nobody, pitching writers at industry publications in hopes of getting picked up.
I was careful to only pitch them great stuff, so they would come to appreciate my contributions and ask me to contribute as a columnist. At that point, I’ve come full circle. I no longer have to pitch anyone since I’m a columnist there. See how that works?
A Note on Effort & Skill: Is This Really Attainable?
At this point you might be thinking to yourself, "Wow, this seems like a lot of work. Can I really do this?"
YES! You absolutely can.
Let's see, do you use Facebook? Do you or one of your clients advertise on Google? Could you have put together a study that compares ad performance on Facebook vs. Google? Yes, you could have. Anyone reading this could have done this. It’s just a matter of coming up with the idea and executing on it.
What’s the Benefit of all this Content Promotion Work?!
So what is the actual impact of content promotion and is it really worth your while? I'll tell you what it's done for our brand.
Impact on Repeat User Rate
Remember that 80% bounce rate? It’s down to between 40-70% now.
Impact on User Engagement
Average time on site has tripled, from 1:33 to 4:35!
And that’s across the site – on our blog, average time on site is over 8 minutes.
Impact on Direct Traffic
Direct traffic is sort of a proxy for brand recall, since people have to directly type in a URL. That’s nearly tripled.
Content Promotion Lights our Darkest Hour
Most companies spend a lot of time creating content, thinking that if you build great content, they will come. This almost never works.
There’s just so much noisy crap out there that your great content will never get the attention it deserves! Instead, build your brand by creating and promoting valuable content, baking content promotion right into the process from your first brainstorm.
See the full deck from my session at Pubcon New Orleans 2014 below:
Do you have questions about the content promotion tactics and strategy I've shared? Fire away in the comments!