A true content marketing strategy understands the importance of a product, website or business. Now, beyond the obvious reason for needing a website (to keep all of your content, products and business online), we need to view our website as a command center to do content distribution for our brand. At this point I am sure a lot of you are agreeing with me and saying, “Duh.”
But hear me out.
You don't own more than half of your content.
Most people agree with that statement, but what they often fail to realize is that the concept goes far beyond just your written content. What about your videos, podcasts, eBooks, and more importantly your fan base?
Where do you keep all those media assets?
It probably looks like this:
- Video = YouTube
- Podcast = Spotify, Google Podcasts, and iTunes
- eBooks = Amazon, Kobo, Gumroad
- Fan base = Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
- Selected Articles (Hopefully not your best) = Guest Blogs, Medium etc.
- Newsletters = Mailchimp, Aweber etc.
So if we step back and look at the totality of our online presence what we actually find is that 60-90% of the media assets we spend time and money creating are not owned by us.
How have you been doing content distribution all-wrong?
It’s simple. The reason we find our best assets on third party websites is because we are searching for the content marketing savior: reach, better known in the publishing world as content distribution.
We are trying to expand the reach of our content. And that’s okay if we don't own the content as long as we are doing it right. You might have been doing this wrong though.
We can allow third party sites to own and control the content they have. But there must be enough juice passing to you or your company. Here, juice stands not only for backlinks, but also for social reach.
How do they all censor your content for their own benefit?
Have you ever posted a photo on Facebook? Sure you have. You will notice how you get dozens of likes on that. But what if you post a link from your website? The reach and impressions go null. Facebook suppresses the reach so that people/businesses are forced to go for their advertising solutions. I will discuss this further when I discuss EdgeRank. Even Twitter, Linkedin etc. do the same. The height of suppression is shown on Instagram. You can show links in Instagram ads but not in regular posts.
I can make similar arguments with YouTube and podcast services too.
The point is, social media sites don't want you to grow for free. Then why would you be wasting your precious time on tweeting, sharing, instagramming all day-all night.
It is impossible to convert people if they never visit your website.
What’s the right way to distribute your content?
Well, it is okay to spread your content across the Internet to gain increased distribution, as long as it points people back to your website. That is the key. Want to know why?
The reason it is so important to point people back to your website is threefold:
- It is impossible to convert people if they never visit your website.
- Third party sites own your content and your followers. At any time they can change the rules and alienate you from your fan base, making that outlet a waste of your time and money. All social networks have done that.
- Searching for distribution should be a short-term play. The goal should be to drive traffic back to your website, so that those people can become direct followers via email. Unlike your social media followers, your email list is the only list you own. The rest could be here today and gone tomorrow. That is why email is so important.
Put simply, distribution via free and paid channels should point back to your website. And your website should be optimized to convert those visitors into subscribers because it is all about building an audience.
Distribution is key, but why are we so infatuated with it?
A number of reasons, but primarily I feel that there are two driving factors:
- We start thinking about the sheer number of people who could potentially see our content due to the size and reach of social media.
- We hear and read stories about mere nobodies making it and becoming Internet famous through their ability to build a fan base online via social media and guest blogging.
It’s enticing. Just writing about the possibilities makes me want to run off and spend all day on Twitter sharing cat pictures.
My point is
Issues with third party websites exist.
Let’s look at the major online marketing love crushes and highlight the dangers some of these channels possess.
Ah, the number one place businesses run to when trying to find an audience. Search is great.
I have written a number of articles about the benefits of focusing on search engines. One of my favorite attributes would have to be search’s ability to drive highly qualified leads to your website. Meaning the visitors that come via organic search are there for a reason. They are looking for what you have to offer. They searched for terms related to your product, right?
So what’s the problem, you ask?
Ask anyone doing search engine marketing in 2011-2016 about the words Panda and Penguin and watch them cringe.
As good as Google is at sending you traffic, what happens when they decide to adjust their algorithm and it negatively affects your search ranking? Then what? This happens more often now.
Don’t think this won't happen to you? Just this month, I came to know about two sites that were banned under manual action by Google. Reason: spammy link building. Their whole business was out of Google's search results. Totally gone.
There was a time when guest blogging was considered a white-hat and safe SEO practice. We are pretty unsure what Google thinks about it right now. Once it was done prominently and now people fear Google will penalize them due to past actions.
Again, what I wanted to point out is that search is a great asset to the brand in regards to distribution. But don’t go around thinking it’s all roses.
The Darkest Side of Search Engines
Not to beat the search engine dead horse, but there is still one more problem starting to surface with Google.
Search serves two customers: users and businesses. And due to the dynamics of the search engine business model, users are search engine's number one priority.
The number one goal of the search is to provide users with the answers to their questions on the first try.
Check this out: search for “the richest man in the world."
Do you see the top results? Jeff Bezos.
Google actually steals that information from Forbes, and now a search user doesn’t even need to visit the Forbes website. They got the answer right on the search engine results page (SERP).
Since the user got the answer right there, will he/she visit the site (forbes.com). Maybe not. This sincerely decreases the chances of the user opening any page by 80%.
Not just this, try searching for best lenovo laptops. What do you see?
See those card ads on the right. No-one is running a campaign. It's all Google. These cards contain affiliate links and for every item you buy — Google gets a commission. No matter how good you write, you won't be able to beat those in clicks.
Is this good for your website? Can you convert that lead into a paying customer? Was your days of work writing for the best Lenovo laptops worth the work? Nope.
The harsh reality is:
Search is a great asset to a business trying to expand its reach, but remember that search does not exist to drive traffic to your website.
Darling numero dos. How cool is social media?
Through nothing but hard work and determination, you can build a following numbering into the thousands.
An audience of that size will allow you to share a piece of content that 20 or 30 of your thousand plus followers can re-share. It then gets shared by their followers, and their followers’ followers, etc. And before you know it, your overall reach can hit a million potential people. Awesome.
Add the fact that a reach like that can be had for free, and you have a tidal wave of content producers jumping on the social media bandwagon. Totally awesome.
Again, what’s not to like?
Have you heard what Facebook is doing lately? No?
Well here is the short version. Facebook told businesses to build company pages, create content, and share it on Facebook to build an audience. So businesses did just that.
Unfortunately Facebook had bad intentions. You see, once companies had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building their Facebook fan club, Facebook decided to change its algorithm. It’s called EdgeRank.
EdgeRank now only let's a small percentage of those businesses’ content reach the audience they have created. Just this week Facebook reported that as little as 1% of what you share would reach your readers.
See Microsoft India's Facebook page for an example:
It has 13.9 million page likes on Facebook. I am pretty sure they bought most of these. You can do the same. Run Facebook ads and the more money you put into ads, the more followers you will get. Even your posts get proper exposure. But once you stop running ads, everything goes down to null and void. You reach exactly where you started.
The only difference is that you get more followers now.
But that is useless.
With 13.9 million followers, how many likes or comments should Microsoft India be getting?
Take a guess.
10,000? I mean that's 14 million tops.
This post https://www.facebook.com/MicrosoftIndia/posts/3670902606294841 was made on November 11, 2021. It has 37 reacts, 5 comments and 2 shares.
So a total of 44 engagements.
I bet you can do better than this with just 100 likes.
In other words, these businesses are getting screwed in the name of likes and fan-bases. I have run over 20 such page campaigns for my clients and I know the reality.
But it’s cool, Facebook has a way for you to reach more of the fan base you built. Pay them more money.
You don’t own your content or your followers on any social media platform. Social media companies do, and they make the rules.
“But I’m on Twitter,” you say.
Remember that Twitter IPO? That means they are a publicly traded company. Do you know what traded companies have to do? It’s called “make money.”
Granted, Twitter is trying to make money by allowing businesses to purchase sponsored Tweets to reach more people. But what if that fails to produce the required revenue? Will Twitter use its Interest Graph to control what percentage of your followers see your tweets? They can and they do.
You can see users with hundreds of thousands of followers get 2 to 3 engagements.
Don't believe it?
This is a tweet from @gadgetnow on Twitter. They have 85 thousand followers. Total engagements? 3.
Yes. I rest my case.
Your social media strategy should not be to build a huge following on a given platform, it should be to build a huge email following.
“But Gaurav, I don’t write articles, I’m into video.”
Do you upload them to YouTube? Do you let YouTube place ads at the beginning of your videos?
And if your videos are essentially your way of marketing (i.e. a commercial), isn’t it weird to have a paid commercial before your commercial?
Or, How about the 25+ videos in the sidebar made by other content producers? Are they distracting your viewers and causing them to click away?
Or what about the thumbnails at the end of your video created by other content marketers? Do they cause you to lose a conversion?
The answer to all of these questions is a big fat yes. So why do we allow our amazing videos to be watered down like this? Distribution.
Just like search and social media, the reason we use a site like YouTube is in hopes of finding new followers. After all, it is the second largest search engine after Google.
But YouTube could easily start limiting whether your followers even get updates when you upload a new video. Add in all the other distractions from your message, and it can be hard to find a reason to even use YouTube.
But there is actually one more reason not to use YouTube, and in my mind this is the big elephant in the room.
Let’s image you have a killer idea for a funny video related to your business that you know is going to be big.
So you spend the time scripting, shooting, and editing your masterpiece. I’m talking an epic piece of content.
So naturally, because you want to gain access to a large audience, you place the video on your YouTube channel. And you wait.
Bam! It takes off like crazy. Everybody is talking about it on social media. Other bloggers are commenting and embedding the video on their websites too. Awesome.
Even better, the folks at Buzzfeed catch wind of your masterpiece and link to it, driving thousands of folks your way. This is great news for your video, but there is a problem.
Who is earning all of that traffic and all of the page views? Not you.
But your best pal YouTube is raking in the exposure you have created for them. And unless you were able to direct some of that traffic to your website, you essentially have nothing to show for all of your work.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You could have put the same video on your own website and earned every view and backlink. But the reach probably would have been less. And the video may not have reached the epic proportions it did with YouTube. But you would have something to show for your work.
My Game Plan for Content Distribution
In the end we are left with a tough choice: ownership vs. distribution. Sadly it is one of those decisions that fall into “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
If only there was a way to gain distribution and maintain ownership. While a perfect scenario doesn’t exist, here is my proposed game plan:
- Search engine optimization should be conducted to ensure that your website is at least technically sound. Meaning it does not practice any gray area tactics, because SEO should be a longer-term plan, not a short-term one.
- Social media and guest blogging should be used as part of a larger Public Relations strategy. The goal should be to use these tools to move your way up the “who’s who” ladder until you gain exposure on high profile websites.
- Any paid or earned social outreach should be done with one objective: to drive traffic back to your website. A website that is designed and crafted to convert visitors to email subscribers.
Always remember what is the purpose of all this work? To build an audience of your own.