The post below is a transcript from my presentation at Searchlove London 2013, entitled The New Rules of Big Content Promotion.
“Digital marketing is at a critical turning point. The techniques that focused on platform and not user are out dated and increasingly ineffective as the web matures into a fully-fledged mass media platform.
Central to that change is content. It’s always been at the centre of audience creation and in this piece we will explore how to rise above the tide of average and into a world of what is essentially digital PR.
The process here is one we have iterated over the past two or three years and hopefully it should give you a few ideas to make your own projects more impactful.
Class based society
You see, in many ways the world of content is no different to society in general. Everything from the way we do business, to even the way you party has an element of ‘how the other half live’.
The same is true within online marketing too. Look at sites like Amazon, for instance, and how they have sailed through Google’s algorithm update era! Rules, it seems, don’t apply to all!
The same is true of content. Until very recently it was seen as a commodity, traded online based on the lowest possible price.
But to paraphrase someone much smarter, and prettier than me (see the character Gothmog from the Lord of the Rings) ‘The Age of Low Value Content is Over, The Time of Big Content has Arrived’.
It may be a little theatrical but the point is that you will always struggle to get any kind of stand out if your content strategy consistent of nothing more than a few bland blog posts and a bit of blog network guest posting.
A varied content strategy is something I speak and write about a lot. Get it right though and introduce the right level of ‘Big Content’ and the results are jaw dropping.
The web is littered with great examples of this and one of my current favourites is undoubtedly this by the awkwardly names htwins.net site.
The unique content based on the Scale of the Universe has attracted tens of thousands of links, 35,000 Facebook shares and a massive 320,000 Facebook shares to date.
That’s a win in anyone’s book and a massive boost from a brand awareness, traffic and search visibility perspective.
That’s a win in anyone’s book!
That doesn’t mean to say it’s easy. Hell no. And to quote one famous pastor
Sending out scores of generic emails just won’t cut it anymore. I don’t care how smart your clever little script is to personalize them, or how awesome your little tool is for surfacing the right sites. Have you ever spoken to a blogger about these emails? I suggest you do, as it will make you think again!
The road to success
The question then is ‘how do you transition from a process set up to do volume to one that has its feet firmly in the digital PR camp?
I’m not sure I have all the answers yet but what I can share is the iterated process we use right now and walk through a real life campaign that benefited from it.
Content quality is key
This presentation is NOT about content strategy and is not about defining WHAT to create, rather how to maximize the exposure and the possibility of a relevant network picking it up and taking it viral.
It’s also about ensuring that you get an acceptable return from the campaign.
To talk through this I want to focus on a particular piece of content we created and distributed very recently. You can find it live now over at debt.co.uk/football, but, in short, it is an interactive piece looking at the relationship between debt and football. The brief was to make debt more interesting and the idea is that the theme will roll into other industries over time.
For now though we will not worry about the nuts and bolts but instead concentrate on how we leveraged what was a significant content investment.
Cover every angle
The critical point to promotion is not to simply be blinkered in approach. Rather than simply looking at which sites you may be able to email about it in the hope they might feature it expand out to cover the following channels:
We keep social separately as it is very important to the process and it arguably doesn’t sit within earned or owned. It’s more of a conversational, or shared channel.
The next critical stage is to start asking questions, beginning with ‘who might be interested in this?’
It’s important to align the content to the people that would be most likely to share such apiece.
That starts and ends with persona development. It may be that the content is aligned to brand values and if so it can be useful to leverage existing insight from marketing teams. More often than not though it’s about thinking laterally.
Who would love it? Quite often you can find similar pieces of content and by examining inbound links or shares it becomes obvious the ‘types’ of people most interested in it.
We did that for the debt.co.uk piece and created the personas below.
This helps us focus influencer analysis work on certain niches and ensures we are focused but also work laterally in our approach.
For that specific piece we created three distinct characters that would find the piece interesting but for very different reasons. They were:
Where do they Hangout Out?
This is the next question to ask and another key one. This is not yet about the individual sites but instead about the niches they frequent. Here’s the list we created:
How do I find the right sites?
Doing the piece before this around niches ensures you work as laterally as possible and structure your prospecting more purposefully.
You can then look at individual sites per niche and begin to segment and pinpoint exactly who it is you need to contact.
The art of doing this has been written about a lot. But for bigger, more involved content campaigns simply reaching out to a few smaller blogs will not be enough to achieve the cut through required for it to be considered a success.
Instead you must look at the larger, big traffic domains that will give you the four key things you look for when measuring success:
That requires a PR approach but there I still a lot of stuff you can do to find those sites in the first place.
We have played around with a lot of different tools and processes to do this but had really struggled to find a good way to consistently highlight quality domains within a niche (what does that say about Google!). So, instead of relying on a complex system of tools and searches we have created our own tool for the job, called PReacher. It’s still very much in Beta at present but over the coming months we may open it up to the wider market (note: attendees got a sneak peak).
It works by combining PageRank, social shares and traffic into a single metric called ‘Outreach Rank’. The user can then add any query they wish and it will present you with a list of key sites for that term.
We’re also adding in advance queries for things like sites that have featured infographics, for instance and have a host of other features planned to for the coming months.
What’s the sell?
The teams that work on this level of site are professionals and they will be contacted by PR agencies a LOT. This means that an ad hoc communication will not cut the mustard and so planning is necessary to maximize the possibility of your content meeting their need, right then and there.
This means planning out possible exclusives for them. Journalists like nothing more than a piece of content no one else has shared or published and by creating as many exclusive angles as possible you will maximize your chance of making them drool!
In the case of the example piece we have followed we created four key angles and supporting content for each piece. This gave us several strong ‘sells’ developed to catch the eye of specific domains.
The plan of attack then is in place. The big question of course is ‘How do I reach the Big Guys?’ The journalists and section editors that make a call on whether your idea will make their pages?
The simple answer is that it has nothing to do with your regular blogger outreach. This is PR, pure and simple.
You are dealing with professional news environments in the main and that means really understanding how journalistic, or editorial teams operate. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a decade on the other end of constant PR pitches and know only too well how overwhelming it can be. And how lacking of effort the majority of approaches actually are.
That gives real hope to those that plan and execute conversations well.
The key is to find the right person and often that doesn’t mean going directly for the head of the beast. Editors are usually so busy dealing with forecasts and people to worry about your agenda or pitch. Instead go for their deputies or category/section editors relevant to your content in the first instance.
If that proves fruitless the next stage is to then hunt out key contributors or well-established freelancers working for the site regularly. The likelihood is they have to provide a number of pieces monthly as part of a retainer so you can help make their life easier by providing them with an exclusive or two.
Don’t fear the phone
The key to the entire process though is the conversation and that means that the phone is your friend. It’s amazing how many journalists are scared of using it in the era of text, tweets and social.
I remember having to build up the courage myself 13 years ago as a cub reporter on a local paper to make ‘that’ call I needed for my story in a busy newsroom. It’s a daunting task and one that requires practice and training to do well.
We invest in regular sales training workshops for our execs to ensure they understand how to structure a call and stick confidently to brief. Being able to do that instills confidence in general and also helps us convert more conversations to placements.
Past that the other key tools are Twitter and Linkedin to help initially find and gather info about the key players on any site and to help understand how they are structured.
Linkedin is particularly useful, and we’ll come onto that a little later. Investing in paid accounts is a powerful tool in this process as the platform’s main strength is in supplying details to recruiters. That same access to people outside our usual network allows you to reach deeper into editorial teams and to make initial contact with the right people.
Paid journalist directories like Haro, Matchpoint and so on are also great for obtaining this kind of info and often if you can’t find them on Linkedin you’ll find them on one of these. Just be aware however that some data is out of date.
Example PR process
So that’s the theory. How does it work in practice? Let’s walk through a section of that process now.
Having already discussed our distribution personas we know that we want t reach the ‘social Joes’ with the debt.co.uk’s salary calculator.
The first job then is to find sites relevant to that audience demographic and so we use our Preacher tool to find sites relating to men’s’ interest sites and as part of that process Zoo Magazine’s site Zoo Today comes up.
We jump onto Linkedin and look for our deputy and category edits and up pops the magazines second in command.
We draft a simple Linkedin Connect request mail explaining that we have an awesome piece of content we’d like to give them exclusively and that’s we’d like to connect.
Low and behold, two days later and that request are accepted, giving us an immediate ‘in’.
Before we do that however we need to fill in the last remaining key piece of detail to ensure our conversation is a positive one for all concerned; and that’s to find out what matters in their lives RIGHT NOW.
To do that we use a little used content aggregator called Netvibes. It allows you to import RSS feeds and other modules from across the web based on a theme, person or search query.
In minutes we can build a page devoted to any ‘prospect’ we want and in this instance we pull in Twitter account, news results and even YouTube activity about the brand and the deputy editor in question.
This gives us unprecedented insight into what is important to them and what they are working on. It feeds the initial opening piece of the conversation that warms the path for the pitch.
That leaves only one thing left to do. Call them.
Time and clarity here are the key focus of any effort. The best way to ensure that is to have a clear structure to the conversation. Something that goes a little like this:
> Intro to who you are.
> Mention that you connected on Linkedin
> Ask them how *Insert important thing happening in their lives right now from your stalking endeavors*
> Explain CLEARLY the exclusive you want to give them and why it suits their audience. Also that you will help promote it on their site.
> Thanks them for their time and explain that you will capture everything they need an email to immediately follow.
The final move is one we have started using in recent months as a last effort to grease the wheels of commerce! Often once we have had the initial conversation we will call a local coffee shop and get a cup delivered. It’s a small thing but can work wonders for forging the relationship.
The buck doesn’t stop there of course. Having invested significantly in big content you need to ensure that you reach as many people as possible.
That means looking for other channels, starting with social.
Amplifying content across social platforms is something we’ve had a great deal of success with over the past two years. Done correctly it can provide huge value and reach.
That process starts with understanding how to reach the audience you need in as targeted way as possible. This means mining data and while I have not got time to talk about the many ways in which you can do that today a recent post I penned for Moz will take you through that process in detail.
Out of the other side you should end up with a good understanding of how best to find the people you originally focused on in the early stages of the persona creation process.
Facebook’s ad tool already makes that very easy and you can easily create a very focused campaign from within the ordinary Ad Centre interface now. If you want to get a bit more creative with audiences the Power Editor can allow you to do things like create audiences based on event attendance, specific email addresses and other things.
The next stage is to run those content ads and for the campaign in question we chose to utilize Facebook’s sponsored stories and Reddit to reach our ‘Social Joes’ audience.
Alongside that it is possible to buy ‘related article’ space within large sites via platforms such as Outbrain or Taboola. These were not used for our football debt piece due to budget restraints but they can work very well as part of a fully integrated approach.
Optimization is something many will know well here. It’s a technique used since the inception of search marketing but in this case this is much more about optimizing the content not for search but social.
As most of the reach will come from social sharing tit is imperative that you pay attention to ensuring that when people do share your creation that it appears in the best light possible.
Many a time have we seen Facebook and Twitter shares missing eye-catching imagery, while a lack of Google+ authorship misses a huge opportunity to gain extra value?
For Facebook ensure the piece includes Open Graph Meta so the description and image really stands out and shouts out to be clicked when shared across the platform.
Likewise for Twitter ensure that you implement Twitter Cards to give content standout when tweeted.
And of course create a separate post for search benefit and wherever possible ensure it is over 2,000 words and includes mark up to satisfy the requirements to be included as an In Depth article. This will give it real standout in SERPs and also allows you to take advantage of authorship to assign some of the author equity to the brand and a writer. You will often see separate sharing of this too as an added bonus.
The big question, of course, is what does success look like and how did this particular piece do?
I shared it as a real life example. It’s not the best performing piece we’ve done but it’s certainly not the worst either. You should certainly be prepared for failure when starting out in content marketing as not everything captures the imagination as you hoped. But when it does the effect is tremendous.
Take this case in point. Over an eight week period we managed to attract numerous placements including Guardian and Zoo Today mentions, attracted more than 6,000 social shares, hundreds of hashtag mentions and a whopping 120,000 visits. That’s the equivalent of six months normal site traffic in just two month to give some perspective to that number.
But hat was most surprising of al was what happened in search. While rankings were NOT an objective of the campaign and the piece was certainly not optimized in the traditional sense for any related terms what happened was quite remarkable.
In a matter of a few short weeks the domain began ranking in top five positions for some really significant terms around football debt. Below you can see a snapshot for yourselves.
In anyone’s language I think that can be considered a success and is proof that with a well planned approach an investment in Big Content can certain be a very effective marketing tactic…”
And here’s the deck…