The Secret to Content Promotion Is Hidden in Plain Sight

For many marketers, distribution is the final stage of the content marketing process. They bring their creativity to bear on a novel, interesting concept. They write a well-crafted article, often tailored to a carefully-chosen keyword. They hit publish, and share the article to a panoply of promotion sites: Twitter, Hacker News, Facebook.

This process worked well in a time when search results were less crowded and social media still offered organic reach. But today, there’s too much noise from competing content. The web’s traffic is concentrated on a handful of search and social networks, increasingly reluctant to share their traffic. Their audiences are more discerning than ever before. The content ecosystem has changed, but for most marketers, the distribution process remains the same.

Today, sharing a single article to a dozen disparate promotion sites doesn’t work. In a crowded, competitive world, content needs to be shaped to a specific distribution channel. The solution, therefore, is simple: one post, one channel.

Instead of treating distribution as the final step in the process, we should treat it as the very first. We start the content creation process with a single distribution channel in mind. We reverse-engineer it, and uncover the common characteristics that cause content to perform well. We build those hallmarks into the fabric of our idea.

Our new process looks like this:

  • Distribution: identify a single distribution channel
  • Ideation: develop a concept tailored to the nuances of that channel
  • Execution: bring our channel-specific concept to life

We eschew shotgun promotion in favor of sniper rifle accuracy. Every element of our content, from thesis to sub-headers to voice, is shaped to the interests of a single audience. Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping that an article resonates, we create an article specifically designed to resonate.

Today, most successful articles can be traced back to this approach.

1. AdEspresso and Organic Search Distribution

Few niches are more saturated and competitive than digital marketing, but AdEspresso cut through the noise with their distribution-first ethos to SEO content. Instagram Hashtags You Should Use for Every Day of the Week is an organic traffic powerhouse, generating over 255,000 page views since publication last year, and ranking for 4,100 keywords.

These stellar metrics are a product of the article’s structure being perfectly tailored to the nuances of organic search:

  • Add lucrative keywords to <h2> headers. Instead of getting the bulk of its traffic from a single keyword, the article ranks for seven high-volume keywords—[monday hashtags], [tuesday hashtags], [wednesday hashtags] and so on—and thousands of long-tail variations. Multiple searches are satisfied by a single article. Anyone looking for “monday hashtags” benefits from “tuesday hashtags,” and vice versa.
  • Use HTML tables to encourage featured snippets. Information is presented in a way that’s both user– and search engine-friendly. Each batch of hashtags is neatly organised in a HTML table, making it easy for Google to pull out relevant text for use in featured snippets.
  • Create content that’s rich with long-tail variants. In most situations, hyper-long content is unwieldy, hard to read, and hard to maintain. But clocking in at 3,600-words, this article demonstrates a deliberate, strategic use of length, allowing AdEspresso to rank for as many long-tail keyword variants as possible.

Organic search is a powerful traffic driver, but it can’t work unless you are laser-focused on creating content specifically for the mechanisms that make Google tick.

2. SFOX and Twitter Distribution

Despite being part of a niche, complex industry, cryptocurrency trading platform SFOX uses the distribution-first ethos to turn Twitter into a viable promotion channel for their content. While most companies’ tweets languish at a handful of likes, The Bitcoin Cash People, Platforms, Wallets and Miners You Need to Know garnered 42 retweets, 101 likes and thousands of impressions.

These metrics come care of a carefully chosen, Twitter-friendly structure:

  • Use round-ups to create natural tagging opportunities. Round-up articles are often overused and poorly executed, but with careful curation, they create a natural promotional mechanism. By tagging industry figureheads in promotional tweets, it’s possible to raise awareness for an article among thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of engaged followers.
  • Flatter contributors to encourage re-sharing. Touting the skills and expertise of featured contributors provides a strong incentive for those people to actively promote it within their networks. Write an article that makes someone look good, and they’ll take care of distribution for you.
  • Engage with hyper-active communities. SFOX’s article is positioned as more than just a blog post, created as a simple marketing gimmick. Instead, it’s a “community guide,” serving to curate the achievements of #cryptotwitter, one of Twitter’s most active and engaged communities.

It’s certainly possible that this post can do well in organic search as well, but that should be a byproduct of its performance on social. One piece of content cannot serve two masters.

3. Slab and Hacker News Distribution

Hacker News is famed for its discerning, marketing-resistant user base, but as team knowledge-base tool Slab demonstrates, it’s by no means immune to content promotion. Slab’s article How Jeff Bezos Turned Narrative into Amazon’s Competitive Advantage generated 14,477 page views in a single day, almost entirely driven by traffic from Hacker News.

That same principle that works for search and Twitter applies even to Hacker News. Identify a handful of traits that resonate with your intended audience, and build content to leverage them:

  • Tackle well-known concepts in a novel way. Both Hacker News and Reddit are frequented by marketing-savvy people, like developers, founders and, most savvy of all, marketers themselves. Instead of retreading the same tired content marketing formula, Slab’s article homes in on a relatively unexplored nuance of the Amazon story.
  • Use strong opinions to spark discussion. Although well explained andrational, Slab’s article is opinion, not fact, and that serves as a powerful prompt for discussion. Slab’s storytelling hypothesis generated hundreds of comments and questions, including a written response from a former Amazon executive.
  • Piggyback the success of platform darlings. Spend time on Reddit and Hacker News and you’ll quickly see a fascination with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos. Slab’s article was published at a time when Bezos was particularly in the limelight, allowing the company to ride a topical wave of interest in Bezos and his business methodology.

Traffic from sites like Hacker News comes in spikes, then dies off. Organic traffic starts slow and builds over time. Each can be valuable, but you’ll want to set the right expectations in your reporting.

The Secret to Content Promotion Is Easier and More Obvious You Think

Many great articles languish in the quiet backwaters of the internet because their authors didn’t consider distribution, or labored to promote an article somewhere it didn’t really fit.

A distribution-first ethos to content marketing creates better, more predictable promotion. We know that an article about Jeff Bezos is likely to perform well on Hacker News. Flattering people for their expertise is likely to resonate on Twitter. Targeting half a dozen related keywords will generate more search traffic than one.

Every distribution channel—social media, bookmarking sites, newsletters, search, press mentions—has these quirks and preferences, hidden in plain sight. By reverse-engineering successful articles, and building common characteristics into our content at the very beginning of the creation process, effective promotion is no longer an uphill struggle—it becomes inevitable, and a natural consequence of our content.

The Content Growth Cycle

Content marketing gets easier and delivers better ROI over time.

At the start, it’s a hard slog. New visitors, search rankings, and backlinks are few and far between, but each success builds on the previous one. Every time a visitor clicks through a search result, shares an article, or links to it in their own work, you’re setting the groundwork for your next article—and the next, and the next—to perform even better.

This is the content growth cycle.

It’s something we see often—a virtuous cycle of compounding growth where every new article improves the performance of the next, generating better and better results over time. Stick with it and content marketing becomes a sustainable growth engine.

How the Content Growth Cycle Works

Every new article has a follow-on benefit for all of the content that comes after it. This growth cycle means that each time you publish a new article, you do so from a stronger position. New content improves the performance of future content and grows the business in the process.

content growth cycle

Let’s look at this in more detail.

Content Creation

A steady stream of new content is required to initiate the growth cycle. Each new piece creates the opportunity to expose more people to your website. This is the mechanism that makes the next two steps work.

Network Effect

Every time you publish a new article, you increase the chance that the next post will perform even better for three important reasons:

  • Distribution. New visitors can subscribe to newsletters and follow you on social media, creating an ever-growing distribution network that can be leveraged over and over. The larger the network, the easier the distribution for each new post.
  • Links. New posts are new opportunities for backlinks. Each new link increases the domain authority of the root domain, which helps search performance for all articles.
  • Engagement. Every organic search visit provides Google with more data to assess the quality of content: time on page, bounce rate, and pages/visit. The more you publish, the easier it becomes to build a reputation as a provider of useful content—assuming, of course, that you consistently provide useful content.

As your network, rankings, and content quality improve, more people find, read, and share your content. That, in turn, improves the network, ranking factors, and content quality, leading to more people finding, reading and—you guessed it—sharing your content.

Business Growth

As content helps acquire customers and grow the business, more money becomes available to create more and higher quality content. And since you’re publishing even better content on a site with higher domain authority and sending it to a larger email list, it’s much easier to distribute.

This is what makes the content growth cycle go round. It’s also how sites evolve from the occasional, one-off successful blog post to a reliable stream of ever-increasing organic traffic.

The Growth Cycle in Practice

Let’s look at a few examples to see how this works in the real world.

These graphs show identity management tool Auth0’s weekly website traffic from the very beginning. For the first year, traffic is pretty flat (blue), picking up between weeks 50 and 75 to average out at 3,820 weekly sessions. Traffic is growing, but not very fast. This is Phase One, where a steady stream of content is required to get things moving.

Gradually, the benefits of their early posts begin to compound. A steady trickle of visitors, backlinks, and social shares strengthens their domain authority and builds a network of interested readers. A year on, the team sees a big increase in traffic (purple), averaging out at 26,936 sessions per week. This is Phase Two, where the network effect begins to kick in. Traffic grows faster and momentum is building. Growth happens 2.9x faster here than in Phase One.

Each new article feeds into the growth cycle, improving the performance of every article that comes after it. Another year on (yellow) and Auth0 is hitting an average of 116,288 sessions each week. This is Phase Three, where established distribution channels and a strong domain drive business growth, which opens up budget for more and higher quality content. Growth happens 2.8x faster than in Phase Two.

content growth cycle auth0

This same pattern repeats for AdEspresso, the Facebook Ad optimization platform.

In Phase One, traffic averages 10,914 sessions per week. Jump forward a year or so to Phase Two and the weekly average has increased to 44,601 sessions and moves 2.1x faster than Phase One. Another year on at Phase Three and the site is generating an average of 90,629 sessions per week—another 1.8x jump over Phase Two.

adespresso growth cycle

We see the same trend for Wistia, albeit over a longer period. Traffic growth starts relatively slowly in Phase One, before a sharp increase in the growth rate after two years of compounding content. Momentum starts building in Phase Two— traffic grows 3.2x faster than Phase One. Phase Three is when things really get moving. Traffic grows 2.2x faster than Phase Two thanks to several years of regular publishing.

wistia content growth cycle-1

Unlike the five phases of growth we outlined in The Science Behind 100,000-View Blog Posts, the growth phases here are less distinct. Steady, linear growth—which should be the goal of nearly all B2B content marketing strategies—doesn’t begin on day one and often accelerates beyond a linear growth curve later on.

The exact date where Phase One transitions to Phase Two is not important. What is important, however, is the concept that growth gets easier, faster, and more efficient overtime.

Stick With It

It’s common for content marketing to feel slow at first. In each of the examples above, it took several years to complete the content growth cycle. Rand Fishkin, one of the most popular and well-known creators of marketing content in the world, says he published “no fewer than one thousand blog posts before [they] posts achieved consistent, broad readership.” He doesn’t have that problem anymore, but it took years to get there.

You should see growth in the early days, but don’t be frustrated when it isn’t exponential. Publish, distribute and re-invest—then do it again.