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.
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 Advantagegenerated 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.