Creating great content that other websites will organically and editorially link to is a core part of a modern-day SEO campaign. In premise, it sounds simple: you create a piece of content that is relevant within your niche and holds a certain level of value, then other websites will see the content and mention it on their website or share it across social media.
In reality, it doesn’t always pan out like this. I speak with tons of business owners that say the same thing to me:
“Matt, we’re creating a load of articles on our company blog, but nobody seems to read them, never mind link to them!”
If you’re one of the many business owners in this position, don’t worry. You’re not alone. More importantly, I’ve got some pointers for you on how you can rethink your content strategy to not only build links, but to also build a community around your brand.
For me, community building is far more powerful than link building alone. Realistically, how many major brands do you see spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (or pounds, if you’re from my side of the pond) on new, engaging content with the sole purpose of gaining links?
I’ll tell you: not many. Even if you’re a small business, you should be thinking like a big brand when it comes to content. You don’t need to be Pepsi or Apple to make an impact within your industry — you just need to know what your audience needs and what they like. Simple, right?
Take this animated infographic, for example. It was created by Jacob O’Neal, a freelance designer from Portland. This infographic has been shared over 45,000 times on Facebook alone. I actually shared this via my Google+ a few weeks ago and it gathered over 1,300 +1s — my iPhone had a field day with notifications!
This is just an example of the impact that engaging content can have; so, I’m now going to walk you through the process that I take when I’m developing a new content campaign for one of my clients. Using this framework, I’ve gained links from the likes of Yahoo!, Forbes, The Guardian and more, so I know it works.
Finding Content Gaps
The most important stage of your content campaign is to identify a gap within your industry that needs to be filled. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here; in fact, I often look at ways to build upon existing popular content first before even coming up with new concepts.
Here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself when conceptualising your new content:
- What type of content performs well within your niche?
- Who is producing this content, and where are they publishing it?
- What is it that your target audiences are looking for?
To get an idea of what content works well within your niche, you can use a very handy free tool called BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo allows you to search through popular content based on a search query that you input. You can filter the content by type (i.e., article, video, infographic, etc.) and also by the number of social shares across each network.
Using this tool, you can also drill down into what sites are publishing the popular content so you can do some further analysis around the other content on those sites.
This is where I use Social Crawlytics (another free analysis tool) to run a report across a whole domain; it will tell me the most popular content produced and the authors behind it. If you haven’t checked this tool out before, go and do it now because it has some amazing features. It’s also great for spying on competitors.
Something else that a lot of people really overlook is actually asking your audience what they want. I recently launched a food blog, Pescetarian Kitchen, and as part of the content planning I spent a few weeks going through a variety of online communities to ask people what they were looking for.
In particular, reddit is an awesome place to carry out this research. There’s pretty much a subreddit for every kind of interest, so you’ll be able to ask the kind of people that are likely to share your content directly.
The feedback that I got from within the subreddit was invaluable, and it has shaped my approach for the content within the blog.
It’s all simple stuff, but I see so many businesses falling down at this stage.
I’m actually working on a project now for a great client of mine, Ecard Shack, which isn’t always easy to produce engaging content for. They sell corporate ecards around Christmas time, so the other 11 months of the year are very quiet.
Within this specific campaign, we took the angle of email vs. postal mail and have gathered a ton of statistics around the journey of each communication channel. Alongside this, we’ve calculated the carbon emissions of each stage in the process and visualised all of it into an engaging infographic.
We found that a load of major news publishers had covered stories similar to this that could be improved upon greatly (take this article on Mashable, for example).
By building upon an existing piece of content and adding more valuable information, we were able to capitalise on a content gap and cash in on some high-end links, relevant traffic and a feast of social shares.
Building The Content
Once you’ve found a content gap, it’s time to plan your approach. Finding an angle for the content is tough enough, but the way you put it together is a whole other kettle of fish.
There are lots of different factors that need to be considered during the build stage:
- What format will the content take?
- Who will produce the content?
- How will people be able to link to it?
- How can the content be shared as easily as possible?
- Will it be a single piece or will it take multiple forms (e.g., a video, graphic and article)?
- Does the content need to be developed within a specific time-frame (i.e., is it timely content)?
- How can you create a call-to-action within the content and what will it be (e.g., newsletter subscription, sale, contact enquiry, social share, pageview, etc.)?
Those are just a few things to consider, and that’s without going into some of the more technical and logistical issues that can arise. The important take-away is that planning is vital. You should be able to answer all of the above questions before beginning the content creation process. If you can’t, you need to find the answers.
Deciding on the format of the content is a particularly important decision to make. Sometimes, the format of the content alone can make it link-worthy — just take this interactive piece from Google as an example. The information isn’t really that interesting, but the interactivity and visuals are brilliant.
Of course, I’m not saying that you need to create a huge interactive piece; something as simple as a buyer’s guide can work just as well. The important thing to keep in mind is what your audience needs and likes. Whether you develop a new white paper, an infographic based around data that you’ve collected, a simple article or a video, you need to remember who it is that will be consuming the content and ask yourself, “Why would they care?”
If the answer to that question is, “they won’t,” you need to go back to the drawing board.
Promoting Your Content
After you’ve spent all that time and money on understanding what it is that your audience is looking for and then developing a great piece of content, the last thing you want to do is fall at the final hurdle.
You’ll need to make sure that you’re getting your content in front of the right people at the right time. This isn’t always a numbers game — quality and relevance is key here.
Around 90% of my clients are from what you would classify as “boring” industries, most of which are B2B businesses. I doubt that a guide on fitting the right type of commercial radiator is going to go viral (but you never know!).
The reality is that you don’t need to reach millions of people. You just need to reach a handful of influencers, and you’ll be well on your way to getting some results.
I usually break this stage up into two sections: paid promotion and organic promotion. Both of these are often vital to the success of your content.
Reaching out to the right people can land you some huge returns on your content. The only issue is: How do you reach them?
My first port of call for any newsworthy content is the press. I have a subscription to a PR database so I can pull off contact details for editors and columnists focused on covering specific topics. On top of this, I use some further techniques and tools that don’t require a subscription to a database — you can view the full process here.
I’m not going to go into all the details of finding contacts because that’s been covered a load of times. Instead, I’m going to give you some pointers on your approach. Here’s my first piece of advice:
Stop mass emailing blogs about your content.
This approach is like throwing a handful of spaghetti at a wall and waiting to see if any of it sticks. Be more targeted. You’re going to get a much better response if you tailor your content to a specific individual that you feel would find the content useful, and more importantly, has the ability to link to you from a high-authority website.
When you consider that a single link from a top-tier website like Yahoo! or Forbes.com is worth more than thousands of links from little blogs that get zero engagement, you start to see the reasons behind my advice. Having said that, it’s not always easy to get a response from high-authority sites. Here’s why:
- On average, top journalists receive around 100 content pitches every day
- If your email subject is even slightly unappealing or your email is too long, then you’ve lost your shot
- Even if they do open your email, you need to give them a reason to get back in touch
Henley Wing over at BuzzSumo collected some comments from journalists at some of the top publications in the world to get their views on what makes a great outreach email. It’s well worth a read.
Typically, each of my outreach emails to top-tier journalists will follow these guidelines:
- Total email length should be between 120-180 words maximum.
- The subject line should include an emotional hook. For example, I will often scour through their social media profiles to find something personal to them and mention it within the subject. This could be something as simple as the sports team they follow or somewhere that they’ve visited — more than anything, it shows that you’ve done your research. Plus, it plays to our natural curiosity.
- There should be three clear paragraphs. The first should be a brief intro to who you are and some very brief credentials. The second should contain a teaser for the content (something to spark their curiosity and add another emotional hook). The third should tell them why using your content is beneficial to them (this could be as simple as getting exclusivity privileges or that it is relevant to an upcoming event/topic they’re covering) and a call-to-action.
- Add your contact details and social media profiles clearly at the bottom of the email.
- Don’t give away all of the content in your pitch. Give them a reason to ask a little more — just make sure that you give them enough to want to ask more (a fine balance to achieve).
The final pointer that I’d give here is to measure and track all of your outreach efforts so you can refine them over time. This has been a key part of the success within my link building campaigns over the past couple of years. It doesn’t need to be anything too sophisticated, either; a basic spreadsheet will suffice.
For a little extra reading, you can check out my full guidelines on writing the perfect email pitch.
I set aside some paid advertising funds within the majority of my content campaigns. You don’t need to spend a fortune on this. The goal here is to reach the right audience that will then go on to share your content through social media and online communities, plus link through to your site.
The likelihood is that if they do any one of these, they’ve had a positive experience with your brand. This leaves opportunities in the future to remarket to them and build them into your brand’s community (for example, they could sign up to your newsletter or follow you on Facebook).
Two of the most cost-effective advertising platforms that I use are reddit and StumbleUpon. You can hit thousands of people and, more importantly, generate thousands of visits to your content for next to nothing.
Within reddit, you will likely pay around $0.25 per 1,000 impressions within a targeted subreddit focused around your niche. Within StumbleUpon, you can pay around $0.15 for a unique visit to your content from a visitor interested in the type of content that you’re producing — not bad at all. I’ve used these platforms to great effect in the past; in particular, when I have run online competitions.
Alongside this, I like to use both Facebook and Twitter advertising to target my content at specific individuals. One method I’ve used to great effect when reaching out to press contacts is to gather their Twitter handles and direct sponsored tweets at their accounts focused around my outreach email (save that tip and test it out — I promise you that it’ll be worth the small amount you pay).
Similarly, I often set up a remarketing pixel within my client’s website that will allow us to display Facebook ads to people who have visited their website before.
Targeting users who have already been exposed to your brand is a sure-fire way of increasing your conversion rate, and it works really well when you’re promoting a new piece of content. Likewise, you’ll want to push out any Facebook and Twitter ads through to your mailing list (if you have one).
Another sneaky little tool that I was made aware of is Social Lead Fox. This tool allows you to scour through existing Facebook groups and pages to pull off a list of the people that like them. With this data you can plug their IDs into a custom audience within Facebook ads and start targeting sponsored posts at them. Note: Facebook aren’t keen on your doing this kind of thing so do this at your own risk.
The goal of the paid advertising is to hit as many relevant people with your content across as many different channels as possible. If you’re displaying an ad to them on Facebook, make sure that you’re doing the same on Twitter as well, and keep a clear call-to-action on the ads. The more refined and targeted you can be, the higher the likelihood that you’ll get a conversion from them.
- Spend time identifying content gaps within your niche
- Engage with your target audience to find out what they’re looking for
- Plan out the development of your content well and pay particular attention to share-ability and link-ability
- Be as targeted as possible with your promotion; forget the mass outreach approach and think more granular
- Remarket to your community to increase the chance of conversion
- Track and measure everything
(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.