Of all the potential pitfalls and mistakes with content marketing, perhaps the most common is the assumption that “great content is all it takes.”
This is the belief that as soon as you’ve published your brand new, jaw-dropping content the audiences will immediately flock to your website, falling over themselves to subscribe to your blog and newsletter, follow your Facebook page and generally throw their cash at you.
As Rand Fishkin recently explained, this almost never happens. The reality, as many businesses quickly discover, is that even the best content can languish without a kickstart to push it in the right direction.
PAID VS ORGANIC PROMOTION
That kickstart can come in two broad forms: earned and paid promotion. Earned promotion or influencer outreach (essentially online PR) is incredibly important – particularly if your content is truly as good as you think it is. Finding journalists, publications, bloggers and other influencers to help promote your work can be an effective (and satisfying) way of getting content in front of its target audiences.
Earned promotion is also insanely difficult and time consuming. Influencers tend to be busy people and you’ll usually need a prior relationship to get even a reply to your email, let alone any concrete offers of help. They may expect payment, which blurs the lines between organic and paid promotion but is often a sensible route as without a solid and mutually beneficial agreement you’ll often find that the “buzz” around your content quickly plateaus once your influencers and their audiences move on to the next item of interest.
The hard reality is that unless you’re Coke or Oreo the vast majority of content, no matter how good, is unlikely to gain the organic traction required to deliver a solid return on the campaign.
Fortunately paid promotion, or paid amplification, offers us an effective and affordable lifeline and there are a number of pay-to-play solutions that can give your content the boost it needs early on in its life cycle.
Facebook Newsfeed ads
Facebook has faced numerous complaints with the quality and usefulness of its ad services but the platform is undoubtedly effective in displaying content that is laser targeted to audience interests, locations and other important demographics.
Recently Facebook has simplified its ad options, and for content amplification you’ll be most interested in the ad type labeled “Clicks To Website”
Once you’ve determined your budget and targeting preferences you can set the location for your ads: Newsfeed, mobile Newsfeed, or the right hand column. The newsfeed ad is by far the most prominent location which sits seamlessly inside each user’s feed and, with the right targeting, messaging and creatives, can be enormously effective at driving traffic to your new content.
Another important element to Facebook’s ad offerings are the Lookalike Audience tool – allowing you to target a much wider net of consumers with similar interest to your existing followers or website visitors.
Read more: Introduction to Facebook Lookalike Audiences
Twitter is another vast social network that can be useful in getting content in front of your target audiences. Using their simple advertiser interface you can set up Promoted Tweets that will appear in prominent locations for the preferred audience. Like Facebook, Twitter allows some powerful targeting solutions, including targeting users who follow specific accounts.
Read more: How do Promoted Tweets work?
Paid discovery (Outbrain / Taboola)
A relatively new entrant is the “paid discovery” model currently dominated by two services, Outbrain and Taboola.
Paid discovery allows advertisers to place links to their content inside ad blocks on other publishers’ sites. The advertiser pays per click, which is split between the platform and the publisher.
Unlike regular PPC advertising, Outbrain and Taboola both focus on editorial content: you can’t use their networks to promote commercial pages or products, and they both enforce some degree of editorial oversight in order to maintain a baseline level of quality within their networks.
Both have signed an impressive stable of top-tier publishers into their networks, making it possible to drive huge amounts of traffic to your content, which at between .25 – .40 cents per click is far from prohibitive. The two systems are roughly equivalent, the major difference being that Taboola seems to emphasise entertainment and gossip content while Outbrain has more coverage of relatively higher-brow content and publishers.
The main drawback to these platforms is the lack of targeting options available. Outbrain claims that its algorithms determine the context of the content, its popularity and other factors and then recommend it to particular viewers based on their own browsing behaviour and interests. This is fine in theory but you have to take them on their word that the targeting algorithm is as good as they claim.
The other downside is that the platforms are still young and not particularly user-friendly. Getting a campaign up and running can take some time and navigating the admin dashboard isn’t hugely intuitive. It also takes a few days data collection before you can optimise your images and headlines.
Compared to some of its younger and flashier rivals and despite its colossal traffic and loyalty figures, Reddit barely gets a look in for ad dollars. This is great for advertisers as it makes inventory insanely cheap and, because the site is organised into thousands of “subreddits” on virtually any subject, audience targeting comes as standard.
Unlike the cost-per-click models above, Reddit sells ad units on a CPM basis, i.e. for every 1,000 ad views. Advertisers use the simple self-serve interface to create their ads and decide which interest groups or subreddits they want to target.
Pricing is streamlined: targeting interest groups costs a uniform $0.75 per 1,000 views, or $1 per 1,000 views for specific subreddits. For this you can buy a sponsored placement at the very top of your target page:
With the right subreddit and some compelling ads, this is yet another simple and affordable way to drive significant volumes of targeted traffic to your new content. Detailed instructions are given here.
Extract full value
Before you spend a single cent on paid distribution you need to ensure you’re ready and prepared to extract full value and return on your investment. This spans all the way from your overarching content strategy right down to tactical-level implementation.
Start with an understanding of your audience, where they are in the customer journey and what the desired outcome is that you’re trying to achieve. Few content campaigns lead to direct bookings, and neither will the traffic sources outlined above. The intention is to connect with people higher up the funnel, giving them a reason to engage with your brand and helping facilitate future bookings and revenue generation.
For that reason it’s essential you couple these traffic generation techniques with touchpoints for follow-up opportunities: resource downloads and email subscriptions, re-targeting campaigns, and so on. It is via these direct response channels that you’ll start to drive inquiries and bookings.
There are also a number of variables at the tactical level: you need to get your page layouts, headlines and images exactly right, and if you’re paying for high volumes of traffic it’s well worth A/B split testing those landing pages to understand where and how you’re losing valuable traffic.
It’s also critical to focus on the details behind the scenes, using all the available wiring and plumbing to optimise your content for search and social, including Schema.org markups to exploit rich snippets, optimised Open Graph and Twitter card tags to facilitate more effective social sharing and, most importantly of all, full goal and event tracking to monitor the exact outcomes and returns that your campaigns generate.
Getting this right can take time and effort, but compared to the difficulties, opportunity costs and uncertain outcomes of organic promotion and influencer engagement, paid amplification is often the simplest and fastest route to audience creation at scale.