Over the past few years, content creation has become a serious thing for both individual publishers and brands. And although we now spend almost 4 hours writing a blog post, the amount of time people dedicate to distributing this content is pitifully small.
So I wanted to dedicate some time to talk about different content distribution strategies. Here goes!
The “Build it and they will come” fallacy
It all starts with quality content – that’s not something anyone disagrees with. But among content creators, there’s still the conviction that quality content is all we need. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to Content Marketing Institute’s annual content benchmark research, 33% of marketers who think their content is not successful state it’s due to content distribution challenges.
That means 1 in 3 marketers who invest time, money, and effort into content creation don’t manage to realize the full potential of their content. And that’s a crying shame!
So what do we need for successful content distribution?
The three elements of the content distribution strategy
Before we dive into tactics, let’s look at the stuff that doesn’t change: your strategy. If I had to put it in simple terms, I believe three elements make up a successful distribution plan: your content, your audience knowledge, and your consistency.
We’ll look at each in turn.
Quality content is the price of entry
I don’t think I need to spend a lot of time explaining why this element is important. With the amount of content published online daily, even the best distribution efforts won’t be able to make up for poor quality. Consumers are way more discerning nowadays and they have an abundance of choices. So make your content count.
Understanding your audience is key
It might be strange to include audience knowledge here, but it’s crucial for a good distribution strategy. The more you know about your readers and where they look for new content the better you can identify your distribution channels.
Having a laundry list the length of your arm with distribution destinations generates a lot of extra effort with little upside. But if you know the 3 placements that will reach 90% of your audience, then you can distribute with surgical precision.
So how do you find these distribution spots? First, look at the traffic sources in your Google Analytics and see where readers are coming from. But don’t stop there – take a look at the quality of these sessions.
In this screenshot, I can see that, although they are bringing me fewer users, I should still focus on Zest, Instagram, and Reddit. They bring readers who are highly engaged with the content. These readers spend a lot of time on the site and go through more pages. And they are more likely to perform key actions on my site – as seen by the conversion to newsletter subscriptions.
The other way to understand what are the right distribution channels is to simply ask. Create a quick reader survey you can either send by email to your subscribers, post about on your site, or set up a pop-up survey with a tool like Hotjar. Here’s an example – Intercom runs an annual survey that helps them stay in touch with readers. And some of the questions are designed to inform their distribution strategy, too.
Some of the questions you can ask your audiences include:
- What other publications, blogs, or podcasts do you consume to help you with [your content topic]?
- How do you usually discover content related to [your content topic]?
- What (if any) influencers/experts do you follow to help you with [your content topic]?
- What professional groups or online communities related to [your content topic] do you follow?
Being consistent is the long-term focus
So you have your quality content and you promote it in the places your audience frequents. In time, people will start paying attention and just come straight to your site to look for new content.
Your job is now done! Right?
Content distribution is a never-ending task. You need to do it consistently. On the one hand, new people get interested in your topic all the time. They discover leading channels — and your content shared there — for the first time, all the time. Additionally, as your audience changes and evolves, distribution channels evolve as well. The ones that worked before may stop working in a flash. So you need to be on the lookout for new opportunities.
Content distribution channels – the big idea list
The purpose of this post is to give you ideas. It’s not a checklist that you need to follow to the T. It’s more of a menu that shows you different options – and you can pick and choose to create your ideal content distribution list.
You can think about distribution in three dimensions:
- Owned channels: these are your brand’s and your team’s social accounts, your newsletter, podcast, or YouTube channels… Any channel you own and have control over.
- Earned channels: these can be any channels where your content gets shared with a larger audience (due to your efforts or just people sharing content they find useful) in properties you don’t own. Think about online communities, forums, social groups, or even media mentions.
- Paid channels: this can be any form of distribution you directly pay for, from PPC ads to influencer collaborations.
Owned distribution channels
The key in this distribution category is to be structured and consistent. You need to make sure distribution efforts are baked into the content creation process.
Your brand’s social accounts
As a starting point, make sure you share on your social media accounts. And then make sure you don’t share just once. Plan out your shares over a few weeks. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll be copy-and-pasting the same shares until you’re blue in the face. You should use a different angle for each share:
And you definitely should continue sharing your content in the future as long as it’s still relevant. CoSchedule’s ReQueue feature can be your best friend in that endeavor. I use it to share links to older blog posts in an automated way. It makes sure I don’t share the same piece more than once a month on any given channel – and gives me a lot of flexibility to decide how often old content gets shared on each social account:
Your team’s social accounts
Brand pages/accounts usually have much lower organic visibility than personal profiles on social media. This is why it’s important to share your content through personal accounts, too. A quick example: my personal account generates 3x more traffic to my blog compared to my Facebook page.
Getting your team on board can be tricky, though, especially if you’re just starting with scaling distribution. But make sure to at least encourage your team to share or interact with your content on social media. I firmly believe people like to help their company – so nudging them softly should already give some results.
If people are willing to share the content but they don’t have the time to do it, you can work with a tool like Buffer. It can link up all your team’s accounts and let you post on their behalf. Or you can just suggest content pieces that they can then approve and share.
Newsletter and customer emails
There’s no reason why your content shouldn’t take center stage in your email marketing communication. Just make sure your newsletter doesn’t overdo it on the self-serving promotional efforts. Otherwise, you’ll quickly see subscribers dwindling.
While I make sure my blog content is front and center in my newsletter, I also know what other content my audience cares about. So I make sure to give them a lot of other useful content. I share a link to one of my posts and 5-10 pieces of other useful content.
Your email signature
This is an often-overlooked channel with big potential – especially if you have a customer service team or often communicate with customers over email. You can include a link to your new posts or a top-performing piece of content, depending on the end goal you have. Here’s how Buffer’s marketing VP did it:
User onboarding sequences
Onboarding emails are usually designed to make users discover the value of your solution as fast as possible. But content can play a big role in that, too. So feel free to include links to content they may find valuable – as long as it matches the stage of the user journey they are currently in.
This is also a great approach for service providers to establish their credibility with leads early on. As part of my newsletter subscriber welcome series I send out links to three high-performing content pieces:
This email has a whopping 61% open rate and 12.3% click rate because I’m reaching out to new subscribers when they are still highly engaged with the new subscription. And it’s a great way to funnel constant traffic to pieces I know my audience loves.
Thank you pages
If you’re a product company, you don’t necessarily want to distract users with content links while they are deep at work on your platform. But once they reach the end of their workflow, you can extend their engagement with useful content.
Here’s an example from the resume-building app Enhancv. We didn’t distract users while they were working on their resumes. But once they were done and downloaded the ready document we suggested a piece of content. As you can see from the title it’s directly related to the next hurdle users will face – sending out their resume:
There might be a lot of other options for you to promote your content through your own channels – but the exposure that comes from earned media distribution is even juicier.
Earned distribution channels
When it comes to earned channels, the main piece of advice you need to follow is this: get to know the channel and the standard behavior that’s native to each. The idea here is not just to fly over and dump links to your content like a German Luftwaffe pilot. You need to be aware of what works and what doesn’t – otherwise, you’ll just draw the ire of native users who can smell disingenuous marketers from a mile away.
One of the main tactics when it comes to earned distribution comes into play before you even create your piece of content. Try to plan if it’s possible to include quotes from influential people in your niche. This can be done in one of two ways – you either quote something they’ve already written or spoken about, or you can reach out for a special quote in your piece.
No matter what approach you choose, reach out to them once you’ve published your piece and let them know they were mentioned. Here’s a very simple sample of what that can look like:
You can see that it’s not a “please share or link to my piece” type of email. It’s more of a “hope you like it” type of email. But if they do like your piece guess what they’ll do. Yes, they’ll likely share it or link to it 🙂
Mentioning brands and influencers on social media
A variation of the above tactic is to mention these same influencers on social media. They are likely to reply or engage with your post. And this means you’ll get more exposure for your content.
When I wrote a piece about prominent women articles I didn’t skip mentioning all of them – and a few replied to my tweet:
This made it my most successful tweet in a while, getting 20 times the average impression count of my other posts and generating 55% of all the Twitter link clicks for the month.
The same tactic can be used to interact with other brands. Here it is, used to mention some of my favorite productivity tools:
Out of the three brands, two retweeted the post and one replied. And the results were pretty amazing – 20,000 impressions on a single tweet for a person who had less than 5,000 followers at the time!
Reddit and other aggregation sites
Niche social channels can bring you highly engaged targeted users. Reddit and its “subreddits” are the ideal examples for that. You will need to find the right subreddit – a thematic channel on the platform – but once you do, great things can happen. As long as you’re engaged with the community and take the time to participate according to the rules.
We did a great Reddit campaign with Enhancv as the last season of “Game of Thrones” was coming up. We published the resumes of the contenders for the Iron Throne – and the /r/freefolk subreddit was the perfect place to distribute that content:
The post stayed on the first page of the subreddit for a full day, right when fans were excited about the show and chatting it up on Reddit. Two things that made this campaign a success:
- We were willing to post the content straight into the channel, rather than go the sleazy marketer way and just post a link to the content on the blog. Still, people did click through to see the other resume samples we had created.
- We didn’t beat around the bush – we came out and said our team created the resumes. The honesty was appreciated and people didn’t take it as a marketing stunt. Here’s the comment I added to the post:
The same approach can be used on other aggregation sites – as long as you keep to these two rules of thumb and respect the community’s guidelines.
Quora and other Q&A sites
If you’re creating niche how-to content, it may be hard for you to find a big distribution channel – but an aggregation of small ones can bring in great results. And Quora can be a great source of qualified traffic.
Again, you need to put in the effort to reap the benefits. And in Quora’s case, that means investing time to write up helpful answers to the questions on the platform. Only after you give some value can you promote your content and get clicks.
Here’s an example.
I wrote a post with some key tips about writing online content. Once the post was done, I went around Quora and looked for questions about writing recommendations. Here’s my reply to a question “What are some tips specifically on how blogs should be written?”
The link to my blog is there. But it’s preceded by a lot of helpful, to-the-point information. That’s the only way you can expect people to read your answers – which needs to happen for them to click on the links.
Online communities can take many different forms. These can be Facebook or LinkedIn groups, dedicated Slack communities, or completely independent platforms. There is a slew of such platforms for marketing and tech writing. My favorite distribution channels include GrowthHackers.com, Indie Hackers, and Hackernews.
As always, make sure you know what are the rules of engagement in the community and what content fares well there before you start posting.
The good news is that if you’re looking at a niche community, you can also expect less competition. And just a small nudge of your content can have a big impact. Here’s what I mean:
This post got just a few upvotes but that resulted in the piece being featured as a Must Read and included in the GrowthHackers newsletter. And that got me some decent traffic.
Social bookmarking sites
There are a lot of different channels that deal with collecting helpful links from around the web. Although these seem to be in decline, Scoop.it, BizSugar, and others are still active. I haven’t seen a ton of examples in other categories, but thanks to Zest, there’s a great place for you to share marketing-related content:
If you have created something worthy of media attention, then let journalists know about it. Make sure you do your research and write to journalists that are interested in the topic – and write a personalized pitch that shows you know their work.
A match between your content, the publication’s focus, and the journalist’s previous work can truly open doors. So much so, in fact, that we motivated an Inc. writer to create what reads more like a product review for Enhancv by creating a sample resume of President Obama.
A more reactive approach would be to subscribe to media requests through Help a Reporter. The tool sends you a digest of journalist requests. You can reply, add your two cents to the question at hand, and link to your content for additional context.
Paid distribution channels
Paid distribution is probably the easiest way to boost your traffic but it also sometimes attracts an audience that’s not fully engaged. Targeting options can only take you so far. So the key piece of advice here is to make sure you keep an eye on traffic and kill off any campaigns that are inflating your session count (and your ego) but leading to an average session duration of a few seconds.
Targeting and optimization are key here. Make sure you really understand your core audience and can target it well. And when it comes to technical optimization, I’d advise against optimizing for traffic. Try to create a conversion event for high-quality traffic (usually, a mix of time spent on page and scroll depth) and optimize for that instead. Here’s how you can set this up on Facebook, for example.
Since organic reach is almost non-existent on social nowadays, you might need to pay to reach your audience. I know, it’s frustrating. The good news is that with limited audience size, it won’t cost a lot. You can promote your new content to:
- People who’ve visited your website before;
- People who engage with your social media account;
- A subscriber list or client email list.
To save money and not annoy these warm audiences, make sure you put a frequency cap on your ads. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending a ton while constantly showing up to the same users. And if they didn’t click on your blog post the first or second time around, they’re not going to click the 14th time they see your sponsored content.
Quuu Promote, Outbrain, and other sponsored content networks
There are a lot of other channels that you can syndicate your content through. In my experience, they don’t bring you quality traffic. But if you’ve already exhausted the other avenues of distribution and you have money to spare – test away and let me know how it goes!
Content repurposing and distribution
This article is focused on distributing existing content. But you can generate many more opportunities for reaching new audiences if you repurpose your content. This article is focused on distributing existing content. But you can generate many more opportunities for reaching new audiences if you repurpose your content. This usually means either reformatting content or breaking it down into chunks that can serve as standalone content.
For example, you can create a quick recap video of a blog post with a tool like Lumen5 (reformatting). Or create a Tweetstorm – a series of tweets linked together – with the key takeaways from a blog post (atomizing content into chunks).
In this case, the key is to make that content valuable as a standalone piece. It’s about reaching users in the platform they’re in and giving them valuable content right then and there. If you do your job right, you will see them clicking through to read more from the original piece.
I will dedicate a separate post to content repurposing as it can massively increase the ROI of your content efforts. Stay tuned!
Content distribution tools
I wanted this piece to be more or less platform agnostic. But since I mentioned some tools here and there, I also thought you might want a longer list of the distribution tool stack I rely on and recommend. So here goes:
- CoSchedule – the ReQueue feature is the main reason I’m sticking with this one as my go-to social sharing tool. It allows you to reshare older content pieces automatically.
- Buffer – a great instrument to share content on different social channels and through your team’s accounts.
- Sniply – a way for you to insert a call to action with a link to your site when you’re resharing other people’s content. A bit shady, if I have to be frank, but effective.
- Help a Reporter – you can register for free and get media requests in your niche. Answer with helpful information but don’t be shy to also include some links to your own content in contextual ways.
- Lumen5 – a great video editor that is designed specifically to help you reformat blog posts. Even the free plan lets you export videos that just have a tiny end screen with the brand.
- ClicktoTweet – if you want people to share your blog content on Twitter, you can make it easier for them by including ready-made tweets in your post. They’ll just need to click, edit if needed, and tweet.
- Social Warfare – a WordPress plugin that lets you add social sharing buttons to your site. Its design options are great and they let you see traffic generated by the shares separately in Google Analytics.
- Mailshake, Gmass, or Lemlist – if you’ll be doing influencer or media outreach as part of your distribution efforts, these tools will save you a lot of time to personalize emails.
Dedicate time to distribution – it’s worth it
There’s no greater tragedy than a great piece of content that gets launched with a poor distribution strategy. A good rule of thumb is to invest as much time in distribution as you dedicate to content creation.
I created a reusable distribution checklist that you can customize for each piece of content. I hope it makes your approach to distribution more structured and successful.
So choose the right options from the menu and get to work!