August 19, 2016
Content Distribution Strategies
Our team recently tuned into the Content Promotion Summit to learn from the best of the best. Here’s what we took away from the event.
1. Morgan Brown on growing like Uber
Who doesn’t want to grow their company like Uber? With its meteoric rise to a valuation of $68 billion, Uber’s runaway success is often recognized and emulated as a model for growth. When I saw Morgan Brown would share how to apply the growth marketing principles of Uber to content marketing, I couldn’t resist tuning in. The key lesson Morgan emphasized was to create a culture of education internally within your marketing team. It’s true, the fastest growing companies learn quickly. By simplifying big ideas into bite-size experiments, you can rapidly launch campaigns and get immediate feedback on what’s driving results. The surprising fact is most companies don’t ever check to see if what they are doing actually moves the needle. I admit even our team could do a better job of making sure there is a learned outcome for every campaign we run or piece of content we publish. Morgan suggests that teams practice a continuous looping process of experimentation with built-in checkpoints to understand if efforts are being applied in the right direction. He calls this “high tempo” testing. It includes four stages:
As busy marketers with limited time and resources, the hardest step is arguably prioritization. Morgan suggests being rigorous with the ideas you pick by testing only the things that could lead to big wins. His own team does this by focusing on a different area each quarter like paid acquisition or retention and by stack ranking ideas based on impact, confidence and ease. In terms content marketing, Morgan believes marketers should invest more in improving conversion rates with the website traffic you are already getting, rather than driving new traffic. But if you must be focused on driving new traffic, understand that there is already attention online in your industry. Your job is to figure out how to get some of that attention. One way is to participate in active communities like Growthhackers, Inbound.org and Facebook or LinkedIn groups (if you’re a marketer). Be an anthropologist on these channels by learning who the influencers are, who comments frequently, who shares and why. Once you’ve done some homework upfront, then provide value. You can do this by asking to interview people (it’s flattering and a good way to get on someone’s radar) or by picking a side of a debate, writing about it, then emailing it to the person you agree with (they’ll probably share it). More takeaways:
- Don’t ever do “busy work.” Everything you do as a marketer is a measured experiment with the most important step being synthesis and application of results. Be organized and don’t be vague, write down your hypothesis and what you learned when the test is complete.
- High-tempo experimentation doesn’t just apply to massive companies or those with big marketing budgets like Uber. This process allows businesses of any size to find small and big wins that compound on each other over time.
- When running multiple tests, be careful that they do not conflict with each other. In general, don’t run two tests in the same funnel.
- As a general philosophy, favor speed and rapid experimentation over perfection. Be okay living in a world of not 100% perfection and be okay with taking risks. Do simple things that you know will produce drastic outcomes at 99% confidence intervals.
2. Alex Birkett on strategic blogger outreach
If you’re a marketer and haven’t heard of ConversionXL’s blog, go read it – after you finish this post, of course. It’s a goldmine for actionable conversion advice based on scientific research and in-depth industry knowledge. Alex Birkett is one conversion optimization expert behind the agency and let us inside exactly how ConversionXL grows and measures its content performance. It was refreshing to hear that they don’t have it all figured out. They are still finding product-market fit, growing largely through word of mouth and have limited resources when it comes to paid acquisition just like the rest of us. ConversionXL’s blog promotion strategy started off by simply sending an email or tweet to any influencer mentioned in an article. Today, they are focused on optimizing for search visibility in addition to taking more of a journalism approach to their blog by recruiting industry experts to contribute content via interviews. This strategy has been working well for them so far, leading to an uptick in social sharing and website traffic. When it comes to measuring performance, ConversionXL tracks sessions to see if website traffic is growing consistently. If sessions are up one month, they conduct a deeper analysis into which articles are most popular, which referral sources drove that traffic, and which channels are performing the best overall. ConversionXL also tracks the conversion rate on email opt-ins and typically runs 1-2 tests per week. More takeaways:
- If you notice someone mention your company in a blog post, send them a thank you email letting them know you liked it and that you will share it with your network. This type of strategic outreach tends to be one of the highest ROI emails from a content promotion perspective.
- The launch plan for ConversionXL Institute, the company’s new video-based training course for becoming a conversion optimization expert, was an integrated approach including: Active participation on community sites like GrowthHackers, Product Hunt and Facebook groups. Email announcement to marketing database with discount offers. Cold outreach. Influencer social sharing. Co-marketing via email swaps and partnering with companies who have a similar customer base
3. Johnathan Dane on using content marketing and PPC to skyrocket your growth
Johnathan Dane heads up KlientBoost, a PPC agency we’re big fans of here at Autopilot (wink wink). He focused on the “perfect harmony of content marketing and PPC to skyrocket growth.” The TLDR version is paid promotion helps your content get from point A to point B quicker, by getting you in front of the right people. Say you already have blog readers. You can use pay-per-click ads to move them to the next step of your conversion funnel. Or if you don’t have any traffic, you can create lookalike audiences with your email list to get more prospects. But Johnathan says the best results happen when you use what he calls “push along retargeting,” where you design your ads to nudge people toward the next step in the customer journey. An example is retargeting campaigns going to a guide, then a demo, then a pricing page, then a sale, after a person completes each step. It’s like magic. More takeaways:
- Who cares if you get clicks and conversions but no sales?
- Be strict with your math. If a campaign isn’t giving you a return on investment, stop running it.
- Content marketing isn’t free, even though industry pundits say it is. It requires your time, energy, and paychecks of your content creators.
4. Steve Rayson on the true value of data-driven content
Steve is the director of BuzzSumo, every content marketer’s favorite spot to find the most shared blog posts by topic and the influencers they can woo to share their posts. All of their content is backed by massive sample sizes. And they’re basically the living embodiment of data-driven marketing. There wasn’t a ton of actionable takeaways from his talk (you can find those on the BuzzSumo blog), but I left with a new favorite acronym: H.I.P.P.O.S., which stands for “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.” Steve says “They (HIPPOS) always have a view but they’re not always right.” The point? Data trumps people’s opinions. No matter who they are.
5. Andy Crestodina on leveraging content hubs to outrank everyone
I’ve interviewed the Chemist of Content before. He’s one of my favorite content marketers, because he speaks in plain language and champions the fundamentals. No BS ever. He says things like:
- “People visit websites to find answers to their questions.”
- “Why are you making content at all? Because it’s a trend? Because someone told you to? These are not good reasons to create content.”
- “People think it’s about posting on Facebook but what’s really happening is brands are competing to see who can be the most generous.”
The brunt of his talk was on “content hubs,” which is another way of saying “content anchors” (see Will Blunt’s section below). Most content marketers jump around from topic to topic without any structure. But content hubs are a way to go deep into a topic to compound your efforts. It’s the difference between writing one post on lead generation versus covering lead generation from ten different angles across ten different mediums. The latter has a better chance of outranking the big guys on search. A content hub isn’t done until it ranks for your target keyword. Tough work, to be sure, but Andy’s agency has been able to outrank big brand names with this strategy. Get the step-by-step of how to create your own content hubs from the man himself. More takeaways:
- Your newsletter subscribers joined your email list for a specific reason. Are you giving them more of why they subscribed in the first place?
- The ideal hub is a wheel and spoke structure where the center of it is a keyword phrase that leads to more revenue.
- Real content professionals consider business outcomes like sales and revenue, not just traffic and conversion rates.
6. Larry Kim on optimizing your ads for low cost per acquisition
Larry Kim is the founder of Wordstream, a suite of online marketing tools for advertisers. His session focused on optimizing your Facebook and Twitter ads for a lower cost per acquisition. His recommendations? Remarketing is the best thing to start with since these people are already familiar with your brand. Larry said they’re 3-4x more likely to become customers than people who’ve never heard of you before. Next, focus on improving your ad quality scores. There’s something about content that’s funny, shocking, and engaging (think Buzzfeed). But don’t promote garbage, no matter what, because crappy content tanks your quality scores. Before putting dollars behind a tweet or post, Larry suggests auditioning everything to see what gets the most organic pickup. He says you’re better off spending your budget on a top-performer than spreading it across hundreds of posts. Larry also recommends shooting for audience sizes between 10,000-100,000. Larger audiences lead to more volume but will likely lower your relevancy score. And audiences less than 10,000 aren’t large enough to make an impact. Put simply, his goal with audience size is to be like Goldilocks, not too hot but not too cold.
7. Will Blunt on the importance of content anchors
Getting organic traffic is hard. You have to outperform your competitors with better content, more backlinks, and a higher page authority. It’s especially tough in the crowded marketing space going up against the company that rhymes with jackpot, that literally wrote the book on inbound marketing. Will Blunt’s “content anchors” strategy promises to come to the rescue. It works by creating a long definitive piece of content on a broad topic (like content promotion or list building), then creating content (blog posts, guest articles, etc.) that link back to and are derived from the anchor content. Like this example on SEO strategy. I’ve been brainstorming how to give this approach a shot. I’ve heard it called by other names – Andy Crestodina calls them content hubs (see above) and Jimmy Daly calls it the hub and spoke model. I’d love any tips from anyone who has put this concept into action. More takeaways:
- What are the 4-5 core problems you solve as a business and what are the topics you can write about that help someone solve that problem?
- Search for your “content opportunities,” which are keywords with a good search volume but subpar content on the first page of search results. Ranking for these keywords is easier.
- Build long-term relationships with the people who are most likely to share your content. Subscribe to their email list, tweet their stuff, and review their products. You’ll start seeing the payoff months down the road.
8. Jeff Bullas on building a blog with millions of visitors per year
I’ve known about Jeff Bullas’ blog ever since I started in marketing. He runs a content factory that, at one point, was churning out five blog posts a week. He even woke up at 4am to get the job done. Very impressive. His talk was more inspiration than application, which is a good thing when you need that extra push to get going. It was geared toward beginners with advice like “you just gotta start” and “being vulnerable is important” and “hustle your content.” The most interesting nugget was “you have to find a medium that works for you.” It could be video, writing, podcasting, or whatever. I dig this perspective. Content marketing is typically associated with blogging, which makes sense since most of the internet is written words, but it’s not _just _blogging. “Content is holistic; it’s anything we can read, watch, see, or hear.” More takeaways:
- Blogging is not just “if you build it, they will come.” You need to hustle your content by optimizing it for search, having an email list, and sharing on social.
- Get your voice out there.
- Writing guest posts helps you ride on the backs of giants.
- At the end of the day of you need a revenue return on your account. Are your content efforts producing qualified traffic, leads, and sales?
9. Aaron Orendorff on creating good content
Aaron Orendorff is known for landing viral posts on sites like Fast Company, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs and Entrepreneur. His piece on Copyblogger, The Ultimate Copy Checklist: 51 Questions to Optimize Every Element of Your Online Copy, has gotten 14k+ shares since publishing it in 2014. How does he do it?
1. Build authentic human relationships
Authentic, real human relationships can’t be overlooked. The starting point is always human to human. Whether you are submitting a post to a new publication or soliciting for an expert quote to use in an article, be a decent person. It helps to provide value upfront, do your homework and when asking for a favor, ask for something that already exists instead of something that needs to be written or created from scratch.
2. Create [bleeping] good content
Aaron defines good content as articles that are actually helpful, valuable, and actionable for the intended audience. People must have aha moments of sudden clarity or empowerment when they read it. If you’re celebratory and real in your writing, that comes through. Ooze joy instead of fear to build a relationship with your audience. The content creation process that Aaron uses might not be practical for those us without an army of ghostwriters, but it was interesting to learn how he does it. First, he never writes from scratch and hasn’t for the past 2 years. He learns what’s already popular using internal data or sites like BuzzSumo, then pinpoints the core pain point. Next, he creates detailed outlines using a tool like Trello. Once he has a solid framework in place, he hands it off to a writer who does the heavy lifting, paying them between $50-$200 per post. Finally, he edits the post to inject his own voice and insights, kicking it up from a 6 or 7 to a 10.
3. Give like crazy
Be intentional about the places you publish your content and ride on the coattails of publications with an existing strong readership, like Entrepreneur. When participating in online communities, do more that pasting the title and first paragraph from the post. Be open by sharing your secrets and experiences. Ask an interesting question, add commentary, and link it to people who might be interested. (And don’t ask them to share it, they will if they want to!)
4. Go after it… again, and again, and again
Aaron’s Copyblogger post was originally denied when he submitted it through their online form submission. But he didn’t give up. When he emailed the editor personally, he got a response. When trying to land a piece somewhere new, Aaron recommends a shotgun approach which involves researching the appropriate person and sending them a cold email with a full article already written specifically for the site. In his experience, pitches alone never win. Instead embrace the fear that people will reject you or not even respond at all. There is no such thing as wasted efforts. If it’s not the right time or fit for one publication, go somewhere else and try again.
10. Nat Eliason on creating insanely valuable long-form content
Nat Eliason used to work at SumoMe, and is one of the original brains behind their comprehensive long-form content. My personal favorites are the company’s posts on power words and headline formulas. His whole schtick was making every article the only resource ever needed on a topic. If the reader had to read something else, the article failed. He said some pieces took 40-50 hours to write and that he’d go back and forth with guest bloggers for up to 3-4 weeks on revisions. This is a high bar in a world of “me too” content. What Nat did is within reach for others, it just takes time and effort that most people aren’t willing to put in. More takeaways:
- Actionable content makes people think “Oh, I could actually do something with this.”
- Create a checklist to send to guest bloggers. This goes a step further than just handing over guidelines and it helps with quality control.
- If people aren’t reading without images, then your writing sucks. Your words should carry them through.
- Have something to say and say it well.
11. Andrew Hubbard on creating Facebook ads that generate 4,000% ROI
Listening to Andrew Hubbard brought me back to the basics. He emphasized knowing your audience, understanding their pains, and speaking to them with targeted messaging. He was talking about how to run successful Facebook ads, but the advice applies everywhere. He also recommended using Facebook Audience Insights. Using the tool, you can punch in people’s interests and score a bunch of helpful information to create targeted ads. In terms of audiences, he suggests targeting previous website visitors and current Facebook fans. They’re more likely to convert since they’ve heard about you before. Then, and only then, is when you should start serving ads to strangers based on interests. However, the real gold was learning how Andrew tactically approaches testing. He starts with 2-3 different audiences, 8-10 image options, and 1-2 copy variations. This gives him around 30 ads sets to test. He runs them for a minimum of 3 days to collect enough data to reach statistical significance. If an ad gets 3,000 impressions and 0 leads, he turns it off. 70%-80% of his ads fail, but he scales up the winners making the process worth it. He recently wrote a case study to show his process in action. Learn how Andrew generated $36,449 in revenue from $4,159 in ad spend. More takeaways:
- Go to forums and start listening to your target audience’s language. Put an ear to the ground for what they like and don’t like, then write your hooks based off of actual language.
- Making decisions after a day is bad. Bring patience to your testing.
- Facebook reduces your ad’s cost if it receives higher engagement. Make your ads relevant and personal to keep the spend as low as possible.
Did you get a chance to tune into the Content Promotion Summit? Any big takeaways from these influencers? Let us know in the comments.