Posted by SamuelScott
This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.
Image: Flickr user nickrate
We all know content is king, but if your content marketing plan consists of blindly publishing daily blog posts on your website or submitting countless bylined articles (i.e., guest posts) to random outlets, your king will turn into the court jester.
Marketing must have a sound strategy behind it to be successful. To help the Moz community maximize the return on investment of their content, I want to share a strategy I used in my prior position as a senior director at a global agency, and continue to use as a digital marketing and communications consultant.
What is content, exactly?
First, it is important to know that content is not simply something used to get links. As I explained in a Mozinar and a subsequent blog post on integrating digital marketing and public relations, content is essential to any business’s overall marketing and communications strategy. Its functions include:
- Goal Identification
- Audience Research
- Messaging and Positioning
- Channel Research
- Content Creation
- Campaign Execution
- Measuring Results
To use an example from the earlier post:
A sender decides upon a message. The message is packaged into a piece of content. The content is transmitted via a desired channel. The channel delivers the content to the receiver. Marketing is essentially sending a message that is packaged as a piece of content to a receiver via a channel.
Content is merely the vehicle that contains a desired marketing message that is then transmitted via a channel to an audience.
The big idea
In case you haven’t heard, the newest thing is for brands to become publishers that create content.
While I was visiting SMX West in 2014, I heard this wonderful talk from Brian Clark of Copyblogger (see the SlideShare here):
The core message: Brands that become online media companies will dominate the Internet Age. One of Clark’s examples: Netflix went from merely distributing content (in the form of TV shows and movies) to creating content.
The strategy makes sense because the more content brands produce, the more likely it is that their content will be shared on social media, the more brand awareness they will generate and the more chances there are for the content to garner links. In the end, the act of becoming a media company is a way to increase overall online engagement, which is an important ranking factor many SEOs are neglecting.
As more and more brands become publishers, marketers have more and more places to publish. However, we cannot effectively target all of these places, especially when our own websites need content.
The key is to develop a strategic approach to content marketing.
The different types of content
In general, there is owned media and earned media. (There is also paid media, but that mainly refers to paying to get earned content placement on a website.)
- Owned media is content you publish on outlets you own (e.g., your website)
- Earned media is content other outlets freely give you (e.g., bylined articles and news coverage)
Here is the central question I wish to address: When should you use owned versus owned media? In other words: Say you create a great piece of content. When should you publish it on your website and when should you publish it somewhere else? Owned and earned media have their benefits and drawbacks.
For an in-depth look on online branding and the different types of media, I invite you to read this detailed essay by Will Critchlow on Moz.
Why you should use owned media
- You will own the content forever. If you publish, say, a blog post on your company website, then you will own and have access to that document for as long as you own your website. However, you have no guarantee of how long your content will remain on another website.
- Your website can rank in the search engines. Why should another website receive the search benefits of your hard work? If I write an e-book that targets a keyword theme addressing informational queries, I want my website to rank for those search terms for the foreseeable future to generate top-of-the-funnel awareness.
- It enhances brand building. The more you publish (and promote), the more your brand authority will grow over time as the content gets traffic, news coverage, mentions, and links.
Why you should use earned media
- You can use someone else’s audience. A bylined article or news coverage about you on a website or publication read by 100,000 people provides invaluable exposure.
- You can earn links. As Jen Lopez explained here, you should not be submitting countless, short guest posts to random websites to get links. A targeted post on a respected website can gain numerous links for your brand.
- You can likely build brand awareness more quickly. Building a brand on your own can take a long time, especially if you are a new business or startup with few readers and social followers. At my prior agency, we got an unknown CEO interviewed or published in what the public relations industry refers to as “Tier 3 outlets.” Then, we took those interviews to “Tier 2 outlets” as proof that he was an influencer worthy to quote or be published in their outlets. From there we went to “Tier 1 outlets” for coverage. This had a tremendous positive impact for the business overall.
How to decide?
Image: Flickr user ralphpaglia
Obviously, there are benefits to using both owned and earned media. But a lot of the time, a single piece of content can only be used in one or the other channel. (See the last part of this article for important exceptions!)
Here is the rule I use for both clients and for myself:
Owned media is used for your long-term marketing goals. Earned media is used for your short-term marketing goals.
Now, graphic design is not one of my strong points (I’m personally more of a writer), but I’ve created a simple guide to illustrate that rule:
Here are some specific examples I’ve seen and used:
- Is it an attempt to rank highly in search results for a certain keyword theme over time? An example would be an essay that addresses a pain point your target customers have, one they would attempt to address by searching Google. At my prior agency, I wrote a guide to international SEO a few years ago. Last I checked, the agency still ranked in the top four for searches relating to “international SEO strategy” because of that document.
- Is it part of your sales funnel? Perhaps the sidebar of your website includes a call-to-action to download an e-book. Of course, people would have to provide an e-mail address, and the e-book could contain links to product pages and sales representatives.
- Is it meant to introduce and/or brand yourself to a targeted audience? A client at my prior agency was a mobile advertising network. We had gotten bylined opinion articles for the CEO on major websites that are all about mobile devices and Internet advertising. Over time, the CEO received more and more attention from larger and larger publications, which helped his personal brand and that of the company’s as well. (This is the real reason for so-called guest posting.)
- Is it meant to generate more immediate sales and/or social media followers? If your company is in a B2B industry, for example, then LinkedIn is an obvious platform on which to publish. By posting on LinkedIn Pulse, you can get more followers of the author’s profile (see an important thought below on company versus individual branding) business connections, leads, and thought leadership.
Internal content strategy for companies
Image: Flickr user fletcherprince
With LinkedIn, internal branding decisions need to be made because the platform allows only individuals to publish content. So, if your business has a great piece of content for a B2B audience for LinkedIn Pulse or another similar outlet, you must decide who publishes it.
Here’s a brief outline of the strategy I recommend:
- Determine who can or should represent the company in some public capacity
- Decide what specific area each person will focus on based on his or her interests and expertise
- Determine who should produce the content
As a hypothetical example, imagine a startup has a mobile app that helps companies create and manage online communities. Here is how duties could be divided up:
- The CEO would discuss topics that relate to founding and running a high-tech startup
- The vice president of products would focus on technology and cater his discussions to such matters
- The vice president of marketing would write and speak about community management
It’s crucial that your business divides content and PR duties among the senior staff. Plus, if multiple people are representing the company, there’s greater potential for coverage and exposure.
How to combine owned and earned media
Of course, a lot of your content might not fit neatly into one of the two buckets above. You don’t always have to choose one or the other.
The important point to understand is every third-party publisher is different and has its own rules. It’s crucial to know them so that you do not violate their policies and thereby risk losing the resulting exposure.
When you cannot republish earned media
Moz has a rule that contributors cannot republish posts on their own websites. So, whenever I publish an article here, I do the following:
- Publish a post on my blog with an excerpt (usually the first paragraph or two) with a call-to-action to visit Moz for the full article
- Set the post on my blog to no-index and the canonical URL to that of the Moz post
- If someone clicks the Twitter share widget on the specific post on my website, the share dialogue uses the canonical URL (to Moz)
This way, we both benefit. Moz gets the due credit (from Google and more), and my blog’s subscribers see that I have published the article (on Moz). I would use this strategy when publishing content on third-party networks that do not allow republishing.
When you can republish earned media
LinkedIn Pulse, for example, allows anyone to publish a lengthy essay, and the website seems to use a combination of algorithms and human editors to decide which essays to promote on specific channels (such as Marketing Strategy or Social Media) and on the website’s homepage.
While LinkedIn does allow you to publish content that has already been published elsewhere, the brand tends to more actively promote original content.
Here’s what I do to maximize the benefits from LinkedIn Pulse:
- I publish the content on my personal blog
- Then I immediately post the content to Google+
- Both of those actions “tell” Google that my website was the original publisher (see this post by Cyrus Shepard on how quickly Google indexes content that is posted to Google+)
- After about 15 to 30 minutes, I post the content to LinkedIn Pulse
- LinkedIn is more likely to promote the content then because it is not yet detectable in Google’s SERPs
Images: Personal screenshots
This strategy can be used to your advantage. If you publish content on a third-party website, you might be able to convince them to set a canonical tag to your original post on your website.
Note: the rel=canonical tag is only a suggestion to Google. If another website publishes a post with a canonical tag to your website, the search engine may still choose to make that website the authoritative copy. I would also add a text link somewhere in the body of the post with wording such as “Originally published…”. Matt Cutts has also recommended that the tag be placed as close to the top of <head> section of code as possible.
But even in cases where the canonical tag is not an option, you can still publish the same content in multiple locations, provided one of several provisions is in place.
The main takeaway
The content marketing strategy for your own website (owned media) should focus on organic search and your sales funnel. The content marketing strategy for publishing and getting coverage elsewhere (earned media) should focus on your public relations and publicity goals (see my Moz essay on the basic principles of PR).
Both inbound and outbound marketing are crucial in any overall marketing strategy. Strategic deployment is the key.
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