NEWSFLASH!   Despite what you’ve read, your “epic content” isn’t going to magically go viral seconds after you click the publish button. There is no content marketing fairy. Like it or not, you’re going to have to work hard to promote your content. I mean really hard.

“Well, Hi Paul….Bad Start to the Day?”

Why the rant? Well, Cyrus Shepard wrote a fantastic “blueprint for ranking” post recently on the Moz blog (one of the best posts of the year, IMO). I found myself nodding in agreement throughout it…until I got to the end and read this: 

“This blueprint contains 25 steps to rank your content, but only the last three address link building. Why so few? Because 90% of your effort should go into creating great content, and 10% into link building.”

In fairness to Cyrus, there’s more nuance to his thoughts than this quote conveys, but this fits into a theme that seems to be gaining momentum in some circles.

I first saw Rand propose this at a Distilled conference I attended last year. The presentation was titled “F*** Link Building, Content Marketing FTW!” I’m paraphrasing, but in this presentation he said something to the effect of:

I have this awesome link building tool…you should totally get it. Every time I use it, I get links from 400 unique domains. It’s called the publish button.”

Here’s the Reality

Look, I agree with most of Rand’s ideas about SEO (and marketing in general for that matter), but the suggestion that active outreach and promotion is unnecessary is making me crazy. It’s simply unrealistic. 

We all know that we need to up our games dramatically when it comes to content creation…and a stake needs to be driven through the heart of the “500 words for $5” industry. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to conduct outreach on behalf of your content.

There’s an exchange in the comments of Cyrus’ post that captures the issue pretty well. Hannah Smith from Distilled states:

“Whilst I totally concur with investing in content creation, the rule of thumb we use is if you spend 40 hours creating a piece you should typically spend a further 40 hours outreaching / seeding / promoting (and often we spend more).

Now, in contrast, Moz has content like “the Beginner’s Guide to SEO” that generates tons of links/mentions with next-to-no outreach required. The problem is that this doesn’t apply to most people out there.  This model only works if you have either:

  • A HUGE budget (I’m talking “Kanye and Jay-Z at the club on a Saturday night” big),
  • A BIG brand, or
  • A TON of time

That wipes out most of the marketers that I talk to. On top of this, it turns out that there are loads of top notch companies that are spending big money to create terrific content, and they’re still struggling. Let’s look at an example (hat tip to John-Henry Scherck for pointing this out).

Harvest: A Case Study

Harvest is a time tracking service that many of our customers use. They’ve been around for almost ten years, they’re a trusted brand (PR7, Domain Authority of 77), and they have a great product. A while back, they created a piece called “The Harvest Field Guide to Pricing.”

harvest field guide to pricing

It’s a fantastic piece. Informative, engaging, and the design quality is easily at the level of the “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO.” I don’t know what it cost, but I’m certain they spent a pretty penny to put it together (or if they did it in-house, they invested significant time). In fact, they thought highly enough of the piece that they’ve made it the secondary call to action on their home page.

So they should be able to click the publish button and let the magic happen, right?

Well, not exactly.

harvest shares

As of yesterday, that piece received 300 tweets, 205 shares and links from 19 domains.

Not surprisingly, Harvest now has an opening listed on their jobs page for a marketing generalist. Guess what they want that person to do?

harvest job spec


Why the “Don’t Promote/Outreach” Advice Needs to Stop

Here’s the problem I have with all this…

The “create great content and everything will work out just fine” message doesn’t set people up for success. The people that live SEO day in and day out know that (our awesome customers, for example) :), but I don’t know if the rest of the community does. It works for Moz because they’ve spent YEARS building a community and developing great content. Most people don’t have that kind of time, and most people aren’t operating in a market that’s so prone to sharing/promoting content. 

Hannah’s comment on Cyrus’ post nailed it. Hannah is an experienced, highly skilled marketer and she works at an agency that has excellent, trusted clients. So if anyone should be able to skip the promotion step, it’s her.

Yet they’ve found that they need to spend as much time on content outreach, seeding and promotion as they do on content creation.

Building great content and focusing on the community are table-stakes. You still need to promote it though. 

Rant Complete…Now Here’s Where Rand and Cyrus Have it Right.

So here’s where I agree wholeheartedly with Rand and Cyrus…

The old “link building” model of outreach needs to die.

So what do I mean by “the old link building outreach model?” Well, it boils down to three steps:

Step 1:

Create a big-ass list that includes anyone even marginally relevant to your content.

big list image


Step 2:

Hammer the living shit out of this list with a lightly personalized, poorly constructed email that focuses on what you want them to do for you.

 horrible outreach email


Step 3:

Hope like hell that you get responses.

 fingers crossed

Why the Old Outreach Model = #fail

So why does this model need to go away? Well, even if you ignore the fact that there’s not enough anti-depressants in the world to make you feel good about your life’s work, you still have to deal with this…


You’re fighting against two factors that make this old outreach model ineffective, and this is only going to get more problematic in the future.

The first factor is that Google is getting smarter. If you want to bet on anything, bet on Google getting better and better about understanding what real online advocacy looks like. Penguin marked the beginning of the end of link gaming as a way to build authority…but that was only the beginning. They have rooms full of PhDs who are completely focused on developing algorithms to improve this. If you’re playing the cat-and-mouse game with Google, your life is going to get harder and harder.

The second factor you’re fighting against is the fact that the people you’re reaching out to have caught on to the game….that’s why so many people are sending emails out and getting back an “I’ve attached my advertising rates” response from the site owner. I talked to one old-school link builder who I consider to be one of the most highly skilled outreach pros in the industry and he’s getting a 1% response rate on broken link building campaigns.

How Outreach and Promotion is Changing…and How it Isn’t

So, given this, what should outreach look like?

Well, if you look at what the best SEOs and outreach professionals are doing now, it’s pretty simple to summarize…they’re focusing  outreach and promotion efforts on the needs of real people. The ROI of the spammier approaches is dropping like a rock (thankfully)…outreach needs to be personalized and value-oriented.

If you’re about to send an email and you can’t convincingly answer the “what’s in it for them” question, start over.

One thing that I think a lot of people are still struggling with though…you’re likely going to be reaching out to bloggers and people on twitter. Given this, relationships matter. I cringe a little when I write this because usually when I see posts written about “relationship-based outreach,” the definition of “relationship” is way overstated (and I also realize it doesn’t make sense for some markets). I’m not suggesting that you need to know the name and birthday of the blogger’s Lhasa Apso so you can send the homemade, gluten-free dog biscuits he loves so much.(1)  I am suggesting, however, that if you take a “give before you ask” approach to your content promotion efforts, you’re going to be much more successful.

The other thing to note about relationship-based outreach is that many of you (or your clients) are already engaged with your content communities. Often these relationships aren’t being utilized. Many times, someone is already tweeting, liking, sharing and linking to content produced by people in the community, and the community is already promoting your content back. Yet, when it comes to conducting an outreach campaign, those existing relationships are ignored.

It’s as though you’ve done all this work to provide value to the community, but when you finally actually need something in return, all that work just scatters to the wind. Focusing on this when you’re structuring your outreach efforts will have a big impact on performance. 

So that’s how things are changing…here’s the challenge though. What’s not changing is the value of volume. Whether it’s in the form of a link, a share, a comment, or a like, the more people that are promoting your content, the better

And here-in lies the rub. How do promote your content in a way that’s personalized and relationship-based…but still scales?  

So How Do You Do This?

The people that I’ve seen have the most consistent success with their outreach in this changing environment all have something in common.

They’ve Taken a Disciplined, Systematic Approach to Content Promotion

Just as they’ve developed detailed processes for activities like keyword selection and site audits, they’ve done the same thing when it comes to outreach and content promotion.

The processes vary from organization to organization (based on the team, the organizational structure, the type of site, etc.), but, from what I’ve seen, the processes for the most successful companies all includes these six characteristics.:

Outreach Specialists are Included in the Content Ideation Process. 

The most successful organizations don’t toss content ‘over the transom’ to the people responsible for outreach when it’s finished and say, “Go get those links!” They involve the influencer engagement and outreach professionals in the content development and strategy process from the get go – they often know best what certain blogs cover, where gaps are, and what topics have been covered to death.

Additionally, by doing this, outreach professionals have an opportunity to socialize the idea with key influencers with a high ‘multiplier effect’, and see if it’s even worth the time to create in the first place.

They Segment Their “Content Market” and Plan Outreach Accordingly

Typically, content is most valuable to one or two core segments, but also has value to a set of adjacent markets. By mapping out your content market, you can craft outreach messages that are uniquely suited to each segment.

The outreach to the markets that aren’t directly in your sweet spot won’t result in as many links (and the traffic coming directly from those sites won’t convert as well), but they will help your overall authority.  

They Leverage Easy-to-Acquire Links to Get the Great Links

In Matt’s post about structuring a link building campaign, he made note of the fact that some types of links involve “harvesting” (e.g., unlinked mentions) while others require “demand generation” (e.g., “big content” outreach).

harvesting vs demand gen

Often the people that you reach out to for the harvesting opportunities will also be well-suited for you outreach supporting your content pieces. The most successful companies leverage their harvesting outreach to strengthen relationships. This bears fruit when they reach out later.   

They Time the Research, Relationship Building and Outreach Steps to Optimize Performance

 Because outreach in support of content requires more research and relationship building than “harvesting” outreach, they time their efforts to account for this. 

 outreach planning

While they’re reaching out to harvesting opportunities, they’re simultaneously researching prospects for their content pieces and looking for opportunities to promote them. 

They Automate Low-Value Tasks

There are some tasks that simply can’t be automated. For example, I’ve yet to see one great SEO that doesn’t visually inspect a site before reaching out to them. Similarly, when I talk to the people that I think most highly of, they don’t send mass mails.

However, there are a set of repetitive tasks that can be done by a computer…things like collecting contact information, keeping track of the emails you send to prospects and collecting metrics. The time saved by automating this provides these people more time for personalizing their outreach. 

They Continuously Measure and Refine

The really great companies view this as an ever-evolving process. They’re continuously watching to see which content and which messages work, and then adjusting accordingly.

You can learn more about content promotion best practices in these slides from the Content Marketing Show:


The idea that you can simply write great material and post it on your website – without really socializing and promoting it to the people who have the audience you need to attract – is silly.  You can build it, but that doesn’t  mean they’ll come.

Bad promotion – the spammy, “Hey Bro, Nice Site, Link Me, K?” – is bad.  Good promotion – intelligent, relationship-driven engagement with influential people who that content piece appeals to – is necessary for content marketing to succeed.



1 If, however, you’re actually looking to send these dog biscuits to a blogger, here’s a recipe…unbelievable how easy this was to find. :)  

Paul May

Paul May is the CEO and co-founder of BuzzStream. Previously, Paul was the first employee at Support.com, helping grow the company through its IPO. Paul also helped build products and grow revenue at BMC, Tonic, Alterpoint, Wavebender, and Pluck. You can follow Paul on Twitter or Google Plus.

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