5 Things Winning Content & Link Marketers Do Differently

One awesome part about working at BuzzStream is getting to engage with so many incredible marketers every day.  We get to work with a lot of link development/content marketing/digital PR groups – and so many of them are smart, driven people who are trying to make the internet a cooler place and drive great results for their clients and companies.

We talk with some marketers who are killing it – I mean just destroying it – and are putting up amazing numbers.  And we talk to some marketers who are doing fine and making strong, regular progress towards their goals, but aren’t getting the results they’d like – yet.

So what’s the difference between these two groups of marketers – especially as they embark on bigger projects?

We see 5 big differences between the companies that are absolutely dominating their content promotion and link development versus the ones where it’s not really working.

Differentiator #1: Investment in Ideas


The companies that win in this space make absolutely sure they get the best ideas together before they go out and make anything or talk to anyone.

They do exhaustive research – what’s been done before? What’s hot right now? Can we ‘draft’ off a current event? Is there a ‘top of the funnel’ topic we can tackle in our market and absolutely deliver standout results? (For example, the people at Makana created a big content hub around sales compensation planning. I would suggest you go look at it, but they were acquired by a larger company.)

And more importantly, what will resonate with their target audience while accomplishing their business goals?

Many marketers use the SUCCESS framework popularized by Dan & Chip Heath in their best-selling book, Made to Stick:

  • Simple – What’s the Core Message?
  • Unexpected – Violate a Schema, Create Curiousity, & Do Something Different.
  • Concrete – Go away from the abstract and create detailed mental pictures.
  • Credible –  Either external validation or a level of detail and statistics to add trust.
  • Emotional – Trigger emotions – even in B2B spaces – causes sharing and impact.
  • Stories – Stories drive action and stick in our minds. Help people get the story.

(This framework has been adequately discussed by other marketers and in a best selling book, so I won’t belabor it here. Go read the book – it’s an easy, airplane-type read and you’ll learn something new about storytelling and messaging – both from the book itself and at a meta-level in how they write.)

In addition to hitting these 6 key points, successful content marketers do real research – often spending hours looking through scientific journals, obscure news sources, and forgotten pages on the internet, looking for great new ideas and angles.  (And they don’t just ‘make it up’, as some content marketers do.) These marketers have seen that happen and been through a Reddit debunking – and know that bad research risks not only unsuccessful content marketing but ultimately brand damage.

Finally, the best content marketers test their ideas, before they ever put pen to paper or code to IDE.   They send it to a few folks, and ask questions like “Is this a fit? How could we make it better? What would it take for this to be the best piece on the internet about this topic?”

They take notes from the Eric Ries‘ school of Lean Startup Thinking and ensure there’s demand for a content piece before they ever start investing in creating an excellent piece.

As you might expect, not only does this lead to less failure, but it opens promotion opportunities down the road. As the saying goes, People Support What They Help Create.

Differentiator #2: World-Class Content Production – in All Areas

production and construction

Great ideas demand great production.

But what do I mean by ‘Great Production’ in the content marketing sense?

  • Great Research – More research, after the ideation phase research.  Great marketers understand the derivation of every fact and source in their piece.  It’s easier than ever to do your own research – tools like Google Consumer Surveys, Ask Your Target Market, and Mechanical Turk enable marketers to do academic-quality research in time periods measured in days – using only their credit cards.
  • Great Forms – Does the mode of conveyance used uniquely suit the content? Winning marketers have fully moved beyond the ‘500 word article with 2 stock photos’ into multiple, interactive forms. Some of the best content marketers we work with have fully embraced interactive content – like checklists, interactive infographics, interactive data visualizations with D3.JS or the like,
  • Great Writing – Far and beyond the simple ‘correct spelling and grammar’, these marketers truly get the best, most effective words they can into their pieces.  Often that means brainstorming hundreds of titlestesting messaging with CPC ads on search engines or social networks, and embracing long-form content.
  • Great Design – Successful marketers understand that website trust is largely formed from first impressions, often based on design.  Accordingly, they use all of the elements of design – good layout, typography, color, etc. to align with the message of their content and take the time to do it right so it conveys instant trust to the visitor.

Fundamentally, they make something impressive that they’re excited to show people.  Which fits perfectly into their next task – promoting their content.

Differentiator #3: Savvy, Aggressive Promotion


Winning content marketers understand that success in promotion is not random, but the result of a combination of good process and hard work (along with the two previous elements we discussed). While results aren’t predictable and you never know what will hit and what won’t, you can take an ordered approach to promotion and achieve maximum reach.

Before they ever begin, they’re thinking about their audience – “Who is this content for? How will they help me accomplish my goals?  Is it for customers or an adjacent content market? Which potential new customers? Where do they hang out? What do they like? How would they describe this?”

Next, after they’ve done their research, they plan what is effectively a launch campaign around that piece of content. Remember those initial influencers we talked about in the ‘Ideas’ section? Now they’re the first people these smart marketers approach, hoping for a friendly reaction. (after all, they helped.)

Alternatively, sometimes they give the largest of publications an exclusive – guaranteeing placement at the top of the market.

Next, they reach out to people like their customers (if their customers link…), often using something like FullContact to get a better idea of the influencers on their list.

Then they follow through with the mid- and long-tail of the blogosphere, making sure to get every placement, link, and mention possible.    (Often they’ll use a blogger outreach CRM like BuzzStream to help organize and measure this process.)

And while they’re doing all of this outreach, they’re doing an advertising launch to savvy audiences – using social advertising and ‘native’ ad tools like Reddit Ads, Promoted Tweets, Facebook Ads to target engaged social and web users – and working towards the goal of being seen everywhere.

Differentiator #4: Adoption of a Long-Term Mindset

Content marketing requires a different mindset then traditional ad campaigns – Content Marketing is Accumulative. It compounds. In many ways, it looks more like building a brand over the long term rather than short-term, largely indepenent campaigns.

While each ‘push’ may look like a campaign, the results are not independent – over time, they grow and make everything you do effective.

As content marketing programs grow, they become ‘flywheels‘ – self-reinforcing marketing programs.   Every piece gets incrementally easier as your organization both learns to do great marketing and your brand and audience grow.

It’s after the audience and brand have grown for some time do the remarkable parts of content marketing – becoming the center of conversation in your industry – begin.

And this is where savvy marketers manage expectations differently – they set the expectation that while no one piece will ever do that much (and if it does, it’s largely due to good luck), 10 or 20 pieces over a year will have a massive impact.

Differentiator #5: Holistic, Multi-Attribute Measurement


Despite this long term pay-off, many organizations  are impatient for short-term results.  After all, after spending thousands of dollars on a piece of content and hours brainstorming and socializing it with influencers, when it doesn’t deliver tons of traffic and leads initially, expectations aren’t met and management can be very disappointed.

Winning content marketers understand content marketing can achieve many goals up and down the customer lifecycle. It can:

  • Build Your Brand in Customer’s Mind – Through direct exposure or media or press mentions, the right pieces of content (when promoted heavily) can do wonders for brand affinity and recognition.
  • Attract Links to Your Website to Improve Search Engine Results – Savvy marketers even think about integrating links to product or landing pages into their content pieces itself, effectively increasing not only site-wide domain authority but funneling link equity down to individual pages.
  • Get Shared Across Social Media, Building Buzz and Your Social Accounts – The right kind of marketing can build tremendous buzz across socials, as well as grow your social audience.  Often savvy marketers repurpose large content into images and/or quotes that can be particularly effective for networks like Facebook & Twitter, as well as build follow/fan/like mechanisms into large content pieces.
  • Acquire Sign-ups for Email Lists or RSS Feeds – These assets are typically phenomenally profitable to build out over time – email marketing can have an incredible ROI.  Content pieces can help marketers grow their email audiences at a very reasonable rate.
  • Build Cookie Pools for Retargeting and Remarketing – Content can be a valuable tool for creating targeted ad pools, which can be later converted at leisure.
  • Direct Sales – Content marketing can drive direct sales, in addition to all of these other metrics. However, in my experience I have yet to see a content asset (aimed at top of funnel) drive tons of direct sales – think direct sales might be able to pay for the asset, but the real ROI is in top-of-funnel awareness/list building/retention/branding.
  • Lead Nurturing and Building a Continuing Relationship with Customers Who Aren’t Qualified Yet – Lead nurturing can be another outlet for your content, moving customers down the funnel and getting them ready to further engage with your company.
  • Improving Retention and Customer Adoption – Retention marketing is another phenomenally profitable area for companies to invest it – if content investments can both serve existing customers and new customers, they can be very high ROI.
  • Future Marketing Opportunities Obtained through Publishing Great Content – Great content, well-published and promoted – will often open new earned media channels – new speaking opportunities, press write-ups, and blog mentions will emerge.  These ‘second degree’ opportunities are often very powerful and not easy to create, so this can represent even more long-term ROI.

Savvy marketers understand that while some of these are easy to measure, some of these are basically impossible to assess in your web analytics.  But just because something is hard to measure doesn’t mean there’s no value – often that value is important – and frequently overlooked by others in the space taking an exclusively-metrics driven approach.

The best content marketers are data-informed and measure KPIs, but they also understand the importance of optimizing across a number of factors, some of which are difficult to measure.  Successful marketers have set these expectations internally and deliver on them.


Content marketing is challenging – now that every company (particularly in B2B) is investing heavily in content marketing, how do you stand out?  These 5 key areas – better foundational concepts, better execution of content, better outreach and marketing combined with a long-term mindset and a multi-faceted measurement scheme – make the difference between adequate returns and market-leading success.

(Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)


  • Ian

    I do agree with Shabbir. These things are all goods but hard to do. We all know how importan of doing defferent in marketing but it depends of lots things, especialy small business be bounded by budget and resources.

  • I always just think if something’s hard for me, most other people and companies won’t be willing or able to do it. And thus competitive advantage is born.
    Thanks for the comment, Ian.

  • Hey Matt,

    #3 is where most marketers fail, I think. There is probably a lot of great content on the web that goes unnoticed because the creators are just not that savvy at marketing.

    It’s also the most difficult, especially when you are just starting out and have maybe 20 social media followers on all of your accounts!

  • Thanks for dropping by Shabbir.

    So I’ve seen basically all the variants of these problem –
    where people don’t start with a good idea and then wonder why it doesn’t work, (this is hardest for big companies with old school marketers that want to talk only about themselves)
    when they produce low quality stuff and wonder why people won’t put it on their site, (this is hardest for under-resourced marketers at smaller organizations)
    when people don’t promote their content and wonder why no one sees it, (this one is, strangely, done pretty much across the board, from big to small companies)
    when people don’t learn from their successes and failures, (also oddly widely distributed)
    and when people make one good content piece and wonder why gold is not rained down upon their heads (mostly at smaller companies).

    All of this stuff has to work together for companies to really get their engine going – and when it does, they can see outsized results.

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