Most people think content marketing means publishing new content often, to try to reach as many people as possible.
The problem with this strategy is you end up not devoting enough time to create and promote each piece of content. In a world saturated of content, that’s a strategy that is doomed to fail.
We feel that a much better, sustainable approach to content marketing is publishing and promoting a single, truly epic piece of content every few months.
What? Isn’t a few months way too long in a world where the average life of a social media update is just a few minutes?
Let me explain our approach. In order to produce epic content, you need time. You can’t publish epic content every day.
Moreover, since you’ve devoted so much time and effort to create it, it makes sense to allocate a substantial amount of time to promote it.
This is important, because promotion will decide almost as much as the quality of your content whether you succeed or fail.
Content marketing only works when you create top quality content AND then promote it like crazy among influencers and power users in your niche.
This is what we’ve done (not once, but twice) with our Web & Graphic Design Trendsseries, two posts which have earned more than 180,000 thousand visits to our website and Medium publication since December 2015 (plus 100,000 views for the Spanish versions).
In this post, we’ll walk you through the process:
1. Choosing the right topic
Don’t fool yourself: You can only produce epic content around a topic that you’re an expert on and passionate about.
There are hundreds of technical guides about how to find the easiest or most profitable keywords. We feel that a more effective strategy is choosing a cluster of keywords around a topic in your field that has substantial search volume and where you are confident that you can produce better or more complete content than what’s already ranking in Google.
If you can do that, then you shouldn’t be so obsessed about building links for SEO purposes, but rather about promoting your content and reaching the key users that will ignite the sharing process.
If you’ve created a comprehensive and well structured article around your chosen topic, the other steps of the process will fall in place, as you’ll see in this guide.
Now to our case study. Since we’re a graphic design agency, we decided to focus on all the keywords around graphic or web design trends that included the new year modifier.
These keywords get significant traffic all throughout the year, with big spikes around the beginning and end of the year.
Keep in mind that these are pretty broad and quite likely difficult to rank keywords. Competition is hard. But we didn’t discard them, to pursue instead a more “niche” and easier to rank keyword. Why?
We felt that, even though we would be competing against big agency names like Column Five and Mosaic Media, which surely employ a bigger team and budget for content creation, we could create a more useful and comprehensive guide than anything created so far.
Plus, with this kind of keyword, every new year everybody starts over with a clean sheet– since no one is interested in checking out a post for last year’s trends, even if Google is still ranking that one on the top spot.
Moreover, we saw most of the existing in-depth posts seemed to be addressed to design professionals, not to a general audience. There was opportunity staring right at us.
I mean, if you run a blog or an online business, odds are that you might want to check out the latest web design trends, but you won’t understand or want to read web designer jargon. So we decided to try to explain the new trends in easy terms. That would be our unique angle.
2. Creating your truly epic content – Don’t skimp on this!
This was October 2015. We spent a month creating and polishing our post, which would list 16 trends with as much detail we could offer, without overwhelming anyone not making a living out of graphic design.
The final touch was practicing what we preach. We created quality custom-made illustrations for each of the trends, ensuring that the article would have an unique, eye-catching visual style.
In the end, it all goes back to the “talk about what you know” principle, and make sure you can prove it.
3. Choosing your main distribution platforms
We published the original post on our website on December 1st. But that wasn’t enough. You can’t expect to magically reach a big audience from a website that usually doesn’t get that much traffic.
You need to build traction. For us, the perfect platform to do that was Medium.
Thousands of bloggers, entrepreneurs, startup founders or just people who are interested on design browse Medium daily.
For you, your ideal distribution platform could be Linkedin, Reddit, etc. Rather than trying all of them without focusing on any, find out on advance where your crowd and power users hang out. Then, promote and promote until people start noticing and sharing on their own.
4. Promoting to influencers and people likely to share
A second channel we leveraged was Twitter. Since Twitter users share several daily posts on average, it’s easier to get people to share your content, providing that you target the right people.
Turns out there’s an amazing tool that will tell you what the most popular content on your niche is, and who shared it on Twitter: Buzzsumo. So we used Buzzsumo to generate a list of power users who had shared similar content to ours in the past.
All we had to do was mention them and tell them we had a great piece of content that they might be interested in.
Not all of them shared it, but a big percentage did. That helped us get the ball rolling.
5. Experimenting with title, description and other elements
We quickly saw that people were more likely to share when we pointed them to the Medium post, than if we told them about the post on our site.
So we stopped promoting the post on our blog and focused 100% on promoting the Medium post.
We also decided on changing the title of the post. We had initially titled the post “16 Web & Graphic Design Predictions For 2016” (we were still on 2015), but we saw that we got more shares when we used an alternative title we were testing: “16 Web & Graphic Design Trends To Watch For In 2016”.
That’s the title our influencers and power users seemed to favor, and that’s the title we decided to stick with.
Takeaway: When you are trying to get people to share your content, just “kill your darlings”. Let people tell you what they thing is worth sharing, rather that the other way around.
6. Getting the most from search traffic
Our Medium post was getting thousands of daily views a few days after we published it. It made it into the Top100 Medium posts for December 2015.
Plus we made it past 1000 Recommends (a not so common feat in Medium) on January 19th 2016.
By now, you could think that we had given a lot of visibility to a content living inside Medium, but none to our own website. A half triumph at best.
Not really. First off, we were actually sending a nice amount of traffic to our site. The post on Medium wasn’t a full version. Instead, the last part of the post was only available on our website. So the really interested users clicked through to our website.
Also, since the Medium post was published after the original post AND linked back to our site, we were able to reap the SEO benefits on our site.
After a couple of weeks, during which the Medium was ranking above our own post, Google decided that the original deserved to rank higher than the syndicated piece.
Remember I told you to focus on a cluster of keywords rather than a single one? Well, one of the nicest results we got here is that, still today, our post is ranking and received organic traffic from more than 200 keywords, according to Ahrefs.
But what about links? Links count more than social shares and they are harder to get, right? Absolutely, but it turns out acquiring links gets easier when you are promoting top-notch content.
In fact, we didn’t send a single email asking for links. All we asked (nicely) is that people read our post and shared it if they thought it was worthy to their audience.
Funny thing is, a lot of people decided to link to us anyway. As it happened with traffic, the domain getting the most backlinks was Medium, rather than ernestoolivares.com.
In fact, our Medium post attracted more than 500 backlinks according to Ahrefs, whereas the post on our site *only* received 60 backlinks from 29 domains (12 of these being dofollow).
Again, nothing to worry about, since the link juice carried by those 500 backlinks was being funneled into our blog post. So you could say we used Medium as a linkbaiting tool, even though that wasn’t the priority of our strategy (remember that we didn’t even ask anyone for links).
Now, I know most people get skeptical when they hear about “natural backlinks”, as if such thing only existed in Google’s spam team imagination.
Well, how else would you call the links coming from hundred of domains you’ve never even heard of or contacted yourself? Just as an example, see this email from a Japanese blogger asking for permission to translate our post to Japanese and kindly offering to link to it.
7. Repeat the process
Well, those are the steps we followed, and the results. It required a couple of months of work. Now, depending on the size of your team and how much effort you can devote into content creation and promotion, you may decide to turn this into a monthly process, or perhaps repeat it every two or three months.
In our case, we replicated the process both ways. First, we translated the post to Spanish and published it on our Spanish language website, following a similar outreach process with Spanish language influencers.
Secondly, we waited 12 months to try and replicate last year’s success with a new epic post on 2017 graphic design trends, together with a whole new set of custom made illustrations, on a totally different style, fitting the visual style of this year’s trends.
And even though we spent less time promoting both the Spanish version and the 2017 edition than the original post, the results have been similar or bigger (the Spanish post actually received more search traffic, quite probably due to the fact that there was less organic competition).
All in all, just how did this content series affect the global visibility of our main domain? Let’s go to SEMrush for that:
8. Wrapping it up
So there you have it. Some people say “create great content and they will come”. Some people try too hard to get a viral piece of content. Finally, some people say you have to spend 10x times reaching out to influencers than creating your piece of content.
According to our experience, the three statements above are partly right, but we think what really tipped the scales for us is “talk about what you know, and do it better than everybody else”.
That to me is the first step. From there:
- publish it on the right platforms (where your audience hangs out),
- promote it, tell the right people about it.
And always remember that if you reach out to a lot of key influencers in your niche and they don’t want to share your content, there may be something wrong with it.
It could be the post itself – or maybe the title, image, or the snippet you use to preview your post. Test all these elements until you get it right. Your audience knows better than you what they want.
And finally, don’t get too obsessed with getting backlinks.
If you do it right and publish on the right platform, where the ‘linkerati’ are likely to see your content – the good backlinks will come on their own. After that, just funnel it to your website and get ready for some nice organic rankings and traffic, providing that your On Page SEO is free of important errors – but we’ll talk about that some other day, lol!