No matter what you call it — link building, content promotion, blogger outreach, relationship building, content outreach — getting online publishers to pay attention to your pitches is harder than ever.
Kelsey Libert knows a thing or two about that.
As director of promotions for Fractl, a digital marketing agency, Kelsey’s entire job focuses on creating and delivering content that grabs the attention of major online publishers and gets published. In turn, her clients get significant brand visibility, website backlinks and traffic.
Over the past year or so, Kelsey has observed a few trends about the types of content that online publishers want most. Today, she shares those observations, as well as advice about how to execute content campaigns that succeed.
Let’s start with the bad. What is the hardest part of your job right now?
Most marketers have caught on to the power of great content as part of the marketing mix. The inevitable result is an increasing volume of content, both good and bad. I’ve seen this referred to as the “content marketing deluge,” which is pretty apt.
That makes it harder to break through all of the noise and get a publisher’s attention. Plus, publishers being inundated with pitches can be more selective about the content they choose to publish from third parties. A year or so ago, certain content formats like infographics had a degree of novelty that made syndication easier to achieve. That’s not always the case anymore.
In that case, what types of content do publishers want?
Creating novel content — both in terms of format and topic — remains one of the best ways to float above the competition and get those top-tier placements.
That said, publishers don’t want to have to work hard to feature your content. Interactive content like parallax pieces and HTML5-enabled content has a nice appeal because it can captivate the user in a unique way, but depending on the publisher, it can be difficult to embed.
Instead, we’re seeing a lot of success with original research coupled with visuals (not necessarily infographics). Creating content that has a newsworthy or headline-grabbing hook is key to getting readers’ attention and achieving viral spread for the publisher – as well as piquing publishers’ interest in the first place.
What types of content are publishers turning down?
Infographic content that doesn’t uncover or reveal new data is pretty much dead (with the exception of some animated GIF infographics I’ve seen do quite well in recent weeks). Infographics seem to have fallen back into the position they belong: one of many potential content formats in the content marketer’s toolbox.
If an infographic can best tell the story you want to convey, by all means create one, but don’t expect a pretty infographic to immediately sway top publishers anymore. They want new, exciting, headline-making – meaning the burden is on you to uncover brand new, intriguing insights from within whatever vertical you’re working.
How willing are major publishers to accept content pitched by third parties?
The web’s top publishers are under a lot of pressure to produce a lot of content that also has to be increasingly high quality. So the vast majority of them are very open to third party content, as long as it’s a good fit for their audience and vision.
This is why it is so incredibly important to understand the websites that you’re pitching to. What kind of content do they typically publish, especially from third parties? What has performed well for them in the past? What has performed poorly or had a negative backlash? What opportunities are there to help them cover additional angles of recent stories they’ve published?
Always be thinking about how to help the writers and editors of the publications you’re pitching to. Think about how to make them look good, and they’ll start to see you as a resource for future content and ideas.
How does the growing popularity of sponsored content (with publishers, at least) affect content outreach?
The success of sites like BuzzFeed are making many online publishers look at sponsored content as a way to supplement or even supplant their advertising-based revenues. It’s appealing to publishers because sponsors can create valuable content, in a predictable way, with easily measurable ROI.
What will be interesting to see is how sites adopting this model enforce editorial guidelines on sponsored content. It’s imperative that sponsored content be as good or better than what users are already finding on the site, or sponsored content will likely produce decreasing returns over time as users increasingly ignore sponsored posts as they do banner ads today.
If you’re doing content outreach, you’ll have to meet or exceed those same editorial guidelines to be able to compete. But you should be doing that anyway. And even though the online publisher may want sponsored content for revenue, they may want your content for editorial needs.
How much does breaking news play into outreach and publication?
Newsy, timely content is absolutely essential to outreach. Old, stale content has an extremely low likelihood of getting picked up and published… but so does timely content that doesn’t offer anything brand new or breaking. Tap into the zeitgeist and create content that addresses the discussions (and nuances within the discussions) that are happening right now.
Evergreen content still has a place and can get great pickups, but it has to be exceptional in at least one of these ways:
- Evergreen content should represent a better or more comprehensive resource than anything else out there. This is its differentiating value proposition.
- Evergreen content should be presented in a highly engaging and creative way. Strive to be as comprehensive as possible with the content and as creative as possible in the format.
When do you begin pitching to publishers?
We begin working with potential publishers when we’re still in the ideas phase. We mine recent articles in our target niche to get some of those content ideas. Then we directly reach out to certain publishers to determine if they’d be interested in the topics we’ve brainstormed.
Most often, though, we try to continue a conversation that’s already started or proven to be popular for a particular publisher. By contributing to an ongoing conversation (and enhancing it), we can work together with publishers to produce an improved product.
When it’s appropriate, we offer previews of content that we already have in production. And we pitch exclusives to our highest targets.
After your content is picked up by one publisher, what comes next? How do you get more attention from even more publishers?
Post-publication, we track our content as it proliferates across other websites and gets re-published. Then we look for opportunities to promote it. We help drive traffic via social channels. We send out emails to fix any errors in attribution, which establishes a relationship with the re-publishers.
We also piggyback on large initial placements to entice other large publishers. Once a handful of well respected publishers pick up your content, it’s possible to reach a tipping point — an “if the big guys liked it, it must be good” sort of thing.
You mentioned attribution errors. How do you find and confirm proper attribution?
The best big content campaigns generate hundreds (even thousands) of links from unique domains. If the primary objective of your campaign is link building and authority building, then link reclamation post-outreach can be a very high ROI activity.
When a top news site picks up your content, that often results in lots of re-publication (good), but with incorrect attribution given to those top news sites instead of you (bad). Incorrect attributions can also mean there’s no link or even credit given to for the original source.
Interestingly, the more popular your content, the easier it is to find it and get incorrect attributions fixed. Dozens and dozens of extremely high value links can be created or reclaimed simply by tracking and following up as quickly as possible following publication on a major news site.
Using a reverse image search and date-limited searching in Google can be extremely helpful in uncovering new posts that mention your content but don’t link to it.
Is content outreach a strategy or a tactic?
More and more, I view the job of content outreach as simply a form of digital PR. Our jobs don’t begin and end at placing a piece of content. Instead, we’re connectors between our clients and the tastemakers and loudest voices in their verticals. It’s our job to help ingratiate our clients or their brand with these voices.
We want to create strategic, symbiotic relationships and partnerships with leading writers and editors for publications whose reach and influence is increasingly important to our clients.
It’s amazing how often a popular placement or viral hit will lead to all kinds of secondary opportunities that also fall under my jurisdiction, such as giving statements to the media; organizing TV spots; or setting up strategic meetings with companies, partners, or investors interested in the work our clients are doing. As we get better and better at generating buzz, we become more and more responsible for all that comes along with achieving that high level of exposure.
How can content marketers convince clients that their work pays off — literally?
Fractl created an infographic (click to enlarge) featuring one of our most successful campaigns to address this question.
It gives people a better understanding of how strong content ideas and production set the stage for successful promotion and publication. It details the content generation process from start to finish and explains what’s necessary at each step to reach a wide, relevant audience.
Most of all, it proves that good content can make companies good money.