For the last few years, my advice for companies trying to drive earned media traffic has been the same regardless of size, spend, or platform:
“Get a plan together to turn your online brand into a publisher.”
This advice might get scoffed at, especially coming from someone who runs a company that sells people content, but the strategy is grounded in logic:
- Social Media – Brands that act as publishers have reaped the rewards in social media. Whether using Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, it doesn’t matter. Content rules in social media.
- Search engines – The Panda bear loves quality content. (Panda refers to an update by Google to its search algorithm, initially kicking in back in 2011. It penalizes sites with low quality content, and “rewards” those with high quality content.) Publishers drive quality content on websites. If you are a small brand, there is no better way to take advantage of the Google brand bias than create a publication other people talk about.
- Content Marketing – Driving traffic through content marketing involves acting like a publisher, not like a marketer. Marketing does need to happen once you have the traffic on the website, and that is when the marketer hat goes on.
Becoming a publisher has another benefit. It diversifies, so that you avoid relying on one single platform or channel for traffic and marketing. To put all of your proverbial eggs into a single basket is to doom your marketing investment.
Basics of the Publisher Mindset
Here is how to get into the mindset of becoming a publisher:
Appeal to Your Demographics (Personas)
Whatever you want to label the types of people coming to your website, it is important to at least be able to apply that label.
Whether B2B versus B2C audiences, every buyer persona and accompanying demographics differs in the types of content and media they consume.
In the past, the default ideation process for all content seemed to revolve around humor. If a client sold wood sealant, you’d see ideas like “15 Funniest Things to Do On Your Deck this Summer.” A humor piece that appeals to a wide audience may have a goal of yielding a lot of traffic, but useful content that speaks directly to the needs of your target demographic would have conversion-focused goals.
Figuring out not only what will drive your website traffic, but also how it can drive those users to convert, is an important piece of developing your content.
Create an Editorial Mix
While it is true that you should create a unique voice for your publication, too many organizations take this to mean that they need to create a single content type. This isn’t the case. You should be creating a mix of content for different needs your demographic may have.
Here are five different types of content to work into the mix:
- News and Timely Content – Google News is a great place to apply to as a publisher,. Trend jacking of a timely news subject can equal big traffic possibilities.
- Recurring Columns – Having a set schedule for editorial is always important. Letting readers know that they can come back to check out a certain writer’s column is a way to lock in return visits. I know this is the case for me at my favorite publications. I usually subscribe to my favorite contributors in my feed list, rather than the publication itself.
- Evergreen Content –Content that is timeless and answers questions that a reader may have is always a great way to spend publishing resources. These should be your “expert” level pieces of content. The piece of content you are currently reading is a solid example (I hope).
- Video – Insanely, this is still an underutilized piece of media by businesses. Most companies just don’t have a strategy around video. If you are looking to be the next viral sensation, you are probably spinning your wheels. Try to hit some base hits by creating compelling video that will show up when your customers are sniffing around YouTube or that may educate your visitors into a purchase.
- Rich Media – Infographics are cool, but HTML 5 interactive content is the present and future of media. Why? Because of mobile. The ability to create rich, interactive content that transcends the “where” of user experience is extremely powerful. These can have tremendous conversion optimization possibilities.
Syndication Channels (Curation)
Great publishers have always understood the power of syndication. The new fancy word for syndication is curation — and the while the “how” is different today, the net result is not. The main difference with today’s curation is the interaction of social media users with your content. Once you put content out there it takes on a life of its own. You own it, but you don’t control it. Portals for organic traffic through curation include StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, but these sites have also created paid offerings to allow publishers to maximize their reach.
On top of these routes we are also seeing a massive explosion in the ability to spread content via paid or sponsored channels. The new buzzword for this practice is “native advertising,” and it is taking a lot of forms. Recommendation engines like Gravity and Taboola offer traffic options. Sharethrough and Nativo work more like traditional, sponsored content brokers where the visibility happens on the publisher’s site, which can lead to clickthroughs, but obviously a lesser amount.
You need a plan for how you are going to measure success. This is where most content-based approaches fail today. If you are a marketer, your job is more than just to drive traffic. Your job is to drive traffic that converts into a buyer eventually.
In order to do that effectively, you need to be able to measure every user, how they interact with your content, how they interact with your website, and what the net result of that interaction is. You also need to redefine what a conversion is in your cycle. The reality of content marketing is that while it can yield SEO-based results, thus delivering users deep into the buying cycle, much of the traffic and brand interaction will happen at the very top of your funnel. That means you need to be able to retain those users until they are ready to buy.
There are two great options for managing this issue: retargeting and email opt-in. Both of these options allow you to continue to interact with the customer long term, and measure every aspect of that journey from content to conversion.
Examples of Brands Doing it Right
Here are some brands that are setting the bar when it comes to brand publishing.
Red Bull Media House gets lauded on a near constant basis for its ground breaking work in brand publishing. And it goes beyond the web. Red Bull produces content in DVD and TV format as well. This included the 2011 film The Art of Flight.
Red Bull ties together its marketing, from event sponsorship to print, using its content arm.
Adobe is targeting an audience of executive level decision makers at marketing firms with its CMO.com portal. What is perhaps most interesting about CMO.com is that it is a perfect mixture of unique and curated content.
With options like CMO Exclusives , CMO Insider, and Adobe Digital Index, CMO.com is creating great content they own, but they are also curating from top business blogs.
In a brilliant display of how to turn content into conversion, CMO.com is not only displaying basic banner ads, but also allowing CMOs to sign up to gain useful data.
This is the new kid on the block, and its inception probably scares native advertising companies. GE was spending a lot of money on The Economist and Quartz to show off its support for innovation. So they flipped the script and got partners in Vox, CNN, and Politico to create an original content and curation hybrid of their own.
Control of the content means control of the traffic, user data, and brand message consolidation. Like most content marketing plays we have seen, the power here is in branding and PR with conversions being of secondary value. GE isn’t selling washers and dryers on the site. It is selling its brand.
This is likely a lesson GE learned from Red Bull, where lack of an online product leaves the practice 100% brand focused.
The Tools to Get the Job Done
So — you are sold on becoming a publisher, right?
Sweet. Now it’s time for the heavy lifting.
Below is a massive list of tools in various groupings to give you clear choices on how to best approach this new marketing channel.
I am not going to even dive into other content management system options, because WordPress has more functionality than most businesses will ever need to set up a publication.
Don’t believe me.
Ask Time, CNN and Tech Crunch, all of which use WordPress CMS solutions.
With all of that said, there is a lot you can do to tune up your WordPress install, to publish more content and publish it better.
- Issuu — Have ebooks or whitepapers you want to make easier to grab? Then Issuu is what you are looking for. Not only does the plugin allow you to display the publications, but it also allows you to find an audience through their main curation site.
- WP Publication Archive – If you don’t want to go through the step of using a third party service to share your publication, WP Publication Archive makes the process of self-hosting easy.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – This plugin makes it extremely easy to manage the search engine optimization of your WordPress publication.
- Organize Series – This plugin allows you to create a taxonomy that links items in a series. It’s really helpful for your expert columnists to get multiple page views.
- Magma – This application will help you manage your collaborators and then publish their collaborations through WordPress.
- Storify – This service lets you build your publication into a curation portal like we saw from GE and Adobe above.
- IssueM – Lets you build a magazine or issue based publication out of WordPress
- Pokret – Another great magazine publishing website.
- Members – Allows you to have more control of user rights. This will be important if you have collaborators helping you with your production.
- Use Google Libraries – This helps with the overall performance of your site. It allows for decreased bandwidth and faster loading.
- W3 Total Cache – This is another great performance tool that improves the user experience by speeding up your site.
Editorial Management Tools
There are lots of options to manage your editorial process, but it is really going to boil down to personal preference and scale. CopyPress utilizes a content management software (CMS) to manage the thousands of pieces of content we put out weekly. You are not likely going to need that scale, but some options may be a better fit than others.
- Camayak.com – This is straight-up editorial tracking software. You can organize your editorial work, construct editorial workflows, and build writer profiles.
- Desk-Net – A Camayak competitor with similar features. The biggest difference is how they charge.
- Write Aid – This software focuses on outsourced writers, along with the work that it takes to manage that kind of labor.
- Sourcefabric SuperDesk – This is an Open Source platform built by journalists for journalists.
- Edit Flow – Back to WordPress. If you are managing a large group of writers in a CMS, then Edit Flow can help you with every step of the process.
- Asana – A straightforward task management and collaboration platform. I have been using this lately for some of our tech-focused tasks, and can say I find it really easy to use.
- Marketing.AI – Allows for some very thorough management of the entire content creation and promotion process.
- Content DJ – This application is similar to Marketing.AI. It allows you to manage everything from the content itself to the social media platforms it is placed on.
- Trello – A drop dead simple way to manage ideation and basic “to do” style workflow management.
- LooseStitch – This is a tool built for publications that do a ton of outsourcing. Ideation, outlining, and collaboration are all covered in the user flow.
Once you have your platform together to manage your writers and editors you need to start sending them ideas for content to create. Ideation can be tremendously difficult at scale. It is an endurance trial, and having great tools at your disposal can keep your process fresh.
- Evernote – Evernote makes it insanely easy to browse the Internet and cut and clip resources that may be a fit for your publication.
- Content Strategy Helper – This is an awesome tool that gets you a lot of great ideas for successful content based on a simple keyword
- Google Public Data – These are great data sets to build articles, infographics, and motion graphics around.
- Google Scholar Search – A great search engine that focuses on scholarly work.
- Listverse – This site can give you a ton to chew on. An easy search function and strong taxonomy by users allows for lists to be pulled into larger lists for re-publication.
- Scribd – This is a huge curated library of digital information. Documents, books, and collections are uploaded by users.
- Delicious – One of the first curation portals around, Delicious is still a great place to not only curate your own content as you surf, but also see content others have curated and tagged.
- Quora – This is a Q&A site with a very dedicated user base. The site’s search function and tagging allow for ideas to be found through simple keyword combinations. There are often resources given in the answers which are usually helpful as well.
- Soovie – An interesting meta search engine that can help you quickly search across multiple platforms for suggestions.
- Ubersuggest – This is another great suggestion tool that can build suggestions off of partial queries.
- Spezify – This is an interesting search engine that returns results in visual formats.
- Portent Idea Generator – This is part fun and part useful. Put in a word, and this tool does the rest.
Great content has great images. The issue with great images often comes down to licensing and formatting . Knowing how to find great fair use images and how to get them to fit your formatting needs can be the difference between a polished publication and one that looks truly amateur.
- oSkope — This is a visual search engine that lets you browse images from major portals like Amazon, eBay, and YouTube.
- CompFlight – This is a Flickr search tool that is great for quick ways to search based on different licenses
- Tineye – Great for reverse image searching based on URL or files. This allows you to find source images from awesome assets you find online, and keep yourself out of licensing issues.
- Retrievr– This tool lets you find related images based on source files or sketches you create yourself.
- Pixlr — This suite of tools is web and mobile based. It’s a great tool for those looking to create and edit images.
- Quick Picture Tools – If you need some basic image editing this is your toolset. Croppping, text, and layering images can be done with the included tools.
- Picfull — If you love Instagram and its choice of filters, then Picfull can help you add those effects outside of a single platform.
Rich Media Tools
Data visualization is an important component of most content marketing strategies today. Telling a story through visualized data is also a great way to under deliver on quality.
- Piktochart – This tool makes it pretty easy to create basic data visualizations. Picktochart allows for easy data visualization through pie charts and other graphing elements.
- Infogr.am – This app was created specifically for data visualization. Radial bar graphs, bubble graphs, and map charts are all possible.
- OmniGraffle – This is a great Mac-based software tool that allows you to create visual layouts and wireframes using stencils. The stencil offerings are robust, so you can create just about any data visualization you can imagine. This is a great tool for getting your ideas together and creating a wireframe that you can hand off to a contracted designer.
- Easel.ly – This is another web-based tool. However, this tool is better utilized for article graphics and visual story telling than data-based visualizations.
Put it in a Pot and Mix it Up
Content marketing is a multi-level strategy, and we only scratched the surface of creation.
The key thing to remember is the importance of iteration. No plan of attack is perfect from day one, and getting the right content mix that’s utilizing the right tools and planning is important. Iteration, like planning, needs to be based on more than just a gut feeling, it needs to be based on great data.
Great publishers iterate their content to match their ever-changing reader demographic and advertiser make up.
Content follows the money.
Brands need to follow the same logic to turn their content tactics into a long term content strategy that yields ROI.