I was slightly ashamed of this for the first few years of my career in SEO, but in 2012, I finally stared coming to terms with it. I feel fine about admitting it publicly now.
I’m not great at content marketing and link building.
Well, that’s been changing rapidly; ever since I’ve forced myself into it following MozCon 2012. Before that, I was a pretty damn technically-focused SEO. I was a master of code and site speed and metadata, but I really struggled with acquiring legitimate links through force of effort, or planning and executing content that a site’s target audience would actually care about and consider sharing. Yet, seeing how that was the big missing piece in my inbound marketing skillset, I forced myself to jump into this whole content marketing business headfirst.
One of my first successful attempts was with a coupon code site. We’d traditionally had trouble coming up with blog content that this site’s users would actually care about and want to read (I mean, they were there for coupon codes and not much else). We did have a not-insignificant core audience that was interested in general savings tips and thrifty culture, and they were moderately engaged on the brand’s social channels. So, I decided that I needed to figure out what kind of blog post they’d care enough about to actually read.
Posts telling them about the site’s latest and greatest coupon codes didn’t work; posts with generic tips certainly didn’t attract any attention; and posts that attempted humor often fell flat on their respective faces. I decided that it really boiled down to coming up with a content concept that would actually connect to readers on some level and offer them something that THEY saw value in. I also, of course, wanted it to get links, social recommendations, and on-site engagement.
The idea I settled on was this: Reach out to savings experts in that community, ask them to contribute their savings tips to a special blog post, and hope that their audiences (which overlapped with our own) would find value in the post. With the help of my team at SwellPath, I was able to identify some good experts to talk to, reach out to a handful, and eventually get two of those experts to contribute tips (which were fortunately long) to the site. The post ended up being the most shared, more linked, and most engaged post in the site’s history.
So without further ado (I know, there was much ado already), here’s what I learned from my first foray into outreach-based content marketing.
Do Your Outreach Early
I gave myself a good three weeks to go from initial research, to outreach, to landing the content (savings tips) I needed for the post. I learned that, at least with this niche, people are busy and it can take a while to get responses, especially while you’re being careful not to pester your contacts and turn them off. I also learned that, as an agency SEO, it requires a daily time investment to work with your contacts and make the process as painless for them as possible. This really leads into my next point…
It’s All About Relationships
I’ve heard this mantra a lot, but it wasn’t until my first crack at this that I really understood how crucial relationships were. The people who were ultimately the ones to contribute something to the post were the ones I built the best relationships with. They were the ones that (for whatever reasons) responded to comments I left on their blog posts or replied to my tweets in the initial weeks. They were the ones who I was able to engage with in a personal way over email. And now they’re the ones who are appreciative of the opportunity and exposure and are interested in working with me again in the future. The people who I wasn’t able to engage with enough in the minimal time I had were the ones who ultimately didn’t turn into real opportunities or who ended up falling through. This leads into my next point…
You Have to Be Real
One of the things that I thought was off-the-table with link building since “day one” of my SEO career was reaching out to people as “myself” and not “the client”. It’s kind of a big deal to use a personal identify when doing outreach for a client; at that point, there’s little separation between your occupation and your identify and that was kind of nerve-racking for me for quite a while. However, I realize now that the post would have completely fallen through if I’d tried this from [email protected] I think having the outreach come from a clearly real person and admitting up from “I’m doing working together with client X” is a huge part of why my outreach was successful. It probably didn’t hurt either that I interacted with bloggers through my own well-established social channels.
I still feel like a noob at this, but I’m excited about actually seeing clear, valuable results from this kind of content. I plan to apply these lessons I’ve learned and get better at outreach and pulling together community-based content. As with everything I’ve even done in search marketing, it’s a learn-as-I-go kind of thing and I’m stoked to have the opportunity to do that.
And speaking of outreach-based content, I was on the receiving end of some particularly good outreach-based content marketing recently. Kalia Strong of Vertical Measures did some great work in getting no less than 10 experts on board for a series of posts on AuthorRank in 2013. Seriously good stuff that I’d recommend checking out.