"WE'RE STAYING UP!" for Centrepoint's Stay:Up Challenge 2020
There are a lot of discussions out there in the industry about the different ways we can better use content marketing to build high-quality links and gain coverage for clients. How to better come up with ideas, what type of content works best, whether you should do big pieces or smaller pieces and how to write better emails for outreach, and so on.
It’s all very valid discussion and there’s a lot to learn, but one thing that always strikes me is that it tends to focus on individual content pieces, as opposed to the overall Content and Digital PR strategy designed to deliver consistent results for clients through content marketing over time. A compilation of hits rather than one-hit-wonders, if you will.
I want to attempt to show how you can achieve better results by thinking as much about the overall asset portfolio you are creating as you do about executing individual pieces well.
In some ways, producing content for Digital PR can be quite stressful. You put lots of effort into creating some content and, if it doesn’t work, you end up looking like a bit of a fool. This can lead to people overthinking the success or failure of an individual piece, rather than the goals of the overall campaign.
While specific aims will vary client by client, ultimately what you are aiming to do is:
Create a strong link profile by gaining a number of regular, frequent and relevant links back to a client site.
The regular and frequent aspect is the part of this goal that is most often overlooked in favour of going all-out to do big splashy pieces that take a lot of time in the hope those pieces get a large number of links and industry-wide recognition.
The issue with this is that it’s very much an all-or-nothing approach, dependent largely on the success of a small number of pieces.
Whereas, if you start thinking about building a well-balanced asset portfolio you can be more confident in delivering consistent results for clients and be less reliant on the success of individual pieces of content. Gaining links frequently in relevant markets on a consistent basis builds brand presence, ultimately giving those links value.
An asset portfolio is simply all of the assets you create to earn links. The exact makeup of the portfolio will vary based on your client, but it should include:
Once you have built a portfolio of assets that contains all of these different types of content you should be in a very strong position, able to deliver strong results month-on-month, even if you encounter issues that could otherwise negatively affect your link building performance.
Creating any content for Digital PR purposes comes with a risk that it might not work. Some of this risk is out of your hands, for example, an unexpected event making the content you created unsuitable for outreach at that time.
This could be a competitor coming out with a similar idea just before yours or some big news breaking, making your content either redundant or more controversial than intended. But there are still controllable risk factors you should be conscious of. The two main factors being the relative risk of ideas and the risk in resource allocation.
Some ideas carry with them fewer risks than others and are likely to get some quality links, but are less likely to break out and gain an outstanding number of links or amazing, Tier 1 coverage (top news publications). These ideas effectively have a high floor but a low ceiling.
For example, if you came up with an idea about driving laws or parking that had a unique enough of an angle, you could be pretty confident of getting in the motoring sections of national newspapers as long as your execution was good enough. However, an idea like this is unlikely to really breakthrough and get a higher number of links from a range of sites. So, your ‘floor’ is national newspapers motoring sections, but your ‘ceiling’ isn’t much higher than that.
Whereas, if you push the boat out and go for something more creative, you give yourself the opportunity to get spectacular results. This doesn’t mean an idea about parking couldn’t break out and get a higher number of links if it was unique and well-executed, but it’s not as likely to as a more creative piece.
Every campaign should be looking to create assets with different levels of risk, giving you the opportunity to get spectacular results, and with the security of knowing they will also be consistently gaining relevant links.
The closest analogy I can think of is investing in stocks. You wouldn’t put all of your money in whatever random tech company is IPOing this week, you would spread your risk by also investing in tried and tested blue-chip companies, to ensure a base level of consistent wins, even if the returns are a little smaller and not as flashy.
While I couldn’t say for sure what other agencies are doing, it appears from standard internet snooping that some prefer to focus on delivering a smaller number of larger, more eye-catching pieces.
While, in our experience, well-executed larger pieces have a higher chance of big success than smaller pieces: there is also a higher chance of failure. Focusing too much resource into larger, more resource-heavy content pieces is poor resource management for a few reasons. The most prominent being that it introduces more risk into the overall campaign than is necessary.
For example, say you have a choice of investing all of your resources over a period of time into one piece or doing three smaller pieces. In this scenario:
Which would you choose?
In this case, you would be better off choosing the smaller pieces.
To work this out, you find out the chance of all of the smaller pieces failing (0.4*0.4*0.4), which gives you your chance of none of the smaller pieces succeeding (0.064 or 6.4%).
Therefore,your chance of succeeding (or not failing) is 93.6% (100% – 6.4%). Which is obviously better than 80%!
This is obviously a hypothetical example that doesn’t account for degrees of success, but it shows how better resource management increases the chances of overall success for your client campaigns. You are likely to still want to mix more resource-heavy pieces into your content portfolio, for reasons I will come onto later.
On a more practical level, over-allocation of resources into individual pieces can hurt campaigns simply because it leads to the creation of fewer assets over a period of time.
Link building through content marketing is not just about the success or failure of individual campaigns. It’s also about the bank of assets you create, AKA your asset portfolio. The more assets you have – proving they’re of good quality – the more you can outreach.
Having fewer assets to outreach hurts you for four main reasons:
There is no reason that, in any given month, you should only outreach the asset most recently created. You should be looking for opportunities to push old pieces, too. Perhaps something external has made the piece relevant again, or you have another angle you can push or some different journalists you can push it to. You may also have a lull in content production, either because you are focusing on creating a larger piece or because resources are being allocated to another part of the campaign.
For example, for our client tombola, we recently paused content production for a couple of months while other work was being carried out on the campaign. But, because we had a range of assets including data points, imagery and survey results, we were still able to secure 39 links in that period, including coverage in Ideal Home, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping and Country Living.
As you can see below, the pieces we created were all quite straightforward and resource-light. Had we invested too much time creating larger pieces we wouldn’t have had this flexibility.
Overall, including some smaller pieces will give you the assets to build links more consistently than pushing all of your resources solely into bigger projects, simply because you will create more assets quickly.
Given that links are essentially a measure of digital presence, would you rather have a strategy that emphasised getting consistent, quality link building or one that was more boom-bust?
It makes sense for agencies to want to focus on delivering bigger, flashier, pieces. They are more fun and make great case studies to attract new business, but focusing on them exclusively can be detrimental to the client.
You may take from the above that there is no need to invest a lot of resources into individual pieces. But the truth is more nuanced than that.
While you should never just invest more resource into a piece for the sake of it, there are valid reasons to invest more time into some pieces. This time could go into design, development or research.
These reasons could include:
Some publications have a higher barrier to entry when it comes to getting a link. For example, certain Automotive publications only put things up if the content is evergreen and looks a bit different. So going to them with a time-sensitive graph and a headline isn’t going to work, no matter how good the graph or sexy the headline.
As an example of our own, to go after these sites for a client, we created European Cars Americanised.
A piece that takes European Cars that flopped in America and imagines what they would look like ‘Americanised’. This got links on sites like Autoevolution, Motor1 and Topspeed amongst many others.
While not necessarily the case, smaller pieces tend to be more passive than larger pieces. They get coverage, and a link, but do little in themselves to stay in the mind of the users.
Part of content marketing is creating more of a lasting impression in the audience’s mind. For example, you are unlikely to get the same engagement from a more basic listicle than you will from a more interactive piece.
When it comes to links, Select Car Leasing was in a very strong position after being a client of ours for over three years, so we were more than happy to do a higher risk piece, an interactive piece challenging the user to identify iconic TV cars from ‘wind-tunnel’ outline.
We knew this piece would be a harder sell but were confident it could get some high-quality and typically hard to achieve links and a good amount of interaction.
If you are investing a lot of time into a piece of content, it should be evergreen, enabling you to outreach it for longer and come back and re-outreach it whenever you want or whenever relevant.
While smaller pieces aren’t necessarily time-bound, it is often easier to outreach a big evergreen piece months later than it is a smaller one.
For example, this Car Logo Quiz for our client, WhoCanFixMyCar.com can be promoted at any time and can be easily updated should we wish to.
When you are trying to build up a link profile there will be different target sectors and types of publications. You may be targeting different types of topic-relevant websites, regional press, national press and global press.
There are two general approaches to gaining these links. The first is to try and come up with one idea that targets all or most of these groups. The second is to come up with ideas targeted at specific types of publication. The disadvantage with the first method is – if overused – you can end up creating pieces for everyone that no-one is interested in.
While you shouldn’t totally avoid creating content with wide appeal, you should also be creating pieces targeted directly at your core audience. Especially as some sectors and publications simply don’t want more than a cool headline and easily digestible graphics or data. This way, you can create relatively low-risk content targeted at these sites and use the time you’ve saved elsewhere on the campaign.
Again, this approach helps you minimise risk in campaigns and achieve more consistent results for clients.
What hopefully comes across in this post is that link building shouldn’t just be about creating ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’ content.
To do it correctly, and to deliver the results clients need, you should be thinking strategically about what you are doing and why.
If you need a helping hand with that, talk to us.
"WE'RE STAYING UP!" for Centrepoint's Stay:Up Challenge 2020