You’ve got your documented content strategy. You’ve got a creative, relevant, interesting and actionable piece of content for your target audience. You publish the piece and wait for the hits to start rolling in.

But hours go by, then days, then weeks, and that killer piece of content is still drawing little, if any, reach or engagement. And now you have to tell your boss why it didn’t perform.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

You May Have a Distribution Problem

In today’s digital world, companies know that they should be creating an ongoing cadence of smart, targeted, timely content. However, as digital channels become more ubiquitous across all brands — B2C and B2B alike — it’s challenging to know where and how to distribute that content. Sometimes it’s a single channel. Other times, it may be many channels, with content catered for each one. Whatever your content and goals for it are, one thing you never want to do is simply invest in a single distribution channel because it’s the only one you’re familiar with.

To find the right channel(s), companies need to ask themselves the following for each piece of content:

  • What are the content goals and KPIs?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Where and in what format does this audience like to consume content?

Don’t Do Your Budget Until After You Answer Those Questions

Yes, really. Hear me out.

While budget can obviously have a huge impact on direction and feasibility, your content has the best chance to succeed by first identifying the ideal, unhindered distribution strategy, regardless of costs.

Remember, distribution methods are almost always scalable. Don’t automatically discount a channel or method based on budget alone. You can always start with a small test budget. If the results are strong, then you have a measurable business case for additional distribution dollars.

Distribution Options You Should Consider

When marketers hear “distribution,” they tend to think immediately off social media and digital advertising options such as content syndication and display advertising. These tools are relatively inexpensive and easy to understand, and they market themselves well.

But while they absolutely serve a purpose and provide strong value (depending on your goals), there are many other ways to put your content in front of relevant, qualified audiences.


The most successful marketers and brands will have a full grasp on all the earned, owned and paid channels available to them. Let’s take a look at each one and their unique powers of distribution.

Owned content distribution strategy

Owned: This is your email newsletter, company blog or other dedicated community channels or forums that your company controls. Your audience in this case, while smaller than with other channels, includes your most relevant, engaged advocates.

Think about your newsletters. They go out to people who have signed up to hear from you. They’re hungry for what you have to say. And properly coded newsletters provide key engagement and conversion insights, which you can use to adjust your copy and approach as you go.

External channels have broad reach going for them. But never leave your owned properties out of a distribution strategy. That’s where you can keep cultivating your biggest advocates, who can amplify content through their own channels. Examples: Blogs like this one, Twitter (like @WSseattle), e-newsletters.

Content distribution via digital advertising

Digital Advertising: The content syndication and display retargeting platforms in this category are the rave in today’s content marketing world, and rightfully so. Tools like these allow us to rapidly amplify all forms of content — video, blog posts, infographics, etc. — to audiences (hyper-targeted audiences, in many cases) that we could never otherwise have reached. Let’s look at two specific types:

  • Content Syndication: Content syndication toolspush your content onto websites and in front of audiences at a mass scale, quickly, and often relatively inexpensively (roughly $0.10–$0.80 cost-per-click). You’ve already seen this in action — these are the headline widgets labeled “recommended” or “you may also like” that are often found at the end of articles. Taboola and Outbrain are driving a high percentage of this paid syndication today, with the promise of getting your content discovered by users whose browsing habits are contextually relevant to your content. It works almost like a reverse search engine. Instead of people plugging in keywords and getting relevant lists of results, these content syndication providers use your content’s keywords to find relevant audiences and serve it to them via the publications they’re already reading. And when you think about it that way, this method makes a lot of sense for the right content — especially content with broader appeal. The biggest limitation, however, is that you can only get so targeted with the audience (which is why it can be so inexpensive). Great for bigger-appeal audiences, but tougher for niche topics and industries to optimize. Examples: Outbrain, Taboola, ViralGains, ShareThrough.
  • Retargeting: Do you have very niche audiences you are trying to reach … again? Retargeting can be a very effective advertising approach for those who tend to have longer-lead sales funnels or whose customers require a longer content journey before they will act on your desired “conversion” — whether that’s a sale, download, signup or some other way of opting in. Retargeting campaigns drive stronger traffic metrics, higher conversion rates, and more sales-qualified leads, due to the simple fact that by the time a user clicks on your retargeting ad, it’s a second, third or even fourth touchpoint for them. The mass amount of data shared on social platforms today enables you to retarget cookied audiences, as well as your pre-existing contact lists, which you can simply upload to the system. Your retarget outreach tends to take the form of a display ad. Depending on the platform and granularity of the audience you seek, these ads can be in the $5 CPC range. If that seems high to you, remember: The traffic it generates has exceptional potential to plug in quickly to your funnel. Example: AdRoll, Rocketfuel, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Ads.

Oftentimes, test budgets for pilot campaigns work well for both syndication and retargeting. Once you see the specific measureable results on who is reading your content, it can be tough to turn away. Check out an example of what we did for a client!

Social media distribution strategy

Social: A combination of owned and paid, social media falls into the “must have” category for any content distribution strategy. In other words, yes, you should definitely tweet out a link to your new blog post and infographic. In addition, with social media’s organic reach fizzling away more and more each day, promoted posts become that much more important in generating results. And the audience targeting in social is simply staggering. With massive user bases endless data from profiles and their sharing/posting habits, social media platforms give you the ability to precisely target and retarget the exact audiences you want to reach. They can even take a sample of your existing traffic, analyze it, and build out extremely large pools of custom or look-a-like audiences, extending your reach to a set of target audiences you could not have manually identified yourself. Similarly, social sites like Twitter allow you to identify and reach audiences based on what they are — or have already — talked about, based on the keywords they use in their posts. This ensures that your ad is only served to audiences who have proven to care about similar and related content! Once a destination for conversation and sharing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are now among the strongest, most efficient and most effective ways to reach relevant audiences at scale. They should be a serious consideration for any distribution strategy. Examples: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.

SEO and SEM distribution strategy

Search: Whether it’s the earned nature of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or the paid nature of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), one way to amplify content is not to necessarily push it out to audiences in a disruptive fashion, but instead generate inbound traffic by appearing in relevant search results. While this approach can serve as a top-of-the-funnel strategy by driving brand awareness, the real value for marketers is in triggering inbound traffic through intent searches in the middle or bottom of the funnel, where the path to conversion is the quickest. To put it another way, search is best when your audience is aware and has considered their options, and now they need the cold hard info to help them make a decision — whether that’s to purchase an item, fix a problem, or educate themselves on recent trends that impact their job. Content developed with this in mind is often what you see appear in organic search results: the “how to,” “what is” and other evergreen guides. Similarly, SEM efforts can take this one step further by ensuring your content appears on relevant search result pages in the form of ads aimed at bettering your knowledge, expertise or enjoyment of a topic. Examples: Bing, Google, Google AdWords.

Earned content distribution strategy

Earned Pick-Up: Never forget the power of third-party advocates or influencers. An influencer outreach strategy gets your content in front of authoritative, trusted voices who can amplify your content to their network and readers. But it doesn’t stop there. Once it’s picked up by someone else, think about extending the life and reach of that article by amplifying it through a paid channel. (That’s just one example of how these different distribution channels can be combined.) Examples: Any publication relevant to your industry, message, or output.

Paid distribution strategy

Sponsored Content: Another way to promote your content is to pay for it to appear in a publication that’s relevant to your audience or content topic. Oftentimes, the content appears on a page or platform with the same look and feel as the publication itself — what many call “native advertising.” While this is still a debated practice across the web, for reasons relating to trust and transparency, when native advertising is done right, the advertiser, publication, and reader can all win big. Readers actually seek out the latest post from brands on Forbes’ BrandVoice or on CIO.com. They find the info valuable, even if companies may ultimately be sharing it to amplify a message. For advertisers, these options are a great way to reach a niche audience that the publication is already attracting. And for the reader, well, as long as they know the content is backed by a brand, it’s up to them to determine whether they find it worthwhile. Examples: Quartz (which we have used in the past), The New York Times, Washington Post.

media partners to distribute content

Media Partnerships: As I mentioned, publications are embracing content marketing and native advertising strategies to the point that some have actually built dedicated departments to maximize this demand. T Brand Studio, a custom content studio from The New York Times’ advertising department, Quartz (qz.com), and even local news outlets like King5.com (an occasional partner of ours) are successfully working with brands to build, publish and promote rich, custom content that appears within the regular content feeds of their site — while meeting their high editorial standards. When done right, partner content has been found to perform as well or better than traditional editorial content.

If, as they say content is king, then a distribution strategy is queen. Without that strategy, you’re simply playing the lottery. Distribution gets you the reads, clicks and shares your content deserves. And when you add to that the ability to provide measureable data that can be plugged back into the editorial process — as well as other distribution methods themselves — the value you get from a thoughtful, integrated approach pays dividends many times over again.

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