Last month, I wrote a post called “Content promotion is changing. My thoughts on where we go from here.” In it, we shared months of traffic data from our clients that shows how content promotion is changing and outlined ideas of what we can test going forward.

After the last month of testing and exploring the various options we have available to us, I want to share what our content promotion approach will be for 2019.

The Original Tactic: Community Content Promotion

Since starting our content marketing agency back in June of 2017, the primary tactic we’ve used to drive traffic for our clients has been community content promotion. It has worked beautifully  because:

  1. It drives targeted traffic in the short term
  2. It simultaneously builds links that helps us grow organic traffic in the long-term.

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As an example, when we started our site, we were able to grow our site to 16k monthly users in 4.5 months after launching on a brand new WordPress instance, and we’ve since built backlinks from 325 referring domains doing nothing but community content promotion.

Our entire agency has grown solely from writing articles like this one and sharing them in communities. All of our leads come directly off of our site and we don’t do any advertising or outbound sales to acquire new clients.

As further proof that this process works, here are some anonymized charts that show traffic growth to some of our client’s blogs. Both charts show traffic to just our articles on that client’s blog.

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While traffic growth started off strong (Benefit (1) of community content promotion), you’ll notice that around June – July of this year, traffic growth started to slow.

Pain Point SEO: A Subtle Shift to Conversion Related Content

Part of the slow down was due to community content promotion becoming more difficult, but the other reason was a shift in strategy to focus more on pain-point SEO. We made this shift because we found that pieces that followed the pain point SEO strategy drove higher conversions than some of the other pieces we created for traffic growth. And since we hold ourselves accountable for both traffic and conversion numbers, we sacrificed traffic growth to optimize our content pieces around topics we thought would lead to conversions.

For these clients, the pieces we created were meant to rank for high-converting bottom of the funnel terms that don’t have tons of search volume. So while they didn’t help our cause much on the traffic side, they still helped us achieve conversion goals- which is the ultimate goal for all product or service companies (as opposed to media companies).

Pain Point SEO can lead to high traffic growth as well as conversion growth

As a final example, here’s an instance where a shift to pain point SEO even led to an high increase in traffic.

Why?

In this case the client had huge brand recognition and a really strong domain, so there’s a lot more search volume for mid/bottom of the funnel queries and almost any post we publish ranks highly in the SERPs.

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The Pros and Cons of Community Content Promotion and Pain-Point SEO

So where does this leave us? Community content promotion and pain point SEO both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Community content promotion works well in the short term, but traffic growth starts to stagnate longer-term. It also works better for more top of the funnel, widely appealing, shareable content pieces, so promoting bottom of funnel, conversion focused pieces this way is challenging.

Pain-point SEO, on the other hand, is good for targeting mid and bottom of funnel, conversion focused keywords, but those topics don’t have substantial search volume behind them (unless we’re creating content for a client like the last one with a strong domain). Since those topics are harder to promote (because they’re bottom of the funnel), this strategy by itself is tough. If we only focused on this strategy, we would be like more traditional SEO agencies that have to ask clients to wait and wait to see results, which we don’t want to do. There is market demand for that service, and it’s being met by a ton of agencies, but our clients have consistently said that they are happy to see that within 2 months of working with us, they see immediate traffic gains. That’s a nice experience and we want to keep that if we can.

So here’s the promotion cocktail we’re going to test for 2019.

The 3-Pronged Content Promotion Strategy We’ll Use in 2019

1. Link Building for long-term growth (Primary method)

As we analyzed what’s been working for our clients over the course of an engagement (clients that have been with us for over a year), we realized that over time, more and more traffic and conversions come from mid/bottom of the funnel topics that rank for a keyword (not that surprising). The longer you blog, the more Google makes up a larger percentage of overall traffic and it becomes harder to drive that same amount of traffic and conversions from communities.

However, in the beginning of an engagement the opposite is true. Communities make up a majority of traffic and conversions. Companies that only focus on SEO for blogging largely miss out on the immediate traffic and conversions that come from our approach.

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Conversions from communities at beginning of engagement
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Conversions from pain-point SEO one year later

So the question becomes, how can we accelerate the amount of traffic and conversions that we see from pain-point SEO topics even though the volume for many of these keyword terms aren’t that high.

We think the answer is to do thorough, strategic link-building.

For the articles that are driving a majority of the conversions above, they’re ranking in the top 1-3 spots for a variety of keywords. The ones that have fewer conversions are ranking outside of the top 3. So we think the fastest way to accelerate the results that we’re seeing is to do SEO focused promotion actively (link-building) instead of passively (community content promotion). Actively building links to strategic pieces should drive up their rankings and thus build both traffic and conversions.

Being that we’re already measuring which articles drive the majority of conversions, the strategy will be to prioritize link-building to content that is already showing conversions (buyer intent) AND that has the ability to get higher results in the SERPs. The latter will be looked at through the lens of how many more links we need to build relative to the content ranking higher than us, and whether the piece has the ability to outrank it’s competitors based on the content inside of the post.

We think that shifting our primary promotion strategy from community content promotion to link-building will help accelerate the results from the highest converting content pieces that we produce.

In terms of how we’re going to do this, we’ve brought on a team of people really experienced in doing this who we’ve worked with previously. We’ll largely be using the traditional link-building methods that you hear of – cold email outreach, broken link-building, guest posting, etc.

2. Community Content Promotion for Short Term Results (Secondary approach)

To backup link-building, community content promotion will remain, but as our secondary way of driving traffic.

As I mentioned in my last post, this tactic is becoming harder and harder to execute on, however, it does still work.

I think the reason why most people have challenges driving traffic using this tactic is because:

  1. The content people are trying to promote isn’t good – therefore it doesn’t resonate with the communities they share it in.
  2. People try to take shortcuts using this approach. Instead of spending time building relationships and/or being a long-time contributor of a community (which is the right way to do this), marketers just try to drop links (the wrong way to use this strategy).

On point one, a good way to tell if you suffer from this problem is if you ever go into a community and you hesitate before you share an article there. If you’re hesitating on sharing something, it’s likely because you know in the back of your mind that the quality of the article isn’t good enough or that the topic of it doesn’t directly relate to the community. If this is the case, do yourself (and everyone else a favor) and don’t share that piece of content.

On point two, in order for community content promotion to work, you need to be an active contributor of a community. You can’t just drop links and pray for traffic. Real community members will notice, get pissed, and you’ll likely get banned.

Brittany Berger said it best here:

You need to put in the time and be an active contributor to any community you’re in. That means answering other people’s questions, commenting on threads, and only sharing content when it’s relevant and beneficial to the group.

Yes, this takes time. No, this isn’t “scalable.” But it works when you do it properly.

Note from Devesh: Like most things people-based related, it is scalable if you have enough time and money to pay and train people to do it. That doesn’t mean though that’s it’s (a) easy or (b) the best option.

I tested this strategy myself this month for all of our clients and while it’s time-consuming, and doesn’t have the same impact as it used to (thousands of visitors per post), you can still drive a good amount of traffic if you put in the time and effort.

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In less than a month, I was able to drive 1000 unique pageviews for one of the content pieces we produced. If you do this consistently for all of your content, it adds up overtime and helps get your content noticed in your industry.

Finally, community content promotion also remains the single best way to get viral levels of traffic to your very best content.

For example, Devesh got 70,000 visitors in 2 weeks to a single article for his CRO agency Growth Rock. Over 75% of that traffic was from a one post in Designer News:

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Getting that level of traffic from paid sources (Tactic #3, next section) would be unreasonably expensive (even $0.25/click would mean $18,000).

This level of exposure also has immense link building benefits. Ahrefs shows 202 backlinks from 58 referring domains to that single article from July 2018 – Dec 2018. It would take a lot of hours (that you have to either spend yourself or buy via hiring) to build links from 58 domains manually.

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Yes of course, viral posts like this are rare, but if you focus on high quality content that resonates with your audience, they happen. Even one per year is more than worth it. But to realize their potential when you hit publish, you have to keep including some community content promotion in your toolset.

3. Facebook Ads for Short Term Results (Secondary approach)

On top of doing community content promotion for our clients, we’ll continue using Facebook ads as a way to drive short term traffic and conversions to our posts.

This is the more scalable way to drive short term traffic. We’ve seen great results so far and we continue to get better at it. We’ve managed to get average click costs down to under $.30 a click across almost every client through a combination of testing audiences, placements and creative. This has allowed us to scale up spend and drive more traffic and conversions for our clients.

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Each month, we’re starting to see more conversions come from a combination of advertising to cold audiences as well as retargeting some of our content to existing audiences.

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The above is looking at free trial signups for the month of December 2018 to a SaaS product from advertising a piece of content on Facebook

A combination of short-term and long-term promotion tactics for continued traffic and conversions growth from content

Going into 2019, we’ve shifted our promotion strategy to primarily focus on an entirely new tactic to our agency: link-building. We’ve also shifted some of our time and resources away from community content promotion and have started scaling up our Facebook efforts.

Just because this is what we’ve chosen to do going forward doesn’t mean that these are the only options or that this is the best approach for your company. I explored and tested a lot of different options available to us over the course of the last month and landed on these tactics because they make the most sense for us to achieve the results we need for our clients and because they work from a cost perspective.

Some of the other options I explored could drive the results we wanted but were too expensive for us to invest in, or took too much time to yield the results we needed.

What’s important to take away from this article is that:

  1. Traffic can be a vanity metric. Driving traffic just for the sake of having your numbers go up and to the right, doesn’t do your company any good. You need to focus on increasing traffic to blog posts that have a high chance of converting. Our recommendation would be to follow the strategy outlined in our Pain-point SEO post.
  2. The combination of tactics you use is company/industry dependant. While these are the main tactics we’ll be using for our clients going forward, the weighting of each tactic will change depending on the company and industry. For example, some clients have products that are in a new category or that are around pain points not highly searched for – therefore SEO takes a backseat and we might create more case studies, opinion pieces and industry research and use the Facebook ads and community content promotion, instead of leaning heavily on link-building. Test different approaches and figure out what works best for you.
  3. Focus on a combination of short-term and long-term promotion tactics. Creating SEO-focused content and waiting for it to rank can take years before you see ROI  – especially if you’re starting out with a newer domain or have low-domain authority. To accelerate results from the content you’re producing, focus on figuring out a mix of short term and longer term promotion tactics that will help you drive the results you need.

Questions, comments? I’ll be happy to answer them in the comment section below.