Earlier this year, Matt Cutts announced that guest blogging has, essentially, gone to the dogs. This condemnation was a big step toward filtering out low-quality marketing efforts in our industry, but for content marketers who are already focused on doing things the right way, this announcement should have little effect on their strategies.
That’s because real, credible content marketing revolves around creating high-quality content and building relationships with publishers who can benefit from that content — it’s not about being spammy, spinning articles, or doing anything and everything possible to get links. Still, sometimes even creating quality content simply isn’t enough. With the content explosion occurring online right now, what you produce can’t just be great, it has to be epic content — the right information, placed in the right publication to target the right audience at the right time.
This is why, in the pursuit of readers, content marketers must realize that publishers are key to the equation, and that getting the attention of the best publishers requires tailored, high-quality content that is relevant to the needs of their audiences.
So how can marketers increase their chances of publishing content on the sites that attract their target audiences? Do your research — starting in these three areas:
1. Pick the right publisher for the piece
Huffington Post and BuzzFeed are popular sites, and obviously getting them to feature your content would be considered a substantial win. But don’t just default to the major sites when deciding on the best outlets to target for your thought leadership content. Consider your intended audience: Who are they? What do they enjoy? What do they do in their spare time? What are they looking for? Then see which publications’ audiences match this description.
Knowing your readers means knowing what they like to read, and where they like to read it. When researching audiences and sites on which you would like to publish content, try these approaches:
- Explore each site’s subsections: Even niche publications are divided into smaller subject categories, so it’s important to check the multiple layers of sites’ navigation. For example, if you have an article about productivity in the workplace, you don’t have to go straight to Forbes. Did you know that Inc. has a specific section dedicated to productivity?
Once you’ve identified relevant subsections, research them. What topics do they like to cover? Are there topics that keep being brought up? Consider why this might be and then think if there are angles that haven’t been covered. Also pay attention to the type of content posted in these categorical sections; are they heavy on quizzes, articles, or infographics?
- Check out the comment sections on relevant articles: Are people satisfied with the articles on the site? Are they disagreeing with the content or criticizing the writing style? Is there healthy discussion, or is there mostly name-calling? These answers will provide insight not only into what people are reading and why, but also what they may be looking for that the publisher has yet to provide. For example, in a fascinating Huffington Post article, Here’s How The World’s Most Brilliant People Scheduled Their Days, the comments say a lot about reader reception:
Two key things can be learned from just these comments. First, they address the actual content of the graphics, rather than criticizing the perspective of the piece or calling into question where the information comes from. This means that the reader probably trusts the information and its sources, which is crucial for a positive response. Second, positive, thoughtful responses like this are also indicative of the content being engaging — a good sign of topics this audience will likely be receptive to.
- Look for social sharing metrics: You don’t just want the publisher to post the article — you want the audience to engage with it. What type of content got the most comments, tweets, Facebook shares, etc.? Once you know what performs the best, you’ll know what the audience is looking for and if you’re content matches their expectations.
When deciding on the list of sites to research, don’t only target huge publications with subsections — remember that many popular sites exist that have a narrower focus (even if it’s not a particularly niche-focused publication overall). For example, if you’re trying to find the best publisher for a tech story, it would be great to have it posted on HuffPost Tech, but keep in mind that Gizmodo, TechCrunch, InfoWorld, and other notable tech sites exist that could be a better fit for a particular content effort you are looking to publish.
One way to find other publication options is to search for a topic relevant to your content in Google News. The results will contain publications that have recently published stories related to the subject. For example, the search shown in the image above is a result of searching for “iOS.” While some major publications will show up, some more niche options will also appear. Research these sites and always keep your options open.
2. Find the information gaps
Your publication research should have given you an idea of what kind of information is already out there — and what’s missing. But even if there aren’t any obvious gaps, there are other ways to come up with story ideas. After all, if amazing ideas just fell into every marketer’s lap, no one would have problems creating epic content, right? It can take work to find and nurture the perfect idea. Here are some tips:
- Consider a common topic from a different perspective: Every story has multiple points of view, and often they haven’t all been explored. Taking a look at someone else’s vantage point can offer valuable insight into a subject, so explore if this is possible. Take, for example, the Mashable article, Who Is the Average Gmail User? There are plenty of articles about how to efficiently use Gmail itself, but this article explores it from another angle — characterizing its users. When you take this step to examine what sides of a topic haven’t been explored, you’ll find new, fresh ideas.
- Put the topic into a broader context: Few things that are happening now have no history or outer influences. It’s easy to only think about the “now,” but it can also be interesting to explore what led to this point. How does the issue compare to what happened in the past, or to similar issues happening in other parts of the world? Keeping with our previous example, the Official Gmail blog created an infographic illustrating the evolution of Gmail, which is a way of putting Gmail into context. But what about comparing Gmail’s growth to that of other chat clients, or to other websites in general? What about comparing the number of emails sent on Gmail with the number of letters that were sent when the U.S. Post Office first began? Different angles like this present new insights, which almost always make for intriguing content.
- Ask the experts what they want people to know: If you know you’ll be writing about a certain niche for a while, start engaging with experts in the area. Why? Simply asking what they want to talk about, or what they think people should know, can give you some fascinating options. Don’t forget — almost every topic has a least a few passionate people supporting it. They know what’s discussed and what’s been overlooked. Don’t neglect this untapped resource.
To find relevant experts, you have a few options. For one, you can look at who’s interviewed in other articles related to the topic, or you can research who’s written high-quality, accurate content on the subject. Another option involves searching for university experts, as many universities have search engines you can use to find professors and researchers who specialize in different subjects. Columbia University, Georgetown University, the University of Florida, and many other colleges have these directories.
Once you’ve identified a relevant expert, send him or her an email explaining that you recognize his or her expertise in the subject and that this would benefit the content you’re developing. Explain what the content is for, and with your client’s permission, who the author is (aka, you and the client). Also describe what your intentions are for the piece, but make sure not to make any promises about where you’ll get it published (unless you actually have it arranged).
If you are transparent, the source will be more likely to trust you. Phone interviews are always ideal (as they allow for better quotes and for follow-up questions), so ask for a contact phone number. If you’re going the email route, include your questions in the first email so that they’re more likely to respond. The more emails involved, the more likely someone will lose interest.
3. Speak from a place of authority
Even when you’ve discovered the whereabouts of your online audience and have the greatest idea on the planet, you still have to execute the content well in order to see results. That doesn’t just mean great writing (even though that’s definitely necessary) — it means you make sure you are ready to publish content that is fresh, relevant, and credible. Publishers will respect you if your information is from primary sources or gathered yourself; they want to see new information presented in new ways.
To do this, make sure your research and information gathering has an element of journalistic reporting. Don’t just think, “What’s already out there?” Think, “What can I find out for myself?” Here are some ways to do this:
- Run surveys or polls to get a new look at a topic or situation: If you want to know what people think about something, you might as well just ask them. Don’t speculate or assume you know what a certain group believes. If you’re able to collect this sort of information and present it to the public, it can open people’s eyes to what’s really going on. For example, services like CrowdFlower allow you to crowdsource information and get an idea about audience opinion.
When designing the questions for your survey, make sure you’re not posing the questions in a biased manner. For example, instead of asking, “Do you like X?” ask “How do you feel about X?” while including “Like” and “Dislike” among the choices. This will provide you with the most objective answers.
When trying to think of what questions to ask, consider the context of your topic. What do people think about this subject in terms of the current time and the current trends? For example, while it’s fine to ask, “How do you feel about X?” it also might be helpful to ask, “How did you feel about X a year ago?” Brainstorm what you’re hoping to achieve with the survey and then consider what questions will help you get there.
- Talk to the same experts I mentioned earlier: You know those super-smart men and women I mentioned in the previous section? While you’re asking them about what you should write about, go ahead and interview them, too (with their permission, of course). Take down quotes, ask their professional opinion on a topic, and even inquire as to what other resources would be helpful.
- Perform a case study to examine an idea yourself: Say you’re wondering how people’s profile pictures can affect the perception of their social media accounts. Why not test out your theory? You could even tie in the first point and survey people on what their first impressions are when they see different pictures. For example, you can gather audience feedback like this by using sites like SurveyMonkey, which allow you to include images and ask corresponding questions. The options are limitless, but don’t be afraid to go and try something out.
Imagine you’re the publisher. What would you want to see in your inbox? Articles that rehash the same things in the same way, or content that explores new avenues, presents new information, and engages new topics of discussion? Imagine the content you’d want to publish on your own hypothetical site, and then find the means to create it.
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Cover image via Bigstock