Today, I’m going to shed a spotlight on the topic of content promotion.
It’s one thing to have nobody read that 500 word post you just threw up to meet a deadline. It’s another thing entirely when you invested $1,000 into a world class resource and you’re still seeing a flatline in analytics.
You know you need to be spending more time on promotion, but what the hell are you supposed to be doing?
That’s the question I’m going to answer today. I spent the last month testing out 20 different promotion strategies in a variety of niches, and today, we’re going to peel back the curtain and reveal what works and what doesn’t.
But first, we need to clear up a big misunderstanding that is probably the main reason your long-term content promotion efforts are failing.
Short-term Tactics vs Long-term Strategy
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking for promotion advice, you’re probably frustrated.
All the big, successful influencers tell you the same thing:
- Just send it to your email subscribers
- Create some nice images and share on social media
- Go get influencers to share your content
Yeah, sure… that’s great advice coming from someone with 60k email subscribers, 200k Twitter followers, and a massive network of eager JV partners.
But what about everyone else? What do you do when you are just starting to build an audience?
You’ve done all those things and just aren’t seeing any results. What now?
Here’s where we get to that big misunderstanding. The reality is that what works for someone WITH an audience is not the same thing that works for someone WITHOUT an audience.
There are two distinct categories that are used to promote content:
- One-off promotion tactics (~growth hacking)
- Recurring promotional assets (~audience building)
One-off promotion tactics are short-term tactics designed to get quick results. For example, sharing a post on Inbound.org or submitting a Reddit thread are short-term tactics. You are going to get an immediate traffic bump and then, in most cases, you will never receive additional benefit from that tactic.
On the other hand, you can build recurring promotional assets. These are your email subscribers, social followers, returning readers, etc. – a growing base of people who will engage with and promote your content whenever you wish. This is a long-term strategy as it’s benefits can be tracked on an exponential curve. The bigger this base becomes, the more quickly it grows.
When you are first starting out, you will rely a lot on short-term growth tactics designed to quickly get your brand and content in front of as many people as possible. As you build your audience, promoting directly to this audience will become so effective, you really won’t need to spend a lot of time on those one-off tactics anymore.
The 5-Step Process For Creating Long-term Promotional Assets
Before we dive into the short-term promotion strategies I tested, let’s first take a look at the most important part of content promotion: how to build long-term promotional assets.
1. Create Content That Is Worth Promoting
The first step is to create content that is actually worth promoting.
How many times have you received an email from someone inviting you to check out their 500 word blog post rehashing a few best practice tips you’ve seen a hundred times before?
How many times have you been asked to share a roundup post with 50 “influencers” answering a boring question that’s been asked a thousand times before?
Creating content that is actually worth sharing is mandatory if you want to have success with your other promotion strategies.
How can you do this on a practical level?
- Focus on questions that require in-depth answers and then provide those in-depth answers.
- Include real examples and data to support claims.
- Add custom images or illustrations that enhance the presentation.
- Exceed the depth and quality of your niche competitors.
Creating buzz-worthy content isn’t rocket science, but it does require you to be intentional, strategic, and willing to invest more effort than your competitors.
2. Build Your Email List
Your base of email subscribers will be one of your most important recurring promotional assets. If you’ve ever wondered how popular blogs get thousands of shares the moment they publish something new… it’s the email list.
There are many different ways to build your email list:
- Add content upgrades to each blog post.
- Run a giveaway.
- Create and promote lead magnets on your blog.
- Use popups to prompt new subscriptions.
- Partner with publishers and influencers and tap into their lists.
For a more in-depth look at these strategies, check out my article on KISSmetrics.
As a general rule, the optimal way to build an email list is to have a single personality focusing on a single topic. That’s not always practical, however, so as an alternative, you can attempt to deliver an ongoing narrative through your blog posts and emails. For example, Groove uses the the ongoing story of their own business growth to captivate a massive audience.
3. Build Audiences On Social Media
While social media followers aren’t typically as reliable as email subscribers, they can be a powerful part of audience building for a number of reasons.
- Social proof
- Ad targeting
- Content amplification
- Direct engagement
For starters, having large social followings provides tremendous social proof. This can be very effective when trying to sell, network, or get media attention.
For platforms like Facebook, direct follower engagement is now a pay-to-play sport, BUT the larger your following, the better your ad targeting will be. This is also true for email subscribers. If you have a big group of followers or subscribers, you can create some incredibly well targeted Facebook ad campaigns.
For other platforms, free engagement is still relevant, and large social followings can tremendously amplify your content promotion efforts. For example, Ahrefs has a relatively small Twitter following at 16,000, and with only a minimal amount of time investment into Twitter, they can still generate 100+ clicks from a single tweet.
4. Join or Build Niche Communities
Honestly, this is one of the most effective promotion techniques I’ve seen in the last two years. Niche communities that engage with each other or directly promote each others content can be a HUGE asset to your business.
One guy who does this really well is Tim Soulo of Ahrefs. Tim is very active on Reddit, frequently providing help and answering questions while only rarely dropping links. You can see some results below from some of his posts.
Tim also spent a great deal of time on Quora before joining Ahrefs, and you can see some of the results below.
Over time, traffic from Quora can grow similar to organic search traffic.
In addition to joining groups or participating in communities, you can simply build your own. Tim has also done just that with an Ahrefs “Insider” Facebook group, now numbering over 3,500 members.
Successfully participating in or building communities revolves around facilitating non-promotional engagement within the group and providing constant value for participants. For promotion to be effective, it has to be infrequent in these settings.
Real Results From 20 Short-term Promotion Tactics
Okay, time for everyone’s favorite part… experiment results.
Over the last month, I tested 20 different short-term promotion tactics on three different articles representing three different niches.
- Why Entrepreneurs Fail: 18 Business Winners Explain Their Biggest Fails
- 21 Fascinating Persuasion Techniques That Boost Website Conversions
- How to Easily Build & Publish An Amazing Church App
These articles represent three different niches of varying sizes. The first and largest is the entrepreneurship niche. The second and still fairly large is the conversion/marketing niche. The third and smallest is the church tech niche.
My goal was to answer one simple question: “Which short-term promo tactics will bring in the most traffic?”
For the purpose of this experiment, I didn’t attempt to utilize my existing network to manipulate results or spend a lot of time building a reputation in the various channels I tested. I wanted to keep this 100% relevant to the reader starting from ground zero.
That said, there are a lot of ways to amplify results from any given channel, particularly with the help of a small team, and I’ll discuss how you can do that on a channel by channel basis as we work our way down the list.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that quality of traffic was NOT measured in this experiment. How well any of these channels convert will be very different from niche to niche, so my goal here was simply to measure what channels send the largest volume of traffic.
Here are the 20 tactics I tested, ranked from least effective to most effective:
- BlogEngage & BizSugar Submissions
- LinkedIn Group Shares
- Linkedin Republication
- Medium Republication
- Answering Quora Questions
- Inbound.org Submission
- Leaving Blog Comments
- Leaving Youtube Comments
- Facebook Boost Post
- Google+ Group Shares
- Stumbleupon Submission
- Facebook Group Shares
- Start A Fire Curation
- Taboola Paid Promotion
- Outbrain Paid Promotion
- Hacker News Submission
- BlogEngage Retweets
- GrowthHackers.com Submission
- Quuu Paid Promotion
- Reddit Thread Submission
In order to track results for all these channels, I used Clkim to create around 50 different URLs.
Here are my results.
1. BlogEngage & BizSugar Submissions
Community upvote sites are a pretty common addition to any “how to promote your content” list, and as you may have noticed, quite a few made it on our experiment list.
BlogEngage and BizSugar were both channels I had never used in the past but found recommended on more than a few blog posts. A friend of mine had been able to drive several hundred visitors to a brand new site through one BizSugar submission, so I decided to include it in my experiment.
Only one of my posts fit BizSugar’s guidelines, while all three were submitted to BlogEngage.
Between the 4 submissions, I received exactly ZERO click-throughs.
To be honest, BlogEngage’s free community page looked pretty dead. They have some paid options I tried out as well with better results (which you’ll see a bit later), but I’m skeptical that experimenting with time of day or even getting a team to upvote will make it worth your while.
BizSugar on the other hand, is a bit more active of a community. They are focused solely on small business topics, so if you have something highly relevant to that community, find an optimal time to post, AND get some people to help you upvote your post, it’s probably a worthwhile addition to your promotion process.
Otherwise, skip it.
2. LinkedIn Group Shares
Joining social groups is another common tactic many people use to promote their content. Theoretically, the “right” way to go about this is to join a group, engage with the community, and then share your content.
In practice, I found that Facebook was the only platform where it was easy to find legitimately interactive groups. On LinkedIn and Google+, most every group I came across in the entrepreneurship and marketing spaces was nothing more than a spam channel, and I couldn’t even find a church tech group on LinkedIn.
But unlike Google+, most of my submissions on LinkedIn didn’t get even a single click-through.
After sharing in 4 seperate LinkedIn groups, I received only 1 click-through.
After interacting with 15 different social groups during this experiment, I believe that smaller social groups tend to be the most effective for content promotion. Small groups can support an active community, where people know each other and stay engaged. As groups get bigger, everything tends to become white noise.
From what I’ve seen, the best way to utilize social groups is to start one of your own, like the example we looked at from Tim Soulo and Ahrefs earlier in the article.
3. Linkedin Re-Publication
I’ve had some solid success with republishing content on LinkedIn in the past. One article I republished received nearly 2,000 clicks and a boatload of likes, shares, and comments.
The key was submitting the article to the LinkedIn Pulse team and having them feature it in one of their feeds. Unfortunately, Pulse no longer exists…
As a result, republishing to LinkedIn is now essentially the same as publishing something to your own blog. It’s only going to receive whatever traffic you channel to it. In other words, it’s not really a promotion channel anymore.
My LinkedIn republication received exactly 1 click-through.
LinkedIn has recently changed their algorithm to create better engagement via status type posts on your wall. I recently topped 100,000 views with a post satirizing “influencers”, and I only have around 800 followers on the platform.
I’d definitely recommend exploring the channel, but you’ll need to take note of the type of content that performs well, because you won’t get any results from posting a link and hitting “share”.
4. Medium Re-Publication
Re-publishing on Medium is similar to re-publishing on LinkedIn and gave me similar results. Unlike LinkedIn, however, Medium still has some upside if you are able to get your posts included in a popular category feed or “publication” feed. These function similar to how Pulse used to function, and they can drive a large amount of traffic to your site.
Getting included on a publication requires time and networking (unless you know the right person already), and it’s not something I’ve pursued in the past, so my results were based on a simple republication of content.
My Medium republication received only 3 click-throughs.
Again, the only real potential value here is going to be getting included in popular publications. Measuring how difficult and worthwhile that is will make for a good future experiment.
5. Answering Quora Questions
Quora is another one of those channels that offered a lot of potential for marketers in its first couple years, but the gold rush is over, and it’s not nearly as valuable as it once was.
Simply searching for relevant Quora questions that you can answer and link out from is no longer a viable strategy on it’s own as a promotion tactic.
I provided thoughtful answers to 9 questions and received 4 total click-throughs.
That said, there is still a way to take advantage of Quora, but it involves the same vote manipulation that comes up with half of these channels.
After running this experiment, I talked with people who have had some moderate success with Quora, and in their opinion, it’s not very effective as a short-time tactic. In order to get any sort of meaningful results, you really need to be active on a more regular basis (and preferably beginning 3+ years ago). Results tend to be like a lottery. You never know which thread will skyrocket and start sending traffic, so the more threads you participate in, the better your chance of seeing a return.
6. Inbound.org Submission
If you are in the marketing space, you know about Inbound.org. It’s a community upvote site that has become a mandatory part of promoting any sort of marketing content, and more than a few marketers have leveraged the community to accelerate their websites and careers.
I’ve been using Inbound.org for the last few years, and unfortunately, I’ve watched it’s digression from exciting new community to insiders-only spam channel. At this point in the game, if you want to get results with Inbound.org, you need one of two things.
- Access to a community moderator
- A group of people who will immediately upvote your submission
Moderators can easily manipulate results on the platform, and many won’t hesitate to do so. If you know a moderator or are willing to pay one under the table, you can guarantee your post will get pushed near the top of the front page.
Alternatively, you will need a group of people (around 10 is usually enough) to immediately upvote and comment on your submission. This will get it enough exposure to gain some organic traction. You can usually count on anywhere from 500 to 1,500 visitors via this method, depending on how compelling your headline and article topic are.
I haven’t even attempted to submit to Inbound.org without a supporting upvote group in some time, so I decided to try clean submissions for the purpose of this experiment.
My two clean Inbound.org submissions received a total of 6 click-throughs.
So yeah, either collude or don’t bother.
7. Leaving Blog Comments
There are a lot of potential upsides to blog commenting:
- Referral traffic
- Lead acquisition
I know one marketer who built her email list to several thousand subscribers without even having a website. All she would do is guest blog and comment on blog posts with links back to a lead magnet optin page.
There are a lot of benefits to commenting on blog posts, but what I wanted to measure is whether or not I could get referral traffic from commenting on blog posts listed on the front page for my target keyphrase.
In short, the answer is no.
I left 9 blog comments and received 6 total click-throughs.
What I would recommend doing instead is following the most popular blogs in your niche and commenting on new posts as soon as they are published. Make sure you are doing this on sites that hyperlink your username to a URL of your choosing, and then leave noteworthy comments that compliment the author and provide additional insights to the discussed topic.
8. Leaving Youtube Comments
I had never tried this strategy before, but I was very curious to see how posting a comment on a Youtube video would translate to referral traffic.
Turns out, it’s about what you’d expect, BUT the main thing I noticed was that smaller, active youtubers tend to be very engaged with commenters.
Referral traffic wasn’t really anything to write home about.
I left 9 Youtube comments and received 15 total click-throughs.
That said, I think Youtube is worth exploring more as a promotion channel, even if you aren’t creating video content. I plan to spend a bit more time experimenting with it in the future.
9. Facebook “Boost Post”
As we discussed earlier, Facebook Ads can be a relatively cheap way to get significant exposure for a post. It can also be a very efficient way to waste your money.
I spent $45 total on the “Boost Post” option and received a measly 24 click-throughs.
You really need to be willing to spend a bit more money in order to get decent results with Facebook nowadays. You need to spend some money to identify the right targeting options and then spend a bit more money on the post itself in order to start getting a return.
Simply dropping a few bucks to boost a post is no longer a good investment in most cases. It’s also possible that I just have no clue what I’m doing with Facebook Ads, but I’ve had enough success in the past with the platform to feel like it’s not that simple.
10. Google+ Group Shares
Google+ groups are basically the same as LinkedIn groups but with better results. They are essentially just spam communities, but my posts to these communities actually resulted in a few clicks. I don’t really recommend making a practice of spamming groups. It does absolutely nothing for audience building and any click-throughs you do get probably aren’t worth anything, but I wanted to try it out just for the purpose of this experiment.
I posted to 6 Google+ groups and received 26 click-throughs.
11. StumbleUpon Submission
Like submitting to Google+ groups, StumbleUpon is another “click and forget” promo tactic that can potentially result in a few clicks. The quality is likely the worst of any channel here, but whatever… it costs nothing and takes a few seconds.
My 3 StumbleUpon submissions resulted in 44 click-throughs.
The next step would be to add a tracking pixel and see if any clicks result in leads. My guess is that 50 clicks per post over 5 posts is going to result in at least a lead or two.
12. Facebook Group Shares
As I mentioned before, Facebook groups were by far the most interactive I found across the various social channels. There are many groups where link spamming isn’t taking place, and these are the groups where you can get the most traction when sharing content.
They key here is that you can’t spam either. You have to engage with the community and connect your shares to what they are talking about. If you can do that, you will get more out of these groups than all the spam channels combined.
(That said, it looks like I was blocked from one marketing group after posting something similar to the above comment.)
All told, I posted to 5 different Facebook groups and received 62 click-throughs.
For any group that you want to use for recurring promotion, it will be important for you to engage with the group in a non-promotional capacity even more frequently than you share your content.
The best option, however, is to simply create your own group, keep it spam free, and reserve the right as owner to share your own content whenever you want. This is essentially what’s happening in all existing groups, but since you aren’t the owner, you don’t get to share your content as much.
13. Start A Fire Curation
Start A Fire is one of several apps that allow you to overlay a prompt to your own content on an article you share. This allows you to get some additional benefit out of any content curation strategies you are currently using. They just recently shut down after I finished my experiment, but you can do the same thing with Back.ly.
It’s not a bad idea, particularly if you can integrate it with your whatever scheduling tool you are using. Start A Fire used to integrate with Buffer, but that integration hasn’t been working for me lately.
Across 2,085 curated pageviews, I’ve received 68 click-throughs to my own content.
Honestly, that’s not much at all, but it’s better than nothing and it costs me absolutely nothing, so I think it’s a worthwhile piece of automation to integrate with your current curation and scheduling.
14. Taboola Paid Promotion
Paid promotion is consistent, so if you can find a channel that sends quality traffic at the right price, that’s incredibly valuable. Taboola is one channel I’ve been wanting to test out, and I used this experiment to get a feel for traffic volume.
The targeting options on Taboola are limited. You pretty much just have to trust their algorithm and then monitor the results, which makes setting up a campaign insanely easy.
I spent $31.15 on Taboola and received 89 click-throughs.
Similar to Facebook Ads, the more you spend on this channel, the better results you are projected to receive. Unlike Facebook Ads, spending only $30 on an article could potentially be worthwhile.
You’ll need to add a conversion pixel and track conversions to know one way or another, but for a low-cost initial experiment, there were enough click-throughs for me to look at testing quality as well.
15. Outbrain Paid Promotion
Take everything I just said about Taboola and apply it to Outbrain. Testing out this platform was pretty much the exact same experience.
I spent $32.06 on Outbrain and received 95 click-throughs.
With both platforms there was enough volume to look further into them, but the source of the traffic makes me skeptical of the quality. As I’ve said before, with paid pomo, you really need to track conversions as well.
16. Hacker News Submission
To be honest, I’m not really even sure what Hacker News is. It seems to just be a simple, upvote-based news feed that anyone can submit to.
I literally just showed up, submitted one article and left.
My Hacker News submission received 96 click-throughs.
I really don’t have any commentary. I have no clue what the deal is with this channel, but I’ll take a hundred free clicks any day. After talking with other marketers about the channel, it seems that it can be incredibly effective for the right content, but it can be difficult to identify what that content is, and spamming non-relevant links will get your IP address blocked.
17. BlogEngage Retweets
As I mentioned before, BlogEngage’s community submission feed is pretty much worthless, but they also have paid options at around 50 USD per month. One of the features included in this package is that they will retweet your content throughout their network.
Given how Twitter works, I thought it would be interesting to test how many actual clicks I could get through this retweet network, so I tweeted the three articles and measured click-throughs before and after the retweets.
After receiving RTs from the BlogEngage network, my three articles received an additional 145 click-throughs.
Again, I’ll need to measure the quality here in order to determine whether or not the paid membership is worthwhile, but at first glance, I’m very pleased with those results.
18. GrowthHackers.com Submission
GrowthHackers.com is basically Inbound.org without the collusion. You can still get some decent results without needing to manipulate your submissions.
For my clients in the marketing space, GrowthHackers.com consistently drives the most referral traffic out of any promotion channel we use. While I will usually have the client’s marketing team upvote the post when it goes live, for the purposes of this experiment, I simply submitted the post with no vote manipulation.
My GrowthHackers.com submission drove 235 click-throughs (and counting).
The main key to utilizing this channel is to write on topics that the community likes, which is anything related to driving user behavior: conversion, copywriting, psychology, etc. This makes it a very good fit for virtually any marketing blog.
19. Quuu Paid Promotion
Quuu Promote has been an automatic part of my content promotion for several months now, although their recent price increase might lead to me being a bit more selective.
Quuu has managed to have their cake and eat it too by offering a paid curation app on one end of the funnel and paid ad placement on the other end. That kind of pisses me off, but it’s pretty brilliant too, and it will remain brilliant in my mind for as long as the cost-per-click remains solid on 9/10 articles.
Quuu can pretty awesome for content promo. This cost $60:
It can also be shitty. This cost $30:
For this experiment, I spent $90 on Quuu Promote and received 409 click-throughs.
After the price hike, most submissions run in the $40 – $50 range, and the results on my last three submission are averaging only 70 clicks, so the while they heyday might be over already for Quuu Promote, I’d recommend trying 3-5 articles with them and seeing how it goes.
20. Reddit Thread Submission
Reddit was the clicks winner by a mile and a half, which sort of surprised me and didn’t surprise me at the same time.
On the one hand, I know how much traffic and attention Reddit can quickly drive to a site that captures its attention. On the other hand, 9/10 submissions are typically going to be downvoted to oblivion the moment you submit them.
With that in mind, I submitted each article to three separate subreddits. Not a single one was downvoted, and all of them received a moderate amount of traction. I’m a regular Reddit user, so I do know how NOT to piss off the community, but despite this, I was shocked that every single post received some moderate traction.
All told, I made 9 Reddit submissions and received 708 click-throughs.
When submitting to Reddit, it’s important to spend a little bit of time making your submission more than just an obvious promo linkshare. If you can add an element of discussion to the thread, that’s always helpful.
Reddit is a massive community and a great place to promote B2C content in particular if you can be a bit more subtle about it and follow the official and unofficial rules of the individual subreddits you share on. Even then, you probably have a 50/50 shot of getting downvoted, but I think my experiment proves that it is possible to get consistent results with the right approach.
Conclusion: The 3 Winning Content Promotion Strategies
If you were tracking along with the results, you probably noticed that three of the last 20 results were not like the rest. The final three had a significantly higher numbers of click-throughs than the rest:
- GrowthHackers Submission
- Quuu Paid Promotion
- Reddit Thread Submission
I feel like it’s safe to dub these the big winners of my experiment, and I plan to make them a regular part of my content promotion process.
If GrowthHackers isn’t a good fit for your niche, try to find a similar upvote-driven site that is active in your niche, OR if that doesn’t exist, just focus on Reddit “subreddits” which are more or less the same thing.
But enough of that.
I’m not the only one promoting content out here, and I highly doubt I’ve exhausted every content promotion strategy out there, so please, tell me what’s been working for you.
What have you tried? What has failed? What has succeeded?
Let me know!