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Win Earned, Owned and Even ‘Paid’ Links With Content

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paid-earned-owned-links-do-it-with-contentAs marketers you will be very aware of the concept of paid, earned, and owned media.

It’s the basis of inbound marketing and the currency traded among the globe’s largest media agencies to cover everything from TV and radio to print and digital ad spend.

But as digital grows up to become a competitor for those ad dollars it is also time for us to begin thinking, and talking the language of the wider advertising world.

Digital marketing is about much more than simply links of course but for the sake of this post I want to concentrate on how such a structure can help us maximize the value of the content marketing campaigns we plan.

What is Paid, Owned, Earned?

Before we dive into how this can help you, we must first define what the model explains.

In simple terms the terms are used to describe the "control" a brand or business has over the various channels which it’s content, or content about it, can be seen or found.

The graphic below gives a basic overview of what may fall into each category:

paid-owned-earned-defined

Breaking the actual link earning process down is a really useful way of structuring the idea creation process behind any campaign as it forces the mind to reverse the "problem" you are attempting to overcome. Rather than thinking ‘How am I going to get links’ think instead what would our advocates like to find? What kind of content will be discovered and can you help this process by using seeding and influencer outreach to guarantee your key evangelists find what you are looking for.

Remember here that the channel is all about the ‘customer as the channel’ and so the process for earned is simply to carefully identify your key influencers and create content specifically for them.

The process is basically like stalking, but with a little less "flasher mack" and a little more savvy analysis.

There are lots of tools out there to help you find who those influencers are of course.

Followerwonk is great for establishing influencers via Twitter based on their following and other key metrics like how much their content is shared. Keyword searches allow you to distill down to those people that really matter and csv export means you can then get clever with excel.

Audiencewise also has a tool to help you understand who has already been sharing your content by giving you ‘Shares by Url’ as a csv export and expect this to improve with its recent acquisition by SEOMoz.

And if you want to get really smart then the Infochimp Influence Metrics dataset can help you mine data. In reality though for 90 percent of what you want to use it for this is unnecessary.

Alltop is another great place to find these people. The site aggregates blog posts on every niche imaginable and every blogger worth his or her salt will have a feed into it. Check it regularly for content to get a flavor of what your ‘targets’ are sharing.

LinkedIn Groups can also be a mine of information and we have regularly found really active relevant people by joining them. The beauty in doing this is that it also widens your reach across LinkedIn more generally.

Once you have established your target the next stage is to earn their trust and to create the relationship you need. To attract their attention and retain it.

Wil Reynolds spoke on this subject at Linklove in 2011 and his slide deck gives some great insight into how to do that in detail.

The key is to understand what it is they enjoy sharing and creating, so you can then place something of interest in their laps. And that’s where a curated page of their ‘stuff’ can really help you paint the picture.

That won’t help you get “close” of course. You can do that in many ways without fear of a restraining order! Instead think about:

  • Promoting their content
  • Commenting on their posts
  • Contributing to their Facebook Pages etc
  • Attend their events
  • Buy their products or services
  • Hire them!
  • Send them referrals

Then, once you have your key person in your sights and have an understanding of what they share, when and where they share it you can easily manufacture a follow up piece of content, or related piece that will really capture their imagination.

The deal should then be easy: offer it as an "exclusive" for their blog, invite them to a VIP launch event or create some other way of making them feel "special" and you are almost certain to achieve the required outcome; shares by the most influential people in the niche. And with that comes the attention and links you have always wanted.

Owned Links

Owned media requires a slightly different approach as it constitutes the platforms you and you alone have full control over. In reality even your own website and blog though should have an element of "earned" as the integration of social commenting opens it up to the wider advocates.

As you own the distribution medium here it does mean that it becomes much easier and necessary to plan in more detail. This is where a great content strategy creation process comes into play.

I’ve had plenty of time to think about how that works best, both in a print and digital context, having worked in both "worlds" and while this blog isn’t a deep dive into content strategy the general process we follow when creating ideas and organizing them is broken down a little like this:

  • Understand the audience: Using existing research data, social data insight, analytics, keyword research, what they are currently sharing via social and eventual persona development.
  • Idea creation: Have specific brainstorm sessions for: each persona, every content type you want to use, semantic phrases and niches, every platform (blog, microsites, tumblr etc) you aim to include in the strategy.
  • Content flow: Work on how to ensure consistency of delivery and that what you deliver has variation to ensure it is engaging and retaining.
  • Planning that content: Pull everything together into an editorial plan.

That process may seem laborious but in reality it IS your digital marketing strategy and the aim is to create a centralized document from which everyone can work from collaboratively.

By doing this you ensure you leave no stone unturned in your owned media play and maximize the potential for earning links from it.

As Rand Fishkin famously said their link building strategy ‘is their publish button’. Being well planned ensures you have the opportunity to enjoy the same luxury.

Paid Links

Paid links. You’re probably thinking about how this will end in a world of pain and banish me to the netherworld of the digital marketing community right?

In this context that couldn’t be further from the truth as paid media can play a very important part in ‘earning links’.

For any content led link building campaign to be truly successful you should also consider what options there are to amplify reach, using key paid channels. Look at it as a channel to improve reach and engagement.

We now use AdWords and increasingly Facebook ads to push content in front of targeted audiences that we identified right at the very beginning of the planning process.

The key to Facebook ads, like any other form of digital advertising for that matter, is how you target those campaigns. Drill down as much as possible as your success will depend on it. This is something we have spent a lot of time on in recent months to lower CPCs and spending time testing certainly pays off.

By saving some spend back for this it means you can push visibility to tens or hundreds of thousands of new people and magnify the campaign’s ability to earn links.

This has been particularly successful in social as both Twitter and Facebook ads have consistently not only gained new links for us but also grown social audience as a very valuable secondary effect.

StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg and other aggregators also have paid discovery options and are worth considering for larger campaigns.

Should We Even Care About Links?

"Increasingly not" is probably the answer, but right now they are still the currency that makes organic visibility tick. That means if you want to ensure this channel is covered then link building is still a necessity. The key, of course, is earning those links with great content.

Perhaps the key KPI should be reach and an improvement in returning visitors over time as this suggests an improving’ lifetime value’ to your brand and with it lower cost per acquisition.

Whatever it is make sure you track it well.

There are a plethora of great data sources for tracking new links to particular pages or over specific time periods including Majestic, Ahrefs and OSE but if you want more control Linkstant and Cognitive (see the screenshot below) favourites when it comes to tracking link acquisition such as in the Cognitive example below:

cognitive

BuzzStream is also useful in managing the process and relationships over the longer term to ensure consistency in approach.

Combing that data with analytics reports like those shared in my post on measuring content ROI should give you a clear picture on just how valuable your strategy really is!


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