October 18, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
No matter how coincidental some aspects of marketing and search may seem, your audience never finds your content accidentally. The processes they use to search for information and the strategies your company (and services like Google) uses to write and pull the information audiences want to see follow a carefully calculated plan. This makes content distribution such an important part of your marketing efforts. Today, we’re looking at how marketing distribution channels help your brand get its content in front of the right audience to reach goals and see rewards for your efforts:
Content distribution is the process of publishing, sharing, and promoting your content across a variety of channels. The process is methodical and relies on research to make the right strategic choices about content placement. Factors like your industry, audience preferences, and content types all influence where and how you share your pieces with the world.
In marketing, you may hear colleagues and industry leaders refer to distribution when discussing strategy plans. But distribution and content distribution are not the same things. According to Investopedia, a distribution channel is “a chain of businesses or intermediaries through which a good or service passes until it reaches the final buyer or the end consumer.” Distribution, then, focuses on getting information about brands, products, and services out to an audience by focusing on the 4 Ps of marketing: product, price, promotion, and place.
Content distribution falls within the third P, promotion. It focuses on sharing information and marketing messaging on a variety of channels, like those explored below. The purpose is to get brand or product recognition from a target audience and encourage them to enter the sales funnel and become paying customers.
Content distribution doesn’t concern itself with direct selling the same way distribution does. Instead, it focuses on spreading brand messages to consumers or customers rather than tangible products or services. All of your content distribution channels qualify as plain distribution channels by definition. They deliver information about your company to an audience or lead. But not every plain distribution channel is also a content distribution channel.
There are three primary types of content marketing distribution channels where you can share your information. These overarching categories include:
The best content distribution strategies often use a mix of subchannels that fall within these three main categories. Each one brings a unique set of advantages to your distribution plan. You’ll be able to decide which ones are right for your company and content based on the research you do early in the development process.
Owned media channels are just what they sound like: channels your brand owns and controls. These channels usually make for the simplest and easiest distribution channels, especially for startups or companies venturing into content marketing for the first time. But for content distribution, one of the downsides of owned channels is the same thing that makes it a good first choice.
These channels are self-contained. Your company runs and controls them, but that means you also have to do all the work yourself to attract leads and new audience members to the channels. That’s why it’s helpful to pair your owned media channels with others from the second and third categories to get more reach and exposure. Here are some of the potential owned media distribution channels to add to your content marketing strategy:
Your company website is one of the most important owned distribution channels to have for content marketing in the digital age. Your website serves as a content hub that people can visit to learn anything they want to know about your brand, products, or services. Company websites are a great tool because they’re highly customizable. Though each one should put a high value on providing a quality user experience, the possibilities for doing that are seemingly endless.
Focus on setting up helpful and logical navigation throughout your site. Place the most important or most sought-after information in primary locations, such as on your home page or attached to call-to-action (CTA) buttons. Your website itself is likely an evergreen distribution channel that shouldn’t need much heavy overhaul regularly. Evergreen channels are beneficial from a time and resources perspective. Perfecting your SEO strategy is one of the best ways to attract an audience to your website for content exposure and consumption.
Similar to your company website, a brand blog is a content hub for curating information about important topics in your industry. As another owned media channel, your team has complete control over the blog layout, content topic choices, and publishing schedule. Different from a company website though, blogs are a home for your trending content rather than static evergreen information.
Publish and distribute content on your blog that has more of a time-sensitive bent to it. For example, we talk about SEO often at CopyPress and share information about recent Google updates and their impact on the content marketing industry on our blog. While these Google updates may have long-lasting effects on SEO, the window to talk about the new features and their changes has a limit. The latest update is only timely and worth discussing until the next one comes along.
Like with your brand website, using SEO to increase the chances of your blog content appearing at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) is one of the best strategies to bring in leads to this channel.
Email newsletters are an owned media channel that let you build rapport and relationships with your target audience through direct communication. Even if you use third-party email platforms and tools to prepare your newsletters, they still count as owned media because your team designs them and chooses the content.
From a distribution standpoint, this channel assures that the information you want your audience to see makes it to their inboxes or devices. That’s something you can’t guarantee with blogs or your website, even if your SEO strategies are top-notch. Moreover, email marketing requires lead or audience consent before you send them messages. That means your audience is already open to receiving communication from your brand, and may even look forward to when the content lands in their inboxes.
Though part of your website, dedicated landing pages serve a greater purpose than other pages on your site. Your team creates these pages for a specific audience or purpose, usually to drive conversions and serve as an end destination for CTA buttons or links. Landing pages count as an owned media channel because your team has control of the content, layout, and design. But these channels work best when paired with other options from paid and earned media to drive traffic and encourage conversions from your audience.
Content libraries are an example of content hubs that blend the best features of a blog with the best features of a company website. Like blogs, content libraries let your team explore important industry topics more in-depth than you could on regular web pages. For user experience, it’s important to keep your on-page text short and to the point. Articles, eBooks, white papers, and case studies within content libraries allow you to expand that knowledge in a long format for those who want more information.
But, like websites, most pieces within a content library are evergreen rather than trending. That means the pieces included there stay relevant longer than blog posts. The longer a piece stays relevant, the less content you have to create. This helps save time, money, and resources to devote to other projects and channels that need more constant attention.
Similar to both blogs and websites, perfecting your SEO strategy is the best way to bring additional attention to pieces in your content library. Other options include pairing pieces with earned media channels or other owned channels like email newsletters for more exposure.
Social media is a tricky distribution channel to categorize. Because of its many features and purposes, social media doesn’t fit seamlessly into the owned, paid, or earned media categories. For this reason, we’ve tried to break down which parts of social media fit best in each group. For owned media, your social media profiles or pages are the best fit.
Though you have to follow community guidelines and existing templates to design your profile, your team has control over the content and information your brand posts or shares there. Because social media doesn’t fit into just one category, that also makes it one of the easier channels to work with across a distribution strategy. It allows you to incorporate elements of all three channel types into your plan.
Earned media channels rely on sharing content to create a buzz around it. On these channels, it doesn’t matter if your marketing team thinks the content is great. What matters is if others find that content helpful and what to share it with their friends, colleagues, or networks. Because the people have the power to choose which content goes “viral” and what content fails, we call these channels earned media. Your brand has to collect brand recognition, trust, and interest from the audience to help the distribution strategy.
Earned media often gives you less control than owned media because the places you publish the content don’t belong to you. That means it’s harder to control the narrative and review or update content once it becomes outdated. Most host partners can also choose to alter or pull your content at any time without additional consent from your team. Though grabbing recognition and trust can be difficult or time-consuming, once you’ve earned it, the credibility and potential reach you get from using earned channels should help your content distribution strategy thrive.
Here are some of the earned media distribution channels to include in your marketing strategy:
Guest blogging works similarly to owned media blogging, aside from the locations where you publish the content. The topics still focus on important, timely industry information, but you don’t publish the pieces on your own channels. Instead, guest blogs or guest posting platforms allow you to partner with other brands or businesses to share your expert information on their owned channel.
Working with guest blogs allows your content to reach a wider audience. You’re not doing all the work alone trying to increase your SEO to get blog visitors from organic search. With one guest post on another blog, you have the potential to reach all the members of that site’s audience and bring them back to your owned channels for more great content.
Public relations partnerships represent a form of earned media because editors and decision-makers from other sources or news outlets get to decide the worth of your content. Most companies create press releases for important events like product launches, fundraisers, or other similar situations. Though brands can promote these events on their own channels, they’ll likely get far more reach and exposure by adding earned channels to the mix.
While most organizations that accept press releases like newspapers or community publications do publish PR information, it’s not a guarantee. Your content has to be timely and relevant enough to take up space on another organization’s channel. You have to earn the right to publicize your information with their audience.
Related: How To Create a Winning PR Strategy
As we already said, different parts of social media span the categories of marketing distribution channels. Social groups fit within the earned media umbrella. When you share your content in social media groups, the moderators and other members get to decide what information is worth reading, viewing, and passing along to others.
Posts that are highly relevant to the group topic and interesting get many comments and shares. Less helpful posts get pushed further down the feed until nobody sees them anymore. Facebook and LinkedIn are the two most popular social media sites that include group features. Companies may have to earn membership to some groups as well before they can post and share content. This process adds another layer to the credibility and exclusivity that comes with earned media.
Similar to social media groups, question-and-answer or thread forums allow you to share your content with specific audiences based on topics. The idea behind sites like Quora and Reddit is to let people ask questions or ponder topics and receive advice, resources, or answers from anyone else on the platform.
These channels are great for sharing relevant, valuable thought leadership content under your brand name to increase authority credibility. These sites often let other users rate, upvote, or tank responses that are most relevant or helpful. Those answers often get pinned to the top of the thread, earning the right to get more views and attention from those who visit the forum.
Before digital media and owned media channels, many brands relied on interviews and articles in newspapers and magazines, or on TV and radio stations to promote their business outside of advertising. This earned media distribution method still exists today. Aside from sharing press releases with these organizations, there is the potential that journalists or interviewers may tap your company for a feature piece. The topic often covers a timely event, like a new store opening or a product launch.
These media partnerships are the quintessential examples of earned media because choosing to approach your brand and ask for a feature interview means your company has earned the recognition of its audience. Those who sell news see your brand as noteworthy and something that attracts their own readers and viewers to engage with their content about your brand.
Content contribution platforms work similarly to guest blogs, but without the need to establish partnerships before you can share information. Websites like Medium, or the former LinkedIn Pulse, let your company share its content through a third-party hosting service to get more readership, viewership, or attention.
Despite any kind of exclusivity to join or share information, these contribution platforms still count as earned media. The publication services allow the brand to host its content outside of owned media channels. Whether that content gains any kind of following is up to the readers and viewers. Sharing your content on these platforms may be a good SEO strategy for your owned content, too. The more places your information appears, the more chances you have to earn backlinks to your original content. Adding backlinks increases the chances of your owned channels ranking higher in SERPs.
Similar to content distribution platforms, podcast hosting platforms also serve as a form of earned media. It’s free to share your podcast content on sites like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. But to gain a following, you have to earn listeners from across the platform. Many of these services help your distribution chances by recommending relevant information to users based on curated profiles. But the choice of whether to listen is up to the individual. The more followers you gain, the more likely they are to share your podcast with others.
Paid media distribution channels are those that require monetary compensation to share your content with certain services or partners. This type of content distribution is likely the most time-consuming and strategy-intensive option out of the big three. To get paid distribution just right, you have to do careful research, forecasting, and budget planning. But these channels also bring in the fastest results and provide a lot of information and metrics to show how well each campaign performs. There are plenty of options for paid distribution across digital media platforms, including:
PPC advertising is a form of paid content distribution that takes place on search engines. These ads appear above, below, or beside organic search results on SERPs. When working with PPC ads, you can choose what keywords or topics you want to post an ad for. Look, for example, at the number and types of ads that appear for the search term “content hosting.”
PPC ads help “boost” owned or even earned media content by getting your information to appear above organic search results. For most PPC campaigns, brands pay for this ad space based on the number of clicks or impressions the ad receives. The more accurate and relevant your ads, the better results you’ll see.
Most paid influencer partnerships take place on social media. In these arrangements, you pay a person with a large group of followers or industry clout to promote your brand, products, or services. Each influencer and brand partnership may have different terms. Sometimes, your company may create content and the influencer shares it on their channels. Other times, the influencers have more freedom and control to create their own content based on your brand guidelines and rules.
In either case, the influencers receive compensation for distributing your brand message. The compensation is often monetary, but may also come in other forms, like discounts or free merchandise.
Sponsored content partnerships work similarly to guest posting, but with fees attached. Your company typically creates or develops content and pays to share it with other publication services. But sponsored content partnerships may also work more like influencer partnerships. In these cases, another company creates the content and your brand pays to put its name on the piece for more exposure. Think of it like how local businesses sponsor youth sports teams and get to put their names and logos on the jerseys.
One of the key stipulations of sponsorship, especially on social media, is the transparency and disclosure of the partnership. Brands or accounts use hashtags or promotional language that alerts the audience they’re engaging with paid distribution content. Sponsor partnerships help your brand look more credible thanks to pairings with well-known industry names with clout to share. This type of distribution strategy is also helpful for reaching a wider audience and attracting new leads or clients.
Social media also has its ties to paid content distribution. Most platforms include ads on their websites, within their apps, or directly on user content feeds. Different from sponsored content, paid social ads don’t just show up for those who follow a specific account. They can appear in any user’s feed or app experience based on targeted audience strategies, like preferences or location.
The content of paid social ads varies depending on your industry and audience. Some may include influencer content, while others promote a specific event or resource. The platform on which you share the ads also influences the content you distribute. For example, Instagram includes mostly images and videos in its social ad content. But LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook ads may benefit from text posts or links to content outside the service, such as back on your owned media channels.
Content syndication platforms work like content contribution platforms from earned media, but with payment attached. Unlike contribution platforms, syndication ones don’t allow just any brand to share its information on the service. These paid partnerships involve a lot of strategy development to put your content in front of the right audience at the right time.
Syndication is an art and a science that involves more than just uploading content and praying for the best. With all the work that goes into finding the right partnerships, it makes sense why this method comes with a fee. Syndication brings many of the same rewards as content contribution when the earned media channel has success. This channel increases readership or viewership and helps build thought leadership and credibility for your brand within your industry.
Display ads, also called banner ads, are a type of paid online advertising that exists across the internet. These ads appear on certain websites, within apps, or even in line with content as you’re scrolling through on your device. Most display ads include visual and written components and link back to other content, such as pieces on your owned media channels.
The cost of display ads varies based on the content you share, where you place the ads, and how often you want them to appear on each channel. Though less favorable than other types of paid distribution channels because they may irritate your audience, display ads are another option for sharing content where your audience spends its time browsing the internet.
Though not one of the primary content distribution categories, you sometimes hear content teams refer to a fourth grouping called shared media channels.
Image via Digital School of Marketing
As we already mentioned, social media doesn’t fit neatly into one of the three main distribution channel categories. For that reason, marketers sometimes refer to social media as shared media. They do so because, to gain traction on these platforms, other users often have to share your posts, tags, or content on their own channels. Doing that increases your reach, readership, and viewership.
Aside from social media, influencer marketing and content partnerships also sometimes fall within the shared media umbrella because they require the use of social media or other brands’ owned media channels to promote your content. Whether you choose to include shared media in your distribution strategy as its own category is up to your brand. The channels that fall within this heading have their places within the big three, so you don’t have to separate them out in your strategy unless you want to.
As you’ve seen, there are many factors to consider when trying to decide which content distribution methods are right for your brand. Paid channels are great for quick spikes in engagement and viewership, but organic channels help your brand achieve longevity in attracting and interesting new leads. With each channel type touting a specific set of benefits, you may wonder if you can use all the content distribution channels at once to promote your brand content.
While content distribution usually works best when you use a combination of the three main types of channels, you’re never going to use every sub-channel to promote every piece of your content at one time. Not all content works on every channel. Your audience doesn’t use every channel, and some channels just don’t showcase the best content in your industry. Some refer to the idea of tossing your content out on every channel just to see what sticks as the “spray and pray” method. There’s no strategy behind it. This method doesn’t work. It’s a waste of time and resources.
If you’re interested in trying a new channel you haven’t used before, do your research on the channel itself. Look at what kind of content others share there and if it has a following of your target audience. If you’d like to experiment with a new channel, do so one at a time. Add a new option to your current channel list and then track the results to see if the addition was successful. If it wasn’t, you can eliminate that channel from your distribution list for the time being.
No matter what content distribution channel you use, most rely on the help of search engines and SEO to suggest your content to the right audience. With Google’s ever-changing algorithms, it’s tricky to pinpoint the right strategy to perfect your optimization to get your content on the SERPs for the right queries. Luckily, CopyPress and Search Engine Journal have a webinar to help.
Sign up today for our live session called How To Adapt To Google’s Helpful Content & Core Updates. At this webinar, you’ll learn how to create what Google considers helpful content while leveraging resources you already have, like subject matter experts. You’ll also discover how to clean up your site if you’ve received a domain-level penalty after the algorithm update. Can’t join us live? Register today to receive a recorded version of the live session right in your inbox.
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