Content Strategy

Your Content Doesn’t Matter [as much as you think]

That’s right, contrary to popular belief – content is not King.

More so, it (in and of itself) content is not the key to perpetuating high rankings and mass appeal.

So Who is The True King?


Well, links and engagement signals to be more precise.

Content published in a vacuum will sit there, never get discovered, and may even never get indexed.

So the “quality” of your content, no matter how well thought out, how well researched, or how well produced – will always play second fiddle to the effort put into publication, distribution, and amplification.

You can put in a ton of time doing heaps of research, cranking out an amazing design, writing for your audience, and produce a truly stellar content experience; but if you fail to account for your launch; you will still fail.

Believe it or not, this happens more than you might imagine.

A Recipe For Disaster

At the present time there is (on average) over 2 million new blog posts published every day.

^read that again, and let me write that number out; 2,0-0-0,0-0-0.

That’s a lot of noise.

And the good news for you is – that is exactly what 99% of it is; noise.

And not surprisingly, most of that content that people work so hard to produce, fails – with 50% of those posts and pages receiving less than 8 shares each.

What’s worse – from an SEO perspective, three quarters of those pieces of content fail to generate even 1 link from a single new root domain.

That is, truly, an epic fail.

Not to mention being freaking discouraging.

I know plenty of business owners and individual content producers who put 20, 30 or even 50 hours of hard work into each piece of content they produce – hell my average time per post is close to 22 hours, but imagine if after all that work you are only able to generate 8 total shares across all social channels – and no links; zero, kaput, nada.

8 shares. No links.

Instead, Engineer Success

There are steps you can take to make sure you don’t fall victim to this gruesome fate.

One of the few people who really understands how to evaluate content opportunities and take a non-emotional approach to content production, ensuring his content’s success is Richard Baxter. He uses a repeatable process to take a step out of the personal realm and look at the bigger problem; mass appeal.

More specifically, he asks the hard question of why are you creating this content?

What is it about the content you’re about to create that gets people excited?

How does it help them be cooler, smarter, richer, happier?

Such a direct, perfect, and relevant question.

Back to Richard – I really appreciate that he bakes in the idea of a “proof of concept” as step 3 in his 6 step process for never failing at content; effectively putting it before even the halfway mark – which just like building an MVP for software, is exactly where it should be; before you’re halfway (or the point of no return).

Without bowing too hard to Richard and the processes developed at BuiltVisible, I do want to close on one more element that I embrace, which is the idea of pitching your idea before it actually exists.

The notion of pre-heating your content isn’t new; but it’s still under-utilized.

Spending the time to make the connections, and pre-heat the success of your production beforehand, is paramount to the success of your campaign.

Planning Your Promotion Strategy

Before even creating your content.

Once you’ve proven the concept, lay out a formal launch plan for what your promotion is going to look like.

Here’s a promotion rubric courtesy of Forrester Research broken out by content type:


What’s the common thread?

At this point I feel like Fred Flintstone pounding you over the head with my stupid big club, but to reiterate – it’s planning combined with interest.

As Dave Schneider detailed in his post on how to get hundreds of shares, there is a repeatable process for promotion that includes a bit of legwork like emailing everyone that you feature (or mention in the post) and tagging them on the larger distribution channels like Facebook and Google+ (yes seriously, Google+).


To extend on this a bit, the important part here is to tag all of the entities that can help you amplify your content, which could be brands you talk about – in which case you need to find the online entity that represents that brand and controls their distribution channels; likely their content manager of social media person.

Robbie Richards put together a killer list on how to move from hundreds to thousands of shares, that gives you a list of tools to use to get your promotion strategy up and running.

Re-Promote Your Content

Based on a content lifecycle study done by buzzsumo and okdork, that examined share decay over a period of time, finding:

After 3 days, on all social networks, the number of shares dropped at least 96% for the next 4 days, with Facebook shares dropping the most, and G+/Pinterest dropping the least.

Facebook: 98.9% decrease
Twitter: 97.4% decrease
LinkedIn: 97.34% decrease
G+: 96.7% decrease
Pinterest: 96.7% decrease

After a week, the number of shares for the next 3 weeks drops at least 86% from the first week, with Twitter shares dropping the most, and Linkedin shares dropping the least.

Twitter: 92.1% decrease
G+: 90% decrease
Facebook: 89% decrease
Pinterest: 86% decrease
LinkedIn: 82% decrease

It’s the same as finding product market fit for your newest SaaS product, which brings me to my next point

Treating Content Like a Product

Launching a new resource piece, massive listicle, or egobait post is no different from pushing out your newest iOS app or groundbreaking SaaS application.

Pre-heating your promotion oven is even more important than the actual quality of your content.

In a similar vein as described by Eric Ries; it’s critical to find product market fit – and you need to do this for your content the same way you would do this for your app.

You may be thinking to yourself:

“But Nick, that’s not how content success works. I’m a Kevin Costener fan, and I know if I build it – they will come. It just needs to be big, long, and epic.”

Yes and no.

Yes it should be big and epic…


I need you to pause for a moment of truth – you probably don’t know what epic really is.

You are not the person who defines epic – to be really, really honest, you probably wouldn’t know epic if it came up and hulk punched you in the face…

hulk-punchto be truly epic you need a weird combination of mass appeal + accuracy + revelation + and shock.

It’s crazy hard to put that formula together – hell the movie industry with pictures raising tens of millions of dollars (equivalent to the money raised by most of the bullshit startups out there to solve the problem of blowing out your birthday candles) still can’t get it right.

the easiest way to define what this formula should be is to look at what it’s not;

So here’s a quick checklist to ensure your content (or product) fails at launching:

  1. Fail to accurately describe the actual problem it’s solving.
  2. Verify that there actually is a problem (or a reason to create something).
  3. Don’t let anyone know it’s coming.
  4. Don’t provide any incentive, whether it be based on availability, price, or general access.
  5. Don’t craft a pitch that is focused on what it gives ME.
  6. Don’t gather feedback from real potential users and leverage it to iterate and fulfill real needs

Follow this simple rubric and I promise you all of your launches will fall flat and square right on their stupid face.

In terms of content – publication in a vacuum is the mother of all fuck ups.

There is a reason the people who tend to survive the world’s worst conditions embrace the notion that life favors the prepared; and you need to start treating your content production with the same respect.

Diving Into The Nuts & Bolts

Please allow me to demonstrate the differences between creating content with the mentality of publish and pray versus taking calculated steps to ensure the success of it’s distribution and popularity.

Distribution = eyeballs.

Eyeballs = awareness.

Awareness in all things marketing = SUCCESS.

Blanket statement?

Yes. Absolutely. In fact, hell freaking yes.

It’s marketing – the whole goal is to get it in front of human beings; and “raising awareness” is doing exactly that. Point blank truth.

Understanding The Psychology

The New York Times conducted a study where they looked at 2,500 hundred people’s sharing behaviors online, and distilled the patterns around why people share.

In this study they uncovered the leading motivations of humans sharing online were:

  • To entertain one another
  • To define themselves or help to reveal elements about them as individuals
  • To extend and nourish relationships
  • To feel more involved with the world and their individual networks
  • To create awareness around topics or ideas they care about

Knowing this is powerful because you can use it to inform the type of content you create based on your desired outcome.

There’s still obvious wins when it comes to content types, for example – as played out as infographics are, they still actually work when you look at the data:


Into The Wild

To validate my point I’ve found examples of content that was well planned (at least the content was), well executed, and shows investment in production; just not promotion.

To gauge promotion I’m going to use a wide strokes with a big brush made up of assumption fibers; translation – I’m going to look at the top 20 indexed results for both the name of the content (often times a big target keyword so these pieces rank nowhere) as well as the destination URL.

When content is promoted it’s easy to find where it was dropped and pushed in search since these results tend to index and hold high relevancy scores for the title as well as associative scores for the content’s URL, for example here’s a look one of my products that I promoted heavily:


^In the above Google SERP the #1 ranking is the sales page, the #2 ranking is a separate post I put out to promote the first (and own more SERP real estate), and the other results are additional places I promoted it including on ProductHunt, a webinar I did for SEMRush, an Interview with Simon Swan, a Giveaway on Reddit.

Let’s look at some examples of well done content that simply wasn’t promoted effectively:

Example 1


Title: Web Hosting 101 Guide
Social Shares: 6 (all Facebook)
Links: 3 (all nofollow)
Promotion: Emails sent to the website’s subscriber base

Example 2


Content: What Are Good Nootropics?
Social Shares: 19 (Facebook: 10, Google+: 3, Pinterest: 1)
Links: 32 from 13 referring domains

Example 3


Content: How To Save Money on Groceries: The Ultimate Guide to Grocery Shopping
Social Shares: 44 (Facebook: 11, Google+: 3, Pinterest: 9, LinkedIn: 5)
Links: 0

Example 4


Content: How To Get 400 Email Subscribers Per Month (FREE) From Organic Search and Rank #3 in Google
Social Shares: 30 (Facebook: 18, Pinterest: 5, LinkedIn: 7)
Links: 2

Example 5


Content: Harvest Field Guide to Pricing
Social Shares: 260 (Facebook: 218, Google+: 15, LinkedIn: 27)
Links: 135 links from 17 root domains

^Note: I know what you’re thinking. “Nick, WTF, this nabbed 260 shares (and likely more since stupid Twitter removed share counts) and 17 LRD’s… why are you including this?”

Well I’ll tell you why


It’s branded content, created by a team with funding.

This trickle out approach to promotion delivered very lackluster results when you think about how well done this content is – and how BIG these results should have been.

If you ask me, this guide garnering anything less than 100 LRD’s (linking root domains, for you SEO noobs) should be considered a flop.

Looking at The Reverse

Conversely, here are examples of content that’s pretty good, but that was promoted heavily:

Example 1


Content: Xbox One – The Review
Social Shares: 5,682 (Facebook: 5,594, Pinterest: 26, LinkedIn: 58)
Links: ~2,700 from 430 root domains

Example 2


Content: How We Got 1,000+ Subscribers from a Single Blog Post in 24 Hours
Social Shares: 2,152
Links: 348 from 133 root domains

Example 3


Content: Benefits of Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Your Face
Social Shares: 887
Links: 37 links from 24 root domains

I saved this one for last for a reason.

It’s complete shit.

The social web is the only reason this post is winning at anything, but with that said… it is winning, especially for how shitty it is (seriously, click the link above and go look at it).

But it ranks for 284 keywords… more times than not in the top 5 positions;


Social drives engagement and awareness – eyeballs drive links.

Remember that statement I made way back in the beginning of the post…. making more sense now?

*Social share counts based on data from

Breaking it Down

So bringing this all back to SEO – why do we care about shares?


In a study conducted by MOZ, where they looked at 100,000 random posts to measure correlation between links and shares – they didn’t find anything conclusive.

I know that was anti-climactic, but

One piece of information that is worth highlight, that sort of gets lost in their studyis extremely valuable, and that is the kind of content that has the highest share and link correlations;


See the pattern?

Those are all research based publications.

Technical and research driven content tends to get the most links per share. The takeaway here is that if one of the strategic goals of your content is to leverage it to drive positive engagement and LINKS, you’re best off developing research driven content.

So if you’re wondering…

Yes, link building still works

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  1. Epic post as always Nick! How long did this post take to create? Interesting strategy making all of the links from the example section do-follow. Did you ever consider making them no-follow?

    1. Thanks Joe.

      Probably around 20 hours… pretty much my usual. That was definitely a consideration, but I like to use my own sites to test things, so I figured I’d leave all the OBL’s followed and see if it has any adverse effects on the posts ability to rank for more contextual terms where citation flow and link equity would likely be stronger scoring signals.

      We’ll have to wait and see 🙂

  2. Hi Nick –

    Great to see the details on promotion planning. We’ll are reevaluating our processes for promotion of client work and the information here will really help with that planning.

  3. Excellent article indeed, Nick. I agree that creating epic content such as this article takes many hours but the reward can be equally epic–with the proper promotions. Thanks for your valuable insight.

  4. Ouch, bit of an outdated, sexist title? Queen Elizabeth has the same power as any King of England and she does quite well without one, thank you. Better use Duke or something that is truly beneath a King or Queen in your medieval metaphor. Guess it sort of fits that you identify with Fred Flintstone :).

    That said, good article, and you are exactly right. Promotion is everything in today’s very social media frenzied online content environment.

    1. Hey Carolyn – You know, the thought actually crossed my mind but I figured since it’s highly likely that anyone reading this post would understand the context of it’s juxtaposition against the moniker of “content is king” – and so I figured I didn’t need to qualify or defend the title.

      Thanks 🙂

  5. Funny enough, this post has just 35 shares total. Granted it’s far more than what I get but from such a well researched post, I was thinking you actually implemented what you were talking about.?

    1. Kevin – you’re absolutely right, at the moment – the post is sitting somewhere in the ~80 shares realm including the 40 or so tweets (at least that I’ve seen come in). I did share it on /r/seo and also got notifications that it’s getting some traction on and

      But, as tends to be the case with the posts that I write, since they really only get promoted in the SEO echo chamber, they tend to accrue far more shares and links over the course of the first 3-6 months opposed to the first day… but we’ll see 🙂

    1. Haha thanks Dwight, although this is still an extremely limited sample.. I was more so hoping to spark some discussion and get a conversation going about where the common ground as well as the edge cases lie.

      I appreciate you participating.

      1. So since Ive got little to do, it makes sense to create great content and use these tips. Ill let you know how it goes. If someone is less smart then you and can only do (or understand) some which are more useful if any? (Sorry for the dumb question)

        1. You’re selling yourself short Dwight 🙂

          If you are only going to pursue a few of the steps (whether it be time constraints or simply to test) I would really recommend checking out the posts by Robbie Richards and Dave Schneider that I link to, they both list the gritty details on how to promote and syndicate content (once created) for maximum impact.

  6. Great piece Nick. I’ve learned a lot over the past year and it’s so true that promotion is the king. I’ve seen many great pieces of content that get no traction at all. As for my post mentioned in this article, I simply didn’t follow and execute the promotional strategies so I was aware that it kinda flopped. Not only that, the major takeaway from your post is that promotion needs to be planned well at the beginning, even before you write a single word. It goes to show much the landscape has changed so much and how we all need to lift our game because with the volume of competition, it’s only going to get harder.

    I had a chuckle at the last example you mentioned about how bad it was yet it still attracted links and shares. It reminded me of something that Eric Ward said in response to a guest post of mine last year:

    “With the out-of-control content bubble that’s growing right now, I am sadly seeing more instances of terrible content getting links and mentions, while great content gathers dust. But my core philosophy remains: The best content will rise. Our roles as linking strategists have become more important than ever, because it’s us who help it rise. We can’t make people link or mention, but we can make sure they know it exists.”

    1. Thanks so much Shae!

      Your example in this post is such a well done piece, I love the data and how well your break down your process; it deserves a LOT more attention.

      That’s a fantastic quote.. he really is Link Moses.

  7. Hey Nick,

    Would be awesome if you could share some strategies on getting publications interested in promoting your content before you create it?



    1. Hey Sam – One of the most straight-forward paths is to line up contributorships, for example you can apply to places like, Elite-Daily, The News Hub, etc. as an approved contributor – many will allow for you to syndicate your content on their channels as long as it meets their requirements.. knowing you have these publication channels you can craft your content so it can be easily edited and enhanced for their respective audiences.

  8. Great stuff, Nick, as light and entertaining as I’ve come to expect from you. Preparation, Persuasion, Presentation and Promotion — the Four Pillars of Content Success! Always learning from you. That first pillar can require a lot of internal stakeholder meetings, so be prepared to Prepare your prospective audience. Thanks!

    1. Thank so much for taking the time to read it Michael.

      I couldn’t agree more, proper preparation is what sets up content execution for the other 3 P’s; yet too many people skimp on the planning.

  9. Great post Nick! This came at the right time for me. I didn’t know that good content can be shared from 3-6 months! Coming back to your example of “Olive oil on the face” , did it get lots of shares because of it’s title or because that keyword in the actual content?

    1. My guess is the shares are based on the rankings.. and funny enough, I’m willing to bet most of the links are too.

      One powerful aspect to ranking well for terms that are often discussed or used as references for deeper arguments is when people go to search for references, if you rank – and your article is well thought out and researched, you can end up getting more and more organic links simply for being findable.

  10. Great case studies Nick. I think it has to be hammered into people that you have to spend more time promoting the content compared to creating it. At least a majority of the time. Keep hammering away 🙂

  11. Getting your content out there, having it shared by grateful readers builds you a readership that’s interested in what you have to say. These are the readers that sign up for your e-mail newsletters and convert that way. After all, that’s what your desired result should be at the end of the day. The more your reputation grows, the more people come directly to you. Think about it people don’t search for

  12. Hi Nick, brilliant post, thanks very much.

    I agree that content isn’t king without promotion, that’s what so powerful about social media and yet sadly, some people still don’t quite get it.

    I must add that I’ll need to reread this article as it provides some much valuable information, I’ll also need to share it a lot because it’ll really help people.

    Having started blogging in 2010 and recently come back to it in a big way I’ve seen a few major changes but the basics are still the same, get the right audience and give them what they want. It’s simple, right?

    However, ‘Content Marketing’ seems to be a BUZZWORD right now. To me, this is funny, I’ve been doing it for years, who in there right mind would expect to see good results on mediocre content? To me, it’s all about providing quality so that people share the content, as I am very happy to do with this article.

    Nice job!

    Best regards, Peter

    1. Thanks very much Peter.

      I completely agree that the extent of mirage content out there is laughable, and what’s more is that it seems to be compounding almost exponentially. On the flip-side though, per some of the examples in this post, there are some horrid pieces of content that have great visibility and distribution simply because the amplification strategy was planned either before or in tandem with the production.

  13. At this time if you are writing unique content at regular basis then you are going to be expert in seo. Because content is king in SEO. So always share unique content.

  14. Content is Queen is such a lovly choise of an heading. Where every you go, you will always find the sentence, content is king…
    Well written article.
    Thank you very much
    Greetings Jana

  15. Brilliant article, especially for the several examples, supports the statement that research based articles tend to do better I guess.

    Also Nick, I totally fell in love with your “taking no prisoners” style of writing.

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