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How to use contributed content to even the playing field

How to use contributed content to even the playing field Maya Szydlowski
The traditional line of thinking is that larger businesses have more opportunities for growth and exposure than smaller ones. But a larger staff and payroll don’t give companies a competitive edge in every area, and contributing content is a prime example.

This tactic affords companies of all sizes the opportunity to publish their insights and knowledge and reach a new, relevant audience. In fact, 68 percent of marketers are publishing articles on external websites as part of their content marketing efforts.

The size of the author’s company doesn’t sway an editor’s decision to publish an article — it has to be well written, polished, and highly relevant to the publication’s readers to stand a chance.

Best Practices for Pitching and Creating Externally Published Content

Gaining exposure to new and larger audiences is a major benefit of publishing content externally, and that’s why 82 percent of marketers cite brand awareness as a top goal with content marketing. If your company is considering contributing content to publications beyond your company blog, here are a few questions to ask when vetting potential publications:

  • Are they consistently publishing content? If the publication you’re targeting uploads articles sporadically, it could be months before your post gets published. Plus, audience engagement is likely slim. So why waste time speaking to an empty room?

  • Do they publish original content? Publications with 90 to 100 percent contributed content should raise a red flag. Your mind should immediately think, “SEO spam.” They might use articles as a ploy to add spammy links, and that’s not a place you want to house your content.

  • Are they engaging via social media? Every publication should have a social media presence. Even if it only has a few hundred followers, credible publications actively share articles they publish. And that means they’ll make an effort to push out your articles to their network.

  • Do they reach a relevant audience? Submitting articles to hundreds of blogs to gain exposure is the wrong way to go. If people reading your articles can’t relate or extract valuable takeaways, what’s your article accomplishing? It might extend your reach, but it likely won’t translate into any real business opportunities.

Once you’ve nailed down the perfect home for your article, the work has just begun. Getting external publications to post your articles can be tricky, especially if you have minimal writing or editing experience. Publications have high standards and expectations — and for good reason.

Here are some steps you should take to impress publications and up your odds of getting published:

  • Align your content with the publication’s specific guidelines. Editors create writing guidelines for a reason. They need to appeal to their audience, keep article topics new and fresh, and maintain an aura of credibility. Publications often implement strict rules to shield their content from spammers and advertising schemes. Abiding by these guidelines is the easiest way to establish trust and win over editors.

  • Outline a specific strategy for each article. Is your intent to sneak in an SEO link and hope the editor won’t notice? That’s a surefire way to ruin relationships with publications or get banned from sites completely. Whether it’s intentional or not, make sure your goal is to educate the audience or add a new perspective to the industry conversation, not build links. The purpose behind contributing content is to establish credibility and attract a dedicated following — and that should guide your strategy.

  • Cover a new topic or perspective the publication hasn’t seen. Editors are the gatekeepers to their publications and keep audience interests top of mind. They won’t select your article if it’s not new or useful to its readers, which is why 65 percent of marketers tailor content to industry trends. Unique perspectives and in-depth, progressive ideas excite editors, so try to appeal to these standards.

  • Utilize social tools to distribute your article. Every publication values distribution, and this can benefit you, as well. More shares means more traffic, and if your article accomplishes that, the publication will want more work from you. If you get published, share the article with your network (your employees are great assets for this). Get a conversation going in a LinkedIn Group, email the article to an influencer who might find it valuable, repurpose the post, and link back to the original. Make every effort possible, and the publisher will appreciate it.

Now that you know how to please publications, map out which ones you want to contribute to in the next month. Pick five to 10 that adhere to your strategy, and study the articles they publish.

Then, develop a unique post, provide a teaser, and pitch it to an editor. Emphasizing the benefit to the publication and delivering the idea in a concise manner will save the editors time and coax them to accept your article.

Leverage Contributed Content to Engage Leads

Contributed content is a valuable tool your sales team can use to generate and guide leads through the sales process.

When publishing your content externally, it’ll have a link back to your website. And when an article is relevant to your specific audience, it will attract new leads. Don’t believe me? Studies show that content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads.

Relevance, strategy, and distribution all contribute to your content’s reach and how many potential clients click through to learn more about the author (aka you).

Here’s how you can incorporate contributed content into the sales process:

  • Link to more valuable content. Once you’ve built a solid relationship with the publication you’re writing for, find a natural place to link to a highly relevant blog post that will further educate the reader on the term or topic you’re writing about. This adds context and validity to your ideas while introducing the audience to your company’s blog. The likelihood they’ll download your whitepaper, subscribe to your blog, or even reach out to a salesperson is much higher.

  • Make your bio short but effective. If the publication allows you to include a bio, use it to clearly explain what your company does and link to your personal LinkedIn profile or a previous blog post you’ve written if it makes sense. Don’t spam this section and run the risk of the publication pulling your piece; respect guidelines and expectations.

  • Use your content to nurture leads. Before salespeople get on calls, make sure they’re sharing content with leads on common pain points or questions they might have. This is where content becomes highly effective in lead generation.

Create a Google document or spreadsheet that lists all the content your company’s leaders have written. That way, when leads need further information or context, a salesperson can send them a few links to articles that explain or override their concerns. It’s a simple process that educates prospective customers before you follow up, so you can skip the general conversation and focus on the hard-hitting questions that will close the sale.

Whether you’re a startup, a large corporation, or anything in between, contributing high-quality content to a publication that reaches your audience will level the playing field with your competitors.

If you can produce a unique piece of educational content, publishers will start knocking on your door and giving you the exposure you need to build credibility, establish top-of-mind brand awareness, and ultimately create meaningful relationships with potential customers.

Maya Szydlowski, a content strategist at Influence & Co. She wrote an article that explains the most effective ways for crafting and publishing contributed content in external outlets, as well as ways to generate leads through that contributed...

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