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5 Reasons Why Content Marketing Campaigns Fail to Earn Links

Here's a look at five reasons why many content marketing campaigns fail to earn links and what you can do to turn things around.

Have you ever spent hours, days, or even weeks putting together a piece of content that you expect to earn tens or even hundreds of high-authority links?

You hit publish, spend hours upon hours of outreach for your content, only to load up Open Site Explorer and be met with the following:

Open Site Explorer - No Links


All the SEO guides told you that if you published enough content, the links would start rolling in.

Well, the truth is that too many content marketing campaigns fail, with a disappointing number of links earned for the effort. For those just starting out, this can be both disheartening and a waste of valuable resources.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are five reasons why many content marketing campaigns fail to earn links and what you can do to turn things around.

1. Your Ideas Aren’t New & Unique

The unfortunate reality is that many content marketing campaigns fail to attract links simply because the ideas behind them aren’t new or unique.

Publishers don’t want to be sharing the same thing week in, week out with their audiences. If you’re simply taking ideas which your competitors used (and did well from) a few weeks back, there’s little chance your campaign will succeed — unless you’re bringing something new and unique to the table.

While many will argue that promotion is everything when it comes to content marketing, and there’s certainly no denying that the concept of ‘if you build it, they will come’ doesn’t really ring true in our industry, it all boils down to having a great idea.

The right idea, something that is a little different, will ultimately earn links and social shares, even if the promotion strategy perhaps isn’t as good as it could be. On the other hand, a poor idea, even if promoted to death, will struggle.

Sounds easy, right? Just come up with a continual stream of ideas, produce the content, run an outreach campaign, earn lots of nice links, and you’ll be ranked number 1 on Google under your top money terms in no time at all.

If only!

The whole reason why content marketing, as an approach, isn’t scalable is due to the fact that coming up with great ideas isn’t easy. In fact, it can take even the most experienced teams hours to come up with a great idea. On the other hand, though, it does mean that those who put in the time to verify their ideas, conduct their own research, or put a different spin on things are far more likely to succeed in terms of link acquisition.

One top tip on the topic of ideation: give 635 Brainwriting a try. This method is guaranteed to generate more than 100 ideas in just half an hour.

Involve different departments in idea sessions if you’re working in-house. If you’re agency-side, invite your client to join in; they’ll often bring a different perspective and may just plant the seed that leads to that killer campaign.

2.  You’re Trying to Be Self-Promotional

Perhaps one of the most important unwritten rules of content marketing is to avoid being overly self-promotional. If you want to advertise on a particular site, go place an ad. Content marketing isn’t about advertising, but for many, they play it too close to the line.

If you’re creating visuals such as infographics, resist the urge to design these to your brand guidelines. You may have your brand team almost insisting that anything with the business’ name on must follow such guidelines but stand your ground and educate all involved parties as to why it’s a bad idea. This becomes all the more important when dealing with top-tier media: those who generate a significant proportion of their revenue through the sale of advertising space.

When running an SEO campaign, it’s likely that one of your main KPIs is to earn a link, so be sure you make your content as accessible as possible to publishers. You don’t need to design an infographic which mimics a company brochure and, especially if you’ve come up with a top idea. Avoid doing so at all costs.

Put yourself in the shoes of a publisher and create content in a way which acknowledges you (or your client) as the brains behind it but which allows the content to do the talking.

Being too self-promotional is a rookie mistake; don’t be the one to make it and have an otherwise great campaign struggle to earn links because of it.

3.  Your Content Isn’t Linkable

Not all content is designed to earn links and it’s important to understand that from day one, something brilliantly outlined by Tyler Hakes in his post, “How We Scaled a Startup from 0 Organic Traffic to 100,000 Visitors/Mo (In About One Year).”

Tyler acknowledges in his post, and the overall strategy he adopted in the case study in question, that their campaign had three main objectives:

  • Create content that attracts relevant search traffic from their target audience.
  • Generate links to the website to help improve rankings and search visibility.
  • Gain traction and authority in the space and grow brand presence through social.

Most importantly, however, he understood that each piece of content doesn’t have to meet all three objectives. In fact, it’d be pretty difficult to create something which ticks all the boxes without having to compromise on at least one of them.

If you want your content marketing campaign to be successful at earning links, you need to follow this principle. Don’t try to create something which does everything. Instead, focus your efforts on setting one main objective for a piece of content and working toward that. In this instance, that objective is earning links.

When deciding upon the format of your content, think ahead to your promotion strategy. Ask yourself: “is this something I can see publishers linking to?” If not, it’s time to change the format before you spend time on content creation only to be left disappointed when the campaign fails to perform.

As a general rule, to highlight just a few, the following content formats attract links relatively easily (so long as the idea is sound):

  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • GIFs / Memes / Other Images
  • Research
  • Expert Roundups
  • Expert Interviews
  • Case Studies

You’re better off avoiding listicles for the purpose of link building. Why? Even though everyone loves a listicle, there’s often little reason for a publisher to link to one. Why? They could simply go and create their own version without too much effort.

When deciding upon the format, ask yourself how easy it would be for a publisher to go out and do for themselves what you’re sending them. An infographic would take hours of research, writing, and design (not to mention at least two, if not more, teams involved); a video would take even longer. And that’s not even taking into account the monetary resources required.

If you’re offering publishers something which would be difficult for them to recreate, you’re likely onto a winner and stand a much greater chance of earning the links you’re looking for.

4. Your Promotion Strategy Isn’t Good Enough

It’s all well and good having the greatest idea of the century and taking the time to produce a faultless piece of content, complete with media hooks and a multitude of stories which can be spun from it if no one knows about it.

Unfortunately, if the right people aren’t aware that your content has been published, they aren’t going to link to it. Or share it on social media. Or even take a moment to have a read.

That’s where having a rock-solid content promotion strategy comes into play. Mastering the basics usually has the most impact.

It is at this point where it seems most content marketing campaigns fail. Why? Because they’re being run by SEOs, a group of marketers who traditionally want to be able to scale their link building efforts as quickly as possible.

While there are ways you can make your outreach efforts more efficient, you simply can’t scale (unless you’re in a position to scale up manpower of experienced individuals) content promotion.

When it comes to promoting a piece of content which you’ve just launched, you need a plan. You need to know who you’re targeting, by what method, and what the expected outcome is.

Too many content marketers simply turn to email outreach as their main source of promotion. While there’s no denying this will always be the backbone of any campaign, it’s important to go beyond this. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to journalists who have covered something similar (but not the same) in recent months or to strike up a conversation with someone on Twitter.

Take the time to get innovative with your content promotion strategy. Never be afraid to try something new.

Across each campaign you’re involved in, sit down at the end of the main promotion period and evaluate the results. What worked? What didn’t work? If something didn’t go as well as planned, why was that?

There can be no guarantees that journalists will pick up even the best ideas. However, refining your own approach is important.

As an example, we had a rock-solid content piece, produced for a ‘band hire agency’ which looked at the cost of hiring internationally recognized artists for private functions. Journalists loved it but we were hit with a problem outside of our control: The unfortunate November 2015 Paris terror attacks happened the day we began outreach. Given the involvement of a music venue, there was simply no chance top-tier publications would run such a story. We landed a few links a couple of weeks later but many of the initially interested parties tailed off through no fault of our own.

Here’s some additional advice on putting together a successful content promotion strategy:

It will always be the case that a campaign will only succeed if the promotion strategy is right. Spend time getting this right.

5. You’re Reaching Out to the Wrong People

While not often discussed, it’s important when running a content marketing campaign to ensure you are reaching out to the right people at a publication.

Are you guilty of sending outreach emails to a generic editorial@ or info@ email address? If so, you’re probably wasting your time.

On the other hand, if you’re taking the time to research each and every prospect you promote your content to, writing personalized outreach emails and justifying why you’re sending what you’re sending, there’s a good chance you’re setting yourself up for success.

There’s a simple rule in content marketing which many forget: No one wants to feel they’re the recipient of a mass email campaign.

Put yourself in their shoes. Would you feel inclined to cover and link to a piece of content if you thought it had also been sent to 99 other people? No, of course you wouldn’t!

While there are ways to write a personalized email when sending it to large numbers of people, this isn’t good practice. Many content marketers waste their time sending to prospects who will likely never publish their content. Take the time to research your prospect list and know before you press send that there’s a good chance they’ll at least engage in some way with it.

If you’re reaching out for an infographic, has the journalist or publication featured content of the same format recently? If not, there’s probably little chance they’ll feature yours.

On the other hand, be sure to send pitches to the right people. If you’re promoting a piece of content related to marketing, don’t waste your time sending it to travel publishers. You’d be amazed at how often this happens — content marketers simply taking an approach of sending emails to as many people as possible, even if they aren’t relevant.

To note, this often happens when marketers get hold of “outreach lists.” Don’t be tempted by these, you’ll just end up severing relationships with publishers!

Final Thoughts

Content marketing is one of the most effective ways to earn links to support an SEO campaign, but it can deliver so much more in the way of relationships, referral traffic, and credibility.

Don’t make these mistakes! Ensure your content campaigns drive top-tier links which result in fantastic performance and organic growth.

Image Credits

Featured Image: DepositPhotos

Screenshots taken by James Brockbank, April 2017

James Brockbank Managing Director & Founder at Digitaloft

James Brockbank is an experienced UK based SEO and content marketer and the Managing Director and Founder of award-winning Digitaloft, ...

5 Reasons Why Content Marketing Campaigns Fail to Earn Links

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