Content distribution strategy: The ultimate guide

23 October 2023
13 minutes

In short

Content distribution is a vital component of any content marketing strategy. It determines when and where your content will be displayed.

This ensures your content is aligned with your audiences’ media consumption preferences. As a result, you improve the visibility of your content and drive engagement, which helps you achieve a better ROI. For best results, use a mix of owned, earned and paid content.

Be sure to carefully align your content distribution with your audiences’ behaviour and your business goals. Selecting the right KPIs for your specific content marketing goals helps keep your distribution strategy on track and enables you to continually optimise your activities.

people discussing graphs

If you’re like most digital marketers, you devoted about 25% of your budget over the past year to creating content. And you plan on devoting the same amount of time and budget – or more – to content creation in the year ahead.

Content creation is clearly a major priority for most digital marketers. But it takes more than that to reach your target audiences – in addition to content creation, you also need content distribution. That’s why it’s vital to develop and optimise an effective content distribution strategy that matches your audiences’ preferences and your marketing goals.

Whether you’re new to content distribution or looking for the latest tips and tricks to fine tune your existing approach, you’ll find the answers to all your questions in this ultimate guide.

We’ll get you up to speed on the latest terminology and definitions, show you some of the most useful content distribution tools on the market and share some real-life insights from successful content distribution strategies. Read on to learn all this and more.

What is content distribution?

In short, content distribution is simply the act of publishing your content. But if you look at content distribution from a strategic point of view, you start to see why it is so important. There are two basic ingredients behind any content distribution strategy:

  • Timing: When do you publish your content?
  • Placement: Where do you publish your content?

By combining these two factors effectively, you ensure that your content will make it in front of the right eyes at the right time.

Why do I need a content distribution strategy?

A strong content distribution strategy helps you get the maximum impact out of your content marketing activities. Since most marketing teams devote significant time and budget to creating content, it’s important to have a distribution plan in place, so your hard work pays off.

A content distribution strategy is crucial for ensuring your content reaches its intended audience. This, in turn, is the key to achieving your content marketing goals. After all, no matter how good your content is, it can only help your business grow if it’s distributed at the right times and in the right places, so the right people can see it.

When you implement a consistent content distribution strategy, you enjoy key benefits like these:

Enhanced visibility

People are constantly flooded with information that competes for their attention. Although estimates vary widely, at least one scientific study has found that the average consumer sees around 100 ads each day.

That number is probably much higher if you count how many pieces of content (not just ads) an average person sees. After all, any time you perform a Google search, you are presented with thousands of results. Sure, 75% of people never scroll past the first page of Google search results. But the average person performs 3 or more Google searches a day, so even those page 1 results can quickly add up.

An effective distribution strategy brings focus and purpose to the way you publish your content. This makes it much more likely to stand out to your audience members. Instead of just putting your content out there and hoping for the best, you’re being selective about when and where you publish. That helps your content rise above the vast amount of information that your audience encounters on the internet every day.

A infographic on how more than 70% of the people don't scroll past the first page

More engagement

We all want our audiences to engage with our content. But engagement can only take place under the right conditions. Your content needs to be available to your audiences in familiar formats and through channels that they’re already comfortable using. The average brand cannot realistically expect to drive its audience to a new channel, such as an unfamiliar social media platform. You have to go to the platforms where your audiences are already spending their time.

Placement is key to any successful content distribution strategy. So, with the right distribution plan in place, you’ll be selectively posting content in places that are much more likely to attract and encourage engagement.

Better ROI

The return on investment for your content marketing activities always depends on your actual goals. After all, you can only define success in terms of how close you are to reaching the goals you’ve set. But no matter what your content marketing goals are, it’s likely that effective content distribution will increase your chances of achieving them. And as a result, you’ll earn a better return on your investment of time and resources.

Let’s take brand-building for example. If you’re like 50% of the content marketing experts we recently surveyed, you probably consider brand-building to be one of your top content marketing priorities. The best way to build your brand is to enhance its online visibility and to be present in the places where you’re most likely to come into contact with valuable leads and customers.

And that’s what content distribution is all about. So, by implementing a content distribution strategy, you put yourself on the track to successful brand building – and getting a better ROI on your content marketing.

Types of content to distribute

A common mistake is to devote too much attention to the distribution of one type of content while ignoring other content types.

For example, you might have a clear distribution plan in place for your social media posts: you post at regular intervals and via specific platforms and accounts. But have you considered a distribution plan for other important content types, like guest blog posts, long reads and email newsletters?

Most content marketers rely on a mix of content types. The most effective distribution strategy is one that accounts for all your different content assets. Having a distribution strategy in place brings clarity to your content calendar and helps you maintain a consistent output of new content.

people in a meeting discussing customer journey for content distribution

Content distribution channels

When we talk about a content distribution strategy, we’re talking about distributing content through three different methods or “channels”: owned, earned and paid. Let’s look at these three different channels in more detail, including some key examples, advantages, disadvantages and when to use each channel.

Owned content distribution

Owned content distribution refers to publishing content through channels that belong exclusively to your brand.

Examples of owned content distribution/media channels include:

  • Your company website and blog.
  • Email marketing, including newsletters.
  • Physical locations, if your brand also operates brick-and-mortar stores, for example.
  • Many marketers also consider their social media channels to be “owned” content channels. Even though the social media platform technically “owns” the space where you’re publishing, you generally have creative ownership over the content itself.

The advantages of owned content distribution are:

  • Cost effectiveness: You don’t have to pay to post content on your own channels.
  • Creative freedom: With owned content, your imagination is the limit. The exception to this rule is social media content, which is technically limited by the formats that a social media platform allows you to post (although there is a lot of flexibility in that regard these days).

Some possible disadvantages of owned content distribution are:

  • Limited visibility: Unless your audiences are already regularly visiting your website, you will need to work on building visibility and brand awareness through SEO and other tactics in order to grow a large organic following. This is definitely achievable, but it can take a long time and a lot of effort.
  • Maintenance required: The most effective owned media is continually updated and refreshed to ensure maximum visibility. Continually tweaking your owned content improves its SEO ranking and keeps it aligned with your market. But this is a time-consuming task and requires ongoing attention.

When to use owned content distribution?

  • Raising brand awareness: Your owned content is fully branded and helps define your brand’s identity.
  • Generating leads and driving conversion: Through SEO, your owned content helps attract organic traffic towards your company’s sales funnel, ultimately helping to grow your business.

Earned content distribution

Earned distribution includes mentions, shares, and features on other websites and publications.

Examples of earned content distribution/media channels include:

  • Word-of-mouth (WOM) referrals and customer reviews
  • User-generated content (UGC)
  • News coverage and PR activities
  • Guest content, such as guest blog posts or collaborations

The advantages of earned content distribution are:

  • Builds trust: When your audience sees your brand being endorsed by their peers or in the media, it automatically boosts your credibility. In fact, 88% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations, including online reviews.
  • Expands your reach: When your brand is mentioned on a popular news website or social media channel, it instantly exposes you to a much larger audience.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Positive press coverage and user-generated content bring free publicity to your brand.

Some possible disadvantages of earned content distribution are:

  • Lack of control: With earned content, you don’t have full control over the messaging, as you may not even be involved in the content creation process. For example, organic media coverage or user-generated content may be created completely without your involvement. Even if it is positive, it may contain factual errors or depict your company in ways that are inconsistent with your preferred brand identity.
  • Hard to track: While free publicity is almost always welcome, it is hard to fully assess how it contributes to your marketing goals. Generally, you lack insight into KPIs such as engagement metrics and click-through rates (CTRs) when dealing with earned media. This makes it difficult to plan or predict how earned media fits into your overall content marketing strategy.

When to use earned content distribution?

  • Building trust: While you may not be able to rely on receiving earned media, you can certainly draw attention to it (for example, via social media posts) to boost your brand’s credibility as much as possible.

Paid content distribution

Paid distribution strategies include any types of content that you have to pay to publish.

Examples of paid content distribution/media channels include:

  • Pay-per-click ads and other online/offline advertising
  • Sponsorships
  • Sponsored/paid editorial content
  • Influencer marketing

The advantages of paid content distribution are:

  • Guaranteed visibility: Ads are guaranteed to be displayed under the conditions you pay for.
  • Speed: Paying for ads is a fast way to attract attention and generate traffic.
  • Trackable results: With online/digital advertising, you have clear insights into your campaign’s performance, which helps you to precisely calculate your ROI and optimise for future campaigns.

Some possible disadvantages of paid content distribution are:

  • Ad blindness: Given the high number of ads people see each day, many people are completely desensitised and simply ignore them altogether. In addition, around 42% of internet users have installed ad blockers, so your ads will never even be displayed to them.
  • Distrust: Research shows that only 8% of people automatically believe information they see in advertisements. 21% say they will never believe an ad unless the information it contains is backed up by a separate source. These stats show that distrust for advertising is widespread.
  • Inaccurate targeting: Pay-per-click ads may be displayed at random, which means your ad may be shown to people who are completely outside your target audience.

When to use paid content distribution?

  • Raising brand awareness: Because of the potential for high visibility, paid ad campaigns can help establish your brand’s identity online.
  • Driving conversion: Paid ads are also hard to beat when it comes to boosting conversion. The messaging is concise and completely sales oriented, so people who click an ad are likely to be interested in what you’re selling.
  • Driving short-term growth: Advertising is an ideal method for generating a short-term boost in traffic. For example, if you want to promote a limited-time offer or drive holiday sales, paid ads are an indispensable asset.
people in a meeting discussing content distribution strategy

Building a winning content distribution strategy

Most digital marketers rely on a blend of all three distribution channels – especially owned and paid content. The channels you select must always be aligned with your marketing goals and your audiences’ preferences and needs. Below, we’ll talk you through the 8 steps of creating your own content distribution strategy.

Step 1: Research your target audience

Successful distribution depends on how well you understand your audience’s media preferences. Which types of content and messaging are most likely to appeal to your audiences? Where are your audiences spending their time online? It’s worthwhile to conduct professional market research to gain detailed insights into your audiences’ online behaviour.

If professional audience research is outside your budget, conduct in-house research. Some great places to start include:

  • Interviewing sales and customer support staff to learn more about your target audiences.
  • Interviewing customers or hosting focus groups to gain more insights into what makes your audiences tick.
  • Analysing your data to see which content distribution practices have served your brand well in the past – and which have not.

Step 2: Audit and analyse your existing content

Next, take inventory of your existing content to see which types of content have had the most impact in the past. Conduct a review of all your content dating back to at least the past 12 to 18 months.

  • Compare your existing content to what you’ve learned about your audience in step 1 above: are there any topics, content types or channels you’re missing?
  • Look carefully at your best-performing content. Why is it successful? How can you repeat that success with other content?
  • Flag content that needs to be updated. Be sure to also use an automatic link-checking tool to audit internal links and backlinks to make sure your content does not contain any broken links.

Step 3: Set KPIs and goals

What do you want to achieve through your content marketing activities? Set goals that reflect your business’s needs. For example, attracting new business (conversion), raising brand awareness in a new market or fostering long-term customer relationships.

For each goal, be sure to select a reliable set of KPIs to help you track your content’s performance. Here are some of the most common content marketing goals, along with the best KPIs for tracking them:

  • Brand awareness: page views, unique visitors, social shares, brand mentions.
  • Engagement: time on page, bounce rate, comments, likes, shares, scroll depth.
  • Lead generation: conversion, click-through rate, number of leads, form completions.
  • SEO and organic traffic: keyword rankings, backlinks, domain authority.
  • Sales and revenue: conversion, customer lifetime value (CLV), cart abandonment.
  • Customer loyalty: churn rate, customer feedback, repeat business.
  • Thought leadership: domain authority, guest publishing, brand mentions.
  • Cost efficiency: cost per lead, cost per acquisition, return on investment, traffic value.

Step 4: Choose your most important content distribution channels

Based on your audience insights (step 1), plus your content analysis (step 2), select the content distribution channels that have the greatest chances of success.

  • Depending on your marketing goals (step 3), you will probably want to use a mix of owned and paid content distribution.
  • Select channels (such as social media platforms) based on your audiences’ preferences.

Step 5: Choose content types

In addition to choosing channels, you’ll also need to choose which types of content to include in your distribution strategy. The top factors to consider when choosing content types include:

  • Budget and resources: As you know, content creation can be expensive and time consuming. If you’re on a tight budget and/or working with a small team, start with quick, lower-cost activities that can have the biggest impact, such as social media posting and short-form content (blogging).
  • Audience preferences: Always let your audience’s preferences guide you, especially if you need to prioritise one content type over others. If you know that your audience never reads long-form content, for example, then you can clearly skip that content type in favour of others that your audience prefers.

Step 6: Create a content calendar

Now create a timeline for how often you want to publish content on each channel. The more frequently you can publish new content, the better, as this will ensure a steady flow of new touchpoints that appear in your audiences’ social media feeds and online searches.

But let’s face it: you may not have the staff and resources to publish new content every day. In that case, focus on consistency over frequency. Set a realistic timeline for creating and publishing new content at regular intervals. Just be sure to focus your attention on the channels that have the greatest potential impact. Also remember to schedule time for regularly auditing and optimising your existing content.

Step 7: Create and distribute your content

With your content distribution strategy in place, it’s time to start creating excellent content. Remember to focus above all on content quality, originality, helpfulness, reliability and user-focus, as these are all considered hallmarks of excellent content. And don’t take our word for it – that’s how Google defines content quality.

Step 8. Track your results and optimise

Finally, it’s time to monitor your content’s performance and keep fine-tuning it to ensure you’re getting the best ROI. Keep an eye on the KPIs you defined in step 3 above. If a piece of content is failing to reach your goals, try changing the title, shifting the keyword focus or adding new information until you start seeing results.

Content distribution tools and platforms

With all the different factors to keep in mind, content distribution is a complex, time-consuming task. Fortunately, there is no shortage of helpful, automated marketing tech tools to help make it a little easier.

In addition to the most popular social media and video-sharing platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and TikTok), here are a few more interesting content distribution tools and platforms out there:

HubSpot: HubSpot offers a comprehensive suite of inbound marketing tools, including content distribution features.

Medium: Medium is a user-friendly social publishing platform where users can post content and instantly reach a large, engaged audience.

Cision PR Newswire: This platform, better known simply as PR Newswire, is ideal for press releases and broader content distribution to news outlets.

GaggleAMP: GaggleAMP is a social publisher that lets you share content with your company’s employees on multiple social media platforms. It’s used to promote employee advocacy.

WiseStamp: WiseStamp lets you distribute content via your email signatures. For example, you can automatically include links to your latest content in every email you send.

Best practices for effective content distribution

Lastly, let’s go over some tactics that have proven effective in our experience as a strategic content partner to some of the world’s fastest-growing brands. To ensure your content distribution strategy is a success, consider incorporating these best practices:

Prioritise high-impact activities: If you have to choose between multiple activities, always prioritise the one that is most aligned with your audiences’ preferences, whether it’s social media, blogging, events or something else.

Set up a manageable content pipeline: Remember that it takes time to create high-quality content. Avoid trying to plan too many activities all at once, and be sure to build in as much lead time as possible.

Use a mix of paid, owned and earned content: In any effective content distribution strategy, there should be room for all three types of content distribution – especially paid and owned.

Work with influencers: Selectively partnering with influencers can extend your brand’s reach and credibility.

Embrace a continual improvement strategy: Content distribution requires some trial and error, and it can take time and testing to discover what works best. The best approach is to remain flexible and continually optimise your content based on past performance.

Follow the data: Instead of relying on gut instinct, follow your data. Be sure to track multiple KPIs for each goal you’re pursuing and identify how your optimisation efforts affect performance.

Reuse and repurpose existing content: Instead of simply “distributing” content, remember that you can “redistribute” it. Make room in your content calendar to regularly audit and update your existing content. This helps improve the ROI on your original content creation even further by extending the life cycle of your content.

Get the maximum benefit out of your content

A solid content distribution strategy is crucial for making sure your brand’s content reaches the right audiences at the right times. It ensures that your valuable content doesn’t go unnoticed, and it maximises your return on investment.

By following the steps and best practices outlined in this ultimate guide and using the suggested tools and platforms, you’ll be well on your way to creating an effective content distribution strategy and achieving your content marketing goals.

Are you interested in making the most out of your content? Click here and discover why we at Contentoo are the go-to option for content marketing services.

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