As BuzzFeed’s Jonathan Perelman once said, “Content is king, but distribution is queen. And she wears the pants.”
In the world of content marketing, this is indeed true—building a smart content distribution strategy is crucial for long-term success. If you produce a remarkable piece of content, how can it make an impact if nobody reads it?
In this article, we'll guide you through developing a content distribution strategy and effectively promoting your content to maximize reach and attract loyalty to your brand.
What Is Content Distribution?
Content distribution is the process of publishing and promoting your content through various channels and media formats.
This can include your website, ads, your social media channels, email newsletters, and other channels we’ll explore in a moment.
But to start, we’ll discuss the importance of content distribution and why you should care about this strategy in the first place.
Why Is Content Distribution Important?
Without an effective means to share, amplify, and promote your content to the world, it’s unlikely to reach new audiences.
Think of it this way: Would you have ever heard of or read the books of favorite authors if they didn’t have a company to publish, ship, and sell their works at your local bookstore?
Probably not. Unless your brand is already widely known, it’s nearly impossible to reach your intended audience and get in front of people who’ve never heard of you before.
In other words, content distribution helps you get your content in front of the right audience via the right channel and at the right time.
Types of Content You Can Distribute
Before evaluating the content distribution platforms, consider all the content assets you already have. This can include:
- Blog posts
- White papers and guides
- Research studies
- Pillar pages, research, and other long-reads (e.g., how-to guides)
- Case studies and success stories
- Ebooks and templates
- Articles (non-blog posts)
- Product landing pages
- Podcast episodes
Pick your promotional channels wisely. A good rule of thumb is to define your expectations as goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
For example, if you want to increase brand awareness, you can focus on shares, organic traffic, keyword rankings, and backlinks.
Three Kinds of Distribution Channels To Focus On
Content distribution channels are the platforms and media where you share your content.
Specific channels may vary depending on your resources and audience specifics. In general, though, we can divide them into three broad categories:
Owned channels are the content platforms and channels that belong to your company or brand.
This could include:
- Gated content
- Landing pages
- Social media profiles
- Mobile apps
Here’s an example of an owned channel, a blog found on a dog training website:
Earned or Shared Channels
Earned or shared channels are those that belong to external third parties who have shared content about your brand. Think of bloggers, social media influencers, journalists, or review sites.
While posting your content on these sites is free, you don’t own the content.
- Guest posts
Here’s an example of Nike’s content found on an earned or shared channel. It’s a product review published by Hypebeast, a streetwear and contemporary lifestyle magazine:
Paid channels are pay-to-play. In exchange for promoting your content on an external site, you pay a fee. This can include various platforms such as:
- Paid ads
- Social media ads
- Sponsored content
- Influencers or reviewers who are paid to speak about your brand
Here’s an example of a sponsored article running on a technology website, Apple Insider:
To memorize this concept more effectively, save and share this infographic:
How to Choose Between Content Distribution Channels
If you’re wondering how, where, and when to promote your content, there are a few factors to consider.
Paid channels generate results quickly but require ongoing investment to sustain growth. The second you turn off the ad spend, you’ll see an immediate downturn in traffic, reach, and engagement.
Organic channels, both owned and earned, take longer to see results. However, those results will be sustainable and more stable.
Remember that building a loyal fanbase doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. The best way is to strike a healthy balance between paid and organic distribution channels.
To simplify the process of choosing your optimal channels, we’ve prepared some comparisons below. There, you’ll find detailed information on what types of content are distributed on those channels, target KPIs, and other important metrics to keep track of.
Owned Content Distribution Channels
These channels are central to any brand. They are owned by you, and you alone have full control over the content.
In addition, you can communicate directly with your “owned” audience and nurture these contacts, moving them down the funnel.
Types of content to distribute
Metrics to track
Emails and Newsletters
Social media profiles, YouTube, podcast platforms
Earned Content Distribution Channels
If your earned platform is an influencer, industry thought leader, or top media publisher, getting traction here is worth it. You get your brand in front of a massive audience who’s already loyal to or engaged with that media channel.
The downside is that these channels give you less control because the resource you publish your content on doesn’t belong to you.
That means it’s harder to review outdated content, track its performance, and convert users into leads. Another issue is that the owner can decide to take down that content at any time.
Types of content to distribute
Metrics to track
Forums and communities
Paid Content Distribution Channels
These channels might be called the most challenging ones, as using them requires careful ROI forecasting and budget planning.
On the other hand, they offer you an opportunity to kickstart a promotional campaign in a day and get quick, measurable results affecting the bottom line.
Types of content to distribute
Metrics to track
Pay per click (PPC)
Social media ads
Paid influencers websites/social media profiles
Important: Not all formats are a fit for all channels! You need to take the funnel stage into account. For example, a blog that drives a lot of organic traffic won’t necessarily bring you as many leads if you link to it from a paid ad.
Building a Winning Content Distribution Strategy in Six Steps
To get your content in front of your ideal target audience, you’ll need to do some digging.
Step #1: Research Your Target Audience
Start by analyzing your audience and their preferences to uncover where they’d prefer to consume your content.
Pro Tip: Start by asking yourself some of these questions:
- Who will benefit from your content the most?
- Will they be interested in your product?
- Where can they be found?
- Whose opinion do they trust?
Having this in front of you will help align your distribution and promotional efforts with their preferences and behaviors more effectively.
Step #2: See What Content You Can Distribute First
You don’t necessarily have to create all content to distribute from scratch. If you look at what assets you already have, you’ll uncover the potential to promote them and deliver results on a specific channel.
Not sure where to start? Conduct a content audit to see if you have existing content ready for distribution. It will save you time by helping you uncover promising, high-value content already at your fingertips.
Using a tool like Google Analytics or Salesforce, you can do this in two steps:
- Take a look at the existing content on your website and analyze its historical performance. Identify the pieces that perform best, and consider promoting them on other channels.
- Take note of how various content types performed on different channels in the past. This indicates which channel(s) were the most effective and can help shape your decision on where to distribute and promote your content.
Pro Tip: Plan content creation and distribution together. Your editorial calendar should be an integral part of your content distribution strategy. Using it will help to:
- Keep all your content creation and management team on the same page
- Meet all external deadlines and requirements when using earned and paid distribution channels
- Make sure you have all target channels covered
Step #3: Select Your Media Channels
Owned, earned, or paid—what do you choose?
In some instances, choosing more than one distribution channel can be beneficial. For example, organic or paid distribution channels could run simultaneously or at different times.
For quick results, you could start with a paid campaign to promote a piece of content (e.g., an ebook) and then continue sharing it organically once the paid campaign ends. Either way, it’s important to track performance for all promotional initiatives.
- When deciding on a channel, review the historical performance of your campaigns and content types.
- Then, assess the metrics on those channels, such as their effectiveness and cost.
To get a clearer picture of how your campaign could perform well, look back at your audience research and revisit the channels they were most successful with.
For instance, you might see a pattern where an ebook received the most engagement and downloads from LinkedIn, but it did nothing on Facebook.
Or, maybe your marketing meme campaign went viral on Instagram and Twitter but failed to generate any website traffic.
3. To get on the other side of these challenges, performing an analysis of your competitor’s key channels can help inform your decision.
The Semrush Traffic Analytics tool is great for analyzing the potential of a channel.
Just put in the website of your competitor and view estimated monthly traffic, audience insights (including geography and demographic information), and even traffic sources by type.
Here’s an example from a popular national newspaper:
Here you can see the biggest sources of traffic for the website, and the top websites people go to when leaving it.
Step #4: Decide Which KPIs To Track
Like the comparison tables we shared earlier, KPIs for each of your content efforts will depend on which distribution channels you decide to use.
For example, you might track organic search views rather than downloads depending on whether your content piece is gated or ungated.
The important point is to focus on the metrics that align with your business goals—not the vanity ones.
Pro Tip: Ensure each content piece is “equipped” for your set KPIs. For example, include a CTA in a blog post that inspires action to boost lead generation and conversions.
For instance, below you can see a CTA banner Zendesk added in a blog post targeting SMB retailers.
Step #5: Adjust Your Promotional Message
A marketing message is not just what you say, but how you say it.
Consider the environment and how it addresses your audience’s needs. People react to insensitive messages, and that could seriously hurt your brand.
For instance, just think of how much the pandemic changed how people work and communicate. With this in mind, it’s important to consider the needs of your target audience and adjust your message in a positive, engaging light.
A powerful recent example of this is Victoria’s Secret. The lingerie company that long promoted its products in the spirit of male fantasy made a complete turnaround with the “What Women Want” campaign.
In its goal to reach its target audience (women), it replaced its iconic angels with a collective of strong, body-positive women.
To distribute this message, they launched a podcast featuring its powerful new brand ambassadors. This is considered successful in that they made an effort to reach their target audience through new media platforms—Spotify, Apple Podcasts, the Google Play Store, and iHeart Radio.
They also shifted their content topics to better align with their new brand message, focusing on work, societal issues, and challenges modern women face.
Lastly, your promotional message will be impacted by the requirements and style of the third-party channel, so don’t neglect editorial guidelines when using earned and paid channels.
Pro Tip: If you’re distributing several content pieces on the same topic at the same time, make sure they align with the needs of your target audience. For example, a promoted blog post, a sponsored update on social media, and an email should all have a consistent tone of voice.
Step #6: Measure Your Performance
The more analytics data you gather at this step, the easier it will be to make informed decisions on changing channels, repurposing high-performing assets, and boosting your strategy as a whole.
To collect the data, you can look to our trusty Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and the native analytics of social media platforms.
Pro Tip: Use Urchin Traffic Monitor codes (UTMs) on earned and paid distribution channels to make performance tracking easier. Check out this guide on how to set them up.
Top Content Distribution Tools and Platforms
As the importance of content distribution becomes more understood, more automation is being introduced to support the growing needs of digital marketers. Also, the number of paid and owned platforms continues to rise, providing more choice in where you direct your efforts.
Below, you’ll find a short overview of the resources that can help you promote your content and more easily measure its performance.
Owned Distribution Platforms
Facebook: the biggest social networking site (so far), with nearly 3B monthly active users. Brands can leverage both organic and paid content promotion on this platform through Reels, Stories, standard posts, and more.
Instagram: a photo-based social media platform owned by Meta, Facebook’s parent company. Similar to Facebook, you can post a variety of photos, Stories, and video content either organically or through paid promotion.
Twitter: a micro-blogging site limited to 280 characters per post. This platform is used by brands of all sizes and industries to connect and engage with their audiences through both organic and paid options.
LinkedIn: a social channel used primarily for businesses and professionals. Brands can post videos, photos, blogs, and more. Both organic and paid promotions are used, and content tends to be more educational and informative.
Google Business Profile: a free tool that lets businesses control how they appear in Google Search and Google Maps. You can post blogs, special offers, events, and other details to promote your business. You can also monitor and respond to reviews from customers in your community.
Earned Distribution Platforms
Medium: an open digital publishing platform with 170M readers which can be connected to Twitter. The range of topics is extremely wide, so you can try using it in addition to your blog to increase brand awareness.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out): an online platform that helps journalists and bloggers find expert data sources.
Prowly: a PR and Media Relations platform that will let you manage all your activities in one place. Find the right media contacts, send personalized emails to journalists, create press releases, and create a journalist-friendly newsroom.
GaggleAMP: a social advocacy platform that allows you to distribute content via the social media accounts of your loyal employees and customers (with their consent, of course).
Disqus: a networked comment system integrated into 100K+ sites all over the web. You can use it to mention your goods and services in a discussion on a related topic.
Quora: a social question-and-answer website where people can learn about almost any topic and find a solution for nearly any problem.
Paid Distribution Platforms
Outbrain: a recommendation platform powered by native ads. It allows you to promote your content on the web's largest publisher sites, including CNN and TIME.
Performance Measurement Tools
Semrush ImpactHero: uses AI to measure the contribution of each of your website’s pages to lead conversion and can even collect the data for custom events on your website.
Post Tracking: lets you get information about the referral traffic, backlinks, shares, and estimated reach of your articles distributed from earned and paid channels without contacting the channel’s owner.
Social Media Analytics: allows you to keep track of your total page likes, new page likes, and when your fans are online on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram (Instagram Business profiles).
Distribute Your Content Wisely To Promote Growth
There’s no one-size-fits-all technique in content distribution. That's why acting without a strategy is a waste of both your money and your effort.
However, when done right, it won’t take long to see the results you want. Here are some final tips that will point you in the right direction:
- Don’t be afraid to expand to channels you haven’t used before—they may have great potential for your brand
- Use as much automation as possible to free up time for creativity
- Always optimize your content to make it easy to find and read, no matter where you publish it
Don’t let your incredible ideas go unseen—embrace a content distribution strategy that reaches your audiences and builds long-term brand loyalty.