/ Essays

The Content Promotion Lie

"Promotion" and "distribution" are the two most distracting words in content marketing for two important reasons:

  1. They put the focus on the business, not the reader. (The truth is that content is useful to far fewer people than your CMO thinks it should be, and that's okay.)
  2. They tempt publishers to abandon the only two audience-building strategies that are actually worth your time: email and SEO.

What we now call promotion—which is often nothing more than posting links to Reddit, LinkedIn and a few other community sites—is replacing an entirely legitimate strategy we used to call link building. Ask any legitimate link builder and they'll tell you how tedious the process is—and how much it pays off over the course of several years.

"Promotion" and "distribution" can get you more more traffic, but it will be inconsistent and often low-quality. In my experience, email and SEO are the only ways to build compounding traffic that is both sticky and valuable. And while these two strategies do fall under the general promotion umbrella, their slow, gradual payoff makes them much less sexy.

Here's an analogy. Imagine you are planning a vacation to a cabin in the mountains. There is no paved road to get there and you don't have a 4WD vehicle. But you do have some money, so you pay a company to pave the road. You use the road to drive the cabin for your vacation, but decide to fly to Cancun for your next vacation. You never use the road again.

That's content promotion. There is lot of time and money invested a tactic that will almost surely fall prey to the law of shitty click-throughs.

But imagine that you drive to the same office every day. Some city planners decades ago built roads that get you there and back. You can use the roads again and again. All you have to do is put gas in your car. Aren't you glad some smart person made the decision to build those roads years ago?

That's email and SEO. Once you build the infrastructure, you can reap benefits again and again over time.

The secret about growing an audience is that there is no secret. If you are actually committed to using content to build your business, focus your attention on growing email list (more on this soon) and SEO (more on this here).

Play the long game, or risk making an investment that never pays its dividends.