where should your content live?
The answer seems to change depending on who you ask, from staunch advocates of always publishing your work on your own site to those who publish virtually all of their work on sites they don’t own.
There are great arguments on both sides (and right down the middle), but there are also many differing perspectives to think about (SEO, leads, conversions and so on).
I want to spend a bit of time digging into the rationale behind where you ought to publish your content and offer tips to improve your outcomes no matter where your work winds up living.
+ Link value goes to your domain.
SEOs usually site this as reason #1 to keep your best work on your own site. The links you earn for your content contribute to overall visibility, which in turn helps expand your organic reach.
+ Metrics and measurement.
When content lives in a place you have analytics access to, you can better gauge the impact of that content and understand the engagement surrounding it. There’s power in knowing how people interacted with your content, where they found it, how long they viewed it and so on.
External publication leaves you in a place where you’ll need to ask for the more detailed analytical info (if the publisher is even comfortable offering it) and draw conclusions based on readily apparent metrics (social sharing, referral traffic, etc.)
AJ Kohn makes a fantastic case for what he calls the “Triangle of Memory:”
In essence, the argument is this: We only ever tend to remember two of those three things:
- Site + topic, but not author (e.g., “That post on Business Casual Copywriting about content marketing myths”) – If the content is on your own site, author can be easily remembered as well.
- Author + topic, but not site (e.g., “Joel Klettke’s post about Content Amplification”) – If the content is on your site, a simple Google search for author + topic will bring them back to your domain.
- Site + author, but not topic (e.g., “The latest AJ Kohn post on Blind Five Year Old”) – If they’re remembering who you are, but not what you wrote, it’s implied that they’re so familiar with your work that they know of multiple pieces (or your reputation).
I’m not saying you never get all three. You hit the three cherries jackpot once in a while.
But it’s rare. Counting on it is like counting on winning at the casino. – AJ Kohn
Posting offsite is most problematic if the first option occurs: People simply remember the site you published on and the topic you wrote about, but they can’t recall who you are. Ouch.
When the content lives on your own site, you have the ability to brand it however you choose. You can add your own links, fix typos, make changes and update it whenever you please. You also won’t wrestle with external commenting systems (or worry about missing comments).
When the content lives in a place that’s branded and controlled by you, there are more options for intake of leads:
Submission forms, email collection lists, downloadable resources and so on. To accomplish this with external publishing, you need to drive people back to your site—an important added step that may never transpire if your link is relegated to an author byline or somewhere nobody will see it.
+ Limited audience (potentially).
Outreach must be a part of every content process, but if you’re a relatively new publisher or a business without much of an audience, you’ve got a big hill to climb. Driving people to a website they’ve never heard of is unquestionably challenging, though certainly not impossible if the content is compelling enough.
Still, the onus falls on you to build your audience, and you can only start with what you currently have. For businesses with limited time and budget, that’s a daunting challenge that often results in “publish only” and little follow-through.
+ Greater outreach investment.
If you’re in the audience-building phase, prepare to spend more time and effort trying to get people to engage.
That’s a lengthy list of benefits, and few cons.
With so much to be gleaned from publishing onsite, it becomes obvious that one of your goals as a content producer ought to be building up your own content offering to the point that you have a significant audience of your own—and recall appears to be the nail in the coffin.
It’s hard to argue against the idea that being able to measure everything and more immediately drive a conversion is a rather hefty blow to publishing anywhere else, where those things are more complicated.
But don’t write that option off just yet.
+ Audience leeching.
The greatest tangible benefit to offsite publishing is the ability to reach someone else’s audience. When publishing offsite, you’re immediately exposed to whomever already consumes information from that site—ideally a network that’s way bigger than your own.
Take, for example, Moz’s blog: People offer up some of their best content in exchange for a chance to be exposed to the rabid community Moz has fostered over the years. This isn’t just exposure for exposure’s sake; this is lead-driving traffic that many have confessed as their single best source of business.
It’s not just about size, either—prestige matters. On trusted sources, bigger fish come out to nibble at the content lines that have been cast.You never know who’s listening. For example my biggest client thus far came through an iAcquire post.
And, publishing elsewhere may also give you a chance to break out of the echo chamber or reach an audience who wouldn’t typically know who you are or what you do. The prime example is SEO. All too often, SEO-related posts are shared among industry people and never reach those they were intended to help.
+ Outreach leeching.
In an ideal relationship, publishing to someone else’s site brings a promotional partner into the mix who has just as much incentive to get people to see your content as you do. If they’re active on their social channels and paid promo, the earned media is extra gravy on top.
For businesses with tiny promo budgets or limited resources, taking advantage of the clout of a major publication offers the chance to get the content in front of more people than ever at a significantly reduced cost in time and dollars spent. That said – don’t get lazy or start counting on this. You’ve got to do your legwork, too.
+ Reputation leeching.
“As published on ___________” can have a certain level of credibility to it. If you’re looking to establish yourself as an expert or lend a new company some credibility, getting published on a site with a reputation for quality or thought leadership is certainly one way to do it. This cred can be woven into the rest of your content efforts, including outreach for pieces on your own site down the line.
+ Rankings leeching.
In an ideal world, your website would rank really well for all the hyper-competitive keywords you want. In reality, posting your content on a site with more link authority can be a means of getting your business (albeit on someone else’s domain) in that coveted top SERP real estate.
+ An authoritative link.
Assuming that the place you published is willing to credit you for your work (and they should be, or publishing there is a huge waste of time), you’ll get at least one link out of the deal. While this is one of the most celebrated parts of offsite publishing by SEOs, it’s actually not all that significant—at least, not when you consider that everyone who links to that content afterward is linking to someone else. Still, you get one for the road, which ain’t too bad.
Take the big list of pros for onsite publishing and reverse it. With offsite publishing, you lose access to key metrics as well as the opportunity to make a more immediate conversion. You don’t reap the benefit of the links your content generates, and—perhaps most importantly—unless you’re really well attributed, people may not remember it was you who created that content at all.
AJ Kohn is completely right—recall is going to be worse on external publications. But the thing is, if the audience is big enough, a 1% recall rate might be all you need to make the relationship pay off.
Making Offsite more lucrative
Those drawbacks above are pretty huge, but there are some things you can do to make external publishing a bigger success.
1. Look for repetitive relationships. Businesses put WAY too much stock in one-time publishing gigs somewhere prominent. Everyone wants to be featured in Forbes, but this one-and-done approach is here today and gone tomorrow; the benefits are few.
This changes with regular engagements. For example, I publish to iAcquire biweekly. People have come to know that they can count on me to be here, and while iAcquire gets to soak up the traffic and links, this predictability has also encouraged people to learn my name and dig into who I am.
2. Reference yourself. Make your business/work you’ve personally done an integral part of the piece. By mentioning your own stories, data, experiments or findings within a piece and referencing yourself, you call attention to the fact that someone other than the publication produced what you’re reading. You can tell a personal story, reference your name in the article summary or just call attention to yourself (in a tactful way) somewhere in the piece to help people recall YOU as an author in addition to the site and topic.
3. Respond to comments. The people who comment on a piece are arguably among the most engaged. Don’t let the publication soak up all that attention or leave people hanging! Demonstrate your personality and competence in the comments, where people go hunting for discussion.
4. Take (social) credit. People also take to social media for discussion. If you can, get your own handles in the social links attached to the piece. Or, stalk people sharing the link and chime in to discuss. It takes a little effort, but people will know you’re the author behind the piece the moment you thank them for sharing.
Offsite, onsite—who wins?
You do—as long as you stop viewing the two as mutually exclusive.
Don’t be so linear!
It’s not the case that one is good and the other is bad, and this kind of binary thinking is what stunts businesses from getting the best of both worlds.
You should publish in the place that makes the most sense for your current resources and your overall goals.
The truth is that long-term, you want to build a presence on your own site, where your best work will soak up all the metrics, link love and social sharing that goes on.
But the reality is that just like speaking at a conference, publishing your work on other sites comes with an audience-building benefit that lends credibility, expands your reach and opens up new doors. For businesses without an audience, a steady publishing gig or prominent post can help spark a few new followers. It can also be a legitimate source of leads, so long as you do enough to take credit and improve recall.
Treat offsite as a boost—not a short cut—and both can be an integral part of your publishing plan.