Backlinko’s Brian Dean on Content Promotion That Works

If you spend all your time creating content, the chances are that you’ll still be leaving a lot of money on the table. Of what good is that excellent content that no one saw? Social ...

Read more Backlinko’s Brian Dean on Content Promotion That Works

If you spend all your time creating content, the chances are that you’ll still be leaving a lot of money on the table. Of what good is that excellent content that no one saw?

Social Triggers recommends an 80/20 split, where you spend 20% on writing and 80% on promoting that content. So, marketers are constantly seeking cost-effective strategies to promote their content.

Although most marketers rely on social media and emails for content distribution, Brian is one of the few that still has faith in SEO. He’s been in the game for more than a decade and understands the nitty-gritty of content promotion. In this interview, he shares some secrets that have earned Backlinko over 1.5 million monthly visits.

Read more to find easy approaches to boost your content game-plan in ways that positively impact your business.

Key Takeaway From The Interview

Brian Dean shares exciting insights on how businesses and content writers can boost their traffic through organic channels.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • A poor brand name can hurt your business. So choose a name that fits your brand’s purpose.
  • SEO allows you to target people who are already interested in your product or similar products to yours.
  • New startups need to know that SEO takes time. You don’t have to strive to scale from the beginning. Instead, work on becoming an authority in your field, then scale.
  • You can leverage online communities to gain traction for your startup because that’s where people go to find new content and find helpful tools.
  • To scale your content promotion, focus on creating valuable content that fits audience search intent and keywords.
  • To boost your traffic and link-building opportunities, focus on creating data-driven reports with long-term value. That way, a piece of content provides you links even years after you publish.
  • You can grow your newsletter and get traffic for your website through forums like Product Hunt.
  • To become an authority in your niche, create a good resource base such that your visitors feel the need to recommend your content.
  • Building an email list gives you access to an engaged audience. So you can get your content to an expectant audience.

My Conversation With Brian Dean

Brian Dean, Founder of Backlinko

1. Can you tell us something about yourself and Backlinko that you don’t share so often?

Yeah! One thing I don’t share too often is the last name I wanted to go with.

The original name that I thought was great was SEO Pizza. For whatever reason, I thought that would be an excellent name for my blog. 

Luckily, my girlfriend at the time talked me out of it. She said it was a horrible name. So I was very close to launching pizzaseo.com.

And I think that would have probably changed the trajectory of the entire site. 

Although a name doesn’t necessarily make or break something, it could probably hurt it if it’s bad.

2. Your work has become the standard in SEO, and everyone knows that. But ranking in the search is more challenging than it’s ever been. Is SEO now dependent on paid search to gain traction, or are their unpaid promotion channels that can still influence SEO measurably?

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I agree with you a hundred percent. It’s harder now. When I started in SEO, even the big brands weren’t doing it. 

As a random person, you could have some success with SEO. But it does help to have that paid push.

The fact is that when you launch, you’re primarily working in a Startup world with no audience, no visitors, no customers. You have nothing.

So how do you go from that point to getting people to know about you, link to you, or even find your site?

Of course, paid promotion is the fastest way to do it. But that’s not to say it’s an obligation. For example, we grew Exploding Topics, my other company, to where it is today without any paid promotion.

Although we did some Facebook ads to build the email list, that was only temporary. And we also turned them off because I just feel like organic is the best way to go.

So yeah, it’s definitely possible. And the best-untapped channels are online communities because if you’re just getting started, SEO takes time, and you don’t have any domain authority. And social media is super crowded, loud, and hard to gain traction.

But potential customers want to see fantastic, interesting stuff, so they hang out in those communities. These include specific subreddits platforms like Indie Hackers. In all of these niche platforms, people hang out to discuss things, find new content, and find helpful tools.

The best-untapped channels are online communities because that’s where people hang out to find new content and helpful tools.

So if you have something valuable, those communities will be happy to see it as long as you do it in a non-spammy way. 

That’s something we’ve used for Exploding Topics to get the word out.

We had this helpful thing, but we didn’t have an audience for it yet. So, we used communities like Indie Hackers, Product Hunt, and other subreddits to get the word out. And it worked well.

3. In an interview with Will Cannon, you said, “Today, I’d say the big mistake is underestimating how awesome your content has to be to rank #1.” When you say “the bar has gone up,” with regards to content, what has changed? And how should businesses respond to these changes?

The most significant change, as you alluded to, is the length and thoroughness of the content.

Back in the day, 500-word articles, as you said, were enough. But now, for most keywords, you need to go above that.

And it’s not just filling up to get the word count up. It’s really because you’re giving someone what Google wants and what users want, which is one-stop shopping. If you’re searching for something and you get everything you want when you land on a page, you’ll never go back.

To give you an example, I was searching for a new laptop a week before my trip to the States. I wanted a new laptop, so I searched for some Samsung laptops, which I like. I was looking through reviews to choose a suitable model.

And I found a great review on Google. The guy reviewed everything, including:

  • Screen
  • Brightness
  • Keyboard, and
  • Battery life compared to other similar models. 

And I felt like from that review alone. I got a good overview of all there is to know about that laptop.

That article is probably 3000 words, but it wasn’t just about the word count. The guy actually:

  • Got the laptop
  • Tried it out
  • Took pictures of himself using it
  • Compared the specs to other laptops
  • I created tables and charts to compare with other laptops.

It was a level of effort that was right at the bar that you needed to hit. 

Ten years ago, you could have just faked the review. You could have hired some random person to pretend they use a laptop and write, “Oh, it’s so good. It’s so great. Blah, blah, blah.”

And you know what? No one would have known the difference.

So the most significant change is the investment you have to put into it. So that’s the bar that has gone higher.

And they also satisfy search intent to give users what they want.

Today, it’s about the sophistication around tailoring your content for that search intent. 

In this case, you’re searching for a laptop that’s a pretty expensive thing to buy, right? So you want a thorough review. You want to know everything there is to know about it.

On the other hand, if you’re reviewing a pen, 300 words might do the trick. So you don’t need to go into that much detail.

So another change that has happened is the sophistication around tailoring your content for that search intent.

In the past, you’d create a piece of content to serve as a template for every keyword, no matter what they were searching for.

If you have a review site, you’d have the same template no matter what you’re reviewing. But now you need to get into the searcher’s mind and think, “what do they want from this search? And then deliver on a silver platter because Google can measure if you’re not providing value.

People will bounce.

So in the laptop example, I landed on that page, and I was done. So for Google, that’s a win. 

If I went back to the search results and clicked the number two result, that would have signaled that the number one result didn’t make Brian very happy. And if there are enough people like that, they’ll down-rank that number one result and push everything up.

4. Backlinko has a full team for content and promotions. If a solopreneur or small business was to “raise the bar” on their content and promotions today on a small budget, what would be the most effective thing to do?

I’d focus on a few pieces of content if I was in that position because that’s what I did when I was there. 

And today, even more so. I’ll focus on a couple of pieces.

You might feel that if you don’t have the budget to create ten pieces of amazing content, then you just create ten pieces of decent content. It’s not going to work.

But if you say, “okay, instead of creating ten pieces of amazing content, I’ll create one that’s unique, provides value, and stands out. Then you go from there to produce quality over quantity.

From here, you can scale up, have a team, hire staff writers, or even have editors. 

In my case, I still write everything myself. But having editors and designers, and people do all the nuts and bolts of creating content helps you scale.

But a mistake a lot of people make when they’re starting is like, I need to create a blog post a week or come up with some random timeframe.

You don’t have to do that. You can get away with doing it once a month or once every two months. 

If you’re creating awesome content around keywords your customers are searching for, and it’s so good that people link to it, you’re going to be in good shape. It’ll just take a little bit longer than someone that can just scale right away. But it’s still absolutely doable. 

I’d just put all my resources into a couple of really excellent pieces of content.

5. I was attracted to GPEM because the type of content you talk about has the potential of going viral. And I love the fact that it immediately gives me authority. If I do original research, then I’ll become the authority on that particular research. So, I felt it might be nice to talk briefly about it to people who might be reading this.

Yes! We’re talking about the bar getting raised, and this is like going laterally where everyone was creating 2000 word posts, then 3000-word posts, and 4,000 worth of posts. And instead of 10 tips, 20 tips, then a hundred tips.

This is more like trying something different that takes a lot of effort to pull off but can have a huge win. Either by going viral or just going viral in your little niche and your tiny space, which is sometimes just as good if not better. 

So the system that I’ve developed is a way to get press by giving them data. So when I looked at how a lot of the sites were getting links naturally, I realized that many of them were publishing research studies. 

Some of them were complicated and hard to do. But some others were relatively simple.

They could survey a thousand random people and ask them, “what’s your favorite ice cream cone?” then publish a report on that and get links. And I thought there was some merit in this, even in B2B. 

Although I hadn’t seen it so much in B2B, I decided to give it a try. And over time, I developed a system for creating these data-driven reports that journalists and bloggers like to link to and share. 

The most important thing to keep in mind with these is the topic. And this is something I learned the hard way.

Ideally, you want to go with a trending topic that will have some legs long-term. So, there are fads that come and go like, within a week, something will be popular, and then it’ll die.

But there are also longer-term trends. 

If you did a survey or a study about something on the blockchain or crypto, that’s something that is trending up. We’ll likely still be talking about crypto in the next five years. So that has the potential to get some traffic and links over time.

The key is to find that topic, find some data around it that no one else has created, or you can combine multiple data sources. 

So let’s say that you found five minor studies people have put together on blockchain. You can combine those into a meta-analysis. Then you have a study without having to do any original research yourself, and then package it in a way that journalists can quickly get the gist of how everything’s going. 

Instead of digging through this lengthy report, you give them the sort of bullet points of data they need to keep an eye on. And if you can do all those things, which is not easy, you have a good chance of getting coverage.

6. Do you have different promotion tactics or strategies for different content types? If you do, how do you decide which to use for any specific content type?

Yeah! There are different strategies. But not so different that you have a playbook for list posts and another one for case studies, another one for initial studies. 

A lot of the promotional strategies overlap, but they require some tweaking. 

I can give you an example of how I decide the content that I want links to or want to promote. Then, I think of how to present it in a way that the person I’m sending to will say “yes! This is something I want.”

That’s not easy.

And this was a mistake I made a lot in the early days. I’ve pushed content in people’s faces and say, oh, I’ve created this thing. Will you link to it? 

And they didn’t have an incentive to link to it.

I realized that if you can position in a way that makes sense for them, your promotion will be a lot better off.

You want to find specific pages where your link would make that page better, and an excellent example of that are resource pages. 

So let’s say what you’re going to do is search for blockchain resources or blockchain tutorials and look for content where people are already linking to other resources about blockchain or crypto or something related. 

Find specific pages where your link would make that page better, and an excellent example of that is resource pages.

Then you just say, “Hey! You have this list of resources and I created this resource. Will you consider adding it?” And adding a link to that page makes it better because that’s the point of the page. It’s to link to awesome stuff. 

You have something incredible. 

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like it magically converts at a hundred percent or anything. But it converts a lot better than just saying, “Hey! I have this piece of content. Will you link to it?” Or, “Hey! I noticed you wrote about this. I also wrote about this.” 

And that’s because you’re putting a lot of work on the other person’s shoulder. 

If they’re going to have to think, “Where should I link to? Where should this link go? How should it appear?” Versus “you have this resource page and here’s a section of my content that would be perfect. Will you consider adding a link?” Your conversion rate is going to be a lot higher with something like that.

7. What underused promotion tactics have you been exploring lately that drive significant conversions?

The biggest one that I’ve been doing lately is Product Hunt. Over the last year, I’ve done three Product Hunt launches a year and a half. And it’s a fantastic platform.

Suppose you’re in anything related to tech or marketing. It’s pretty broad, which is what’s nice about it. 

They even have the fitness category with tech components that does well. So if you do anything in technology, it’s a great place to promote your product. 

The cool thing about Product Hunt that I learned is that it doesn’t have to be a product. It’s primarily for products, but you can also launch content pieces that are packaged as a product.

So, for example, with the blockchain, let’s say you created a report on the future of blockchain in 2022. And you’re like, I’m going to talk about what blockchain will look like in 2022. And you have charts, graphs, data, the whole works. 

That’s good for Product Hunt. That’s something that could do well on the platform. 

If you make it freely available for people, it’s not a product, you can’t buy it, but it still can do well.

I’ve seen tons of those things do well on Products Hunt. Books do well on product hunt. One of the biggest products last week on product hunt was a book.

So if it’s for that audience, it’s a great place because if it goes big. Although it’s very hit or miss, it’s an all-or-nothing type of place. But if it goes big, you can get tons of visitors. 

I probably got 50,000 visitors in Product Hunt over the last year.

Now to that second point. Does it convert well? That’s kind of a different story. 

It doesn’t convert badly, but it doesn’t convert like amazing because it’s just so un-targeted. People are kind of just bored. Let’s see what’s trending.

I’ve seen tons of those things do well on Products Hunt, and books do well on product hunt. One of the biggest products last week on product hunt was a book.

They’re not really in the mood to convert right then and there. But it’s an excellent place to build your email list and get leads. Even though it might not convert directly at that moment, because from all the things I’ve tried, I’ve tried it all when it comes to traffic, and SEO is always pretty much the best. 

They’re searching for what you sell, or they are searching for something related to what you sell. So their intent is strong. Because they’re literally saying, “I want this thing.”

Versus social media or Facebook ads where they’re kind of like, bored, and going through the feed. Oh! that’s something interesting, let me click on it.”

Not to say that doesn’t work, but SEO always has the highest conversion other than word of mouth and stuff like that. From the first touch channels, that’s still, in my opinion, from running tons of experiments, getting millions and millions of visitors across my properties.

At the end of the day, I’m biased, but SEO tends to work the best in terms of conversions. And you can get a lot of traffic from it too. So it’s kind of a win-win.

8. Do you have any resources on how to use Product Hunt on Backlinko?

No, I don’t. I should, but I feel like I only have one. Because we did three launches, but one was huge, like a mega-hit. The second one was good. It was the number three product of the day. And the second one was like number five. 

So I don’t feel like I know it that well. Or maybe it’s just the randomness factor because everyone says that it’s very hit or miss there, and I happened to have a hit.

And I don’t want to create something if I am just lucky. I want to make sure I understand it first.

9. What’s the future of SEO specifically for driving traffic and leads, especially now that Google SERP seems to be delivering less traffic to websites that rank at the top ten?

I’m one of the few people who think the future of SEO is very bright. And even when what you’re saying is 100% true, fewer clicks are going to the top 10 results. That’s a trend that’s likely to continue. 

It’s not like Google will say, you know what, let’s change your minds. Let’s go back to the ten blue links and send everyone a bunch of traffic because we’re feeling generous today. 

The reason that I’m still optimistic about SEO is just that there’s nothing else that comes close.

It’s that trend of giving people quick answers where they don’t have to click on a result is a hundred percent going to continue moving forward. 

The reason that I’m still optimistic about SEO is just that there’s nothing else that comes close. So if there was some other channel that I could point to and say, SEO is going like this, and the other one’s going up. But there’s not. 

To give you an example, for Exploding Topics, we do quite a bit of Twitter marketing because it converts very well for us. 

We’re a tech-focused team and not in terms of getting sales right away, but in terms of building the newsletter. So we’ve got quite a bit of traffic from Twitter, and it converts well. 

But when I say quite a bit, I’m talking about maybe a thousand visitors a month, and we go on LinkedIn too.

I post on LinkedIn all the time, especially last year. 

These posts get tons of views, tons of engagement, and about a thousand visitors a month. And you think, “wow, this is amazing. A thousand visitors a month!” 

That’s no joke. 

That’s a decent amount of traffic, but from Google, we get 30,000 visitors a month. And the sky’s the limit with that. 

With Twitter, there are only so many tweets you can put up. There’s an almost unlimited amount of traffic you can get from it. Or if there is a limit, it’s crazy. 

So that’s the reason I’m bullish on SEO. It’s just because there’s no other channel that’s a better alternative. 

Until I’m getting a thousand visitors from SEO and a thousand from Twitter, then I’ll start to reconsider, but while it’s still 20 X, 30 X, 40 X, 50 X. I’m going to be still very optimistic about SEO, even though clicks are going to start to trickle down over time.

10. Having run Backlinko for many years now. What is your most important lesson on content and product promotions? How did you learn this lesson?

I’d say the most important lesson I learned was that you don’t need to scale early on. And if you want to stand out in your industry or create a resource where people are going to say, that’s the place to learn about whatever. 

You need to be obsessed with your content or hire someone that’s going to be obsessed with content and put out amazing stuff without even worrying about scaling.  

When I first started Backlinko, I was putting out a post every four to six weeks, sometimes every two months, just because they took so long to put together.  

Now, because I have the team like you’ve talked about before, we’re able to scale up to two or three or sometimes four posts a month. It’s still not a lot, but four times more than before. 

So the biggest lesson I learned is that when you’re ready to scale, it’s going to be huge for you because that’s why I could go from like a hundred thousand visits a month to 600,000 visitors a month with scale. 

But if I had scaled right away, I wouldn’t have been able to go to a hundred thousand because the content wouldn’t have been at that level for people to notice it and stand out and get shares. So my biggest lesson when it comes to content will be this. 

And my other promotion side lesson would be to promote your content to your email list. 

Let’s say you reach out to a hundred people when you publish something. That’s a lot, especially if you’re going to personalize each one. Now, some of them will get back to you.

And some will convert, and it’s a good way to get started. But the earlier you can build your email list, the better because if you have an email list of a hundred people, you can just click a button, get that blog post in front of a hundred people.

You don’t need to manually find their contact information and say, “Hey! Blah, blah, blah, blah. No, you just have to write one blog post, then click send to get to the number of people you want.

Unlike outreach that allows you to reach only a limited amount of people, Your email list is like SEO. The sky’s the limit. You can get to a hundred thousand, or even 200,000 people.

Some email lists have a million subscribers like James Clear. That is the best way to promote your content. 

Whenever you have something new, you have a small army of people ready to read it and share it and all the things you want from a promotion. 

But on your side, all you had to do was write an email and click send once.

11. What’s the best thing anyone ever said about Backlinko and what you do?

It wasn’t a compliment. I mean, I’ve had people come up to me and tell me, “I sold my business because I was able to build it with what I learned from Backlinko.” 

I had someone email me at a SaaS company that they had an acquisition two weeks ago. And they said, “Oh, it wouldn’t have been possible without your site.” We are able to grow our traffic, and we would have had no idea what to do, and you helped us.”

So yeah, the things that stand out the most are tangible results that people get when they’re able to grow their businesses. 

I’m always trying to create stuff for the little guy, as we had discussed in the early part of our interview. I know the big brands are starting to get into the SEO world, and it’s much more competitive. So I’m trying to give tools, strategies, and techniques to people that can compete against these giants because they have such an inherent advantage. 

They have a brand, and they have a budget. They’re doing paid marketing. They can scale content to a hundred posts a month by putting money behind it. 

Ordinary people can’t do that. So whenever I see someone say, oh, I was an underdog, I read your resource, and I put it into practice. That’s always the thing that stands out to me.

12. What one thing do you think more people should know about Backlinko?

The number one thing is that there’s a lot of content on the website that doesn’t have anything to do with SEO. But they are pretty good. 

There’s a guide about copywriting, which I’m very proud of. There’re guides on email marketing and growing on YouTube. They’re very good.

I’m even starting to do some content about building an email list, starting a newsletter, and some other things I’ve learned from Exploding Topics. 

So, it’ll always be an SEO blog, don’t get me wrong. But there’s some content not related to SEO that I believe will help many people.

About Brian Dean

Brian Dean is the founder of Backlinko, a website dedicated to sharing premium SEO strategies through courses and blog posts. He started Backlinko in 2012 to share lessons that he learns on the go.

Brian started his career as an entrepreneur before going on to become one of the foremost authorities in SEO. Known for publishing insanely practical strategies that marketers can use to grow their online businesses, Brian’s articles have been read and shared by millions of marketers. As an internationally recognized, successful SEO expert, Brian’s content has helped businesses increase conversion, valuation, and revenue.

He has trained over 4000 professionals and is trusted by Hubspot, ClickFunnels, Unilever, are, and several others companies.

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Nicholas Godwin

Nicholas Godwin is a technology researcher who tells profitable brand stories that tech buyers and businesses love. He covers technology topics on his website TechWriteResearcher.com, and has worked on projects for Fortune 500 companies, global tech corporations and top consulting firms, from Bloomberg Beta, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte to HP, Shell, and AT&T.

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