or the best part of the last two decades digital content marketing has promised limitless potential to all those who embrace it. At the dawn of the new century the web opened the gates to an exponentially growing economy of human attention where people were hungry for content, eagerly sought out new digital experiences and developed a need to share all they found. And the best part was, this enormous pool of attention could be accessed without the huge advertising costs that had come before with print, TV and radio.
Early pioneers recognised the opportunity of this new reality and found very early on that by simply giving this digital audience the content they desired, they could grow audiences numbering in their millions, if not billions.
What was even more incredible was the fact that this traffic could in many cases be accessed for no direct cost, you just needed to pay the cost of production. The transaction was a simple one, you created something worth reading, watching or listening to, and people would pay you with their precious attention on digital platforms that had no barriers for them to enter and no one charging a ticket price upon entry.
This meant that in the early days even mediocre content would win big audiences. For example anyone early enough to the blogging game will remember how easy it was to rank highly in search results and drive hundreds of thousands of pairs of eyeballs to their content, similarly early YouTube adopters became minor celebrities and built subscriber pools of millions by simply uploading their home videos.
Fast forward to 2019…
The last 10 years have seen a boom in brands and creators embracing digital content. Human attention, once seen as something in infinite supply and easy to access, is viewed more and more as a scarce and valuable commodity that brands are willing to pay handsomely for.
You may ask why they do this and the answer is simple yet brutal… Attention is the game. Without attention, you’re simply not relevant.
By now you’ve probably heard all about the collapse of organic reach. From the massive declines in average reach on Facebook to the widespread drops we’re seeing in organic search, the digital media world is switching to a pay-to-play model, and this is likely having a profound effect on your inbound marketing efforts.
Rand Fishkin illustrated this brilliantly in a recent presentation (see below).
So now we’ve established that the world is moving to a paid model when it comes to digital content, is it even still possible to get high levels of organic traction in this day and age?
Introducing the concept of Content Clusters
The digital landscape is hugely fragmented, far more than it was at the beginning of this digital age. The number of content delivery platforms that are out there now is staggering, yet brands still only really embrace the social media titans Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
How audiences consume content is far more nuanced than it used to be. Just a quick look at homescreen.me will open your eyes to just how broad the content distribution landscape is and give you an idea of just how huge the array of content delivery apps people are choosing to interact with actually is.
The truth is the bar has been raised substantially. Great content on its own is not enough to make an impact and if you want to gain some significant organic exposure it is going to require something extra.
One of the main reasons your content doesn’t gain much organic traction is that your best ideas are only put in front of a small portion of your target audience. When it comes to content the majority still take the “build it and they will come approach” which has been proven time and time again to have little impact.
So how do we get around this?
Everyone is different and will consume content in multiple different ways, at different times, on different devices, on different platforms, in different locations and also whilst performing other activities.
This is why your content needs to meet the unique requirements of as many of your audience as possible for it to get the traction you’re after. For example, someone driving to work isn’t going to read your blog post, but may listen to an audio recording of it. Similarly, someone eating breakfast at their desk may prefer to watch some video content.
When your best ideas are only delivered in one format and on one platform you’re missing a massive portion of your potential audience.
This is where content clustering will give you an advantage.
The concept of content clustering is simple, for your best ideas you should recreate your content in multiple formats and deliver it across multiple platforms creating a network effect that grows your profile within the subject matter you cover. To give you an idea, here is what a content cluster approach would look like:
Confused? Thought so. So let me explain…
What is a cluster?
The key to a great piece of content is a great idea, but great ideas that aren’t put into action simply remain ideas and lay forgotten. Content clustering helps you with the execution part by maximising the organic distribution of your ideas.
Great ideas are hard to come by but when we happen to stumble upon one we don’t do them enough justice because we minimise their distribution. So many of our best ideas will exist as just a blog post, or just a video and live solely on our websites or the very small number of platforms we’ve chosen to work with. This makes these ideas easy to forget, and in most cases will achieve very little penetration with our target audiences.
With a content clustering approach we take ideas and build additional content assets for distribution to reach our wider audience. When I say “build additional content assets”, what I’m talking about here is taking the central concept of the story we want to tell and telling it using multiple formats such as articles, video or audio, not just building associated social and ad creative assets for paid distribution.
Once we have these assets, they then form the basis of a content cluster. The idea behind a cluster is simple, we take the asset we’ve created for a particular cluster (eg video) and publish it across multiple platforms as well as our owned channels. For example, a written article could be shared on multiple blogging platforms including, Medium, LinkedIn Publishing, Tumblr etc. as well as on your website. (see below)
This not only widens the net for your article by reaching your existing audiences through owned channels, but also puts your content in front of new audiences through the platforms you’re publishing on, giving you the opportunity to tell your story to new people.
This is a very different way of looking at content distribution and is designed specifically to maximise organic reach but also to grow new communities on platforms you may have had no involvement with previously.
And then repeat the process for multiple formats…
Ok, so you’ve produced an article and published it on multiple platforms, well done… you’re maximising the use of that asset. But now you have this great story to tell, you should be telling it in multiple ways to new audiences.
This is where the additional clusters come in to play.
Where content clusters can be really powerful is by using the story you already have and turning it into multiple assets. Here are some examples of what you could do with the story you’ve created:
Record yourself reading the article and release it as a blogcast on multiple audio platforms (iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher etc)
Podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years and as a collective, the audio platforms they get published on attract hundreds of millions of users. Their rise in popularity is largely down to their convenience and the fact that people can easily listen to a podcast whilst on a busy train, driving somewhere or have on in the background whilst they perform other activities (example below).
If you already have an article written you pretty much have a script to hand already so producing an audio recording should be relatively straightforward and will then allow you to publish for an audience that may not have been exposed to your ideas through your article.
Turn your content into a slide deck and publish to digital presentation platforms (eg SlideShare or SlideServe)
Another really engaging way to deliver content is through a slide deck. Take a look at the example below, this could’ve easily been pulled from a list post that existed originally as an article:
Again, this can be used as a new asset that can be embedded on existing channels whilst also reaching new audiences on these platforms. This could also form the basis for a presentation that could be delivered as part of a webinar or at an event.
Create a video out of the content you’ve written and publish to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook etc
With the rise of 4G (and soon 5G) networks, video has fast become the most popular format for consuming content online. With that in mind it makes sense to include video as a cluster. How you approach this is dependent upon how you want to tell your story. If you’ve created a slide deck you may want to simply present that with a voiceover, or present the content in a different way.
Video content performs better than just about anything else online so if you’re serious about maximising organic exposure, producing video content should be one of your top priorities.
These are just 3 examples of clusters you could create, here are a list of other possible clusters you could create:
- Live video
You’ll need a landing page
One of the great things about publishing on multiple platforms is that in most cases you have the opportunity to link back to your website. If you’re going to all the effort of creating and publishing multiple content assets, it makes sense to create a customised destination for all of the traffic that may result from delivering your content to a much wider audience. After all, I imagine you’re creating content that you hope will drive an action of some description.
You may already have a suitable page to drive traffic to and in that case you won’t need to create a custom page, however sometimes you’ll find that you can achieve better results by aligning the messaging on your landing page to the content that is driving traffic to it.
The benefits of content clustering
As you’ve read through this article I’m sure many of the benefits of this approach will be fairly obvious to you now, however, here is a full list of the key benefits to this approach.
- A widened content net – your content appears in many more locations on the web
- You can reach a much wider audience as you’re hitting users from multiple publishing platforms
- Increased sharing – by hitting a wider audience in multiple locations, your far more likely to see a greater level of sharing across social
- Increased referral traffic – majority of publishing platforms allow you to link back to your website
- Opportunity to grow communities on additional platforms
- Additional reporting – you can report back on multiple individual platform metrics
- Embeddable assets – content you create on additional platforms can be embedded on your website and other platforms that allow embeddable media
- Increased views/impressions and engagements of your key ideas
- The creation of multiple content assets means you have material that can also be used for offline activity (meetings, presentations, events etc)
Now I know what you’re going to say, “this is great and everything, but that’s a lot of work”, and you’re right. It is a large body of work to deliver on one story or key content theme. It’s also likely going to take some considerable investment as this approach will incorporate multiple skills and multiple different people.
But the reality is that is where the bar now is. Take a look at how well some of your individual stories have recently performed and think to yourself how content clustering could give a boost to your current efforts.
It’s important to remember that not every single piece of content you produce should go through this process, sometimes a quick blog post or a 1 minute video is all you need to convey a simple message to your audience. A content clustering approach should be used only for your biggest ideas, the things you want to be known for and a key person or brand of influence within.