Every marketer understands that building a strong and consistent flow of new prospects requires a multi-channel approach. Like an investment portfolio, diversified marketing hedges against risk because it doesn't depend on one tactic to return huge dividends.

Content discovery is one such hedge. It works by capturing visitors who didnt find you first through search or social channels, but who are already reading content relevant to yours.

What Is Content Discovery?

Brands and publishers both understand that readers dont come to their sites looking for ads; they come for the content. Readers want to be informed, instructed or amused and content is the draw. Ads are just the sideshow. Content discovery uses reader preference to help brands and publishers give readers more of what they want, and get more in return.

A great deal of content discovery is wrapped into the blog or comment system by showing related articles on the very same site, such as the ones you see below this post.

On-Site Content Discovery

If a readers attention is always just one click from being lost, providing relevant options for that next click is a good idea. I know SEPs recommendations work because my older posts here tend to get new comments or social shares every time I publish a new article. But keeping readers on your own site is only one part of the equation.

Many publishers are perfectly willing to send readers away to other sites, so long as they get paid for doing so. Thats where recommended content on other sites comes in. Disqus, Outbrain and Taboola are three platforms that help marketers get their content discovered at the bottom of related articles on other sites. Heres a Taboola widget on The Huffington Post:

Off-Site Content Discovery

The Huffington Post gets paid every time a reader clicks over to one of the recommended articles. Of course, HuffPo doesnt want to bait and switch readers with terrible content-- that would be a bad recommendation. So Taboola works to ensure that the recommended content is of real value to readers through algorithms that respond to user behavior. Outbrain and Disqus work a little differently, but the results are essentially the same.

Why Should I Use It?

While content discovery tools on publisher sites are technically the same basic strategy as Promoted Tweets on Twitter, or Sponsored Stories on Facebook, they aren't disruptive to the reader's experience. Readers expect to see links, ads, and especially a site's own recommended content on the page.

Importantly, complete blog posts are more engaging than tweets or status updates, and time spent on such content is an important qualifier in gauging user interest in the topic. David Fleck of Disqus claims that in addition to time spent on the content, commenters are naturally even more engaged, which leads to readers being two to three times more engaged on the linked sites than competing traffic sources.

If engagement stats do hold up, it's reasonable to suppose that some readers are going to be interested in what you do, and an increase in earned media, such as mentions on other websites and social sharing could follow, as well as gaining a new prospect! In other words, you really can buy worthwhile traffic, even if you can't buy organic search placement.

As the folks at Taboola say, "People like your content, some just don't know it yet." Thankfully, content discovery lets you find new readers one at a time, without any significant investment. The platforms all charge on a pay-per-click basis, so you can test just how well the channel works for you, and whether the traffic you receive helps you meet your marketing objectives for the right price. Starting for as little as $10, content discovery helps you test a number of articles and reinvest in what works for much less than say, one sponsored post that costs you $200 - $500 to publish, regardless of the traffic or click-throughs the piece actually earns.

Unlike sponsored post placements (which can be powerful on the right blogs), you can use content discovery to drive traffic to articles on your own site, or even to guest posts you've written for other sites. So you're not going to lose the SEO benefit of your original content, like you do with sponsored posts that require no-follow links.

How Do I Get Started?

Content discovery is a useful channel for many brands, but if you think of it as a shortcut, it's not going to work. Engaging titles and valuable content rule. Otherwise, you won't get the clicks, and if you do, readers will bounce. On top of that, you have to know what you can afford.

1. Know Your Customer Acquisition Costs

Even if most of your traffic comes organically, it's not actually free. A lot of work goes into attracting new customers, no matter the channel, and that costs money. If you're aware of your costs per customer, you can move forward with confidence. Although you many not expect clicks from content discovery to lead straight to sales, that's no reason to blow your budget. That being said, most cost-per-click estimates I've seen from Outbrain are measured in pennies, not dollars.

2. Re-Purpose What's Already Working

Rather than attempting to create a new piece to drive traffic to it, consider which of your content has already performed well with readers and use that one. Or, take a strong article and make it even more useful with additional points, examples, quotes, images, etc. This is about doubling down on the good stuff, not trying to help weaker content win-- that just doesn't work. You might even choose a successful sponsored post that you already published on another site. If readers liked it, sending more readers ought to prove a good investment. What better way to use that great article that got so much attention six months ago?

3. Consider Rewriting Your Titles

If your title already does it's job attracting clicks to an article, excellent. No need to mess with it. However, most articles can use some additional oomph to compete for reader attention when listed alongside alternative content. Heres an in-depth piece I did about creating better blog post titles that you may find helpful.

4. Submit Your Article for Review

Below are Outbrain's content guidelines. In addition to these rules, they also reserve the right to reject any article for any reason they see fit, but they do give feedback when pressed for clarity, so don't be afraid to ask for specifics if an article you submit doesn't make it past approval:

  • Content must be the primary focus of the page and lives above the fold. Calls-to-action, forms or sales copy may not be placed above the content and should not detract from the content itself.
  • You cannot submit home pages, directory listings, product pages, or general navigation pages.
  • Content must not spawn popup advertisements that cannot be closed, page takeovers, or other media that covers or hides portions of the content.
  • Submissions may not contain exit popups or affiliate linking.
  • Content must live on HTML pages (no PDFs)
  • Content cannot reside on Facebook (unless the login is not required to access the content), Pinterest, Flickr, or similar platform.
  • The topics discussed are of interest to select groups of readers.
  • Any content linked to through the Outbrain service that is not identicasl to the content submitted to Outbrain for preapproval shall be immediately removed.
  • Content must display logo of website.

This is generally all great advice for content marketing efforts and if you're adhering to these standards (save for things like the logo requirement, or where your content needs to live), you'll be doing right by your site and your readers.

5. Use Small Experiments to See What Works

Often, you just don't know which pieces of content will perform. Take advantage of the pay-per-click model and set low price targets until you see which titles and articles work well. Once you have some evidence that the traffic and clicks are worthwhile for a particular piece, add to your budget and reap the benefits.

6. Analyse Your Marketing Funnel

I'm assuming that you already have Google Analytics and/or other tools like KISS Metrics in use on your site. Because sending new readers to your content is only the top of the funnel, it's vitally important that you figure out what you want visitors to do next (and what they actually do), so that your paid traffic results in new leads and even sales. Having clear calls to action, or links to pages further down the funnel are necessary.

While you shouldn't have to pay for all of your traffic, diversifying your marketing efforts can significantly impact your results, especially if you take a measured approach and test what works, iterating toward more and more effective content over time.