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What Does It Really Mean to Be 'Too Promotional' in Your Content?

By Nickie Bartels

WhatDoesItReallyMeantoBeTooPromotionalinYourContent.jpgDo you remember the moment you realized that what was acceptable at your house growing up wasn't necessarily what was acceptable at everyone else's house? I do.

As a child, I loved donuts. (Who am I kidding? I love donuts today. Do you have any donuts?) Those special days when I could get my grubby little hands on delicious donuts, I’d eat two or three if I could. They weren't a part of my regular diet. I didn't eat three donuts a day for my entire childhood. But on those special donut days, I was in heaven, and it was acceptable for me to eat more than one.

When I started going to sleepovers, though, I noticed that most families put limits on the amount of sweets kids could eat for breakfast. What was OK for me to do at home wasn't the way every household operated.

And the more I think about this, the more I understand why promotional content is still a problem for marketers, even after we've all heard that self-promotion is one of the biggest content marketing mistakes you can make.

Why Marketers Seem Do-Nuts for Self-Promotion

The 75 percent of marketers who are "doing content marketing all wrong" probably aren't intentionally sabotaging their own efforts. It's hard to imagine a room of thought leaders, content creators, and marketers saying, "OK, we know promotion can sink us, but let's just squeeze in another product mention here; add three more links to our homepage here, here, and here; and finish it off by reminding readers how cool and interesting our company is. Should be ready to publish after that!"

The more likely explanation is that our definition of "too promotional" isn't clear. As a result, marketers don't realize that what works for their own blog, email marketing, or sales-enablement content might be considered too promotional by an external editor.

In other words, what's acceptable for you to publish on your own (at home) isn't necessarily the same as what's acceptable to pitch to publication editors (at other people's houses).

What Online Editors Say Is 'Too Promotional'

Unlike my realization that not everyone eats three doughnuts when she has the chance, this difference in what content is acceptable to contribute can have real consequences.

Publication editors accept guest-contributed content because they want to share new insights with their readers. When you submit an article that does more to promote your company than deliver those insights, your content will be rejected. But how can you avoid that rejection when you lack a clear definition of what crosses the line into overly promotional territory?

To find out where that line is, we went straight to the source and asked editors at leading online publications what content elements they deem "too promotional." You can access the complete results of that survey (plus a lot more) in "The State of Digital Media," but for a quick overview of what editors say is too promotional, check out the three elements below:

1. Forced Mentions of Your Company, Products, Services, or Clients

If one of your company's content marketers is named Gretchen, this is truly the best time you'll ever have to tell her to stop trying to make "Your Company" happen. It's not going to happen — at least not if all you're doing is forcing it into your articles every chance you get.

Simply mentioning your company or the products and services you offer will never be enough to build your brand and engage your audience, especially if you're trying to achieve those goals through guest-contributed content. That's because 79 percent of editors agree that forced mentions of a contributor's company are too promotional.

Instead of talking about yourself (or mentioning yourself too frequently), focus on what you want readers to take away from your article. What is the benefit to them? What new ideas or advice are you sharing that they'll be interested in reading about? How can you deliver value to this audience? That is more important — to audiences, publication editors, and your brand — than trying to make "fetch" happen.

2. Including Links to Your Company's Homepage

Forty-four percent of editors say that linking to your company's homepage in an article is crossing the too-promotional line. You might be wondering how you'll get readers back to your site if you don't include a link to your homepage, and this is where it's important to remember that the goal of guest-contributed content is to deliver insights and reach new audiences, not to simply boost your referral traffic.

If you've managed to mention your company in a natural, nonpromotional way, you might be able to include a link to your homepage there — but don't rely on the editor to preserve that link in the body of the article.

Your company's thought leader will usually have the chance to attach a bio to his or her submission. That's going to be your best bet for including a link to your homepage.

3. Writing About Your Industry as a Vendor

Let's say you're a SaaS company, and your software helps other companies streamline internal communication. Your guest-contributed content can't just discuss all the problems with internal communication today and then present your software as a solution to those problems.

I know what you're thinking: Internal communication problems are kind of your thing. What are you going to talk about in your content if you can't talk about that?

Well, you're going to have to get creative because 41 percent of editors say that if you're a vendor writing about your industry, your content could be considered too promotional. In fact, some publications out there follow "no vendors" policies, so it's important to know who you're targeting and how you'll craft your message.

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Shameless self-promotion will poison your content marketing efforts. But subtle or unknowing self-promotion can be just as dangerous. Remind yourself that not everyone eats three donuts on donut day, and keep these three elements top of mind to sharpen your guest-contributed content strategy.

Want more insights from "The State of Digital Media" report? Download your copy below: 

Download-Influence-and-Co-Whitepaper-The-State-of-Digital-Media

Posted on March 23, 2017

About Nickie Bartels

Sometimes clever and always on time, my greatest joy comes from making things the very best they can be. Office supplies, "Breaking Bad," and buffalo wings make me happy.

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