The Diminishing Value of Contributed Articles
This email originally appeared in the October 11th edition of The Scribble, KYC's weekly marketing newsletter. You can subscribe to The Scribble at the top of this page.
At KYC we focus on four types of content: owned, shared, earned, and paid. Sometimes a specific piece of content will be created that falls into multiple categories. Usually that’s because we’re looking to expand the reach of a piece that started as earned or owned. By putting budget behind it for a sponsored campaign, it then becomes paid as well.
However, there’s one specific piece of content that’s a blend of owned and earned from its very beginning - the contributed article.
Contributed articles are written entirely by a company (or its agency) - making it owned. But rather than appearing on the company’s website, it’s pitched to appear in a publication or on its site - making it earned as well.
The value of contributed articles is that you’re able to tell the story you want in your own words, but receive exposure to a publication’s broader audience. PR people used to see them as a valuable aspect of a media relations program, but they were somewhat difficult to earn. Not all publications published contributed articles, and those that did usually had lofty expectations for those they would publish. They couldn’t be full of marketing jargon or sales talk; they had to provide unbiased value to readers. PR people often turned to contributed articles to support thought leadership themes that weren’t product or service dependent. Of course, publications would carefully vet contributed articles to make sure all their guidelines were upheld.
Over the past few years I’ve seen some notable changes with regards to contributed articles.
1. Many publications stopped running them.
Lots of publications used contributed articles as part of their content mix as recently as five years ago. Many have now dropped them altogether, with others reducing the use of the content type drastically.
2. The publications that still run them do so with little to no oversight.
There are a number of sites that accept contributed content with no pitch process. For consideration, you simply upload your article to their site or send it to an email address. They then slot it into their schedule and publish - with no vetting at all. As a result, you see a number of contributed articles that are very poorly written, and others that are definitely not vendor neutral.
3. The reach of contributed articles has diminished greatly.
One of the biggest benefits of contributed articles was reach. You could get access to the publication’s entire audience. It would be posted to their site and shared across all of their social media channels. For many sites that accept contributed content, the reach isn’t there any longer. A number of them don’t share any contributed content across their social media channels. Some even bury them deep within their sites. It doesn’t appear on main pages or even sub-pages. You really have to dig to find it.
One of the best examples of the diminishing value of contributed articles is Forbes. Once considered a major win for placing a contributed article, Forbes now features tons of contributed articles. Many of these contributed articles come from companies associated with their BrandVoice and Council (Agency Council, Technology Council, Finance Council, Nonprofit Council, etc.) sections. However, they charge a fee for these sections, which often isn’t clearly indicated to readers. In reality, the content within the BrandVoice and Council sections of the site is actually paid media, more similar to an advertorial than a contributed article. Though they say membership in the Councils and the ability to get a BrandVoice page is reserved for the top, top companies in the world, that doesn’t always appear to be the case. If you have the money, you get in.
Additionally, most of the contributed articles falling under BrandVoice or one of the Councils tends to get buried within the site without social media support to expand its reach. You’re more responsible for the article’s promotion and reach than Forbes. At that point, how is that piece of content any different than a blog post published to your own site?
The result of these money grabs has been an overall dilution in the value of Forbes content. That’s my opinion, as well as the opinion of a number of other people within the industry I’ve talked with. So brands who pay for the ability to place content on Forbes may not actually be getting their money’s worth since more and more people aren’t viewing it as credible.
Are there still valuable contributed article placements? Of course! But they’re harder and harder to find and earn.
Whenever we think about a contributed article placement, we think hard about the publication or website we want to pursue. First and foremost, we think about their alignment with the client’s target audiences. Then we think about the impact their regular, original content has with that audience - is the publication respected, do people see it as a good source of information? Finally, we consider the overall reach that a contributed article would have. Will the publication support it on its social media channels? Will it receive prominent placement within their website?
If the answers to those questions aren’t to your liking, it may be better to move on from the contributed article idea. If a publication’s audience doesn’t align with yours, if it isn’t respected and credible within the industry, and if they aren’t truly expanding the reach of the content, it may not be worth your time.