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The complete guide to content marketing partnerships: the missing ingredient to your strategic content strategy

Publication date
Author
Imogen Beech
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16 minute read

Whether it’s videos, gifs, sponsored content, infographics or blog posts, the chances are that if you own a business, you’ve already engaged in content marketing in one way or another. It’s really a staple of any company’s marketing efforts, whether they’re aware of it or not. In fact, content marketing has been used by businesses since as far back as the 18th Century!

But in today’s world, a content marketing strategy is almost synonymous with partnerships. At the end of the day, why take on all the burden of promoting your content by yourself when you could team up with another brand to get double the results?

Not only that, but now that the world has gone digital, content marketing partnerships have become an integral part of how many brands drive traffic to their websites through search engine optimisation (SEO).

Here, we’ll cover just what a strategic content partnership looks like, why it’s important and how you should go about implementing one. In short, you’ll find everything you need to know about strategic content partnerships right here.

Content marketing in old newspapers

First things first: what exactly is content marketing?

Before we even attempt to delve into strategic content partnerships, let’s take a proper look at content marketing itself. You’re probably very familiar with it, even if you don’t realise it!

Content marketing is a form of strategic marketing that uses valuable and relevant content to attract and retain consumers, ultimately resulting in making sales and growing revenue. It’s different from traditional marketing methods in that it’s generally less ‘sales-y’. In other words, rather than screaming ‘buy our amazing product now!!!!!’, content marketing tends to take a softer approach.

This is vital in today’s market as a whopping 84% of millennials distrust advertising – traditionally one of the largest expenditures of a marketing department. Instead, they’re 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites, according to the book ‘Marketing to Millennials’. In short, pushing brand messages to a consumer just isn’t as effective as it was.

Intrigued?

Say you sell mattresses. A content marketing strategy might see you write articles about how to choose the right mattress for your body shape, the pros and cons of different mattress types and how to look after your mattress. This has two benefits:

1. It presents you as an expert

Yes, you might not be screaming out the benefits of your mattresses left right and centre, but by providing useful and relevant information, you’re demonstrating your expertise and showing yourself to be trustworthy.

Imagine this: a consumer looking for advice about what kind of mattress will suit their needs stumbles across a useful and well-informed article on your website. They’re so impressed with the information they’ve received that they click through to other parts of your website, find out that you sell some incredible mattresses yourself and ultimately become a customer. It’s a great way to demonstrate your skill without having to shout about it!

Another example would be this article. We may be giving you lots of useful facts about content marketing now, but if you click through to other parts of the site, you might find a whole lot more you’re interested in too!

2. It can help you to be found through search engines

Search engines like Google work by trying to give the most valuable information to users. So, web pages that are rich in information and expertise are likely to find they rank higher up in the search engine results pages (SERPs), meaning more traffic and ultimately more revenue! Strategically creating this kind of content is a form of digital content marketing called search engine optimisation (SEO).

However, SEO doesn’t just depend on creating valuable content. In order to climb up the SERPs, it also helps if other websites link to your content, providing backlinks. It makes sense when you think about it – the more people link to your website, the more they’re demonstrating to Google and other search engines just how useful it is!

By creating highly valuable and informative content, you increase the likelihood that people will want to link to it. But often, that’s not enough. If you really want to increase the number of backlinks to your website, that’s where a strategic content partnership comes in!

Okay, so what’s a content marketing partnership?

A content marketing partnership is when a brand collaborates with a partner to gain promotion through content marketing. The ways in which this can work include:

  • Your brand works with another brand to create a piece of shared content. You both promote it amongst your audiences.
  • Your brand creates a piece of relevant and valuable content. You then work with a partner brand to promote it.
  • Your partner creates a piece of content that promotes your brand.

A lot of content collaborations are centred around writing digital articles such as guest blogs and sponsored content, but they’re by no means limited to this. Brands could choose to collaborate on infographics, podcasts, news stories, white papers, videos… and that’s just scratching the surface. Plus, depending on what kind of content you decide to go for, you might choose to host it on your own website, on your partner’s website, on Youtube, in a print publication, on LinkedIn… again, the possibilities are endless!

Generally, brands looking to collaborate on a content partnership do so for one or two key reasons:

  1. To expand their reach
  2. To receive SEO benefits

Pretty much any strategic content partnership that you embark on is likely to expand your reach. That’s because getting exposure to your partner’s audience is arguably the default in this kind of partnership. However, not all content partnerships will benefit your SEO content strategy, as the requirements for this are a little more complicated – we’ll get to that later!

In a truly great content collaboration, the content is a real product of the expertise of both partners. Think of The Telegraph’s memorable partnership with Visit the USA – an organisation promoting travel in America.

They collaborated on a piece of journalism about the history of American music with beautiful illustrations, interactive elements and even a tool for the reader to launch playlists. This brought together both of their specialisms and skills to create something that neither party could have made alone. Check out our pick of excellent content marketing partnerships for more inspiration.

Content marketing partnership example

How to make strategic content partnerships a part of your SEO content strategy

Okay, so we said we’d come back to strategic content partnerships and SEO. It’s not rocket science but at the same time, there are a number of things you have to be aware of if you’re hoping to get SEO benefits from your content marketing partnership.

To help us explain, let’s start at the very beginning. You know when we said earlier that in order to climb up the SERPs, it helps if other websites link to your content? Each link you get to your page gives you something that SEO professionals call ‘link juice’. Simply speaking, the more links you get, the more link juice you get.

Google has a metric that helps them calculate just how much link juice your page has, called PageRank. They then use this metric to give preference to pages that have a lot of link juice (basically, if a page has lots of organic links from external sites, Google will figure ‘this must be a really good page!’ and make it easier for people to find).

Content partnerships are a great way to get your site more link juice – if you collaborate with a partner on content that’s hosted on your site, your partner is pretty much guaranteed to link to it. Or, if the content is hosted on your partner’s site, you can make sure that it includes a link back to yours.

However, there are some easy pitfalls you can stumble into, so be sure to bear these things in mind:

1. Dofollow links vs. nofollow links

In order to receive SEO benefits, links to your site need to be dofollow links as opposed to nofollow links. If you’re wondering what the hell we’re talking about, don’t worry. We’ll break it down here.

  • Dofollow links: By providing a dofollow link to your site, someone is effectively saying that they endorse it. These are links that push SEO link juice to your page and help it to climb higher in the SERPs as a result. All links are automatically dofollow links.
  • Nofollow links: These are links that don’t push any link juice to your site and don’t help to improve a page’s ranking in the SERPs. To create a nofollow link, you simply have to tag the link as rel=”nofollow”.

We know what you’re thinking: why would anyone go out of their way to create a nofollow link?!

Well, some people (incorrectly) believe that if you link to external sites using a dofollow link, this will dilute your own website’s link juice, negatively impacting your SEO. This is a common argument you might hear when you’re asking other sites to provide you with a dofollow link, but it couldn’t be further from the truth!

Although there are legitimate reasons for using nofollow links (which we’ll come to later), a recent study by marketing firm Reboot showed that pages containing outbound links to other high authority pages are actually more likely to rank highly in the SERPs. Basically, it suggested that Google likes websites that link out to other sites as they enable users to find more useful and relevant information (provided they link to good quality sources). This should give you confidence that dofollow links aren’t to be shied away from.

But don’t worry, you don’t necessarily have to have built up a high page authority in order to encourage other sites to link to you. If you’re the owner of a fairly new site, the key is providing useful and relevant information. If you do that, potential partners linking to your site shouldn’t suffer by providing you with a dofollow link, regardless of your page authority.

Sean Begg Flint, SEO expert and founder at Position Digital, elaborates:

‘If the content is great and you used it as a reference, then you should link to it regardless of the page authority. The trouble comes if you link to a page that is of no relevance whatsoever. This could potentially be seen as suspicious – you are probably selling or farming links!’

That said, there are some places where it’s a good thing to use nofollow links. The main use for these would be on forums or in comment sections – anywhere that readers may be able to contribute to your site. This is because you can’t control what links the public might post on your site, and linking to pages that might be considered ‘spammy’ or simply irrelevant is likely to harm your page authority in Google’s eyes.

Google’s guidelines also require you to use nofollow tags for paid links. This is because Google and other search engines want to avoid sites buying link juice – genuine links are the most likely to be useful to users.

2. Affiliates and SEO

If you’ve already read our guide to affiliate marketing, you might be thinking: hang on a second, can’t a piece of content created as part of an affiliate marketing partnership also count as a content partnership?

Technically, yes. Any collaboration that uses content to promote a partner brand can theoretically be seen as a content partnership.

So, this might then lead you to ask: can you create a partnership whereby an affiliate gets paid based on performance and helps your SEO?

This really depends on what kind of links the affiliate is using. There are three kinds of affiliate link:

  • Network links: Lots of affiliate programs use links generated through networks like Rakuten LinkShare. With most of these, the links generated point to the network’s servers rather than directly to your URL, meaning it’s not a backlink and won’t affect your SEO in any way.
  • Direct links with parameters: A direct affiliate link will often include parameters like ‘‘‘referrer=’ or ‘?=affid-’. These links point directly to your website, which means they count as backlinks. However, they’re obviously paid links which means they should be nofollowed, otherwise the affiliate may well be penalised by Google. And of course, we now know that nofollow links aren’t helpful to your SEO.
  • Direct links with no parameters: Just like direct links with parameters, these links lead directly to your website and so count as backlinks. The difference is that there’s nothing to indicate that they’re affiliate links. So, if an affiliate makes them dofollow, it’s less likely that Google will see the connection and hand out penalties. Some affiliates are able to use these links because their partner brands use systems like Google Analytics to track performance. However, it’s worth noting that affiliates are legally required to disclose their links and so a nofollow link would still be best practice. And remember: if you’re tracking traffic using methods like UTM codes, then so is Google.

So, in short, affiliates can occasionally provide brands with dofollow links to help your SEO content strategy. However, it’s certainly not best practice and, more often than not, SEO isn’t the focus when collaborating on content with an affiliate marketer.

3. Sponsored content

A sponsored post is digital content that a brand pays for, hosted on a partner site. It’s a super popular type of content marketing partnership (in fact, quite a few of these collaborations have made it onto our list of excellent content partnership examples). The idea is that sponsored content should look and feel like it belongs with the rest of the editorial content surrounding it.

You might think: but isn’t that just an advertorial?

Essentially, yes! Many would simply see sponsored content as a slightly more evolved version of an advertorial. But in Moz’s view, there is a difference – their view is that an advertorial generally belongs somewhere at the middle or end of a customer’s journey. In other words, sponsored content would belong at the ‘awareness’ stage, whereas an advertorial would be further towards the ‘conversion’ stage. Whatever your outlook, these content types are clearly very similar.

As the name suggests, there’s also a big overlap here with sponsorship, which is in itself a whole other form of strategic partnership. You can read more about this in our article about the 14 types of partnership.

But we digress! The big question at stake here is whether or not sponsored content can help with SEO...

The short answer is ‘no, you can’t get SEO benefits from sponsored posts because they should use nofollow links as opposed to dofollow links.’

But it is a little bit more complicated than that.

Firstly, buying or selling links that pass PageRank is a violation of Google's guidelines, as is reiterated in this Google Webmaster blog post. Sponsored content is a form of advertising so the safe answer is that providing you with a dofollow link within a piece of sponsored content would be breaking Google’s guidelines and could result in your partner site being penalised.

You might think that it would be easy to disguise the fact that a piece of sponsored content has been paid for, but it’s worth noting that it’s against the law in the UK and US not to disclose adverts. So, it’s important that the nature of sponsored content is made clear.

That said, you could argue that your brand is paying for the advertorial itself, not the link. Cole Hann’s paid post in The New York Times is a really interesting example of this. The content draws readers in through a story rather than reading like an advertisement and it doesn’t actually make any mention of Cole Hann in the content itself. However, at the very end of what is a fairly hefty piece, Cole Hann’s name appears in the credits, together with a follow link. It feels natural!

On top of this, remember that Google wants content to be super useful to its users. As long as a dofollow link is genuinely useful, relevant and leads to a site that the partner really does endorse (and assuming that the site isn’t making a regular habit of including dofollow links in sponsored content), it might well be okay.

So, the long and short of it is that sponsored content can help with SEO in some limited circumstances, but generally doesn’t. If you’re keen to use a strategic content partnership for SEO purposes specifically, you’ll probably be better off coming to an arrangement that doesn’t include payment.

Instead, you could offer to provide a potential partner with a backlink in return; you could suggest writing them a super-useful guide for them to publish on their site (linking to your site of course!); or you could even just highlight a resource on your site that could be useful to their readers. The possibilities are endless, but they all centre around ensuring that your content is really, genuinely useful.

Sponsored content example

4. PageRank

There’s no point in getting a dofollow link from a site that has a bad reputation or is generally badly regarded by Google. In fact, if you have a number of links from these kinds of sites, it’s best to ask to get them removed or, if that doesn’t work, you can use Google’s disavow backlinks feature.

Instead, when you’re looking for potential content marketing partners as part of your link building efforts, make sure to search for reputable, trustworthy sites. The more reputable and trustworthy they are, the more link juice they should pass to you – thanks to Google’s PageRank score.

While there’s no way to see exactly what Google thinks of individual websites (since they keep their algorithms behind locked doors!), there are ways to get an indication. Firstly, you want to be looking at sites that rank on page one of Google’s SERP for keywords that are relevant to your industry. This is a good sign that Google thinks their content is valuable to viewers.

Secondly, some SEO tools have developed ways of estimating how highly-regarded a site is by Google. For example, Moz’s Page Authority (PA) score estimates how well specific pages will rank in the SERPs (this information can be accessed using the Breezy platform), while Ahrefs has a free website ‘authority’ checker that analyses the quality of a domain’s backlinks. While these tools aren’t foolproof, it’s generally useful to stick to brands with high scores so that you end up with good-quality backlinks to your site.

Content marketing partnerships and PR: what’s the difference?

With the rise of the internet and social media in particular, it’s become increasingly easy to create content. Everyone’s doing it. So, it’s become more and more important to stand out from the crowd. Think about it: unless your content is actually being seen by potential customers, it’s just not worth anything!

PR professionals create and maintain relationships with journalists, editors and influencers to get your brand in the right places. So, it’s no surprise that a strong PR campaign would help your content to make the biggest impact possible.

At the same time, effective PR relies on great stories to get attention. So, it makes sense that content marketing, which is all about storytelling, is an important tool of the profession.

As such, PR and content marketing don’t just complement each other – they’ve pretty much become two sides of the same coin.

By combining your PR and content marketing strategies, you’re giving those journalists, editors and influencers ready-made stories that have the potential to go viral and make powerful waves. And, of course, you’re making sure that you’re not doubling up on work and content!

On top of that, when news from your company makes it into top online newspapers and magazines, you’re likely to get high-quality do-follow links to your site, helping with your SEO strategy and contributing towards helping your content to get found organically long after the date of publication.

It’s worth noting that a PR-based content partnership doesn’t necessarily require providing journalists with a fully-fledged story. Instead, brands could contribute to newsworthy content by providing journalists with a quote on matters that they’re an expert in – commonly referred to as HARO (Help A Reporter Out).

Finding the right content marketing partners to provide you with backlinks takes time, patience and a lot of research. And it’s one of those jobs that’s never finished. You’ll always need to spend time link building and you’ll always need to be revisiting and updating your content marketing plans, no matter how successful your business becomes.

In some businesses, this task will be carried out by the head of marketing or head of growth, while in larger companies, it may be absorbed in a content manager or editor’s role. And of course, working closely with a PR professional will ensure that you can also form relationships with journalists, editors and influencers.

Either way, if your brand puts in the necessary time and fully commits to finding strategic content partners, the results will speak for themselves!

1. Identify potential partners

Often, potential content marketing partners that can help with your SEO will be in the same industry as you without being direct competitors. For example, imagine you sold driving lessons. Relevant potential partners to contact could be companies that sell driving insurance, brands that sell cars, comparison sites within the motor industry or even charities that deal with road safety.

Plus, if you can provide informative, journalistic content or infographics, you could also identify partners to contact from a PR perspective, such as online motor magazines or even national newspapers and publications.

Either way, make sure that any brands you identify have a high page authority. Don’t forget to sign up with Breezy to get access to tons of potential content marketing partners who are also looking to collaborate!

Identify potential content marketing partners

2. Get to know them

If we’re talking about potential partners who can be found through PR, such as magazines and newspapers, it goes without saying that a relationship will need to be formed with journalists and editors. After all, this is part of a PR professional’s job!

But the same goes if you’re looking to form a content marketing partnership with another brand. Instead of firing off a blanket email to every brand that looks like a potential strategic content partner, take some time to familiarise yourself with their website, work and values. This has two key benefits.

Firstly, a personal email that shows you’ve done your research is much more likely to generate a positive response from a potential partner brand. It makes your offer look genuine and shows that you’re invested in making a partnership work.

Secondly, you want to make the process as straightforward for them as possible, to give them the best chance of saying yes to a proposed partnership. If you know their website well, you can show them areas that you could contribute to, common themes you could collaborate on or point out pieces you admire that you’d like to be a part of. Doing your research really does help!

You could even go a step further and link to their website in your own content (as long as it’s relevant). Then, drop them a message letting them know that you loved their content and referenced it in yours. Sometimes, they might return the favour and link back to one of your articles. If not, it’s still a positive and memorable way to introduce yourself as a potential content partner.

Get to know content marketing partners

3. Offer them something in return

As with all types of partnership, the key to success is to ensure that both parties get something out of it. Sometimes, pointing out that you have linkable assets that your partner’s audience could benefit from is enough. But to get a decent number of partners, you’re likely to need to do a bit more.

In many cases, your potential content marketing partners will be other brands who have the same aims as you. So, by offering to provide them with a backlink or to create content that promotes their brand, you’ll be ensuring that the relationship is a positive one for you both. Just watch out that you don’t do too much of this, as a large volume of reciprocal links could look forced.

You could also offer to guest blog on their site or accept a guest blog on yours. However, the ultimate collaboration would be to create a piece of shared content that utilises both your expertise. This way, you both benefit from creating some fantastic content that you couldn’t have created alone, you both get a backlink and you both benefit from increased brand awareness. It’s a win-win but it can, of course, be more time-consuming.

When it comes to PR-based content partnerships, providing journalists with an interesting story is a great way to benefit them at the same time as providing opportunities for your brand. Plus, helping journalists out through HARO (providing them with a quote on a matter on which you’re an expert) in exchange for a link is often mutually beneficial.

However, some brands, particularly bigger ones, may prefer to receive a monetary reward as we’ve touched upon earlier on. While sponsored content can be a great avenue to take if you’re looking to increase brand awareness, it’s generally not helpful for generating backlinks as Google could penalise your partner for providing you with a dofollow link that’s been paid for.

Offer content marketing partners something in return

So, why take on the whole burden of executing a content marketing plan all by yourself? Two heads are better than one, and that’s never been more true than in content marketing, where businesses can support one another to reach new heights that they just couldn’t achieve alone.

Ready to make a partnership a key part of your content marketing strategy? Sign up with Breezy to find hundreds of potential partners that can help your business climb up Google’s rankings!

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