Like most digital mediums, before blogging was deemed an essential content marketing tactic, it was primarily a hobby.
If I could time travel to the 1990s, I’d not only be treated to the Golden Age of the Boy Band (full disclosure – Team *Nsync), but I’d also witness the rise and fall of popular blog platforms like Blogger, LiveJournal, and Xanga.
In those days, individuals flocked to standalone blog platforms to chronicle their lives or share their tastes in books, music, and films. Though some people found ways to monetize their blogs, it wasn’t using the inbound methodology that we see today.
As the B2B and B2C content marketing industry took off, fueled in large part by search engines, it became evident that blog posts should be owned media – posted on a business’ own site, not on a third-party blogging platform.
Is That Still the Case Today?
As a content marketer myself, I know that best practices should regularly be examined and challenged. And with the recent resurgence of external blog platforms like Medium, LinkedIn Pulse, and Facebook’s Instant Articles, it’s clear that third-party options shouldn’t be automatically excluded from your content strategy.
Before you hit publish, let’s consider the benefits and risks third-party platforms pose.
Benefits to Blogging on Third-Party Platforms
There’s a built-in audience to leverage.
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C content marketer, you’ve likely struggled with growing your blog’s audience.
In a business context, it can be difficult to grow subscriptions from the ground up. And even if you’ve been blogging to loyal readers for years, it could be challenging to scale beyond your established base.
Third-party platforms offer built-in, highly engaged readers to which you can serve your content. For example, Medium – the brainchild of Twitter CEO Evan Ross – uses an algorithm to distribute content based on interest. This means your business can leverage popular categories to get posts in front of the right users.
Because readers of Medium – over 30 million monthly, to be exact – are specifically on the site to read quality long-form content, they’re primed for what I call the “rabbit-hole effect.” They often won’t read just one post, but will continue clicking “Read More” and consuming content from new-to-them publishers.
The same can be said of LinkedIn users who use the Pulse app during their lunch break or commute. They may come to get insights from specific thought leaders, but if you plan and produce quality content, you’ll be discovered by new readers who otherwise may have never stumbled across your site.
Essentially, third-party platforms allow you to go where the users are, rather than hoping they come to you.
Streamlined Social Promotion.
Your content promotion efforts can be minimal on these platforms because they often do the work for you.
Both Medium and LinkedIn will serve content to social followers seamlessly. A Medium+Twitter integration ensures a publisher’s Twitter followers are instantly Medium followers as well, while LinkedIn distributes Pulse articles to a subset of connections and followers, then beyond the poster’s immediate network depending on engagement.
Facebook’s Instant Articles are served directly on the social network, so followers will immediately be connected with your latest content.
Compare this to your typical content promotion routine, which might include creating and sharing multiple social posts, targeting influencers and setting up sponsored ads. Publishing with these services saves time and is cost-effective.
You need little-to-no technical experience.
Depending on the Content Management System (CMS) you use, posting a blog can be easier said than done.
A third-party blogging platform like Medium will require less training and technical knowledge to use than an enterprise-level CMS like Sitecore or Kentico.
Your content producers will likely find Pulse or Medium more intuitive to use than a complex system, and they’ll be able to format, edit, and publish content more quickly. For understaffed teams balancing multiple projects and tight deadlines, ease-of-use is a huge draw.
Furthermore, third-party platforms are updated as major changes to web technology and mobile browsing occur, meaning you won’t have to put time, money, or effort into maintaining those upgrades yourself.
For example, Facebook’s Instant Articles was developed in response to slow-loading mobile sites, which had average load times of 8 seconds on mobile devices. The platform boasts up to 10x faster loading times.
Immersive, interactive content that loads faster without you lifting a finger? That’s a pretty good option for high-volume content producers.
Risks of Using Third-Party Blogging Platforms
The “Digital sharecropping” dilemma
Sonia Simone wrote an in-depth post about digital sharecropping over at Copyblogger. She argues that by publishing blog posts for free on third-party platforms, content marketers are adding value to those platforms without reaping many rewards.
This can be dangerous because ultimately, the power lies in the hands of the third-party platform. They could change their policies, shut down your account, or fall out of favor with consumers.
All of these factors are outside of publisher control, making an all-in third-party approach inherently risky.
Missed opportunities for native browsing
I mentioned above that publishers can leverage the “rabbit-hole effect” of third-party platforms to drive new users to their content.
But when you don’t own the platform your content is published on, you miss out on driving traffic to your site and leading readers down your own rabbit hole.
That means instead of reading a few of your blog posts or clicking to other pages on your website, your reader might come across your post on Medium, read it, and move on to content from another publisher, never to be heard from again.
Limited lead generation
Lead generation is also more difficult to accomplish via third-party blogs. That isn’t to say that you can’t net sales from regularly contributing to Pulse or Medium, but it’s a bit harder to track inbound leads or engage in more robust inbound marketing initiatives.
In a typical content marketing cycle, you might write a blog post targeting users in the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey, then embed a content offer – let’s say an ebook – that they can download if they provide their contact information.
On your own website, the entire lead gen process for this ebook can be integrated with your CMS, CRM, and marketing automation tools for a low-resource, high-impact program.
The same can’t be said of a third-party blog.
Less robust analytics
Any content marketer worth their salt knows that using analytics to track content performance is an integral part of a strategy. In order to continuously optimize your program, you need to measure how your content meets (or doesn’t meet) Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
On Medium, Google Analytics is only available on custom domain publications, which come at a price. Even then, analytics won’t reflect sessions from visitors using iOS and Android applications. Medium’s built-in analytics will show you how many people saw your content, how many actually read it, the read ratio, and how many users recommended your content to others.
LinkedIn Pulse analytics provides some data on post performance, including: views, likes, comments, shares, and basic demographics for readers, including top industries, job titles, and locations. Nothing more advanced is available.
The Verdict on Third-Party Blogging Platforms (and my advice)
Keeping in mind that your objectives, target users, industry, and type of content produced can also impact the best strategy for third-party publishing, here’s my advice for where to experiment and where to stick to your own turf:
- Try Medium for long-form thought leadership pieces to increase your brand’s chance of going viral. Pay attention to which categories perform well on Medium and think about how your business could authentically engage with the users interested in these topics. Be strategic in linking to your owned content to encourage cross-pollination of Medium readers — and use Google’s Urchin Traffic Monitoring (UTM) parameters for accurate attribution.
- Use LinkedIn Pulse to establish key employees as thought leaders. The Pulse platform is made to elevate individual voices. Have your content producers partner with C-Suite executives and other business leaders and create posts for Pulse publication. Check out Epicenter’s analysis of the top 5,000 Pulse posts for tips on content topics, length, and more.
- Publish interactive and multimedia content with Facebook’s Instant Articles. Instant articles provide an incredible reading and viewing experience for mobile users. Video content plays seamlessly right in their Facebook feeds. Images and maps can be enlarged with the flick of a finger or viewed panoramically with the tilt of the phone. Thanks to the functionality Facebook provides, Instant Articles are generally more engaging than a standard mobile site.
- Keep well-optimized traffic generators, lead generators, and cornerstone content on your website. You shouldn’t craft a post meticulously following SEO best practices and then place it somewhere that it won’t drive traffic. Same for lead generating content, which doesn’t integrate as well on third-party platforms. Consider using Medium or Pulse to promote this content rather than serve as its primary vehicle.
Most importantly: remember that as with any aspect of your content strategy, you should consider your chosen publishing platform an experiment to be revisited and evaluated.
If you go third-party for all or some of your posts, compare data from the platform to your historical Google Analytics on owned posts — and vice versa.
Don’t trust your gut or blindly follow a trend. Study, strategize, execute, report, and repeat.