What is article marketing? In a nutshell, it’s writing articles and making them available to others to reproduce free of charge on their websites, with whatever alterations and editions they like – the only proviso being that they have to include, unaltered, a blurb about you that includes a link back to your own website.
So it’s not the marketing of articles, as the name might suggest at first glance. It’s marketing by means of articles, and what you’re marketing is your own website – the presumption in your readers’ minds being that there’s going to be a lot more interesting content to read there.
How does it work? Or, more to the point, does it work? Let’s have a closer look.
The “golden age” of article marketing
Here’s a good free PDF outlining how it was all done back then: Building Traffic With Article Marketing by Yaro Starak and Brian Clark (PDF file, 193 KB). It’s undated in the text, although it looks from the file creation date as though it was written in March 2006.
The basic idea was that you should write short articles of about 400-600 words for article repositories such as EzineArticles.com (which Starak identified as the market leader back then). It doesn’t matter if they’re not of very good quality because you get your backlink anyway.
When you get the right combination of a solid title, a brief word count and a popular topic your article can go viral and be picked up many times.
But, as Starak suggested, this was a case of quantity rather than quality because the majority of sites republishing his articles were splogs (spam blogs: vehicles for AdSense adverts with little or no self-generated content). You still get your backlink but it’s not a good strategy for longer term search engine marketing. To avoid any penalty for content duplicated from your own site, it was a simple matter of altering the text before submitting it for republication. Starak also recommended using tools to automate article submission to a wide range of directories.
Brian Clark picked up the reins in Part 2 of the PDF and gave some useful pointers on how to make these article achieve your goal. Short articles, with punchy headlines and first paragraphs, all leading down to a well-crafted blurb (or “resource box”, as Starak and Clark called them) should entice the reader to visit your site.
Interestingly, with the search engines in mind, he also warned about how to use varying anchor text to avoid unnatural linking. Did he have a premonition about the Penguin? Probably not. It’s common sense to know that the search engines don’t like being gamed and that any strategy based on gaming them can only be short-lived.
Despite the age of the PDF, it’s still a good read for an overview of article marketing and it contains some good advice which is still relevant today.
Now let’s fast forward to 2012…
Does article marketing still work?
It seems to be generally accepted that article marketing as practised in 2006 doesn’t work any more. The old way was all about building backlinks to impress the search engines, and we know that’s old hat post-Panda/Penguin – even though article submission software these days now incorporates “spinning” techniques to automatically rewrite your text with minor changes.
(Nevertheless, the MMO crowd are still flogging article marketing as a link building strategy to improve your search engine rankings. They obviously haven’t read my article about Google-proofing. ;-))
Nowadays, instead of article marketing we have content marketing. This encompasses various methods of using your content, including articles, to spread the word about your website.
Darren Rowse has a good article about using content marketing as a traffic building technique. Although he says that there are countless ways to do content marketing, he specifically suggests guest posting, article marketing, packaged content and syndication. The main thrust of his article is that whatever content you do post elsewhere, it must be highly targeted to that particular audience.
So if you’re writing a guest post, you’ll want to make sure it casts your content as responding to the specific needs of the readers on the site where the post will be published. If you’re offering a special report or whitepaper, make sure that it meets a felt need of the audience of the location where it’ll be downloaded.
In other words, there’s no point in plastering untargeted duplicated content all over the Internet. You must choose where to publish with care, and craft content specifically for the audience of the recipient site – whether it’s an article, a video, or a photo.
Article marketing – in the old sense of churning out half-a-dozen bland paragraphs with an author credit at the bottom and then firing it automatically off to repository sites – is well and truly dead. And good riddance. These days, not even the search engines will thank you for that kind of fluff.
That’s not to say that you can’t recycle raw information to create several articles all saying similar things. You can. But only if you have a specific readership in mind for each article and write each article accordingly. Regurgitating the same article several times over with the help of a thesaurus just won’t cut it.