Ask Kai: What should I do to promote a great article, product, or course?

By Kai Davis • Get a weekly letter on Shopify Marketing for Shopify Store Owners →


My friend Philip asked this wonderful question about the best way to promote a great piece of content:

What should people who have written some piece of content (like a blog post, article, or course) that they’re really excited about do to get other people excited about it?

(If you have a question about Digital Outreach, SEO, or Link Building, you can ask me anything here: Your Questions, Answered)

I love questions like this. There’s a whole lot that Digital Outreach can be used for beyond link building.

First off, why would you want to promote a great article, product, or course? There’s a few reasons:

  • You want to promote an upcoming product launch that the article references
  • You want to earn links for the content, helping you generate more search engine traffic
  • You want to improve your brand and image by linking it to high-quality content
  • You want to generate one-time or ongoing referral traffic by working with an expert, tastemaker, or authority to promote the content
  • You want to generate more sales by promoting a new product
  • You want to build ongoing relationships with experts, tastemakers, or authorities in our industry

Earning a high-quality link or getting more traffic are just a few of the reasons why you’d want to promote a piece of content. And for any outcome that you’re targeting from the above list, you’ll follow a similar process.

  • Define your outreach goal
  • Intentionally identifying authorities
  • Build a relationship
  • Make a specific ask
  • Reciprocate & Nurture the Relationship

Five steps that are key to any promotional, public relations, or digital outreach campaign. Let’s walk through them.

Define Your Outreach Goal

Your first step — as always — is to identify what success looks like.

Whenever I work with a client, I ask them to answer a short series of questions about their business and goals. I want to understand what they’re looking to accomplish, the most challenging aspects of the campaign, and how they want to improve their situation.

Here’s the four questions that I love asking. Before you start your next promotional or outreach campaign — or the next time you work with a client — I recommend working through these questions.

  • If you had to set priorities now, what three things must be accomplished?
  • Ideally, how would conditions improve as a result of this project?
  • What precise aspects are most troubling to you?
  • What constitutes acceptable improvement? Ideal improvement?

When you answer these questions, you narrow in on the strategic objective of the campaign. By answering these questions before you even start to think about the who or what of your campaign, you’ll be able to understand what success looks like and backwards plan from there.

Intentionally Identifying Authorities

First, a question: why target your outreach specifically toward authorities, experts, and tastemakers?

Because there’s always a smaller number of ‘best influencers’ that you want to reach than there are all people.

That means that marketing to just these people is cheaper than marketing to everyone… but the results you can get from connecting with even just one of them can be outsized for your business.

Likewise, the specific people you want to reach depend on the goal for your campaign. The people you want to reach to earn a link for your website are often different from the people you want to reach to promote an upcoming product launch. The outcome you’re looking to achieve helps you identify the communities that you want to reach.

Whenever I work on a Digital Outreach campaign for a client, I start the Authority Identification phase by ‘safariing’ the communities that you’re targeting:

  • I study these communities from the inside, as if I was a member.
  • I read the popular blogs, forums, and articles.
  • I study where these communities congregate, the resources that people share, and the sites that people promote.

You want to approach the communities this way so you can understand who you’re trying to reach, the language that these communities use, and what these communities value.

Then, you’ll want to draw up an initial list of people you want to build a relationship with. This doesn’t have to be an excessively large list. The impact you’ll get from building a relationship with 5 – 10 authorities, experts, or tastemakers is dramatically higher than if you attempted to ‘shotgun’ promote your content to 25, 50, or 100+ people at once.

We’ve all been on the bad-side of a promotional blast — or heard the horror stories.

In your outreach, you want to focus on building a relationship. Any other outcomes — a link, a quote, a tweet, or a promotional opportunity — are strictly secondary.

In the long-term, a positive relationship will reward you more than a single, short-term win.

One more note on this topic: when trying to promote an article, earn a link, or build a relationship, I’ve found the most success from contacting popular single-author blogs of websites related to the topic or industry.

In terms of metrics, I look for websites that are recently updated, well designed, and have between 100 and 1,000 referring domains linking to them. These are the perfect match between ‘enough of a readership to make an impact’ and ‘small enough to not have gatekeepers in place.’

Build a Relationship

The first step is to study the authorities on your list.

  • What are their goals?
  • What’s their unique story?
  • What articles are they sharing?
  • What projects or products are they talking about?

Answering these questions helps you understand the best way to engage with them and focus on building a relationship.

Then, you’ll want to lightly engage with them. Follow them on Twitter. Leave a meaty (150 – 300 word) comment on a blog post. Tweet about one of their recent posts on Twitter.

This lets you lightly and slowly enter the conversation with them. You don’t want to suddenly show up asking them for something. With this slow, incremental approach, you’re cautiously building a relationship.

Engage With Their Community

Before you ask them for a favor, you want to contribute to them and their community. Interact with them. Comment on a blog post. Join their forum. Attend a webinar.

Take the time to engage with them. ‘Give’ three or four times before you reach out to them directly.

Direct Outreach

After you engage with their community, you want to transition to directly engaging with the authorities.

I like starting off with contacting them through email. Two reasons:

  • It’s often easier to find their email address than a phone number
  • Unless you’re contacting someone who’s positioning themselves as a business online or making their phone number easily available, it can be shocking to get an unexpected call from ‘The Internet’

You’ll want to have a specific reason to contact them. Ideally, you have something — not your article! — to share.

No long, rambling, open-ended, no-call-to-action emails. Be specific and direct. Don’t waste their time. Be respectful.

Persistence

You might not hear back the first time. Or you might hear back, but they tell you that now isn’t a good time.

That’s okay.

You’re going to be persistent. Here’s why. It can take up to 9 rejections to get a meeting or an agreement. What makes the difference between people who face that rejection one time and quit or 40 times and never quit is purely determined by the systems that they have in place.

Very few — only about 4% of people — keep trying after the first four rejections.

You must have the expectation that you will receive rejection. Do not take it personally. This is only part of the system, part of the process of building a relationship. To be successful, you must go through this rejection.

To achieve success in my outreach, I use a multi-week outreach strategy. This strategy guides me through politely and persistently reaching out to the authorities I want to build a relationship with.

My system builds in 8+ attempts to make contact with each authority. My goal is to reach out to the authority 8 times even if the authority declines or doesn’t respond 8 times1.

When I start a Digital Outreach campaign to promote an article, a resource, or a client or help a client earn links for their website, I map out the first 3-5 ‘touches’ in the series:

  • The first, second, and third email that I send the authority
  • What I say if they say ’No’
  • What I say if they say ‘I don’t think this is a good fit…’

If you continue to market to someone with great vigor, they will absolutely get to know who you are. If they tell you ‘No! No!’ and you keep connecting with them, they will go from not knowing you to knowing who you are to feeling obligated to work with you.

You must expect and plan for the people you’re contacting to say ‘No!’ several times — and anticipate that these rejections will not cause you to give up. In your mind, you must have a plan: what’s the first email you send them? What’s the second?

After all, how important could your product, your business, or your request be if you gave up after a single rejection?

Make a Specific Ask

When it’s time to make a specific ask — sharing an article, coming onto a podcast, working together on a joint venture — you want to start with a small, specific ask.

When Tim Feriss was first promoting the Four Hour Work Week, when he had connected with an authority or expert that he wanted to work with, he developed a relationship, focused on providing value to them, and then made a short, specific ask.

In Tim’s case, this is where it gets interesting. Instead of asking the expert to read his entire manuscript, he sent them a single chapter that best aligned with their interests. These factors all enhanced the strength of his ask:

  • It was a small, specific ask
  • It directly related to the expert’s area of interest
  • It came after developing a relationship with the expert

You want to be focused on building a relationship and then using that relationship as a basis to explore working together.

Reciprocate & Nurture the Relationship

Once you’ve made your ask and received an answer — yes or no — you want to reciprocate, continue providing value to the person you’re working with, and focus on nurturing the relationship.

You want to think about this as ‘playing the long game.’

Success isn’t in getting a one-time review, post, or link. Success is building a long-term, ongoing relationship with someone who is established in your industry.

By focusing on providing value to them and their community and reciprocating any value they give to you, you show that you aren’t just looking for a short-term win.

During an outreach campaign, I take the following steps to track and nurture the relationships I’m building:

  • First, I add the influencer to my contact management system. I use a combination of StreakCRM2, Buzzstream3, and Highrise4.

  • Then, I use either Streak’s ‘Snooze’ feature or the Boomerang Gmail extension to set periodic reminders to check in and see how they’re doing. For my personal contacts, I add them to my Drip account and tag them as a ‘personal contact’ or ‘client’.

  • After that, If I come across an article or resource that I think they would value — or if I or my client write something that I think they’d enjoy reading — I send them a short note with the article attached.

In essence, I treat them like a friend that I want to stay in touch with.

By focusing on staying in touch and providing value to them, you’re able to nurture a long-term, ongoing relationship, that can and will continue to provide to you, your business, or your client’s business.

That way, the next time you have a great article, product, or course that you’re working on promoting, it’s easy to look at the people you’ve worked with before and drop them a quick note saying: “Hey! Hope you’re doing well, loved your latest podcast episode. I just finished writing an article on that topic and I think you’d enjoy reading it. Check it out!”

Closing Thoughts

At the most basic level, the best way to promote a great article, product, course, or piece of content is to focus on building a human relationship with a relevant authority, expert, or tastemaker.

When you have that relationship in place, it becomes much easier to achieve the outcome you’re looking for: more traffic, more leads, more sales, better image.

A relationship with an authority in your industry — like, say, Andrew Warner of Mixergy — can pay off for your business in a number of ways:

  • A high-quality link for your website
  • Promotion for your upcoming course or product
  • More traffic, leads, and sales for your business
  • Improvement in your brand and image

But it’s the relationship — a connection with an influential person in your industry — that’s the real payoff for you and your business.

When you focus on building that relationship, it’s easy to promote a great piece of content. And it’s easy to build a better business.


Did you enjoy reading this article? You should read “How do I get more traffic?” next.


  1. The exception? If I get a firm, direct, rational ‘no’. If someone defers or delays, I continue outreach to them. If someone politely explains why this isn’t a good match, I’ll thank them for their time. 
  2. For managing ongoing relationships 
  3. For identifying, qualifying, initiating, and tracking relationships 
  4. For tracking my clients and personal contacts