Content is not King. Self Promotion Is.


While I was at the airport last week, Dr. Pete sent me a link to his post on SEOmoz about SEO cliques and asked for my thoughts. The post talked about the various groups that exist in SEO, how not friendly the industry can be sometimes (The Internet is mean!) and attributed ‘being loud’ in social media to having no other skill (worth noting: That statement came later in the comments, not from Dr. Pete.). I don’t want to touch the whole “SEO is a clique” debate because it’s been done and it’s sad watching people strain themselves to climb atop those high horses. I don’t even want to fight the comments that accused Outspoken Media, Jill Whalen, and Rand Fishkin of not being able to cash the checks our brands write us. I get to cash that check every month and imagine Jill and Rand do, as well.

What I wanted to talk about was the importance of self promotion. Because that’s what this whole thing is really about. Some of us are loud and pro-active about spreading our content. And others view self promotion as dirty and, as a result, slow the growth of their business and get mad about it.

This weekend I’ll kick off my fifth year of SEO blogging (is it bad it feels like a gazillion?). When I look back at the posts I’ve written in that time, the ones that took off, and the different reaction that posts had based on where I published them, it’s easy to realize something. Content is not king. Your ability to promote that content is.

Does that idea bother me as a content writer?

It used to. When I worked at Bruce Clay, Inc. , I didn’t promote anything that I wrote and I think it showed. Posts didn’t get as much attention and we didn’t reach the number of people that I think we could have. I don’t think I learned the power of promotion until I met Rae. Rae is God’s gift to promotion because she GETS the importance and she can do it better than anyone. I often joke that the reason anyone knows about Outspoken Media is because Rae makes them. I’m just here putting some thoughts together and Rae forces you to pay attention. It’s a tag-team effort. Any success I’ve earned writing the blog I share equally with Rae’s ability to promote it.

I don’t feel badly about self promotion because I didn’t create the rules; I’ve just learned how to do well by them in order to help clients. And just as we tell our clients, your audience will not find you because you throw a Web site up on the Internet. For you to earn your spot and your attention, you need to be willing to promote the hell out of yourself, at least at first. Once you find your audience and your following, they’ll begin to promote your content for you. But you need to get to that point. This isn’t 8th grade English class where the teacher is going to read every essay and determine which one deserves the highest grade. This is Marketing. This is where you step in front of people to tell them your message. It’s where you subtly enter their line of sight and refuse to get out. It’s where you become their best pal in order to encourage them to buy from you down the road.

If you’re writing great content or putting out a great product and you’re NOT promoting the hell out of it, you’re an idiot. Because no one is seeing it.

Clay Shirky recently offered a rant about women and talked about our inability to self promote when compared to our male counterparts. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that girls are taught not to promote or be less aggressive than boys. That’s certainly not what I was taught. However, I do agree with Clay that reason people don’t self promote comes from fear.

  • People don’t want to be seen as arrogant.
  • They don’t want others to call them out.
  • They don’t fully believe in their content.
  • They don’t want to be wrong.
  • They don’t want blog posts written about them about how they don’t actually work.

That’s a lot of changing how you act to make things less offensive for others.

Of course, there is a line. If you go in doing nothing but promoting yourself and promoting content that doesn’t deserve it, then you’re going to be shunned and ignored. The reason I don’t mind promoting Outspoken content is that I believe in it. Our calling out Seth Godin, Rae’s taking Google to task for putting spam into the index, Rhea’s incredible Online Reputation Management Guide. I will promote those any day of the week without feeling badly about it. Because they’re good pieces.

Creating good content on the Web is not enough. Maybe it was when there wasn’t as much of it competing, but today there is. What separates the Good Content that IS read from the Good Content that IS NOT is your ability to promote it. I’d go as far as to say that it’s what separates people who are successful from those that are not – their willingness to promote themselves when it is in their best interest to do so.

Promote your content, but know that you’re going to find some haters. People who will resent the fact that you’re loud about what you’re doing simply because you believe in it. People who will create fake Twitter accounts so they can “call you out” when they don’t even have the balls to put their name on it. I’d feel badly about promoting THAT. Not what I or Outspoken does.

People write about SEO cliques because they feel like their good content is getting pass on over “clique content”. You can fight about whether cliques are or are not fair OR you can learn how to promote your own content so that you ARE getting attention. Choice is yours.

[While in Los Angeles, I recorded a segment for SEM Synergy with Virginia Nussey where we touched on the importance of promoting your content (and steak quesadillas). That segment airs today at 3pmEST on WebmasterRadio.]

Your Comments

  • Lizzy

    Thanks for the post. Very interesting and I agree with you – content doesn’t promote itself. Even the best content needs a kick off start. And that’s no news – even if you look at 19th century novelists you’ll see that they actually promoted themselves by publishing their work in press before it became a book. The Internet is no different – one needs to spread the word.

  • Verilliance

    Sorry, have to disagree on this one, at least on a personal level. There are certain people who have done outstanding jobs self-promoting, but write crap content. It takes me 2-3 posts for me to figure that out and stop reading them, and I don’t care if they have more followers than God.

    I’ve seen Jill Whalen speak a few times locally, and she offers extremely valuable information in her talks, otherwise I wouldn’t attend. I read SEOmoz because the content is killer, and useful to me. Same with all the other blogs or speakers I rely on.

    I don’t disagree that self-promotion is a key part of getting that royal content out there, but I disagree that self-promotion is a higher priority. If you make your content King, and your self-promotion Queen…well then.

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s definitely a tag-team effect. You need both. But the best piece of content in the world isn’t going to reach anyone if there’s no one out there promoting it – which turns that valuable piece of content in a total waste.

      Promotion is definite not the end-all, be-all. As you mentioned, it doesn’t take much to read through the promotion and discover that someone is talking out of their ass, but it’s a really big component. Would Jill Whalen be where she is if not for her ability to promote herself and push through the pile of crap? Probably not. You definitely need the content to back it up, though.

  • Melissa - SEO Aware

    I completely agree with you. I see a lot of useless articles promoted everyday and obviously I am going to read them because off the promotion. On the other hand I see a great articles that are never promoted, or can’t get to the top of the ladder for various reasons, and they are great.

    The key is to have both, great info and great promotion. Something the ladies of Outspoken Media do well.

  • Abhijeet Mukherjee

    I’d go a step further (or take one backwards) and say building relationships is the king. Even before writing and promoting. If you are able to do it, and do it well, then promoting yourself later becomes really easy.

  • Karen McAllister

    Great post, Lisa. We have been discussing this topic here in our newsroom this week: how to get our reporters to take on role of promoting their content. It’s a challenge — something kind of foreign for many — but crucial, as you state so well. Will share w/others here at

  • Ben Cook

    While I understand and agree with the main point of your post, I think the headline sets up an unnecessary competition or battle between content & self promotion for supremacy.

    Your point that content is almost always not enough on it’s own & that even great content needs to be promoted is a good one & one that I think many people need to learn.

    However, as you also said, you have to have good content in the first place so declaring self promotion king doesn’t really reflect the points you make in the post.

    I think it’s time to replace the “X is King” meme & adapt an analogy that more closely resembles they symbiotic relationship things like content, self promotion, marketing, SEO etc have with each other.

  • Suthnautr

    “3pm EST on WebmasterRadio”? Excellent – can’t wait for it to start. :)

    Hello Lisa. On the whole “SEO is a clique” debate – I love that stuff. It’s all a big conspiracy amongst you hobnobbing elitists – and of COURSE you’ll deny it. Proof that your total control is so overwhelming is that nobody can prove otherwise. I have spoken.

    Rae is God’s gift to promotion (I also suspect that she is God’s gift to men, but only real men [the beefy and sweaty type of burly men you only see in ultimate fighting], not the girly boy type who post pictures of their latest cooking).

    “This isn’t 8th grade…. This is Marketing. Promote your content, but know that you’re going to find some haters.” I’d even settle for some of those! (Promote my content??? Heck, in the 8th grade I couldn’t even get MYSELF promoted!)

    “People who will resent the fact that you’re loud about what you’re doing simply because you believe in it.” Nah, you lost me there. I’d be a bigger fool than you think I am if I actually were to beleive anything that I write.

    PS – @Suthnautr is a fake Twitter account. Always has been, always will be. Love you forever Lisa. Don’t ever change.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    I spent the first two years of my blogging career just writing articles. Sure, I mentioned my articles to people I knew, and clients, and asking others to pass it around. Yet it wasn’t true self-promotion. As a result, I had maybe five or ten visitors a day at my blog.

    Back then, I would read other blogs and jealousy ensued. Big time. Cliques? You bet I thought there were cliques all over the blogosphere. And resented every one of them.

    Twitter opened my eyes to a whole new world. Over the past several months I’ve come to learn how to self promote in a way that I feel confident without that being pure arrogance ( a daily challenge to ensure I don’t), and to become part of the conversation.

    Now, when I write a blog article, and self-promote, I get upwards of 300 hundreds of readers in one day on my own blog.

    It was because of my learning this concept that I’m now a regular columnist at SEJ, reaching thousands of readers.

    In the past month and change, I’ve been invited to guest blog on no less than six other blogs. At first, I said no to all of them griping about not having the time. Then, last week, I really woke up to how much bigger an opportunity this will be for me to self promote, while offering high quality content that benefits those blogs and their readers.

    And it’s because of my ability to self promote that just this week I signed a new agency client that is on board for a minimum commitment of $3k a month, every month, from now on, with room to take that higher if and when I want the extra work. Someone who found me on Twitter, and paid attention.

    All of this is also causing existing agency clients to pay more attention to what I say when they ask for my insights and recommendations. They respect me more than ever.

    So while I’ll continue to write quality content (most of the time anyhow), I now put in more time in self promotion than I ever put into article writing.

    Oh – and all the new work I’ve been getting is infinitely more in alignment with what I’m passionate about these days, because now I can cherry pick the types of clients I agree to work with, and their higher level of respect means I’m earning more per hour. Which leaves me the freedom to rant a lot more…


  • Blake

    Well I’ve already been beaten to it but I agree that it’s important to have good content before promoting it.

    Also I would like to thank you for calling out Seth, and Rae for Google. But what about Google allowing some to hijack 100s of thousands of pages of others content slapping their name and ads on it, and if that’s not bad enough they are at the top of the search results for it!

    Anyways great post, Lisa.

  • Curt

    Excellent article.

    I like the way you frame the issue …
    “Creating good content on the Web is not enough. Maybe it was when there wasn’t as much of it competing, but today there is. What separates the Good Content that IS read from the Good Content that IS NOT is your ability to promote it.”

    In order to really create valuable information today, it takes a good producer and a good promoter. Very few people are good at both. I know I’m not, which means I have two choices. As a producer, I can either learn how to market my content or find someone to partner with like you did to help me with marketing. The same idea applies to any business.

  • Sheryl Sisk

    Hmm. OK, I agree that without promotion of the content, the content does no good to anyone. (If a marketer falls in the forest …) But flip that on its ear: what is self-promotion WITHOUT excellent content? It’s puffery, and it’s meaningless in this age.

    So while I agree that promotion is important, I can’t agree that content is not supreme. It is. It just needs some help to get out there into the big bad world, to the right set(s) of eyes and ears.

    • Lisa Barone

      You definitely can’t have one without the other, however, crap content will go further with good promotion than great content will with none. It’s not a happy thought, but it’s true. In fact, we even have a name for the spreading of average content – social media.

  • Stuart Foster


    Although you totally beat me to the punch on blog posts. Tentative Title: I Rule. (5 Reasons Why You Should Self Promote)

  • Dan Cruz

    The theory that content is king is alive only because of all the misinformation spread about seo by people that don’t know any better.

    I think it’s pretty clear that without any promotion very few people will ever find your website or blog unless you’re in a niche that no one cares about.

    Interestingly enough I was talking with a newspaper journalist who’s out of work and transitioning to online media. He said the biggest challenge was discovering that not only do you have to produce content for the ‘net but you also have to promote it online for it to gain any traction.

    The biggest challenge I see as a seo is convincing clients that their content needs some promotion for it to be effective.

    It seems to me that most small business owners are familiar with terms like viral marketing, social media and viral content but mention things like optimization and promotion and they start looking at you like you’re a scammer or something… Dunno maybe it’s just me?

    Unfortunately there ARE still a lot of mis-informed people out there that believe all they have to do is produce great content.

    BTW just heard your interview and NO more tequilla for you

  • Jody Leon

    Great post Lisa!

    It has definately given me some food for thought and made me re-evaluate my goals, but surely without great content – self promotion is just hot air?

  • Lee Kellett

    What a great post. You are so right about self-promotion being king. That is one of my biggest struggles – how to shout to the world how great I really am!! Seriously, in the world of social media and information overload, the squeeky wheel definitely gets the attention.
    I’m happy to have found your blog.

  • Rob Woods

    Not much to add but as usual, great post! No one should feel “bad” about self promotion. If you aren’t proud enough of your work to promote it, maybe you should go back and try again until you are. If you aren’t going to promote it no one else will.

    Content that no one ever sees due to lack of promotion are like nipples on a man….might look OK but not much real use to anyone.

  • Laura Scholz

    Lisa, I love this post. I think you’re right in that great content isn’t enough–you have to promote the heck out of it, even if it seems shamelessly self-promotional or uncomfortable or unnatural at first. Because honestly, if you’re not willing to trumpet yourself, 1. no one else will do it for you, and 2. those will louder voices will be the ones that rise about the noise, and you’ll miss out.

    It’s also important to remember that sales or self-promotion doesn’t have to be sleazy and pushy. If you have something of value to say, and an engaged community primed to listen, it becomes part of the larger dialogue and everyone wins.

  • Matches Malone

    Still attempting to deal with promoting a site that is asking for donations, and I’m not really selling anything else beyond a couple of affiliate links….

  • Nathan Schubert

    I would definitely concur that the reason I haven’t been promoting my insights and observations as much as I should is because I didn’t want to come off as arrogant. You know there is a fine line between promoting your content and spamming your audience.

    Lots of you guys (Lisa, Rae, Rand to name a few) do a great job. I did unfortunately have to unfollow @Jason Calacanis on Twitter because his efforts to promote a contest started appearing more like Spam to me. Just goes to show you can be as big in the industry as ever, but you always have to keep an eye on how you’re presenting yourself.

  • billdrews

    great post! the nice thing about other’s self promotion, is for newbies like me, it helps me learn. i learn by reading the good content out there. it’s also easy as time progresses (and i learn more) to see the crap that’s also self-promoted…

  • Dr. Pete

    My bank is more than happy to take Rand’s checks, although I also accept cash ;)

    It seems like we’ve come full circle – since your post is a tangent to my post which was a tangent to Rae’s post, let me reply with a tangent. I almost find it hilarious that I’m now sometimes being accused of being a self-promoter. I couldn’t be more of a wallflower – I’m a nerd who started coding as a kid, spent 9 years in higher education (which has its share of politics but hardly teaches people to market), and labored in obscurity at an unknown startup.

    When I started my own firm in 2005, I had learned a lot about running a business, but still very little about self-promotion, and I was incredibly uncomfortable with the concept. Eventually, through dragging myself in front of people and changing my pitch just about every week, I started to get it – you can’t be relevant to people unless they understand what you do, and they can’t understand what you do unless you tell them. This isn’t about ego – it’s about simple communication and confidence. If you aren’t passionate enough about what you do to talk about it and aren’t good enough at what you do to be proud of your work, why would anyone want to hire you?

  • Laura P Thomas

    It’s a universal truth that goes way beyond blogging and SEO.

    I’ve witnessed it first-hand in the music industry (I live in a city where you can’t swing a cat w/o hitting a musician). Too often mediocre songs/bands get top billing and play due to (label) promotion, and fantastically talented people are never heard outside their neighborhood bar. I’ve watched one particular artist write and record song after song that even the neighborhood barflys don’t hear because he doesn’t get out and play for them.

    At least online tools now make it easier for individuals across all sorts of industries to take matters into their own hands and promote themselves. If only they could get into the right SEO clique. ;-)

  • Chris Stocker

    Great post. I think the fear of looking like an arrogant prick is the biggest factor because you always hear people talk about spreading other people’s content. I love that your not afraid to promote your own content, that’s how I initially found this blog is because of hearing Rae mention the company name multiple times at different events I was at.

  • SlutToSaint

    I freaking love it.

    I read the whole piece — after I found it trending on Alexa.

    That’s one thing I love about my church’s pastor — he knows how to promote and market the church in an age where some people don’t realize how vital marketing good stuff is.

    Same reason I put up FB ads promoting my website, one that I believe in with excellent content and worth getting the attention it’s now receiving. Thank God…

  • Steve

    Generally I agree, but I feel somewhat constrained to promote indirectly — mostly by participating in online discussions of prospective customers and colleagues. My link goes in under my name and, eventually, I get more hits. In the area I work in, I think there is a risk of losing rapport with important peers and prospects if one comes across as a hot dog.

  • Nathan Hangen

    You’re right…in fact I just wrote a piece for Copyblogger about this (should be going up soon). It’s all about the self-promotion.

    I happen to be both arrogant and crazy, so that’s a plus :)

  • Mark Philip

    I’m sorry, but I think I missed how this is new news.

    Promotion as always been an important of the mix. I don’t think we’re breaking new ground here. From Edward Bernays to Don King, history has taught us this. It’s just as important as any of the other 3 P’s.

    In the end, if a product (you) isn’t worth promotion (ie. your content sucks) it will eventually die organically. You said it best, Lisa, “I will promote those any day of the week without feeling badly about it. Because they’re good pieces.”

    This is really a story about how the mediums of promotion have changed and how to leverage them. But while the mediums change, one thing will always remain… without content, there can be no promotion.

  • Mark Macdonald

    Lisa, as someone who’s just slaved over content and is now faced with a brand spankin’ new site that I need to promote the hell out of, this is a great shot in the arm.


  • Playstead

    Great post — being a writer for years, this has been my biggest sticking point on the Internet. But it’s something that needs to be done.

  • Robyn Tippins

    I agree, but there’s the people that you know are asshats out there promoting, and I admit I tend to underpromote because I don’t want to be seen as the way I see them. I suppose it could be that I’m so fearful of seeming to be a douche that I tend to hesitate to promote. Clay is right in some respects… I was never taught to fear self-promotion but I do know how I personally view these people who promote crap content, and it is a real fear for me to be perceived to be the person who yearns for accolades and traffic w/o earning it. Great post, I’ll ruminate on this and maybe begin to self-promote.

  • Kirstie Hill

    I have no public persona whatsoever… self promotion isn’t a trait I get into, mainly because I have means to promote my clients’ content without bringing myself into it. I can do this without a personal twitter acct or a big presence of any sort… it’s how I choose to conduct business, I’ve been very successful at it, and I don’t think this makes me an idiot.

    I know of way too many people, myself included, whose names you don’t know and who don’t self promote, but who promote their interests very well, not including the “self” bit. They are all over the world and all over the Internet. You just don’t hear their names. You’ve likely seen their work though.

    I personally manage the marketing for several multinational brands but I don’t have to self promote.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a full day of work to do that doesn’t involve telling people about my personal blog or Twitter page :\

  • Data Entry Services

    Now this is an honest take. Of course your content has be first but if nobody see’s it, whats the use?

  • Sherry Gray

    Great post as always, Lisa, and as usual, you’ve given me something to think about. My job doesn’t always require promotion (I write a lot of anonymous content, promotion is up to others) but I keep an eye on everything I put out there and it’s obvious that promotion is key. Yes, content is important, and I’m finding that voice and direction are equally so (as I struggle to find a focus for a client blog about the wonders of a city I’ve never been to), but no matter how brilliantly you write, without promotion you have nothing. I’d also venture to say that a blog needs controversy. My personal blog earns most attention when I post liberal political opinion, anything about Mensa, or attract a troll.

    I still feel squeamish about self-promotion; it seems so arrogant. But you’re right. If I am to move forward, I need to suck it up, build my audience and abuse my friendships :D *tweets this URL*

  • Charlene Jaszewski

    what I want to know is: can this be learned? Or more precisely: is Rae hirable to teach self-promotion? :)
    I have a terrible time with self-promotion, fighting midwestern conditioning that says, “don’t toot your own horn” and even worse, “do good work and you’ll get noticed.” Both of which are bullshit.
    I see people I respect and admire doing self-promotion in a way that seems genuine but it still never feels “natural” to me…is that something I just need to get the hell over?

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, I think it just takes hanging out with Rae to be more comfortable. That did it for me. :)

      I think most people feel exactly the way you do. It’s hard to break through that door and be *that* person talking about yourself. I think it helps when you really believe in what you do. Because then you’re proud of what you have and it doesn’t feel like you’re “bothering” or “selling” to people. You’re just sharing stuff you’re really excited about.

      But yeah, Rae is totally available for self-help seminars. ;)

  • audrey

    Sometimes, it’s just hard to self promote, you get all the snubs you don’t really need. Once you get used to it, though, you know you can live with it.

  • Matt Cheuvront

    Just had to say two words: Brilliant post. Very well said Lisa and something that a lot of people aren’t willing to admit. I’ll be featuring this as a part of my “Friday Quick Hits” post in the AM. Thanks for your hard work in putting this together.

  • Kyle

    Content is king for SEO purposes. I agree though, self promotion– social media anyone?– is huge.

  • Steve Kayser

    Dear Lisa: Thanks. Good and helpful post. I think it boils down to creative, subtle self-promotion. Not the in your face “I’m the Greatest” kind of nastiness. I appreciate and value good content, but if it wasn’t being promoted I’d never find it, read it, or point others too it. It’s all about content discovery for me.
    There are so many possible places, each with different audience, needs and rules, that a person can now professionally and subtlely self-promote. Like Twitter, Mixx, Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, other blogs, etc. Probably be nice to build a checklist to cover all the bases. I’m makign a mental note to myself on that one.

    Steve Kayser

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Hi Lisa,
    Very great points in this post. I think often many times people do truly miss the boat and think if you write your content so well that it will automatically generate visitors, sales, relevant links, etc.

    That is not the case at all. For instance, when I write in my SEO blog the posts that generate the most comments, visitors and traction are ones that I promote through my social media outlets and newsletter. Otherwise, very rarely does anything actually happen with those blog posts.

  • Chuck Norton

    This is awesome post.. for real. List of reasons people don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves hits me right in the stomach. Very true.


  • Lloydi

    Well i think self promotion is the king i agree on that. you can get more customers in promoting your sites through search engines and tv ads.

    Here is my simple thoughts that i learned from you Lisa.

    “Self promotion is the King and Content is his Queen.”

    It is funny but its true right.

  • Kristina Allen

    “I don’t feel badly about self promotion because I didn’t create the rules; I’ve just learned how to do well by them” — great quote! I couldn’t agree more, if you are creating content that will be valuable to others, then help others find it! We certainly feel that way about our blog content: < — shameless plug :)

    -Kristina, @ion_interactive

  • amit

    I am completely agree with you.Self promotion is so much important to promote any online business.Nowadays, companies are witnessing positive trend in internet consumer confidence levels which are direct outcomes of excellent web design’s, web listings and unparallel web development services available.Best business directory have provided means to strengthen companies bonds with consumers, vendor’s and other stakeholders.Moreover consumers can easily spot and avail services of the company listed in popular business directories.