Eleanna Sbokou
Eleanna Sbokou 12 February 2016

Paid Content Distribution: Know Thy Platforms

A colleague recently talked about how Twitter is not Facebook (and vice versa) and gave some really good examples and tips on how to tailor your social strategy to the characteristics and requirements of each platform and its audience.

But what about paid content distribution?

Well, you guessed it: It requires the exact same mindset. You need to tackle each platform separately, understand what works and what doesn’t, test your content promotion campaigns and optimise them accordingly as you go.

What follows is an overview of popular content distribution platforms covering a range of paid promotion types, such as social ads, native ads and paid content recommendations. You’ll find tips and suggestions on how to best promote your content on each platform to improve your CTR (Click Through Rate) and/or CPV (Cost Per View) and lower your CPC (Cost Per Click) and/or CPV (Cost Per View), all based on our experience running multi-platform campaigns for a number of clients.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all available content distribution platforms out there. It’s rather a selection of widely used platforms that can produce very good results and substantially boost awareness, views, interactions and traffic to your content - if you know how to harness their power in full of course.

And that’s what we’re here to help you with!



Paid content recommendations on the RHS column by Outbrain on

Since we’re talking about content distribution, it makes great sense to start with a very popular and effective content discovery platform. The way Outbrain works is pretty straightforward: you add the URLs you want to promote, set your targeting location- and device-wise and also define a max CPC you’re willing to pay. Then Outbrain distributes your articles or videos as “recommended content” on various publisher sites, next to (or below) relevant content pieces. This way, your content is recommended to users that are already interested in this topic.

For each piece of content you promote on Outbrain, be it a text-heavy piece, an infographic or a video, there’s 2 elements you can test and optimise to improve your content’s performance and in turn the content views and website traffic it produces.

The headline

What we’ve seen is that longer (80-100 characters) and more descriptive headlines perform better. Instead of being smart and witty but at the same time vague, go for clarity: make sure readers immediately understand ‘what’s in it’ for them when they see your headline. If they’re not sure whether this recommended content is going to be useful/interesting, they probably won’t click through.

It also helps if you define the content type in your headline: is it an article? A guide? A video? Once again, the more information you give users on what to expect after clicking, the better.

Finally, there’s a few terms you might want to avoid, as they seem to light up in readers’ minds as attention-seeking efforts to promote lower-quality content. For example, according to a report by HubSpot and Outbrain, these words have a negative effect on CTR:

  • magic
  • tip
  • simple
  • how to
  • why
  • cure
  • easy
  • need

Also, addressing readers directly (e.g. “Why you should switch to almond milk today”) seems to lower the chances of them clicking through. Furthermore, the use of superlatives - be they positive or negative ones - has the same effect.

It’s also helpful to test multiple headlines (at least 3) for each content piece you promote. Based on what performs best you can further improve your content titles.

The thumbnail

Choosing the right thumbnail can also make a big difference. Make sure you use images that are highly relevant to the headline while at the same time attracting users.

For example, what we have observed while promoting articles offering healthy diet tips, is that healthy food pictures perform better compared to images of fit people that look like they lead a healthy lifestyle. This is probably because food pictures make it obvious what the content is going to be about and are directly related to the headlines, whereas being fit and healthy brings to mind the result you achieve, rather than the means to it (i.e. leading a healthy diet).

As with headlines, make sure you test at least 2-3 thumbnails per piece. Based on the insights you’ll gather, you will not only be able to optimise your running campaign but you’ll also gain a better idea on where to start if you need to promote similar content in the future.

Another thing to look out for is how quickly your budget is exhausted each day. If your campaigns spend all their budget before lunchtime, it means your content is doing well and you can now lower your max CPC. However, it’s better to go slow: decrease your bid by £0.01-£0.02 at a time.

A 0.15%-0.20% CTR is a sign your campaign is doing well. And if you manage to drop your max CPC under £0.10, then you’re doing great.


StumbleUpon has 21 million monthly users who visit the platform to find interesting content around different topics. With StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery tool things are pretty simple: no headlines or thumbnails needed. You just submit your URLs and users that stumble upon them (pun intended) view the exact page they would see if they landed on your website.

So what can you do to improve your content’s performance on this platform, i.e. lower the CPV and increase the average time users spend interacting with your content?

The answer is simple: targeting.

Start by setting your ads to be delivered to a wider audience in terms of age, devices and interests and refine your targeting as you go. Launch your campaign and run reports every 5-6 days to understand which age groups, devices and interest groups produce the best results. This is where you need to put your money.



Example ad on Reddit by Hired

The online community that helps you ‘inhale the web’ with the help of upvoted and downvoted user-generated news links. With 566 million monthly visitors, it’s definitely worth giving its self-serve ad platform a try.

On Reddit you can target:

  • Interest groups, i.e. groups of subreddits around a given interest such as Shopping & Fashion or Travel or Food & Drink
  • Locations, i.e your ads will be shown on the Reddit Frontpage but only to users from a selected country
  • Subreddits, if you’re interested in specifically targeting users that visit a given subreddit

Similar to Outbrain, each content piece/URL you promote needs a title and a thumbnail.

There’s no character limit, so opt for a longer and descriptive title. Make it interesting while explaining to users how your content is going to help them. Also, feel free to use 2nd person and directly address the audience here.

When it comes to thumbnails, they’re the same size as thumbnails that accompany regular posts by Reddit users, which in effect means pretty small (70x70 pixels). No need to go for high quality imagery, just make sure the image is not “very busy” otherwise users will not be able to understand what they see given its small size. Of course, don’t forget it needs to be highly relevant to the title.

Finally, depending on the audience you’re targeting, you might want to use different thumbnails that resonate more with the users. For example, when we were promoting the above mentioned content piece around healthy diet tips, we used food images for our ads targeting the Food &

Drinks interest group and pictures of fit and healthy people when targeting subreddits relevant to fitness and exercising.

In terms of what to expect, Reddit’s average CTR is 0.20% so anything above that is a good indicator.



Skippable In-Stream YouTube ad by Nexus

Right now, YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine on the web and the 3rd most visited website. If you’re creating video content, YouTube ads can substantially help with amplifying its reach. By targeting the right audience, you can significantly boost video views (with CPVs that can be lower than £0.10), gain new channel subscribers and also drive users to your website/landing page.

As we’re focusing on paid distribution, I won’t discuss how to optimise your video for better organic visibility (but if you’re interested in this, you can have a look at Rory Natkiel’s guide). 

In-Stream vs. In-Display ads

When it comes to YouTube ads, you need to first of all decide whether you want to run In-Stream or In-Display ads. If you’re interested in generating more views and want to pay only when a user watches your video (full length if its duration is

If you mainly care about generating a lot of impressions, are less fussed about your View Rate (views/impressions) and don’t mind paying every time a user clicks on your promoted video (even though they might only watch a few seconds of it and then abandon ship), then you can try 

In-Display ads. Your video can either appear to the right of the video currently being watched and above the suggested videos list, or in search results and to the right of the main list of videos a search returns.

Of course, you can try a mix of both and see what works best for you and your campaign goals.


Whatever the type of YouTube ads you run, targeting is crucial and plays a major role in your campaign’s performance.

If you want to target a wide audience age-wise and are interested to see which age brackets interact more with your content, then create dedicated ad groups for each age bracket and further refine your targeting by combining them with one of the following targeting types:

  • interests
  • keywords
  • topics
  • placements, i.e. YouTube channels or videos with relevant content to yours

Be careful not to combine more than two types of targeting in each ad group (e.g. age+interests+keywords) because you run the risk of limiting your audience too much.

What is most important here is to check your campaigns regularly (I would suggest every 5 days or so) and keep refining your targeting and your bids (max CPV or CPC) as you go.

Shift more budget to those targeting groups that deliver higher View Rates and/or CTRs (for example, if you’ve added a CTA on your video in order to send users to your website, it’s important to understand which ad groups deliver not only views but also clicks).

Remove keywords, interests, topics and placements that don’t perform that well. Test fresh ones and proceed accordingly. Do the same with age groups: if 25-35 year olds only show a 0.05% View Rate, why not shift your efforts towards more engaged users?



Promoted post by Forbes on Facebook

This post wouldn’t be complete without tips on paid content promotion utilising the world’s biggest social network.

Titles, images, targeting

Apart from a catchy and short title and high-quality relevant imagery (you need larger images here to accompany your content compared to

Outbrain and Reddit, so make sure you have high definition pictures - unless you’re running video ads obviously), you also need a description that will make users want to learn more/view now/download now/subscribe now etc., depending on the CTA you choose from their list of preset CTAs.

With Facebook, promoted content posts are closer to an ad than to a “recommended content for further reading” entry (like on content discovery platforms). This means you can be a bit bolder with your ad titles, using exclamation marks, questions and superlatives. Don’t over do it though!

As with other platforms, test different titles and images to see what resonates more with your audience.

When it comes to targeting, Facebook’s advertising platform offers you a wide range of options for refinement. Like on StumbleUpon, you could start with a wider audience and then, depending on which demographics and interests interact more with your content, focus your ad delivery to them.

Relevance Score

Relevance score is now becoming one of Facebook’s most important metrics when analysing performance. This is a score on a scale of 1 to 10 and Facebook advises you should be aiming to be within 7-10 to have an optimum performing ad.

Relevance score takes into consideration how well the audience is reacting to your ad content when it comes to achieving the campaign objective, e.g Video views, Clicks to Website, App Downloads. 

If your ad sets are below the 7 mark, then it’s a big sign you need to adjust the campaign to bring that relevance score up.

Dynamic ads and tracking pixels

Dynamic ads and tracking pixels have been another huge step forwards for the platform in terms of generating purchases through mobile-commerce.

The range of advert options Facebook offers means you can scale your campaign over a period of time from raising awareness by offering relevant and interesting content, through to a targeted promotion optimised for delivering online purchases relevant to the individual users and their behaviour.



Promoted tweet by UserVoice

Twitter is also frequently used by brands to promote their content on a paid basis.

What you need here is:

  • a 70-character headline (same as the title of the original content if not too long)
  • an accompanying tweet (140 characters max)
  • a high quality image or a video
  • a CTA from their list of presets

The 2 most important elements here are the tweet and the visual. Explain what your content is about and how it can help your audience and use relevant imagery. Have you made clear why users should click through and interact with it? My suggestion is to try at least 3 different tweet variations as well as a couple images to see what works best and then shift your budget there or try fresh ideas building on that insight.

Testing and adjusting targeting is crucial.

You can target followers of specific accounts (@username) that tweet around topics relevant to your content, you can also target specific interests and keywords and select countries, genders and platforms.

Twitter’s advertising platform allows you to go into a granular level view to see which Twitter handles (i.e. influencers whose followers you’re targeting), interests and keywords are delivering you the most clicks. This means you can cut the waste and focus the impressions on the targeting that is delivering you the best results.

A good place to start is with a list of at least 30 accounts whose followers you want to target. Then, if needed, define the country you want to target but avoid doing further refining till you get some results.

After the campaign has run for 4-5 days, check which handles have produced really low Tweet Engagement and/or Click Rates and eliminate them. At the same time, make a list of the top 5 performing handles and, using a tool such as Followerwonk, look for other accounts they often interact with. If they’re relevant, add them to your targeting.

Also check whether some platforms (e.g. iOS devices) deliver substantially lower results compared to others and if that’s the case exclude them from the campaign. The same goes with gender targeting, although eliminating the female or male Twitter audience altogether can be tricky. I would only suggest this if there’s a huge performance difference between them.

Further to that, check which interests deliver better click rates and add those to your targeting.

Targeting refining is a continuous process, so check back on a weekly basis and keep optimising to improve your campaign’s performance. This regular optimisation means you can identify the strongest targeting combinations to use in other variations of the campaigns as your base level, trialing e.g. new handles and interests/keywords to benchmark against going forwards.

Last but not least, if you’re wondering what a good Click Rate is for paid content distribution on Twitter, anything higher than 1% is good and if it’s >3% then your ads are doing really well. This however will vary from campaign slightly e.g. video views compared to website clicks, however is a good guide to understanding when you need to fine-tune the campaign.

Always stay up to date and never stop testing & optimising


There’s only one thing you can be sure of: nothing stays the same for too long when it comes to digital marketing. What worked fine last year might not work that well anymore and as new propositions come to light, market benchmarks shift and users have new expectations and online behaviours.

Keeping the above in mind, in order to put together a successful paid content distribution strategy, you need to first of all make sure you know your options (available platforms and offerings) and stay updated with all the latest platform-specific features.

Take the time to read case studies for each platform and also browse their FAQ section or their Help Centre. Do your research and find out how campaigns on each platform perform on average (CTR, CPM, VR, CPV) so you know what to expect in terms of impressions, clicks/views and website traffic.

Knowing the above and having defined a set of goals you want your paid content promotion to achieve, decide which platforms you’re going to add to the mix. Set up your campaigns following the tips in this article and remember to test-analyse-optimise on a regular basis.

Finally, look out for webinars and optimisation guides for each platform and get in touch with your account managers asking for a review of your campaign performance and suggestions on how to improve it.

And if you need help setting up a paid content distribution strategy, give me a shout, I’d be happy to help.

Originally Article on Blonde’s blog, view the original here.

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