Oct 17, 2016 / by Jim Dougherty

Recently you may have read that Amazon made a change to their review policy. It may have been innocuous to you, but it destroyed quite a few businesses.

What was the change? Amazon no longer allows businesses to provide free items in exchange for reviews. You see, there was an economy on the Amazon marketplace that was dependent on favorable reviews to drive sales. And Amazon shut it down in a day.

Google’s Panda algorithm did the same, as did Twitter when it restricted its API for third party apps, as did Facebook when it restricted reach on brand Pages.

There are many examples of dependence on a disinterested third party, and the case that I want to make in this post is that distribution lists are a smart way for content creators to avoid dependence on third parties to have their content read.

But what third parties control distribution of your content? Search engines and social platforms.

Anytime you’re optimizing your posts for search or hoping for a bunch of social shares, you are relying on them for distribution. And even the status quo odds are kind of stacked against you. So, let’s talk about that… And how you can normalize your distribution with a strong email list.

Search Engines

We don’t know the specifics of these search algorithms (it’s always funny to read correlations between Google +1s and search engine ranking, as if a small kabal of Google Plus users wield exceptional power over search results).

For all that we don’t know, we do know that link authority is still a huge factor for search. Link authority favors bigger, more established sites, which means that there is not just a long tail of content topics but also a hierarchy of sites… And most of us operate at the smallest end of each. Right off of the bat, we are disadvantaged in search.

The way to compensate for diminished discovery in search is to pay for a promoted position on the search engine results page (SERP). Of course, this involves a bidding process, committing a budget to this paid distribution, and that the people that you want to reach will “discover” your content via a channel that is increasingly perceived as promotional.

Let’s consider the best case scenario: you create content that ranks number one for a particular search term. But what about the rest of your content? Search distribution is inconsistent across posts, which is not the outcome that most content creators want. And search is not unique in its inconsistency.

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Social Sharing

The consistency problem with social sharing is that people are always thinking about themselves.

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger says that people consider how their friends and followers will perceive them before sharing it on their social platforms.

For Facebook this means considering how three to four different peer groups may receive a post. For a person to consistently share your stuff on social, it must be impressive to almost of their friends and co-workers almost all of the time. And if you look at people’s timelines, you will see that people rarely share from a single source.

A good barometer for how well a post will be perceived by people is how much other people have shared the post.

I have an acquaintance who wrote a blog post and called in a favor to have it featured on a prominent social site. His post got thousands of shares. His next post (without that “boost”) had more of a “friends-and-family” scale distribution. Social sharing is circular, but that’s not the only challenge to social distribution.

Consider the impact of the Facebook algorithm on social distribution: Facebook says that it only shows you what (it thinks) you want to see. Some research has shown that this demonstrably limits downstream sharing, providing an additional challenge to social distribution.

Paid distribution is also an option for (most) social platforms, with the same challenges of paid search. The best case scenario for social is perhaps more limiting than search: an occasional social “hit” is time-sensitive and secondary sharing is limited. Social sharing is hit or miss. Heavy on the miss.

Distribution Lists, or the Better Way

The problem with search and social distribution is inconsistency. You cannot reach a consistent audience with regular content pieces relying on search or social to drive traffic.

When people purport to tell you how to optimize content for these platforms, they perhaps don’t mention the distribution challenges for these platforms. This is why building an email subscriber list may be an effective way to optimize your distribution for your content.

So, let’s take a look at the benefits of an email list:

The challenge to a distribution list is that it is more difficult to get people to opt in with their email than to get a “like,” “follow,” or eyeballs on a promoted post (higher barrier to entry).

Once you’ve developed a distribution list, you are able to overcome many of the challenges of search and social distribution. Of course, you do have to be mindful of CAN-SPAM and spam filters.


I’m not trying to make the argument that search and social aren’t important components of content distribution. But I do think that we are too quick to look at digital platforms without considering how email lists can be an important tool for content distribution.

Get more tips that will prevent your content from being ignored with our free guide 3 Stages of Expanding Your Content’s Reach: Creation, Distribution and Amplification. Download it now for step-by-step instructions to:

  • Create momentum for each story’s journey with a distribution roadmap
  • Earn audiences’ trust and loyalty by providing them value
  • Establish authority and expand reach with multi-channel sharing tactics

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.