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The Best Digital Marketing Strategy, 2017. Pic by Matt Gibson

Confluence (Content + Influence) Marketing

Competition in the world of online marketing is fierce - I mean really fierce - making it vital to choose the best possible marketing strategy to deliver sustained growth and profits.

Fortunately, there is also a lot of change that brings with it huge amounts of opportunity. So this year I have chosen a hybrid strategy that forms a symbiotic marketing mix that will do everything from building your brand's trust and authority to increasing reach, generating buzz, building relationships with important influencers and ultimately generating more organic search traffic from Google.

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I call it confluence marketing.


Because the word itself is a mix of content and influence, and the strategy combines the two to increase reach and produce high quality focused back-links and referrals to drive traffic and conversions through the roof. Plus, the definition of the word confluence means the act of merging or joining, so that works out nicely too.

Content as a Standalone Marketing Strategy

Businesses, bloggers and brands spend a lot of time creating content. We're all churning out reams and reams of it in the hope of attracting traffic and conversions. Blogging like mad. Creating infographics. Podcasts. Videos. You name it.

But does content work?

It did in the past. For those early adopters who jumped on the bandwagon back in the days when a 200 word article on a blank, static page was all the reason Google needed to push you to the top spot on page one of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Nowadays not so much.

The vast majority of all traffic is sucked up by the top 100 or so sites; leaving the rest of us to fight tooth and nail over what's left. Large blogs and media publishers (who rely on their domain authority - not necessarily article quality) employ teams of writers to cover virtually every topic imaginable under the sun. Competing for high value keywords and obscure long tail keywords alike.

Blogging by itself is no longer going to do the trick. So what is the next step to increase our competitiveness? The answer lies in influencer marketing and you can check out influencer marketing 101 to learn more about it.

Evolving Content with Influence

Here's how I would motivate the need for a shift away from content towards content with influence:

If content is your message, influence is whether or not people will listen to it.

The Internet has enough content. People are inundated by it. Overwhelmed by it. What we're short on is influence and that is not very easy to come by. Fortunately, there is a great strategy for building influence - it's called content.

Ok, so I know I've literally just stated that there is too much content, but hear me out. There's a big difference between creating content to compete directly in the search results and creating content to build influence. In fact, they are fundamentally different.

Luckily, creating content for search doesn't work. This means most of your competitors are wasting their time. This is really good news for you.

How to Create Content for Influence

Content that is created with influencers in mind is more human in that it must spend far more time talking about other people.

Writing about yourself or your company is worse than useless because you will generate no interest while still wasting time and effort creating that content.

Here's a short list of strategic changes you need to make before coming up with an editorial/publishing calendar and putting pen to paper:

  1. Research and identify as many established and up-and-coming influencers as possible in your niche. Every player in the industry will hold nuggets of influence that may be valuable to you.
  2. Understand what those influencers are doing. Find out what they want. Learn about their likes and dislikes. The more you know the more effect you'll be at building relationships.
  3. Generate content ideas that actively talks about those influencers and what they're doing, or requires their input and expertise.
  4. Reach out to them and involve them in the process of creating content (i.e. get expert quotes, ask them to provide information or data)

Avoid the traditional spammy outreach methods that are common today - (i.e. I've created an infographic that your readers will love and I want you to post it to your site with a link back to me).

Stop thinking in outbound marketing terms (like advertising and spam that pushes self-serving content) and start thinking in terms of inbound strategies (like coming up with projects that will benefit or interest the people involved).

Think of content for influence as a community undertaking that allows people to collaborate, make new connections, have fun, and be rewarded for their contributions (usually in the form of a thanks and attribution link back to their site). Dropping someone a line like this is far more compelling than the hundreds of emails they receive each day asking for backlinks:

Hi John

I am a real fan of your blog, and loved XYZ so much that I'm including a link to it in my latest article entitled, 'XYZ'.

I would also love to include a quote from you that I would attribute back to your site. It doesn't have to be long - any words of wisdom you'd like to share with our readers would be great.

I'll share a link to the article once it's published so you can check it out for yourself.

Thanks again, and keep up the great work.


I get tons of emails asking for links to infographics or guest posts that will include a link back to the author's site. I simply ignore them all now. Instead, in an astonishingly small number of cases, someone contacts me to say they've written something that has included me.

Now that's something I'm interested in.

It sounds self-serving, I know. On the other hand it's also not fair to expect me to filter through hundreds of emails that are all after the same thing - links.

Instead, an email telling me about something that is relevant and of benefit to me personally will get my attention. Further still, it lays the foundation for a potential relationship down the line because I am far more inclined to give that person a bit of time because they have talked about me first.

Regardless of the subject matter, content should be about people.

Confluence Marketing at Work

Of course, I don't expect you to take all of this on faith. I spent quite a bit of time last year working on confluence marketing and am happy to show you a great example that worked really well for SME Pals.

One of the primary functions of this blog is to talk about business ideas in order to inspire readers to come up with their own and turn them into profitable startups. Sitting around trying to think of new ideas is pretty tricky, but there are plenty of them out there - if you know where to look.

I decided to sift through hundreds of university entrepreneurs' ideas (from startup competitions, business plan competitions, pitch competitions, etc) and write an article highlighting the top 10 ideas from University entrepreneurs. Turned out to be a nice article because there were some pretty impressive ideas. I was happy with the result.

But there's something more subtle at work with an article like this.

The moment you begin talking about other people your content becomes news, or newsworthy.

Value was created because I now had information that highlighted the depth and breadth of young business talent across the U.S. - and that is interesting to a wide audience. I wasn't talking about dry technical stuff, and I wasn't talking about myself. I was talking about people who will be the future economic heartbeat of a country (and the institutions nurturing them).

I shared this article with a few other sites and sure enough there was plenty of good coverage from sites like USA Today:

Media coverage from confluence marketing article

Great, so I wrote an article and got some media coverage. Doesn't sound so out of the ordinary, right?

Except that because of that media coverage I could go to the Universities involved and say, "look, I got your entrepreneur college national media coverage". The university PR people jumped at it and within a few days there was plenty more coverage from well respected .edu sites, like UC Davis:

.edu referrals from confluence marketing

Now gathering backlinks from top .edu sites and national media sites is great. That's what most webmasters are after because high quality links are what Google uses to determine page rankings. But there is something far more valuable to be gained from all of this... influence.

Building relationships leads to influence and influence leads to opportunity.

Opportunities such as invites to attend functions (because you might be able to garner some national media coverage - since you've demonstrated that you can do it), invites to write guest articles, requests to interview thought leaders (many of the startups I covered need more exposure so their CEOs and founders made themselves available for interviews), and so on.

All of a sudden, instead of searching for topics to write about (and fighting writer's block) there are more opportunities to talk about exciting stuff than you can shake a stick at.

That's where you want to be.

The Benefits of Confluence Marketing

By changing the focus of your content creation towards building relationships with industry players and influencers you stand to gain a whole host of benefits that may not be immediately obvious on the surface of things. Here's a list of some of them:

  1. Powerful networking (make new connections quickly)
  2. Much higher outreach conversion rates
  3. Better quality content
  4. Access to more in-depth industry information and data
  5. Generate far more buzz for each individual piece of content
  6. Sustainable increases in reach & visibility
  7. Knock on SEO benefits & attendant increases in organic search traffic
  8. Rapid increases in influence

The final point, influence, leads to an increase in all of the previous benefits, leading to faster and faster growth and reach in what becomes a virtuous circle of confluence.

Before we wrap up it's also worth focusing on the search optimisation benefits here because this is where most people are dropping the ball. Everyone is hard at work creating self-serving content and spamming it to everyone else. This leaves a gap for you to get ahead by focusing on building relationships through collaboration and mutual benefit.

These relationships will ultimately translate into:

  1. Quality backlinks & referrals
  2. Guest blogging opportunities

With industry players happy to talk about you, link to you, mention you and share your content, the rate at which your site builds trust and authority with Google will increase. At some point Google will begin to view you as the industry leader you are. Remember,

Google doesn't want to make sites popular by ranking them, it wants to rank popular sites.

A diverse and natural back-link profile is arguably the best (some would say, only) way to dominate the search results and this is exactly how you should go about achieving that.

What's more, while big business is still fixated on paid advertising relationships (i.e. getting sports stars and celebrities to endorse their products for huge sums of money) you can build up a strong network of influential relationships that will ultimately outperform any paid campaign and continue to accrue benefits with time (as opposed to paid marketing which dries up when the money stops).

What do you think of this strategy? What would you add or change to make it more effective. Are there other benefits or drawbacks that I've missed out on? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Check out this list of ten great hyperlocal marketing strategies, by Carlo Pandian, that can help to drive local consumers to your site.

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Having a great product or service is simply not enough to enjoy strong sales (especially online), which is why it is crucial to build strong relationships with other organizations.

But recognizing that your enterprise can succeed or fail depending on the quality and quantity of the business relationships around you is one thing - finding and nurturing those partnerships is another thing entirely.

This article highlights three techniques that have proven themselves to be invaluable when it comes to ensuring that your company is constantly growing a powerful network of allies.

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