What happens to content after hitting publish

After joining a tech startup specializing in content delivery networks in November 2014, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about “how content worked.” Specifically web content. I was a pro at hitting publish, but didn’t know how my content was being delivered to the devices of my audience.

Now, to be a great content marketer, you don’t need to know about the technical side of web content. But knowing about it will give you an edge over many of your content marketing peers. It will also give you a deeper appreciation of the content you create and market every day.

First we’ll start out with an overview of sorts, then we’ll move onto some action items you can suggest to your clients or company to improve your content marketing efforts.

Content Travels Underground, Underwater, Up High

What happens after you hit publish and the sharing frenzy begins?

Whether people access your content through Twitter, Google, or a newsletter, something profound happens when someone clicks on a link: Data packets that make up your beloved piece of content are sent across subterranean cables, submarine cables, and orbiting satellites.

You read that right.

There are cables installed beneath the surface of the Atlantic, Pacific, and other large bodies of water that get your web content from point A to point B.  And anything you think that could happen to these cables does happen. Of the 299 submarine cable systems, some have been breached by scuba-diving hackers and gnawed on by sharks.

These are just some of many usual occurrences you can find in the news on any given week. And when submarine cables account for 99% of international communication, this can become problematic very fast.

So why don’t we rely more on satellites in space? For a few reasons: Satellites have limited capacity (they can only handle so many Internet connections at once), satellites are very expensive, and submarine cables are much more efficient in terms of carrying packets of data.

Content is Often Copied (Cached)

Before learning about content delivery networks (CDNs), I thought all static content (images, videos, PDFs, etc.) was stored either on servers of third party hosting companies or a company’s dedicated server. I had no idea that the content I was producing and distributing for many of my content marketing clients was being delivered by anything other than the client’s main server.

So why were my clients putting copies of the content I helped them create on anything other than their main server? They knew something I didn’t:

Caching content puts more eyeballs on your content. This is because caching significantly reduces page load time. And when people are only willing to wait a few seconds for content to load before moving onto another piece of content, caching is vital. By caching content on a CDN, the distance from your content to your users is reduced, which means faster delivery.

The origin server in the image above represents a company’s main server. The orange lightning bolts represent a CDN’s globally distributed servers. Notice the shorter distance content must travel to reach the user when the CDN is enabled.

Per static asset, the difference may only be a few hundred milliseconds between CDN and non-CDN delivery, but all these milliseconds add up. It can be the difference between a 3-second and 4-second page load time, a visitor that stays on your page or abandons it.

Now, if you’re a  content marketer you’re probably thinking: “If I’m putting my content on other servers that I don’t own, isn’t that digital sharecropping?” A good question, and the answer is no because the original file lives on your main server. The CDN simply pulls it from there and caches it. You still get the creative and SEO credit for your content.

Your Content Can Open Your Audience Up to Attack

Every piece of content you publish makes your users vulnerable – unless you secure it. This is often done using something called the secure sockets layer (SSL) that turns vulnerable HTTP connections into secure HTTPS connections.

See, each piece of content you publish must be delivered from a server to your users’ browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) over a connection/protocol called HTTP.  (You’re probably familiar with HTTP from seeing it in your browser bar when you’re online.) But the truth is, this protocol that serves as the foundation of the Internet isn’t secure on its own.

When your content traverses “the wire” over an insecure connection, it opens your users up to attack. Hackers can use this content connection to steal information from your users and much more.

To secure your entire website and restrict user vulnerabilities, you’ll want to get an SSL certificate. This will secure assets delivered from your origin. You can also install this certificate on the CDN you use so you can make your content fast and secure.

If you work for a company that stores vital user information, you can probably sense the urgency of having secure connections. And if you work for a content publisher, you’re probably thinking you can avoid this (We don’t store any vital user information, we just publish content.) But according to Google’s John Mueller, this train of thought is wrong.

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons to secure content on any type of website. Not to mention that Google made HTTPS a ranking signal in 2014.

Add an Edge to Your Content Marketing Approach

Up until now you’ve been restricted to offering value as a content marketer through any of the following means: writing content, publishing content, sharing content, managing writers, building an audience, and so on.

But with this new knowledge you have related to the technical side of content, you can make your content better, faster, and more trustworthy. You can add value to your company, clients, and users like very few of your content marketing peers are doing.

So the choice is yours: Keep doing content marketing like you’re used to, or take that extra step and make your content more marketable, fast, and secure in this digital age when people are less patient and more cautious.

I’ll be excited to see what you do.

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