Shockingly, many of these marketers – a whopping 58% of them – admitted they aren’t effective at it.
It might sound obvious, but a major reason content marketing fails is because the content that’s marketed isn’t any good.
Take it from me. I’ve failed at content marketing.
I’ve failed at content marketing
I spent six months creating and promoting content with a friend (a new dad) for a website called My Kid Today. We wrote and published articles on the website, then shared them on social media profiles we created under the same name. It seemed like a simple enough model to follow. And it was one that was working very well for a good friend in a similar niche. We attracted nearly 20,000 highly targeted and engaged fans to our Facebook page. At one point, our Facebook page reached over 140,000 people in a single day. It was on Valentines Day of last year.1 Despite all of this, the venture never caught on. By any measure, it failed quite miserably, in fact. The website never had more than 1,000 visitors in a single month. We never sold a single thing despite having sales every Sunday, which was when most of our Facebook fans were online. I felt like this guy (read: EPIC. FAIL)…
Here’s what I learned…
Looking back on the experience, we made a lot of mistakes. Here are the three major things I learned…
- Obsess over the quality of the content you create. – We got caught up in sourcing products to sell, optimizing Facebook ads and designing images to include in status updates. Don’t do that. Just pump out INCREDIBLE content. Then shift over to promoting it strategically.
- Prioritize the growth of your email list. – We were too dependent on Facebook to syndicate our content. We had no idea if a Facebook post would be seen by 10,000 people or 10 people. Both happened with over 19,000 fans. If we had 19,000+ email subscribers, that potential reach would be much larger and more predictable. You own your email list. Facebook owns your fans. In fact, Facebook recently announced that it would be throttling Facebook pages’ marketing messages. What a scam.
- Guest posting on existing, highly-trafficked websites. – We would have grown faster and stronger if we focused on getting in front of large, existing audiences rather than trying to build our own from scratch. I call this the drafting technique. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible and highly effective when achieved.
Steal this: my epic content marketing checklist
In a world where 78% of the most successful marketers are creating more content this year than they did last year2, it’s only becoming more challenging to make your content stand out and get shared. With that in mind, here’s the checklist I’m now using to ensure my content is solid and primed for comments, likes and shares. Use this before publishing your next article to do the same. I’ll continue to update it based on what I’m finding works well…
- Would someone search for my headline on Google? – You should include a keyword phrase people would use on search engines like Google to find the answers or insights your article contains. For instance, I pinpointed and used “Content Marketing Checklist” in the headline for this post. You can use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to identify commonly used keyword phrases. Check out my post on local search engine optimization for more tips on using this tool.
- Does it include the word ‘you’ or ‘your’? – Posts with headlines that use ‘I’ or ‘me’ have been found to get three times less shares than those that use ‘you’ or ‘your.’ Readers like to imagine themselves more than imagining you (no offense).
- Is it a list? – List posts are the most shared type of posts, according to a study of nearly 1 million headlines. Posts with 10 tips were found to perform best.
- Does it evoke emotions? – Headlines with a high emotional score perform best. Use the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Headline Analyzer to test your headlines. Aim for a score of 30 or more. The headline for this post scored at an impressive 41.67%.
- Does it help a reader imagine a better life? – Your headline should make it easy for a reader to figure out that by reading the article, their life could be better. ‘How to,’ ‘free,’ or ‘giveaway’ headlines make this impression.
- It is short and to the point? – According to FastCompany, the ideal headline length is six words. That’s difficult to do. At worst, keep it less than 57 characters or Google will cut it off in search results. People scan headlines. The first and last few words in your headline are the most important.
- Is it in line with what the article is actually about? – Your headline should not be clickbait or sensationalistic. If it is, you’ll lose reader trust and see higher bounce rates. A headline must be congruent with what’s covered by the article
- Did I hook my readers? – Your intro should make readers feel like they are sprinting out of a starting gate. That momentum will carry them into the body of your post. You can hook a reader by asking a question, sharing a story, or getting them excited about what they’re about to learn and how it will help them. A counter-intuitive or polarizing claim can really engage readers. If you include one, make sure you fully back it up or else you’ll look ignorant and tick readers off.
- Is it concise? – If you’re like me, this is an ongoing struggle. I tend to spend too much time setting a problem up. If people see your headline and click over to read your article, they are probably already aware of the problem you’re trying to solve so don’t belabor it. Spend no more than a couple paragraphs capturing a reader’s attention. Dive into delivering value as soon as possible.
- Did I include an image? – Include an image to make a positive strong first impression and drive home what’s covered in the post. The first image you include in an article is often the one included when the article is shared on social media posts, so make sure it’s engaging.
- Did I provide a detailed overview? – By the time an intro has been read, your reader should know what they’ll get out of reading your article. If it’s a long post, consider including a, ‘You’ll learn’ section with bullet points of the topics covered. This will help manage reader expectations and build trust. You’re essentially making a claim, then immediately backing it up with the content shared in the article’s body.
- Am I telling a story? – Telling stories is an effective way for you to strengthen your relationships with readers. It enables your readers to think deep about a topic. Use words like imagine, picture and visualize to make it even easier for readers to empathize with the character in the story you’re sharing – whether that’s you or someone else.
- Do I empathize with my readers? – People don’t want to be sold to. People want to be understood and educated so they can and want to take action. Read that last sentence again. It’s very important. Show that you’re intimately aware of what your readers are struggling with by sharing your personal experience (like I’ve done in this post) or sharing info that proves you’ve done deep research on the topic to understand their pains and find a solution.
- Am I helping my readers, not talking down to them? – I try to write like I’m sitting on the same side of the table with my readers, working elbow-to-elbow to get better on a certain topic. Readers don’t like to be shamed. And they hate people who are preachy or come off as know-it-alls. Your words and tone should come from a place in your heart that’s motivated by serving your readers, not serving yourself.
- Is my article simple and focused? – Imagine if ten people read your article and you asked them what it was about. Would they be able to tell you? Would their replies be similar? They should be. If they aren’t, then try to make your post more focused. Nix tangential information or stories. If you find yourself using phrases like, “What I’m trying to say is…” or, “The reason I’m sharing this is because…” you’ve likely veered too far off track.
- Am I polarizing readers? – Consider sharing a surprising statistic or a contrasting viewpoint. This has many benefits. It will stimulate conversation. Taking a side, if explained thoroughly, is an indicator of confidence. It solidifies your identity in the minds of readers, which is important so you’re not easily forgotten. It draws a line in the sand. It will force readers to take a side, either against or for you. That’s a good thing. You’d rather have a small, engaged audience than a large, apathetic audience. One way I polarize my audience is by writing long, thorough posts. It weeds out lazy people. If you’ve read this far, I like you.
- Am I drafting off current events or trends? – I try to avoid trendy topics. I like to write evergreen posts because they are relevant for longer periods of time (which should mean more website traffic). With that said, I make a habit of checking what’s trending on Google Trends, Facebook and Twitter to keep tabs on the web’s pulse. If you can leverage what’s already on the tip of someone’s tongue to introduce your topic, they’ll be more likely to listen. This is another way to empathize with readers.
- Is the advice you share specific and actionable? – People just want results. And if you can help them achieve results, they’ll never forget you. The only way they can get results is if they take action. The only way they’ll take action is if they know what action to take and how to take it. Your job is to explain this to them with great precision so any excuse they have is futile.
- Does it pass the, ‘Impress an Influencer’ test? – Imagine someone – John – is sitting down with an interviewer, Jane. John really wants to impress Jane. About ten minutes into the interview, Jane makes an off-the-cuff comment about how she wants to run her first marathon. Let’s say the article you’re writing just so happens to be about helping people train for their first marathon. If John read your article, would he suggest it to Jane? Would he feel confident enough about your material to let it form the great impression he’s trying to make and be an extension of the people he associates himself with? This is what I call the Impress an Influencer test. If the answer is not a resounding ‘Yes’ then you’ve got more work to do.
- Did I include visual content? – 90% of information that’s transmitted to the brain is visual. Visuals, like photos, infographics and videos are processed much faster by the brain than text3. This is why your eyes were drawn to the fat man barreling through the inflatable pool earlier in this post. It’s why Pinterest has surged in popularity. It’s why Twitter has reworked its interface to prioritize images and videos. Content with images and videos are easier to read, much more likely to get shared on social media and convert better than content without them. People learn in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to read. Some prefer to listen. Others prefer to look at pictures. Including a variety of visuals will help you satisfy the unique preferences your readers have.
- Am I being 100% honest and realistic with my readers? Am I being true to myself? – The web is becoming a more transparent place, but people can still hide behind computers and make claims that are difficult to validate or refute. This makes it tempting to overstate your results or make promises you aren’t confident you can fulfill. It’s good to be confident, but never at the expense of being inaccurate or misleading an audience. People are very good at detecting BS. And you have a responsibility to respect your readers’ precious resources – especially their time, which can never be recouped. Your articles should always be based on facts and experiences. There is a level of responsibility that comes with publishing. Make sure it’s in line with what you stand for and who you truly are. Don’t just publish content to publish content.
- Is my content easy to read/scan? Did I use bold and italics to highlight key information? – Eyetracking studies have found that users read 28% of the words on a page, on average. If your audience is highly literate, that percentage skews lower.4 Recognizing this, make your content very easy to scan. You can do this by including…
- Bulleted or numbered lists
- Bold or highlighted text
- Visuals like images, infographics and videos
- Short paragraphs (ideally 2-3 sentences in length)
- Narrow columns of text (this makes a reader feel like they are reading faster)
- Headings and subheadings
- Legible font type and style (at least 14px in size)
- Did I include a call to action above the fold? – 80% of a web user’s time is spent looking at information that’s above the page fold.5 Consider including your desired call to action (CTA) above the fold so that it isn’t ignored.
- Did I include my most important content on the left half of the page? – Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of web pages. A conventional layout, with your primary content on the left is ideal.6
- Am I making my readers scroll, not click? – Usability testing indicates web users prefer to scroll through content than page through it. This is why Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest leverage infinite scrolling, rather than making you click through the results.7
- Did I mention experts or link to anyone? – Including insights or quotes from experts can help you borrow credibility. It also gives you an opportunity to reach out to them after you publish your article, which could help foster a relationship. The influencer might even share your post with their network.
- Is the content mobile-optimized? – More than half of Americans own smartphones and one third of them own a tablet8. One study found that 46% of searchers used mobile exclusively.9 With the release of Google Hummingbird, sites without a mobile responsive design will likely see their search rankings drop. Make sure your content is easy to read on all devices.
- Did I include citations? Are they reputable? – If you share a statistic, quote or a type of media, cite it. Never plagiarize. Make sure your sources of data are reliable.
- Do I have comments enabled? Am I responding to comments? – Turn on comments and reply to your readers. It gives you an opportunity to strengthen relationships with them and get valuable feedback that you can use to craft even better content going forward.
- Is the content comprehensive? – Longer posts get shared more and rank higher on search engines than shorter posts. Be careful, though. Don’t just write a long post for the sake of writing a long post. Make every word count.
- Is my conclusion shorter than 200 words? – Keep the conclusion short. Use it to hammer home your article’s overarching message, then motivate your readers to take a specific action.
- Did I edit it to make sure there aren’t any spelling, grammatical or punctuation errors? – Misspelling or misusing a word can crush your credibility, especially if you’re writing for a well-educated audience.
- Are trust indicators present? – This is another powerful way to borrow credibility. Can you include strong testimonials, ratings or third-party seals of approval like those offered by the BBB? If you can, reader trust levels will be boosted.
- Did I end the post with a request to take one or two specific actions? – Don’t ask your readers to do a ton of things at the end of the post. It will paralyze them. They’ll end up not taking any action at all. Instead, motivate and request them to do one or two specific things. For instance, you might ask them to answer a question in the comments area, then share the article with a colleague that would similarly benefit from reading the article.
- Is it easy to share? – Include share buttons so engaged readers can easily pass it along. I use a plugin called SumoMe to include share buttons. There are tons of other plugins out there that offer similar functionality if you are using Wordpress. The major social media sites also offer snippets of code to easily embed share/like/tweet/repin/jargon de jour buttons on your webpages.
- Are social share buttons citing social accounts? – Include “via @yourtwitter handle” to make sure you’re maximizing your exposure, for instance.
- Am I publishing my post at the right time? – Generally avoid publishing or promoting your post on a holiday. Peak sharing times will differ depending on who makes up your target audience. Generally, the best times to publish content are between 10AM-noon and 8PM-10PM. 10. The best times to post on social media vary by platform, as shown in the graphic above.11
- Have I repurposed my content? – To increase the reach of your content, you can rework your article (don’t duplicate it or you risk getting penalized by Google) and publish it as…
- Do I know influencers who have shared similar content? – Search for similar, popular articles to the one you’re about to publish. You can do this by using Google search or Buzzsumo. Once you locate a few, plug their URLs into Buzzsumo or Topsy to find out who has shared the article on social media. Once you publish your article, reach out to those individuals and share your article with them. They’ll be much more likely to share it, considering they’ve shared something similar in the past.
- Am I collecting new email subscribers? – If your content is epic, your readers will want more of what you offer. Email marketing is the most effective way to keep in contact with them. Make it super appealing and easy for readers to subscribe to your newsletter. I use and highly recommend MailChimp to collect emails.
- Have I notified my email subscribers? – If you have an existing list of email subscribers, send an email to let them know about the new post. If your email list is large, this can send a huge wave of highly targeted traffic.
- Have I shared my content consistently on a variety of platforms? – If you spend 10 hours writing a post, you need to spend at least as much time promoting it. You can do this by sending out emails to influencers who might be interested in reading and sharing it and scheduling it to be reposted on your social media accounts. Facebook now has built-in scheduling functionality to make this easy. Buffer is a handy tool that also makes this a cinch.
Publishing and promoting content can be a very effective marketing strategy. It can help your business…
- Demonstrate expertise
- Strike up and build relationships with customers
- Boost online and offline traffic and sales
Plus, content can be created, published and promoted on the cheap, sometimes only costing you the amount of time it takes to create it.
That’s a sexy one-two punch, isn’t it?
Ask these questions before hitting the publish button and your content will be well-positioned to succeed. Don’t worry if you can’t answer all of them. The goal is to address as many of them as you can!
What is one question you also like to ask before you publish content online?
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