The Missing Piece in Your Content Strategy
Most marketers can relate to the disappointment of spending copious amounts of time creating content that ends up producing underwhelming results. You spend hours carefully planning, doing extensive research, and poring over the right headlines and calls-to-action only to be disappointed to find that your ideal customer doesn't seem to care that much about your content.
Or maybe you're a business owner and have invested lots of marketing dollars into producing regular articles on behalf of your brand and you're not getting enough leads to justify the cost. You know that content marketing is supposed to give you an SEO boost and bring in loads of new customers but you're starting to question whether or not it'll ever work for you.
If this sounds familiar, you might be missing one of the most important parts of an effective content strategy — testing. Content marketing has become an essential part of growth for companies of all industries but many content strategists miss this crucial piece of the puzzle (real talk: I know this from experience).
Let's talk about what goes into content marketing
Creating an effective content strategy isn't a simple process. First, the content creator needs to understand the brand, the people behind the brand, the company's goals, and (don't miss this part!) detailed personas to help get them in the mind of the company's ideal customer. And that's before any content has been created!
Next there's the strategic thinking part, where you ask questions like, what are we trying to say and why? What value will this content add to our audience? How will this content drive readers to action? Then there's the actual content development, where careful attention must be paid to brand voice, calls-to-action, keywords, etc.
And finally... distribution! Where will this content live? On a blog? On LinkedIn or Medium? Should it live behind a gate or out in the free world?
Once these questions are answered and the the content is finally living and breathing somewhere on the world wide web, don't just pat yourself on the back and move on the to the next thing. If your content marketing process looks like a straight line, you're going to hit a lot of dead ends. Instead, imagine the process as a continuous loop that starts with strategy, then development, then distribution, then analysis — after which, your findings feed back into the strategy and the process starts over again. Testing is the fuel that keeps the process moving along that continuous loop, allowing even underwhelming results to add value by exposing something that needs to be adjusted somewhere along the way.
You've got to think like a scientist
So how do you start incorporating testing into your content marketing strategy? Here's a few ideas to get you thinking like a scientist and running content marketing tests:
Distribution tests: This is pretty much testing 101 and it only requires basic analytics tools and a bit of time. Start by putting on your scientist hat and creating a hypothesis. For example: "Our ideal customer is more likely to click on an article from LinkedIn than Facebook or Twitter." Next, create your content, post about it on all three channels and check out where you're getting the most traffic from. You can also run tests like this to find the best day/time to post or share your content. This test is so basic that you'd be surprised at how many people don't do it. The only hard part is making the time!
- A/B testing headlines: This tried and true method is easy to implement with tools like Crazy Egg or Landing Lion. Try running some ads that drive traffic to a landing page with your content on it and test some of the messaging on the page. Be sure to not get too carried away! Keep the tests simple enough that the results will lead to a conclusion that can inform how you approach your next piece of content.
- Five second tests: These tests are super helpful if you're designing visual content or trying to nail the right messaging. You can use Usability Hub to run these tests before finalizing your content to make sure that you are getting the right message across before you lose your audience's attention. Be sure to see if your results tell you anything new about your ideal customer!
Fellow marketers — what kind of tests do you rely on to make sure you're creating effective content? I'd love to hear what's worked for you!