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Content Marketing: What Works and What Doesn’t

By Karen TaylorMay 9, 2016

content-marketing
I know that half my advertising is working. I just don’t know which half.

This oft-quoted comment about advertising in the “old days” (credited to a number of business people) takes on new meaning in the modern age of content marketing. Companies are producing and publishing tons of content. They know some of it’s working, but not necessarily exactly what’s working.

When they do have a moment to catch their breath in the race to keep up and get better results, content marketers tend to ask similar questions like:

  • How much content is enough—will we eventually reach the law of diminishing returns?
  • What kind of content yields the highest results?
  • What is the measureable impact of adding graphics to content?

Luckily, many companies are tackling these questions in a multitude of research projects. Let’s look at what they’ve discovered.

Create Enough Content—But Not Too Much

Publish more content to increase results.

You’ve likely heard this content marketing adage. It makes sense. If you get a little interaction with a little content, you’ll get more with more content.

While that concept is logical in theory, it may not always play out in the real world. In fact, two companies, CoSchedule and Pottery Barn, reported their interactions and shares dropped after they began posting more content.

Just before the 2014 holiday season, Pottery Barn decided to start posting more content on Pinterest. After all, the retailer had gained a great response from the content it had already published on the social media site. It just made sense to publish more. But the company quickly faced a content marketer’s nightmare: Creating more content, but generating less impact.

Pottery-Barn-content-strategy

“Across the time period when their Pinterest output quadrupled, Pottery Barn’s engagement level (measured on Pinterest as the combination of likes, re-pins and comments) was falling off a cliff. Their average interactions per pin decreased by nearly 75 percent, from a high of 402 in January to 109 in July,” according to TrackMaven, which conducted the research. The company revised its strategy to boost engagement by the holidays.

Similarly, editorial calendar company CoSchedule experienced a similar drop in engagement when it went from publishing two to three blog posts each week. When it compared the data, the company’s analysis showed that three posts:

  1. Decreased social shares an average of 236 per post. That’s a grand total of 1,950, which was 294 less than the previous average of 2,244.
  2. Increased page views by 317.5 per post—from a total of 26,204 page views compared with 24,299. However, that was an overall increase of only 1,905 page views and a significant per-post reduction.
  3. Three posts decreased comments by four per post.

So, was it worth it for CoSchedule to publish a third blog post per week? No. “It’s not worth publishing more posts to get fewer than a thousand page views per post,” stated Nathan Ellering, the company’s content marketer.

CoSchedule offered a few suggestions for ways to spend the time you save when you stop creating low-performing content:

  1. Create longer-form content that consistently gets more traffic
  2. Add more visuals in your posts
  3. Create giveaways like checklists, templates and eBooks to gather email subscribers

Create Expert Content—Exactly Where It’s Required

Google robots and humans both love expert content.

When Google published its latest guidelines, section 4.3 of Part 1 stated: “High-quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic.”

According to Search Engine Journal: “What is interesting about Google’s new guidelines is that they place a huge emphasis on the need for expert writers, especially on pages that Google views as being very important. While it’s clear that Google has always valued quality content, it seems as if they’re now placing an increased focus on things like authority, as well.”

But does this digital guideline play out in the real world? Native ad firm inPowered conducted a study and found that expert content—credible third-party articles and reviews—is the most effective source of information for impacting consumers along all stages of the purchase process across product categories.

The study, which measured the impact of expert, branded and user-generated content, found that expert content:

  • Lifted familiarity 88 percent more than branded content and 50 percent more than user reviews
  • Lifted affinity 50 percent more than branded content and 20 percent more than user reviews
  • Lifted purchase consideration 38 percent more than branded content and 83 percent more than user reviews

According to inPowered: “Expert content’s ability to provide the greatest breadth and variety of information compared to branded and user content, combined with a perspective that it was perceived as unbiased, appears to be driving its consistently high performance in all areas of the purchase process.”

The research also uncovered some insights about the three types of content—branded, user reviewers and expert content.

  • Branded Content. Lift was strongest within categories where product specs were a critical part of the decision-making process. This could be attributed, in part, to the perceived trust that brands know their own product specs best, stated inPowered. Branded content was also effective at driving familiarity and affinity for big-ticket purchases, but it was not as effective at persuading purchase consideration.
  • User Reviews. They were found to be successful in categories where users tend to have a higher degree of product expertise. Also, user reviewers had low relevance at driving familiarity and affinity for big-ticket purchases, or persuading purchase considerations.
  • Expert Content. This was the most effective at influencing high price-point purchases, such as those over $1,000. But, ultimately, expert content influenced all three phases and was most effective at driving final purchase considerations. The higher the price point, the more efficient expert content was in educating and persuading consumers.

Where exactly should companies focus their expert content? Google’s guidelines provided some examples:

  1. Complex medical advice should only be given by people or organizations that possess appropriate accreditation. It should, likewise, be written in a professional style and will need to be reviewed, updated and edited regularly to ensure it remains current and authoritative.
  2. Complex financial advice, tax advice or legal advice should be written by expert writers and will need to be updated regularly.
  3. Important advice pages that may affect a person’s finances or well-being (for example, investments, home remodeling and parenting) need to be written by expert sources.
  4. Hobby pages on topics like hockey, horseback riding or photography require expert writers.

Create Graphics That Grab Readers

Add graphics to boost content impact.

According to the CMO Council, nearly 65 percent of senior marketing executives surveyed believe visual assets (photos, video, illustrations and infographics) are core to how their brand story is communicated. Further, the majority believes the importance and use of visual assets (79 percent for video, 60 percent for infographics and 50 percent for photography) will grow in the future.

But what is the real impact of graphics?

A small insurance company, HCC Medical Insurance Service, realized that it needed a way to stand out in its market against larger competitors—and decided to use interactive infographics. The gamble worked. The company gained a 1,000 percent lift in blog traffic, as well as significant lifts in social media followers and email revenue.

HCC Medical Insurance Service took six steps to create its successful interactive infographic, titled “Extreme Guide to the World”:

  1. Make the infographic as interactive as possible
  2. Find the topic people want to talk about
  3. Conduct a micro-test
  4. Reach out to influencers
  5. Distribute content
  6. Repurpose content

MindJet-content-marketing

Mindjet experienced a similar result when it added infographics to its content marketing strategy. The work management software firm said that while a good blog post before the new strategy would receive 700 to 1,000 views, the first infographic it published received 13,127 unique page views. Since then the company’s blog has gained an increase of 420 percent in monthly unique page views.

Mindjet’s content strategy around infographics is this:

  • Find something interesting to the target audience that ties back to Mindjet’s business
  • The idea must offer the opportunity for visual representation
  • The idea must offer the ability to create a series of related content pieces
  • The content series must have a sense of voice and design

Results like these are likely why the use of visuals is a key part of most companies’ content marketing plans. Social Media Examiner reported that last year 73 percent of marketers planned on increasing their use of visual images.

Even though content marketing has taken over, we’re still in the early stages of separating what works from what doesn’t. Expect more research along our journey toward discovery. Tested insights will make our marketing investments that much more successful.

Check Out Essential Content Marketing KPI - Interactive Checklist

Additional Topics:
Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at KarenTaylorWrites.com.
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