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Added: September 23, 2021
You shouldn’t trust everything that you read on this blog.
In fact, you probably shouldn’t trust anything you read on any blog. Doing so may actually be bad for your marketing.
Why? We’ll tell you, but first…
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… Most Content Marketing Tips Are 100% Totally Made Up
Content marketing tips are usually made up, and why wouldn’t they be? Everything is made up these days — even scientific research.
In a recent study, economists found that nearly all studies published in economics journals are likely to be wrong. After studying 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists, researcher John Ioannidis found that within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies.
Things aren’t much better in the medical field.
Author David Freedman published in his book, Wrong, that “about two-thirds of the findings published in the top medical journals are refuted within a few years.”
Even worse, “as much as 90% of physicians’ medical knowledge has been found to be substantially or completely wrong,” according to Time Magazine’s article on the book’s findings.
Are you finding this a bit creepy? You should be, and it should give you all the less reason to trust your friendly neighborhood content marketing professional carte blanche.
Most of what they say is full of crap…
… someone has to say it.
All Content Marketers Are Liars
Here’s the thing, too much modern marketing is based on “what some other guy told me to do,” and not enough on “what our data told us to do,” and that’s a real problem. This post is about putting the other guy’s ideas on trial, and making sure that their tips actually work — for you.
It may sound obvious, but it begs a reminder: never trust marketing advice that you haven’t tested.
We live in an age of data; we have a ton of it. Isn’t it time that we started using it?
While we may agree that testing is important, why do we constantly do otherwise?
Why We Believe What ‘Experts’ Tell Us
In his seminal work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini gives us a hint about why we so easily fall for the experts, even though they are so often wrong.
He reports on a study in which a group of people were given an essay by an anonymous writer that was favorable to Fidel Castro. Participants were then asked to guess the true feelings of the writer. In almost all cases, the reader of the essay believed that the favorable report on Fidel Castro represented the true feelings of the person who originally wrote the essay.
They assumed that a pro-Castro essay was equal to a pro-Castro writer.
Of course, this isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is that nearly the same number of participants also believed that the favorable report on Fidel Castro still represented the true feelings of the person who wrote it, even once they were told that the writer was, in fact, forced to write a pro-Castro article.
The point is that participants were very likely to believe the contents of what they read, simply because they read it — even if they knew that there was a good chance that it was false. The reason for this is, in part, because the participants blindly assigned a level of authority to the writer of the article simply because he had taken the time to write it.
There are other examples of this influence of authority at work. In Cialdini’s research, he found that:
- Physical therapists are able to get more patients to comply with their suggested exercises by simply displaying their diploma on the wall.
- People are more likely to give change for a parking meter if the requester wears a uniform rather than casual clothes.
- Realtors were able to gain more contracts when their secretaries chose to mention their qualifications and expertise when answering the phone.
In short, we usually believe what we assume to be an authority, and the simple fact that something is written down is often enough for us to assume that the required amount of authority is present, and we can trust it.
There’s no doubt that it can make those “7 Free Content Marketing Tips” very dangerous if we don’t pay close attention and test our own results. Here are some ways to change your habits.
How to Resist Completely False Content Marketing Tips
The first thing that we need to do is to start questioning our own assumptions.
While we are inhaling and digesting those seven free tips, we need to be questioning their validity before we believe them. A good place to start is by running the writer’s conclusions against what constitutes a fair scientific test.
A fair test in science is one that should:
- Not provide any advantages to any of the conditions or subjects being tested.
- Compare outcomes from a number of different trials.
- Typically have only one variable and several constants.
Using these simple evaluations, we should be able to determine if the information presented is scientifically based or not at all. In some cases, the advice may be scientifically based without actually presenting the data; this should also give us pause.
Of course, the best way to guarantee scientifically accurate data is to conduct the test ourselves. This is something that can be accomplished with a simple A/B test — a method used for determining if a new variation will provide a better outcome than the original option. In these tests, we form a simple hypothesis (or predicted outcome) and test two variations against one another to see which works best.
As Smashing Magazine puts it, we want to determine which is better — version A or version B.
A/B Tests help us verify our assumptions and put the experts to the test.
These simple A/B Tests help us verify our assumptions and put the so-called experts to the test. They are fairly simple to do with the right tools. For quick reference, here are five tools that you can start using today to test some of your new found hypotheses. We’ll then get into some specific things to look out for when conducting those tests.
Optimizely is a simple SAAS-based application that will help you create on-the-fly tests using a WYSIWYG site editor, or through a more complex integration in the HTML of the page itself. It is one of the leading A/B testing tools available, and it’s a great place to start.
Like Optimizly, VWO is another A/B testing tool that will allow you to create simple A/B tests with the click of a mouse. For example, if you read a post touting the virtues of red buttons, you can quickly create a test that measures how your new red buttons matchup against the old version — often referred to as the “control version”.
KISSmetrics is a very customizable analytics platform that you can use to measure and evaluate your results. While it is not specifically an A/B testing tool itself, it does an excellent job of measuring specific events that happen on your site. In short, you should be able to see if specific events, like email signups, change or improve based on a few adjustments.
The key here is to make sure that you only make a few (or just one) change at a time so that you can easily compare it to a previous version. At CoSchedule, we like to run changes for at least a week before drawing any significant conclusions.
Some Do’s and Don’ts of A/B Testing
A few weeks back, I wrote a post examining the best place to put social sharing buttons on a blog post. My results were interesting, but not necessarily conclusive. They, by no means, followed the strict evaluations of a true scientific test and were certainly not the same — or even true — for every website. Did that make them irrelevant?
The point here is that marketing tips aren’t inherently bad, they are just unproven. They give you ideas of what you might try testing. The problem we face has nothing to do with the advice itself, rather it has to do with how we interpret that advice and put it into practice.
If you get nothing else out of this post, please hear me clearly. You should never take content marketing tips at face value. Always test them for yourself and see if they really work for you.
Now is the time to make a commitment to actually testing your marketing and not just executing it. Before you can do this, however, you’re going to need some content to test on.
The 5 Best Marketing Tips to Get Started
If you’re new to marketing, you may be thinking, “What do I need to execute? What does it take to create successful marketing that I can test and refine?” You’re not alone.
Just a few weeks ago, I was at a social media conference speaking about one of the more advanced topics of content marketing. All went well, until I was done speaking.
As I left the stage, I was immediately greeted by an audience member who had both a complaint and a question.
The complaint was that nothing I just said made any sense to her. She was new to this stuff.
The question, on the other hand, was pretty simple: “How do I get started? How do I make sure my content marketing works and doesn’t just follow the fad?”
Great question, and one that you should be asking as well.
Whenever I get this question, there are five best content marketing tips that I quickly rattle off. This business owner was eating them up, and I soon realized that this was good stuff. More people need to know about them, I thought.
So, here they are. This is the stuff we all need to hear every once and awhile. This is how to write a good blog and make sure your effort actually pays off. They are my favorite content marketing tips.
Tip #1: You Need a Blog to Tell Your Story
Step one, you need a blog. It doesn’t really matter how big you are — you need one. While you’re at it, you should make sure that it’s built on WordPress. It will give you the most flexibility down the road.
In addition, you need to know why you need a blog. If you work in a company, you are going to need to justify this blog to someone eventually. If you are a small business owner, you are going to need to justify the time invested to yourself because, let’s face it, you’re it. Your time is your greatest asset.
Every business has a story, and it’s up to you to make sure your story is told. One of the first things you learn in business is that people connect to people — not your brand or a faceless corporation. A blog can tell your story, share your expertise, and provide you with a human connection to your customers.
In other words, you need this.
In addition, your blog is one of the keys to your social media awesomeness. I often refer to this as the hub and spoke model. The content that you create on your blog or website is the hub; it’s the place that will set the tone for your social media messaging. Use your blog content as your platform, and let your social media content flow from there.
Tip #2: You Need an Email Marketing Program
Social media. Social media. Social media. These days, it’s just about all you hear about. It is super important, but it may not be the most important part of your online marketing strategy. The reality is that email marketing still converts better than social media, and it is easier to do well.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Make sure there is a way for your readers to follow or subscribe to your blog when they come visit. We cover several free plugins for collecting leads here.
- Connect your blog to your email marketing program. As you post new content, make sure it is sent automatically to your audience.
- In addition, you can also send a summary email once a week, promoting your most recent content in a newsletter-style format. This is exactly what we do with our own content marketing update.
- Another more advanced option is to work your way toward creating an email marketing autoresponder course. These courses are a great way to build your email list and gain trust with your audience. We will often reuse our own blog posts to create these useful tools. Take note that you can also do this with a great ebook or free downloadable worksheet.
The best part of the email marketing program is that you will create constant touch points with your audience. This is good for everyone. Your audience will get helpful and interesting information, and you will constantly ensure that your content has an audience following along; this builds trust, and that’s a win-win.
Tip #3: Know What Your Customers Actually Want to Hear From You
One of the biggest struggles that marketers make is not understanding their audience. What does your audience really want to hear about? What can you say on your blog that will actually resonate with them?
There are a few strategies that we emphasize here at CoSchedule — including using data from Google Analytics and something that we call expanding your content core. Lots of new businesses get started by spending a ton of time talking about their own business. This is a mistake. Yes, you need to tell your story, but not like that.
Rather, you need to figure out what your audience wants to know. There are a few easy ways to make this happen.
- Talk to your receptionist. What are the questions your customers ask when they first call your office? The woman I spoke to at the conference ran a salon and massage company. For her, it might be finding out the questions that her attendants are being asked time and time again. There’s no better way to discover what your customers want to hear than asking the people that know your customers the best.
- Try to figure out what they are searching for. 60% of purchases made by consumers now start with a search on Google. That’s astounding. Take advantage of this and address those searches with your own blog content using a keyword-based strategy.
- Watch what your current customers are saying on social media. Follow your customers on social media and pay close attention to what they are talking about. You can use a tool, like Mention, to monitor broad topics and industry discussion effectively. This listening strategy can be an efficient way to learn.
- Ask them. Sometimes all you need to do is ask your audience what you could write about that would hold their interest. Their ideas might surprise you.
The bottom line is that you can’t do effective online marketing without understanding your audience. Spend some time researching this before you get too far. Once you can easily compile your data into reader personas you’ve gone far enough.
Tip #4: You Need to Learn How to Write for the Web
Researcher Jacob Neilson confirmed that readers are more likely to scan our content than they are to read every word. In order to make your content consumable, you need to make sure it is properly formatted for online use. There are many ways to make sure that your content is readable. Here are a few you can implement right away.
- Highlighted keywords — Hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others.
- Meaningful subheadings (not “clever” ones)
- Bulleted lists
- One idea per paragraph — users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph
- The inverted pyramid style — starting with the conclusion
- Half the word count or less than conventional writing
This is an important topic, as there are many other things to consider, such as mobile devices and outside distractions that happen when your audience is reading your content. For an in-depth look at getting your content read, check out this recent post.
Tip #5: You Need an Editorial Calendar
I am a huge believer in setting goals, making a plan, and forcing yourself to stick with it. If you want your marketing to be any good, you are going to need to do the same. Oftentimes, many marketers may take the more casual approach to blogging and social media scheduling — only posting when they have an idea or a moment of inspiration.
This won’t work.
When you leave your marketing up to chance, chances are it will never actually happen. That’s why you need an editorial calendar.
An editorial calendar is a tool that helps you plan out your content on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. Basically, it is a place for you to decide what you are going to write and when you are going to write it. Plans tend to get put into action, and that is exactly the point of an editorial calendar.
Here at CoSchedule, we offer a completely digital editorial calendar that will allow you to schedule your blog and social media content in the same place. If you are looking for a low-cost variation, we have some free editorial calendar templates that you can download right now.
Tip #6: Bonus! Setup a Social Media Sharing Schedule
The last tip that I always give new or renewing marketers is to create a social media sharing schedule. Like an editorial calendar, this schedule is a roadmap for your social media messages. It will tell you when to publish a social message, and give you a roadmap for getting your content out there.
Just like an editorial calendar, this can be a powerful tool for making sure things actually get done. When we make the hard decisions right away, executing them can be much easier. When you are publishing a new post on your blog, this process can be especially important. For that, we recommend a specific promotion process that looks something like this:
- On publish — Social message sent when a blog post goes live.
- Same day — Initial social messages trickle out to your accounts over the next 2–3 hours.
- Next day — Messages are shared again on the appropriate social channels.
- Next week — Another series of messages are pre-scheduled and sent the following week.
- Next month — Even more social messages are pre-scheduled for the following month.
- Next _____ — Additional messages can optionally be scheduled for the three-month mark or beyond.
Using CoSchedule, a social sharing schedule will come out looking something like this.
The point here is that you need to know how you are going to promote your content once it is live. A social sharing schedule is a big part of this, and a powerful tool when combined with a growing email marketing program as outlined above.
Marketing at Its Finest
The real truth is that anyone can be a great content marketer — especially with these top five best content marketing tips. The biggest challenge may feel like the time (or lack thereof) that you have to get them done, but I hypothesize that it might actually be something entirely different. Oftentimes, the biggest challenge is belief.
Do you believe that online marketing and blogging can really work? If you don’t, that is the problem you need to solve first. This month, we have been sharing some firsthand accounts of how marketing like this can be used to grow a business, personal blog, or even a marketing agency. This is powerful stuff, and might just be what you need to become a believer.
September 15, 2021