I’m going to fill you in on something scary. For most people, content marketing does not work.
In this post, I’ll explain why and show you step by step how to create content that converts (i.e. content that drives opt-ins, leads, and revenue to your business).
Research on why content marketing does not work
Research would indicate that content marketing is now a go-to strategy for most companies. However challenges remain includng:
- Determining content marketing ROI
- Creating that converts (i.e; generating leads)
- Hampering revenue acceleration due to a lack of true collaboration between all go-to-market teams, which can include sales, marketing, product management, and often customer success as well.
Some alarming results from research include:
- Companies face challenges with writing content that converts (i.e; attracts more traffic and generates quality leads. The reason might be that companies under invest in the quality of content. (isn’t that what we are here for?)
- An Altimeter study found that the top goal of a digital marketing strategy was brand awareness, followed by lead generation.
- Research by Brightedge and SEMRush confirms that leads, sales, and conversions were metrics of content marketing placed behind the top metric of organic traffic used to measure their content success.
- Ahrefs found that 90.63% of pages get zero traffic from Google.
My internal research (of bloggers and content marketers in my audience) shows me the same thing where:
- Only 5% know exactly who is engaging with their content
- 20% know what content is driving leads (less when I look into how they are doing it)
- 8% know what content has resulted in revenue for the business
- 85% struggle with having someone conceive and implement effective content marketing strategies
So to summarise the research. People don’t want their content to generate sales, they don’t track actionable metrics to know when their content is effective instead they use vanity metrics and conclude that it’s not effective and hypothesize that the solution is to create more of it!
Luckily a lot of people for a lot of years have managed to do marketing that does work. Marketing that generates leads and makes sales. And we can learn from that in producing our content so we don’t fall into the group of people who can’t make content marketing work. The rest of this post is dedicated to exactly what you need to do to create content (focused on blog posts) that converts.
Define a goal
If you want to get people to convert on your site then you need to define a goal and you should be tracking that goal with your analytics software (more on this later).
This goal will influence everything you do in your post so make sure you consider this decision wisely. Because people rarely buy from you until they know / like and trust you and until they are ready, most of your visitors won’t buy right away. For this reason, the most common goal for a website or blog is to get a user’s email address so you can market to them on an ongoing basis to build trust and sell to them when they are ready.
How you go about getting the email address will vary but for now I’ll assume that this is the goal of your blog (if not this post will still be just as relevant).
Build copywriting and conversion best practice into your content
If you want to create content that converts then you have to understand the psychology of why people buy and the techniques used online to help them convert. So the next time you craft a blog post consider the following points to benchmark off.
Tweet these headlines and see what happens!
The headline is perhaps the most important part of your post so treat it accordingly. Here are some best practice tips from copywriters on how to craft great headlines for content that converts. I have tweaked some of the points to gear them more towards crafting blog post titles. If you don’t believe headlines are important try some of the tweets on the right I’ve prepared for you and see how much response you get compared to your normal tweets!
- Create intrigue
- Grab attention – encourage readers to read the next line
- Address a specific pain point for your readers (with the possibility of an intriguing solution)
- Make sure it is extremely relevant to what your readers expect and relevant to the goal
- Learn from what has worked before
- Simple and direct works well
- Exciting, interesting, controversial, sensational all work well but keep them believable
- Use powerful, direct, and definitive language (not wishy-washy)
- Numbers/lists/real data works well
- Just don’t be boring
- Use keywords that resonate with your audience
- If you are following a ‘Content-driven SEO strategy’ (see recommendations in How to Craft a SEO Marketing Strategy to Boost Your Business Growth) then your headline also should include your main keyword
- Taps into fears or desires
- Brackets in the title demonstrate higher value i.e. [INFOGRAPHIC] or [PDF]
Here’s a pro tip. If you are in the habit of emailing your list about new posts when you publish them you can split test different options. Once you get the results of which headline got the higher open rate you can use that as the final headline for the post before you share it on social media.
Examples of great blog post headlines
Creating great helpful content is obviously what you want to strive for however helpful content probably isn’t going to be enough to convert your readers into subscribers. To create content that converts you need to consider the copywriting techniques of people who sell stuff.
A great way to do that is to compare your copy to a copywriting checklist of some sort. My favorite is Dane Maxwell’s copywriting checklist, you can use this to structure your post. Here are the elements (I’ve excluded price anchoring and FAQ’s because of the offer type – low friction email opt-in):
- Instant clarity headline (clear, focus on the result the customer wants, address objections if you can)
- Declare the problem (what is the situation of your readers right now before consuming your content)
- Present your solution (what it does, how it solves the problem, features, and benefits)
- Borrow credibility (verifiable evidence, physical presence, personal info)
- Social proof (what are other people doing, number of users/subscribers, badges, etc)
- Testimonials (specific quotes from people work well if you can include them)
- Clear call to take action (obvious opt-in, more on this later)
- Reverse all risk (address their objections and lower friction and risk)
Here’s how I’ve applied these points to the post you are reading right now.
Another model you might want to consider is the AIDA model:
- Attention – Title that grabs attention and encourages reading the next line.
- Interest – Something intriguing that you will come back to later (that relates to your opt in)
- Desire – Build the desire within the article by convincing people they need the solution, showing others who use it etc)
- Action – Clear call to action to subscribe
Another useful model to look at here is the 7 principles of persuasion which is the origin of where things like reciprocity, social proof, scarcity, etc come from. I’ve included links below on this topic.
The point of all of this is you can create awesome valuable content for people that at the same time drives them to want to opt into your offer. And that’s what you should be doing if you want your content that converts, to generate leads and business for you.
There is a lot one could say about designing content that converts but for now, suffice it to say it’s important. Here are some things you can do to ensure your content is designed for conversions:
- Make sure your theme is clean, professional, and simple
- Make sure all graphics are professional and re-enforce the content (limit stock photos – if you can avoid them all together do so)
- Break content up using visuals, dot points, ample paragraph spacing etc
- Don’t clutter your right-hand sidebar
- Make your opt-in is super clear both visually (a color that stands out, or a scroll opt-in for example) and it’s position on the screen
- Make it super easy to convert.
- Limit options
Hubspot’s 10 design commandments say it better than I can:
- Understand the page’s purpose
- Establish a visual hierarchy
- Make it as simple as you can – if in doubt leave it out
- Make it legible (contrast against background, font size etc)
- Include lots of paragraph spacing
- Make sure elements are aligned
- Make sure colours are coordinated
- Flat designers are easier to do if you aren’t a designer (bevels, drop shadows etc can look cheap)
- Make sure all elements are consistent (style, colour, size etc)
- Harmonize visuals with text (don’t just add clip art at the end, graphics should have a purpose)
Here is what a typical blog post looks like (I’ve pointed out some of the issues but there are plenty)
Worst practice example: Too much clutter
Good practice example: Copy Blogger
Design has a huge impact on conversions so make sure the design of your theme follows the guidelines above and you consider these when you are crafting your posts also. And test test test (more below).
Over the years there has been plenty of excellent work done in the conversion space to a point where the best practice is pretty clear. Most of the information you come across online about conversion will be talking about sales pages but you can apply the vast majority of the best practice techniques to creating content also.
Here are some of the tips to consider:
- Relevancy is everything – From the traffic source to your headline, to your copy to your opt-in. It all needs to be clearly related and a natural next step.
- Know your sales funnel – Some businesses work best by organizing a demo, some by requesting a callback, some by getting an email opt-in. Know what works for you and build your opt-in around that.
- Split test – Conversion specialists are obsessed with testing. To know what words, design, graphics, offers, etc appeal to your audience continually modify things and test the improvements. Google Content Experiments (free inside Google Analytics) is a great tool for people starting out. Even without doing split-testing, you can simply change elements on your site and then compare the results manually (obviously there are a lot of variables like the traffic volume, source, amount of data, etc that you have to consider if you are doing this so a split-testing tool is recommended).
- Simple compelling offer – So much of conversion optimization comes down to having a simple compelling offer. As a website visitor, I’m bombarded with opt-in forms, contact links, etc all the time. What is something compelling and simple you can offer me that will get me to hand over my email address?
- Integrate design and copy best practice – All of the headlines, copy, and design best practices already discussed should be incorporated into your opt-in.
- Clear actionable, benefit-driven call to action button – Instead of ‘Subscribe’ put ‘[insert benefit here]’.
- Use encapsulation, contrast, and directional cues – Box your opt-in with a border, a different color, and if you can some directional cues (perhaps arrows, or a person looking at the opt-in, etc). Obviously, you have to balance aesthetics at the same time.
- Consider what happens after conversion – Take users to a page that drives further relevant action.
- Include opt-ins in high converting locations – Right sidebar, scroll opt-in, pop-up, post footer and top hello bar are all highly converting positions (again you have to balance the need for a clean professional design).
In terms of online content by the time a user gets to the end of your post it should be obvious what your opt in will be because you will have followed the steps in the copy section to make sure their interest level is built through the post.
Good practice example: Relevancy (Hubspot)
Notice on the Hubspot blog how their post footer opt ins change depending on the content of the post?
Good practice opt-in design: Unbounce
Know your audience
I’ve talked a lot so far about relevancy and appealing to the inner desires of your target market. It’s impossible to do this if you don’t truly know your audience. This is the biggest area where existing content marketing advice is letting people down and the biggest area of opportunity.
Metrics you may not be tracking
Pretty much all bloggers use Google Analytics (by use I mean have it installed and glance at their vanity metrics occasionally). But vanity metrics like page views don’t tell you anything about your audience.
Here are some of the metrics that you might not be tracking at the moment.
- Leads generated by content – What content sends you leads directly and indirectly (people convert after reading your post)?
- People – You need to know who the people are that are engaging with your content. Who opted in, what is their business, what are their social profiles, what other content do they like etc.
- Content impact – Page views don’t give you a good idea of how much impact your content is having. To look at the overall impact of your content you need to also consider social sharing, on page direct conversions, conversions later on down the track (perhaps the content primed them for future conversion).
- Share ratio by content – What content does your audience find irresistible and they have to share it?
- Top audience members – Who are the main influencers in your audience, who is driving your message, what content do they like?
- Other content shared by your audience – What other content (on other blogs) do your audience members love to share?
- What content gets the most backlinks – People linking to your content tells you they think it’s worth linking to! And of course, it also brings SEO value which in turn will bring more people.
Note – At times companies want to know how conversions can be attributed to a content piece but their digital conversion paths cannot be tracked or analyzed.
To address this they may use a purchase intent model that assigns scores to various interactions a customer has with a piece of content. However most admit that this model isn’t perfect.
For other marketers, their biggest challenge is tying content to conversions and defining relevant, appropriate metrics to measure and evaluate the impact their content marketing efforts make on the business’ revenue.
The fact remains that determining content ROI is subjective and driven by the business mission or objectives of the content marketing program.
A better approach is, therefore, an integrated approach that would yield more of a customer-oriented value story as opposed to simply tracking activity-based metrics
To define your customer-oriented value story will require a methodical approach which includes:
- Identifying KPIs aligned with your business objectives and overall mission.
- Identifying the metrics that will help to tell a value story.
- Identifying the sources of those metrics and pulling them into a dashboard using connectors.
- Creating an algorithm that weighs each metric in relation to their importance to the “story.”
- Analyzing performing and non-performing metrics for each KPI on a periodic basis and use them to calibrate your approach.
Other qualitative sources
Of course, it’s not just hard data that helps you understand your audience and create better content that converts. Qualitative information can be a great source of information as well.
- What are your top products?
- What are your most frequently asked questions by customers?
- What emails do you get from your audience?
- What do people say when you talk to them?
- What are people chatting about at live in-person events?
- What posts have the most active comments section and what are people saying?
- Who are your happiest customers, who are referring you the most work?
Once you know your audience you will have no problem knowing what content you can create that is going to get them engaging, sharing, linking to it and converting.
Follow good practice content creation
Of course to create content that converts it has to be great content. Part of creating great content is understanding your audience but there are also some general rules you can consider with your own content that you might be able to apply.
- Be original – don’t write something that already exists, put your own spin on it, or introduce something new.
- Use plain English language – always use clear, simple language avoid marketing fluff.
- Use lots of data – posts with lots of data tend to convert well, best case scenario you can have your own data that other people can’t access which adds credibility and improves originality (like original research).
- Long content works best – For SEO and general engagement, it’s reasonably well accepted that longer content performs better. I would say however that you shouldn’t make your content long at the expense of making it actionable, sharp, and to the point. This is a trend I’m noticing which is only going to hurt the quality of your content and the number of conversions.
- Social proof – Add as much proof as possible. Screenshots, quotes, testimonials, examples, etc.
- Integrate visuals – Not including visuals is lazy. Take the time to create professional graphics that support and reinforce the content of your post.
- Good formatting, grammar, and design – Follow best practice spelling and grammar and all of the copy and design elements we have discussed already.
- Get input from thought leaders and experts – See the last section of this post, this also helps with sharing your post.
- Link to other content – The best content covers one topic well so don’t be afraid to link to other content (onsite or offsite) that goes into more depth on certain points.
- Be entertaining or offer an opinion – People love to be entertained and controversy is always a good attention grabber.
Good practice example: The Marketing Show
Good practice example: KISSmetrics
KISSmetrics (no longer exists) but provided one of the best examples I have seen to date.
Tips from the experts
Before writing this article I reached out to people who I regard as world leaders in content creation, copywriting and conversions. Here are some of their suggestions.
If you want content that converts then you need to create content that engages. I feel the way to stand out and make a difference as a content creator is to cover your bases completely. That means setting yourself up to be discovered everywhere. Blog, shoot video, record podcasts, be engaging on social media channels, and above all create content that genuinely educates, inspires, entertains, and incites action. This means that no matter what type of medium you use to reach out to your prospective customers, followers, subscribers, etc., that they will want to consume it – and then, share it with everyone they know and ultimately convert.CHRIS DUCKER – chrisducker.com
Solve problems and make sure your content has context and relevance. If you are trying to solve problems that your customers do not have then you are irrelevant and sales trickery doesn’t matter – you won’t get the sale.JAMES SCHRAMKO – superfastbusiness.com
Conversions are all about relevancy – putting the right content in front of the audience. So in my case, it would be an article demonstrating a conversion technique, offering ample proof, and ending it with a CTA to “get a blueprint for this technique” or “10 more techniques like this.PEEP LAJA – conversionxl.com
I’ve had success increasing conversions by offering contextually relevant training and templates. Creating this material is actually easier than you may think. For me, I’ve had success re-purposing existing content into both training programs and templates. In the case of training programs, cutting up a recent webinar is easy to do and provides great value. In terms of templates, looking at your internal systems and seeing if there is potentially a template you could provide that offers value to your audience is awesome.JAKE HOWER – multimediamarketingshow.com
If you can only spare a few hours to work on your blog, overhaul your about page. About pages get tons of traffic from people who are legitimately interested in what you are doing. A well designed about page is a great source of conversions and often overlooked.DAN ANDREWS – tropicalmba.com
The posts that do the best for us have some kind of numbered list in them, share something that you can’t find anyplace else, have a point of view, leverage a number of sources & focus on going deep on one particular subject.JOE PULIZZI – contentmarketinginstitute.com
Now let’s take your first step to create content that converts
The steps we talked through will enable you to create content that converts in a sustainable yet predictable manner. It is also important to remember that creating content that converts isn’t enough. You’ve got to promote it in order to get the social signals and other kinds of traction that can improve your content readership and rankings in the search engines.
So take your first steps in becoming a content marketing lead generation machine!
Additional resources on creating content that converts
Here are some of the resources I consulted when putting this article together. I highly recommend all of them.
- Annual content marketing: Benchmarks, budgets, and trends (Content Marketing Institute)
- Global report on the state of content marketing (SEMrush)
- Content Strategy: 9 Secrets for Awesome Blog Titles for Posts (Content Marketing Institute)
- Magnetic headlines ( a bunch of headlines from Copy Blogger)
- 7 scientifically-backed copywriting tips (Copyblogger)
- How to boost conversions with Cialdini’s 7 persuasion principles (GetUplift)
- Dane Maxwell Copywriting Checklist [PDF]
- The 1-2-3-4 persuasive copywriting formula (Copyblogger)
- The ultimate copy checklist: 51 questions to optimize every element of your online copy (Copyblogger)
- 101 travel blog headlines (Travel Blogger Acaddemy)
- What the highest converting websites do differently (Neil Patel)
- The 10 commandments of DIY marketing design (HubSpot)
- Why simple website designs are scientifically better (CXL)
- Best practice landing page design (Unbounce)
- The ultimate lead capture landing page (Unbounce)
- 13 ways to increase your conversion rate right now (CXL)
- Google Content Experiments
- Marketing Experiments by Bluewire Media (brilliant list with some excellent examples – downloading cheat sheet style giveaways are working well)
Know your audience
- “Know your audience” is a lie, but it still matters (Active Campaign)
- How to radically improve customer service for business growth (Sproutworth)
- How to find and target your social media audience (Hootsuite)
- 13 surprisingly effective tips for conversion-oriented content (Content Marketing Institute)
- How to optimize your content for better conversions (Shane Barker)
- How content length affects rankings and conversions (Quicksprout)
- Creating quality content and measuring its effectiveness (GatherContent)