Why My Content Strategy Needed to Change, and Yours May Too
The past month of my career has been spent lying in a hammock with my eyes stinging and my headphones in, scouring the web for new ideas and reworking old ones.
Four times the team ordered pizza after 9p.m. Once I actually used one of the beds in our break room - beds that have lain untouched since Wishpond hit the $100,000 revenue per month mark and we stopped pulling all-nighters.
Why was this happening? What had caused such a ruckus in our content world?
Let me back up a touch and set the scene: the year is 2014, the month July. The sun was shining and we were staring longingly at the bay in front of our office...
We were sitting pretty, content in our content. Laughing in our complacency.
We knew the numbers, knew that between December 1st, 2013 and June 1st, 2014 our blog had seen a readership increase of 300% - from 30,000 a month to over 94,000.
During a three-week period in early July, we generated more than 1,000 new blog subscribers
Here's what we were looking at:
And then suddenly September rolled around, and we noticed something odd was happening.
Or more accurately, something wasn't happening.
We'd stopped growing.
Between June 1st and October 1st our readership rose only 8.5%:
Perhaps many businesses would be satisfied with 100,000 readers a month, reliable lead generation and consistently solid SEO.
Wishpond isn't like many businesses.
We are a start-up in the traditional sense: a place where giant stuffed pandas outnumber the people over age 25. We're a place which follows Zuckerberg's "move fast and break things" mantra or, in the immortal words of our CEO, Ali, "throw that sh*t against the wall and see if it cracks."
So for us, stagnation was death. We went into panic mode, shutting our content strategy down. We decided that no content now and amazing content in the future was better than what we were doing (plus, because of our focus on SEO, our readership didn't actually take much of a hit when we didn't publish - another huge issue I'll come to in a bit).
We went from publishing daily articles, guest posts, ebooks, RipeConcepts infographics and Slideshares to the aforementioned hammock-lying and innumerable nerve wracking meetings in the corner office.
Now that I've set the scene sufficiently we can move onto the two primary reasons this stagnation occurred and the two primary ways we're going to fight tooth and nail against it, or die trying.
And perhaps you'll learn something while I break it all down.
Reason it Happened #1: We Focused on SEO
Our search rankings are competitive with companies hauling in a million readers a month, 10 or 15 more years in the business and a thousand social endorsements.
The issue is this: For a long time, it's been the only thing we were doing: ranking well.
So what's the problem with focusing on SEO?
It means you're not focusing on anything else. It takes all your time and (if you're not careful) it pinholes your content.
Let me show you a symptom of a new disease I'm calling Optimiz-itis (inflammation of the SEO muscle):
This is an actual screenshot from our blog's analytics, showing that 80% of our blog readers are new to us. This means that only 1 in 5 readers of the Wishpond Blog have visited us before.
This was why, when we completely shut down our well-oiled content machine, our blog readership didn't actually change.
I mean, at all. Readership on the week of August
So yes, we rank highly for keywords we want to be recognized for. But our articles didn't have our SEO's back - they weren't turning that traffic into loyal readership.
Reason it Happened #2: We Neglected our Content Personality
We were churning out content, queuing it up four or five deep while tossing out presentations, ebooks, podcasts and infographics like they were rice at a wedding.
A year ago we decided on a blog format we liked and that worked for us. It would be somewhat formulaic, but it would deliver valuable, actionable insights and be optimized for readership and search. New writers understood how it worked and I, for one, could write 1500 words in four hours, relying on lightning fast hands and a solid base of education and research.
And for a year, that style worked. Then everybody (literally everybody) started pumping out content as well and perhaps, just perhaps, we got cocky.
Our content was faceless, nameless and readers took from us what we were giving and didn't ask for more.
We didn't tell stories. We didn't have "about the author" at the bottom of our posts or tell our readers how the article they were reading fit into finding success online.
In short, we didn't want to fix something we didn't see as broken (sound familiar, anybody?).
But it was broken, and I wish there'd been an article like this one warning me to watch out for it.
For the first week we fell apart, just a bit. We liked what we were doing. It was comfortable, recognizable and delivered a positive ROI. We didn't really want to change.
But our CPO (a just-turned-26-year old guy named Nick Steeves) is as determined a man as you'll ever meet, and he kicked us into gear. A plateau, for Nick Steeves, is tantamount to the 1929 stock market.
Here's what we're doing:
How We're Fighting it #1: Focus on Visual Education
We need to be different. We need to figure out an entirely new way to get our message across. We need to jack up our old content, open the engine and add four more cylinders.
So here's what we're planning:
- Content that includes everything from beginning to end. If you want to optimize a webinar registration page, we'll give you literally everything we can think of to do it. You'll get the best practices as normal, but you'll also get an email template for how to ask for a testimonial, CTA formulas, integration how-to's, the recipe for a kickass video, a variable by variable breakdown of the page that works for us, and more.
- Content created in a visual, easy-to-absorb format. We're opening our back end and making an over-worked developer re-write our blog's code. Our new articles will be chock-full of CSS, meaning there's more color, more icons, more boxes, images and quotes. In short, more zing, pow and pop.
- Downloadable content you don't have to pay for. Leads are good things to have, and our business runs on them. But our content can't be focused on generating them. If we're going to devote our days and weeks to delivering educational content which gives readers everything they need then we can't email-gate every piece of it. Sure, we'll still promote comprehensive ebooks, but our focus will be on giving readers what they need. The leads will sort themselves out.
How We're Fighting it #2: Focus on Personality
For every two blog articles we're creating with a graphic designer, a developer and our full team of writers, we're going to be writing one which gets down into the nitty gritty of who we are as a company and as content creators.
We'll be following the trend from Buffer and Groove, delivering transparency, honesty and graphs of our own analytics. When we have successes we'll tell our readers exactly how they work. If we bomb in any part of our business' marketing efforts we'll show why it happened and what we learned.
More than that, we'll work to become less of a forgettable SaaS company from some random part of Canada and more Wishpond: a team of dedicated individuals with personalities, quirks and faces.
We'll tell stories of our own experiences in the sector. We'll talk about the things we are thinking and feeling as Wishpond grows with our readers. We'll give insight into how our articles fit into the big picture, and show what that big picture looks like from our point of view.
What do you think? Should we just stick with what we know rather than dive into unknown territory? Find a way to be satisfied with consistent readership, solid lead generation and a positive ROI?
Or do you agree that success isn't a matter of consistency, but rather of growth?
Let me know your thoughts and we'll get a discussion going.
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