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[Updated] Give your audience content they’ll actually read and convert on

Why isn’t my content securing traffic?

We’ve all been there – you spend hours crafting a fantastic blog post, committing facts, drama, tension and humour to the page only to watch it repel readers. Why is no one reading this honed and highly researched tome? You played with language, you told a story, you advised and entertained: why isn’t it your highest-performing content yet?

The reasons can be many your content is underperforming:

  • It could be that your content topic is over-saturated. With so much writing on this topic available across the internet, yours isn’t visible enough, merely caught in a bloated swirl of similar posts.
  • Perhaps you misread your buyer personas and they’re actually not interested in your chosen topic at all, meaning you need to revisit their pain points
  • It could be down to your title wording, the content offer or the length of the post – these metrics need to be monitored in HubSpot or whatever analysis tool you use

Or it could be that you aren’t talking to your audience in a way that they relate to, enjoy or expect. Without a connection or perceived bond between you and your reader, they simply won’t persevere with your content – no matter how good you are. It isn’t merely about what you say, but it’s the way you say it.

People get bored: keep your content offers fresh

Picture the scene: every month your favourite clothes brand sends you a pair of black socks for free because you've become such a loyal customer over the years.

The first month – it’s a nice freebie: free is exciting, right? The second month, you think it’s still a nice touch – they’re treating you as a loyal customer now. The third month you think “couldn’t they send me a blue pair?" By month 12 you’re unsubscribing and writing an angry email requesting the company removes you from their database... and stops sending you socks. You've been completely overwhelmed with too much of a good thing.

It’s the same with your content offers. Once you’ve got those valuable contact details from a prospect and you see them download your helpful resource as part of your inbound marketing campaign, if you offer them either the same ebook the following month, or a ‘new’ book using recycled content, they may well lose interest pretty fast. 

This is not to say ebooks are dead, research doesn’t support this. There’s something reassuring and familiar about PDFs – much in the same way a physical book behaves. Downloadable, printable and ‘save for later’ resources still have a place in most businesses, and for many customers.

But if this is all you’re doing – and especially if your data shows that downloads are slowing – it might be time to reconsider your tactics - format, topic, tone, and so on.

Changing your pattern and creating a new form of content can offer you some valuable benefits, such as:

  • Increasing leads and visitor-to-lead conversion rates.
  • It’s a way of using research to gain a better understanding of your market.
  • Developing a clearer understanding of your buyer personas.

Ask your audience what they want

 There are a few different things you can do to check how much your audience is engaging with your content, and if they’re seeking a change in direction.

1: Look at your website traffic data

Before you plough on and decide to create a podcast or a video interview for your next content offer, you need to see if there’s any data to support a change. As we’ve explored above: if it isn't broken, don’t fix it. That said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever innovate and experiment, but starting with facts is always a good idea.

Begin by looking at metrics in your HubSpot or Databox portal, or in your similar content management platform. Focus on aspects such as:

  • How many visitors are clicking through to the landing page where you content offer is anchored?
  • How many of them are filling in and submitting the form?
  • How many of them are opening the follow-up email?
  • How many are downloading or clicking through to your free content?
  • Is anyone sharing your content online through social media?

If you can see declining patterns in your content metrics, this could be a signal that it’s time to switch up your content methods. It could mean you need to revisit your personas, too – something clearly isn’t right if you think this audience segment enjoys e.g. case studies, but they aren’t downloading them.

2: Send out a content survey questionnaire

Your next step is to reach out to customers with an interactive questionnaire – ask them some really specific questions about how they interact with your content. If possible, get them to write a few long-form answers, rather than just picking an option from multiple choice. Some of the questions you might ask are:

  • How often do you read the content you download from us?
  • Do you use this content to help you solve your problems?
  • On a scale of 1-10 how engaging do you find our publications?
  • Do you ever share our content with others?
  • Do you wish we provided a different kind of content? Tick all the relevant options.

To incentivise participation, you could offer a freebie at the end of the questionnaire, or enter customers into a draw to win a prize. You want reliable, honest respondents who have taken time to submit, not rushed answers that may be incorrect. Any way you can encourage accuracy on this task is worth it.

3: Interview your audience 

Finally, talk to your audience: ask questions and let them answer. Show that you’re listening and reacting to the insights you gain from these conversations – you might be surprised what you learn. Ask questions such as:

  • Which of our content offers have you found most helpful?
  • What do you like about the format or tone of our content?
  • What do you not enjoy about our content?
  • Can you give us an example of a time when you used advice you found in our content?
  • What other types of content do you access on a day-to-day basis?

Don’t just speak to happy customers either – it might be a more difficult discussion to confront prospects who didn’t quite become customers, or those who were customers but have now left you for an alternative option. But digging into the ‘whys’ of these discussions unravels so much about how to avoid making these same mistakes in future.

A combination of these tactics will give you the fairest and most accurate data: no-one has the time to call up and question 100 customers, but firing out 60 questionnaires, and interviewing five people in person is a much more attainable and realistic target.

The point here is to build an audience, not just a one-off visitor. So learn from what the data and your audience tells you, and consider trialling an alternative means of communication for your next content offer.

Remember: This doesn't necessarily mean starting from scratch with a brand new topic: try converting a blog post into an interview with a colleague; turn a white paper into an infographic poster; or turn a checklist into an interactive quiz. Don't get overwhelmed! You probably already have exactly what you need to get started.

Create intimacy with your audience

As covered by journalist Eddy Lawrence at The Guardian Writing Masterclass, you want to create genuine closeness with your customers, but anyone reading your blog post, pillar page or social media posts who isn’t yet a customer still needs to get the sensation that you know them and understand their problems, fears and needs.

During the content masterclass, we discussed the importance of our “lizard brains.” They crave familiarity and closeness; at a basal level, we like it when people seem similar to us, as Researcher Andreas Komninos explains:

“Familiar things are usually seen as safe and preferable, while unfamiliar things are treated with suspicion until we have assessed them and the context in which they appear. For this reason, designers, advertisers, and anyone else involved in selling products tend to use familiarity as a means of evoking positive emotions.”

You can do this in your writing by:

  • Writing in a conversational way, as if you’re just chatting informally together, face to face – this doesn’t necessarily mean using slang but having a friendly, funny and playful style that’s easy to understand will help form trust.
  • Using ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ for the idea of unity and ‘all being in it together’ – if you show their problems are also your problems, they’re more likely to form a bond with what you’re saying.
  • Using contractions: conversational habits we do all the time – squeezing two words together to make one for ease (can’t instead of can not, wouldn’t instead of would not, you’ll instead of you will). Unless you’re writing an incredibly formal and important document – such as something legal – you can leave the “full English” at the door and still make an articulate, persuasive and helpful point.
  • Imagining and inspiring: don’t just write content where your audience is a passive viewer, make them a participant. Inspire and motivate them to take action, whether it’s to start a new business or just share the article you’ve written – remember social sharing icons, CTAs and rhetorical questions to put them in the copy.

Understand what your audience is reading

You need to read what your audience is reading – find their watering holes. This isn’t only to get an idea of their behaviours and put your own materials into their laps, it’s to learn other things, too:

  • Read about their industries – find out more about the latest innovations, the new thinking and political decisions affecting your customers and prospects.
  • How are they used to being spoken to? Are there different tones of voice used within their industry? How do authoritative, established companies compare to the way startups talk to them? What’s the difference between white papers, blog posts and social media messaging?
  • Don’t only focus on what they want to read and learn – what do they want to share? Which articles are the ones they’re reposting? These will usually fall into 3 categories:
  1. News
  2. Facts
  3. Entertainment

If you want to write content that your audience shares, you need to hit at least one of the above topics. If you’re funny, use that in your writing. If you’ve got some brand new, ground-breaking research or an inside scoop, use that in your writing. As Eddy Lawrence explained in The Guardian Masterclass:

“People want to look cool. They want to pass your content off as their own, saying “look what I’ve found” when they repost it to gain prestige, respect and, most importantly, their own likes and comments.”

  • What is your audience excited about? What changes are happening in their industry at the moment? Whatever they’re anticipating and eager to try out, that’s a content idea for you.
  • Many companies forget to read what their audience is saying – they ignore the comments on YouTube or the discussions taking place beneath other articles. What are some of the common viewpoints? What do they disagree over? And crucially, how do they speak to one another? This will give you such an insight into how you should speak to them and the angles to explore in your writing.
  • And finally, change with your audience – research them regularly even if you feel you know them really well. What they read and enjoyed five years ago, isn’t likely to be the same now – do you read and watch all the same channels as you did back then? Keep evolving as your reader does to prevent losing them.

In no time at all, you may just see the length of time people are spending on your page increase – and more of those precious conversions occur, turning visitors into leads and customers.

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