In Order to Make Better Content Choices, Walk It Back

By James Ellis

Everybody (and I mean everybody) is talking about content and how it can impact your business. The way some people talk about it, you’d think it was a Ginsu knife, slicing and dicing, generating perfect julienned carrots and cutting through an aluminum can without strain.

So companies invest in content. They invest like a day trader in 2007, hoping to make huge returns, but walking away empty handed soon enough.

I believe in content, but I don’t believe it will cut through a penny. I believe it can help you tell your story and make a compelling case as to why someone would want to learn more about your products and services. But it isn’t bacon, making everything it touches magically more interesting and delicious.

So I devised this simple content litmus test to determine if your big bet on content will pay off or lead to making excuses to your boss. It can be used at a macro level to see if your overall strategy will make any sense, and at the micro level, helping you make smarter choices about individual pieces of content.

This test has the benefit of being simple, as well as easy to understand and apply. If you can be honest with yourself and your content team, you can quickly see what will likely work and what won’t without having to hire a team of professional consultants.

Here’s the test.

We call it the Walk It Back test. In a nutshell, you look at something you are about to publish and ask, “Is there a way for someone who reads this to quickly convert?” Maybe you can find the path from your content to the product page or the signup page, but can you do it in reverse? Can you walk back from the conversion to this content?

Let’s presume that you have the greatest piece of content in the world on your hands. It is the Citizen Kane of blog posts, sure to have a long and fruitful life drawing traffic and engaging audiences.

But having read or watched it, what will a user do next? Will they be able to immediately buy? Will they be able to sign up for your newsletter? Or will they get excited by it, share it with people, and then vanish?

Proximity to the conversion process is a great way to pass the Walk It Back test. If your call to action is right next to the content, you can easily see how content might lead to a conversion. And you can see how you can get sales and sign-ups from that content.

There is an additional rule which makes this test even more effective: You aren’t allowed to use the word “aware” or “awareness” in your answer. Good content will generate awareness, but awareness for its own sake is easy to create and not useful unless you tie it to a call to action that a user can easily make. Think of this like the “If you land on Free Parking, you get all the cash in the pot” rule in Monopoly, in that it isn’t printed on the inside of the box, but makes the game more interesting.

Don’t believe me? Go get a friend to put on a two-person costume. Now go to the grocery store and start a fight while wearing each half of the costume with your company’s logo. Awareness? You’ve certainly got lots of that. But so what? That awareness isn’t about to do you any good in trying to generate sales.

So use the Walk It Back test before publishing that content. Or before you launch your content strategy. By forcing you away from content that isn’t doing you any good, it will move you towards content which will actually moves the needle.

Image credit: Martin Wegmann

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