By Siddharth Bharath published December 15, 2015

How to Test Short-Form Content Before Making Long-Form Investment

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The Michelin Guide is probably one of the best examples of content marketing. Back in 1890, Andre and Edouard, the brothers who started Michelin Tires, needed a way to increase demand for tires. Back then, there were only 2,200 cars in all of France, their home base.

The brothers wanted car owners to drive more so that they would need to buy more tires. To do this, the Michelins decided to incentivize driving by publishing a guide to the best restaurants, hotels, mechanics, and other points of interest across the country. The first batch saw 35,000 copies printed and given away for free to motorists.

Today, more than 100 years later, Michelin Tires is still going strong and its guide makes celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay cry if it doesn’t award their restaurants a coveted Michelin star.

It must have cost a fortune to travel across the country, collect all that information in a book, and print thousands of copies, only to give it away. How did they know the investment would pay off? They didn’t. The greatest work of content marketing was really a gamble that happened to pay off big-time.

In today’s business environment, you can’t afford to make a gamble like that. Even if the costs are substantially lower, you still have limited time and resources. If you want to create long-form content like books, courses, or videos, you need to make sure it will pay off.

How do you do this?

Introducing minimum viable content

The concept of the MVP (minimum viable product) comes from the lean start-up movement. It became so popular because it makes sense. Test a simplistic version of your product before you go all-in for a full-featured version.

This applies to content, or any marketing strategy for that matter. Test a minimum viable version first before going all-in.

So that’s what MVC (minimum viable content) is. It’s a simplified version of your long-form content. It’s how you test between two book ideas or evaluate whether you should produce long-form content in the first place.

Let’s look at some examples of MVC.

Social media posts

A tweet is the most basic form of MVC. Numerous tools allow you to track and analyze your social media posts. For example, Hootsuite has a report on the top posts for the week.

If you have an idea for a book or course, you could post it to your social media accounts and track engagement. Do people share, “like,” or favorite it? Are they responding positively or replying to it?

If your social media posts do exceptionally well, that’s an indication that people want to know more about that topic.

Ads

Like social media posts, ads are basic forms of content. An ad on a social network is much like a regular post, except that it’s sponsored.  The good thing about ads is that you can A/B test them, which allows you to determine the demand for two different content ideas.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter let you test different copy side by side. By targeting the same audience or keywords, you can find out which copy does the best in terms of click engagement. Again, this is an indicator that people are interested in that content.

Leevi Romanik used this method before he wrote his first book. He had an idea for a book in a niche, but he wasn’t sure if people would want to read the book. So he created a landing page (which I’ll discuss later) and set up some ads on Google AdWords.

He reasoned that if there were no clicks or sign-ups, he would only lose the amount spent on the ads. That would be a lot less than what he would spend if he were to research and write the book only to find that no one wanted it.

Blog posts

Blog posts are a stronger indicator of demand for your long-form content. They are short enough that they can be produced with little investment, yet long enough that they are better at gauging demand. If people read the entire post, they’re sufficiently interested in that topic to the point where they invested time, if not money, to learn more.

When Bryan Harris of Videofruit decided to create an online course for his audience, he didn’t blindly pick a topic. Instead, he looked at the analytics behind all his posts and found that list-building was a topic that resonated well with his audience.

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It turns out Bryan made a good choice. Within 10 days of launching the course, he had made over $220,000 in sales.

If you have a bunch of different ideas for books or courses, write blog posts about them and see which one outperforms the rest over a period of a few weeks. That’s the topic you should be targeting.

Lead-generation forms

Shares and traffic are great, but the real indicator comes when someone buys in. In content marketing, the purchase price is an email address. Instead of creating your long-form content and then setting up lead-generation forms to collect emails, why not flip the script?

Start with a lead-generation form and track the number of sign-ups. Set a target for 100 email addresses at a certain conversion rate. That conversion rate is determined by your regular conversion rate for leads.

For example, at LemonStand we were mulling over the idea of creating a comprehensive course on starting and growing e-commerce businesses. The project would require lots of time and resources, both of which were limited, but the payoff could be huge.

To test the idea, we created an exit pop-up on our website and split-tested the e-commerce business course concept against an offer for our growth hacking e-book. We figured that if the conversion rate for the course was higher than that of the e-book, it would be worth creating.

After running the test for almost a month, we found that course-offer conversion rates were lower, meaning it wasn’t worth a full-fledged video course. It made more sense to create a shorter email course.

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Landing pages

If you want to take the lead-generation concept further, you can create a landing page. The concept is the same – collect emails first and determine demand before going all-in.

The landing page allows you to add more content, allowing you to create a sales pitch for your long-form content. Using tools like Unbounce or Instapage, you can A/B test headlines and descriptions. The results will inform what kind of content you should put into your book or course.

When Sujan Patel and Rob Wormley decided to create their popular 100 Days of Growth e-book, they started with just a landing page. They didn’t want to do all the research, write, design, and edit the book, and then launch it without validating if anyone wanted it. So they set up a landing page in an hour and drove traffic to it.

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After A/B testing components of the page, they brought up their conversion rate to 7.9%, high enough that they decided the book would be worth writing. Six months later they had sold over 100,000 copies.

Test, test, test

When you direct your marketing resources toward the creation of a book or course, you might be directing them away from more profitable campaigns.

That’s why it’s always necessary to test your theories before you act on them. If you think creating a book will be an optimal use of resources, test the idea first. You just might find that your customers don’t think the same way.

Want to learn about entrepreneurs who took a content-first approach when they started their companies? Read the MVC of Content Inc., then buy a copy.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowsi/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Siddharth Bharath

Sid is an author, entrepreneur, and the VP of growth at Thinkific. Follow him on Twitter @Siddharth87.

Other posts by Siddharth Bharath

  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    Nice opening.

    I think it’s a really good idea to let your blog posts lead you where you need to go. If you’re seeing the same post come back month after month, achieving almost evergreen status, then this is a good indication of what you should write about.

    If I were to write-up a free eBook as an incentive to join my mailing list then those popular blog posts would be a good guide. Even bundling them into an eBook might work.

    All too often we think we have to reinvent the wheel each week.

    • http://www.siddharthbharath.com/ Siddharth Bharath

      Thanks, Greg! Yes, compiling blog posts into an eBook is a great way to create that content asset without lots of work. You could also convert them into videos, online courses, slideshows and more.

  • http://www.sightcall.com taylen24

    Agree that landing pages can be helpful for determining demand before investing too much time and effort. Just be sure to be up front that it isn’t an immediate download. Set expectations appropriately. Thanks for including Instapage in the post!

    • http://www.siddharthbharath.com/ Siddharth Bharath

      Exactly. You can create a sense of exclusivity by saying “be the first to get it when it becomess available” to increase conversion rates.

  • Stephen Davis

    This will be the next phase for me.
    @scavalli2010

    • http://www.siddharthbharath.com/ Siddharth Bharath

      That’s great, Stephen. Let us know how it goes.

  • Afryrear

    I was just having a discussion this past week about changing the MVP concept to Minimum Viable Campaign or whatever makes sense in place of the “P” for marketers! So great to see this kind of lean/agile thinking bubbling up in the content community. Great post.

    • http://www.siddharthbharath.com/ Siddharth Bharath

      Thanks for the kind words! Glad you like it