By Michele Linn published June 12, 2017

5 Editorial Experiments You May Want to Try

editorial-experiments-want-to-tryBack in the early days of CMI, we used to experiment all the time. (OK … sometimes “experiment” was code for “we don’t quite know what we’re doing, but let’s try this …”) As our business matured, we focused more of our attention on what works and putting processes around those things to make them the most efficient and effective as possible.

But just because we better understand what works doesn’t mean we should stop trying new things.

So our editorial team is conducting a few experiments this summer, and we want to bring you along on that adventure. Our goal is to be transparent about what’s working – and what’s not – to ultimately help you in your content marketing efforts.

But first, a story

Before we look at upcoming experiments, I wanted to share one we have tried – with surprising results.

About 18 months ago, we decided to republish blog posts that have performed well. Our hypothesis was that no one can read everything we publish when it goes live – and new subscribers likely aren’t delving into what we already produced. Instead of only publishing new posts, we wanted to see how people would respond to seeing our best posts.

While we sometimes update these posts based on current information or new examples, other posts are republished with few changes. I’ll be frank. Many people on the team thought this wasn’t a stellar idea – they did not like the idea of us not publishing something new. And, I had people outside CMI express the same assumption, as exemplified in this email excerpt from a contributing author: “I figure fresh, new, and original is far better than re-running the same piece!”

But you know what? No one complained that they didn’t get brand new content each day. (And we don’t keep it secret either. We include a special logo – back by popular demand – on all of these posts.)

difference-content-contentmarketing

And republished posts – whether changed minimally or significantly – perform similarly. Our republished posts typically are some of the top-performing posts each month, generating high subscribers, traffic, and social share metrics.

.@CMIContent’s republished posts typically are top-performing posts of month, says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet

So, what else can we try that may go against common opinion? Or what can we do to shake things up a bit? Here are some of the things you’ll see this summer.

1. Covering event sessions more regularly

Over the years, we have tried a lot of ways to cover the expert insight offered in the sessions from Content Marketing World and Intelligent Content Conference. Live blogging was a stressful fail. Curating other people’s coverage was time-consuming and it didn’t really help our mission. Our current strategy is to cover sessions on an ad-hoc basis.

A few things we have learned:

  • Having our editorial team write up the lessons from sessions is typically an effective way to mine topics that other writers may not be covering.
  • Using a combination of data from attendee surveys and anecdotal feedback, we can better choose which sessions to cover.
  • It’s OK to abandon plans to write about a session after we watch the presentation. Some sessions are fabulous in person, but they don’t translate well into a post.
  • Rushing to cover the sessions immediately after the event isn’t necessary. Much of the content at CMWorld is evergreen so we can cover it year-round. Time-sensitive topics are prioritized for earlier coverage.
An effective way to mine topics is to write up expert insights from event sessions, says @MicheleLinn. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

This summer, we will begin covering one Content Marketing World or Intelligent Content Conference session every week on the blog.

POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY: Do you have a gold mine of information used for another purpose that you could use in another format?

2. Covering verticals

In the past, we have published posts about a specific vertical or industry’s approach to content marketing. Those posts were too niche-focused and never performed well, so we made a general decision to go broader.

However, as the content marketing space gets noisier, we are experimenting with vertical niche content once again. Look for a series of posts that covers the key verticals where we know our audience lives. And we’ll be using input from the experts who are presenting industry labs on those verticals at Content Marketing World.

POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY: Is there a niche topic you can dig into that may be right for your readers now even though it was too narrow years ago? How can you differentiate your content subject matter, while staying relevant to your core audience?

Is there a content niche you can dig into now that might have been too narrow years ago, asks @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet

3. Reaching out to readers

While readers are always front and center in what we do, we sometimes get stuck in the rut of holding to assumptions and beliefs from years ago. And while we all have conversations with our community, particularly through our Twitter chats (#CMWorld), we don’t have a good process in place to take all of these insights to share them with our editorial team in a more formal, deliberate way.

So, this summer, we’re instituting more formal reader surveys. We love talking to our readers, so if you have some time, we’d love to connect, especially if you are marketer working for a large brand. Send me a tweet @michelelinn or a message on LinkedIn if you would like to be included in our reader surveys.

POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY: When was the last time you talked to members of your audience – in person, by phone, or by survey? Are you making assumptions about your audience and their content needs based on old assumptions and conversations, or even your personal observations? What steps can you take to continually find out about your audience?

4. Simplifying podcast show notes

Another way we are experimenting with our content is with our weekly podcast show notes. More than 180 episodes in, we generally have stuck with the same format.

While the format is a great way for people to glean major insights from each episode (and I think they serve as a wonderful, skimmable archive of conversations), we want to see if a shorter version will encourage more people to listen to the podcast. Additionally, the new format takes less production time, which frees up some of the writer’s time each week for other work.

POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY: Are you making something too easy for your audience to consume so that they don’t fulfill the intended purpose or take the intended action? Is there anything you do that takes a fair amount of time that could be simplified? If so, what’s holding you back from trying it?

5. Giving people space to digest what they learn

OK, this experiment isn’t content-specific, but it shows what we’re trying to do across the company – and it’s got a content lesson too.

CMI founder Joe Pulizzi is constantly thinking about Content Marketing World and making changes to make the event the best it can possibly be. You can read about his initiative to make the event more diverse as well as the other changes that are in store for 2017.

This year, one change is the expansion of Content Marketing World’s main conference to Friday morning. The additional half day is dedicated to helping people pause and reflect on what they have learned over the week so they can actually prepare to take the next steps back to the office instead of leaving the conference with a jumble of ideas in their heads that can be tough to decipher in the noise of a daily schedule.

Don’t leave audience with a jumble of ideas tough to decipher. Give planning time, says @MicheleLinn. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Of course, an added benefit of this is that we’ll get additional insight shared by attendees about what people loved the most and then cover that in our editorial.

POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY: Instead of constantly adding more content, is there anything you can create (or not do) to help your audience reflect or give them space to do something with what they have learned?

Conclusion

A theme running through much of what we are trying is this: Just because we have done something one way, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider alternative ways.

We’re excited to see where these experiments lead. We suspect some will work well, and others we’ll chalk up to additional learning.

What about you – what type of experiments are you trying / have you tried? What were the results?

To watch – and become a part of our content experiments – subscribe to the free CMI daily or weekly digest newsletter. And make plans today to attend the extended Content Marketing World Sept. 5-8 to learn and get (a little) time to breathe. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • https://www.gmrtranscription.com/ Beth Worthy

    I hold the first idea of republishing your old posts that have performed well in the past to very efficacious ( with suitable modifications and updates to make them contextual and more relevant with the time of posting). And, a direct form of outreach to your audiences to judge their perception about your content and their feedback is just as important, Michele. 🙂

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks so much, Beth!

  • Matt Arnerich

    I’d love a little more information about what you mean when you say ‘republish’ – it’s definitely something we might consider. Do you simply ‘push’ out again on your channels? Or do you actually republish the post in it’s entirety? How does this play with duplicate content problems? Do you simply remove the old post/archive it?

    Love to hear some answers to these questions – a really great piece!

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Matt,

      Here is the article I wrote that provides all the details of our process: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2017/03/blog-posts-new-life/.

      But, to answer your questions specifically:

      * We actually republish articles in full as new articles in our blog feed (we publish one post daily, so a republished post serves as the post for the day). We then push out those posts as we do any other post.

      * Ideally, you would have a URL without a date in it, in which you can simply update the post and push it back out. But, in our case, our URLs have dates so if we were to republish the original, the URL would change. That said . . . Oftentimes, we do a redirect from the older piece to the new piece. The exception to this is when the older piece is still bringing in a lot of organic search traffic (the article above goes into this).

      Let me know if you have any additional questions!

      • Matt Arnerich

        Awesome stuff! Thanks Michele – look forward to giving this a go ourselves.

        • Michele Linn

          Let me know how it goes, Matt!

  • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

    There are some really good ideas in here. Thanks for sharing these things that I probably should be doing, but haven’t started yet.

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks for helping us with our first vertical post on pharma and healthcare, Buddy. You’re helping us try new things.

      And, I still have my list of things I haven’t yet done but know I should. But there is only so much we can do (well) at one time! I’ll be right there along with you . . .

  • Roger C. Parker

    Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at the CMI’s ongoing efforts to tweak its editorial and event offerings. I am especially pleased by Point 5, the opportunity to “pause and reflect on what we’ve learned” at #CMWorld. I’m looking forward to how the morning will be structured.

    I was, however, surprised by the points you raised about republishing previously successful articles. In my case, pressing “Send” and reading one of my published articles always unleashes a tsunami of ideas I could have included. Keep up the good work! Roger

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Roger — I know what you mean. Whenever I look back at something I have written, I have several ideas of what I would add or how I would present something differently. That said, many of our republished posts are updated to give the writer a chance to add those learnings. But, in those cases where the author has nothing to change and the piece still works well, republishing has still been successful. Thanks as always for sharing your perspective!

  • Ligia Caetano

    Obrigada pela contribuição 🙂 Acompanho vocês aqui do Brasil, semanalmente.

  • Michele Linn

    Great question, Robert. The team talks about the experiments + results, but I’ll be honest that I don’t have a great system for documenting what we have tried. I’d love to hear what others are doing!

    • http://robertgibb.me Robert Gibb

      I was in the same boat until the company I was previously at met up with Sean Ellis, the founder of Growth Hackers. We used their product for a while but it had a lot of features we didn’t need at the time.

      At the company I’m at now, I use a free Trello board solely for experiments with the following lists: Ideas – Testing – Completed. For experiments that are successful, label the experiment card green; for ones that aren’t, label the card red.

      Have you used Trello before?

      • Michele Linn

        I love Trello, Robert, but I hadn’t thought about using it to track experiments. Great idea!

      • Michal Leszczynski

        Great idea for using Trello for yet another process. Thanks for the hint 😉

  • msbuller

    I love the idea of republishing posts. We started doing that as something we called “Encore” posts but we didn’t actually republish them fully like you describe, but instead just pushed them out on social over the weekend when our channel was a little quieter. Now that we’re posting 5x a week, maybe we’ll start republishing in full. Thanks for the ideas!

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks for your ideas as well!