By Kim Moutsos published July 3, 2019 Est Read Time: 7 min

So Your Content Failed. Now What?

Content duds. Everybody’s got ’em. In between those pieces that clearly hit the mark, you’ve published (more than) a few that didn’t. What are you to do with those?

There’s plenty of advice on how to make pretty good content better or reuse your best stuff. Last month, I wrote about how to reuse, republish, repurpose your high-performing content. It’s such a sure-win technique for content marketers, we’ve got many related articles.  One of them recently made the rounds on Twitter and prompted a great question.

The article by Michele Linn explored how to use analytics to decide which articles or site pages on which to focus, dividing them into five categories:

  • High traffic + high conversions + high search volume.
  • High traffic + high conversions + low search volume.
  • High traffic + low conversions + high search volume.
  • High traffic + low conversions + low search volume.
  • Low traffic + high conversions.

Notice what all these scenarios have in common – at least one signal the piece worked. A few tweaks might improve either traffic or conversions or search volume because the content already earned at least one “high” rating.

Now to the next question. What should an astute marketer do with content that gets low traffic and low conversions? Should you simply get rid of the page and redirect the URL to something else?

What’s an astute marketer to do with content that gets low traffic and low conversions, asks @KMoutsos Click To Tweet

At first that question gave me pause. Is it ever worth spending more time on content that didn’t connect with your audience the first time? Then I hit on the answer (and everyone’s favorite): It depends.

Should you ever try to save failed content?

When you’re wrestling with a project that didn’t turn out as planned, give it a hard, honest look. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and read (or watch or listen to) the piece. Then walk through the following decision-making process.

1. Check for the sweet spot


  • Is the content about something truly important, useful, and relevant to your audience?
  • Is it about something your organization has unique knowledge or skills or expertise in?

If you answered no to either question, skip to the end or find another content dud to evaluate.

If you answer yes to both questions, then the topic is in your content sweet spot – the overlap between what your audience cares about and what your organization has the skills and expertise to educate them about. That’s enough to keep the article in consideration for further work.

Find the #content sweet spot – the overlap b/n your audience & your business’s interests, says @KMoutsos. Click To Tweet

(If you need help figuring out your sweet spot, try this exercise created by CMI founder Joe Pulizzi.)

2. Browse your own library

Before you spend more time on the piece, make sure you don’t have something similar that performs better. If you do have something similar working well, you can stop your evaluation here and optimize that performing piece.

3. Set your content tilt

The content is in your sweet spot and you don’t have similar content. Now you need to understand why this piece didn’t perform. One likely reason is that it plays it too straight – in other words, it lacks tilt.

#Content often underperforms if it’s missing a tilt, says @KMoutsos. Click To Tweet

What is content tilt? Let’s turn again to a Joe Pulizzi definition:

Content tilt is that area of little to no competition on the web that actually gives you a fighter’s chance of breaking through and becoming relevant. It’s not only what makes you different, it’s so different that you get noticed by your audience. That audience rewards you with their attention.

When you simply write what everyone else writes on a topic, you’re begging to be ignored. When we asked marketers last year why some content “sucks,” one answer perfectly summed up what happens when you fail to find your content tilt:

Not only has the topic been dealt with, but even the angle taken is too familiar … I don’t need to read what’s already been published 300 times. I am not saying invent something new, just don’t share the same 10 tips that everyone is sharing. – Youness Bermime, content writer,

If your piece is common, find the tilt. Look for gaps in what competitors are writing on the topic and adjust your piece to tackle a different angle. Look for long-tail search queries and make sure the article provides thorough answers.

If you can’t find a tilt, then go back to the first step and question whether your organization is uniquely positioned to provide value on this topic. If you still think the answer is yes, keep looking for that unique angle.

4. Raise the visibility

Once you’ve confirmed or adjusted your tilt, address the possible challenge of your audience to find the content.

SEO plays a big part in discoverability; now that you’re committed to saving the piece, put in the time to optimize it. These resources can help:

But SEO isn’t everything. Your audience may find the piece while browsing your website, on social media, via backlinks, or from your email newsletter. Try the ideas in these articles to help get the word out:

5. Sweat the headline and the lede

You know that old saying: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. You probably rolled your eyes when your parents said it for the umpteenth time. But it rings especially true when it comes to content. Your headline and lede are that first impression.

If your content underperformed, then really work harder on the lede – and especially the headline. Try the advice and ideas in these articles:

6. Optimize the CTAs

If the content gets little traffic, the number of conversions will likely be low. But if the percentage of people who convert from the content is low, you have some work to do.

Start by exploring the ideas in these articles:

No sweet spot, no tilt?

If you couldn’t find a sweet spot or a tilt, do some (content) soul searching. Ask the scary question Joe has posed: “Let’s say someone rounded up all your content and placed it in a box like it never existed. Would anyone miss it?”

If someone rounded up all your content & placed it in a box like it never existed, would anyone miss it? @joepulizzi Click To Tweet

If not, then consider whether to remove it from your site (and redirect the link to something more valuable). Is it redundant, outdated, or trivial? Some brands have experienced a lift in traffic after getting rid of that ROT. Is it harmful to your brand? Eliminate it.

Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media recently wrote a thorough piece exploring whether and when to get rid of old content. Study it for clues about what to do with any underperformers that don’t meet the “worth-it” test described here.

What do you do with duds?

I’d love to hear how you approach your less-than-stellar content pieces. Do you try to save them? Do you delete and redirect? Or do you simply devote your time to more promising prospects? Let me know in the comments.

Want to learn more about leveraging your existing content? Register for Pam Didner’s workshop about how to repurpose content to enable your sales team on Sept. 3 at Content Marketing World. And sign up for the full conference, Sept. 3-6. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Kim Moutsos

Kim Moutsos leads the talented content team at the Content Marketing Institute, where she is vice president of editorial. Having worked in content marketing for enterprises and startups for more than 20 years, Kim enjoys exchanging ideas and lessons learned with other content marketing practitioners. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMoutsos or connect on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Kim Moutsos

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