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Who Killed the Content? Make Sure You’re Never the Suspect


It was 11:30 p.m. Friday after a few drinks when Vanessa conceived the idea. Glowing with excitement, she wondered if it would ever see the light of day. Nine days later, Vanessa met with Josh to discuss the idea. He nodded his head, took notes, and finally, decided that he would bring her idea to life.

Several hours later, Josh sat at his desk with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and reviewed the notes. After a few deep breaths, Josh’s fingertips hit the keyboard and, like a flash of lightning, the idea turned into a piece of content – young, vibrant, and excited at the possibilities of what it could do in the world.

Unfortunately, it still lacked direction and a purpose. Jordan, one of Josh’s colleagues, took on that responsibility, taking the fledgling piece and publishing it on Vanessa’s website, providing it the opportunity to live, grow, and prosper.

Five days later, Vanessa, Jordan, and Josh found the content lying dead in the same place where it was supposed to flourish – Vanessa’s website.

Who murdered the content?

The names may change but content is murdered hundreds of times each day. Who’s at fault when content doesn’t live up to expectations? How can you avoid having your content become the next victim?

Let’s look at the roles, steps, and processes that play out from conception to completion, and learn how to avoid the content killers.

Content ideation

Did Vanessa’s lack of research and due diligence cause her content to die before it was ever truly born? Here are some general pitfalls in the idea stage of content creation and tips on how you can avoid these common tendencies.

Content without strategy is just noise

While creating the idea over drinks is not the norm, it isn’t too far off. Most ideas for content are generated with little investment in topic research or clear strategic development. If you want to decapitate the content before it’s even created, don’t devote time to brainstorming, iteration, and data mining.

By investing time in researching and fleshing out an idea before it moves into production, you can:

  • Eliminate imitation in favor of innovation. If you research the idea and see that it has already spread faster than a Kardashian tweet, adapt your idea so it takes a unique stance or vantage point. By researching your ideas, you will be able to avoid creating a piece that will get lost in the crowd.
  • Develop a strategy founded in data. Researching ideas and diving into the data give your content the best chance at survival. Data reveals what’s trending. It also can validate an idea and its absence may reveal an opportunity to collect your own data. Data also should be used to create measurable goals for your content.

Value should err on the side of the audience

Most people can smell a branded piece of content from a mile away because it easily reads as content created for a brand. If you want to give your content the best chance for survival, then make sure the value of your idea favors the audience. To generate ideas that are audience-centric, consider:

  • Know your audience: The only way to create content that members of your audience find valuable is to know as much as you can about them. What are their likes and dislikes? What benefits can they receive from you and your content?

Discover the answers through surveys, general research, and observation. Then, keep these responses in mind as you create ideas. The more value you can create for your audience members, the more apt they will be to discuss, engage, share, and convert.

  • Keep your ideas timely and relevant: A simple way to ensure your idea maintains its value is to make sure it is relevant and concurrent with recent trends or events. You can accomplish this by hashing out the idea through search and social outlets.

The quickest way to murder your content is having an underdeveloped, irrelevant, and brand-centric idea. Even if you are like Vanessa and come up with the initial idea over a few cocktails on a Friday night, don’t run with it before you take the time to research the topic, iterate the concept, and see if there is a way to improve the idea. Once you have taken the time to generate a strong and unique idea, then you can move it into the production phase.

Content production

After Vanessa created the idea, the next content murder suspect is the person who created it – Josh. Content creation is arguably the most important step in the content’s life cycle. Here are five steps to take to avoid murdering your content in production.

  1. Hook readers quickly and set expectations

The average attention span of a reader is 15 seconds, which means your content needs to have a directive introduction that entices the reader to invest more than one-quarter of a minute. Demonstrate the value as quickly as possible and set clear expectations for the outcome. Doing this will get the audience excited for what’s to come and help eliminate any confusion or feelings of being misled.

Tip: The headline is the first aspect of your content that a reader sees. It can make or break the piece. Create a catchy, honest, and engaging headline and your content will see better results immediately.

  1. Focus on emotions

Just because your content is audience-centric does not mean that you cannot persuade your audience to react favorably to your brand. With your idea-stage research, you know your audience segments. When creating the content, remember to whom you are writing and focus on what will bring out their emotions and cause them to act.

Example (warning: graphic images):, a website to promote drug-rehabilitation centers, created an infographic on the ravages of drug addictions by chronicling individual before and after mug shots. realized that fear and horror are some of the best motivators in people seeking their services. It capitalized on those emotions and created an engaging, albeit bleak, piece of content.

  1. Keep content aligned with the strategy

As we mentioned, content without strategy has little chance to survive. The objectives and goals for the piece of content need to be clear throughout the creation stage and ultimately to the audience as well. If your business goal for the content is to generate sign-ups for your email list, clear calls to action in the content and on the page are necessary.

Tips: While clear and directive CTAs can be included in the content, they should flow or follow logically with the main content that attracted the reader. Don’t be excessive, intrusive, or take away from the value for the reader.

  1. Develop a high-quality piece of content

If you want your content to succeed, it has to be high quality and valuable. How do you ensure that?

  • Use comparisons and examples. They are a great way to convey your message. Not only do examples support your claims, but they can provide that “aha” moment, which most content creators desire from the audience.
  • Back up claims with data and research: Take the resources collected in the idea stage and cite them throughout the content. Use this data to make compelling connections. A data-rich piece of content will carry more weight than a pure opinion piece.
  • Diversify the content: Purely text-based content is still a great form of high-quality content. With that said, diversifying the content’s form can create more value. Consider infographics, interactive content, videos, or any other rich-media content.
  1. Make content clean and skimmable

There are some structural steps you can take to make the content more receptive and easier for the reader to digest:

  • Use compelling and informative subheads. Subheads have a huge impact on the ability for readers and even search engines to understand what your content’s subject matter is about. According to Nielsen Norman Group, even seven years ago viewers only read around 28% of the content on a page. It’s fair to assume that percentage is considerably lower today. Grab the most important takeaways and points from your content and make those your subheads.
  • Break up the text with space and images. If your content is text-based, an easy way to improve the digestibility of the piece is through line breaks or images. Space the content so that it does not overwhelm the reader.

Images are also a great way to improve the content. If your content is tutorial-focused, use the images to support your message; if your content is entertainment-focused, use images to engage the reader and highlight the important elements of your content.

  • Use different styling elements to emphasize or highlight topics. When readers skim your content they are more likely to notice and remember the pieces of content that are bolded, italicized, or underlined. These unique styling elements can help your audience focus on the most important information in your content and should be used sparingly.

Tip: Bullets and numbered lists are an excellent way to style your content. These elements are more memorable than blocks of text and provide a stylistic break from the rest of the formatting.

Now that we have an engaging and high-quality piece of content it’s time to publish and promote it.

Content promotion

We’ve watched as Vanessa’s idea was brought to life through Josh’s fingertips. Now it’s time for that piece of content to come full circle and make its way to live on Vanessa’s site. Jordan’s responsibility was to publish the piece of content and attract as many eyes as possible to it – to ensure the content reached its full potential and ultimately helps attract more visitors to Vanessa’s site. Did Jordan kill this vibrant piece of content through lackluster promotion?

One of the biggest mistakes made after creating and publishing a piece of content is to stop. Just because you created a high-quality article or infographic does not mean that people will easily find it. You need to take active steps to promote the content so that it has the ability to reach as many eyes as possible.

Here are some considerations on promoting your content so that it doesn’t meet a doomed fate.

Timing is critical

As we’ve seen throughout the first two stages, research is a huge part of the content’s success. One of the easiest and most effective things you can do to improve the success of your content is to publish it during peak engagement time. If you don’t know when users are coming to your website and engaging with your content then it might be hard for you to pinpoint exactly when to publish your content. This step-by-step guide can help you audit your current content and see when and how you should be publishing future content.

Tip: In addition to knowing when to publish on your site, you should also know when to publish on social sites. Every brand has different engagement stats, but AddThis provides some general advice for popular activity times/days for various social sites.

Qualify and target promotions

Just as you considered your audience when generating the idea and creating the content, it is equally important to target the audience to whom you want to promote it. Consider these simple steps:

  • Divide content into buckets of topics/key terms/verticals. Take your content’s general topic and group together a number of similar terms or verticals that encompass that topic.
  • Search for those similar terms in Google, social media sites, and forums for influencers. Find relevant people, websites, questions, forum topics, or posts.
  • Contact, develop rapport, and share. If you find a discussion or question relevant to your content, feel free to engage in the discussion and promote your content – be sure it furthers the discussion and is not too self-promotional. If you find a website or person that matches your topic, connect through social media or email to develop a rapport, and then leverage that relationship to help promote your content.

Differentiate your promotion strategy

The only thing worse than not promoting the content at all is not promoting it effectively. Look at every option – paid, earned, or owned media. Here are quick tips:

Paid media benefits: The paid form of content promotion could be paid social media, native advertisements, CPC traffic, and any number of other paid digital promotions.

Although it might seem counterintuitive to spend money creating content and then pay more money for people to see it, getting more eyes on your content means more people are likely to engage with your brand and share the content.

Earned media benefits: For content promotion, this is most commonly associated with PR outreach, off-site contributions (articles, comments, answers), or word-of-mouth traffic. Unlike paid media, this tactic takes time and effort but no additional hard costs. It can have a much higher ROI but will take more work to be effective.

Owned media benefits: The owned form of content promotion leverages your current users through newsletters, social media posts, or other direct forms of communication with your audience. Your followers or email subscribers already have indicated they are willing to receive information from you. By providing them with your new piece of quality content, you are solidifying that relationship and instilling your brand as a thought leader. These individuals also are most likely to perpetuate and share your content with their followers, thus amplifying your reach significantly.

Tip: A number of social sites also can be leveraged for promotion. Test the effectiveness of your content on each medium whether it’s through tweets, LinkedIn Groups, Quora questions, or comments on relevant articles.

The simple fact is that publishing content without promotion means it will likely suffer a slow and painful death.


By now we have seen the entire content life cycle, from Vanessa’s conception of the idea to Josh’s creation of the content, and finally, Jordan’s promotion of the published piece.

So who murdered the content?

Each person played a critical role in the creation and nurturing of this piece of content. To find any one person guilty would be a travesty. In the life of every piece of content, it takes a creative idea, strong execution of that idea, and effective promotion of the content for it to survive and reach its full potential.

All three were to blame!

We now close the case of the murdered content and hope our sharing of how to avoid a similar situation keeps your content alive and thriving!

Want to learn from the experts who can help you give your content a long, successful life? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015. Use CMI100 to save $100 on registration.

Cover image by Shayna Hobbs, Public Domain Archive, via