We’ve all been there; you’ve just started a blog post, you’re completely out of ideas and you’ve just typed the phrase ‘we’ve all been there’ like you’re an advertising executive from the 1950s. You’re stumped, and you’ve got no idea what to do next.
The answer, of course, is simple; you fall back on a tried and true content formula. It could be something that has worked for you in the past, or something you’ve read while delving through the many, many guides to ‘quality content’ on the World Wide Web. You take some ideas, goes through the paces and viola, you’ve got a 500 word post ready to go and capture the attention of eyeballs from Michigan to Saigon.
But it doesn’t. Instead, your formula-fuelled post sits there, another brick in the content wall. Existing, but ignored. Another 500 words in the information stream, soon to be swept away by the next wave of ‘quality content’. You’ve fallen into the formula trap, and your reward is indifference.
The Formula Problem
Becoming too reliant on a formula isn’t just an issue within content marketing and SEO; it’s prevalent in most industries. Whether it’s a factory that’s hit upon a production process that produces results or an author who’s found a certain kind of story that sells books, formulas are everywhere.
Initially, that’s fine. Formulas exist for a reason – they guarantee (or near-guarantee) results. What’s more, they require very little thought or effort to work with. Just take your idea, apply your winning formula and pow! There’s your blogpost.
The problem with formulas arises when you become too reliant on a formula. With content, this often means that readers can predict what’s coming before they’ve even read or watched something. Ultimately, they become bored and move onto new content from another source.
Not necessarily a problem, however – you just need to change tack, right? Well, kind of. But the problem is, formulas are extremely hard to break out of. It’s hard to let go of an idea that once worked wonders and there’s always the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, that blog post which tanked was a one-off. It worked once, and so it’ll work again.
It’s this kind of thinking that eventually leads to irredeemable scenarios in which your audience abandons you en masse. This, in turn, leads to reduced traffic, less links and less conversions.
How To Avoid The Formula Trap
Luckily, avoiding the formula trap is actually quite easy. All it takes is a bit of self-awareness, teamwork, a strong analytical eye and a willingness to accept that not every idea is going to produce gold.
Before embarking on any SEO campaign revolving around content, you first need to come up with some kind of content plan. This can be as vague as a general theme for content or as detailed as a week-by-week plan complete with titles and content outlines.
Drawing up this plan on your own can lead to stagnant ideas down the line. To avoid your plan relying too heavily on a certain type of content or theme, try and get the input of others. Don’t just ask fellow SEOs and copywriters either; try and get input from designers, creatives and (especially useful) people in the market your site is targeting.
You also need to introduce an element of risk into your plan too. One of the biggest reasons people end up producing formulaic content is that they aren’t willing to experiment and potentially fall flat on their faces.
In reality, though, failure is part of the process of coming up with something great. Introduce a little trial and error into your content plan and allow for a bit of experimentation time early in the campaign to try out different kinds of content and themes. If you’re lucky, all of them will work and you’ll have a diverse content base. If not, you should still gain a valuable insight into how your audience reacts to certain content and get a good idea of what and what not to do.
To gain this insight, you’ll need to employ analytics. There are a number of obvious factors that determine the success of content: the number of social shares, views, comment, Facebook likes and so on. These usually give a good enough idea of whether something has worked or not.
It’s worth delving a little bit deeper, however. Using Google Analytics, you can view the average time spent looking at your content and the bounce rate, both of which should you give a good idea of how many people actually engaged after clicking a link. It’s also worth monitoring brand mentions on social media.
All of this works to create a good basis of content ideas to use throughout a campaign. To avoid falling into the formula trap, however, you need to mix up your ideas and be prepared to constantly tweak and alter your ideas. Excite your audience with something unexpected; throw them a curveball to get them talking.
If you usually rely heavily on blogposts, try making a video instead. Mix up data or stat-heavy posts with opinion. Basically, you need to offer your audience a diverse range of material with which to engage; otherwise, you’ll become predictable. And no one likes predictable!