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Content Marketing Analysis: What We Learned from Our Worst-Performing Articles

Your team has just come up with the greatest, most-amazing, it’ll-probably-go-viral, piece of content ever written. It’s a slam-dunk! You’ve made it a last minute addition to your latest email and you’ve allocated social media funds to promote it. Off you go to sleep, eager to awake to a sizeable spike in your web traffic and maybe a raise from the boss.

When you fire up your analytics, reality hits like a bucket of ice water. Your vaunted “slam-dunk” clanged off the rim, flew into the stands, and twisted an ankle on the way down. How could such a great piece of content fail?

In our five years of producing content, we’ve missed a few “open nets”, to utilize one last sports analogy. The silver lining to underperforming content is that it gives us an opportunity to autopsy what went wrong and to learn from it.

Greatness Can Be Very… Subjective

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“I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.” -Lily Tomlin

During one of our early campaigns focused on building out activities in a certain city, we hired a writer who had impeccable credentials—as an ultra-runner, not as a writer. She was likeable, well-known, and enthusiastic to work with us. Our small edit staff was certain her articles would perform well and her reputation would be a boon to our up-and-coming brand.

When her work was finally published, not only did it barely bump traffic, it was (rightfully) criticized by locals.

For starters, her “casual trail runs” were incredibly hardcore and some even involved 4th class scrambling and low 5th class rock climbing. Add to that, she had written a few whitewater paddling articles for rivers she had clearly never been on—disguised behind empty calorie language like “jaw-dropping rapids” and “gnarly flow”.

What We Learned: We had fallen into the trap of thinking because our writer was a great athlete, she would be a great writer. We compounded our error by thinking she’d be a good writer in sports she was not familiar with. We have learned that our best writers may not be the best athletes, but they’re savvy enough to seek our experts to fill in the gaps of their knowledge. Eventually, we hired a fantastic writer who was also a recreational runner. She interviewed local gear shops, researched trail systems, and produced great content. Years later, it still ranks highly in the search for that city.

Listen to Qualified Critics

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Katie Dills
“I love criticism just so long as it is unqualified praise.” -Noel Coward

Our staff has grown over the years to include guidebook writers, former pro-level athletes, ultra runners, competitive mountain bikers, thru-hikers, 5.12 climbers, and wilderness experts. One of the strengths of our team is that there is always someone with a respected, credible, opinion—honest criticism.

One of our high expectations / low-performance articles was brought back from the dead once it was reevaluated. Our article on Longs Peak, a popular scramble in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, couldn’t crack the top 50 search results—a virtual wasteland in SEO terms. We had run a feature story that had great images but the advice was nothing more than general hiking tips that could apply to any mountain hike. Eventually, one of our editors passed the article to me to see why it wasn’t bringing in traffic. I happen to have summited Longs Peak 16 times and have included it in one of my guidebooks (pardon the not-so-humblebrag) but more importantly, I was friends and colleagues with rangers and rescuers who are on the mountain year-round. The reworked article remains one of our top performing pieces of content.

What We Learned: Even though we had a good idea for an article, we didn’t have a truly expert voice writing the story (the writer hadn’t even hiked Longs Peak). There were plenty of other middling articles out there that were just as vague. Once we incorporated an experienced writer who had, for the record, failed on reaching the top 5 times along with those 16 summits, we had the authority to create an article that resonated with the core audience. This showed respect for our readers and gave them real-world, actionable advice.

Good Timing + Good Marketing = Success

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Marcin Wichary
“Clients don’t care about the labor pains; they want to see the baby.” -Tim Williams

Even brilliant writing can be lost in the fray if it doesn’t reach its core audience. One example was a series of winter ski resort articles we had written without any real promotion plan. Add to that, we had a series of delays that caused us to launch the otherwise solid content the same weekend as the Super Bowl—horrible timing.

Eventually, we had to wait a full year before promoting the content again, this time in early December when ski resorts are just hitting their strides. Besides our own promotions, we also worked with our partners to remind them of our project and they gladly shared it on their own networks.

What We Learned: Good content does not live in a vacuum. It needs to be shared. That we worked hard to create the content was only one step in the process. We needed to hit our social media channels, but not just a single Facebook post or Tweet. We needed to re-post. We needed to contact people through email, social media posts, and even phone calls. Most importantly, we needed to have a plan to time our content. Dan Zarella’s authoritative article “When’s the Best Time to Publish Blog Posts?” and Moz’s Why Does Great Content Fail** **both speak to how to best market, time, and share your grade-A content.

Maybe It Didn’t Actually Fail

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Jeff Bartlett
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” -Thomas Edison

Ry Glover, Matcha’s Director of Content, knew that one of our best articles “50 Things to Do in Chattanooga” was worth fighting for. Initially, the article didn’t light the world on fire as we thought it would—traffic was modest at best. He knew we had a winner in the wings. After the article stagnated, Ry went back and revised it by removing outdated references and dates, tweaking some of the existing content, and working with the marketing / analytics team to find the best time to promote the content. With the right plan and the belief that our content really was good, the article quickly rose both in search rankings and overall traffic, easily getting over 100,000 page views in 6 months.

Better still, the article is updated yearly. Originally written in 2015, the article was updated in 2016 and 2017 and in both cases caused solid traffic spikes, with thousands of views in the middle of January—a time when outdoors related media web traffic tends to slow down.

What We Learned: If you’ve put in the hard work and you know you have an excellent, unique piece of content, don’t give up on it. Find new ways to promote it, share it, and improve it. Make your strong work even stronger by updating it when appropriate and set a calendar to continue to feed your best work.

Need help with your content marketing strategy? Matcha Media can help.

We provide licensed and custom content to fit your budget. We built software to make publishing to your site a simple process requiring no more than a few clicks. Analyze results, share inside a network, and leverage our expert editorial team to help you source ongoing content.

Schedule time to chat with our team today.

Featured image provided by Jake Wheeler

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