What to do when your marketing content isn’t resonating

Solomon Radley24/06/2019

Use this simple ‘CUB test’ to create content that captivates your audience and breathe new life into old or underperforming thought leadership pieces.

Here’s one thing no one tells you about creating marketing content: you’re not going to get it perfect first time.

Professional content marketers will produce multiple drafts of every article, guide, infographic and video script they create before they finally hit on the version that gets published.

Sure, it’s possible to hash out a post and throw it up on your website in a single afternoon. But performance‐driven marketers will take the time to give their content the best chance of success.

They’ll conduct peer reviews, try different angles and rework everything until they arrive at something that speaks with genuine authority and expertise.

In a world where the vast majority of thought leadership totally misses the mark, that’s how to publish content that delivers results.

It’s the only way to create great content that resonates with your audience, ranks in search engines and influences business decisions.

Today, we’ll outline a simple formula for doing all that and more. We call it the ‘CUB test’, and you can use it to review and improve absolutely any piece of content – whether you’re writing a blog post, editing a guide, optimising a landing page or anything else.

Better yet, if you’ve ever been disappointed by a piece of content that didn’t deliver the results you were expecting: the CUB test can help.

Not only will this simple formula help you work out why people aren’t engaging with your content, it will also provide clear insights about what you should do to fix the problem.

It’s perfect for updating old content that’s stopped resonating with your audience to give it a fresh lease of life. Or, you could even use it to take a good piece of content and make it great.

This is the same technique we use to create articles for Business of Marketing. And by the end of this post, you’ll have everything you need to start using CUB tests in your own content marketing.

But first, we should take a look at exactly why some content pieces work so much better than others.

Why your marketing content isn’t working

There’s a whole host of factors that can stop your content form resonating. And you won’t always be lucky enough to have received direct feedback from your audience to point you in the right direction.

As advertising legend David Ogilvy famously asserted, 80 per cent of readers will decide whether to read a piece of content based on the headline alone. That means a bad headline is the most likely explanation if no one’s engaging with your content in the first place.

When people are clicking on your digital content but closing the page without reading it, that’s a sign the piece isn’t meeting your audience’s expectations.

It could be confusing, unbelievable, boring or simply not related closely enough to the headline that’s bringing people to the page. You may even find that people are starting your content but giving up long before they get to the end.

One explanation for this could be that the topic in question isn’t rich enough to warrant an in‐depth content piece. But given the complexity of most B2B content topics, it’s more likely that there are some sections within the body of your piece that switch people off.

Poor quality visual elements may also be limiting your content’s potential. Our research shows that 57 per cent of executives think B2B brands don’t take the design and lay‐out of their content seriously enough.

Just as a relevant featured image can work with your post’s headline to entice people into clicking on it, an irrelevant image can be confusing or boring and may repel potential readers.

Meanwhile, breaking up the body of your content with data visualisations and charts provides SEO benefits and makes articles easier for visual learners to comprehend.

A simple way to diagnose the problem

One of the most reliable ways to diagnose the problem with a failing thought leadership piece is to conduct what we call a ‘CUB test’.

CUB stands for ‘confusing, unbelievable, boring’ – and these are the three characteristics that will consistently switch people off when they encounter them in your content.

To check your content for these flaws, have three or so colleagues read the piece and ask them to highlight anything that jumps out at them, marking the sections in question with a C, a U or a B.

You can then cross‐reference these insights with digital marketing metrics such as ‘unique pageviews’, ‘average time on page’ and ‘average scroll depth’ to home in on the cause of the problem.

If multiple people highlight the same problem sections and your content metrics support this explanation for your content’s performance, there’s a good chance you’ve found your culprit.

How to fix bad thought leadership content

Once you have a clear idea why a piece of content isn’t resonating with your audience, you’re ready to fix the problem.

Be sure to consider how aware your audience is of the topic your content is about before you make any changes, as this will have implications for the type of story you should look to tell.

As we argue in Six powerful ways to start any marketing message, there are essentially six different ways you can start a piece of thought leadership content, and each is best suited to a different type of reader.

Make sure your content piece uses the right type of headline and introduction for the audience you’re speaking to. You can then the four ‘Us’ of copywriting to brainstorm how you might improve these sections based on the results of your CUB test.

An enticing headline generally shows the reader that the content in question is useful, conveys an idea in a unique way, highlights an unusually specific detail or stresses an urgent reason for reading the piece right now.

Don’t try to shoehorn all four off these Us into a headline for the sake of it. But if you can get two or three in there, you should stand a good chance of drawing people in.

Aim to grab your audience’s attention in the first couple of sentences and state exactly how reading the whole piece will benefit the reader explicitly within the first 300 words.

From there, go through the sections your CUB test highlighted and consider whether to update them, replace them or cut them entirely. Sections that are confusing must be simplified or explained, bits that aren’t believable need backing up with evidence and anything that’s boring should be removed.

Always bear the rules of good SEO writing in mind as you run through this checklist. As we’ve found at Business of Marketing, optimising this kind of content effectively can easily get you onto the first page of Google.

Since 71 per cent of B2B buyers begin their research with a generic search online, it always pays to make your content as discoverable as possible.

Remember that dramatic changes will have a greater impact than small improvements here and there. If the piece you’re looking at is generating no engagement at all, you’ll need to completely re‐work the opening and try something totally new.

When you’re finished, you’ll be left with a piece of content that’s snappier, more authoritative and easier to understand than your previous draft.

If you try all this and none of it works, you should seriously consider whether the theme you’re writing about is relevant to your audience. You may need to go back to basics and update your content strategy.

Know when it’s time to update your content

Every piece of content has an expiry date. News‐based content has the shortest shelf life, while evergreen thought leadership or research can last many months before it needs to be updated or replaced.

Web content performs best immediately after its launch. And you’ll see diminishing returns the more you promote it to the same audience.

So, the metrics you use to measure your content’s performance will do more than simply tell you if the content you publish is any good. They’ll also help you gauge how frequently you can promote that content to the same audience before it stops resonating.

How to give your content a fresh lease of life

If you have a clear system for measuring content performance in place, you should be able to use the metrics you’re tracking to work out how frequently you need to refresh old content or pages on your site.

When the time comes to refresh an old piece of content, the first step is to consider what has changed since you originally published it. Conduct a CUB test to identify sections that are no longer relevant and can be cut.

Next, review any bold claims or statistics to see if they can be updated with more recent figures.

If the article in question functions as an SEO pillar page or cornerstone content piece, you should also add in sections with links to any new articles you’ve published in relation to that theme.

Even if the content you’re reviewing isn’t one of your flagship pieces, it’s still worth adding in new sections if you can think of ways to develop its narrative and provide your audience with even more valuable insights.

Finally, you will usually want to replace the article’s headline, main image and introduction to make it feel new to your readers. (If you’re refreshing a white paper or guide, consider replacing the entire first chapter with a completely new piece of editorial, if possible.)

Of course, not all content pieces can be updated in this way. But having expired content sitting on your site won’t do your brand any good.

When you identify content that’s expired beyond salvation, remove it from your site to avoid wasting your audience’s time and make sure it doesn’t compete with your best content for search rankings in Google.

Key takeaways

  • If your marketing content isn’t resonating, have your colleagues read the piece and ask them to highlight anything they think is confusing, unbelievable or boring.
  • Combine the results of your CUB test with analytics data to identify sections that need reworking, simplifying, supporting with more evidence or deleting entirely.
  • Repeat this process regularly to optimise key content pieces in your arsenal and breathe new life into old content that’s stopped resonating with your audience.