The ultimate guide to creating content that converts

I’m going to fill you in on something scary. For most people, content marketing does not work. In this post I’ll explain why and show you step by step how to create content that does (i.e. content that drives opt ins, leads and revenue to your business).

Research on why content marketing does not work

In a recent Content Marketing Institute (CMI) survey of 1,400 companies they found that only 36% regarded their content marketing as effective! Damn that’s a pretty low number and I’m committed to ensure that by the end of this post you will be able to count yourself in the small group of people who are doing content marketing that does work. But first let’s get back to this research (by the way all links discussed in this post are available at the end).

There are some more alarming results in the research including:

  • This year less companies are using their content to generate sales (isn’t that what we are here for?)
  • The number 1 goal of content marketing is ‘brand awareness’
  • The number 1 way content is measured is by looking at ‘Web Traffic’
  • The number 1 challenge identified is to ‘create more content’

p.s. I noticed just last night they published new research specifically about software companies and take a guess what their number 1 goal is? (leads). Software companies get it! 

Outbrain in partnership with Econsultancy have also published research into the goals of content marketing where ‘Increased sales’ was well behind ‘Traffic to website’ as a ‘Business objective’ of content marketing.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 5.03.42 PM

My internal research (of bloggers and content marketers in my audience) shows me the same thing where:

  • Only 5% know exactly who is engaging with their content
  • 20% know what content is driving leads (less when I look into how they are doing it)
  • 8% know what content has resulted in revenue for the business

So to summarise the research. People don’t want their content to generate sales, they don’t track actionable metrics to know when their content is effective instead they use vanity metrics and conclude that it’s not effective and hypothesise that the solution is to create more of it!

Luckily a lot of people for a lot of years have managed to do marketing that does work. Marketing that generates leads and makes sales. And we can learn from that in producing our content so we don’t fall into the group of people who can’t make content marketing work. The rest of this post is dedicated to exactly what you need to do to create content (focused on blog posts) that convert.

Define a goal

blogging_quotable

Don’t bother blogging until you have a goal defined (tweet this)

If you want to get people to convert on your site then you need to define a goal and you should be tracking that goal with your analytics software (more on this later).

This goal will influence everything you do in your post so make sure you consider this decision wisely. Because people rarely buy from you until they know / like and trust you and until they are ready, most of your visitors won’t buy right away. For this reason the most common goal for a blog is to get a user’s email address so you can market to them on an ongoing basis to build trust and sell to them when they are ready.

How you go about getting the email address will vary but for now I’ll assume that this is the goal of your blog (if not this post will still be just as relevant).

Build copywriting and conversion best practice into your content

If you want to create content that converts then you have to understand the psychology of why people buy and the techniques used online to help them convert. So the next time you craft a blog post consider the following points to benchmark off.

Headlines

Tweet these headlines and see what happens!

64% of content marketing doesn’t work – see what does here (tweet this)

Read this now if you want to fail at blogging (tweet this)

Proof content marketers don’t care about sales and what to do about it (tweet this)

Design your blog posts to convert and take advantage of the biggest opportunity in blogging (tweet this)

This may be the best post a blogger can read in 2013 (tweet this)

Want more traffic to your blog? Wrong! Read this (tweet this)

The headline is perhaps the most important part of your post so treat it accordingly. Here are some best practice tips from copywriters on how to craft great headlines. I have tweaked some of the points to gear them more towards crafting blog post titles. If you don’t believe headlines are important try some of the tweets on the right I’ve prepared for you and see how much response you get compared to your normal tweets!

  • Create intrigue
  • Grab attention – encourage readers to read the next line
  • Address a specific pain point for your readers (with the possibility of an intriguing solution)
  • Make sure it is extremely relevant to what your readers expect and relevant to the goal
  • Learn from what has worked before
  • Simple and direct works well
  • Exciting, interesting, controversial, sensational all work well but keep them believable
  • Use powerful, direct and definitive language (not wishy washy)
  • Numbers / lists / real data works well
  • Just don’t be boring
  • Use keywords that resonate with your audience
  • If you are following a ‘Content driven SEO strategy’ (see our guide here) then your headline also should include your main keyword
  • Taps into fears or desires
  • Brackets in the title demonstrate higher value i.e. [INFOGRAPHIC] or [PDF]

Here’s a pro tip. If you are in the habit of emailing your list about new posts when you publish them you can split test different options. Once you get the results of which headline got the higher open rate you can use that as the final headline for the post before you share it on social media.

Examples of great blog post headlines

blogging_titles

Copy

Creating great helpful content is obviously what you want to strive for however helpful content probably isn’t going to be enough to convert your readers into subscribers. To do that you need to consider the copywriting techniques of people who sell stuff.

A great way to do that is compare your copy to a copywriting checklist of some sort. My favorite is Dane Maxwell’s copywriting checklist, you can use this to structure your post. Here are the elements (I’ve excluded price anchoring and FAQ’s because of the offer type – low friction email opt-in):

  1. Instant clarity headline (clear, focus on the result the customer wants, address objections if you can)
  2. Declare the problem (what is the situation of your readers right now before consuming your content)
  3. Present your solution (what it does, how it solves the problem, features and benefits)
  4. Borrow credibility (verifiable evidence, physical presence, personal info)
  5. Social proof (what are other people doing, number of users / subscribers, badges etc)
  6. Testimonials (specific quotes from people work well if you can include them)
  7. Clear call to take action (obvious opt in, more on this later)
  8. Reverse all risk (address their objections and lower friction and risk)

Here’s how I’ve applied these points to the post you are reading right now.

copy_structure

Another model you might want to consider is the AIDA model:

  • Attention – Title that grabs attention and encourages reading the next line. 
  • Interest – Something intriguing that you will come back to later (that relates to your opt in)
  • Desire – Build the desire within the article by convincing people they need the solution, showing others who use it etc)
  • Action – Clear call to action to subscribe

Another useful model to look at here is the 10 laws of persuasion which is the origin of where things like reciprocity, social proof, scarcity etc come from. I’ve included some links below on this topic.

The point of all of this is you can create awesome valuable content for people that at the same time drives them to want to opt in to your offer. And that’s what you should be doing if you want to your content to generate leads and business for you.

Design

I could talk about design forever but suffice to say it’s important. Here are some things you can do to ensure your blog post is designed for conversions:

  • Make sure your theme is clean, professional and simple
  • Make sure all graphics are professional and re-enforce the content (limit stock photos – if you can avoid them altogether do so)
  • Break content up using visuals, dot points, ample paragraph spacing etc
  • Don’t clutter your right hand sidebar
  • Make your opt in super clear both visually (a colour that stands out, or a scroll opt in for example) and it’s position
  • Make it super easy to convert.
  • Limit options

Hubspot’s 10 design commandments say it better than I can:

  1. Understand the page’s purpose
  2. Establish a visual hierarchy
  3. Make it as simple as you can – if in doubt leave it out
  4. Make it legible (contrast against background, font size etc)
  5. Include lots of paragraph spacing
  6. Make sure elements are aligned
  7. Make sure colours are coordinated
  8. Flat designers are easier to do if you aren’t a designer (bevels, drop shadows etc can look cheap)
  9. Make sure all elements are consistent (style, colour, size etc)
  10. Harmonize visuals with text (don’t just add clip art at the end, graphics should have a purpose)

Here is what a typical blog post looks like (I’ve pointed out some of the issues but there are plenty)

Worst practice example: Too much clutter

typical_blog_640

Best practice example: Copy Blogger 

good_blog_640

Design has a huge impact on conversions so make sure the design of your theme follows the guidelines above and you consider these when you are crafting your posts also. And test test test (more below).

Conversions

Over the years there has been plenty of excellent work done in the conversion space to a point where the best practice is pretty clear. Most of the information you come across online about conversion will be talking about sales pages but you can apply the vast majority of the best practice techniques to creating content also.

Here are some of the tips to consider:

  • Relevancy is everything – From the traffic source to your headline, to your copy to your opt in. It all needs to be clearly related and a natural next step.
  • Know your sales funnel – Some businesses work best by organising a demo, some by requesting a call back, some by getting an email opt in. Know what works for you and build your opt in around that.
  • Split test – Conversion specialists are obsessed with testing. To know what words, design, graphics, offers etc appeal to your audience continually modify things and test the improvements. Google Content Experiments (free inside Google Analytics) is a great tool for people starting out. Even without doing split testing you can simply change elements on your site and then compare the results manually (obviously there are a lot of variables like the traffic volume, source, amount of data etc that you have to consider if you are doing this so a split testing tool is recommended).
  • Simple compelling offer – So much of conversion optimisation comes down to having a simple compelling offer. As a website visitor I’m bombarded with opt in forms, contact links etc all the time. What is something compelling and simple you can offer me that will get me to hand over my email address?
  • Integrate design and copy best practice – All of the headline, copy and design best practices already discussed should be incorporated into your opt in.
  • Clear actionable, benefit-driven call to action button – Instead of ‘Subscribe’ put ‘[insert benefit here]‘.
  • Use encapsulation, contrast and directional cues – Box your opt in with a border, a different colour and if you can some directional cues (perhaps arrows, or a person looking at the opt in etc). Obviously you have to balance aesthetics at the same time.
  • Consider what happens after conversion – Take users to a page that drives further relevant action.
  • Include opt ins in high converting locations – Right sidebar, scroll opt in, pop-up, post footer and top hello bar are all highly converting positions (again you have to balance the need for a clean professional design).

In terms of online content by the time a user gets to the end of your post it should be obvious what your opt in will be because you will have followed the steps in the copy section to make sure their interest level is built through the post.

Best practice example: Relevancy (Hubspot)

Notice on the Hubspot blog how their post footer opt ins change depending on the content of the post?

best_practice_relevancy

Best practice opt in design: Unbounce

best_practice_conversion

Know your audience

I’ve talked a lot so far about relevancy and appealing to the inner desires of your target market. It’s impossible to do this if you don’t truly know your audience. This is the biggest area where existing content marketing advice is letting people down and the biggest area of opportunity.

Metrics you may not be tracking

Pretty much all bloggers use Google Analytics (by use I mean have it installed and glance at their vanity metrics occasionally). But vanity metrics like page views don’t tell you anything about your audience.

Informly’s content marketing software (more on this later) has been developed for this very purpose. Here are some of the metrics that it looks at that you might not be tracking at the moment.

  • Leads generated by content – What content sends you leads directly and indirectly (people convert after reading your post)?
  • People – You need to know who the people are that are engaging with your content. Who opted in, what is their business, what are their social profiles, what other content do they like etc.
  • Content impact – Page views don’t give you a good idea of how much impact your content is having. To look at the overall impact of your content you need to also consider social sharing, on page direct conversions, conversions later on down the track (perhaps the content primed them for future conversion).
  • Share ratio by content – What content does your audience find irresistible and they have to share it?
  • Top audience members – Who are the main influencers in your audience, who is driving your message, what content do they like?
  • Other content shared by your audience – What other content (on other blogs) do your audience members love to share?
  • What content gets the most backlinks – People linking to your content tells you they think it’s worth linking to! And of course it also brings SEO value which in turn will bring more people.

All of these things are tracked by Informly Content Analytics see below.

content_analytics_screenshot

Other qualitative sources

Of course it’s not just hard data that helps you understand your audience and create better content for them. Qualitative information can be a great source of information as well.

  • What are your top products?
  • What are your most frequently asked questions by customers?
  • What emails do you get from your audience?
  • What do people say when you talk to them?
  • What are people chatting about at live in person events?
  • What posts have the most active comments section and what are people saying?
  • Who are your happiest customers, who is referring you the most work?

Once you know your audience you will have no problem knowing what content you can create that is going to get them engaging, sharing, linking to it and converting.

Follow best practice content creation

Of course to create content that converts it has to be great content. Part of creating great content is understanding your audience but there are also some general rules you can consider with your own content that you might be able to apply.

  • Be original – don’t write something that already exists, put your own spin on it or introduce something new.
  • Use plan english language – always use clear, simple language avoid marketing fluff.
  • Use lots of data – posts with lots of data tend to convert well, best case scenario you can have your own data that other people can’t access which adds credibility and improves originality (like original research).
  • Long content works best – For SEO and general engagement it’s reasonably well accepted that longer content performs better. I would say however that don’t make your content long at the expense of making it actionable sharp and to the point. This is a trend I’m noticing which is only going to hurt the quality of your content and the amount of conversions.
  • Social proof – Add as much proof as possible. Screenshots, quotes, testimonials, examples etc.
  • Integrate visuals – Not including visuals is lazy. Take the time to create professional graphics that support and re-enforce the content of your post.
  • Good formatting, grammar and design – Follow best practice spelling and grammar and all of the copy and design elements we have discussed already.
  • Get input from thought leaders and experts – See the last section of this post, this also helps with sharing your post.
  • Link to other content – The best content covers one topic well so don’t be afraid to link to other content (onsite or offsite) that goes into more depth on certain points.
  • Be entertaining or offer an opinion – People love to be entertained and controversy is always a good attention grabber.

Best practice example: The Marketing Show

best_practice_marketing_show

Best practice example: Kiss Metrics

best_practice_kiss_metrics

Tips from the experts

Before writing this article I reached out to people who I regard as world leaders in content creation, copywriting and conversions. Here are some of their suggestions.

“If you want content that converts then you need to create content that engages. I feel the way to stand out and make a difference as a content creator is to cover your bases completely. That means setting yourself up to be discovered everywhere. Blog, shoot video, record podcasts, be engaging on social media channels, and above all create content that genuinely educates, inspires, entertains and incites action. This means that no matter what type of medium you use to reach out to your prospective customers, followers, subscribers, etc., that they will want to consume it – and then, share it with everyone they know and ultimately convert.”  CHRIS DUCKER – chrisducker.com

“Solve problems and make sure your content has context and relevance. If you are trying to solve problems that your customers do not have then you are irrelevant and sales trickery doesn’t matter – you won’t get the sale.” JAMES SCHRAMKO – superfastbusiness.com

peep“Conversions are all about relevancy – putting the right content in front of the audience. So in my case, it would be an article demonstrating a conversion technique, offering ample proof and ending it with a CTA to “get a blueprint for this technique” or “10 more techniques like this.” PEEP LAJA - conversionxl.com

jake“I’ve had success increasing conversions by offering contextually relevant training and templates. Creating this material is actually easier than you may think. For me, I’ve had success re-purposing existing content into both training programs and templates. In the case of training programs, cutting up a recent webinar is easy to do and provides great value. In terms of templates, looking at your internal systems and seeing if there is potentially a template you could provide that offers value to your audience is awesome.” JAKE HOWER – multimediamarketingshow.com (Trello content production template here)

danandrews“If you can only spare a few hours to work on your blog, overhaul your about page. About pages get tons of traffic from people who are legitimately interested in what you are doing. A well designed about page is a great source of conversions and often overlooked.” DAN ANDREWS – tropicalmba.com

godfather“The posts that do the best for us have some kind of numbered list in them, share something that you can’t find anyplace else, have a point of view, leverage a number of sources & focus on going deep on one particular subject.” JOE PULIZZI – contentinstitute.com

Now let’s take your first step to creating content that converts

Our world first dedicated content marketing analytics software is launching soon. Enter your email below to be notified and take the first step to being a content marketing lead generation machine!

Additional resources

Here are some of the resources I consulted when putting this article together. I highly recommend all of them.

Everything!

This is an amazing resource list from helpscout on all of the topics discussed here.

Research

Copy

Design

Conversions

Know your audience

Content quality

About

Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

  • http://multimediamarketingshow.com/ Jake Hower

    Unbelievable post.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Jake. I put a lot into this one.

  • Claire Oldfield

    Wow Dan I’m going to need to bookmark so I can come back to read when I’ve got a minute – this looks super comprehensive and interesting! Thanks for sharing

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Clairey Mary. Seriously though it’s only 3,500 words or so. Just read it now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alex.mcclafferty Alex McClafferty

    10/10.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Alex I feel like I’m at school!

      Actually no I don’t, I never got 10 out of 10 at school.

  • http://twitter.com/KrishnaEverson Krishna_Everson

    Best content marketing post I’ve read in a while Dan! There’s no doubt that quality content like this wins hands down, but even if we implement a handful of strategies from this list of must do’s, it will put most of us in a better position than where we are now. Thanks for going to the effort of compiling this, AND keeping it engaging!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Krishna I appreciate that and thanks so much for sharing it too.

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Great post Dan! Glad to be part of the development process. Can’t wait to see how it works.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Cas, you and me both!

  • Ed Stapleton, Jr.

    really enjoyed this post Dan!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Ed great to hear mate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.gardam.7 Mary Gardam

    Great post Dan, exactly what I needed, lots to consider and work on.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Mary I appreciate the support, glad it was useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.scarber Shawn Scarber

    Awesome post, Dan. Well worth taking the time to read through and use as a checklist.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Shaws, yeah it was a bit long but hopefully something people can refer back to as a bit of a resource.

  • http://billyelusiv.com/ Ben Smith

    Hey Dan, amazing post, if/when you nail the tracking of content to ROI then you’re onto a winner.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Ben. The initial version will track content to conversion but down the track I’m going to look at integrating with accounting systems so we can map the customer the whole way through – i.e. customer reads post, converts to email user, eventually converts to customer in say Xero then we can grab how much they spent – their lifetime value etc and tie it back to the original piece of content. Bit of a way off for that one though.

  • http://www.michaelerickson.me/ Mike Erickson

    I never comment.
    But this post was incredible.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Ha cool Mike glad to have converted you! Now I’ll know if you don’t comment on my future posts then they aren’t up to the same standard!

  • http://www.resg.info/ Anton Stetner

    From the title I was thinking to myself, this might be a good little read. So I started reading and then I was like holy freaking collection of good little golden nuggets. Love it.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks man glad you liked it!

  • http://twitter.com/TravelinTweeter Brandon Doyle

    Great points, great examples, amazing article!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Brandon wow I’m loving this response I’m glad everyone found it useful.

  • http://geek-freemarketing.com/ Aaron

    EPIC! this is a killer crash course….covers the whole content funnel in clear detail. thanks man!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Aaron I appreciate it mate

  • JustinWCooke

    Awesome post, Dan!

    Now…convert me, already! I want in to your content analytics software! :-)

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Haha good to hear mate. Beta testers will be let in tomorrow with a bit of luck.

  • cmooki

    Great post Dan :) Loads of great advice & golden nuggets! Thanks!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks :)

  • http://twitter.com/ashleyuporter Ashley Porter

    Dan. I agree with the others – this is quite an in-depth and informative post. You hit on a number of key factors to content marketing including goals, tracking metrics, and even tips on creating content. Awesome graphics too!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Ashley. I wish I could afford an amazing designer but until I can I do my best to fake it until I make it ha. Fireworks is a brilliant tool. No one talks about it but I do more or less all the design for Informly and I’m a horrible designer, can’t use Photoshop to save myself. Fireworks has always been far superior to Photoshop for people who don’t know how to design IMO. I can’t believe after all these years you still mouse over something in Photoshop and it doesn’t change so you can tell you are over it so you can easily select it and resize etc. You still can’t easily tell how big an object is and align it perfectly with other objects by looking at its position etc. That thing is not built for humans.

  • http://www.ansleyRDgroup.com/ Jason Ansley – ansleyRDgroup

    Incredible post! i am going to have to schedule time to re-read and dissect this information to ensure that I absorb it all.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Jason I appreciate that mate

  • http://www.facebook.com/jodamo5 Josh Moore

    Brilliant post Dan! You’re teaching the theory with depth and brilliant graphics and then demonstrating the practise of it for your own product, all in one go. So good to watch an expert in action :)

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Josh I’m not sure I’d go that far but I appreciate the ‘expert’ title ha

  • http://percussion.com/ PercussionSoftware

    Great Post! Very thorough, well thought out, and to the point. Thank you!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks, I’m happy you found it useful. Thanks for commenting too

  • http://twitter.com/teamphotobooth TEAM PHOTOBOOTH

    TOTALLY UNBELIEVABLE POST!!! A must share, save, and re-read again and again. Thanks Mr. Norris!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thank you!

  • Zank

    Super-informative, Dan. Maybe your best yet…possibly even toppling your Start-up buzz-words video :)

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Ha thanks, hopefully it’s a bit more valuable.

  • Tim Andrews

    Wow, really good post. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed because I have taken on the responsibilty of establishing content marketing for the company. I did not know how or where to start. This will help. Thanks.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Sounds like a great challenge Tim I’m glad my post helped. You might find my free email course ‘Content Domination’ helpful too http://inform.ly/content-domination/

  • Justine Kallaher

    I don’t comment much but I learned a bit here and glad I opened the email. strangely, about a month ago or so, someone else did a study and said the cluttered look on a website did convert as well. Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/Bizolly Bizolly!

    Excellent! Love your content Dan. It’s always informative, accurate and thoughtful in the spirit of truly helping others grow. Thank you!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thank you :)

  • Linda Daly

    Great post Dan!

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Linda

  • http://www.facebook.com/socraticinvestments Sarah Jocson

    Wow this is a well written blog just what all business starters need to know. We can see how really passionate you are Dan for writing this one and sharing this to everyone. Kudos to you! Remarks from http://www.socraticsbc.com

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/KittyKilian Kitty Kilian

    Whoa. You are certainly doing your homework.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Hey Kitty yeah thanks I did some research on this one.

  • Kaushiki Chatterjee

    Very specified,descriptive and polished demonstration of composing contents…The statistics in the content show that only contents are less used to generate revenues than to promote brand awareness and customer engagement..what factors can mold the content in such a way that it generates maximum revenue and leads along with performing the work of brand promotion.

    kaushiki@iQeCommerce
    http://www.iqecommerce.com/

  • http://www.digitalexits.com/ Jock Purtle

    This is a ripper post Dan, great write up mate.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Jock!