Category: Digital Marketing

Creative People Aren’t Wicked Problems To Solve

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We’re headed down the wrong road with generative AI.

Over the last few months, I’ve been struck by the messages from major gen AI solution providers. Unfortunately, those messages feed the frenzy for implementing generative AI in creative and marketing operations.

Take, for example, this recent quote from OpenAI CTO Mira Murati in response to a question about AI replacing humans: “Some creative jobs maybe will go away, but maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Really?

But she’s not the only one making statements along these lines. Open AI CEO Sam Altman has claimed that AI would handle “95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists, and creative professionals for today.”

And, of course, there’s this famous quote from economist Richard Baldwin at the 2023 World Economic Forum Growth Summit: “AI won’t take your job. It’s somebody using AI that will take your job.”

Now, it’s not that these statements are entirely true or false. If you peel any of these statements apart, you’ll hear some people say, “Well, what they meant by that was….”

And that’s the problem. It’s not the accuracy of the statement — it’s the interpretation.

Tech companies make technology the hero of the story. They’re telling people to feel lucky to be worthy of such amazing tools. And they’re frothing up the argument that human creativity is a problem to be solved. 

That’s ironic when you consider how every one of these technologies used the products of human creativity to evolve.  

That way lies sophisticated mediocrity

During this gen AI gold rush, business leaders are rushing to tell investors, analysts, customers, and audiences how many roles they can replace with the technology in the name of efficiency.

But will some early adopters regret these decisions? Two researchers think so. They published an article in Harvard Business Review last year arguing that although the initial numbers might “look good, especially in cutting costs, “the company will miss the opportunity for big gains by creating substantial value — or a defensible future niche.”   

I see this happening in some companies that have replaced content creators with generative AI. Yes, they are producing more content than ever — they’ve succeeded in creating efficiency in producing content at scale.

And the content they create? It’s average. It’s neither bad enough nor good enough to be remarkable. It’s just average.

And it’s leading us into an age of sophisticated mediocrity.

Wicked problems in content and marketing

I wrote about the “wicked problems” in businesses’ content and marketing strategies a couple of years ago.

wicked problem is hard to solve because of “incomplete, contradictory, or changing requirements that can be difficult to recognize.” Information researcher Jeff Conklin described wicked problems as those “not understood until after the formulation of a solution.”

Think of the way you organize your kitchen. It might work well enough for you, so you can’t see how much better it could be until someone suggests changes that make it work much better. Only then do you realize that you did have a problem worth solving. 

Wicked problems are rampant in marketing. Your content or marketing approach might be working okay. You know it isn’t quite humming on all cylinders, but there’s nothing so dysfunctional that fixing it becomes a priority. 

But then you try to fix something minor and realize many other operational areas need improvement, too. Are the problems significant enough to warrant the disruption? Unfortunately, you won’t know until you try.    

For example, about three months ago, I worked with a fast-growing technology company to roll out a new governance model, workflow, and content lifecycle plan. The people who’d been with the company less than a year rejoiced. They loved it.

But senior leaders and some veteran marketing and content practitioners didn’t. They agreed that the new plan sounded good. But they didn’t consider the problem it would solve as important enough to spend time on.

That’s wicked.

I often hear CEOs and CFOs ask, “What’s the benefit of fixing this problem?” The answer is, “We don’t know yet.”

Why gen AI isn’t a wicked problem (probably)

Unfortunately, those hyperbolic statements about gen AI replacing people or teams have created what appears to be a wicked problem in creative and marketing.

Business leaders hear about gen AI developments and think, “This is such a cool innovation. We must have a problem it can solve — we just don’t know what it is.” 

Then, because of the hyperbolic promises about gen AI replacing agencies and creatives, the sentiment shifts to, “Some of our creative jobs probably are redundant and outdated. Maybe that’s the problem generative AI can solve for us.”

I’m not saying there aren’t some organizations that employ more people than needed or that could improve efficiency or productivity. And those are wicked problems.

But implementing gen AI as a (theoretically) cost-effective replacement for humans who interact with customers or create content usually isn’t a way to solve a wicked problem.

It’s solutionism.

Resisting the solutionism message

Solutionism, a term popularized by tech critic Evgeny Morozov, describes the belief that every problem can be solved with a technological solution.

And solutionism is at the heart of all these statements made by generative AI solution providers.

When Mira Murati says that some creative roles “shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” she’s feeding into the notion that the need for creative roles is a problem that can be solved with technology. 

When Sam Altman says “95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists, and creative professionals for today” will be handled by AI, he’s suggesting that inefficiency in the art of creative marketing needs to be corrected. 

And the bumper sticker warning “AI won’t take your job, but someone using AI will” suggests that generative AI is the hero we should demonstrate our worthiness to.

Buying into these statements pushes us into the era of sophisticated mediocrity. It means we accept the trade of diversity of human thought for a sophisticated solution to a nonexistent problem.

No CEO wakes up and says, “We have too many people with too many creative ideas. Let’s save some money and get rid of them.” But when CEOs tell their teams to figure out how many (or which) resources they could jettison by implementing gen AI, they’re forcing that calculus.   

There are things we can do to avoid this trap. The biggest is to take one all-important first step: Understand and document the opportunity to which you plan to apply AI. That may sound like a no-brainer, but I see more and more companies fail to do it with generative AI.

Just last week, it was reported that 20,000 energy giant Chevron employees are testing Microsoft’s Copilot, a suite of AI-powered chatbots and other tools in Microsoft’s Office 365 apps that can answer questions and generate email drafts.  The problem?  According to Bill Braun, the company’s CIO: “We’re a little dissatisfied with our ability to know how [well] it’s working”.

My take is they will continue to be. You can’t give 20,000 people a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and expect them to report back accurate value.

With any productive rollout of an enterprise-wide innovation, you have to first understand what value you want to assess. And to do that, you must understand the existing process that merits assessment. It will be impossible for Chevron to truly get an overall value until it understands what it’s trying to solve.    

I’m not arguing against using generative AI. I’m warning against using specific arguments to advance the technology. There are plenty of wicked problems to uncover in content and marketing. And many activities we do every day might be improved with technology like generative AI.

The key is understanding the difference between solving a real problem and forcing technology solutions to problems that don’t exist.

And that’s how you avoid sophisticated mediocrity.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Combine GA4 and ChatGPT To Deliver More Insightful Analytics

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  • Optimal day: Friday
  • Optimal topics: Content marketing, SEO
  • Start date: Upcoming Friday
  • Frequency: Every other Friday
  • Of course, you don’t need to follow ChatGPT’s suggestions exactly. However, I’m fascinated that it can generate these suggestions based on the data Andy provided.

    Complementing and augmenting analytics and AI

    I was competent in Google’s Universal Analytics, but I’m a complete newbie in how to marry GA4 reports with generative AI tools. Andy provides a nice pathway for non-experts:

    • Create your go-to reports in GA4.
    • Export the data into CSV files.
    • Feed the files into a generative AI tool like ChatGPT.
    • Prompt the tool to analyze the data and provide recommendations.

    With that process, you can learn how to optimize existing content to improve rankings, convert more visitors, and create content calendars that detail the most effective headlines, topics, frequency, and distribution days.

    I now turn things over to you and ask: What will you ask generative AI to do for your marketing initiatives?

    Let me know on social media using the tag #CMWorld.

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

    HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

  • Report: Acquisition > Traffic acquisition: Search default channel group
  • Dimension: Session campaign
  • Secondary dimension: Date
  • Filter: Source medium contains “newsletter”
  • Andy gives the report to ChatGPT and makes this prompt:

    “Draw two charts. One showing correlations by month. One showing correlations by day-of-week. Normalize the data.”

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop-through October, and a rise in November and December to the early-year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner, and Saturday is the clear loser.

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop through October, and a rise in November and December to early year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner and Saturday the clear loser.

    The next prompt calls for sophisticated analysis:

    “Create and display a one-year calendar for this newsletter. Schedule it bi-weekly, selecting dates for optimal performance. Write draft headlines for each, selecting topics for optimal performance.”

    Among ChatGPT’s suggestions:

    • Optimal day: Friday
    • Optimal topics: Content marketing, SEO
    • Start date: Upcoming Friday
    • Frequency: Every other Friday

    Of course, you don’t need to follow ChatGPT’s suggestions exactly. However, I’m fascinated that it can generate these suggestions based on the data Andy provided.

    Complementing and augmenting analytics and AI

    I was competent in Google’s Universal Analytics, but I’m a complete newbie in how to marry GA4 reports with generative AI tools. Andy provides a nice pathway for non-experts:

    • Create your go-to reports in GA4.
    • Export the data into CSV files.
    • Feed the files into a generative AI tool like ChatGPT.
    • Prompt the tool to analyze the data and provide recommendations.

    With that process, you can learn how to optimize existing content to improve rankings, convert more visitors, and create content calendars that detail the most effective headlines, topics, frequency, and distribution days.

    I now turn things over to you and ask: What will you ask generative AI to do for your marketing initiatives?

    Let me know on social media using the tag #CMWorld.

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

    HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

  • “Based on this data, what type of campaigns should be sent more often?”
  • “What types of campaigns should be abandoned?”
  • “Suggest changes that would improve the efficiency of this email program.”
  • “Based on this data, what five possible subject lines would have the highest website conversion rates?”
  • Campaign timing analysis (dates, days, and seasonality)

    In his 20-plus years doing web analytics, Andy has never generated a report using the newsletter’s date as a secondary dimension. However, generative AI makes it possible to find patterns in timing-related data.

    To start, Andy generates a GA4 report showing traffic acquisition from his newsletter, sorted by date:

    • Report: Acquisition > Traffic acquisition: Search default channel group
    • Dimension: Session campaign
    • Secondary dimension: Date
    • Filter: Source medium contains “newsletter”

    Andy gives the report to ChatGPT and makes this prompt:

    “Draw two charts. One showing correlations by month. One showing correlations by day-of-week. Normalize the data.”

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop-through October, and a rise in November and December to the early-year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner, and Saturday is the clear loser.

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop through October, and a rise in November and December to early year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner and Saturday the clear loser.

    The next prompt calls for sophisticated analysis:

    “Create and display a one-year calendar for this newsletter. Schedule it bi-weekly, selecting dates for optimal performance. Write draft headlines for each, selecting topics for optimal performance.”

    Among ChatGPT’s suggestions:

    • Optimal day: Friday
    • Optimal topics: Content marketing, SEO
    • Start date: Upcoming Friday
    • Frequency: Every other Friday

    Of course, you don’t need to follow ChatGPT’s suggestions exactly. However, I’m fascinated that it can generate these suggestions based on the data Andy provided.

    Complementing and augmenting analytics and AI

    I was competent in Google’s Universal Analytics, but I’m a complete newbie in how to marry GA4 reports with generative AI tools. Andy provides a nice pathway for non-experts:

    • Create your go-to reports in GA4.
    • Export the data into CSV files.
    • Feed the files into a generative AI tool like ChatGPT.
    • Prompt the tool to analyze the data and provide recommendations.

    With that process, you can learn how to optimize existing content to improve rankings, convert more visitors, and create content calendars that detail the most effective headlines, topics, frequency, and distribution days.

    I now turn things over to you and ask: What will you ask generative AI to do for your marketing initiatives?

    Let me know on social media using the tag #CMWorld.

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

    HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

  • Focus on high-engagement topics (e.g., analytics, content marketing, email marketing).
  • Reevaluate SEO campaigns.
  • Enhance personalization.
  • Optimize send times.
  • Each high-level suggestion includes supporting details and leads to additional prompts from Andy, including:

    Campaign timing analysis (dates, days, and seasonality)

    In his 20-plus years doing web analytics, Andy has never generated a report using the newsletter’s date as a secondary dimension. However, generative AI makes it possible to find patterns in timing-related data.

    To start, Andy generates a GA4 report showing traffic acquisition from his newsletter, sorted by date:

    Andy gives the report to ChatGPT and makes this prompt:

    “Draw two charts. One showing correlations by month. One showing correlations by day-of-week. Normalize the data.”

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop-through October, and a rise in November and December to the early-year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner, and Saturday is the clear loser.

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop through October, and a rise in November and December to early year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner and Saturday the clear loser.

    The next prompt calls for sophisticated analysis:

    “Create and display a one-year calendar for this newsletter. Schedule it bi-weekly, selecting dates for optimal performance. Write draft headlines for each, selecting topics for optimal performance.”

    Among ChatGPT’s suggestions:

    Of course, you don’t need to follow ChatGPT’s suggestions exactly. However, I’m fascinated that it can generate these suggestions based on the data Andy provided.

    Complementing and augmenting analytics and AI

    I was competent in Google’s Universal Analytics, but I’m a complete newbie in how to marry GA4 reports with generative AI tools. Andy provides a nice pathway for non-experts:

    With that process, you can learn how to optimize existing content to improve rankings, convert more visitors, and create content calendars that detail the most effective headlines, topics, frequency, and distribution days.

    I now turn things over to you and ask: What will you ask generative AI to do for your marketing initiatives?

    Let me know on social media using the tag #CMWorld.

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

    HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

  • Engagement with analytics: Campaigns related to “Analytics” have the highest engagement rate (49.79%) and the longest average engagement time (81.51 seconds). This suggests subscribers are deeply interested in analytics topics and spend more time engaging with such content.
  • Content marketing effectiveness: While “Content Marketing” has one of the higher open rates (20%), the engagement time is relatively short (35.48 seconds). This might indicate that while the topic attracts initial interest, the content might not be keeping users engaged for long.
  • SEO’s lower engagement: Campaigns related to “SEO” have one of the lowest engagement rates and shortest engagement times. It might be worth revisiting the content or presentation style for these campaigns to boost engagement.
  • Email marketing’s extended engagement: Despite having an average open rate, “Email Marketing” topics keep users engaged for a longer duration (63.94 seconds), indicating the content’s depth or relevance to the audience.
  • Andy asks ChatGPT to suggest adjustments to his email marketing program based on the data provided. High-level suggestions include:

    Each high-level suggestion includes supporting details and leads to additional prompts from Andy, including:

    Campaign timing analysis (dates, days, and seasonality)

    In his 20-plus years doing web analytics, Andy has never generated a report using the newsletter’s date as a secondary dimension. However, generative AI makes it possible to find patterns in timing-related data.

    To start, Andy generates a GA4 report showing traffic acquisition from his newsletter, sorted by date:

    Andy gives the report to ChatGPT and makes this prompt:

    “Draw two charts. One showing correlations by month. One showing correlations by day-of-week. Normalize the data.”

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop-through October, and a rise in November and December to the early-year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner, and Saturday is the clear loser.

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop through October, and a rise in November and December to early year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner and Saturday the clear loser.

    The next prompt calls for sophisticated analysis:

    “Create and display a one-year calendar for this newsletter. Schedule it bi-weekly, selecting dates for optimal performance. Write draft headlines for each, selecting topics for optimal performance.”

    Among ChatGPT’s suggestions:

    Of course, you don’t need to follow ChatGPT’s suggestions exactly. However, I’m fascinated that it can generate these suggestions based on the data Andy provided.

    Complementing and augmenting analytics and AI

    I was competent in Google’s Universal Analytics, but I’m a complete newbie in how to marry GA4 reports with generative AI tools. Andy provides a nice pathway for non-experts:

    With that process, you can learn how to optimize existing content to improve rankings, convert more visitors, and create content calendars that detail the most effective headlines, topics, frequency, and distribution days.

    I now turn things over to you and ask: What will you ask generative AI to do for your marketing initiatives?

    Let me know on social media using the tag #CMWorld.

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

    HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    You’ve used the GA4 version of Google Analytics for at least a year, if not two to three. You’ve also probably tested the potential of ChatGPT and similar generative AI tools.

    But have you combined the power of both?

    That’s where Andy Crestodina comes in. The co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media Studios discussed the opportunities in his Marketing Analytics & Data Science (MADS) conference presentation, How to Audit Your Content Using GA4: A Data-Driven Approach to SEO and Lead Generation.

    In this article, he walks you through step by step how to create GA4 reports and prompt ChatGPT to identify rising and falling search traffic, improve content rankings, and deliver more effective newsletters.

    Which content has rising and falling search traffic?

    To see traffic from organic search:

    To build the filter:

    To build the filter:
Go to the Include dropdown in the right column.
Select Session medium.
Under Dimension values, select organic.

    At the top of the page, click on “Add comparison.” Select the period, such as the last seven days or the last 28 days. Scroll down to turn on the Compare toggle.

    At the top of the page, click on “Add comparison." Select the period, such as the last seven days or the last 28 days. Scroll down to turn on the Compare toggle.

    Andy says GA4’s date comparison feature is better than the old Universal Analytics because its comparison matches the days of the week between the two periods.

    The resulting report identifies rising and falling search traffic as illustrated in this report:

    In the report above, the URL — /blog/how-to-write-testimonials-examples — saw a 43.43% drop in views when comparing Jan. 7 through Feb. 3, 2023, to Dec. 10, 2022, through Jan. 6, 2023. But the URL — /blog/website-navigation — saw a 42.86% rise in search traffic during that same period.

    In the report above, the URL — /blog/how-to-write-testimonials-examples — saw a 43.43% drop in views when comparing Jan. 7 through Feb. 3, 2023, to Dec. 10, 2022, through Jan. 6, 2023. But the URL — /blog/website-navigation — saw a 42.86% rise in search traffic during that same period.

    Once you’ve identified content with falling search traffic, consider improving it with these ideas:

    What phrases does this article rank for?

    Knowing the phrases an article ranks for helps you understand why people find the page. It also helps determine how to optimize for additional phrases and drive more organic search traffic to it.

    To do this, Andy enlists the help of ChatGPT. However, the first step is to generate a report from Google Search Console:

    Click “Export” in the upper right to generate a CSV file containing the data.

    Click "Export" in the upper right to generate a CSV file containing the data.

    Feed the CSV file into ChatGPT. Andy uses ChatGPT Plus ($20 a month) because it supports data analysis and file uploads. He starts with this prompt:

    “I’m giving you Google Search Console data showing the search performance of a URL. Can you analyze?”

    ChatGPT replies with the five columns of data and suggested areas it could analyze (e.g., queries generating the most clicks).

    Since any ranking page also ranks for a bunch of other things, he consolidates the list with this prompt:

    “You are an expert SEO who is highly proficient at keyword analysis. Merge the rows with similar queries into single rows with a single, representative marketing keyphrase. As you do so, for each row, combine the data for impressions and clicks and averaging the data for CTR and Avg Position. Provide link to download.”

    Any time you ask AI to manipulate data, ask it to provide a link to download the data so you can confirm that it processed the data properly. In this instance, Andy finds the data from ChatGPT looks good.

    The chart includes 19 rows of queries related to what should be on a website homepage, accompanied by their total clicks, impressions, CTR, and position.

    The chart includes 19 rows of queries related to what should be on a website homepage, accompanied by their total clicks, impressions, CTR, and position.

    With the data on what phrases the page ranks for, Andy pastes the content into ChatGPT and makes this prompt:

    “Here’s the page for the data you just analyzed. Evaluate this content’s keyword usage and frequency based on the keywords in the dataset.”

    ChatGPT replies with a set of steps it will perform, including text preprocessing and keyword extraction:

    Andy refines the prompt to have ChatGPT get more sophisticated in its recommendations (bolded emphasis by Andy):

    “Suggest edits to this page that would rank higher by better indicating its relevance for the keyphrases in the dataset. Focus on recommendations for including the phrases that are not used on the page but appear in the dataset. Make suggestions that improve the flow and clarity of the content, as well as keyphrase relevance. Highlight the recommended changes.”

    What content edits can improve rankings?

    I find the results quite amazing. Some of the recommended changes generated by ChatGPT:

    Introduction

    Current: Social media streams are crowded, fast-flowing, and very competitive. As social networks pull back on organic reach, showing up is hard, and getting attention is even harder.

    Suggested edit: Navigating the crowded and competitive social media video landscape can be daunting. With platforms like Facebook and Instagram curtailing organic reach, the challenge of making your DIY social media videos visible is greater than ever.

    Second section: Winning the algorithm

    Current: Social media videos are so engaging that the networks are pushing them way to the top of social streams. Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn all want us to do more in this all-powerful format. It wins in the algorithms and it wins for attention.

    Suggested edit: The power of creating engaging social media videos is so compelling that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are giving them preferential treatment. This is why learning how to create captivating social media video content is crucial—it wins both in algorithms and in capturing audience attention.

    Third section: Tools and equipment

    Current: Your laptop has a camera and mic, but you can do better than that. A little more effort will get you a high-quality video and much better results.

    Suggested edit: While your laptop’s built-in camera and mic may suffice for starters, investing in specialized video equipment for social media marketing can significantly boost the quality and engagement of your DIY social media videos.

    Which articles convert email subscribers the best?

    Over the past 18 years, Andy has written over 575 articles on topics ranging from influencer marketing to web analytics to email marketing. Some articles perform amazingly, while others receive no traffic. Similarly, some articles get people to subscribe to Orbit’s email list, while others generate zero subscribers.

    “When you know that difference, you know exactly what to do on social media. You know what to promote and what’s working well,” Andy says.

    In the past, he used Excel spreadsheets to analyze the ­­ for every article on his site. These days, he uses ChatGPT.

    First, he collects the data from GA4. Under the Engagement section, he selects “Page and screens: Page path + query string” report. To customize it, he clicks on the pencil icon in the upper right and adds these metrics:

    • Sessions
    • Users
    • Conversions
    Under the Engagement section, select "Page and screens: Page path + query string" report. To customize it, click on the pencil icon in the upper right and adds these metrics: 
Sessions, Users, and Conversions.

    TIP: If you don’t see your metric right away, type its name and select it when it appears.

    Since Andy only wanted blogs in his data set, he clicks “Add filter” in the upper left and builds the filter with these attributes:

    • Dimension: Page path and screen class
    • Match type: contains
    • Value: blog
    Click “Add filter” in the upper left and builds the filter with these attributes: Dimension: Page path and screen class, Match type: contains. and Value: blog.

    From here, click the export icon in the upper right (i.e., it’s two icons to the left of the pencil icon) and select “Download CSV.”

    Next, Andy creates a second CSV file by changing “Value: blog” to “Value: /blog-newsletter-thank-you-page” to collect his email signup thank you page data:

    He clicks the “+” button left of the report columns to select a secondary dimension of “Page Referrer.” The resulting report shows the pages users read right before they subscribed to Orbit’s email list. He exports this data as a CSV.

    Andy cleans up this file by deleting the nine rows of metadata at the top, so ChatGPT won’t get confused in its analysis.

    The two files are fed into ChatGPT to confirm it could analyze them. Next, Andy asks ChatGPT to do the equivalent of an Excel VLOOKUP so users can find things in a table or a range by row. He uses this prompt:

    “Map the data from the two files together into one file, as you would do with vlookup, so each row is a URL and the sessions and conversions are shown for each.”

    He asks ChatGPT to provide a file to download. ChatGPT generates 17 rows of URLs accompanied by sessions (traffic), users (traffic), conversions, sessions, users (converted), and conversions (newsletter):

    ChatGPT generates 17 rows of URLs accompanied by sessions (traffic), users (traffic), conversions, sessions, users (converted), and conversions (newsletter).

    Then, Andy prompts ChatGPT to draw a bar chart showing the conversion rate for each blog post.

    ChatGPT responds with how it calculates the conversion rate for each blog post and visualizes a bar chart showing the top 20 blog posts by conversion rate.

    ChatGPT responds with how it calculates the conversion rate for each blog post and visualizes a bar chart showing the top 20 blog posts by conversion rate.

    NOTE: Conversion rate data is only available because ChatGPT divided the conversion data (numerator) by session traffic (denominator).

    Next steps

    To amplify the articles that drive the most email conversions, Andy suggests:

    • Promoting the article(s) in your email signature.
    • Featuring them on your homepage.
    • Putting them into a social media marketing rotation.
    • Linking to them in presentations.
    • Linking to them from high-traffic pages.

    Which email campaigns perform the best?

    You can also use the GA4-ChatGPT combination to understand which email campaigns perform the best. Here’s how Andy does it:

    To collect the GA4 data, Andy uses the traffic acquisition report, which can be found under Acquisition in the left navigation bar. He clicks on the pencil in the upper right to customize it and selects the following metrics before clicking the “apply” button:

    Next, he clicks “Add filter,” selects the “Session medium” dimension, then the value of “email.”

    Click "Add filter," selects the "Session medium" dimension, then the value of “email.”

    Andy changes the primary dimension to “Session campaign.” The resulting report has one row for each email campaign (i.e., traffic statistics based on the utm_campaign parameter). Andy exports this data as a CSV file.

    Next, Andy exports a data file from ActiveCampaign, which includes:

    Andy uploads each file separately to ChatGPT and confirms it can process each file. He then prompts ChatGPT to merge the datasets:

    “These two datasets show the performance of the same campaigns from both the email service provider (active campaign) and the website behavior (google analytics). I want to see the performance of each campaign across both datasets. Merge the Google Analytics data with the ActiveCampaign data, combining ‘session campaign’ with ‘campaign name’ into one column, inferring which campaigns were the same based on names and dates. Provide link to download.”

    Once ChatGPT merges the datasets, Andy confirms the data looks good and puts ChatGPT to work.

    The basic prompt is:

    “You are a skilled digital strategist and email marketing expert. What insights can you gather from the combined dataset?”

    Moonshot prompts include:

    Next, Andy asks ChatGPT to categorize the newsletter campaigns and provide insights on metrics for each category. It returns these strategic insights:

    Andy asks ChatGPT to suggest adjustments to his email marketing program based on the data provided. High-level suggestions include:

    Each high-level suggestion includes supporting details and leads to additional prompts from Andy, including:

    Campaign timing analysis (dates, days, and seasonality)

    In his 20-plus years doing web analytics, Andy has never generated a report using the newsletter’s date as a secondary dimension. However, generative AI makes it possible to find patterns in timing-related data.

    To start, Andy generates a GA4 report showing traffic acquisition from his newsletter, sorted by date:

    • Report: Acquisition > Traffic acquisition: Search default channel group
    • Dimension: Session campaign
    • Secondary dimension: Date
    • Filter: Source medium contains “newsletter”

    Andy gives the report to ChatGPT and makes this prompt:

    “Draw two charts. One showing correlations by month. One showing correlations by day-of-week. Normalize the data.”

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop-through October, and a rise in November and December to the early-year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner, and Saturday is the clear loser.

    The month correlations chart shows strong performance in the early months of the year, a drop through October, and a rise in November and December to early year level. In the day-of-week chart, Thursday is the clear winner and Saturday the clear loser.

    The next prompt calls for sophisticated analysis:

    “Create and display a one-year calendar for this newsletter. Schedule it bi-weekly, selecting dates for optimal performance. Write draft headlines for each, selecting topics for optimal performance.”

    Among ChatGPT’s suggestions:

    • Optimal day: Friday
    • Optimal topics: Content marketing, SEO
    • Start date: Upcoming Friday
    • Frequency: Every other Friday

    Of course, you don’t need to follow ChatGPT’s suggestions exactly. However, I’m fascinated that it can generate these suggestions based on the data Andy provided.

    Complementing and augmenting analytics and AI

    I was competent in Google’s Universal Analytics, but I’m a complete newbie in how to marry GA4 reports with generative AI tools. Andy provides a nice pathway for non-experts:

    • Create your go-to reports in GA4.
    • Export the data into CSV files.
    • Feed the files into a generative AI tool like ChatGPT.
    • Prompt the tool to analyze the data and provide recommendations.

    With that process, you can learn how to optimize existing content to improve rankings, convert more visitors, and create content calendars that detail the most effective headlines, topics, frequency, and distribution days.

    I now turn things over to you and ask: What will you ask generative AI to do for your marketing initiatives?

    Let me know on social media using the tag #CMWorld.

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    Digital Marketing

    The Best New Metric for Marketers Since SEO Came Along

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    Do you have a share of model?

    We don’t mean like a super model or stock share.

    We’re talking about your brand’s share of answers in the large learning models of search and AI. Imagine a prospect prompting ChatGPT, Anthropic, or even Google for the best brand to provide your product or service. Maybe, they ask if your organization is a reputable brand for those products.

    Well, you should understand your brand’s share of model. But before you go to enter the prompt, watch this video or read on for CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose’s take:

    Share of model presents influence on AI

    Recently, industry media have published articles about “share of model,” a new metric you should pay attention to.

    MarketingWeek defines a share of model as the number of mentions of a brand by one or multiple large language models (e.g., ChatGPT, Meta’s Llama, Microsoft’s CoPilot, Google’s Gemini, Anthropic’s Claude) as a proportion of the total mentions of brands in the same category.

    (Much like search engine optimization services cropped up, I must ask if new model operations services will emerge. But more on that in a minute.)

    As Adweek explains, this new measurement might look like a brand recall or share-of-voice metrics, looking at how each model perceives your brand. It might assess it through sentiment or how it prioritizes your brand as the answer to a prompt question.

    I’m at a bit of a loss as to how one could calculate it, but esoteric marketing metrics already exist.

    Some suggest the metric evaluates your brand’s footprint, requiring a more bespoke study of your brand and, let’s say, five competitors on perception, total mentions, and performance against brand-centric queries. Now, that’s a project I can get my head around.

    And that’s the key for me.

    New metric isn’t really about measurement

    The share of model is likely to become a thing, but its biggest evolution won’t be in how it’s measured but the optimization strategies that come from the analysis.

    Cue the new service. SEO agencies will start thinking about domains and whatnot. (If you’re looking for ModelOptimization.AI, I took it this morning.)

    If LLMs become the new search index, which ones will have your brand and which ones won’t? If that sounds like a lot of work to compile, you’re not wrong. It’s a ton of work. I expect new technology companies will offer cross-LLM analysis to develop quantitative research.

    What do you think?

    Let us know by email or comment on CMI’s social channels.

    Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    Experts Reveal the Worst (and Best) Advice on Using Generative AI in Content Marketing

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    Generative AI prompts a lot of reactions from content marketers. Everybody seems to have an opinion — or more than one — on the effect of this widely accessible and always evolving technology.

    But what’s the worst advice out there about generative AI?

    We asked the speakers at Content Marketing World 2024 what they’ve heard and what they advise instead. Over 20 shared the bad and the good — and not all of them agree on which is which. Read on for their takes on the worst generative AI advice:

    Take an all-or-nothing approach

    Evidently, some people think generative AI involves absolutes. But that’s poor decision-making (or maybe a lack of decision-making), according to our experts.

    Ignore generative AI

    Some people recommend we avoid using generative AI, which not only sows fear but puts marketers at a disadvantage in a workforce and market landscape increasingly relying on generative AI. I still don’t recommend using generative AI to create content you publish wholesale as is. However, I do think it can be a useful assistant in the content creation process by helping you to generate ideas, analyze data, summarize large pieces of content, extract key points from larger content pieces, identify gaps in your content, and more. — Melanie Deziel, co-founder, CreatorKitchen.com

    Don’t use it

    The worst advice I’ve heard about gen AI is not to use it at all. That would be like saying I won’t use a spreadsheet. Gen AI is just a tool. Don’t overcomplicate it. Treat it like a member of your staff. Ask Gen AI to help with strategy and ideation and to suggest questions you should be asking, but you’re not. — Bernie Borges, vice president, global content marketing, iQor

    Use it ASAP

    The worst advice I’ve heard about generative AI in content marketing is to just get started. Yes, it’s undeniably the time to start playing around with generative AI tools and learning their capabilities before you fall behind. However, many content marketing teams — often under the direction of executives who misunderstand the actual capabilities of generative AI — have rushed into using AI to create entire articles and e-books from scratch.

    There are many great first content use cases for generative AI — ones that will help you achieve your content marketing goals — and new long-form content creation isn’t one.

    Before generative AI can create on-brand and useful content, even if it’s simply repurposing existing content, you’ll need to have a few foundational elements in place.

    At a minimum, define your brand voice, create a content style guide, document your content governance policies… oh yeah, and build your content strategy, too! I know this can sound like a lot to take on, but these are integral for helping all content creators—human or otherwise—convey your unique brand voice through content. Otherwise, you’ll produce bland content that won’t appeal to anyone. And our communities don’t need any more of that. — Erika Heald, founder and chief content officer, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting

    Go for it or do nothing

    Quite a few folks take an all-or-nothing approach to generative AI in content marketing — the idea being that you can either fully embrace it or avoid it entirely. Generative AI can be a helpful tool as long as it’s used in moderation and never used to substitute for your voice or your company’s. — Beth Elderkin, content marketing manager, Informa Connect

    Act like generative AI is the be-all-end-all today

    Generative AI offers potential solutions, but some of the worst advice comes from people who view it as THE answer for today and tomorrow.

    View generative AI as the future

    Generative AI is the future of AI. In the martech world, it’s likely to take a back seat to insights AI and decisioning AI (acting) as more of an order taker than a decision-maker (BTW, this is a good thing.)              — Tony Byrne, founder, Real Story Group

    Treat it as mature technology

    Remember the phrase, “I thought I knew everything in my 20s, but when I hit my 30s, I realized I knew nothing.” Generative AI is still in its 20s.

    I do a lot of international marketing and I often find that AI can easily make mistakes with the interpretations of culturally rich content. For example, it may utilize the tone of a French Canadian; however, it pulls something that is French from France. All it takes is one error like this to lose the trust of your French-Canadian audience. — Michael Bonfils, global managing director, Digital International Group

    Make AI the go-to team member

    I’ve heard some scary advice, but by far, the worst has been to fully lean in and let it do all of the heavy lifting for you and your team. AI is a team member, not a replacement for an entire team. It shouldn’t be the crutch on which you lean to write your content but, instead, a powerful tool to enhance and support your creative process.

    AI can provide valuable insights, streamline research, and even help with generating ideas, but the human touch is irreplaceable. Content marketing thrives on authenticity, creativity, and emotional connection—qualities that AI, despite its advancements, still cannot fully replicate. Over-reliance on AI can lead to generic, soulless content that fails to engage your audience or convey your brand’s unique voice. — Ashley Baker, founder and chief marketing officer, Coastline Marketing LLC

    It’s coming for your job

    Generative AI is taking your job. The extent of its effects largely depends on the company’s perspective. While some organizations might be inclined to replace human content creators, others continue to appreciate the value their content teams bring and view AI as a supplementary tool for enhancement.

    To better comprehend the implications for your situation, it’s essential to gauge your management’s stance on AI integration. — Pam Didner, vice president of marketing, Relentless Pursuit LLC

    Use it as a content creator

    Marketers talk frequently about how generative AI tools make content creation easier and quicker, and without the need for human writers. But a lot of that isn’t the best advice.

    Create drafts with it

    With a few caveats, the worst advice I’ve heard is to use AI to write your first draft. That might be OK for some kinds of content (e.g., technical documentation) or for more mundane aspects of the workflow (e.g., outline, metadata, initial proofing, optimization). But if you’re aiming to differentiate your content from competitors and build a strong, loyal relationship with your audience, then it’s a bad bet.

    The real value in starting with an ugly first draft isn’t just to end up with a first draft but to do the thinking that’s involved — to pressure-test your premise, percolate on the possibilities, refine your perspective, ponder whether you’re pushing the alliteration just. a little. too far. Training the AI on your style, voice, and tone may make the robot sound more like you, but writing is a muscle that gets flabby when it isn’t flexed. Use it or lose it. — Carmen Hill, principal strategist and writer, Chill Content LLC

    Use it to write

    One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve heard about using AI in content marketing is to use it to write content. That type of content isn’t really helpful to organizations in any way unless they’re simply in a race to produce the most content that sounds like everyone else.

    Producing more content for the sake of producing more content isn’t getting anyone anywhere. Better content should be the goal. — Michelle Garrett, consultant and writer, Garrett Public Relations

    Prompt the posts

    Just have ChatGPT write you a blog post.

    Do not use these tools as direct content generators without considerable human editing and oversight. These tools are trained with existing content, and the output they create is often word-for-word plagiarism from existing documents.

    This technology is fantastic for brainstorming ideas, finding gaps in your content, adjusting the writing style or reading level, but not for copying and pasting. — Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester

    Go for volume

    The worst advice about generative AI in content marketing is that it allows you to create hundreds of pieces of content and eliminate your writers. It reminds me of the saying, “Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should do it.” Using AI to pump out that much content only ensures your content will not succeed.

    While generative AI is getting better at sounding less formulaic, it still cannot match the finesse that comes from using human writers. AI cannot replace the emotion and strategic thinking infused in prose from skilled wordsmiths. — Andi Robinson, content strategist, Hijinx Marketing

    Generate to create

    Worst advice: Let generative AI generate (i.e., content). As more content is created by generative AI, the more our content sounds the same. Instead of having generative AI do the thing, use it for one step removed from the thing, which is to help brainstorm and plan your content. That’s right, think of it as ideation AI. — Dennis Shiao, founder, Attention Retention

    Eliminate the need for human intervention

    I spoke to an engineer who was passionate about tinkering with generative AI to find a way to fully replace humans for writing blog posts. They could not fathom that the best use of AI for blog writers was to make them more creative and efficient. They insisted on working toward a solution that would require little to no rewriting or editing and didn’t understand why we thought this was not only impossible but undesirable. — Monica Norton, vice president, communications and content, Nextiva

    Write away

    By far, the worst advice I’ve heard (and continue to hear) is to use AI to write your copy. Marketing is all about differentiation. If everyone is using the same copy, how do you stand out? Instead, use AI to generate ideas, summarize research content, and suggest topics. — Jenn VandeZande, editor-in-chief, SAP CX + Industries

    Tap into generative AI for better content

    Using generative AI as a helper in achieving your content creation and marketing goals is certainly an option. But it may not be the best assistant to help you deliver results.

    Get-started assistance

    Worst: It’s great for getting over the blank page problem.

    Instead, It’s great for critiquing the writing you worked really hard to get right and will help you make it better. — Jim Sterne, president, Target Marketing of Santa Barbara

    Don’t use ChatGPT for unique content

    Worst AI advice: You can’t use ChatGPT to write unique content.

    ChatGPT is trained on millions of pages of web content. So ChatGPT is intimately familiar with the content that has already been published on the web. Fortunately, you can use ChatGPT to measure the uniqueness of YOUR content ideas before you write or before you publish. Simply ask ChatGPT to measure the novelty of your content on a scale from one to 10 and explain its rating. This trick works for content, briefs, topics, outlines, and more. — Dale Bertrand, president, Fire&Spark

    Write for the algorithm

    Many organizations are worried that they won’t be found unless they write for the algorithm. There are two problems with this: 1. We don’t know the algorithm generative AI is using. 2. Writing for anything besides your audience is a waste of budget. Create content for people with user intent as your guide — not a mysterious algorithm. — Mariah Obiedzinski Tang, assistant vice president of content marketing, Stamats

    Believe AI killed SEO

    Don’t invest in SEO. SEO is dead! AI killed it. Oh, simmer, Chicken Little.

    Gartner predicts search engine volume will drop 25% by 2026 due to AI chatbots and other virtual agents, but SEO isn’t dead, especially when it comes to web content creation and publishing. Search is evolving.

    Remember voice search? It was supposed to replace how people bought things and got information. Now, it’s mostly used for simple task automation and to check tomorrow’s weather. Consider social media, too. Facebook, TikTok, Instagram — these channels didn’t replace a brand’s website for e-commerce transactions. Instead, they became other channels for e-commerce.

    Generative AI will likely be yet another marketing channel in your customer journey. Remember that search optimization means being understood. Generative AI is another channel for your brand and content to be understood. SEO is the mechanism for being understood online. The pursuit of being understood (by people, AI, search engines, etc.) is a worthy investment. — Haley Collins, director of operations, GPO

    See AI as a staffing solution

    A lot of the debate around generative AI centers on the human impact. Yet, the experts at CMWorld say that’s a mistake.

    Reduce your humans

    The worst advice? Cut the staff. Let generative AI write it because it’s faster and cheaper. Yes, it is. But is it good? Right now, the A in AI could easily stand for average.

    And content that stands out is anything but. It needs to be different than what’s already been done. It needs to offer a fresh take, a new way of looking at things, perhaps a perspective that challenges the status quo.

    The best creative ideas make you consider things. Or reconsider them, viewing them from another vantage point. More than that, they make you feel something. And that job’s too important to outsource to average.

    If you must, let AI help you research. Let AI check your spelling. Let AI ensure you’re writing at the desired grade level. But always remember who’s in charge. — Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer, HBT Marketing

    Expand AI’s role

    Worst advice: Reduce content teams and significantly replace them with a barrage of AI-infused tools for graphics, visuals, video, text, downloadables, etc.

    You still need qualified, creative, vision-driven humans to create content that advances the cause. Generative AI is an additional tool in the arsenal; it is not a replacement. That’s where many are getting it wrong and spreading that nonsense like wildfire because they see the cost savings but never do the profit analysis of the value a good content team with tools and budget does in comparison to a lack of one. — Troy Sandidge, founder, Strategy Hackers

    Erase the people

    The worst advice I’ve heard is that AI is going to completely erase content writers and marketing.

    I would advise using AI for the content creation process because it can help you be more efficient and creative as it can speed up tedious tasks that you previously were doing manually such as content outlines, content ideation, content calendars, etc.

    AI will not replace people, but people who use AI will replace those who do not. — Zack Kadish, senior SEO strategy director, Conductor

    Use it as a replacement

    It’s nonsense when people say that our jobs will be taken over by AI. We, as experts in our field, will become better by collaborating with tools like AI. Experts working together with tools equals a win-win situation. — Pauline Lannoo, head of digital strategy, The Fat Lady

    Let it do everything

    Let’s use AI to do all the things!

    No, seriously, we have been testing AI (both paid and free programs) to help us craft SEO articles and follow-up promotional deliverables, such as landing pages, email copy, and ad copy. (TL;DR:  The output is like rewatching Star Wars or Alien from the 1970s just to laugh at the CGI. It’s very obvious what was created by a computer and what is from an actual human.) It takes us rounds of prompts to get the AI to seem even somewhat on message and craft content that is not plagiarized.

    AI can’t solve all our production pain points for content…yet. Today, it’s a great place to do research, brainstorm different wording for titles, start a good first draft for non-writers, and help redo the tone of a piece. — Amy Higgins, director, content strategy, Cloudflare

    Everything in moderation

    Generative AI certainly generated a lot of conversation from CMWorld speakers. And though some of it may seem contradictory, a consistent theme emerges: AI won’t replace humans, but every content marketer should get to know the possibilities and figure out how this prolific tool can help — not hinder — their brands’ content marketing results.

    Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can’t attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    How To Catch Audiences With Extraordinary Hooks

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    My wife had already fed our dog. Undeterred, the dog sat by her bowl with an innocent yet hungry look. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker and gave her a second meal.

    See what I did there?

    I used a hook to grab your attention and encourage you to keep reading. If you’re reading this, it worked.

    Liz Willits defines a hook as the first thing that catches your audience’s eye. It should motivate your audience to read or view the rest of the content. Chief copywriter and owner of Content Phenom, Liz, shares this advice in her Content Marketing World talk, Hook Your Audience: How to Grab Attention in a Crowd of Content.

    Importance of a great hook

    A strong hook is the most important element of copywriting, says expert Joseph Sugarman. “If you can’t capture your audience’s attention right away, you’ve lost them,” he notes.

    Liz says without a great hook, the amazing content assets you create might never be successful. She explains hooks have many variations, including:

    • Website headline or hero image
    • First line (or first few lines) of copy
    • Video thumbnail
    • First few seconds of dialogue in a video
    • Instagram image

    Think about the papers you wrote in school. Your hook operates like a thesis statement. “Every line of text, every image, every video around your hook or your headline should prove your thesis statement, your hook,” Liz says.

    Hooks should captivate, grab attention, and be unique. They should also be true. “Bad and unethical hooks are lies. They’re manipulative; they grossly exaggerate. They don’t deliver on what they promise. It’s all sizzle and no steak, and they feel icky,” Liz says.

    Liz says while bad hooks could produce short-term gains, they have long-term consequences, including:

    • Ethical challenges (it’s just wrong)
    • Legal risks
    • Reputation damage
    • Negative brand association
    • Loss of trust
    • Loss of engagement

    MrBeast uses hooks effectively

    Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, knows the importance of great hooks. He has one of the most-followed channels on YouTube. Ten months ago, MrBeast had 186 million subscribers. By July 2024, it was 289 million.

    Liz says MrBeast’s hooks start with his video titles. She shares some examples:

    • Lamborghini vs. World’s Largest Shredder
    • Every Country On Earth Fights For $250,000!
    • Ages 1 to 100 Fight for $500,000
    • 7 Days Stranded At Sea
    • I Got Hunted by the Military
    • I Built the World’s Largest Lego Tower

    I find the titles outlandish (in a good way). I’m curious to find out which country won the $250,000, how MrBeast found his way from sea to land, and what the largest Lego tower looks like.

    Liz says MrBeast’s thumbnail images serve as great hooks, too:

    “They’re very interesting, they’re very colorful, and they stand out on YouTube. He puts a lot of effort into these because he knows that (the thumbnail) is an important part of his hook or his headline,” says Liz.

    The opening lines of dialogue are also important. When I see a new selection on my favorite streaming service, I usually decide in the first two minutes whether to continue watching. Liz says that MrBeast’s opening lines are intentional and scripted to hook viewers.

    Here are two examples:

    • “Behind me is an assassin, and if he stabs me with this rubber knife by the end of the day, he wins a hundred grand.”
    • “We are now stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean. And there goes our boat. We are now stranded for seven days.”

    You don’t need to copy MrBeast, but Liz says your brand can take ordinary ideas and frame them in extraordinary, unique, and appealing ways. Let’s consider an example.

    Devising a new hook for a SaaS company

    Liz worked with Motion, a software company whose product helps users with time management and scheduling. It builds to-do lists to schedule meetings at optimal times and block times on your calendar for work. “The result is you stay focused and know exactly what you should work on next. Don’t forget about deadlines; spend less time in meetings,” Liz explains.

    Before getting to her content hooks, Liz did customer research, interviews, user testing, and market research. She learned why users loved Motion, how they used it, and what value it provided. This research guided her approach to hooks and helped her develop new and unique copy ideas.

    The original homepage opened with this headline:

    “Not another productivity tool that makes you do more work. We help you work less by cutting distractions by 70%”

    The supporting copy noted that Motion saved users two hours per day.

    Liz’s research found competing products used similar messaging. So, she reframed those ordinary ideas in a unique and appealing way. Here’s what she came up with:

    Headline: There are now 13 months in a year.

    Subhead: Motion increases productivity by 137%. With automation and AI that intelligently plan your day, schedule meetings, and build the perfect to-do list.

    “It’s intriguing, it’s interesting, and obviously, a 13-month year does not exist. And so, we’re creating some cognitive dissonance here that gets people to keep reading and gets people to continue on down the page. And that was our primary hook,” Liz says.

    A great headline creates a sizzle, but the supporting copy is the steak.

    Liz ensured that the remaining copy proved the headline statements true. She also updated the page with user-interface-forward imagery with a fun look. She used vibrant colors to stand out from competitors.

    3 hook ideas you can use

    Liz offers three prompts with examples to create hooks for your content. They tackle approaches for fear, contrarians, and numbers.

    Fears (and resolving those fears)

    Prompt:

    [Audience] are afraid of [specific fear]. But they shouldn’t be, because [why the specific fear isn’t something to worry about].

    Prompt example:

    Content marketers are afraid that ChatGPT is going to take their job. But they shouldn’t be because content marketing is so much more than writing content.

    Use case:

    Liz shows a LinkedIn post she published. It begins:

    ChatGPT won’t replace your content marketing team.

    Here’s why:

    The opening line hooked the readers’ fears about generative AI taking their job.

    Contrarian or counterintuitive ideas

    Prompt:

    Everything I know about life says otherwise, but [almost-unbelievable statement].

    Prompt example:

    Everything I know about life says otherwise, but coffee is dead. Nobody drinks it.

    Think about your industry. What could replace “coffee is dead” with a seemingly unbelievable but true fact about your industry?

    Numbers

    Prompt:

    Use specific numbers.

    Prompt example:

    I have an 84-page Google Doc.

    Use case:

    Liz used the 84-page example in a LinkedIn post. The number prompted readers to wonder why she had such a long document. They continued reading to learn why.

    TIP: Extend the decimals in metrics, such as 99.98274% for uptime or 215.1223% for a product ROI.

    Hook, then reel in the catch

    You reached the end of this article — the hook worked. What caused you to click through and read the article? It could have been:

    Or maybe it was something else.

    To use a fishing analogy, the hook is essential in getting initial engagement (that is, taking the bait). The surrounding content reels the person in.

    What great hooks will you create, as Liz says, to take ordinary ideas and frame them in extraordinary, unique, and appealing ways?

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    Time for a Content Reboot? How to Tell

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    Don’t you sometimes wish you could redo all that content created years ago? 

    I go back to things I wrote half a dozen years ago and think, “Sheesh, that didn’t age well.”

    But that’s learning on the record , right?

    For brands, this problem is relatively new. Before the web and search, a cringy marketing campaign or problematic CEO-penned article could quickly fade away. Most people just evaluated what the brand said at a given moment. Our collective memory was short — and finding older content took much more effort than typing a few characters.

    However, you can create a content strategy that applies not only to what the brand says today and tomorrow but also reshapes what we’ve said in the past.

    “How’s that possible?” you ask. 

    Here’s what I mean.

    Use new capabilities to reframe the past

    In The 4 C’s Formula: Your Building Blocks of Growth, entrepreneur coach Dan Sullivan talks about acquiring new capabilities (one of the titular 4 C’s). He writes that “a new capability creates confidence ahead of it, but it also rearranges everything behind it,” and any jump in capability “automatically transforms both the past and the future.”

    Said more simply: When you acquire some new capability — like the ability to do content marketing well — you feel more confident about developing new content marketing projects. But that new ability also lets you reinterpret your past because it shows how your capabilities developed.

    Your new perspectives let you — and other people — see your past in a better light. The great content you create tomorrow increases the value of the old content you put out yesterday.

    When I read my cringy post from 2013, I can see how forward-thinking some of the ideas were. I can see the links I was trying to make — however poorly they’ve aged in a decade.

    Applying these new perspectives to the past may be easier than projecting them to the future. Research shows that people feel disassociated from who they believe they’ll become.

    They even discount their existing capabilities when considering their future selves. It’s as if we see our future selves as someone else.

    The right content strategy lets you continually reboot (or retcon, as sci-fi geeks might say) your origin story and gives you more confidence about the future stories you’ll tell.

    Reshape content for the future and the past

    One of the most productive things you can do is to review the content your brand leaves in its wake. As you acquire new content capabilities, advance your story, and change your points of view, you’ll naturally evolve what your brand will say.

    Take the opportunity to evolve what it’s already said, too.

    Does it sound like I’m suggesting you need a content audit? Well, you probably do.

    Whenever I suggest an audit to a content or marketing team, exactly zero people volunteer to take it on. “Yay, let’s do another content audit!” said no one ever.

    That’s understandable. A content audit requires a manual review of hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of assets to find ROTted (redundant, outdated, or trivial) content.

    Someone (or some team) must decide which assets to keep, which to change, and which to delete. Concerns over duplication, SEO, and old branding or outdated designs drive the decisions.

    Inspiring? Not particularly.

    However, reviewing past content through the lens of your new capabilities can make this tedious task much more enjoyable.

    That outdated white paper? How might you reimagine it knowing what you know now? You might find a great metaphor you haven’t used in years. And it may be applicable today if you give it a more modern context.

    What about those amazing articles someone created years ago that were never promoted, so they never got traction? Why not reproduce them in your new template and promote them?

    That series of webinars you did with a partner that later became a competitor? Feel free to delete them all.

    In other words, what insight do you have now that changes how you see the content you created?

    Don’t only reshape your future. Change the context of the past.

    One of the often-forgotten tenets of the whole magical thing called the World Wide Web is, “We can change it.” Yes, the Internet never forgets, but it stops caring quickly. So, when you have ideas worth caring about, change them to suit the current context.

    You can change all of it.

    How to decide what to reboot

    I once had the privilege of talking with an extraordinary woman who handles investment strategy for consumer and entertainment media brands. She shared something the head of Marvel Studios told her about how they balance origin stories with the need to reboot popular hero arcs. (How many times have we seen the Spiderman origin story told in slightly different ways?)

    Marvel sees new origin stories as critical to keeping a story “alive” and relevant to new and different audiences. Audiences sometimes interpret these new stories as playing to the cultural zeitgeist (Black Panther and Ms. Marvel come to mind).

    But the Marvel team doesn’t think of them or design them that way, she said.

    Instead, Marvel considers rebooting origin stories as a form of co-creation with fans. They look at (and solicit, when possible) feedback from their most passionate audiences to understand when and how a reboot might be necessary or timely.

    This is a great lesson.

    Before you attempt that content audit, look to your fans to help you understand how to reshape your brand story.

    Think about who will co-create with you. Who are your passionate fans? Who knows your mythology and journey so well that they’d know when, how, and where a reboot would be appropriate and will care if you retcon a particular origin story or thought?

    Does anyone remember and care about what you wrote five years ago? Find the people who know the equivalent of that detail from your brand stories.

    Find those people. Gather with them. Listen to them. You don’t have to act on everything you hear. They’re still your brand’s stories, after all.

    But fans can help you reboot your stories at the right time.

    Old content rarely survived in the past. The physical space needed to store it and the time and effort required to reprint, reshoot, or recreate it meant that most old content was destroyed or became inaccessible.

    Digital content changed all that. Now, it’s possible to keep everything. And it’s sometimes more expensive to address old content at all. That’s why websites are bloated, blogs go back decades, and document repositories remain unorganized.

    But that doesn’t mean they should stay that way.

    As content practitioners, you’re creating the artifacts of your future every day. Treat them with the respect future treasures deserve.

    But don’t forget to seize the opportunity to use them to reshape past stories, too.

    Unironically updated from a July 2022 article.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    Surprising Search Behavior Teaches This Important Lesson

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    You have 173 days left to reach your marketing goals this year.

    Well, let’s be honest. Nobody really works or does anything after Dec. 20. And if we’re really honest, December itself is a wash, and so is the last week of November with the U.S. Thanksgiving celebration.

    So, you really have 133 days to reach your marketing goals.

    How’s it going?     

    If your goals are related to organic search, you’ve faced a challenging year. Search continues to disrupt the work of content and marketing teams. From new algorithms to false starts and imperfect paths to AI-generated overviews, it’s a jumbled mess.

    We turned to CMI’s chief strategy advisor, Robert Rose, to get his help in untangling all the news and to help you head more purposefully into the next 133 days. Watch or read on for his take:

    Analyzing searcher behavior

    SparkToro released its 2024 Zero-Click Search Study this month, and you might be surprised to learn just how much traffic isn’t getting generated by search these days.

    Zero-click search happens when a searcher gets their answer on the results page without having to click a link. For example, if a searcher asks, “What is the address of the White House?” The address — 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — appears on the results page, so the searcher never visits www.WhiteHouse.gov.

    Rand Fishkin and his team at SparkToro examined millions and millions of Google searches all over the world using what they call a multimillion device clickstream panel. They didn’t look at keywords, which wouldn’t have been terribly helpful anyway. Instead, they looked at what Americans and Europeans do after they conduct a search.

    What did they find?

    More than one-third (37%) of people end their search without clicking. Of the remaining people, 21% conduct another search and 41% click on something.

    Of those who click, 70% go to an organic result, and 28.5% end up on another Alphabet (i.e., Google) property, such as YouTube, Maps, Images, or News. And 1% click on a paid ad.

    While nuances exist as they relate to mobile and voice search, those numbers are interesting. For example, almost 30% of clicks go to a Google property where Alphabet can further monetize the searchers’ actions. That doesn’t even count any portion of the 21% who ultimately end up on a Google property when they conduct another search because they didn’t get the right, best, or most satisfying answer the first time.

    However, the real punch line is this: Only 360 of every 1,000 U.S. Google searches go to the open web.

    The research concludes that Google is NOT losing in search despite what many seem to think. Google is doing very well in translating more searches with more avenues to keep users in the Google ecosystem.

    Evolve your Google strategy

    What’s the takeaway?

    People are overreacting with their claims that AI Overviews (the AI-generated summary at the top of results) and the quality of Google search results are failing.

    The research clearly indicates that marketers can no longer think of Google search as a silo. In a more perfect world, you would have matching content on Google’s other properties — YouTube, News, Maps, etc. Every blog post created should be accompanied by a video, a news item, etc.

    But the study’s bigger lesson is that marketers must look at the Google ecosystem to understand where they have the best chance of being an off-ramp for people looking for things. It’s most likely not a link to your website or blog, at least initially.

    You could wax philosophically about the technically complex zero-search results. But the simplest way to address it is to ask: “How do we become the answer that Google uses for that particular query?”

    I can tell you from experience about the benefits of doing that. For a few years, when searchers asked, “What is content marketing,” a page from the Content Marketing Institute popped up. In recent years, Google changed that. CMI remains the No. 1 organic answer in the query, but above it is a “dictionary box” with a third-party definition that I don’t think is quite right.

    You must understand that the search game is rigged. Google optimizes for Google, not your brand.

    Even if you hate the game, you must play it. But how you play it grows increasingly complex. Take solace in the fact that Google seems to reward good, high-quality, and informative content. Make that what you continue creating for the remainder of the 133 days minus six minutes or so left in the year.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    How To Unite Roles and Teams and Scale Your Content Operations

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    Ali Orlando Wert has led multiple content teams at high-growth companies fueled by acquisition. Although these teams are often pieced together from multiple acquired companies, they must operate as one.

    Moving quickly to that point can expose flaws in processes, Ali says. Balls get dropped, and things fall through the cracks. Finger-pointing begins. People make statements like, “That’s not my job.” Teams lose their nimbleness and get overwhelmed by last-minute requests.

    It can feel like the marketing house is on fire.

    To douse that fire requires creating a different kind of spark, and Ali shared her experiences doing just that at Content Marketing World. In her presentation, Making Work Flow: How to Build Critical Content Operations to Scale Your Strategy, she covers swim lanes, silos, and scalability.

    Swim your lane: Define roles and responsibilities

    When roles are unclear, you often hear one of these statements:

    • “Please just do your job.”
    • “Please stop doing my job.”

    Ali says both responses result from a lack of understanding of the team’s roles and responsibilities. The solution involves two steps. First, get organizational buy-in on the roles and responsibilities. Second, document them based on projects and processes.

    RACI model

    Though the process requires only two steps, you must invest time into executing them. Ali’s recommended solution is the RACI (pronounced “racy”) model.

    The RACI model encompasses four elements:

    • Responsible — the person who is directly working on and completing the task
    • Accountable — the person with final authority over the task being completed
    • Consulted — the people who must be consulted during the execution of the task
    • Informed — the people who are not directly involved in the task but need to stay aware of progress

    Ali suggests a few ways to pull together your organization’s RACI model:

    • In-person workshops
    • Virtual whiteboards
    • Collaborative documentation (e.g., Google Docs, Notion)

    Here’s what a RACI model could look like in chart form:

    RACI model in chart form.

    The top row includes column labels for project deliverable, product manager, strategist, and designer.

    The left column lists the project deliverables (design the sitemap, design the wireframes, create the style guide, and code templates). Under each role, an R, A, C, or I (responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed), identifies the person’s responsibility in that initiative.

    Team roles and responsibilities

    While RACI is useful for documenting roles on processes and projects, Ali also recommends defining individuals’ roles and responsibilities at a broad level.

    “If you’re a company or team that has grown really quickly through acquisition, it’s surprising how unclear people might be on their own job and other people’s jobs,” she says.

    Ali recommends gathering teams (including marketing leaders) to discuss roles and responsibilities. These important discussions can:

    • Surface areas of disagreement.
    • Uncover gaps with no owner.
    • Provide visibility into each team’s work.
    • Align priorities across teams.

    Break down silos: Work together toward shared goals

    How do you know if your organization experiences silo problems? See if anything on Ali’s list rings true:

    • Departments are antagonistic toward each other.
    • Too many instances of duplicate work occur.
    • Tasks regularly slip through the cracks.
    • Accessing vital information is often difficult.
    • Teams appear to be working at cross purposes.

    Once you’ve identified silo problems that exist, follow Ali’s advice to break them down.

    Content mission statement

    A content mission statement can provide clarity to all the silos, which is especially important after multiple acquisitions. It should contain these elements:

    • Audience — who you aim to help
    • What you deliver — the kind of information you provide
    • Outcome or benefit — what audience can do because of your content

    “As a team, we work through our content mission statement and align on the audiences we’re trying to serve, what kind of content we’re going to deliver for them, and what we want the outcomes to be,” says Ali.

    In addition to a documented mission statement, Ali recommends collaboratively answering these questions:

    • Who are you targeting?
    • What does success look like?
    • What tactics will get you there?
    • How does this align with marketing objectives?
    • How will you measure success?
    • How will you report on progress?
    • What targets do you think you can achieve?
    • What budget will you need?

    Process workshop

    At Appfire, where Ali currently works, several people across different marketing groups meet for an in-person marketing campaign process workshop. The participants were practitioners who cared about optimizing processes and breaking down silos.

    The workshop included three phases:

    • Pre-work: Gathering challenges from across the affected teams
    • Workflow mapping: Detailing the campaign process using the RACI model for every step
    • Campaign briefs: Creating a document with all the relevant details to execute a campaign

    After the workshop, the team turned the campaign briefs and workflows into templates in the project and document management systems.

    Results and templates

    The team’s efforts to break down silos saw immediate results. “We’ve mapped out all of our workflows. We’ve built out a brand-new deliverable template in our project management system. We made some decisions to change systems,” Ali says.

    “We meet for an hour a week, and we just keep chipping away in small pieces. So, it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment of resources.”

    Scaling: Build sustainable operations

    You have defined roles and responsibilities, published a content mission statement, and addressed the silos, but you’re still not done. You now should tackle the team structure, consider a content council, and address capacity planning to support scaling your operations.

    Team structure

    Establishing the right team structure is key to scaling your content operations, Ali says.

    When structuring content teams of any size, here are a few approaches Ali says she’s found to be effective:

    • Hiring content specialists who work on both strategy and content creation
    • Aligning content specialists to product or solution areas
    • Pairing content specialists with a product marketing partner
    • Leaning into individual team members’ strengths and areas of interest

    In larger teams Ali has also had success with these approaches:

    • Splitting out editorial vs. strategy managers
    • Having a dedicated operations lead to manage projects and resourcing
    • Leaning into freelancers and agencies to supplement in-house resources
    • Creating dedicated team leads for different geographies

    Content council

    At one company, Ali built a content council with the help of CMI’s consulting arm, The Content Advisory. The council brought together cross-functional team members responsible for content in different parts of the organization.

    Council members met to agree on a common philosophy for content, standards, and share their experiences, insights, and best practices.

    Based on her experience managing a content council, Ali suggests the following:

    • Choose participants who are content advocates and influencers.
    • Ensure that leadership buys into the idea, and an executive champion exists.
    • Create a council charter with clear objectives, roles, and responsibilities.

    Capacity planning

    If you struggle with knowing how much work your team can execute, when to hire added resources, and when to say no, you’ll benefit from capacity planning.

    Ali recommends starting by benchmarking how long tasks take. Ask your team to use a free app or browser plugin for a couple of months to record their task and project time. Now, you have real-world data to plan accordingly.

    With this real-world data, you can set expectations on team and individual workloads. Assign tasks to individuals based on their capacity. Then, build the case for additional resources if needed.

    Operationalize your strategy

    I love this statement from Ali: “Operationalizing the strategy is part of the strategy.”

    She related a quote from Simon Sinek: “Passion alone can’t cut it. For passion to survive, it needs structure. A why without how has little probability of success.”

    In other words, content leaders should elevate the importance of translating the strategy into the team’s daily practices. Optimizing content operations increases the value content marketing brings to the business.

    As Ali says, “We all want to be successful. And one way we can make ourselves even more indispensable is by adding content operations to our toolkit.”

    All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    Pack a Bigger Punch Writing Character-Limited Descriptions and Posts

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    Consumers really like short-form content.

    Billions watch TikTok videos, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels every month.

    But it isn’t just consumers who like short content.

    Google, YouTube, social media platforms, and more expect brief content. In meta descriptions, excerpts, episode descriptions, and sometimes posts. Some even set total character limits.

    How do you make the most of those characters? Read on.

    Meta descriptions

    Some best-practices content says meta descriptions should be between 150 and 160 characters. Other sources say they can be up to 300 characters. Google says it doesn’t matter because it just selects the most relevant information from the meta description for the searcher, which usually appears as a truncated version.

    But no matter what’s allowed, you still don’t have a lot of characters to convey the message, so you need to make the most of them.

    To craft a meta description that really delivers, you need to think about what the searcher would want from the content. (Hopefully, you thought about that before the content was created, so it aligns with both business and audience intent.)

    You shouldn’t need an in-depth analysis to understand the content’s purpose. Look at the designated keywords and categories. Organically incorporate the primary keyword (at a minimum) into the description. And detail what the searcher will get out of the content.

    Here’s some of what Google says about perfecting the meta description:

    • Create a short, relevant summary of the page.
    • Treat it like a pitch to convince the user the page is exactly what they’re looking for.
    • Craft unique descriptions for every valuable page.

    TIP: You don’t need to write meta descriptions in sentence format; however, avoid stringing together keywords because they don’t give context for the content.

    Here’s an example of bad and better from Google:

    • Bad: “Eggs are a source of joy in everyone’s life. When I was a small child, I remember picking eggs from the hen house and bringing them to the kitchen. Those were the days.”
    • Better: “Learn how to cook eggs with this complete guide in 1 hour or less. We cover all the methods, including over-easy, sunny side up, boiled, and poached.”

    Example: Though I’m not a big fan of using examples from my work, in this case, I must because I can’t see the native meta descriptions (or excerpts) for content on other sites.

    Let’s dissect the meta description for this CMI article, Interactive Content: How Quizzes, Games, and Polls Make for Engaging Results:

    “Get your audience to stick and click with interactive content. Discover the possibilities, tools, and big results that many marketers are missing out on.”

    The description totals 153 characters. It incorporates the primary keyword “interactive content.” As to its purpose, the category helped inform that. The article belongs to the content-creation category. So, the second sentence, “Discover the possibilities, tools …” delivers on that.

    One more tip — be direct. Yes, I could have written, “Content marketers can get the audience to stick and click with interactive content. You can discover the possibilities ….” But I didn’t want that noun, “content marketers,” and pronoun, “you,” to take precious space. You don’t need to address the audience unless that’s critical for understanding or targeting.

    Excerpts

    Now, I see a lot of people simply paste their meta description into the excerpt field in WordPress or the corresponding category in whatever CMS they use. Excerpts can also be used as promo copy for newsletters, social media, and more.

    In most cases, excerpts should not be the same as the meta description.

    As WordPress explains, excerpts are summaries of longer articles that appear elsewhere on your site, such as a blog summary index or archived pages.

    That means the person seeing an excerpt is already on your website. You aren’t asking them to pick your content over a competitor’s page that appears on the same search engine rankings page.

    With that understanding, you can craft a more specific summary or highlight the content’s features that would attract someone to consume it.

    Example: Here is the excerpt for the interactive content article:

    “Host a poll. Do a quiz. Create a game. Interactive content comes in so many forms, but not enough marketers take advantage of it. Discover the possibilities, tools, and big results.”

    The excerpt is a little longer than the meta description (about 30 characters or so). It’s also five sentences instead of two. Since I didn’t have to attract someone searching Google for information about how to do interactive content, I could be more specific on the article’s takeaway ideas — host a poll, do a quiz, create a game — before sharing the primary keyword (interactive content) and article overview.

    One more tip — you don’t have to completely rewrite your meta description. As you can see in the example, the last sentence, “Discover the possibilities, tools, and big results,” is the same for both. Just make sure the excerpt delivers what an audience already on your site might want to know about the content.

    YouTube descriptions

    YouTube gives you 5,000 characters to describe your video. That’s the equivalent of about 800 to 1,000 words. But even Google, the owner of YouTube, advises against using all of them to explain the video.

    Think of the description in two components — the text that appears before the clickable word “more,” and the text that appears in full after they click.

    In the first part, include up to three keywords that reflect the subject matter, at least one of which appears in the title. That strategy makes sense, given YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world.

    With those words selected, spend your time crafting a few unique sentences (about 100 to 200 characters) to stand out. You’ll want to ensure that both a searcher and a subscriber of your channel can quickly understand what they’ll get from watching the video.

    You should repeat the keywords in the second part of the description, according to Hootsuite’s helpful YouTube description guide.

    Example: Let’s look at this video from Intuit QuickBooks — How To Use Project Estimates in Quickbooks Online Advanced.

    The first part of its description reads:

    With QuickBooks Online Advanced you can include estimated costs when you fill out Project Estimates. That way you can measure your estimated versus actual profitability on a project.”

    The first part totals 182 characters and succinctly explains the video’s topic (how to include estimated costs), the product (QuickBooks Online Advanced), and the benefit (measuring your estimated versus actual profitability). Intuit incorporates targeted keyword phrases — project estimates and QuickBooks Online Advanced.

    How to use project cost estimate in QuickBooks Online Advanced

    When the user clicks on “more,” they see the full description. It totals about 1,500 characters — 18 times more than the preview but still far below the 5,000 characters permitted by YouTube.

    The full description includes one more sentence on the specifics included in the video. Then, it shows the timestamps and chapters for the video to help viewers know when to tune into a particular topic.

    Intuit also includes links to all its step-by-step tutorials broken down by subject matter before asking users to subscribe to the channel and visit the company’s website.

    The full description includes one more sentence on the specifics included in the video. Then it shows the timestamps and chapters for the video to help viewers know when to tune into a particular topic.

Intuit includes links to all its step-by-step tutorials broken down by subject matter before asking users to subscribe to the channel and visit the company’s website.

    If you’re unfamiliar with how to add chapters and timestamps, YouTube provides instructions. At a minimum, you must include three chapters, each lasting at least 10 seconds.

    One more tip — you can also further customize the description for easier reading by bolding, italicizing, or striking through the text. While YouTube doesn’t allow traditional bullets, you can use emojis to make your points easier to read.

    LinkedIn

    Every social media platform embraces short-form posts. However, given the growing popularity of LinkedIn for B2B marketers, I wanted to focus on that platform. It may seem like a platform where you can write without caring about the character count. It isn’t.

    LinkedIn lets individuals use up to 1,300 characters and companies up to 700 characters for posts to their pages. That sounds like a lot compared to meta descriptions, excerpts, and X.

    But here’s the thing: LinkedIn shows only about 200 characters or less on the screen before the “see more” button appears.

    So, you’re back to crafting a super short message. However, unlike meta descriptions and excerpts, your post may appear in the feed of LinkedIn audiences who aren’t actively searching and not even actively interested in your topic.

    You have two choices: 1. Write a post that doesn’t require the reader to click to see more, or 2. Write a post (in less than 200 characters) that attracts the reader to click, and then deliver a brief narrative that makes them glad they did.

    Either way, focus your time on the content that will appear in the feed. Create something visually and substantively pleasing to attract attention quickly. For example, use unexpected spacing by inserting line breaks and ellipses or incorporate a (relevant) emoji or two.

    Example: In this LinkedIn post, CMI opted for a short post (about 165 characters) with two goals.

    The text promotes the interactive content article by touting the topic’s benefit (“delivers bigger results than static content”) and explains what the reader will get (“what works, available tools, and more”). It’s designed to get readers to click on the article link that also appears in the post (the first goal).

    But it also has a second purpose — getting the viewer to stop scrolling and take a poll. In 18 characters, it invites people to take a poll. (LinkedIn limits polls to four options. Keep the choices simple, or people won’t bother reading them, let alone vote in the poll.)

    An example of a LinkedIn post written by CMI. The text promotes the interactive content article with a poll.

    One more tip — if you use hashtags, make sure to budget space for those characters. Still, don’t go overboard. Scheduling software Hootsuite recommends no more than three hashtags, and I concur.

    Stay short

    In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius says, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

    In content marketing, brevity is the soul of digital content. Google wants it. YouTube likes it. LinkedIn prefers it. But just as importantly, audiences do, too.

    So, the next time you craft that meta description, excerpt, video description, or LinkedIn post, don’t think about the upper character limits. Focus on doing just enough to satisfy your brand, the publishing channel, and your potential readers.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

    You Can Build a Better Racetrack Without Chasing SEO

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    Let’s talk about SEO.

    More than a month after a source gave thousands of pages of internal Google documentation to SparkToro co-founder Rand Fishkin, the importance of this leak is still being debated.

    Rand and others continue to dissect the findings for search optimization hints based on what the documents show about how Google ranks content for search.

    It’s an admirable effort. Still, I stick by my early assessment, which is that SEOs and marketers may have learned Coke’s secret recipe, but it lacks the quantities of each ingredient.

    And it may be a big bucket of nothing. Search algorithms will continue to change, and the recipe may be outdated by the time you optimize your content based on these “secrets.”

    Here’s an SEO lesson you can take away: Your content programs are in a race for position No. 1. But in this race, your program isn’t the car (Google and other search options are). It isn’t the driver (the searcher). It’s the racetrack.

    And you’re competing to be the first choice for every car and driver who wants the most reliable or most enjoyable way to get from one place to another.

    And that’s why you shouldn’t make SEO the focus of your content strategy.

    Watch out for SEO strategy potholes

    Many businesses start content marketing programs because they believe it will help them rank higher for organic search results. When their target audiences search for potential solutions (the thinking goes), they’ll find the brand’s array of content and decide it’s the one that provides the most value.

    But when you depend on being found in search, you have to focus on content that chases attention instead of trustworthiness. And that creates an inherent pressure to produce content designed to rank rather than content intended to lead, entertain, or inform.

    Meanwhile, optimizing content for organic search traffic has become more complex over the last decade. The quality of competition, the sheer quantity of content, the growth of paid search advertising, and the introduction of AI Overviews have made page-one real estate more expensive to acquire and harder to maintain.

    Now-retired SEO expert Arnie Kuenn used to joke, “The best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google results. Nobody goes there.” And that remains true.

    Research from the continuous-scroll era showed that 88% of clicks go to the top three positions — and only 4% of clicks come after result six.   

    Yet I still see organizations use the classic SEO-first approach when building a case for a content marketing program. For example, two of my clients recently shared their frustrations about where they were in launching their new content marketing program.

    Each had asked their digital agency to identify the best way to bring their content marketing program to life. In each case, the consultants returned a 30-slide deck, making the business case for content marketing by talking about search terms, keywords, and “snackable” content to answer every question they could think of.

    Yeah, 2010 called and wants its strategy back.

    To be clear, I know there are digital agencies that do work that goes well beyond my pay grade.

    But these slide decks illustrate the problems with this all-too-common argument for launching a content marketing program. First, SEO has arguably never been a good foundation for a content marketing platform. Second, changes in content discovery fundamentally alter the content marketing equation.

    Lesson 1: Google doesn’t care

    Spoiler alert: Google isn’t (and has never been) interested in helping you build an audience for your brand. Quite the contrary — it always has been interested in you helping it build an audience. That’s why Google designed Search to create enough commoditization in results to make advertising that features what the searcher seeks more attractive.

    Remember this lesson as AI answers show up in more search results.

    If you think Google wants to surface the most trustworthy response to a query, think again. The search giant wants to surface the answer that can be monetized.

    What that looks like is pretty vague right now. But know this: Google will happily use your content to train its AI — and then monetize the output in ways that don’t serve your interests.

    AI Overviews and standard search results share that similarity. Neither solution is built to return the highest-quality answer. They’re built to summarize (or prioritize) the highest average of answers. And both are designed to generate more and more searches. 

    As I’ve said, if you focus on thought leadership and trust as a differentiator, you won’t spend time creating content about frequently asked questions (FAQs). Instead, you’ll focus on providing what I call the rarely given answers (RGAs).

    For example, if we’d used search volume in 2009 to decide whether to launch a platform about “content marketing,” we probably would have decided against it. (Spoiler: We didn’t look at the search volume.)

    Look what we would have missed. As the chart shows, interest in the term “content marketing” was at 9 in 2009. By 2017, it had grown to 71.

    The chart shows that interest in the term “content marketing” was at 9 in 2009. By 2017, it had grown to 71.

    You should know more about your audience than Google does. When formulating a new content marketing platform, you should realize that Google Search has been (and is) helpful for understanding the zeitgeist of popular topics and terms. But it’s not as useful in understanding what your audiences will be interested in tomorrow.

    Lesson 2: Google still isn’t here for you

    Content discovery is changing the way audiences interact with digital content. Google doesn’t want that to happen on any channel other than Google.

    If you feel like search results are getting progressively worse over time, it’s not just you. Recent research has shown that Google Search results have become less useful. And AI Overviews haven’t fared well in their debut, handing out untrustworthy advice about eating rocks and putting glue on pizza.

    These degraded results don’t mean that Google is getting “dumber.” The company has to balance the quality of the data/content it chooses to push to the top of SERPs for the best experience with content that can be monetized most effectively.

    If Google only had to optimize against one of those things, the results would be much better.

    The sheer quantity of digital content means broad informational searches are less efficient and helpful. That’s why search platforms, social media, and other big content providers are leaning into content discovery.

    Think of content discovery as “content recommendations without asking for the recommendation.” The discovered or recommended content is delivered without an explicit request.

    Think of the TikTok phenomenon — the algorithm quickly learns what you spend time on. That way, it can deliver value (and videos) based on your behavior rather than what you explicitly ask for.

    Content suggestions based on a customer’s intent, demographics, and other first-party data are growing in thought leadership resource centers, websites, and e-commerce platforms.

    Content discovery in search means that answers appear on the results page. Searchers don’t need to click through to your content, as you’ve surely noticed. They just get the answers directly on the SERP.

    That content may be wrong today. Tomorrow, it will be better. And next week, it may be better than yours.

    Remember, Google isn’t trying to help you build an audience for your brand. It will use your content to help its brand.

    Content marketing starts by focusing on being the best racetrack

    Here’s the bottom line: If you’re looking to launch or change a content marketing program, don’t build your case on attracting an audience through search. Those days are gone (if they ever really existed).

    Yes, you still need to learn about SEO and understand how the evolution of search into content discovery will affect your content distribution. And I’m not suggesting you stop employing SEO best practices, especially as they evolve for content discovery.

    But remember, your content program isn’t the race car or the driver. It’s the track.

    Don’t get caught up in a battle for the best, longest, or even most keyword-rich answer to a frequently asked question. Instead, aim for connected content experiences that answer the questions and address the reason behind the question.

    For example, the query for an enterprise software search may evolve from “What is the best CRM system?” to “Show me a demonstration of what a great CRM system can do.” The query for a restaurant will evolve from “What are the best Mexican restaurants near me?” to “Tell me the availability at the best Mexican restaurants for two people on Monday night.”

    The aim of future content-driven experiences isn’t to answer simple questions. It will be to provide answers and solutions before the questions get asked.

    And don’t take that just from me. Google co-founder Sergey Brin affirmed more than a decade ago: “My vision was that information would come to you as you need it. You wouldn’t have to search query at all.”

    Put simply: The future of search will remove the need to search.

    Put another way: You won’t develop a better racetrack by looking at the engineering of cars. Instead, look to the drivers (your audience and customers). Then, build the roads that lead them to the finish line.

    Updated from a November 2022 article.

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    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute