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When it Just Ain’t Gonna Work

Man showing stop hand
Tuan Tran/Getty Images

You hear it again and again on the subject of content optimization: Stop producing content that doesn’t work.

Easy to say, tough puzzle to solve. How do you know content just isn’t working? How can you be sure it won’t work in the future? How do you identify why content isn’t working so that you can be sure that you can address that in future content? It’s not as easy as simply throwing away the window cleaner that leaves too many smudges. What makes content work, and what keeps it from working, are tricky to narrow down.

There are two major considerations to keep in mind when trying to determine whether or not a piece of content is going to have any sort of effect on your readers:

Consideration 1: How long has a piece been up?

If a blog post is generating zero discussion at the end of the day… maybe it’s just a slow-builder. If a month goes by without a single comment or share, then it’s probably just a dud.

Consideration 2: What kind of attention is it getting?

A lot of views and shares is great, that means a wider audience. But how many of those readers are bothering to subscribe or make a purchase or be added to your mailing list? If you want to run a blog that only trades views for ad revenue, great, but business writers are usually trying to raise conversion rates with every new blog post.

The next question is: Why isn’t it working?

This part can be a little trickier, and unfortunately, it’s more art than science. There are a few factors to look at:

  • The writer.
  • The subject.
  • The tone.

Starting with the writer: Every writer is going to produce their share of effective and ineffective content. Your best writer might be having a bad day and your worst writer might get lucky now and then. But, if you look at averages, it will become clear which writers would be better off working on different projects.

The subject of a piece is perhaps more important. We’ll read bad writing on something we love, but we won’t read good writing on something that bores us. Keep your content relevant and interesting.

Finally, tone. People respond to personality in content. Someone who can be a little snarky is great, condescending can be a turn-off. Funny is fine, but usually not when you’re writing about cancer. The tone needs to match what the reader is looking for.

Even with all of this in mind, the only way you’ll really know which content is working and which content isn’t is through experience and a little bit of guesswork. The analytics will only tell you that something is or isn’t getting any attention from your readers. It won’t tell you why, and it can’t predict the future.


Gilbert S is a writer and artist who lives in rural New Mexico with his dog, Sir Kay, and his wife.

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By WriterAccess

Freelancer Gilbert S

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