When Your Content Fails You

Last month, I wrote a post about the “it” thing in marketing right now, content marketing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a company, an agency or even a publisher - everyone wants to say they’re doing it. And for good reason. When done well, it works very well. But when it’s not done well, you’re unintentionally slowly killing your program. Yes, it’s possible for your content to fail you. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say you failed your content. Either way, when that happens it causes damage to your whole content marketing program. When people start to see bad content from you, they’re much less likely to return and view another piece of content.

The bad content I’m talking about isn’t the bad content we typically think about. Most marketers now have a sense of what’s good and bad, speaking strictly from the perspective of what’s written or produced. We all know the content must give the audience something they want, something of value; and we certainly can’t push brand messaging down their throat. It has to be interesting for the reader or viewer.

I’m talking about the other elements of content marketing. Remember, it’s much more than simply creating content.


In my last post, I talked about the process I use for creating a content marketing program. I also hinted at a couple things not to do. One of those is overusing gating mechanisms - requiring people to fill out a form to access a given piece of content. Your content should support sales and gated content is an important part of that, but the gating needs to be spread out to support the different phases of the funnel. Sometimes when lead generation becomes too much of a focus for your content marketing program there’s an important part of the funnel that’s forgotten - the initial awareness stage.

If someone isn’t aware of your company at all, they’re probably not going to give you their personal information in order to access your content. You don’t need to put a paywall in front of every piece of content, especially if your program is new or your company is new.

It’s perfectly ok to give people content for free.

In the early stages of a program, you should be focused on reach and awareness. Provide value (good, entertaining content) and people will come back for more, and then once they’ve bought in you can try to collect their information. If you try to do that before you’ve shown value, you’ll have a real hard time making any traction with the program.


People don’t usually have overly high expectations for the presentation of their content. If a title looks interesting, they’ll click to read or watch it. If it’s not a complete mess, they’ll continue reading or watching. However, a couple potentially problematic presentation methods have emerged over the past year or so that based on my experience, all audience types hate.

The Needlessly Long Slideshow

Look at this slideshow published by Bleacher Report after the 2015 NBA Draft. Its author grades the performance of each NBA franchise, providing each with an actual letter grade. Ok, Bleacher Report, you got my attention with the title and preview I saw on Facebook. I want to see how my Celtics did. Oh, what’s that? I need to click through 15 other slides before I can get to the one on the Celtics? No, thanks. Close window. That’s a complete waste of my time. Your content isn’t important enough to me to spend that much time to get to what I really want to see.

I understand why publishers do this. The longer they keep you on their site, the bigger increase to their highly prized average time on site metric. And there’s a higher likelihood you’ll click one of the other articles you see in a sidebar, taking you deeper into the site. Problem is, most people I’ve talked to about this don’t stick around until the end. They go a couple slides in, get frustrated and close the page. Content backfire.

Especially frustrating are those sites that divide a single topic into multiple slides with each slide containing a single sentence. This slideshow about ‘Behind the Scenes Secrets from Disney World’ is a good example. The title got my attention, but then when I go to the slideshow, I discover that each ‘Secret’ takes up five slides with each slide containing one sentence.

A former colleague once said about these slideshows, “there’s a special place in hell for those people.” Maybe we don’t need to go to those extremes, but they certainly aren’t accomplishing what they think they are.

What alarms me is that I’m beginning to see vendors go this route. Yes, as many people have said over the past couple years, Slideshare can be a useful content and communications. But don’t overdo it. One slide per topic is a good rule of thumb. If you need more than that, maybe Slideshare isn’t the best content format to use.

The Tricky Slideshow

I’ve yet to see any vendors directly mimic this bad practice yet (though they’re loosely involved as paying for ads), and let’s hope none ever do. But it’s frustrating nonetheless, so I feel the need to call it out. There are publishers that publish slideshows with arrows all over the surrounding page that are actually ads. Their hope is that they lure you into clicking an ad arrow to take you to an advertiser’s page.

Look at the screenshot below from a slideshow article listing the 37 Most Prestigious Universities in America.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.47.36 AM
Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.47.36 AM

How many people would confuse the arrow in the gray box under the text about Princeton as the arrow you click to see the next University? It's not the arrow that advances the slideshow though. No, that arrow is all the way at the bottom of the page after you scroll down more.

This is certainly an example of content failing you. One wrong click on an ad and a viewer will close the whole slideshow altogether, never returning to the piece of content. I've actually seen examples far worse than the one above. A visual slideshow with ads containing arrows directly above and directly below the slide, but the appropriate arrow to click to advance to the next slide is the smallest arrow on the page, existing on the slide, if you hover over it.

But let’s not kid ourselves, some of these sites are only in it for the advertising. So that wrong click is exactly what they want you to do because it benefits them on the advertising front. They don’t particularly mind that it harms their editorial.

Content can be a huge benefit to a company as long as you set it up to be successful. Don’t try and get too tricky. Design it, present it, and distribute it in ways that resonate with your target audience. Always keep the audience in mind. If you don’t, you may find that your content has failed you.