Does progressive profiling work?

August 18, 2015

In the marketing ops world, you hear a lot about “progressive profiling” as a way to increase lead generation and quality. The basic idea is, if you want to collect 10 pieces of data about a lead, you do it in subsequent visits:

First conversion:

  • [Email]
  • [First Name]
  • [Last Name]
  • [Company Name]

Second conversion:

  • [Email]
  • [Job Title]
  • [Company Size]

Third conversion:

  • [Email]
  • [Phone Number]
  • [Interest in buying]

And so on. The upsides seem pretty obvious, right? Why wouldn’t you want to reduce your form lengths, while gathering more data about your leads? It seems like a way to boost conversions (by reducing form lengths), without the tradeoff of having less information.

The downside to progressive profiling

However, progressive profiling has one really obvious downside, which is that it requires repeated visits in order to get that data. As a result, you:

  • Can’t send repeat visitors directly through to the content; they must fill in a form every time.

This is a bad experience for them, and it reduces the chance that your prospect will actually read the material you’re producing. On the other hand, maybe you want your visitor to jump through hoops… to show commitment?

  • May have difficulty reactivating dormant visitors.

Let’s say you wait to ask for Company Size until the second visit. But they don’t reconvert for a while after their first visit. Do you send them the Small Business or the Enterprise reactivation campaign? What if they keep coming back to your site (showing interest), but they never convert again? Why not just ask upfront?

  • Get locked in to your marketing automation vendor.

If you have a bunch of progressive profiling data in your Marketo instance, you’ll end up resetting all visitors to Form #1 if you switch to Pardot or Eloqua. You could use your own JS instead, but that’s an extra layer of technical complexity and only works if you are hosting your forms on your own site.

  • Get bad funnel data.

A use case that’s often proposed for progressive profiling is that it tells you where your visitor is in the funnel. If they’re coming back to fill in another form, they must be further in their buying journey, right?

I’m not sure this is true. It seems like the most reliable way to know this is to infer it based on the content. If you produce a whitepaper called “what is Product X?” and another called “Evaluating Product X vs. Product Y”, data on which is being requested is probably more reliable in determining buyer journey stage, than simply seeing how many times a visitor has come into the site.

Another pernicious effect: marketers will use a single form, and then rely on progressive profiling to hide certain fields based on the assumption that number of visits equals readiness to buy.

Seems like it would be much better to have separate forms tailored to separate funnel stages based on content, and only then, if one of those lacks necessary data, implement progressive profiling to make sure it’s captured.

Or just cut down your forms so that getting all the data from a late-funnel lead is not arduous.

I’m not sure what the right answer is

I totally get the appeal of progressive profiling.

And yet I’ve never seen any data on whether it actually achieves its stated goals. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone propose a test for it.

I guess a simple one would be to divide your leads into 2 pools at random, one using progressive profiling and one not, then see which one generates more revenue over time. (But isn’t that every test?)

A more practical and faster one might be to:

  • Decide what constitutes the information that you truly need for effective marketing and qualification.
  • Present this all in one form to a set of visitors, to establish a conversion baseline.
  • Present this in separate progressive forms to another set. See how many visitors get through all the forms.

It really boils down to: Which do you think is more likely? That a visitor will complete a form with eight fields?

Or, that they’ll complete a form with 4 fields, visit again, complete another form with 2 fields, visit again, and then complete another form with 2 fields?

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Marketing analysts and technologists have bigger roles to play

August 10, 2015

Are you a marketing analyst or technologist? Your job can be more than creating reports on how the latest campaign went or making sure the website is up. (I view that as extremely important work, by the way, but your job could be even more).

Marketing is increasingly about technology, analytics, and data.

  • Every major business intelligence vendor has a section on their site about big data for marketing.
  • “Marketing technology” is a thing.
  • So are rigorous marketing experiments.
  • There’s an increasing role for UX in all aspects of marketing, and there are lots of evidence-based recommendations in that area.

But in marketers’ day-to-day work, a lot of this stuff isn’t being used and the technical and analytical knowledge hasn’t spread yet.

  • Email click-through rate benchmarks exist, but when was the last time you saw these benchmarks included in a spreadsheet that calculates where marketing time and money should be invested? How often are these even read, especially at small companies?
  • As a digital marketer, I often get requests for “how to make content search-engine friendly”, and what keywords to use: the popular conception of SEO as keyword stuffing still exists.
  • Pageviews are still used as a measure for success on the web. Even unique visitors are still used, though what really matters is something else, like revenue.
  • When was the last time you did a survey of what new marketing technologies are out there, that can replace what you have? I’ve always been a CrazyEgg devotee, but then last week I tried HotJar and Inspectlet. I’ve always used Buffer, but had never checked out HootSuite, which does some things a lot better. Is ProductHunt’s Marketing list on your daily reading list?

Marketing is not as creative, fun, effective, and efficient as it could be. This is actually our fault, as digital marketers, as analysts, and as marketing technologists. It’s our job to help our colleagues work better and more efficiently. The good news is that we can provide tremendous value to the organizations we work for by educating them on current trends, and by making suggestions for ways to improve.

So, to get back to what I was saying above: you can expand your job dramatically. In addition to running reports, you can add:

  • Educating people on the latest digital marketing best practices. Maybe that’s just one quick email every couple weeks. Include sources, and data for what you say.
  • Understanding best practices for reporting, and suggesting metrics that are aligned well with what your organization is trying to accomplish.
  • Automating everything you do and giving your colleagues the tools to do it themselves.
  • Suggesting better technologies that replace what you’re currently using. Using what you have more efficiently.

In doing so, you become a trusted advisor within your organization and help drive better performance.

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What is marketing?

August 3, 2015

From Rob Enderle’s take on this:

Marketing in a broad sense is about manipulation and this is why engineers, by and large, don’t understand it. It’s not that it isn’t based in solid science, it is, but that it is based more on psychology than it is on thermodynamics. ... Or put a different way, it is more like sales than it is like design or manufacturing. In effect it is sales at scale and the ultimate goal of a marketing effort would be to convince people that otherwise wouldn’t buy a product to instead buy it in mass [sic].

Well, no. Marketing in a broad sense is about facilitating valuable exchange. That can mean a lot of things:

  • Finding out what people want
  • Developing a product (providing the inputs to do that, dealing with pricing, features) so that it delivers value but also so that it is sustainable to produce
  • Figuring out the best way to position it so that the value of an exchange is apparent (explaining what it is, showing how it can benefit the user)

So, it’s not about “manipulating people who otherwise wouldn’t buy it.” (What does “otherwise wouldn’t buy it” mean, anyway? How would you determine who these people are?)

Of course there’s psychology involved, and there’s, for example, experimenting with what words to put on your “Download Now” button so people will be more likely to click it. But you’re doing that to remove obstacles to the transaction, and the transaction is one that you truly believe is valuable to both sides. (Right?)

“Engineers don’t understand marketing” (not always true, but assume true for the sake of argument) because it involves a very different set of skills from solving engineering problems.

It’s more like being an actor or a writer, or even like being someone who makes musical instruments. It’s not like building a house. It encompasses a broader range of the human experience, in less depth.

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About 'Rogue IT'

August 1, 2015

I’ve noticed a couple different models for IT, both as someone who’s helped run it, and as an employee who’s been, er, subjected to it.

Both have the overall goal of controlling costs and ensuring security, but they’re done in two different ways.

Command and control

The basic premise of this model is that most users aren’t to be trusted, and that IT needs to exert careful control over what technologies are used, and how they are used. Features of this model include prohibitions on what types of software can be used.

Software is selected based on its suitability for control, not based on its usefulness to the user. Policies (for example, password lockouts or mandatory monitoring software) are picked the same way.

For example, you might work at a place where you’re required to use Box (inferior user interface, better security and control), instead of Dropbox. This can be enforced in different ways, for example by requiring certain access levels in order to install software, by denying reimbursements for non-approved software, or other ways.

The strategic model

This model assumes that users are honest and rational, if not always fully-informed, in pursuit of their goals.

In this model, IT is viewed as a strategic partner for achieving business (and employee) goals, rather than as a gatekeeper for technologies. They recognize that flexible policies can promote company efficiency.

As an example of this model, you as a user might be given free rein to install whatever software you want, in order to do your job. Site licenses have to be used when they’re available, but otherwise it’s assumed that users know what they need. Individual managers are responsible for controlling expenses, and policies are set at the minimum prudent level. For example, two-factor authentication is required for email accounts, but passwords don’t have to contain punctuation marks.

Can you tell which model I prefer?

The strategic model frees IT to focus on helping employees get their job done, rather than distributing software and hardware. Think less mall security guard, and more business consultant. It also improves employee morale, since employees are trusted to make their own decisions.

Pratically speaking, this model also recognizes that it’s impossible to prevent employees from going around policies to some extent.

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Key questions to answer when re-writing your site's content

July 28, 2015

What is the objective for this page?

How is the page you’re currently writing different from all the other pages on your site? This will make decisions about what to write much easier for any given page. It’ll also give you focused points along your visitor’s journey, which will help with decisions about where to send them, and focus your efforts when doing optimization.

What questions are we trying to answer?

Marketing is all about intent. This is a way of trying to get into your visitor’s mind. What questions do they have right now, which, as you answer them, will give them a reason to keep reading? How can you build your answer so that your visitor is educated, rather than just informed?

What answers can we give the reader to help them make decisions?

In filling this out, you’ll be writing a very, very rough draft of the actual page content. Talk this one out and fill it in as you explain it.

How do we want the reader to feel?

Your visitor’s entire state of mind is important. You’ve thought about what they know, but what about how they feel, which is arguably more important?

The answers to this question will govern what words are used in writing the page. Should they be inspiring (good for top-of-funnel pages), or reassuring (good for more in-depth content that might come later in the funnel)? Something else?

The answer to this question will also help you decide what information to include. If you want your visitor to be a little nervous after reading your page (maybe because you are trying to show them they have a problem that you can solve), you’ll focus more on problems, dire statistics, etc. If you want your visitor to have trust in your company, you’ll focus more on solutions, success proof points, etc.

What do we want the reader to do?

The success of much of your copy will depend on whether your reader takes action. That could mean giving you their contact information, or it could simply mean clicking through to a new page. The information on your page is the argument that convinces them to perform that action, so you’ll need to know in advance what it is. You’ll also use this as a way of determining how successful the page is, later on.

A question I don’t have in this list is, what is the target page length? Ideally, your page length should be exactly how long it takes you to answer the visitor’s questions, no more, no less. You might want to think about this, though, as a proxy for effort or for how concise you want your language to be.

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Engaging your subconscious

July 27, 2015

I see a psychotherapist every week for 45 minutes, to talk about how things are going and how I feel about my life.

It’s quite possibly the most valuable meeting I have all week. I can’t overstate how useful it is to honestly explore my beliefs, feelings, and behavior with the goal of making my life happier. And without judgment.

After each session, I’m struck by how much old experiences - especially ones that I had when growing up - lead me to behave in very specific ways, today. It’s hard to point to a specific example without making this a very long blog post. But as a general example, the confident male role models I had growing up, were also jerks. So I often try not to be a jerk, by not projecting confidence. As a result, many people say I’m easy to work with, but I also know I defer excessively to other people’s ideas, even if they’re bad.

That sounds very simple, but the only reason I can articulate it that simply is that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I do the things that I do.

Unconscious training

All the stuff that you’ve experienced, all the beliefs that you’ve built based on those experiences (perhaps while forgetting that they even happened), and so on. All the things that you might be able to point to with effort, but that aren’t in your conscious awareness. These things affect your decisions in many, many ways, probably without your even realizing it.

They may lead you to make decisions that are suboptimal because of some internalized bias. This might affect your happiness, or your business, or someone else. Your subconscious is processing a lot for you, and it’s good to aware of how it’s doing that. And how it’s biased.

In addition, everything you’ve ever learned in your life is in your subconscious. It’s the automatic part of your thinking. It’s why you can come up with answers to complex questions quickly, even when others can’t. It’s also how you solve a complex problem after thinking it over for a few days.

The subconscious is very powerful and it pays to (try to) understand it. Not everyone can, or wants to, hire a guide. What other ways can you use the immense power of your subconscious to your advantage?

How to make friends with your subconscious

I’ve found writing to be a great way of learning what I care about, and why. And I find it to be a great source of error correction, and of “thinking about thinking”. Here’s what I was thinking back then. That’s interesting. Now I have a better sense of why I was thinking that. In retrospect, I can see now what the relationship was between what I was thinking, and what was really going on. And so on.

Asking questions is good, too. Why do I feel this way? What’s the evidence for my position, and what am I really trying to accomplish here? See the third paragraph of this post for more, but I often consider the possibility that I’m wrong.

Process can be good, because it forces you to make your implicit assumptions, explicit. Let me put all the steps of this project out on index cards. Yes, yes, I know them all and how long they take. But then again, when I look at this size of this stack, I see that this will all take longer than I would have guessed.

Time helps, too.

Why? Your brain is also a huge network of associations, and the more of them that get activated, the more opportunities you have to consider different conclusions. The more time passes, the more of them you can activate; you take a walk in the woods, you sleep, you have a conversation with a friend, you watch a TV show, you read a blog post. All ways of activating different networks in your brain, and tying things together in new ways.

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Great experimental marketing sites

June 3, 2015

I’ve written before about strategies for avoiding A/B tests. The most important one is just to do your homework, and take advantage of the huge number of documented usability and conversion rate optimization studies that are already out there.

I’ll update this post with more sites that I find matching this description.

  • Nielsen Norman Group. A lot of their content is paid, but much of it is free, too. Their blog, which is under the “Articles” section of the site, is great weekly reading, and of course, extremely easy to understand.
  • Marketing Experiments. Huge number of videos and articles, and a research archive with extremely detailed testing results.
  • Which Test Won?. Huge library of A/B tests, specifically. I can’t resist taking their “Free Test of the Week”, where you have to guess which of two variations performed better. Great check on your abilities as a marketer, frankly.

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Twitter's Got It Right?

June 1, 2015

I think marketing should be far more data-driven than it currently is.

But I’m still really surprised that Twitter appointed its CFO, Anthony Noto, to run marketing. (And, by the way, that “CMO” hasn’t been officially added to his title). I think that a lot of the business world, especially in tech, suffers from the idea that just anyone can do marketing, that it isn’t a separate discipline and craft of its own, requiring expertise to do well.

This AdAge article by Moshe Vaknin is a great example of this attitude. Here’s the headline:

Twitter's Got It Right: Why CFOs Can Oversee Marketing

It took me some time to understand Vaknin’s exact point here. Twitter’s got what right? Some possibilities:

  • A CFO can oversee marketing. Sure. Was anyone debating this? CMOs can also oversee finance. CTOs can oversee HR. It’s totally fine and these sorts of things happen all the time. But it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea.
  • Some CFOs make good CMOs. This seems like a much more sensible conclusion. In fact, I can think of industries like consumer packaged goods where marketing is so integral to the business that this might often be the case. But reading the second line of the headline suggests to me that it’s not what Vaknin means.

But the subhead says Four Reasons Why CFOs Make Good Marketing Chiefs. I think you can only read that to mean:

  • All CFOs make good CMOs.

This statement rests on misunderstanding what it means for marketing to have become more data-driven over the past ten years. Just because it’s become more data-driven, doesn’t mean it’s been de-skilled. It doesn’t mean that all it takes is quantitative ability.

If anything, the prerequisites for great marketing are even greater, and it now requires a combination of creativity, communication abilities, and empathy, with the ability to understand a spreadsheet.

Why does Vaknin say this?

1. It's all about the data.

The "Mad Men" of yesteryear have been replaced by "math men" and "math women," data scientists, quantitative analysts and other number crunchers who analyze the data for measuring, analyzing and optimizing every marketing campaign.

Well, no, they haven’t been. Modern marketing isn’t solely about data, though data is playing an increasingly large role. And that’s good!

But what’s so interesting about modern marketing is that that quantitatively-focused stuff still needs great creative work to be successful. Marketing is still about telling stories, and connecting with your prospects on both an emotional level (how will this product make me feel?) and on a numbers level (what specific benefits does this bring me? what value can I expect to realize?). See AirBNB and Facebook for starters.

Data is important for targeting, obviously, too. And it’s important for refining your pitch: you can do A/B testing on the channels you use, the words you use, and some of your creative assets. But putting together the vision for a brand requires that ability plus the other stuff.

And that vision is key to getting people to use the product. Partly because it guides the product’s development, and partly because it helps your customers understand how your product fits into their lives. See MakerBot’s entire history for a great example of this.

Vaknin goes on to point out that:

Few have more experience in overseeing data than a former Wall Street analyst, particularly one who was voted top analyst for research on the internet industry.

I didn’t understand this. Analysts don’t really “oversee data”. They build models and try to understand the fundamentals of an industry, and the prospects of individual companies. They use a combination of strong financial and quantitative skills, and strategic and social understanding.

Wouldn’t a data scientist be the logical choice for a CMO, if “overseeing data” is the main qualification for success?

2. Twitter is focused on performance marketing in 2015.

I'd venture a guess that Twitter's marketing is less focused on brand building, for which it has done a great job, than on performance-based marketing tactics to grow its user base and active Twitter usage.

I wish Vaknin had focused here. This is a fair point.

Performance-based marketing is new. Starting with banner ads on the early web (and maybe even before that, I don’t know), marketers became able, at least in theory, to track their advertising efforts all the way from the first time a prospect saw the message, through to sale. In turn, they could avoid Wanamaker’s predicament: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

But then again, Vaknin says he thinks Twitter has done a great job brand-building. What does he base this on? Isn’t user growth, for example, a huge problem for Twitter right now? Isn’t that a failure of marketing, that people don’t understand how Twitter fits into their lives?

I don’t think Twitter’s growth is going to come from better pay-per-click advertising. It’s probably going to come from a better product roadmap, better onboarding and retention, and better brand positioning.

3. It is the age of mar-tech.

Marketing executives want to understand the ROI of every dollar spent. They want to cultivate a unique relationship with each individual customer. That includes buying media programmatically; optimizing creative, placement and audience; retargeting likely customers; and measuring results in near real-time.

Marketers should view these not as campaign tactics but as elements of a constantly evolving strategy.

This is a great summary of what martech is fundamentally about. (And really, what good relationship marketing is about, which is why martech is so exciting.)

But what does this have to do with a CFO running marketing? If anything, this suggests even more strongly that you want somebody with experience. Marketing technology is complicated and hiring someone who knows how to implement it and run it well is key. And, of course, the ability to be technical is not the same as quantitative ability.

4. Breaking down the silos (and taboos) is good for organizations. Diversity is important for organizations and brings a different set of experiences and skills to the table, providing an important opportunity to solve problems with an alternative perspective.

This is a truism, so I won’t get too deeply into it.

But if breaking down the silos is good, why not hire a great CMO from outside Twitter, and have them run finance while Noto focuses on fixing marketing?

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Marquess, a bash script that makes it easy to use PrinceXML for templated collateral generation

May 21, 2015

Typically, marketing assets like whitepapers, datasheets, and case studies are maintained by the graphic design team.

This can be frustrating for everyone who’s not on that team, because when you want to make a fix or update, even if it’s just fixing a typo, you have to get graphic design involved. And it can be frustrating for graphic design, too, because who wants to spend all day fixing typos?

There are other problems as well:

  • If you decide to change the template for your documents, because, for example, your branding has changed, it has to be changed manually everywhere
  • It’s hard to maintain documents in multiple formats (for example, RGB vs CMYK, or HTML vs PDF), because, again, changes made in one place have to be manually replicated elsewhere
  • Making even minor changes to documents requires the involvement of graphic design, and then an extra review cycle by the requester to make sure the change is made correctly
  • Tables of contents are a pain to manage generally, and have to be updated and manually cross-checked if the document structure or headings change

PrinceXML was recommended to me as a solution to these problems. As input, PrinceXML takes standard CSS and HTML, just as it’s used on the web. As output, it produces PDFs that are indistinguishable from something created using software like InDesign.

However, PrinceXML by itself doesn’t solve any of the problems above.

Why? Its interface is the command line. And the command has to be written to correctly import all of the necssary HTML and CSS for multiple versions, together with all images, boilerplate text, fonts and graphics, and so on.

This is not straightforward for users. Imagine giving everyone a car instead of forcing them to ride the bus. Much easier for them to get to where they want to be, but only if they understand how to use the turn signals, the gear shift, how to add fuel, etc. If they don’t know how to do these things, they’re worse off than they were before.

So, we needed an interface for PrinceXML. This interface had to make it easy to:

  • Send a document to PrinceXML for parsing
  • Include all the necessary files (images, fonts, multiple CSS versions, etc.)

As a bonus, it adds logic to parse Markdown, which is helpful because Markdown is far easier to understand than HTML is, but allows for including HTML if necessary.

I wrote a script that provides this interface, and the code (not including, of course, PrinceXML, which has to be purchased separately) is included in this GitHub repository: https://github.com/riboflavin/marquess.

The script is fairly straightforward bash, and it takes one parameter, which is the folder containing the document you want to use.

You can actually just drag the script, and then drag the target folder, straight to your command line if you’re using OS X. Or run the script by itself and it will prompt you for the folder.

Quick guide to the script

Here’s a quick guide to the functioning of the script. The first thing it’ll do is create some output folders for your document.


mkdir -p $docfolder/Output/PDF;
mkdir -p $docfolder/Output/PDF/img;

Next, it’ll look for a few lines at the beginning of the file that give header, subheader, and the date of the document. These are delimited with #, ##, and ###. The script will then remove those lines from the document and echo the remaining contents to the temporary final document.


#get the title out of content.md
TITLE=$(head -n 1 $docfolder/Input/content.md)
#bash substring replacement syntax
TITLE=${TITLE#\# }
TITLE=${TITLE#\#}

#remove three lines from the top of the content.md file 
#(the title, subtitle, date)
sed '1,3d' $docfolder/Input/content.md >> $docfolder/temp/content.md

Next, convert any existing markdown to HTML, using John Gruber’s Markdown perl script:


for i in $docfolder/temp/*.md; do perl $DIR/template/Markdown.pl --html4tags $i >> ${i%.*}.html; done;

After that, the script looks for a table of contents file, toc.md. If it doesn’t exist, the script looks for h1, h2, and h3 headings, parses them, and creates a new table of contents:


if [ ! -f "$docfolder/Input/toc.md" ]
then
    grep -e '^' $docfolder/temp/content.html | sed 's/<\/h[123]>/<span><\/span>& /g' >> $docfolder/Input/toc.md
fi

Work then continues on the final document file, content.md. Marquess produces this file through a series of concatenations, and it does this in a giant loop that includes each format you want; these formats are included in the files names that Marquess looks for, and the filenames it generates.

The front page, for example, is generated like this:


for fmt in cmyk rgb; do

#preface. on the cmyk loop, for example, use example_cmyk_front.html
cat $DIR/template/doc/example_${fmt}_front.html >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html
cat $DIR/template/doc/example_common_front.html >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html

#cover
echo "<div id=\"cover\">" >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html
echo "<h1>$TITLE" >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html
echo "<h2>$SUBTITLE" >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html
echo "<h3>$TITLEDATE" >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html
echo "<div id=\"frontlogo\"></div>" >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html
echo "</div>" >> $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html

After adding lots of other stuff to the final output, at the very end, the script runs Prince on the HTML. You must update this line with the path to your PrinceXML binary.


#prince
#replace with path to your PrinceXML binary
/path_to_prince_binary/prince/prince $docfolder/Output/PDF/$fmt.html -o $docfolder/Output/PDF/${docname}_${fmt}.pdf -v

That’s it! The next step would be to make this an online app, with configurable (and saveable) options to generate documents on the fly. Though I’ve found the command line really useful since we often want to make lots of little iterations on our documents, then see what they look like.

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Content doesn't have to expire, but if it does, try to match the user's intent

May 15, 2015

It’s easy to think that content is one-time thing. You write a blog post, and it’s done. Or you create a whitepaper or give a webinar, and you’re done. But it’s much more accurate to think of your content as something you’re saying in an ongoing conversation.

That’s great, because it means that you can:

  • Promote old content, including linking to it from your new content.
  • Consider using old content as a template for your new content.
  • Update what you have instead of creating something new.

It also means that you’re regularly auditing your old content to see if it’s still correct, relevant, and on-brand. And you’re updating calls to action on your old content so that they point to the most relevant current offers.

Of course, that’s what you should be doing with as much content as you can, starting with your best. But what about that page you created for an event that’s already passed, or a webinar that covers an old version of your software?

As usual, it’s all about intent. What was your visitor trying to achieve when they visited this page? How can you best help them achieve that, given the content you have, and given the resources if you have if you can’t update everything?

1) It’s a blog post or presentation relating to an earlier version of your product. Your visitor might be looking for something related to that version. So don’t just take it down. Leave it up, but add a banner pointing to new content.

2) It’s a listing for an event that has already passed. Maybe your visitor is looking for the content from that event; can you put a link to it on that page (or even better, add it directly to that page)? If not, they have some interest in attending an event, presumably. Can you 404 the page but tell the visitor where your upcoming events are?

3) It’s information that is not outdated, but is off-brand, or uses old messaging. It’s surprising that this page still comes up on search. Does it make sense to revise this page? If not, can you pick the page on your site that’s closest to that content, and forward the visitor there?

If all else fails, 404 it, but provide site search on your 404 page. 404s don’t hurt you in search. And track that information, since it can be a useful way of seeing what content visitors want that you don’t have.

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