Content scoring is stupid. And potentially dangerous.

Content scoring is stupid. And potentially dangerous.

As you can tell by the post title, I have an opinion about content scoring for marketers. Content scoring’s heart is in the right place and I don’t fault the effort – it’s just being done poorly in many instances and it’s time get real and talk about what’s actually going on.
Content scoring came from a need that pretty much every marketer, salesperson, SEO, etc. has been tasked with over the past couple of years: “Create more content and tell me what’s working so we can do more of that. Now.” And why do you want to create more content that’s working — because it equals money to your business, so of course it’s important and you want to measure it!
The problem with scoring individual pieces of content is that it’s inaccurate, and frankly can be pretty dangerous. Here’s why:

1. It’s probably not the content’s fault that it sucks.

It may not be your fault that a piece of content sucks either, but because (today) most content is created by humans, sometimes it will suck. Saying that you’re going to stop creating ebooks because they don’t perform as well as videos is potentially inaccurate, it may be because your ebooks aren’t done well. (Truth hurts.)
How do you know if it’s the channel (ebooks), the distribution (how you’re getting your ebook out there), or the specific content (the sucky writing and illustrations) that are making this particular piece of content not perform? If you’re just going by traditional content scoring, you’ll probably never find out.
I’ve often found that when people complain about the performance of an otherwise awesome piece of content, it comes down to three main issues:

  • Improper distribution – How are you getting it out there, is it to the right people, is it via the appropriate channel for the audience, and does the messaging match the content and intent of the piece? Does the content actually even match the product and brand it’s representing? (You’d be surprised how many times content gets outsourced and the final piece promises something a product doesn’t deliver.)
  • Call to action is buried, non-existent, or leading to the wrong thing – If you place calls to action everywhere it’s overwhelming. If you place them nowhere then wtf is the point? If you play “Where’s Waldo” with your CTAs then you’re making life difficult for the audience. If your ebook is about understanding rank tracking and your CTA says, “Learn how to ride a pony” you’re probably not making the next logical step. See where I’m going with this? Put your CTAs at logical points in your content and lead people to a next relevant step – whether that’s another piece of content, a form, or signup.
  • The point is unclear – Your content may be awesome looking and even have a great message, but audiences need a distilled point or couple of points to remember. Make sure you clearly call out what the point of your content is and tie back to it frequently so people can remember it.

2. Content is an ecosystem.

Since most people don’t create only once piece of content, it’s important to understand the interactions between all content elements. The creation of many pieces of content throughout the entire awareness –> marketing –> sales funnel means many people can have touch points or exposure to your brand without taking action for a while.
Considering that when you share something via social media, provide engagement in forums, create educational materials, etc. and they don’t always directly result in a form fill or sale – they are still furthering the conversation for a lot of people . The purpose of those elements may not to sell directly, but rather to build a relationship that is ripe for sales when the time comes.  So before you consider cutting off a part of the content ecosystem, you have to consider how these elements work together to create a sustainable brand.

3. Are we considering lead quality in the score?

We get so excited when someone fills out a form, agrees to a demo, signs up for a trial – we forget the cost of attracting the wrong people. Creating content that attracts people isn’t nearly as hard as creating content that attracts the right people. The people that will actually use, pay for, and stick with your product for a long time.  You may get a ton of leads or even signups from a particular piece of content, but it’s also important to watch how those customers perform over a longer span of time than an immediate form fill.
The old adage that it takes more effort to swing and miss than it does to hit something is true for closing business as well. It’s expensive and exhausting to generate a bunch of leads that don’t pan out or to sign customers that aren’t a good fit for your product and try to force them to fit.
This is especially true for companies that have a free trial or other special offer up front, as driving trial traffic does not always correlate into a huge spike in sales. Remember, the content needs to match the value proposition of the product and audience expectations or you might be attracting the wrong people.
If you’re going to use a content scoring methodology then I’d see about adding in a line item for the lifetime value of users as well.

There is hope for content scoring though.

Measuring the ecosystem is an issue lots of companies and individuals are trying to tackle. Business intelligence, social analytics, marketing platforms, and other technologies are all trying to answer the question – “what makes someone say yes?”
Until we’ve created the crystal ball, it’s a good rule of thumb to measure twice and cut once when it comes to content, channels, and distribution tactics. That is to say, seeing a single statistic at one point in time shouldn’t be enough to damn an entire type of content or marketing channel. Viewing elements over a sustained period of time, testing different messages, and looking at lots of different measures will give you a more accurate picture of how things are working (or not working) together.
We’re working on helping make these decisions easier, but are hesitant to release recommendations to the world that aren’t accurate or don’t give marketers all the information they need to take the correct next step. Remember – if a solution sounds too simple, “Create lots of videos, screw ebooks,”  it’s probably time to do a gut, and data, check.