Quality content header

You had a great idea, you wrote your heart out, and it turned out to be a huge…dud.

How do you recoup the time and effort you put into it? Because if time is money, you don’t want to have wasted it. Bottom line, and all of that. Your worst-performing content must be something you learn from, and/or reuse.

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What are some characteristics you’ll see evident in your worst-performing content? I’m going to hazard a guess and say:

Keep that last one in mind and remember that content that performs poorly might not always be the fault of the content itself, but might be problems with promotion.

Anyway, what can you learn (and do) when you have a content dud on your hands?

1. Your Research Is Never Wasted

Quality content research

No matter how crappy your content, your research is never wasted (that is, if there was any research in it).

Research is hugely time consuming, so there is absolutely no way you want to waste the information you found. Even if the first way you packaged that research tanked, use it again in a different way.

Make an infographic. Rewrite the content with a different approach. Write it into a guest post for someone else. Don’t waste the time you invested in finding that information.

2. Your Approach Might Be At Fault

Great ideas turn into bad ideas depending on how you approach the topic. I wrote a pretty stinky blog post a while back, bad enough that I would want to protect my mother’s eyes from ever catching a glimpse of it.

It probably wasn’t a bad idea as far as the topic (lack of planning can kill your blog), but the approach was all wrong.

Considering that the post talked about how to make your blog fail…maybe have the post bomb was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever the case, the comments section is all crickets chirping.

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It’s hard to separate the idea from the approach in knowing which was the reason for the failure of the content. Thing is, you won’t know if an approach won’t work until you try it. So while it’s not a shining moment of glory, I’m glad I took a swing at it anyway so I could at least know.

3. You Have A Chance To Bare All

If you’re not allergic to humble pie, you can use the opportunity of a failed piece of content to ask a more experienced content marketer what they think went wrong. Whether you do this behind the scenes or do it publicly and turn it into another piece of content (“Why My Post Bombed” or “3 Experts Dissect A Bad Piece Of Content”).

Hootsuite did something like this:

Confessional behind-the-scenes content is appealing to readers (as you’ll see in item #4). Wouldn’t you like to know all the dirt on how a post gets created here at CoSchedule, and what we do when something flops? I know I enjoy reading that type of revealing content from big name bloggers because it actually encourages me; there’s a sense that the gods came down from Olympus.

4. You Can Do A Post Mortem

Speaking of content dissection, why not do it yourself? Slice and dice that content and see if you can learn something from it post mortem. What are you looking for?

  1. Redundancy. When I have nothing to say, I usually find lots of ways to say it, repeatedly. It makes for hideous content.
  2. Bad headlines. Headlines are what get people to read. Search engines might not care, but people do, and people are a huge part of your audience. They make up 100% of it.
  3. Communication barriers. I’ve written about communication barriers that we put in front of our readers. Tone, ego, language—they all play a part in turning people off from your content.
  4. Uninteresting research. Piling research into your post is only valuable if it’s actually valuable and interesting research. If you’re going to use research, you need to find a way to liven it up either by “translating” it anecdotally for your reader, or using comparison and contrast to put that research into the context you’re going for. Simple spewing out percentages in a list can be mind numbing.
  5. Too much copycat. Your headline, your post—whatever it was—is just like every other blog post being written out there. Be careful about mimicking the influencers; everyone else is, too. Nothing trumps a defiant streak of originality.
  6. You were bored writing it. No one creates boring content like a bored writer.
  7. Your readers didn’t care. It doesn’t matter if the topic was important to you. It has to be important to your reader. All your passion on a topic amounts to zilch if

Melonie Dodaro did a post mortem on her seven worst blog posts, and you can get an idea of how to go about it using her example. You’ll notice that key among her findings was how a headline either had little to do with the post (and people bounced out as soon as they realized it) or was a dog from the get go.

Headlines, headlines, headlines. So important.

I read Dodaro’s entire blog post because I’m like most of you: I have a slight penchant for schadenfreude mixed with curiosity over the confessional approach. So that, right there, is a great way to turn blog post duds into traffic getters.

5. Your Practice Is Never Wasted

Quality content wasted

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make a habit.

Not only did that bad content still have a role in your writing training and habit-making, it fulfills that important role of letting you experience failure so you know better what is good, what is bad, and the art of being able to pick yourself up and move on.

Everything—even the failures—is a data point. Hopefully you’re tracking it.

6. It Might Be Time To Shift Your Strategy

Perhaps your content wasn’t all that bad, but it performed badly because your social sharing, paid promotion, email, or other promotion methods are in need of a tune-up.

  • Are you promoting your content at the wrong time of day or the wrong day of the week?
  • Has your audience changed since when you first started?
  • Are you on the wrong social network?
  • Do you need to send out more emails?

You’ll often see blog post suggesting that you review your data, your results, and ultimately your strategy periodically. If you’ve noticed a series of poorly performing content, it might be a sign you need to do that, that your strategy needs to be retooled.

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7. You Didn’t Leave Enough Time

Quality content time

Maybe you slipped a bit and weren’t doing as well as you’d hoped as far as planning your content on your editorial calendar. You didn’t give yourself enough lead time to keep up with posts, and are fast approaching the point where you’re behind the curve instead of ahead of it.

What do you do in a rush?

You start to lose sight of important things, such as keeping your SEO tight and your copy audience-suited. Not all poorly-performing content is the result of letting time get away from you, but it’s worth an honest look.

This is one of the reasons an editorial calendar is so vital. It keeps you from falling into that dark valley of “OMG, I need a post for tomorrow!”, a valley where sloppy and shallow are most likely to emerge.

Look at the poor performing content, and take a look at your editorial calendar or work schedule. How much of a rush were you in?

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If you can’t keep up with the content quality because you bumped the quantity up a few notches, bring it back down and work on focusing on a singular post a week.

8. Your SEO Has Gone Wild

Being rushed sometimes means your SEO is barely given a nod.

On the flip side, though, getting too narrow a focus on a keyword can also derail your content. Dodaro admits as much for one of her failed blog posts, noting that the problem with a post was a faulty headline which had an “SEO keyword crammed in at the expense of title’s integrity”.

Yep. We’ve done that, too. Ever see those weird headlines that look like someone bungled the grammar, leaving out the article in the midst of a keyword phrase or seeming slightly off from how a real person talks?

“How Market Research Firm Can Help You”

“What Time Is The Super Bowl?” (An actual headline from the Huffington Post. Probably a huge long-tail search term, but how much content can you really create for that without seeming obnoxious?)

“The Business Social Media Hacks That Work”

That’s what happens when your headline is an indentured servant to keywords and SEO. It’s as if you’re playing the Cat Game from Super Troopers, packing keywords everywhere you can:

Fast Company puts this well:

“If you find yourself trying to fit a square-pegged keyword into a round-shaped title, just let it go. You don’t want to write something that doesn’t make sense or confuses the reader just for the sake of SEO.”

Clunky headlines that search engines might love but people ignore don’t do you any favors on social media and in email.

9. Decide If You Need To Cull It

I won’t recommend deleting content, but if you are unable to bear the thought of that awful content existing, perhaps it’s time to remove it. However, be sure to salvage what little traffic you had coming to it.

Direct that low-performing post to a brand new, much better post using a 301 redirect. Or, follow the Moz blog’s suggestions for weeding out low-performing content and cleaning up your site.

10. Look For Salvage

Quality content salvage

Maybe you can save it.

How bad was your post? Be sure you are really identifying your site’s worst-performing content and not just the stuff you don’t like yourself. At that point, there are likely things you can still salvage if the sum of the parts happened to be less than stellar.

Did you have an idea for an interview and the interview went badly? Maybe the interviewee answered in one- or two-word answers.

Can you turn that interview into data or other forms (charts, percentages, or recharacterizations)?

Maybe you got sloppy and cheated a bit on the headline by using the first one that came to mind instead of really working through the best options.Why not change the headline, and reset your social sharing and promotion to see if it fares better?

At the very least, you can get some A/B testing data out of that between the two headlines.

Take Action: Look through your analytics and choose at least three of your worst-performing blog posts. Dissect them. Figure out why they bombed. Was it:

  • Headline problems
  • Copy failures
  • Wrong topic
  • Wrong timing
  • Lack of proper promotion
  • Uninterested writer

Dissect your bad content and figure out why it didn’t work. Rework them into a new piece of content, and try again, taking into account the things you did wrong the first time. Or, develop a checklist for yourself to be sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes for future content.

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How have you unlocked quality content from your worst-performing posts?