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You shouldn’t trust everything that you read on this blog.
In fact, you probably shouldn’t trust anything you read on any blog. Doing so may actually be bad for your marketing.
Content marketing tips are usually made up, and why wouldn’t they be? Everything is made up these days – even scientific research.
In a recent study, economists found that nearly all studies published in economics journals are likely to be wrong. After studying 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists, researcher John Ioannidis found that within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies.
Things aren’t much better in the medical field.
Author David Freedman published in his book Wrong that “about two-thirds of the findings published in the top medical journals are refuted within a few years.”
Even worse, “as much as 90% of physicians’ medical knowledge has been found to be substantially or completely wrong” according to Time Magazine’s article on the book’s findings.
Are you finding this a bit creepy? You should be, and it should give you all the less reason to trust your friendly neighborhood content marketing professional carte blanche.
Most of what they say is full of crap…
… someone has to say it.
Here’s the thing – too much marketing these days is based on “what some other guy told me to do,” and not enough on “what our data told us to do,” and that’s a real problem. This post is about putting the other guy’s ideas on trial, and making sure that their tips actually work – for you.
It may sound obvious, but it begs a reminder – never trust marketing advice that you haven’t tested.
We live in an age of data. We have a ton of it.
Isn’t it time that we started using it?
While we may agree that testing is important, why do we constantly do otherwise?
In his seminal work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini gives us a hint about why we so easily fall for the experts, even though they are so often wrong.
He reports on a study in which a group of people were given an essay by an anonymous writer that was favorable to Fidel Castro. Participants were then asked to guess the true feelings of the writer. In almost all cases, the reader of the essay believed that the favorable report on Fidel Castro represented the true feelings of the person who originally wrote the essay.
They assumed that a pro-Castro essay was equal to a pro-Castro writer.
Of course, this isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is that nearly the same number of participants also believed that the favorable report on Fidel Castro still represented the true feelings of the person who wrote it, even once they were told that the writer was in fact forced to write a pro-Castro article.
The point is that participants were very likely to believe the contents of what they read, simply because they read it – even if they knew that there was a good chance that it was false. The reason for this is in part because the participants blindly assigned a level of authority to the writer of the article simply because he had taken the time to write it.
There are other examples of this influence of authority at work. In Cialdini’s research, he found that:
In short, we usually believe what we assume to be an authority, and the simple fact that something is written down is often enough for us to assume that the required amount of authority is present, and we can trust it.
There’s no doubt that it can make those ‘7 Free Content Marketing Tips’ very dangerous if we don’t pay close attention, and test our own results. Here are some ways to change your habits.
The first thing that we need to do is to start questioning our own assumptions.
While we are inhaling and digesting those seven free tips, we need to be questioning their validity before we believe them. A good place to start is by running the writer’s conclusions against what constitutes a fair scientific test.
A fair test in science is one that should:
Using these simple evaluations, we should be able to determine if the information presented is scientifically based, or not at all. In some cases, the advice may be scientifically based without actually presenting the data. This should also give us pause.
Of course, the best way to guarantee scientifically accurate data is to conduct the test ourselves. This is something that can be accomplished with a simple A/B test – a method used for determining if a new variation will provide a better outcome than the original option. In these tests, we form a simple hypothesis (or predicted outcome) and test two variations against one another to see which works best.
As Smashing Magazine puts it, we want to determine which is better – version A or version B.
These simple A/B Tests help us verify our assumptions and put the so-called experts to the test. They are fairly simple to do with the right tools. For quick reference, here are five tools that you can start using today to test some of your new found hypotheses. We’ll then get into some specific things to look out for when conducting those tests.
Optimizly is a simple SAAS based application that will help you create on-the-fly tests using a WYSIWYG site editor, or through a more complex integration in the HTML of the page itself. It is a one of the leading A/B testing tools available, and a great place to start.
Like Optimizly, VWO is another A/B testing tool that will allow you to create simple A/B tests with the click of a mouse. For example, if you read a post touting the virtues of red buttons, you can quickly create a test that measure how your new red buttons match up agains the old version – often referred to as the control version.
KISSmetrics is a very customizable analytics platform that you can use to measure and evaluate your results. While it is not specifically an A/B testing tool itself, it does an excellent job of measuring specific events that happen on your site. In short, you should be able to see if specific events (like email signups) change or improve based on a few adjustments. The key here is to make sure that you only make a few (or just one) change at a time so that you can easily compare it to a previous version. We like to run changes for at least a week before drawing any significant conclusions.
Nelio A/B Testing
Nelio A/B Testing is a simple WordPress plugin that will allow you to conduct A/B tests right from your WordPress admin itself. This is a nice option for WordPress users because it means that even beginners will be able to work through the frequent complexities of A/B testing and visualize the results right from the admin panel.
A few weeks back, I wrote a post examining the best place to put social sharing buttons on a blog post. My results were interesting, but not necessarily conclusive. They by no means followed the strict evaluations of a true scientific test, and were certainly not the same, or even true, for every website. So, did that make them irrelevant?
The point here is that marketing tips aren’t inherently bad, they are just unproven. They give you ideas of what you might try testing. The problem we face has nothing to with the advice itself, rather it has to do with how we interpret that advice and put it into practice.
If get nothing else out of this post, please hear me clearly. You should never take content marketing tips at face value. Always test them for yourself and see if they really work for you.
Now is the time to make a commitment to actually testing your marketing, and not just executing it.
July 30, 2014
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