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Do you wish your content were more consistent and effective? You’ve probably noticed that some of your posts get a lot of attention, while others tend to go largely ignored. Why is this? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?
Today’s guest is Jeff Goins. Jeff is the author of The Art of Work and the founder of his blog, Goins, Writer. He says that by having a content scorecard, you can improve the standards of each of your posts, raising your blog’s overall effectiveness. If you’re having trouble keeping the engagement factor of your blog posts consistent, today’s episode is just what you need.
Some of the topics we will be discussing today include:
Nathan: Does your content performance have peaks and valleys? Wouldn’t it be nice to see your content performance just go up into the right super consistently? You can do it. It’s as simple as setting standards your content must meet before you hit that publish button.
Hey, I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. Today, I’m chatting with Jeff Goins. You probably know Jeff from his National Bestselling Book The Art of Work or maybe you know him from his amazing content he publishes at Goins, Writer. You know what? The content he publishes on his blog is becoming even more amazing week after week, and it’s all because the framework he’s sharing with you in today’s episode of the Actionable Content Marketing Podcast. You’re about to learn how to publish even more effective content. Let’s listen to Jess’s advice on content scorecards.
Hey Jeff, thanks a lot for being on the podcast.
Jeff: Hey Nathan. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
Nathan: We’re glad to have you, Jeff. To kick this off, I was wondering if you could give me the lowdown on Goins, Writer and what you do there.
Jeff: goinswriter.com is a blog that I started about five years ago, I think. I started it after this conversation I had with a friend of mine. I was probably 28 years old, working for a non-profit. I was a marketing director there. I don’t know, a lot of people in their late 20s were feeling a little discontented and wondering if there was more to life. I wasn’t unhappy, I wasn’t thrilled with where I was, I was just going is there more that I have to offer? I describe it as an itch that I couldn’t scratch. You’ve got an itch on your back and you can’t find it. It sort of felt like that, it felt like there was something that I was missing and I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
I signed up for this professional coaching group, like a paid Mastermind or something I think that we’d call it today. The second session there-we met every other month for about a year-one of the other students in the program said, hey, what’s your dream? And I said, I don’t know if I have a dream. I’ve got a job, do I need a dream?
I was really disillusioned with the whole dreaming thing. I had a lot friends who were jumping from one dream to the next, not really experiencing any success and just flaking out. I had a wife and I had a full time job and I thought of myself as moderately responsible and I was like, I don’t need a dream.
He said I would’ve thought your dream was to be a writer, and I said, yeah, I guess I’d like to be a writer someday. He looked at me and he said, Jeff, you don’t have to want to be writer, you are a writer. You just need to write. I barely knew this guy. It was very interesting that he was talking as if he knew me and knew what I wanted. He knew that I was writing on the side, that I’d started and stopped a few different blogs at different times. It was a really powerful experience but when he said you are a writer, you just need to write. I was like, okay I’m going to do that.
I started this blog, goinswriter.com, and it became the place where I basically shared my process of how I was going to start experimenting with a daily writing habit. I wrote on that blog for a year, every single day, about 500-1000 words and I did that in 2011. By the end of that year, I had 10,000 email subscribers and people were telling me you could monetize this and turn this into a business and publish books and I was like, oh, really?
I was a marketing director, I understood online marketing but this whole being an information marketer or teaching people how to do stuff online, even being an online entrepreneur, this was a whole new world to me. I started this online business basically writing books and teaching writers and creatives how to use their crafts to succeed online through things like online marketing business and so forth. It took off and turned into this million dollar business that I continue to run and I continue to write and publish books around things that interest me and my blog is still the place where I experiment with ideas, share a lot about the craft of writing, talk about blogging and just the problems and challenges facing creatives, especially writers today.
Nathan: I would say that that advice has paid off a lot. Your blog is amazing, full of tips, inspirational for people like me and for writers all over the place.
Nathan: You’re welcome.
One of the things that you do a lot is work on improving and some of your content I’ve read just really helps me improve every time I read it. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about improvement and specifically about that idea of a content score card that you have to improve your content. I was just wondering, could you give me an overview of what your content scorecard is?
Jeff: This is a very simple tool and it was actually created by my team member, Kyle. The brief story behind this, because apparently I can’t answer a question without telling a story, bear with me, Nathan.
Nathan: That’s good, though.
Jeff: It’s not good for my wife. My wife is like, a-huh a-huh. I tell her a story and she’s like, what is the point of this thing? Then I’m like, hang on, wait for it. Over the years, I think I’ve learned to tell slightly better stories.
This was a tool that we accidentally created that has been transformational for my blog, for the business. I’m actually going to an Airbnb tomorrow to film the course around this thing that we’ve created. It’s been a very helpful I’ve started sharing with other bloggers, writers, online marketers and they found it really effective as well. It’s fun to be able to share this with you.
A while ago, earlier this year, we were trying to grow the team, I was writing a book. I thought I would write a book in three months, my agent was like you should probably take six months to write this book. I said, fine, I’ll take six months because my wife had a baby in the middle of that. I was like, I’ll start the book in January, my wife will have our kid in February, I’ll be done in March. He’s like, maybe, maybe not. I was like, alright, fine, six months.
Anyway, 11 months later I turned the book in. All year I was writing this book and at the same time we were trying to build the team for the business. Something that’s been really hard for me is to figure out what to do with content because basically I create all the content, I write a lot of the email copy, all the articles, all of the stuff that has my name on it, I actually write. For a season, I tried to outsource that and the quality of content, the reader engagement tanked.
What I was doing was I’d come up with a rough piece of content then send it to an editor and it was really hard. I actually had a conversation with Seth Godin. I got on the phone with him and I said you’ve built these companies and you sold them but you’ve never done this with your blog, you never really scaled that but you occasionally do events and books and projects. Why is that? And he said, I‘ve never scaled my content because my content is me, you can’t outsource your voice. That really resonated with me. I don’t know if that’s true for an organization, necessarily.
I used to run a team of 10 writers for a non profit and we had lots of different writers who were all creating content within this organizational voice but I think it’s especially challenging and potentially problematic for personal brands. I’m not saying that it’s gospel that you have to write every word that you put your name on. I’d be very careful to completely outsource your voice and something that I realized didn’t work for me.
Our content was based on my subjective whims on what I thought was good or bad. That’s fine when you’re just a solo-preneur or an individual blogger. I was building this team. There were more moving parts and we were collaborating with folks. I would write a blog post that would do well and then I write a blog post and it wouldn’t do as well and I didn’t really know why. I guess the muse struck me in a certain way that day.
What we did as a team is we went through a lot of these old blog posts and looked at the ones that did extraordinarily well. We were looking at 1.5 times bump of our average daily traffic, trending at least 50% above, double or triple average comments. We just looked at all of our content that was not just good but extraordinary, in terms of performance, and we were evaluating that based on social shares, comments and traffic to the actual page visits.
Kyle identified these four check marks, basically. The scorecard is a series of four questions and I’ll share with you some interesting results from experimenting with that in a second. The scorecard is really simple, you get a point for each of these things and if you get all four points, you get a perfect score. The idea is sort of like a GPA, we’re going for a 4.0, we’re going for not perfect content but content that if it satisfies all four of these, it’s done. If it doesn’t, maybe we don’t ship it.
We started this out as a tool and we started publishing three out of four and four out of fours and two out of fours and just looked at how they performed differently.
The four points are this. You get one point if the content is well written. What that means really is that it meets that standards in our internal style guide. We have things in our internal style guide like don’t use too many adverbs, don’t use the word I too much. If you’re saying I did this, I did this, I did this; it’s okay to use once in awhile but it gets repetitive, it’s exhausting to the reader. Then other style things like we keep our paragraphs between three and four lines, as you probably know, Nathan, people are reading huge, giant paragraphs online with backlit screens, it’s exhausting for the eyes versus looking in a little chunks of text and scanning and whatnot. All those things contribute to one point which is content is well written, meaning we are meeting our internal standards in terms of a style guide. That used to just be in my head and I had to write that out and collaborate with the team and they said is this what you mean when you mean this is good enough. I was like, yeah, it is. That’s one point.
Another point is that you promise something. One of the things we realize when we were analyzing all these articles is the best content was not necessarily just a good story or a well written piece of pros but it was the fact that it made a clear, compelling promise. There was something that was in it for the reader and you get a point for making a promise. This is going to help you do XY or Z. That can happen in the headline, in the lead, it’s going to happen early on in the article. That’s one point. There’s an actual promise of something that the reader is going to get out of it.
Then there’s another point for keeping the promise. Lots of articles make promises that you don’t necessarily deliver on, and this is especially the case in online marketing where you go 13 Wacky Reasons for How to Make a Living Online and they give you four and then charge you for the other nine or whatever. That’s not really keeping a promise. Trust with our readers is really important. You get a third point for keeping the promise.
Lastly, the content wows the reader with value, leading them to think I can’t believe this was free. In other words, it’s so useful, it’s so practical, so helpful that somebody would’ve paid for it.
Basically, that boils down to four questions. Do you open with a promise? Do you close with actually delivering that promise? Are you following an internal style guide? And is there an extraordinary amount of value in the article itself that leaves people going, I actually would’ve paid for this. If you get all four of those, you have a perfect score. It doesn’t mean the article is perfect, doesn’t mean that you can’t edit it and make it better, but it does mean that it’s done and it’s something that we can ship. Like I said, we experimented with shipping twos and threes and fours just to see how they performed and the results were actually pretty extraordinary.
Nathan: Jeff, I know that as you got started, you may have hit some snakes here and there. You mentioned hitting twos and threes, what was some of the biggest challenges you faced when implementing your score card?
Jeff: Here’s the thing. This was not my idea, I just wanted some sort of consistent way of creating effective content. I believe that there’s no such thing as good writing, there’s only effective writing. You may love J.K. Rowling and I may think she’s a hack and I might be totally into Ernest Hemingway and you might be rolling your eyes going I don’t even get it or whatever.
The point is, it’s not a writer’s job, it’s not a marketer’s job, it’s not a blogger’s job to please everyone but it is your job to please someone and that someone is your reader. The best content, the best writing is effective for its intended reader.
Nobody wants to read something that feels like mass marketing. Nobody wants to read something that looks like a billboard. That feels like it’s for everyone. If it feels like it’s for everyone, it’s basically for no one.
One of the reasons I love Seth Godin so much is because he writes stuff that references things that he wrote 5 or 10 years ago. I’ve been reading him for 10 years, I remember that and I get the joke. I’m in on the secret and that’s a risk. If he were constantly trying to get new readers and acquire new customers, then he wouldn’t be going as deep with his tribe as he goes and he would probably get more readers and acquire more customers but there wouldn’t be the depth of trust that there is with him.
Seth recently published a book that he sold for $150 a copy. I bought two of them because I’m a fan. I get the joke, I’m in on the secret and that’s because he is very effective at communicating a specific message to his particular audience and he’s okay with not reaching everyone. That’s what’s effective writing does well. When we put the score card together, we realized that’s what we’re aspiring to do is be more effective with our intended readership. Yes, we want to grow but more than anything, we want to deepen the level of trust that we have with the people who are listening to us. If we didn’t, I’d go write stuff about fashion or celebrities or whatever. If I just wanted to reach the most amount of people, that’s obviously not what I want to do.
Did we hit snacks? Totally. I would write an article and I would go guys, this is really good. I think this is often the case with a visionary leader, you go hey yeah, that sounds great, we should have a scorecard or whatever. And then you say yes to the rules and then 20 minutes later, you want to break the rules. That’s often the case for me as a visionary, entrepreneur. I’m like yeah, that sounds great now this doesn’t apply to me, does it?
Anyway, I was stubborn about it, right? Like I said we published twos and threes not because we were being super experimental, but because I was like this is good, let’s publish it. At the same time, we started measuring what percentage of readers were completing our articles. We publish twos and we publish threes and I publish a three one time and I thought it was great, this was a longer article, I was experimenting with longer form stuff moving from 500 word articles to 1500 word articles and it was a lot of pros, a lot of story, a lot of narrative. I thought it was really good, really interesting. 30% of the readers finished the entire article. The average person read about 30% of the article, they didn’t finish it. That was disappointing. Three out of four ain’t bad, but you’re doing straight Cs and I’ve always been competitive and I want straight A’s.
I started paying attention to the scorecard and I said, okay I’ll try writing a four. Really what it was Nathan, it was last that one that I mentioned. It was this seemingly simple phrase, the content wows the reader with value leading them to think I can’t believe this was free. There’s something actionable in it that they can take and apply to their own life, their own writing career, which is often the case with our readers.
I wrote a great article and then I went back overnight and I spent probably another two hours just trying to make sure it was packed with value. Then we shipped that and 80%, that was the average completion rate. The difference between three out of four for us and a four out of four is 50% more of the article is read. A three gets us 30% of the article being read, four gets us a 80%. I said okay, we’re not going to publish anything but a four anymore, four out of four. It’s changed the game for us.
After we instituted that, we started basically hitting home runs almost every time with one new blog post every single week. Instead of it being a crap shoot, instead of it being gosh, we’ll see how this does, right? Throw it against the wall and see what sticks. It became this consistent way to publish content that was effective.
Like I said, I’ve shared it with friends and other people who do online marketing and it’s been very helpful for them revolutionary, we’re turning it into a product because I think that there’s something really powerful here. I think the point is not that you should steal my score card, although you’re welcome to do it. The point is that you should have some objective way of measuring your creative output. I am such a creative, I’m such an artist. I drag my feet through this whole thing but the bottom line is more than just wanting to create cool stuff, I want my creations, my words, my writing, my art, to impact people. If I can know that the time I’m spending creating a blog post is going to impact somebody because I’m going to ask these four questions which aren’t that difficult to answer, then that’s what I want to do versus work on something upon hours upon hours and throw it out in the internet and hope somebody cares about it.
Nathan: I think the results of your content score card really speak for themselves. Going from 30% read to 80% read is definitely effective for your niche audience. It’s just really good advice.
Jeff: Like I said, I was skeptical, I’m not way into measuring everything. But really, it’s just like I write an article and then I ask myself these four questions and the team holds me accountable now. They go hey, this doesn’t meet our standards that you agreed upon and do you want this to be 30% read or 80% read?
As we get to a four, we’re constantly honing and tweaking and making it better and better. Every week, we’re increasing that by about a percentage point, we’re up to about 85% now. There’s still room to master this and grow and get better and better but it’s just a standard that we’ve decided to live by and it’s been really fun. It’s been really cool to see that consistently generate the results that I’m certainly pleased with and hope it helps other people as well.
Nathan: Speaking of helping other people, your content scorecard is really specific to creating successful content for your own following at Goins, Writer. I’m wondering if you might have some advice for how can a marketer create a scorecard like this for their own content?
Jeff: Like I said, you can steal this and I think that there’s some universal stuff here. As I mentioned, I think that effective writing is a better term than good writing. The question that you should ask, say you’re working with a team of copywriters or you’re writing some email copy or a newsletter or a blog post for a client. You can ask yourself these same questions. Is there some sort of promise I’m making in this article? Am I delivering on that promise? Am I writing within the accepted style and voice of the blog, of the newsletter of the organization, whatever it might be? And am I creating actionable content that is going to actually help people achieve the outcome that I promised them?
There’s some universality here. I think that effective writing is not about being cool or full of a bunch of sizzle. It’s simply about saying you’re going to do something, doing it, doing it well, and then leaving the reader with something that they can go do. Almost all non-fiction writing needs to do this. There needs to be some sort of argument and then you need to actually effectively make that argument and you need to say what you’re say going to say in a way that doesn’t make you sound ignorant. And again, that’s whatever your style guide is, that whatever the norms of your industry or genre may be. Again, leave the reader thinking I can’t believe this was free.
Is that open to interpretation? You bet. And interpret that however you want but I think those questions are enough, those four areas are enough to get you started. Honestly, go read not great blogs and read frankly a lot of marketing blogs, a lot of them aren’t doing this as well as they could be. You’ll see them have two or three of these. But when you have four out of four content like this, it’s almost always going viral or connecting well with the audience. That’s just the power of communication.
I don’t know if you remember taking communication class in high school or whatever, Nathan, but I did and I remember it to this day that there was a picture on the textbook and they talk about communication is there’s a sender and a message and a receiver. You haven’t effectively communicated a message until the receiver says, okay I receive that.
Really, it’s silly and almost pedantic. But often as marketers, I think we overlook this. We go the click through rate was such and such and the open rate was yada yada. It’s not just about broadcasting stuff, it’s about making sure that we are making a connection. When you effectively communicate something, you’re not just getting people to open it, you’re not just tricking them into clicking a link because you wrote a clever piece of copy. You’re getting them to do stuff, measurable action. When you do that, you’re not going to go out of business, your email list is going to grow, and you’re going to have people raving about you. It’s a higher standard for sure but it’s at the same time something that we can all do if we just take a little bit more time to care for our audiences and the people that we’re trying to reach.
Nathan: I think that’s awesome advice. I appreciate the stories and this whole thing has been pretty actionable for me. Thanks for sharing everything today.
Jeff: Thanks for having me. I’m glad you appreciate the stories and hopefully the jokes as well. The mild voice cracks, that’s bonus content for you.
January 24, 2017
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