I failed a lot this year.
My gut reaction was to quietly sweep my failures under the rug, whistle, and walk away.
But instead, I figured I’d scrape the bottom of the barrel to see if there was any gold. Sue me. I’m an optimist.
Instead of a collection of successful case studies, this post will be a coroner’s report that aims to figure out why my worst blog posts of 2011 hit the web with a thud. (Actually, a thud would have been nice. These things barely went noticed).
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Here are the lessons I learned:
1. You can’t mail it in.
We might look back at 2011 as the year that curation hit the mainstream. Resource-strapped content marketers piggy-backed off other people’s content in attempt to feed the publishing machine and get a blog post out on days that a blog post was not feasible.
Curation became the magic bullet solution. Instead of building our ideas from scratch, we could stick our hand in the stream of content whooshing past us on the web in real-time and find something worth posting (er, uh, reposting).
And this is exactly what I tried to do with “An Illustrated History of Content and a Smooth Move in Content Marketing.” I saw a cool infographic, gave it a new title and a sentence or two of content, and I published it. My work was not celebrated.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with curation. But to do it right you must follow these two guidelines:
Be consistent: If curation is going to be your thing, do it all the time not every once in a while. Otherwise, it’ll just look like a random entry on your blog that doesn’t belong. CMI, CMO.com, PSFK and others do this right. I did it wrong.
Add enough context to make it worth it: Don’t just repost (unless you are a news wire). Give your reader the “reason why” they should care. Remember, curation is more like a museum and less like a warehouse.
2. Rants attract the wrong crowd (or no crowd at all).
If you’ve spend any time working on the web (or working … anywhere), you’ve been frustrated by things. In 2011 we saw the great debate of “I’m a guru/ninja” versus “no one is an expert” versus “labels mean nothing, work means everything.” It was truly captivating. Sort of.
In the spirit of the argument, I put together a post (“Gurus, Ninjas, and Labels“) that ranted about this brand of name-calling and why it didn’t matter and how it’s a distraction and how no one is a guru and experts don’t need a label.
Yeah. It went like that. And you know who showed up to read it? Gurus, ninjas, and crickets (mostly the crickets).
If your content isn’t providing value that someone can take with them to their work or use in their lives, you’re probably just contributing to the noise. And that’s exactly what I did here.
3. If you don’t believe in your content, seriously, no one else will.
By the very nature of pressing “Publish” you are quietly assuming that your work is worth someone’s time to read, your time to write, and the Internet’s bandwidth.
So when I published “Just Another SEO Manifesto” why did I damn it from the beginning? I literally labeled it as “Just another …” Its own headline didn’t think it was that great, so why would a reader?
This post became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It truly was just another SEO manifesto. And it was just another post on the Internet. And it was just another failure (I can hopefully learn from).
4. Stretching a concept usually spreads it too thin.
Writer’s block makes you hallucinate. So much so that when you really need to get a post out, you’ll lower your standards, find the nearest bit of news (e.g. Charlie Sheen, a recent snowfall, or a mundane holiday) and spin a post out of it.
I did this very thing with the ill-fated “What the Presidents of the United States of America Would Have Blogged About on the 4th of July.”
I took quotes I liked from past presidents and hoped my readers would make a conceptual leap with me.
They didn’t. And I sort of feel unpatriotic now.
5. Vagueness puts your audience to sleep.
Vagueness in content marketing is a symptom of “I really want to write about this one subject but I can’t really define it too well so I think I’ll sort of bring it up and bring up some related points and hope my reader sort of ties it all together for me.”
This only works in your dreams, so it’s no wonder it puts your audience to sleep. I did this with “How to Avoid Awkward Silence in Your Comment Section.”
At least I was right about the awkward silence bit.
If you can’t describe the point of your post in one sentence, you probably haven’t thought about it enough to publish. So do your readers a favor and hold off. They have enough to read today. They can read your thoughts tomorrow when you’ve put more … thought … into them.
Well, that’s it. Hopefully, I won’t have to amend this list by adding the very post you’re reading to the top. But if I do, I’m sure I’ll learn something valuable.