Why we cut our content production in half
And how to know if you should do the same
Common knowledge about content is outdated
Producing lots of web content is something every marketer has been urged to do in the last few years. The logic goes something like “the more you produce, the more love you’ll get from Google.” That’s true to an extent, but it ignores a few bigger picture forces.
One of the things that it ignores is that if everyone publishes more content, each individual pieces gets less and less attention. Publishing becomes an arms race, with everyone building up bigger and bigger stockpiles. This is economics, plain and simple. The demand for content isn’t growing nearly as fast as the supply. And when supply outpaces demand, the value of the average content asset declines.
Another force that the rapid-fire publishing approach ignores is the force that it aimed to harness in the first place: Google’s algorithms. The algorithms used to rank based almost exclusively on relevance. But there’s so much relevant content now that Google can start to weight their results using things like the load speed of a piece of content and how long a user spends reading a given piece. They can also flat-out steal content for themselves, something I documented in a previous article.
These facts, and a host of others, are what pushed us to drastically cut the amount of content we produced. In fact, we cut it in half.
How cutting down led to growth
In early 2018, we hit peak content production. We were generating a 2 new blog posts and 2 pieces of email content every week. It was a crazy (but fun) time, and we were discovering just how productive we could be with the right systems in place. We learned a lot through that experience, and found that the limits we had previously assumed were hard and fast could be pushed a bit further.
But as we produced more and more, each piece got less and less engagement. We saw this in a couple different data points we were watching. As the downward trend continued, we stepped back and re-evaluated our approach. As we read some recent content, evaluated what our readers were most interested in, and conducted a few experiments, the conclusion we came to was that we were over investing in quantity and under investing in quality. To turn the numbers around, we would need to experiment with a new mix.
And so we made the scary decision to cut our content production in half. And wouldn’t you know it, it worked. So well, in fact, our plans for next year include cutting it back further.
The act of cutting back on quantity allowed us to invest more in quality. Instead of trying to hit an artificial quota, we had time to ask ourselves “what could we write that would have a unique and helpful impact for healthcare marketers?” And if we didn’t have something, we could, dare I say it, simply not publish anything.
The rebalanced investment in quality afforded us new opportunities. For instance, now we had the time and the reputation to get our content placed in higher quality industry pubs. That, in turn, exposed us to a wider audience. Additionally, it allowed us to better define the kinds of ideas we were uniquely qualified to contribute to conversations about marketing health care providers. And that, in turn, helped us cut through the oversupply of content and reach healthcare marketers in a more direct and helpful way. We could now start our content work by asking questions like “If we publish this idea, will it help anyone more than content they can find somewhere else?” If the answer was no, we could just kill the idea.
How to know if cutting back will work for you
I know many of you are wondering if a similar approach would work for your organization. And the truth is that I don’t know. Every organization is different, and every health system is racing against different kinds of competitors to win different kinds of patients. But while I can’t give you the answer that works for you, I can give you a few ways to think it through for yourself.
First, I’d advise you to start in your gut. Ask yourself if the content you’ve been producing lately is the kind of thing you’d find helpful if you were in the shoes of the people you’re trying to reach. Having some clarity around what you already believe is a great starting point for change.
Second, ask your team. This includes your in-house team and any agency partners you might have. Ask if they have thoughts on the quality of the content and what opportunities they see. Often the people who are working in it every day will have a better grasp of nuances than the manager or director does.
Third, run some numbers. Use something like our content scoring algorithm to get a sense of your best performing and worst performing content, and gauge the last handful of published pieces against these. Is the content you’ve produced recently more like the best performing pieces or the worst?
Fourth, invest in education. The best way to raise the level of your content is the raise the level of your content producers. Help them find (and pay for) training and education that will make them better producers. I’m not necessarily talking about learning how better to use keywords, or how to write a more compelling headline (not that those are bad things). What I’m talking about more is training them to think critically. Training them to spot an idea worth pursuing and an idea that doesn’t merit the time and effort necessary to produce an article.
The limited value of easy answers
Sometimes I feel a little guilty when I write an article that has more questions in it than answers. Sometimes I want to be the person who finds nice, clean, simple answers to complex questions my clients have. In many cases that simply isn’t possible.
But even if it were possible, I’m not sure I’d do it. And the reason is that the more an elementary answer pervades the culture, the more people will follow it unquestioningly. That’s what led us to our current situation, in which everyone and their brother is cranking out content faster than their customers can consume it.
When I’m feeling this way, I think back on a conversation I had with a client from years ago. When I first met this client, he made it clear that he was looking for ideas that were powerful, yes, but also challenging to implement. To him, ideas that were easy to implement were the ones most likely to be copied by his competitors. He wanted something that gave him a lasting advantage, and he understood that by continually doing things that were challenging, he could build a huge advantage over less ambitious competitors.
And so, no, I can’t tell you if cutting your content production is the right move for you. But I can tell you that taking the time to think it through critically will help you understand why you’re producing content in the first place. And for many, it will almost certainly give you an edge. And that’s something every health system marketer could use.