Smell that? That’s the scent of 52,776 sweaty, desperate content marketers trying to grab a tiny slice of your attention.
Okay, I made that number up.
The real number is higher.
And the reason you’re smelling those content marketers, instead of eating up what they’re dishing out, is because we’re all experiencing “content fatigue”. Our content overload detectors are so sensitive that they’re being tripped up by even the slightest infraction.
In fact, I’m betting that if you read what we posted yesterday, your detector is going off like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl. You’re thinking, “WTF? Yesterday you posted about content shock and how to mitigate it by creating awesome and engaging content and now you’re following it up with content about content fatigue? That’s messed up.”
Or hilarious, depending on whom you ask.
Yep, I created this content to tell you about how overwhelmed we all are with content. But really it’s about helping you deal with the garbage. And then helping you sift through that garbage for the donuts that are still PERFECTLY GOOD, OKAY, MOM?
So let’s get down to business.
If you feel like you’re drowning, it’s because you are.
Ever since it became clear that valuable content–be it blogs, news articles, videos, webinars, white papers, etc, etc–was the key to gaining authority and traction online, we’ve been in an arms race to produce more and more.
The key descriptor here people is “valuable”. Valuable content is the kind of content that fulfills a need or fixes a problem. Our reward for creating that kind of content? Customer loyalty.
HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah have been saying this for years:
“Customers and prospects actively seek out brands that provide engaging and valuable content that is relevant to their needs” (Halligan & Shah, 2010).
And yet somehow–simultaneously–60% of the content that’s out there is “dull and irrelevant” to readers’ needs (CorporateVisions, 2012).
How many times has this happened to you: You find yourself scrolling through Google search results, opening tab after tab in the hope that one of those pages will contain information you find relevant. At the same time, you’ve got Daily Digest This and Weekly Wrap-up That being delivered to your inbox.
This, my friends, is where the hulking beast known as content fatigue rears its ugly, super-boring head.
Everyone is a content creator now–from Red Bull, which has its own print magazine and media production house, to Chipotle, to Marriott International.
You can’t even buy a pack of gum now without it being tied to a short film (more on this later).
Now we’re being swallowed up by our own output. There’s simply too much to read and look at. Author Mark Schaefer is the one who first called this the era of “content shock,” and he suggests that our feeble human brains have simply reached capacity.
Exactly how much content are we pushing out, sweating and straining, on a daily basis? The Huffington Post says the amount of content online will increase 600% by 2020. Y’all, that’s only four years from now. Your baby niece will still be a baby by then.
content is going to increase 600% by 2020, as per @copyhackers
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We’re all writing tons more content.
But are we getting more reach…more shares…more sales?
The ever-growing mountain of content makes it much harder to simply “rise to the top”. You could be the most beautiful tattoo model (a career that didn’t exist outside of circus sideshows until 20 years ago) in the world, but unless you’re also making your breasts dance to Mozart, you’ll probably never get more than a few thousand followers. Talk about finding your niche.
Well-known entrepreneur and SEO guy Rand Fishkin has even seen his exposure shrink as his reputation (and audience) grows:
“Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that earning amplification has become much harder across all of my social networks in the past 18 months. Despite having 2-3X the number of followers/likes/encirclers, I struggle to reach the same number of people or receive the same number of clicks/shares/RTs/etc. Apparently, I’m not alone – apparently, Twitter CTR gets exponentially worse as followers grow.” – Rand Fishkin via Moz
It’s clear: We’ve got to do something about content fatigue, even if we’re vastly outnumbered. But before you strap on that bikini top and throw on some Mozart, keep reading.
In case you need a refresher…
Here’s what not to do… unless your idea of a good time is piling garbage on garbage.
Content success is most often measured in views, clicks, likes, and shares, among other metrics. So it stands to reason that obnoxiously spammy “clickbait” headlines will agitate our “curiosity gap” and force us to click. The problem is that when we get there, the content we see doesn’t live up to the hype. Worse, it’s not even related to the hype.
For example: Uproxx, Upworthy, Thought Catalog, BuzzFeed. How many “You’ll Never Believe How This Bag of Homeless Kittens Became President of Uganda”-type headlines are we going to see?
Post eye-catching video stills that suck us in with autoplay.
Even Facebook’s video autoplay feature, which advertisers love, could be considered a cause of content fatigue. We literally don’t have to put in any effort to play a video. So we watch more of them and get caught in an endless scroll.
Indiscriminately increase your advertising spend.
SEM and social ads play a big part in where and how many eyes your content gets. It’s no secret that companies with deeper pockets can reach wider audiences. In fact, in 2016, digital display ad spending will surpass PPC ad spend for the first time. If you’ve ever tried to run a sales campaign on Facebook on a major retail holiday like Black Friday–and been confronted with minimum costs per click of $50-$200–this news won’t surprise you.
But it’s not just retail shops fighting tooth and nail for social media ad space. It’s content creators (that’s you!). In the past, when dinosaurs roamed the Internet, you didn’t have to compete with 80 other content marketers for the same sidebar ad spot. Now, depressingly, Schaefer says:
“The idea that ‘great content rises to the top’ is over. We are in an era where advertising, promotion, and distribution strategies may eclipse the importance of the content itself.”
But wait. It’s not worth betting the kitty that increasing your ad budget will get you the results you’re looking for.
If you don’t have a pile of money to throw at advertising, read on to find out what you can do to make sure your content gets to the right eyes, ears, artificial listening devices, pig heart valves, etc.
Promise yourself you won’t become the thing you hate.
Along with guarding your eyes and brain from content fatigue, how can you avoid being a part of the “infobesity” epidemic? Here are a few best practices and ways to make ’em work for you.
PSA: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re exempt from creating content if you own an offline business. No matter what industry you’re in, you’re also in the publishing business (Baer 2012).
Publish fewer posts, but make sure they’re high-quality.
Copy Hackers, HubSpot, Moz and more of the reliable sources mentioned above have experimented with publishing less often.
Taking a break from the hamster wheel of constant content means you can hone what you put out there, instead of hitting publish even if your posts are just “good enough”. Publishing less often will probably mean that when you do publish, your posts are longer (unless you’re Seth Godin, the reigning champ of short-but-meaningful). You might also find that when you’re publishing less, you have more time to focus on the big projects, like Moz discovered.
“We don’t need more content. We need better content.” – Ann Handley
Make new points.
I realize this is a lot like saying “Just be better at stuff.” But if you can synthesize information in a new way, instead of parroting or republishing what’s already out there, it’ll be easier to gain a foothold. Welcome to the time-honored problem of forcing creativity.
It turns out there are two kinds of creativity, according to the American Psychological Association: “little-c and big-C“. Little-c creativity solves everyday problems and makes life better. Big-C creativity is “something that we give Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for.”
Most of us probably won’t be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, but you should still be setting the bar high for your content. Why? Because I said so, and because anything less is a disservice to your fellow garbage-pile-climbers.
Want to spur yourself to be more creative? Do something boring.
Psychologists at the University of Central Lancashire found that having study participants copy a phone book by hand increased their ingenuity when it came time for a creative task. (No word on whether study participants were able to recognize an actual physical phone book on sight.)
You could also try working when you don’t feel like it and see what happens–there are multiple studies on the dissociative creative effects of being tired. Or just get up and take a walk. It works for Copy Hackers content master Melani Dizon, whose treadmill desk has seen its fair share of insight, and also its fair share of feet.
Coin a term.
Last month’s article on “radical candor” made the Internet rounds, getting more than 70,000 social shares, in part because the phrase “radical candor” is a brand-new term. It carries a double whammy of both marketing “stickiness” and SEO value, which means that the article (and related spins) come up first when you Google “radical candor”.
If you can’t coin a term (and how many of us can?), focus on using sticky language–the words and phrases that stay with your audience after they’re done reading, watching, or listening to your content. Henneke Duistermaat of Enchanting Marketing has a great post on How to Make Your Message Sticky (and, of course, Copy Hackers gives a step-by-step on getting sticky).
Obviously, advertise your stuff.
But don’t blanket the world with incessant promos. (As if you wanted to waste your marketing budget.) Spend your dollars where your target audience hangs out. Even people who fundamentally dislike advertising are more likely to feel favorably toward ads they find relevant (Zeng et al. 2009).
When you learn how to target well, you spend less money, your people feel more connected to your content, and everybody wins.
Ask less, give more.
If you include a call to action or offer in every email, your readers are more likely to get tired of your bullshit and unsubscribe. But if you appeal to a reader’s wants, needs, and feelings–this is known as “treating them like a person”–your content is more likely to generate genuine appreciation (Pulizzi and Barrett 2008).
Along with anecdotal evidence, which tells us that constantly being sold to sucks, there’s a mountain of research pointing to sales-based messages going the way of the dodo (Geraint and Rowley 2014). The Internet is no longer a new toy. We know how to sniff out a sales pitch when it’s coming our way, and we often resent it.
Remember that gum ad I mentioned earlier? It “rose to the top,” getting more than 18 million views, precisely because it wasn’t about the gum. It was about the story. It was compelling. The proof is in the comments.
Write action-oriented posts.
My favorite posts tend to be actionable–like “Making a Plan for 2016” by my friend Justin Shiels. People–your audience–like to be told what to do and how to do it.
Joanna’s famous Diva List is another favorite. Seven actionable steps copywriters can use to get better clients, more money, and a life (mostly) free from other people telling us what to do? Sign me up.
Here’s one of my favorite Diva List gems, on the topic of quoting high:
“Naturally, you will lose a lot of the higher-priced jobs because you quoted high. Some businesses continue to believe that they should pay next to nothing for copywriters; they think they’ll find a diamond that doesn’t realize she’s a diamond and charges like a moron accordingly. You do not need to be that diamond-slash-moron.”
Finally, even though it doesn’t give explicit action steps, this “3 Simple Forcing Functions That Will 3-5x Your Productivity” post by Dan Martell is great because it explains how to frame your mindset to force yourself to take those steps.
(Unsurprisingly, my least favorite posts come from places dripping with cutesy “inspiration”. I don’t need to see another sun-drenched photo of your Hawaiian vacation, or hear you tell me to “kick ass out there today! #bizlyfe #youarewhatyoumake”).
Partner with a bigger brand.
Eric Enge suggests leveraging a bigger brand to gain visibility and authority. They have the exposure and ad budget, and you have the creativity (assuming you’re finished copying out that phone book).
Startup social network Here on Biz managed to partner with Virgin America and Gogo Inflight Internet, and now the Here on Biz brand is the first thing travelers see when they log into in-flight WiFi on Virgin planes.
Take note: If you’re David, trying to get Goliath’s influence, you can’t start at his giant shoes. You’ll need to do a lot of homework, strategy, and relationship-building before you have a chance at getting the notice of brands like Virgin, Yelp, or Coca-Cola. You might even need to do free work. But the work is well worth the reward, according to Fast Company.
Offer a TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) takeaway at the end of long content pieces.
It makes a lengthy article less intimidating and encourages information retention. Plus, it proves you respect your readers’ limited time. Peep Laja does this with his 23 Days of CRO email class.
Invite guest bloggers. Guest blogging (or guest posting) is a great way to expand your reach. Jeff Goins has a great overview of its benefits. Inviting guest bloggers to take advantage of your platform, if you have one, grows your audience by bringing fresh eyes to your content, and introduces you to new topics and people.
Just be sure that you have high standards for your posts, those standards are spelled out, and you don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to put your name on.
Okay. Now that you know how to NOT contribute to the popular trend of producing shit work, how can you protect yourself from being a victim of it?
Build a wall around your eyeballs. Here’s how.
Don’t succumb to content fatigue. You control what you consume! (Well, except in the case of autoplay videos and Game of Thrones spoilers.)
Here are a few ways to save yourself from the content void:
Agree to spend only X amount of time consuming content per day, where X = the number of minutes before you feel like ripping out your own eyeballs.
Use a timer. Lots of people like to use Pomodoro, a timing technique that returns you to the real world via a work break every so often. If you want to get super Zen (actually, Tibetan Buddhist) about it, you can try Awareness, which rings a singing bowl every so often to remind you to take a mindful break. You will get very good at ignoring it.
Go to your trusted sources first (like Copy Hackers, and ConversionXL, and HubSpot, and Moz, etc). See what they have to say. Often, they’ll have the most informed take on the topic du jour, and you’ll be done digging. Hint: Becoming one of these voices of authority is the new best way to get your content to “rise to the top”.
Spending too much time just reading your go-to sites? You can save yourself from Content FOMO* by using a save-for-later system like Pocket.
*This is a real thing and copywriters have it.
Ask yourself what you got out of each piece. Take this as far as grabbing a Post-It and sketching out a recap after you finish reading an article. Or go whole hog and make a sketchnote to combine your powers of total recall with your dubious ability to draw.
And here’s an idea: If you know a piece is good, but you haven’t fully absorbed it because you were skimming, re-read that post instead of searching out more content on the same topic.
Install RescueTime and keep an eye on its weekly reports to find out how you really spend your screen time. Or, use Self-Control or StayFocusd to keep you away from BuzzFeed, Facebook, and the other cool sites the kids are visiting these days.
If all else fails, and you wake up one day to find yourself posting a blog titled “You Won’t Believe What This Bear Did When It Ran Out of Apple Juice,” cancel your cell phone plan and move to the woods. It worked for Thoreau.
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~ Napoleon Bonaparte