Why Content Fails

I post on Medium kinda sorta frequently. I’m definitely not regular, but I’m an entity. When I do post, I have pretty modest expectations. My goal is to reach 50 people — 100 on a good day — a few claps, and a 50% read ratio. Maybe some responses if I think the article was particularly good.

The post before my last one was called “Abstract, Non-linear, and Repetitive Storytelling on Social Media,” and it did a bit better than I expected it to. I was pretty happy about it. I figured things were trending upwards and my entire life was about to change. I was on a one way trip to Medium stardom.

But then, 2 months later, the dream died. I followed that post with an article called “Matt Colville is What Content Marketing Should Be” which discussed a content creator and the lesson I learned from watching him. That went live on February 12th, and 12 people read it in the first 30 days. I failed, the content failed, we both failed. But I’ve accepted that now, and I’m ready to discuss why that happened.

If you’re posting written content (and presumably video) and it’s not working, I assume it’s for the same reasons mine didn’t work. I do a lot of content writing, and this lesson is one I’ve had internalized but just now put into words. This is why content fails.

### The Headline Was Meh

The title, subtitle, and image are the driving force of an article. To be honest, I don’t normally put a lot of thought into the image I use for a post — I’m not a super visual person, and it’s hard to find images for abstract concepts like “fail.” The photo I used for this article wasn’t super interesting, and I’m sure it turned people off.

On the other hand, I normally *do* put a lot of thought into titles. Most of my successful articles have started with the title. “Abstract, Non-linear and Repetitive Storytelling on Social Media” was where that article started because the concept was on my mind. The thought was already categorized.

On the other hand, “Matt Colville is What Content Marketing Should Be” would’ve made a better tweet. It introduces two concepts and a relationship between them which is good, but those two concepts probably don’t share a lot of mutual ground. A lot of people who are interested in Matt Colville are actively disinterested in marketing, and a lot of people that are interested in marketing don’t know who Matt Colville is.

A better title might have been something like, “What I Learned About Content Marketing from Watching Matt Colville.” It’s a lot wordier and less bold — it doesn’t imply some grand statement is being made — but it’s more enticing. A good title should show the reader why they would be interested in reading. This is theoretically achieved in the original title by creating tension but, if the reader doesn’t understand both concepts, that tension can’t exist.

The subtitle (“How a D&D Nerd Crowdfunded $2 million”) wasn’t great either. Maybe it would have also been a better title. It did a great job of further explaining who Matt Colville was and why he was relevant, but it did so in a way that didn’t have a real connection to the title or build tension.

There was no reason to click on the article if you weren’t me. Bad.

### The Intro Sucked

With the headline already meh, there was a lot of pressure on the intro. That pressure preceded to crush my ability to write an intro entirely, to the point where I’m not even sure if the intro to this article was good. Thanks for getting this far.

If the headline and image are bait, the intro is the hook (or at least it should be). Depending on how good the title is, you have more time to do this. The intro to “Abstract, Non-linear, and Repetitive Storytelling on Social Media” has time to explain who Open Mike Eagle was and why he was relevant. It related back to the title abstractly until being pulled back in the third paragraph.

In contrast, I decided to be a Wikipedia editor for “Matt Colville is What Content Marketing Should Be.” I tried to copy the same basic formula from the former article, but I took much longer to pull everything back together. My goal really was to tell the story a bit backwards, starting at where Matt Colville got before talking about how he got there, but the journey is always more interesting.

And the story that I was telling wasn’t really functioning. I hate success stories in sports because there’s no real fun in them. There’s not much fun in the Matt Colville story I was telling either — it’s a vignette about success, with the tension delayed by a lot. There’s nothing to relate to in a success story. It’s cool, but it’s not interesting.

It was a nice story, but not a very good one. It sucked.

### The Content Failed

If the title and headline being bad weren’t enough, I’m not happy with how the content turned out, either. The whole thing was written in a moment of inspiration. It went really quickly from thought to execution, without much time for reflection. Self-editing failed here because I had no outside perspective.

And outside perspective was much needed.

What I was trying to say with the article was this: we should learn from Matt Colville that it’s always in your best interest to make selfless, artistic content. Ramble for an hour or make something completely out of left field. If you approach the creation with care, people will like it and then give you money. That’s the goal.

I did say that, but I said it between the lines. You can read that article and completely miss that point because I forgot that you didn’t already get the point. I got a bit ahead of myself because the writing process was so quick and I didn’t consider that it wasn’t obvious.

The content is okay, but it failed to really hammer everything home. Not good.

### And I Didn’t Support It

Probably most important, though, is that I didn’t support the article. And no one else did, either. When I wrote other articles, I would typically cross post them. I’ll go on a tear writing answers on Quora or interacting on social media, and it’ll drive people back to the post. I wasn’t sure of “Matt Colville is What Content Marketing Should Be,” so I didn’t follow through.

“Abstract, Repetitive, and Non-linear Storytelling on Social Media” was also helped by being featured by Medium curators, which I didn’t repeat. That initial push certainly helped drive views early, which kept the article relevant for longer. This article almost certainly missed out because of the points above: the content just wasn’t as good this time around.

That really only goes to show how much the quality of content matters in content marketing. “Matt Colville is What Content Marketing Should Be” wasn’t great, and it didn’t get the boost it needed because of that. I do think it was good enough to deserve attention, but it wasn’t good enough to demand it. On some level I knew that, and readers definitely knew it. That’s why content fails.



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Question for those running solo businesses

How many companies use public cloud?