Content Is Overrated

MH - Senior Developer


It must be, or this type of website experience wouldn’t exist, right? Or perhaps there’s something else to this content malarkey than stuff to surround with adverts.

There's a recipe on this page somewhere, probably behind one of these adverts.

A nightmare web page with overflowing cookie notifications and content hidden by large sponsored content.

It's a disaster when you think you have found what you wanted and it's just a spam filled mess.

I know I won’t be making a return visit to those sites and it has me feeling like I should be blocking adverts forever! Not only did it take a big bite out of your mobile data but you can’t even consume the content you were looking for.

You’re selling a product, even if it’s your opinion piece or fancy gourmet recipe. The trouble comes when you realise that people aren’t interested in your product. They have their own requirements which they’re trying to fulfil. You’ve heard that exit intent pop ups work, but why not explore what your users really want first. Then maybe you’ll be able to present the information they couldn’t find during their visit and improve their experience.

The Toothbrush Test

Now some folks know what they’ve got and how to push it. When you’re on to a winner you only need to show the world. Maybe the product passes the “toothbrush test”, something your audience will use twice a day and feel the value. In our world that product is Stripe. Towards the end of 2019, Stripe was worth $35 billion. How?

This crafty lot are known to have one of the greatest landing pages out there. It hits the target demographic impeccably and their content sells. When you find that 60% of developers have the ability to approve or reject a tool purchase, it makes a lot of sense that stripe’s landing page targets primarily developers rather than their clients.

A call-to-action snippet from Stripe's excellent landing page.
The action, it calls to me.

There’s the standard-fare benefit statements call to action positioned beside pretty images. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they do target their content. For example, Stripe has code workflow examples mirroring a developer environment. Consequently, developer’s don’t just read about the benefits, but now they can see the way it will benefit them. No need to meet the team here, we’re not looking for value statements, users see solutions.

Form Habits

Some products will never pass the toothbrush test, but there’s still avenues for great content to drive profit. These products can’t really be used or bought frequently, so how can we get users to do something similar frequently?

You have to create content that forms habits. Let’s look back at our disaster websites, are they habit forming? In a word, no. In contrast, Y Combinator has profited from the popularity of Hacker News, a social news forum focused on tech and entrepreneurship, despite not being part of their business model. They created a close relationship with their community and a valuable content-consumption habit.

Excerpt from news forum "hacker news" on 05/07/2020
Interesting post, i’ll come back to that later.

Earn and Respect Trust

Communities foster trust and habit forming behaviours. The bloggers had to have captive eyeballs to sell before they could see any profit from their advert laiden websites. A user may even look beyond adverts if they know it will support something they care for. They might turn off that ad blocker for a friend.

Make your brand trustworthy. Do what people expect and do it with clarity. John Lewis are a department shop like many others, so why do the people of the UK find them to be the most trustworthy brand?

They do what you expect and they do it well. They have taken time to clarify their brand, you know what to expect when you see their unique image (it’s an SVG unlike kelloggs). You expect their next christmas advert to pull the heartstrings. Don’t suprise or confuse your audience.

The john lewis logo
No nonsense, aware and transparent.

Do More, Compete

No doubt there will be competition in your market. So your content has to compete too. Provide customers with benefits for shopping with you. Do more, add value. Video game publisher and distributor VALVe have been trying to perfect this art for years.

Finding themselves with more and more competitors they released their new points store. Loyalty points aren’t new, but this is. Tart up your profile page to impress your friends and enemies, anyone else remember those finely crafted MySpace pages? 👴 Users want to have a reason to be loyal and they want to stand out.

Speaking of video games, it might be time to gamify your content. Habitica could be the poster child for this style of engagement. This excellent productivity app promises to reward you for flossing and lets you fight demons for fighting your daily demons. They really added some spice to the mundanity of to do lists. Don’t go overboard but let your users have fun with progress and rewards.

Okay, so maybe content does matter.

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