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Choosing Content Formats: Are you sure that article shouldn’t be a list?

Choosing Content Formats: Are you sure that article shouldn’t be a list?

[By Karen Geier]

Content marketing is no longer optional as part of an overall digital marketing plan. What’s important to look at now is whether your content is connecting in the right way. In some cases, this means looking at the theme of the content, but it can be just as beneficial to look at the format of the content.

If you look at the content that is most virally shared online, it is often shorter-form content, including 90-second videos, vines, .gifs, and lists. That’s because this is the type of content people squeeze into their days at work or while commuting. It’s content that takes little investment upfront from a reader, compared to an 800-word article.

Many content specialists will tell you that this type of content is the sweet spot for content makers and strategists, because the numbers don’t lie. Well, the numbers do sometimes lie. Yes, content that goes the most viral often fits these demographics, but most businesses aren’t chasing viral success. They’re looking to connect with customers in ways that will help them convert, and for this reason, content format choice is key.

Consider if you were shopping for a new bank. Would you really want to open a business account at a place that puts a “10 Reasons You Totes Need to Bank Here” listicle on the company blog? You would probably run fast.

If you’ve had articles that are evergreen in theme and converted, you can transform their format for use in a newsletter or Facebook post. What if you’re starting fresh? How do you choose a format to fit your message?

It comes down to answering the question: ‘What do I want readers to do after they consume this content’? If the answer is ‘share the information’, pure and simple, and it can be condensed, then make a list. If it requires visuals and a walkthrough, then video is your best bet. Most of your natural instincts in these types of situations will be sufficient to yield results based on answering this question.

The problem comes when you look at a thesis and have to decide between a slide show, an article, and a video. You can leverage the unique features of each of these, and get a good result. How do you decide?

The best solution is to look at how best you can convey the same information in a way that the reader “gets it” most clearly. How can you tell which format will achieve this? You have to test it. Write up a short précis on the concept and give it to someone to read. Then ask them comprehension questions, and tell them they can ask you any questions they have. If they have lots of questions, then you need to look at more visual media to get your point across.

This exercise might seem like a pain at first, but thinking about presentation is part of everything that marketers do, and communicating effectively is the only way content marketing works.

What if you have a choice between an article and something like a quiz?

There are two answers to this question, and one might seem like a cheat. The first answer to this is to give the quiz to someone and ask them whether it was helpful and whether they found it too long (people who aren’t getting value will often describe content as “too long”). If they liked it, you might want to choose a quiz. The second answer to this question is that you might want to actually get two content hits out of the same material. Issue the quiz, and a few days later, publish the blog post about why the quiz helps customers make decisions.

What if your content can be broken up into smaller, more visual hits like .gifs, vines, or Instagram videos? Be aware of your target audience, and be aware of the messaging of the content. Just because it can be broken down doesn’t mean someone wants to consume a .gif that says “make a budget.”

How you format your content is important if you want to engage readers in your branded content, but if you have a subject and format mismatch, you could be leaving some potential customers out in the cold. Consider that people share most what they find either provocative or useful. Your branded content, unless you have a very avant-garde brand, should err on the side of useful. To this end, make sure you’re testing it on real people to help determine if your content formats will work for real end users, rather than guessing whether they take quizzes, for example. It might seem like more work than necessary for a blog post or slide show presentation, but concentrate on conversion.

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