Lukewarm content that no one cares about

Content marketing is interesting when it actually helps you solve a problem you are dealing with. This scorecard is a way to keep this idea in sharp focus when you produce content to promote something.

The rating system has five sections and each section has two points:

  1. Did you start with a clear problem?
  2. Did you fix the problem?
  3. Did you mention your product?
  4. Was there a useful next action?
  5. Did you point people to the next relevant solution?

This is entirely based on Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman’s 8-point rating system in 30×500 academy. I don’t want to take any credit for the approach, I’m just going to explain how I’ve used it.

I’ve modified things slightly to include an extra two points to remind myself to talk about my product. I’m not trying to pigeonholing our product into places it doesn’t belong. The point of content marketing is to write about the hassles our product solves so that we can show people how they can use it to solve their problems. This is easy to forget and the extra 2 points help me stay on track.

Starting with a clear problem

You get 0 points if you’re just sharing something for fun, expressing an opinion, or stating a fact without considering the pain your reader is going through.

1 point if you can accurately describe the problem your reader is dealing with.

2 points if the problem you’re describing is important. You get more points when you clearly describe problems that actually matter to people.

My first attempt at applying this principle involved renaming a draft’s headline from “A tutorial for getting noticed when you’re just starting out on Twitter” to “Ok, but what exactly should I tweet about every day?”

I posted this on a feedback forum called Foster and the first comment was something to the effect of “Damn, you read my mind. Now I have to read this.” I tried to take a screenshot for this post but they’ve updated the interface and sadly the comments are all gone.

I found the new headline by riffling through Indiehackers trying to find someone complaining about being new on Twitter. I lifted the phrasing verbatim from a comment.

The principle doesn’t just apply to headlines. It could be the opening hook or the whole introduction. The point is that unless you speak directly to someone’s problem they’re not going to give a shit about what you’re saying.

Our brains are fine-tuned to pick up on problems. If you want someone’s attention, you talk about their problem. The more specific you can be the more likely you are to get someone’s attention.

Once you’ve caught someone’s attention by clearly describing their problem, they’re ready for your solution.

Fixing the problem

You get 0 points if you don’t show your reader how to solve the problem you’re talking about. the internet does not need more general advice that doesn’t help anyone solve specific problems. The emphasis here is on results.

1 point for a short example, a quick tip, a helpful word of advice.

You get 2 points when you go to town on a solution. You completely solve the problem and walk through an entire tutorial. You lay the steps out, build a cheat sheet, give them a calculator, whatever they need to deal with the problem once and for all.

Nothing is more persuasive than results a reader can experience for themselves.

Your content doesn’t have to be brilliant, or perfectly polished, it just has to solve the problem.

Did you mention your product?

You get 0 points if you go to town on a solution and solve an important problem but never mention your product.

You get 1 point when you can mention your product and it’s helpful and relevant to the content but it’s not the point of the article.

You get 2 points when your product is specifically designed to solve the problem you’re talking about. Your post is basically a tutorial that runs through how to use a certain feature to deal with a concrete problem or use case.

I picked this approach up from Jon Yongfook’s Indiehacker post on reaching 8K MRR. His takeaway was to build fewer features and spend more time writing better documentation and tutorials. The misconception we have is that signing up is the start of the funnel and that some magic combination of onboarding tricks and emails will convert people. This clicked for Jon on an Indiehacker’s podcast interview with Tim Soulo of Ahrefs. Tim’s philosophy is to thoroughly inform people about how a product can help them before they sign up so that when they’re asked to convert, it’s a no-brainer. I have added all of these links at the end of the article for you.

A useful next action

Zero points if all you do is tell people how to sort something out and then you don’t give them a path to follow to do it.

You get 1 point when you offer your reader a small step they can take: try this exercise, use this trick, here’s a template to follow.

You get 2 points for an interactive cheatsheet, like a workbook or calculator, a comprehensive tool, a custom feature or set of exercises to follow, or an email course or script that makes everything actionable.

When I first learned about this approach I thought the expectation to create an interactive experience for someone was unreasonable. I just put all this energy into creating a blog post and now I have to go off and create a completely different thing. It’s actually the other way round. First, you create an incredible interactive experience then you write content to promote it. Your useful next actions aren’t something you make up at the last minute and tack onto the end of a post, it’s the whole reason you are writing the post in the first place.

The best example I have of this being done well is the rescue time productivity challenge. It’s a four-week course that shows you how to deal with procrastination and organize your life but all of the exercises involve focusing on how to use Rescuetime to get your stats and numbers and prioritize your activities and alerts. It was basically a 4-week onboarding program with excellent material and exercises on how to use the product to organize my time more productively. Best $99 dollars I’ve spent in a while.

I’m afraid I don’t have an interactive workbook for you but I do have the google sheet I used to track this scoring system for you to use, along with a pre-filled example.

So I guess I only get 1 point for this section.

Pointing people to the next relevant solution

You get zero points when you end a blog post without suggestions on what to read next, who to follow, or which newsletters to join for more of the good stuff.

1 point when you point people in the right direction but your recommendations are generic or feel a bit forced.

You get 2 points when your pointers flow directly from what you were just talking about and straight into a specific offer, the next post in a series, or a relevant course or content upgrade or product tailored to the blog post.

The difference between a clear next action and pointing people to the next relevant solution is that one gives your reader a specific task to turn the information provided into a concrete result, while the other is meant to introduce your reader to other useful solutions you have worked on and give them a solid reason to stick around.

On that note here are 3 of my best articles for more on content marketing and links to all of the references I mention in this post.