Field Note #3: Put Your Content to the Test

In previous posts, I wrote about aligning your content with field objectives. But while your sales team should be the voice of your customers, they can’t determine why your target audience might respond better to the nuances in one headline over another, or which images would best evoke the desired response from your campaigns.

Likewise, as seasoned marketers, we may think we know the right message to attract response from our target audience, but in a rough economy–doing more with less–we often become accustomed to churning out whatever has worked in the past to save time and money. However, in delivering untested content, we may be losing opportunities for more mindshare, responses, conversions, or other end goals. There are effective ways to test your content without burning the midnight oil or breaking the bank.

Content Testing 101

Testing is inherently scientific, so some of us intuitive types may shy away from it. Additionally, we don’t always have the time and budget to test every bit of content we publish. But testing can save a lot of wasted time and effort if done early and as often as possible during the creative process. On your most strategic, high-visibility campaigns, it’s better to have tested your content—even just the concept—and to have applied your findings at least once than to broadcast it blind and hope for the best. While I’m still learning about the ins-and-outs of content testing myself, here are a few testing tips to help you get the most out of that great content you’ve created to achieve your business goals.

On Your Mark…

Plan upfront. Clearly establish a testing framework and timeframe, and be clear about your objectives for the content. Allow time to create versions of your content, test those versions, gather feedback, and make adjustments. Know your goals: are you trying to raise awareness for a product or establish your brand, drive more traffic to a website or landing page, elicit registrations for an event, or promote a specific offer that requires a call to action? Do you hope to encourage a transaction—such as switching from a competitive offering, downloading a free product trial, or purchasing online? With clearly defined goals for your content, you’ll have a better idea of how to analyze the results of your tests—and you’ll avoid “paralysis by analysis.”

Get Set

Work with your content vendor to develop various versions of your copy and calls to action (e.g., “click here”, “learn more”, or “sign up now”) to suit the kinds of offers and actions you want your audience to take. To determine your approach to wording and layout, think through what you are asking the audience to do. For example, would a button work better than a link? You won’t know until you test it.


Before going to market with that updated web page, email template, or banner ad, run the copy and design by a few folks internally first. You could make it fun, à la brown-bag lunch, or simply send the concepts side by side in an email and ask for votes. Gather feedback from a cross-section of sales, marketing management, and your peers.

However, internal feedback alone shouldn’t determine your direction. Once you gather preliminary internal results, it’s time to move on to a real focus group. Ask customers, resellers, and local user group members for their responses to your content. If finding or interacting with these folks is too time consuming or impossible, put the rubber to the road and test your content as part of your campaign plan.

Run A/B tests with the various versions your content provider has created (choice A vs. choice B, up to as many choices as your time and budget allow). Split your media spend between the different versions of your banner ads or email blasts, and analyze the results from each to determine the winner with your target audience. If something isn’t working, adjust the content and test again until the results align with your goals.

The Victory Lap

Presumably, your organization or agency uses web analytics to measure the clicks and conversions from your email campaigns, banner ads, search terms, etc. You should be able to see results of your testing almost immediately to make agile decisions about whether your content is working to achieve your goals. You should gather not only quantitative results but also qualitative feedback from your content tests: why did email A perform better in conversions than email B? With a focus group, you’ll get the feedback you need to adjust your content accordingly, whether it’s moving an image from the top of the page to the side, making a headline more provocative, or cutting back on text and using more images.

Learn from the Experts

We marketers can often use a lesson from our friends in software or web site usability testing. For a useful article on testing content, read “Testing Content Concepts” on UXMatters, a blog about developing effective user experiences for digital products.

By Client