You don’t usually envision a poet engaging in a pistol duel — let alone twenty-nine — but that’s exactly what Alexander Pushkin did.
His last duel proved fatal.
Sadly, as long as there are two people on earth, there will be conflict. But it doesn’t always have to end in death.
I’ve been in several duels myself. Not of the pistol-slinging variety — but the copywriting kind. You’ll probably recognize the scenario …
I trot out my idea.
The client cringes and says, “It will never work.” He’s got a better idea.
“Fine,” I say, “let’s test them both and see which one works better.”
And so, we let the marketplace declare the winner.
Word #1: Test
Testing makes you smarter.
The beautiful thing about testing what you create in the marketplace is that you learn firsthand what works and what doesn’t work. It’s like being a marketing scientist.
If you don’t test your ideas, then you’re just groping around in the dark … ignorant (perhaps blissfully) of the truth of what you create.
Instead, test hundreds of variables over time — headlines, calls-to-action, copy length, images, words, and so on — and you will build a healthy set of winning ideas.
It’s this experience that will transform you from a so-so content producer to a sophisticated and seductive one …
And it’s this experience that will drive people to ask you for advice, invite you to sit on panels, and beg you to work on their best projects.
In one way, I think this is why everyone should learn how to write direct-response copy … it’s the perfect way to make sure that your best ideas see the light of day.
Test everything, and you will get smarter (and wealthier). But don’t be surprised if you run into a lot of resistance.
Word #2: Paranoia
Imagine your boss insists on formatting blog posts a certain way. She wants an opening that describes the post, then a blurb about an upcoming conference (with a call to action button), and then the article.
You have a hunch that the blurb is impacting bounce rates, shares, and reading time on the page. It bugs the heck out of you.
You mention something to your boss and she says you are being paranoid. However, the only way you can know if that is true is to test it.
It could be a handful of variables that are suppressing shares, subscriptions, or conversions … you won’t know which ones until you start testing and isolating variables.
And keep in mind, if your boss (or client) bristles at your suggestions, remind her that it’s your job to increase traffic, improve conversions, and make her more money … and the only way to do that is through testing.
As Andy Grove once said, “Only the paranoid survive.”
Testing humbles you
Testing has another way of transforming you. It can break your ego (in the best kind of way, and if you allow it).
I belong to a certain species of humans who think they’re right … about everything. I’m smug. I smirk when I think I hear something ridiculous. And I like to say things like, “That’s silly,” and then explain why.
Losing copywriting duels has tempered that attitude.
See, I’ve lost some testing duels. Ones I was sure I would win. I’ve also been scolded by the best about my “winning ideas.” I’ve got the chapped hide to prove it.
But in time I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut, and let the market prove me right (see, there’s that smugness coming out again).
I’ve won some tests, too, and as my experience grows, I tend to win more than I lose, because I’ve developed a sense for what will work and what won’t.
This is why I like to go to the court of last appeals — it avoids trading in personal preferences.
What should you test?
It boils down to four things: copywriting, engagement, sharing, and lead generation. Let’s break each of those down separately.
- Copywriting: Which two headlines or subject lines work the best? How can you re-write a call-to-action to raise conversion rates on your landing page? Is that image suppressing response?
- Engagement: Do people leave comments on your blog or email you? Do they respond on Google+ or Facebook?
- Sharing: How is your content spreading across Google+ (use Ripples to find out)? Which content works best on Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest?
- Lead Generation: Are you generating leads and revenue from your content? This is the most important metric.
And when it comes down to actually measuring the above segments, here are some fundamental metrics to consider:
1. Website, Blog, and Landing pages
- Page Views
- Inbound Links
2. Digital Products (including ebooks, white papers, and case studies)
- Social Shares
3. Email Marketing
- Clickthrough rates
4. Social Networks
- Likes or +1s
The goal is to look at those metrics and ask questions like this: How do I increase clickthroughs on email? Increase social sharing? Get more people to hit my landing page?
What testing tools should I use?
Your next step is to actually find the right tools to test each of those metrics.
Here are the essentials:
- Premise: Quickly and easily build custom, graphically-enhanced (and easily testable) landing pages without coding or hassle. Plus, copywriting advice from within WordPress, conversion optimization seminars from industry experts, and much more.
- Scribe: Helps you discover the topics that matter, choose smarter language, optimize for social and search, and attract links, likes, and shares in the process.
- Google Analytics (GA): Use GA for your basic site wide metrics. I like to use it to see what sources are pushing the most traffic to my site.
- KISSmetrics: Helps explain why people do what they do on your site. Takes GA to another level.
- Aweber: Gives you analytics — open rates, clickthroughs — about your email campaign.
- Sprout Social: One of the most comprehensive social media measurement and management tools out there. If the price is outside your budget for now, try HootSuite.
- Facebook Insights: Robust analytics on the social network giant … critical if you depend heavily on FB.
- Ripples: Shows you how a particular Google+ post spreads. I use it to track people who share my content, and then follow them if interesting.
- Google Alerts: Notifies you when someone mentions you, your brand, or any keyword you enter in the news, a blog, or website.
Understand this: you don’t have to be an analytics expert to use these tools. I’m a writer with spreadsheet phobia … but I manage to use these tools quite easily.
You can, too.
Your turn …
Don’t be afraid to put your neck on the line … do some testing on your own. But also invite people who disagree with you to a duel (do it humbly and without a pistol) … and let the marketplace decide.
In the end, testing is a great schoolmaster that will drive you to explore the surprising, buck the conventional, and push you to become the best content producer you can possibly become.
Remember: being paranoid pays. So test everything.