Should Your Content Aim for Traffic or Conversion?

image of woman making a decision

Which articles attract reader attention, bringing you more traffic, more tweets and Stumbles, more eyeballs on the page?

Which articles convert, bringing you more subscribers and sales?

And how do you roll out a strategy that maximizes the twin impact of attraction and conversion?

Head to your local newsstand. The best attraction and conversion techniques are hidden between the pages of two very different magazines: Cosmopolitan and The New Yorker.

Cosmopolitan articles attract

Why does a Cosmo-type article attract more attention?

  • 77 Sex Positions in 77 Days
  • 75 Crazy-Hot Sex Moves
  • 10 Cheap Fun Date Ideas
  • 117 Style Ideas Already in Your Wardrobe

Seriously … 77 sex positions in 77 days?

That’s a lot of daily practice — but the sex isn’t what’s actually attracting readers.

We find it impossible to walk past anything that gives us seven, seventeen, or seven hundred ways to do or achieve something. We’re greedy, and we’re attracted to articles that feed our lust for excess — even excess information.

Most of us are suckers for list posts.

Mostly the articles are just bullet points stacked up against each other that go on forever. Sometimes there’s some meat to the bullet points, but often (especially in Cosmo) it’s just points.

This of course gives you the feeling that you’re learning something — and you are — but there’s no depth to the knowledge.

Cosmo-type articles are light reading. And we like light reading.

Gossip magazines sell like hotcakes for a reason. And just in case you’re thinking attraction is strictly a women’s-interest magazine strategy, you’ll find men’s magazines do it too.

Men’s Health and Money always includes light-reading articles on their covers like “How to Get Rock-Hard Abs” and “7 Secrets to a Richer Retirement.”

In fact, for years Men’s Health ran essentially the same four covers over and over again. They figured out the headlines and formats that were most effective and they just kept running the same ones.

Add light reading and a huge list together and what do you get? The promise of a lot of information without putting much work in to get it.

No wonder we find them so attractive.

Cosmo-style content gets retweeted, shared on Facebook, and sent around all the other social media channels more often, too — because everyone knows other people are attracted to this kind of format. And by sending it on, it makes the person who posted it seem more attractive by association.

If you create articles that offer Cosmopolitan-style headlines and light, easy-reading body copy, you will get the same results that Cosmo has gotten for decades on end. And those results are very good indeed. (That’s one reason Copyblogger has recommended Cosmo as a great resource for headline inspiration.)

New Yorker articles convert

The New Yorker produces in-depth, well-written articles that drive home a specific point.

When you write articles in that same style, you impress the heck out of your reader. They see you’re smart. They see you know what’s going on. And they see you can tell them something they don’t already know.

That impression is so powerful that the reader is compelled to investigate further to see what else you can tell them. The more in-depth articles they find, the more they think you’re a smart person to check in with often — and the harder it is for them to resist the Subscribe button.

This doesn’t just apply to text articles, but to video and audio as well. An in-depth piece in text, audio or video sucks you in. The more time you spend reading, listening or watching something, the more keen you are to follow up with the source.

Those of you who have read the back-of-magazine articles at The New Yorker might be worried this means you have to write incredibly long articles. You don’t.

Being interesting is far more important than going on and on about a topic, and even The New Yorker has plenty of short pieces that still offer great insight.

For a New Yorker-type article, you need depth, detail, and analysis. Those three things empower your reader a lot more than Cosmo-style fluff.

Put more in-depth detail and analysis in your writing, and you’ll see your conversion rates skyrocket.

So which is the best strategy?

It depends on you, of course. Some blogs — just like some print publications — are driven almost entirely by Cosmopolitan-style headlines and copy. Others are driven by the New Yorker style.

But you don’t actually have to choose.

You’ll notice that even Cosmo includes at least one in-depth article per issue. And The New Yorker always has a couple short, lighter items up front. Heck, even Playboy made a name for in-depth articles and attention-getting pin-ups.

You can use both of these strategies at the same time. And you should.

A strategic mixture of both types of articles will not only attract a larger number of clients, but also get you greater conversion.

You can also interlink articles, so that a Cosmo-style short article leads to a more in-depth New Yorker-type article. Or a Cosmo-influenced headline can pull the reader into a piece with more depth than Cosmopolitan ever dreamed of.

In print, magazines normally separate the two styles. The front of the magazine has mostly short, light pieces; the back has longer, more in-depth pieces.

Online, you get to be more flexible. You can drive them from light material to deeper, more detailed content so they get a brilliant mix of both kinds of pieces (you’ll get great SEO benefits, too). They’ll be more attracted to you at the same time they’re inclined to convert and check in with you daily.

If you want to attract attention (that means more traffic, more readers, and more social media sharing), go with Cosmo-style articles. At a minimum, make sure you’ve crafted a drop-dead attention-grabbing headline.

If you want conversion (that means subscribers and paying customers), lean toward New Yorker-influenced articles, with plenty of depth, detail, and thoughtful analysis.

And if you want both, give your readers both. Copyblogger doesn’t settle for just one approach, so why should you?

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a great free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Be sure to check out his blog, too.

P.S.

If you’d like to get more traffic and more conversion for your site, be sure to pick up Copyblogger’s free email newsletter, Internet Marketing for Smart People. It kicks off with a 20-part series featuring our very best advice on how to grow your online business.

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Comments

  1. I love analogies and this really sums up the pros and cons of the two strategies well. A while back I made the decision I was aiming for engagement more than sheer numbers. Not saying I wouldn’t like to have both, but my blog really was created for the purpose of sharing and discussing ideas.

    Not only did you reassure me that I’m on track with my goal, you convinced me it’s okay to throw a little Cosmo at my readers. I’m sure they’ll thank you.

    TERRIFIC post. And yes, I’m both engaging and sharing it.

    • Also consider the fact that not everyone who shares and discusses will turn out to be paying clients. What I’m saying is you can get a lot of noise and little conversion. In our experience we’ve found that we can fill up very expensive courses with people who’ve never made a single comment—ever! So you’re on track when you share ideas. Because someone is reading them. :)

      • Such a great point, Sean, thanks for adding that.

        I call the commenters and social media sharers my “second customer.” They may never buy, but they can put the content in front of someone who will. I agree with what you said here — do both strategies, attract *and* convert.

        • Point taken. I am not selling anything on my blog right now (unless you count subscriptions as a “sale”), but hope to provide coaching services in the future.

          It’s a good reminder not to confuse the two audiences with each other, and to value each for different purposes.

          Again, much enjoyed.

  2. I like this twist on understanding the demographics of your blogs readership.

    I always find it surprising how the targetted market never seems to be the readers who ultimately end up becoming loyal readers.

    And as the readership continues to evolve, it is a great to keep auditing the audience and understanding their needs – catering to their unique view of your blog.

  3. New Yorker articles are usually more sophisticated. They have what I call literary and journalistic integrity to them. The cover of Cosmopolitan is saturated with headlines of a sexual nature. I’m afraid if I ever dated a Cosmopolitan woman, I need to have an unlimited supply of Viagra.

    You also cover catchy headlines. I remember that marketer and copywriter Ben Hart talked about the headline “5 Ways to Cure Corns”. It’s a simple headline but it ran for years in tabloid ads like the National Enquirer.

    In their heyday, The Chicago Reader once wrote about writing for the tabloids. They would hire top writers from publications like the New York Times and Newsweek, but pay them 3 times their salary. So they had the writing talent (back in the good, old days – whatever that is), but had to write stories beneath their former level of journalistic integrity.

    Randy

  4. Thanks for the great post Sean.

    One thing I think your post demonstrates is that the people who are likely to convert into purchasers of your products and services are the ones who are invested in whatever it is that you “teach” or share.

    If your readers are willing to take their time to digest your longer content, then it’s likely you’ve established a stronger relationship with them which leads to more conversion.

    I totally agree that mixing it up as it fits into your business model is definitely the best approach, especially if you’re focused on providing value through your content – regardless of it length.

    I’d say that is the long and short of it.

    • That’s correct. And while statistics will tell you that you should have word length of just 800 words etc. it doesn’t matter. The longer you can keep a customer engaged, the more they’re likely to get to the conversion stage.

  5. Sean,

    Personally, I mix both types of articles and try to alternate them.

    This works just as you said, when the Cosmo-style articles attack plenty of traffic, the New Yorker-influenced articles increase conversions and engage readers to comment the articles.

    But most of the times I try to write articles that both attract traffic and engage readers. This is what everyone wants, isn’t it?

    Eugen

  6. I also mix both types. It is at times a difficult struggle trying to find the right balance.

  7. Conversion man. That’s what matters.

    Why? If you are converting at 1%….

    …and tweak that to get it up to 3.5%….

    it’s like getting 350% more traffic.

    • I agree and disagree. It’s not hard to get people to sign up—if you’re doing the right things. In many cases it’s not hard to get as much as 300% oversubscribed for a specific course/product. Conversion is simpler than most people expect it to be. What’s harder is getting the specific type of audience you want. That’s extremely tough work.

      So measuring conversion at 1% or 300% becomes irrelevant. If you fill your events/courses/product sales with the kind of person you want, that’s really what matters.

    • True enough on one hand, but once you tweak conversion, if you can then boost traffic (without messing up the depth that got you that conversion), even better.

  8. This is a very helpful post. Lately I’ve been feeling guilty about trying to figure out ways to increase traffic without much thought about how to convert.

    The answer is that there’s nothing wrong with doing both. Actually, it’s best to write light reading list posts to increase traffic while also offering in-depth posts to demonstrate expertise and give readers a reason to come back.

    Sean, thanks for answering my question.

    p.s. I’ve got a great list post with 7 Priceless Business Quotes from Warren Buffett. Hopefully you’ll have the time to check it out. And while you there, check out another post about 4 Classy Sales Lessons You Can Learn from Bostonian. It’s a longer read, but it’s totally worth it (at least I think it is.) ;) Are shameless plugs ok?

  9. I’m always preaching conversion, but there is something so validating and exciting about watching your traffic numbers grow.

    • Yes it is exciting. :)

      But conversion is just a step in the chain of attraction + conversion + consumption. Consumption of a product/service will grow your profits exponentially. And consumption is (as you can imagine) hard to achieve (How do you force/encourage someone to use what you’ve just sold them?)

      However to get back to the point, without conversion you can never get to consumption. And yes, it’s fun and exciting to see traffic numbers grow :)

  10. I love this post. And frankly, I will be looking for a copy of Cosmo tomorrow.

    Thank you.

  11. I definitely think you need to offer both, particularly when you are trying to grow. New readers may not be ready to invest in the “relationship” implied in a New Yorker-style article that will take them 30 minutes to read and digest. But they very well may scan a half-dozen Cosmo-style pieces and say, “Wow, good stuff! I’ll come back for more!” Then you can hit ‘em with the deeper stuff. In fact, one approach I take is to take those shorter bullet-list articles and posts and turn each bullet into its own deeper post. These make great series.

    Love the juxtaposition of the two mags. Fun read – thanks!

    • I wasn’t suggesting a 30 minute read. But if you are going to put in a 30 minute read, it would increase conversion a lot more if you packaged it in a PDF.

  12. Gotta mix it up!

  13. Hi Sean

    Excellent article, I actually did a little exercise and laid out all my Mens Health magazines and it was like playing a memory game to see which covers had the same headlines. How could I have been so blind. Anyway the point you drove home for me is that certain topics will always be interesting and blog worthy. I think I will pay more attention to magazine covers before I pick the next blog headline.

  14. Yup and it’s not just Men’s Health by the way. Most magazines (including the um, pictorials like Playboy) have a distinct formula. And it works pretty well.

  15. As a freelance business owner what eventually works for me is my conversion rate and not my traffic. Somehow I haven’t been able to put in sufficient effort towards generating decent traffic but I make up with my conversion rate. And I think this works for every business. Even if you are simply publishing advertisements on your blog if you are publishing content that just attracts traffic and doesn’t make people pay close attention to what all is there on your blog you don’t make much in terms of money, and also in terms of attention. Have less content but make sure it is effective.

  16. Hi Sean
    I loved this article. I’ve been reading and learning about blogging and repeating that process that I’m blue in the face. I’ve lost myself in a maze many times following interlinked articles. It clearly stuck because I wrote a lighter article today and using interlinking, “re-used” my analytical piece. Thanks for the unintentional pat on the back! I feel I’ve made some progress.

  17. I try to balance out my site with both types of articles. I’m in it for the long run…and the more I can appeal to a broad section of individuals while continuing to amaze and intrigue my original set of customers – ’tis good to me!

  18. Hey Sean! I was wondering about this very thing. Thanks for clearing up my muddled thoughts.

  19. Really good article.

    I always like seeing comparisons being made between print journalism and writing online. Reminds me that they all work on the same principles.

    • Not all the same principles. Online has much more flexibility in medium, marketing, and niche.

      How many off-line publications can embed videos or mp3s?

  20. I want people to know that the best way to attract reader is to make your article interesting and use atractive topic.

  21. This is fantastic to hear because I think I mix both styles really well! I just recently posted a list (more “cosmo style”) but I also love to post more in-depth pieces too.

    I also recently included an audio supplement to my new post, which makes digesting the material much easier for those who don’t like a lot of reading. It needs some improvement, but it’s a good first try.

  22. I would say that traffic is the most significant element of content. No blog is going to be successful without traffic, and conversion is not an issue until traffic is higher on a website.

    • That’s a matter of opinion, Jason. We generate 90% of our revenues from just under 5% of our list. You’ll find this is true for even big sites such as Expedia.com. In an earlier comment I mentioned a concept of “consumption”. If your traffic is very meager, and yet you can get customers to consume, you will not need bucketloads of traffic.

      On our membership site for example, we only allow 10-15 people per month. That’s a tiny sum of new memberships and yet those very small numbers generate enormous revenues. Yes, conversion rates are important, but if you step up consumption rates, you step up conversion rates without adding any new clients.

      Traffic is important, like everything else, but it’s not the most important determinant when it comes to actual revenues. Unless of course a marketer is willing to keep going out there to get newer customers.

  23. Thank you for pointing out the difference like a creative marketing pro! I’ve been writing like a converter but hoping for attraction, so I’m all twisted. Thank you for straightening me out :)

    • Don’t stress too much about it though. Writing as a “convertor” isn’t so bad after all. This article isn’t necessarily about attraction because rather than have “5 Steps to better headlines” etc. it’s about a concept. So you’ll see that it automatically gets fewer tweets and comments.

      What you do need is a bit of balance and you’ll be OK :)

      • I didn’t realize I was wanting to “convert”, but I am. Traffic is nice, but I’m more of a New Yorker writer than a Cosmo writer. I will think about balance as I look ahead, while keeping in mind my straightened outlook.

  24. This is such an amazing guide for all writers/bloggers, Sean!

    It actually reminds me of an anecdote I overheard in a wedding. They say that a good speech should be like a mini-skirt – short enough to be interesting, yet long enough to cover everything. Now, a good copy should be Cosmo-attractive to grab one’s attention, yet New Yorker-savvy to make you want to read some more.

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m keeping this in mind.

  25. I definitely believe that it is very important to have a combination of both

  26. Sean,

    Thanks for a fantastic article. I use the checkout line at the grocery store to brainstorm headline ideas all the time – thanks disposable saccharine trash mags!

    Anyhow, comparing two mediums like you did was helpful and cleared some things up for me.

  27. I don’t have anything to sell yet – Should I go for cosmo-posts?

    I like reading long and thought-provoking posts as long as they don’t lose interest in middle. Its a great art that compells reader to go through all the words and end with a feeling of enlightenment and satisfaction.

    Enjoyed your post, thanks much.

  28. Have to admit; love lists posts and bullets. Makes things so much easier to skim. And I get my best reader response from these types of posts too. Thanks for the blog.

  29. How’s this for a headline?
    Psst! Heard about the right-wing conspiracy to make “refudiate” an actual word?
    http://twitter.com/Write_Well_

  30. You’ve convinced me to buy cosmo. Now I just need to explain to my girlfriend and friends why I have cosmos lying around. Any advice there?

  31. Ideally, we can combine both elements in one article. Grab the reader with a cosmo hook, then draw them in with New Yorker content. Then preface each new paragraph or section with another cosmo style summary. This lets skimmers get what they need, without distracting the deep content readers.

  32. Just had this question yesterday from a client and just got my answer in this post–and sent it to her. She has some traffic, but the conversion just isn’t there. I think this article will help her–and me help her. Thanks!

  33. I think a mix is best. Everyone loves lists– there’s no denying that. If you can make bulleted lists with useful information, I think you can get the hits along with some conversion.

    Thanks!

  34. it is actually a combination of everything , we all know it is all about content , still tricks have to be cleverly used when you are about writing , i suggest breaking news and talking about unexpected

  35. Nice post Sean, I’m actually have an internal competition between two of my blogs to see which works better light posts vs longer posts, it’s still early and they both have their advantages from my stand point and the visitors (according to feedback and stats).

    On my personal site I like making list posts (everyone loves that lol) but with some meat on each point.

  36. Good article, it made me think about the content I put on my blog, I have to agree that a mix of both makes sense, it just needs to be relevant and interesting. From my own testing I find that when I post about top 5 tips I get more response. Thanks Becky Jenkins

  37. After reading (and re-reading) this article, I think it’s crucial to implement both New Yorker-style and Cosmo-style. Obviously, a magazine like The New Yorker should not compromise its current reputation of thorough, thought-provoking articles for numerous “fluffy” articles, but I do think it’s importance to have the balance of both styles. I also think it’s important to remember that just because your particular audience likes your particular writing (whether it may be cosmo-style or New Yorker-style), does not mean that they do not enjoy the opposite. I think lists, hyperlinks, short paragraphs, and other ‘skimmers’ are good for all types of articles because – as you said – everybody likes a light read (at least every once in a while). I have never thought about traffic and conversion in these aspects…Made me question my preference(s) and loyalty amongst other things.

  38. Content is King no doubt. As a blogger I want my readers to get what they are looking out for. If I can make my reader happy I am sure traffic and conversion will happen.

  39. Obviously a bit late on the wagon – but as always – Copyblogger gets it right. Great comparison, easy to assimilate and relate to and you walk away having a clear idea of what you need to do next.