Can You Make Content Predictions?

Nov 25, 2014

I get a lot of emails from public relations professionals hoping to get my attention. More often than not, I cannot use the pitches I receive. And, increasingly, I am baffled by the emails I get. It’s clear that many of these people either have no idea who I am and what EContent covers, or they’re just “spraying and praying.” Either way, there is pretty much no excuse for this.

The truth is, though, that this is the way many content professionals are still doing their jobs. Despite all the analytics capabilities available to us, we’re still just going with our gut, relying on the pitches that come into our inboxes, and generally winging it. That goes for editors, writers, content marketers, and more. For purists, this is the way things should be. There’s a difference between what people want to read and what they should read, right? And it’s an editor’s job to figure out what people should be reading. Of course, we all know that old chestnut doesn’t really cut it today. Publishers are competing with bloggers, marketers, social media, and untold numbers of other sites for attention. While it’s still important to give potential customers the info they need, it’s important to stop guessing what they need and make sure you know.

But you kind of know this already, don’t you? You check your Google Analytics to see what is bringing people to your site and to see what keeps them reading. Then you try to guess what your next article, video, or podcast should be about according to what your analytics tell you. Ultimately, you’re still just making guesses based on what you know about the past.

Back in September, I wrote a news story about InboundWriter, which is a platform that supposedly can tell you whether your next piece of content will be a success before you even write it. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it might be if you’re in the news business, but if you’re more concerned with evergreen content, then you might be in luck. That’s for you to decide, but after talking to InboundWriter’s CEO, I came away thinking about the way we craft stories.

Here’s how it works: A user can put her topic ideas into InboundWriter and the system will use a variety of factors to score those ideas and tell her whether or not her article idea will succeed. I wrote that InboundWriter “uses the popularity of the topic—‘which is determined based on the aggregation of the popularity of all search query terms associated with this topic’—as one of its main predictive factors, but also includes content type (e.g. video vs. text), your competition in that area, uniqueness on your site, and your authority on the subject matter. And if your topic doesn’t score high, InboundWriter will suggest alternatives.”

Frankly, I’d hate to see a world in which our content was ruled by data. I’d hate for book editors to completely stop trusting their guts and taking a chance on something completely new and different because the data didn’t confirm that it would be a runaway hit. Of course, I wouldn’t mind if the data told publishers to stop trying to capitalize on old trends and to get out ahead of the new ones. Still, data can help us make better editorial decisions and fine-tune our instincts.

As we draw closer to the end of the year, and I start work on next year’s editorial calendar and the first issues of 2015, I can’t help but think more and more about staying on top of the emerging trends and letting go of the old ones—or, at least, putting them on the back burner. When it comes to content, however, that can be hard to do. You can’t just forget the buzzwords of years past—such as user experience or multichannel delivery—but you have to evaluate the new challenges coming at you, and figure out which ones you need to embrace and address.

I think one thing is for sure: Wearables and the Internet of Things will be changing the way we think about content in 2015. How will you use everything you’ve learned over the years about creating great, targeted, user-friendly content, and apply it to the new devices and delivery channels opening up to you in the years to come?