One golden way to prune content and improve a post.

At 434 Marketing, we’re committed to dedicated processes that generate meaningful results for our clients. One of my favorite things to do (yes, even in spare time) is testing and developing new tactics. The world of content marketing is complex and always changing. My team and I always want to stretch ourselves to ensure we’re offering our clients the best of the best. Our desire to serve our clients well combined with our natural curiosity led us to start incorporating heatmaps in our content refreshing and testing process.

Maintaining and refreshing content is just as important as initial optimization, and can significantly improve content performance.

I’m a firm believer that everything and anything can be made better. As a former Six Sigma guy, I was intrigued by the stories of small changes that produced massive results. But more importantly, I was impressed by the Japanese concept of “poka-yoke” in the Control phase of the DMAIC process. 

Like Content Marketing, Six Sigma requires both art and data. With Six Sigma, you are often looking for operation efficiency (cost savings). With Content Marketing efficiency comes as content compounds the reach to your target audience. With both frameworks, an important phase (often forgotten) comes after launch. 

Traditionally, with Six Sigma, once you have launched your program, you must continue to sustain it––this is called Control. Throughout this phase, you monitor the program closely and use the data to ensure you receive the expected results through preventative maintenance (poka-yoke).

In my eyes, the Content Marketing we do is no different. Every piece must be made well, be made better over time, and be sustained with preventative maintenance. This allows us to avoid traffic decay to Top-of-Funnel SEO posts while improving the User Experience of the visitors to our content. Ultimately, our goal is to produce stronger results than yesterday.

A piece of content takes an army to ship. From initial research to outlining and framing the piece, asking “so what?” many times and revising, to the final stretch. Maybe you can relate to this all-too-familiar scenario: it’s all hands on deck now that it’s almost time to launch. Heads are down, fingers are flying over keys, graphics are being polished, and the entire team is slaving over a piece, trying to make it perfect. There’s a daunting mission ahead—to make this piece of content as brilliant as possible and create a massive impact for our client (or team). 

And then, the doubt creeps in…We think we know our audience well– we probably do, but humans are fickle and rarely share their opinions directly. To make it worse, I’ll admit, my ego allowed assumptions to get in the way of the facts/data––let alone opinions.

So, how can we perform poka-yoke, the act of Control, on the content launch into the world in a simple way to yield results? Here is how:

This concept came a few years ago and was cemented by a new SERP feature Google introduced last year––the Highlight Feature. And since 434 is a small fry here, let’s talk about Google first. 

Google’s Highlight Feature presented a glimpse into what searchers want most— by highlighting it.

First, it’s said that we are more honest with the search engine, than our spouse/partner (scary notion). Second, Google cares most about the end-user experience and getting them to the information they are looking for quickly. So, through our *secret* behavior on Google, the algo knows what to highlight in advance, knowing what we will care about most on a web page. Like this:

As CMs and SEOs, this showed us little nuggets of gold in content—the piece of content a user cares about most and frankly, why Google cares to rank it so highly.

Could we replicate the highlight within our own content? And if we did, how would that improve our rankings, and drive more value to the end user? We set out to answer these questions, and started investigating using every tool at our disposal. As part of our content refreshing process, especially long-form content, we replaced the highlight feature to uncover what our audience is most interested in by using heatmaps

Heatmaps allow us to learn more about our target audience and tailor our content to better serve them while bolstering our results.

Each piece of content we create is the result of thorough research, creativity, and dedication to our clients. Once a piece of content ships, we monitor how it’s doing, and strive to make it better. We found that introducing heatmaps was an excellent way to let the reader show us what they’re most interested in, and what we needed to tweak. With a whole lot of curiosity, and a dash of problem solving, a content marketer can use heatmaps to take a piece to the next level. Here’s how we like to use heatmaps.

First things first, what’s a heatmap?

Heatmaps are often used by UX and Web Developers to identify user snags in a design or layout. They do this by recording an actual user session on a website and then group multiple sessions together to produce a visual overlay on a webpage.  We use Mouseflow to generate heatmaps, as they are inexpensive and provide us with one, very critical heatmap that we will talk about in a moment.

Before I get there, we need to talk about privacy. Using a technology that records a user session should always be done with extreme care. First, you never want to record things like login screens, payment forms, etc. (Really, just stay away from any form.) Second, you will want to disclose their use through Cookie Opt-ins (a la GDPR compliance) and your Privacy/TOS statements.

How to use heatmaps:

1) Install Mouseflow

We find it’s easiest to use Google Tag Manager, but there are many ways to add the code snippet required to collect sessions. See here.

Pro Tip: If you use Tag Manager, you can set up your tag to trigger on specific pages, as opposed to all pages. This allows you to a) avoid unwanted recording and b) is more cost-effective. 

2) Collect recordings

Typically, we wait until we have >100 sessions collected on the page we want to analyze. But, depending on the number of visitors (population), you may want to collect more than 100 sessions.

Pro Tip: Not sure what sample size to use? Use this calculator to determine how many sessions to collect.

3) Review the various heatmaps

Once you have collected the desired amount of sessions, it’s time to review the various heatmaps your tool of choice offers. In our case with Mouseflow, we look at:

  • Scroll Depth—shows what percentage of visitors made it down the page
  • Attention—shows where attention is being placed on the page
  • Movement—shows the mouse or touch (mobile device) movement of actual users

What to look for in a heatmap:

So, the most impactful heatmap for analyzing content is movement. With the Movement heatmap, the user’s mouse movements are captured – in effect, highlighting the golden nuggets in your content. Those golden nuggets are oftentimes indicated by something we call “mouse reading.” As a user scrolls and consumes content, they will typically hold their mouse where their eyes are, which allows an analyst to make some assumptions about what people are most interested in. This replicates the Google Highlight feature.

The inverse is obviously helpful too. Where there is no Movement, Attention, or Scroll depth – there is no interest. This helps improve the piece, but cutting this content or reshaping it for the audience.

What do with a Golden Nugget of Content?

There are two modes of thought when it comes to a Golden Nugget. First, the best practice is to unveil this golden nugget upfront. That’s is why Google Highlight Feature exists and honestly, the BLUF (bottom line up front) method in content works well. But, showing all your cards off the bat could reduce time on the page and perhaps increase the bounce rate. You’ll want to consider these things carefully because you know Google does. 

Another option is to use this Golden Nugget to expand your piece and double down. Why? Well, a Golden Nugget is the most exacting form of why your audience is consuming your content. Sometimes the big why has surprised us. In fact, we have seen where the most important few sentences on the page had little to do with the overall thesis of the page. This provides you with opportunities to expand and improve.

Here is a quick video I put together that walks you through a heatmap in more detail.