At a time when companies are spending large amounts of money optimizing and split-testing content, figuring out a method to rapidly increase the number of blog post titles that you can test each week is incredibly valuable for a publisher.
FiveThirtyEight – a website that focuses on data analysis related to politics, economics, and sports – has found a way to take a single blog post and then use that post to test dozens of potential titles at a time. And they do this with only a small team of writers, a timely topic, and a simple WordPress plugin.
In this post, we’ll look at what they’re doing and how their strategy can benefit you.
The FiveThirtyEight Title-Testing Formula
While I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed, I’ve had a close eye on Twitter on the nights of every caucus and debate this past spring. Sometime during these debates, I realized that I had clicked on about 6 tweets from FiveThirtyEight during a single evening and I had to stop and applaud what they were doing – not just what they were reporting, but how they were reporting it.
Consider this blog post from March 22, which covers the primary election results in Arizona and Utah. Between 10 pm and 2 am, three writers collaborated to post minute-to-minute updates on electoral results as they unfolded. They even bantered back and forth throughout the process, sometimes treating the post more like a forum than a pointed blog post:
With every new update, the FiveThirtyEight team shared the post on Twitter as if it was a completely new post. Each tweet shares the same hashtag, but the live-blog format let them break down a single post into chunks and tweet them individually as the night’s events unfolded.
The genius part to me is that all of their tweets were bite-sized chunks of information, but all of them pointed back to the same piece of content – at least as far as Google and WordPress are concerned.
Why does this matter?
Because testing dozens of posts with 50 words of content each makes for bad UX and terrible SEO… but managing them as one big page improves both.
This simple strategy let FiveThirtyEight share 26 different updates that all linked to one URL. Each entry had its own jump link, such as this one:
And after each update, the team hard linked tweets to different post sections — each of which had their own title and description in the Twitter preview as well:
The results? A variety of attractive headlines, all pulling traffic into the same post throughout the night. Each Tweet generated dozens (sometimes hundreds) of likes, retweets, and click throughs.
More importantly, the level of engagement each Tweet receives tells FiveThirtyEight exactly which headlines are winning the hearts and minds of their audience. From there, it’s easy for them to pick out the best title and publish a full length article based on it.
Why This Live Blogging Formula Is So Valuable
You’re probably no stranger to live blogging or live tweeting as a concept, but both of these types of event coverage have some big problems:
- Live tweeting is short lived – Sure, you can build some followers, but if you don’t catalog your tweets through Storify or a blog post, they fade from memory quickly.
- You can’t split test either one – Live blogging and live tweeting both demand expediency, which means you’re firing off content as fast as possible, without getting a chance to sit down and optimize.
What makes FiveThirtyEight’s strategy so valuable is that it cuts through these problems. Instead of posting boring bulleted blog posts or filling your Twitter feed with fleeting impressions, they combine the best of both worlds:
- They can share dozens of tweets attached to a single event without spamming it, and keep their followers engaged throughout the event’s duration.
- They have a super effective way to test headlines without tiring out their audience. They keep linking to the same asset, but keep tabs on which posts generate the most engagement.
- They can turn around the next day and publish a feature-length blog post, with an already optimized title, by piggy backing on what they learned from their live tweets.
This is the evolution of live coverage.
By using FiveThirtyEight’s strategy, you can transform your live event coverage into an asset that your audience will seek out, bundled under a headline that you already know is a homerun.
How You Can Use These Lessons to Grow Your Audience
Think that this sort of blogging is restricted to political coverage? Think again.
Any brand can use this exact same strategy to cover any live event.
All you have to do is following the exact same formula, and you can:
- Figure out which headlines have the biggest conversion potential.
- Plug a single asset multiple times without tiring out your audience.
- Lay the groundwork for a killer follow-up post.
The best part? Getting started is simple.
- Download a live blogging plugin – LivePress is the one we prefer based upon the functionality we’ve described in this post, but there are others out there that help transform your blog into a live blogging platform. This plugin lets you break out a live blog into various chunks, and then let’s multiple people collaborate on it at the same time.
- Pick a trending topic – When it comes to generating interest (and controversy) election coverage is low-hanging fruit, but you should obviously focus on your niche. Try to find a live event that falls within your niche to report on (e.g. convention, trade show, grand opening).
- Grab a friend (or two, or three) – Live-blogging goes best when you have multiple POVs covering the same topic, taking notes, and helping you record every detail.
- Use FiveThirtyEight’s formula – Collaborate on one live blog post and tweet it out multiple times with different titles. Pinpoint the Tweet with the highest engagement.
- Follow up – You’ve found a winning headline – put it to work! Create a blog post or slideshare (or both!) that recaps the event you just watched unfold. Make an event wrap up page and practice some solid link-building strategies to build your mailing list and win new leads. Or simply write a new post focused on the topic title that performed the best.
And that’s not all – you can use this for non-events, too! For example, by linking to sub-sections on a page, like this link to the Tourism section of Wikipedia’s Seattle page, you can create deep links for a variety of content on your site that may only consist of a few pages.
As you can see, with one simple plugin, you can create hard-hitting content delivered seconds after it happens. You can create a living asset that keeps users clicking throughout the duration of the event, and then turn the lessons you learned into follow up assets that will keep more people coming back. And you can test dozens of titles all at once without boring your audience.