Before modern-day digital storytelling, before Netflix and on-demand video, before ebooks and audiobooks, people often kept up with their favorite, ongoing stories through serial novels.
Image attribution: Plum Leaves
The idea was simple: book publishers operated on long writing, editing, and production cycles that made it difficult to generate regular income, so they needed a faster publishing format. Rather than waiting for complete volumes to send to press, publishers began working with newspapers or putting out their own periodicals to publish their novels chapter by chapter as they were written. It was the Victorian equivalent of following your favorite TV show, where purchasing the novel upon its completion was like downloading a whole season to binge watch. The form was popular with readers, powerfully lucrative for publishers, and is considered to be one of the reasons writers such as Charles Dickens grew to such wide popularity.
But does this still hold true today?
This is the question on the mind of Margot, a content marketing manager on a team that’s overworked, understaffed, and generally reaching their creative limits. Margot wants to find a way to revitalize her team’s content strategy in a way that gives her content creators a bit of a break, while also keeping their production pipeline full and their budget relatively level.
It’s a tall order, but one for which serialization is perfect.
Before your team sets off to create their magnum opus in serial form, it’s important to understand the unique space that serialized content fills in digital storytelling. The use of individual blog posts has a largely set function in the marketing toolbox, frequently centering on improved search visibility and perhaps a single call to action (CTA).
For the most part, this means that the performance of an individual piece of content piece is often considered either on a singular basis or in the context of larger year-over-year reporting alongside all other content marketing efforts.
But serialized content presents a different format. By having a collection of content that specifically continues to build with each subsequent release, marketers are forced to consider their series as its own campaign—and the metrics look a bit different than regular content publishing.
Take Margot’s content strategy for instance. Individual blogs are primarily used to improve site quality and search visibility. Metrics like time on page, pages per session, and regular sharing or backlink measurement make up the bulk of what Margot’s team is trying to drive.
Serialized content additionally offers another benefit: improved lead targeting.
For Margot, site analytics can only definitively tell if an individual user is interested in her brand if they take an action on an in-page CTA. But with serial content, the doors open up. Special goals and cookies can be associated with users who read the first blog and make it through multiple consecutive pieces in one sitting, offering powerful options for later paid targeting. Segmenting users by where in the series they fall off or on board can reveal specific topics of interest or disinterest for future material. Email lists that follow the progress of an ongoing series give marketers a foundational story to continue building on through follow-up communication. The options are diverse.
Margot is ready to try out serial content but isn’t sure where to begin. These steps can help her—or any marketer—make an effective start:
Just like individual pieces, your whole serial campaign should have a clearly defined strategy for search visibility. Honing in on one or two primary keywords across all pieces, complemented by a secondary keyword for each specific piece, can give your brand a powerful boost in SEO.
One of the great benefits of serial content is that it can help marketers fill out their publication calendars without requiring extra lift for regular new ideas. Not having a clearly defined schedule up front, however, may result in your series overstaying its welcome as your creators continue to milk it for content week after week. Plan specifically, stick to your plan, and make sure every step along the way is meaningful for your reader.
Relying on your regular measurement for serial content means that you reduce your campaign to a collection of individual pieces. Once you have a calendar in place, take the time to define a specific tracking and review strategy for your campaign. Things to consider might include conversion tracking for readers who read multiple pieces in one session, tracking readers who return to your site regularly to follow the series, measuring points of falloff to identify content that’s working (or not working) for your overall story, and series-specific CTAs (like email subscriptions or demos) that help you segment the leads you generate.
Digital storytelling, while new in medium, continues to draw on the habits and interests that drove readers even in the 1800s. For marketers like Margot, this offers a powerful space to maximize the amount of content you can pull from a good idea, while also offering a space for unique and actionable reader behavior. So long as marketers take the time to specifically plan what story they want to tell and how to measure its effectiveness, serial content can serve as the perfect way to keep your users coming back, time and time again.
Featured image attribution: Prasanna Kumar