serialized advertising by Burma Shave

How to Use Serialized Content to Keep Website Traffic Strong

Read enough about apps like Snapchat or Yo, and it’s easy to come away with the opinion that all digital content must be hypervisual and digestible in a nanosecond.

As with all generalizations, this one has problems. For starters, apps aren’t websites, and attempting viewing them as interchangeable is not a wise strategy. Second, people want to find engaging content online. They will stop and spend some time reading it, as sites like Longform demonstrate. Last but not least, and to shamelessly borrow from Field of Dreams, if you build it — and keep adding to it — they will come.

The Burma Shave lesson

Courtesy: "The Verse by the Side of the Road," by Frank Rowsome, Jr.
Courtesy: “The Verse by the Side of the Road,” by Frank Rowsome, Jr.

In 1925, a brushless shave cream tried a new advertising tactic. It posted jingles, one line at a time, on roadside signs. Drive far enough, and you’d get to the last line, which was always some version of “don’t forget to buy Burma-Shave.” The jingles were spread out over a few miles, and the fun was seeing how the rhyme would play out since after a few years, most viewers knew what the end result would be. The campaign ran until 1963.

The campaign ran until 1963 — almost 40 years. The lesson? Done right, serialization works.

Storytelling in serialized form is nothing new. Radio programming did it back in the day, as did newspapers and magazines. Television (and even movies) does it now. Books are written in chapters. But the online world has continued to demand shorter content, to the point where more than three sentences on a home or landing page is considered by some to be clutter.

Are four parts better than one?

This is not to say that all content should be stretched out for maximum effect. The trick is to decide early on if a blog post is better with three subsections, or spun out into three parts, for example. The argument for a single shot is that the point being made can be quick and concise. The argument for serialization is that you’re given the opportunity go a little more in depth on each point, enhancing your reputation as a subject matter expert.

Keep in mind, however, that a good serial is composed of parts that can stand alone. Beware of a first installment that does nothing but tease vs. one that sets up the issue. Map out the content from start to finish in order to ensure each component has legs.

Social media as time machine

Another benefit to serializing content is that it can “feed the beast” when it comes to your robust social media strategy (you have one of those, don’t you?). Let’s say you’ve authored, either on your blog or within your website, a seven-part strategy on the best ways to mow the lawn. Use your social media channels to promote each installment, but also to tease back to the previous ones in order to catch up. Presto! More page views from a single visitor, who’s likely to keep coming back since he or she has shown strong interest in your content.

Serial, not cereal.
Serial, not cereal.

Know when to fold ‘em

As stated before, serialization is just one part of a strong content strategy. Don’t hack up a perfectly good white paper in an effort to create click bait. And at the same time, don’t try to make every piece of a three-part blog series the next Ulysses. Your website visitors want to see what you’ve got, and they like something a little more robust than “click here to find out more about our services” attached to a couple of graphic-heavy web pages and boilerplate blogs. A well-done serialization will generate interest — and played right, reader feedback — with each installment.