Saturday, October 10, 2009

Case Studies: Compelling Content?

Case studies have emerged as a content staple, and why not? What could be a better endorsement for a company than a narrative testimony of their success in providing a viable solution to a particular client? It's like, hey, if they were able to do that for Joe's Widgets, they can certainly do the same for me, right?

Okay, so I just opened this piece with three, count 'em three, consecutive questions. What's up with that? Do'h! There goes another one, what's going on here? Oh no!

I digress. Let me get to the point about case studies. I have a friend in the industry who was contracted by a client to write the content for their website. They wanted a case study on the site, and it so happens that a content person who had previously worked for them in-house composed a case study some time ago that never appeared. It was passed along to my friend, who says it was in fact very well written. But when she evaluated it as an SEO/SEM person who runs SEO tools in her browser, she could immediately tell that it was nothing but blatant shilling...in other words, pure bullshit.

This client of hers is a web design firm that offers SEO/SEM services. So the case study was intended to prove that their design and subsequent optimization and marketing provided value to their client. The fact is, however, that the website of the company around which the case study revolved was not doing well at all. The site had an Alexa rank of 13 million, and it was registering zero traffic according to Compete.com. Plus, when she read the case study, the "successes" therein were very vague, like "they are now placing in the top three positions of page one for several of their targeted terms." Really? Which ones? How about a screen shot? And how much traffic do these terms get?

The bottom line is that case studies are very easy to manipulate. Everyone has a friend who will publicly toot their buddy's horn (hey--don't go there) in return for a favor. If you are going to use case studies, you have to be very diligent and make sure that you are communicating verifiable information. You also need to highlight a genuinely successful case. If you are like this client that my friend had, and the best you can do is keep your fingers crossed hoping that nobody actually puts the subject of your case study under the microscope, you're better off not using case studies at all.

But, if you really do provide positive ROI, case studies are golden. If you successfully partner with your clients and deliver solutions that make (or save) them money, it will be plainly evident, and your case studies will be numerous and compelling. But if you are just jumping on the bandwagon expecting your content provider to make a silk case out of a sow's study, you are selling snake oil, baby. And you don't want to do that, do you?

(D'oh, there I go with the damned questions again!)

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