Neil Patel

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The Definitive Guide to Creating Adaptive Content


Growth hack. Content marketing. Remarketing. Engagement. And now “adaptive content.”

Buzzwords and phrases dominate the digital space. If you’re not careful, you might think that each of them functions independently from the others.

But, that’s not true.

Each buzzword is relevant, because of its correlation with other words. For example, the word “content” is relevant, because it depends on “marketing” to produce results.

No one really loves buzzwords. But, we can’t do without them. If you want to be ready for the future of adaptive content, then you need to understand personalization, user experience, responsive design, omnichannel, reusable content, and more.

Big brands and small businesses alike have achieved tremendous results (in terms of leads and revenue increase), just by embracing content strategy.

However, for these brands to continue to make an impact, generate qualified leads and still deliver a good experience, they need to employ an adaptive approach.

Adaptive types of content has a lot of potential for content strategists. It delivers a personalized user experience — and recent statistics suggest that “56% of consumers would happily purchase from a company that provides a good personalized experience.” 

What is adaptive content?

For a clear definition of adaptive content, here’s an excerpt from Marcia Riefer Johnson’s blog post on Content Marketing Institute:

Adaptive content is content that can, at each instance of use, change (adapt) – not just in appearance but in substance – based on a number of factors.

To understand these factors, consider this Tweet, from a talk by Karen McGrane:


Consider all of the factors that Karen listed, each of which might determine how content types can adapt to a particular instance:

  • Device: operating system, mobile, tablet, desktop, screen size and resolution
  • Context: time, location, velocity, humidity, temperature
  • Person: age, gender, stage of life, language, relationships

It’s not enough to just know all of these factors. The ultimate question to answer is this: can your content strategy actually adapt to these factors?

If you want to get into your customer’s heart, you need to make your types of content adaptable.

Adaptive content can also be defined as “the content that goes everywhere.”

When content strategist Daniel Jacobson was dealing with an enormous amount of big data for the massive number of channels under NPR, he sought a way to maximize the impact of his content strategy. He devised a mantra, represented by the acronym COPE


COPE stands for “Create Once, Publish Everywhere.”

You can read Anna Ladoshkina’s excellent primer on building adaptive content with WordPress. It’ll guide you on the future of content marketing – and what your target audience expects of you.

Developing a content strategy is vital. But, what if you already have a strategy in place to promote and share your content – even before producing it?

How will your content look across different platforms and on various types of screen size?

The right approach to content creation will make a huge difference in the level of success that you experience.

Here’s a simple question for you:

How will your content look on your mobile site? Your email newsletter? Social media platforms?

Utilizing diverse platforms, social media, screen sizes and devices to spread your content strategy is essential in this competitive age.

When it comes to adaptive design, it all boils down to content that:

  • Goes everywhere, and
  • Adjusts automatically.

What will adaptive content mean to the content creators of the future?

Sonia Simone recently recorded a podcast, on, titled “Adaptive Content: A Trend to Pay Attention to in 2015.”

In that episode, Demian Farnworth talked about the importance of finding the right technology to implement adaptive types of content within responsive web design. Here’s what Demian had to say:

Our hope with adaptive content is to tailor content to a customer’s experience, behavior and desires. – Demian Farnworth

The key words here are “tailoring” and “personalization.” It’s taking an adaptive approach to content and delivering it within a responsive design. 

This means that you can personalize a user’s experience, so that when they come across your content, they’ll instantly know whether it’s for them or not.

Your content strategy should be developed with an adaptive approach to the individual user’s needs and behavior. It’s a one-on-one method of marketing.

Keep in mind that all of our customers’ expectations have been increased by technology. Right now, I’ve got my iPad and I wish that I could do all my shopping via my smartphone.

That’s the same experience that your ideal customer wants.

According to a Google smartphone user study, “88% of those who look for local information on their smartphones take action within a day.”

Obviously, smartphone users are highly motivated people. If you can tailor your content strategy to them, do you think they’ll take action?

Of course they will.

The State of Content Marketing

You can’t bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it. — David Ogilvy

You think that creating more content will generate more leads and revenue for your business. Of course it can — to an extent.

But, if you want to be a successful content strategist then you also need to understand what the future holds for your content.

If the only thing we do is create more social media and blog posts without listening to our audience or identifying common behaviors they exhibit, how will our great content appeal to them?

According to the 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, roughly 80% of marketers use content marketing as part of their business plan.


Your target audience wants a superior experience. What are you doing to meet their demands in a timely manner?

They want you to personalize the experience for them. For example, just by personalizing email subject lines with the recipient’s first name, you can increase email open rates by up to 21%.


So, whether you’re an ecommerce marketer, a basic content creator, a blogger, a public speaker or a content strategist, creating the right mobile experience and personalizing your content strategy to these highly-motivated audience members can yield dramatic results for you.

After all, no matter what your target audience is searching for, the majority of them will begin their search on their mobile devices, meaning that your mobile site also needs to take an adaptive approach.

Recent data from Google found that “77% of mobile users use search engines and social media sites on their phones.”

Aside from conducting searches on mobile phones, users also plan a trip, manage their finances, watch online videos and shop on their phones. This means that now, more than ever, is a crucial time for you to ensure that your mobile site features an adaptive design. 


2015 was an odd year for content marketing. Both brands and customers got wise to quirky advertising that doesn’t care about the target audience.

Clickbait headlines and shady ads multiplied, but customers were smart enough to steer clear of headlines that appeared too good to be true.

In the same year, adblocking became a popular trend and mobile ad spending increased, too. A lot of companies and content strategists started blogging and producing podcasts.

The demand for long-form content increased. Google began to favor well-researched and authoritative content pages over new sites that are light on actionable content.

All of this content has led to content shock — a situation where there’s too much information for people to consume.


As Mark Schaefer observed, more content won’t solve the problem — more personalized content will.

An adaptive approach to content is the answer.

You create a valuable piece of content and share it with the right audience, and, regardless of the platform or device they’re using, the responsive design of the content strategy adapts to that environment and context.

The changing economics of content looks critically at the impact that your content is making in people’s lives – and not merely the quantity of content that you produce.


Essentially, your customers want to feel relevant. And as a content creator, you need to deliver this reassurance to them.

If they ever perceive that you don’t care about them (especially when you create content they can’t adapt to on the device of their choice), they’ll move on.


A Brief Guide to Omnichannel Publishing

Yet another buzzword: “omnichannel.” Sorry.  But, we can’t talk about adaptive content without understanding omnichannel publishing.

Omnichannel has made online shopping experiences a breeze for today’s online consumers.

Because of the omnichannel shopping experience it creates, Amazon continues to outperform its competitors.


What is Omnichannel?

Techtarget defines omnichannel as a “multi-channel approach to sales that provides the customer with a seamless shopping experience – whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a brick and mortar store.”

Omnichannel publishing seeks to create content with a responsive design that understands users’ preferences. For example, you can star items that you like on Amazon, or click “show me more” to reveal products that might be relevant and personalized for you.


Netflix’s rating star for films you’ve watched and suggestions for films that you should watch, based on your personalized preferences, is another example of omnichannel publishing.

Whether you set the preference on a desktop computer, smartphone, or any mobile device, suggestions will be relevant to you, personally.

In between sales and the customer is the critical role marketing can play. It’s an integration role. — Wendy Harrington, CMO of Tyto Life

If you want omnichannel publishing to work for you, here are three important aspects of content marketing that you should employ:

  • Create useful and timely content
  • Connect with the right audience to amplify content
  • Optimize content around user behavior and device of choice

When you understand and approach content marketing using this formula, you’ll create an adaptive content experience that will wow your audience. Your content will be everywhere.

According to Contently, “The magazine of the future is no longer the one you print yourself; it’s everywhere your audience hangs out.”

Content is evolving. It used to be primarily print. Today, it’s digital. And, more than ever, the need to personalize the blog posts that people read, based on their needs and specific behaviors, is critical.


Benefits of Adaptive Content

So far, we’ve seen some of the merits of adaptive content. Here’s a summary:

i).   Create tailored content: If you run a travel site, how about creating a blog post that appeals to people from a particular geographic location?

Or, what if a stranger visited your blog, where you present them the opportunity to download a free guide on how to find cool places in the city they’re in?

That’s a personalized content strategy.

ii).  Maximize your share of attention online: You can capitalize on the huge amount of data gleaned from mobile users to get your voice heard.

By implementing adaptive content strategies, you create content that not only helps your users, but actually speaks their language (e.g., tell them their mobile internet speed).

iii).   Publish useful content natively: There are no more limitations to publishing adaptive blog posts online. Platforms such as LinkedIn Pulse, Facebook Instant and Medium allow you to publish content for free, natively.


In other words, users of these publishing networks won’t click away or leave without giving your content a boost (even if it’s just a Tweet).

When creating content with the intention of adapting it to users anywhere they are, bear in mind that you’ll be generating a lot more site visitors, leads and revenue. It’s a content strategist’s dream.

For example, if you create a marketing video, you’ll most definitely generate more views on YouTube than your own web or mobile site.

In the same vein, if your site is still new, in as much as it’s important to create more useful content and publish on your blog, you’ll get better results by guest blogging on authority blogs.

Through omnichannel publishing, you’re no longer limited to your own blog or authoritative sites you contribute to. Now, you can leverage social media networks as publishing platforms to promote blog posts.


iv).   Get on mobile, seamlessly: There’s a lot of data about mobile use out there. If you use a good mobile analytics solution, you can track this data easily.

With this data, you can tailor content, experiences and products to appeal to specific mobile site users.

In the beginning of 2015, Nike leveraged the fitness statistics their customers inputted into their Your Year app to create a personalized and compelling animated video – it was easy to share as they bragged about their accomplishments.


Of course, if you’re a small business owner, this might not work for you. However, there’s a place for everyone. Your customer data may not be on the scale of Nike’s, but you can start from where you are.

A few thoughts to keep in mind when creating adaptive content:

i).   Build your business case: What specific objective have you created for your business? You need a clear, cogent reason why you want your content to be adaptive.

If you’re not a lone content creator and have a content strategist team, or if you need approval from someone else before employing adaptive content, you should explain the benefits, first and tie it to the state of content marketing for 2016.

ii).  Develop a marketing funnel: As your content begins to spread across the web, you need to have a funnel in place that’s segmented to accommodate the different categories of leads that you’ll generate.

Obviously, the leads that you’ll generate from smartphones might have a different need or behavior, compared to leads from users on desktop computers.

iii).  Differentiate between responsive design and adaptive content: Most people misinterpret responsiveness to adaptivity.

But, they’re not exactly the same. Here’s the difference:


Responsiveness is concerned about responsive web design. For example, a responsive design ensures that your web page displays well as a mobile site on a smartphone and other devices.

On the other hand, adaptive content isn’t just about the the responsive web design per se, but the content itself.


If you want to be a successful content creator, then don’t put off adaptive content any longer.

On the organic distribution front, email is still the best performing method.

However, if you employ adaptive content, you’ll get more blog post visitors from other content distribution networks (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) by using an adaptive approach, and even creating reusable content for them.

Above all, remember that adaptive designs for content are still evolving. And, just like content marketing, it’s not a one-off or standalone strategy.

When will you start employing adaptive content for your business?

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