Marketers worldwide are increasing annual spending on high-quality content by 200% but they are missing a big opportunity by failing adequately to measure content marketing‘s return on investment.
Apart from the obvious lack of accountability, research by the US Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has found that the act of measuring effectiveness can also improve it. The CMI said the act of evaluating ROI was 17 times more likely to lead, through the adoption of best practice, to an increase in future ROI.
At the same time, other recent research by UK marketing data provider Alf found that only 43% of marketers had written down their content marketing strategy and were successful at tracking ROI. Bluntly, if you’re in the remaining 57%, then you could be undoing all your good work.
Until recently the worth of marketing, advertising and PR was hard to quantify. Marketing department heads would be forever worried about justifying their existence with very few numbers to go on.
We can do better now in a digital world where traffic is documented, regionalised, sliced, diced, pushed and pulled. It has its stickability measured. It is driven by home page advert placements. Gone are the days when an advert in a newspaper could have its effectiveness measured only by the number of coupons that were cut out and posted.
Today, it is honestly quite simple to measure the worth of content and increase its effectiveness. In the process marketers will find it easier to justify their roles.
Though none of what follows breaks new ground, we want to emphasise the importance of measurement, the importance of managing expectations internally, and the importance of seeing what’s working.
What should you measure though? We can’t claim that you can often measure hard return on investment in terms of money added to the bottom line. But you can measure returns that undoubtedly drive the business forward.
Rick Perreault, founder of digital services provider Unbounce, was quoted saying in a recent book: “Our content drives customers. Something we wrote in January 2010 still drives customers today. Whereas if I had spent money on advertising in January, that’s it. That money is spent.
“If you invest in content, it gets picked up by Google. People find it, they share it, and it refers customers almost indefinitely.”
So here are our thoughts on effective measurement of content marketing. But first a word on…
It starts with quality. If content is not of a high editorial standard, then it doesn’t matter how much of it you produce or where you put it. It will not be read, engaged with, or shared.
But what is quality? It is defined by clear objectives and an understanding of your audiences. A failure to understand your market can negatively affect the brand. If your target consumer is an investment banker then your content marketing agency should be helping you to write material good enough to print in the Financial Times. Likewise if you’re aiming for a tabloid reader then produce an article with a short and punchy writing style that is fit to print in a national tabloid.
Measurements that make sense
- According to CMI research, brand building is often the main objective of content marketing. But brand awareness is also notoriously difficult to quantify. When it comes to ROI, stick with the measurable.
- There’s no point trying to measure something if you haven’t a ruler to compare it with. Before you write a word, set out your objective. Whether it’s timings, budget, hits, sales, buzz or SEO – set it out and in writing. Know your end point.
- What is your audience? What are your key performance indicators: high sales, more web traffic or a social media following? Is the aim to establish a blog, a YouTube channel, or a one-off piece of content? Do you want to push your brand higher up Google’s page ranking?
- Hits, be they impressions or unique users, are easiest to quantify and often the most informative. More traffic intuitively leads to more business, just as more people visiting your shop will inevitably lead to more sales.
- Write more. Analytics software provider Hubspot has set out one marker for how content marketing can lead to more traffic. It found sites producing blog posts on average five times a week can generate up to 15 times more impressions across the same period.
- We all know about analytics software such as Google Analytics or Adobe Omniture. But look beyond impressions and uniques to where the traffic is coming from and, more importantly, why it is leaving. Check whether you are reaching the right consumer and locations, and how your social media channels are performing.
- How sticky are you? Monitor the stickiness of your pages, ie internal linking between articles to keep a user in your site. Keep a note of the amount of time a user spends there. Your ROI drops significantly when you have 2,000 impressions on a 1,000-word piece and each reader is spending only an average of 10 seconds on that page. An article of that length is not engaging anyone if they leave after such a short period of time.
- How close are you to page 1 on Google? You almost certainly know this, but on average only 5% of surfers get as far as the second page of Google’s search results. Your objective is to identify your key customer search queries and put your content in the first three results on page one. Whether it’s Google or Bing, ranking algorithms tilt towards sites that are updated regularly with well-written content matching the search query.
- Quality quality quality (again). A recent FirstWord feature showed how Google was moving towards ranking content on quality of writing and factual integrity. While SEO will always have a place in raising search engine ranking, content can push it further. Research bears this out: 39% of new customers come from search, while sites with 400-1,000 indexed pages receive 600 times more leads.
- Pick the right key phrases. SEO is a science all of its own and this isn’t the place to get bogged down in it. However, the basics are pretty straightforward. Research the keywords and phrases your market is using – there are plenty of online tools to help you with this. Try and incorporate them into headlines, the text, and even the image descriptions.
- SEO is not an end in itself. A well-written, well-thought out article designed for actual people will always outperform something that has been designed to please only a search engine. Keep the user in mind.
- To some, social media and content marketing are separate disciplines. Yet for the consumer, they are both ways of interacting with the brand. For the brand, social networks allow consumers easily to share content and drive traffic and awareness.
- What do they think about you? Or in the words of Procter & Gamble and eBay director Scott Cook: “A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is. It is what they tell each other it is.” A recommendation from a friend carries more weight than a £10 million advertising campaign.
- Twitter is not just about retweets. Social media can aid SEO. For example, Google indexes all Tweets, including links, in real time, providing an instant way to let the search engine know you have new content.
- How many people are you reaching? In terms of content marketing, social media’s real value is as a platform for pushing out and allowing people to share new content. To get optimal traction, Social Service recommends posting once a day to Facebook and LinkedIn, and 14 times a day to Twitter.
- Right channel, wrong channel. Content marketing can drive a social following but be careful about where you concentrate your effort. According to the B2B Content Marketing Effectiveness study in the US, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook were the top three distribution channels for B2B marketers in terms of sharing content and creating noise. But in terms of effectiveness, Facebook finished sixth with many posts falling foul of its notorious newsfeed algorithm.
- Speculate to accumulate. Consider paying for sponsored posts as it can be a time and cost-effective way of generating interest. With so much noise in the marketplace, a sponsored post on Facebook will allow you to pick out your market by geography, age etc. More importantly, your followers are far more likely to see your post (see 16).
- A word of warning. Always remember social media is a double-edged sword, people can share for a negative reason as much as a positive one. Not all investments in social media are guaranteed a return.
- Content marketing can pay for itself when it comes to maintaining a relationship with existing customers. Too much focus on acquisition is a common failing with marketing campaigns but the CMI report found customer loyalty was a focus for 57% of content marketing campaigns.
- The more email sign-ups the better. Persuade consumers to sign up for email. One way to do this is to offer advice on the particular product they have bought, any new offers, or exclusives on new products in the pipeline. Outdated as it seems, email’s use by Amazon proves it is a still a major channel for marketers with click through rates of around 20%. Ask new subscribers for their interests and use that data to segment and tailor content to specific groups. As simple as it sounds, keeping up that contact and providing some added value to a purchase does a lot to reinforce any emotional attachment to the brand.
- Leads, the next best thing to sales. Additionally, potential new customers can be brought in through email. The logic being that only the best leads are likely to sign up. Indeed, 80% of the most effective content marketers cite lead generation as the most important aim.