Before the era of digitized content, it was a guessing game about what happened with our beautiful prose. There were many days as a reporter I was left wondering if anyone read my stories at all, except for maybe my mom.
Now, years later, our content marketing programs can be tracked, measured and reported just like our ad buys or earned media mentions. But many of us charged with content strategy and creation are left scratching our heads: How do we really measure our content’s success?
According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America, 55 percent of B2B marketers and 57 percent of B2C marketers reported that their organizations still either don’t know or are unsure about what clearly defines their content marketing success. Certainly, there are many schools of thought about how to solve this measurement puzzle, and there are plenty of robust marketing and sales automation tools to help.
For the average client I work with at Pierpont, however, most are managing their content programs on their own with internal teams (often spread across geographies and departments) developing and distributing that content through their channels. Yet, many are unsure whether they are tracking, evaluating and reporting the right metrics to illustrate that content’s value. And that’s not just about reiterating data up the management chain, but equally important it’s also determining how to continuously improve your results.
Start with Your End Goal
Over the years, I’ve come to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to measurement. Each organization must determine which variables and conversion points matter most when moving stakeholders through your content pipeline. I find that organizations make two common mistakes in approaching measurement. First, they attempt to measure all content the same way, and they make it far more complicated than it needs to be. That’s why I’m a big fan of keeping your measurement approach simple, consistent and actionable.
To start, you must “begin with the end in mind,” as the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author Dr. Stephen R. Covey always prescribed. In other words, the approach you take to measurement should be based on the end goal of that content. Are you introducing your brand to a new market? Alerting existing customers of a new offering? Establishing a point of view for your CEO about a critical issue in your industry?
By identifying this end goal, you can work your way backwards to identify which actions you seek to invite. I’ve found most content usually falls into one of two buckets: brand-building content or sales-building content. Of course your content may overlap—such as using brand-building content to initially engage audiences in your sales funnel.
The difference between brand-building and sales-building content is how you track the audience’s journey.
For example, for brand-building content (e.g., blogs, social posts, etc.), you will likely have softer calls to action to visit a page or learn more. The goal with this content is creating initial or ongoing awareness, so your conversion points should be focused on those broader touch points of keeping audiences engaged. Therefore, elements to measure include things like overall site traffic, bounce rate, referral traffic, individual post/article performance and social engagement.
However, for sales-building content, the end goal is encouraging a more linear path of action (e.g., targeted drip campaigns, sign-ups for whitepapers/videos or selling a product/service). Therefore, measurement becomes far more about creating a clear path for your calls to action, leading audiences more sequentially through your pre-defined steps or conversion points. This would include evaluating your specific traffic pipelines—everything from email open rates and click-throughs to conversion points on landing pages and tracking calls, signups, etc.
Measure Consistently & Take Action
If you’re like most organizations, you’ve been producing brand-building and sales-building content for years. But your commitment to measurement may have been a bit haphazard. So to start, identify the data points you, and your leadership team, care most about and commit to monitoring them regularly. Again, look for ways to communicate your data clearly so that it’s actionable. This data will also be the framework to establish your benchmarks that you evaluate and report in your dashboard over time (see example).
Within your organization, you’ll also want to establish upfront how often you will measure your content performance. I recommend monthly monitoring and reporting, with of course, specific reporting for any special campaigns not part of your typical production cycle. After a quarter of monitoring, you’ll also want to consider creating deeper quarterly reports to capture activity. These quarterly reports provide an effective snapshot of trends to watch over time, as well as a benchmark to monitor quarter over quarter, year over year performance.
With my clients, I recommend starting the first year of your content measurement program with output-based goals as opposed to outcome-based goals. This means you establish measurement targets around output and production for each channel that you own and control. It’s a slippery slope to start a measurement program setting targets for what your audiences do—or don’t do. This is especially true if your content production has been erratic with a blog here and social post there—or you’ve had no production on a channel for quite some time.
For example, if updating your company blog has been inconsistent, then your first charge is to create a steady output of content to reconnect with your audiences. Perhaps for you that’s three blogs a month. So for year one, your output-based goal is three blogs a month and over time, as readers come to expect and seek your content, you can begin establishing benchmarks of outcome-based goals.
By approaching measurement in this way, you can get a clearer picture of how to refine your internal production process to hit, or exceed, your three blogs—and you now have enough content to fairly assess how readers engage and convert through your pipeline over time. From this insight, you can then reevaluate your approach for the next quarter or year and identify which outcome-based goals matter most.
Keep in mind that when it comes to your content program, aiming for good now is far more effective than perfect later. Or as my old magazine editor used to shout from my office door while I pounded out my stories, “cut your losses and let it go.” That said, pick a place to start and just begin.