We recently published a piece on our blog laying out the reasons you should produce content for your business’s site. In it, we said that there are only three good ones. They are:
1. SEO (content that attracts qualified leads to your site)
2. Lead Development (content that nurtures leads through the sales cycle)
3. Sale (meaning, paid content)
Yes, your content should be thoughtful, timely, and interesting. Yes, it should demonstrate your expertise and showcase your best work. But all of those very important goals are ultimately in service of the three things listed above. That’s why, when a client that specializes in, say, marketing for the non-profit sector or higher education, wants to include a category on their blog about their favorite local restaurants, we balk. That’s what your personal blog is for. Or Yelp. But not your business’s website (unless your business is Yelp, in which case, carry on).
OK, so let’s assume you’re in agreement about the three reasons for content we’ve proposed. The question then becomes: how can you tell — concretely, on the basis of data — whether your content is actually serving those goals?
Before we dig into that, though, let me say just say something that I think might ring true for a lot of you: we all know how important measurement is when it comes to successful content marketing. That’s nothing new. And yet, for many of us, the practice of systematically measuring the performance of our content and tweaking that content in response to the data — now that’s something else entirely. Believe me, I get it. Especially for smaller businesses with no budget or staff allocated specifically for content marketing, it can be such a challenge to simply produce the content that the thought of adding a layer of reporting and data analysis seems laughable. In that scenario, it’s easy to go with our gut instincts about how our content is performing, or to maybe look at one or two isolated metrics (like page views or social shares) on a sporadic basis.
If that sounds like you, not to worry: getting started with performance measurement is easier — and less time-consuming — than it seems.
Select Your Metrics
To begin, you first need to figure out which dimensions you want to track. (Note: since most, if not all, the key metrics are found in Google Analytics, this presupposes that you already have a GA account and some basic familiarity with how it works). Google Analytics offers a really robust set of reporting tools, but for our purposes, we’ll highlight the few that tend to be most immediately useful. In keeping with the three reasons for content we started with, we’ll break out the metrics by SEO and lead development; the third — sale — is less likely to apply and should, in any case, be obvious (how many units sold, and at what price?).
1. SEO (or, who is coming to the site, how are they finding it, and are they likely to be interested in your business?)
Unique visitors. This measurement tells you the number of people who have viewed a given page, with any repeat visits stripped out (giving you the net number of unique individuals).
Referral sources. This report can be found in Google Analytics by identifying a specific page and going to Secondary Dimension > Acquisition > Source. In it, you’ll see a list of the main referral sources for that page, including direct traffic (when a user types your address into her browser), Google search, and social media sites. Note that if you use ActOn for marketing automation, this will show up as the referral source for click-throughs from email blasts sent using that software.
An Epitaph for Keywords. Unfortunately (for marketers, at least), as I wrote in my last blog post about SEO, keywords have recently become much harder to track now that Google has encrypted all search queries (a trend that appears to be spreading: a recent article indicates that Bing is now doing the same). On our site, for example, 86.7% of all search terms used over the last year to reach our site are listed as “not reported.” So, while you should still research keywords in the content planning stage (using a mixture of common sense, your own expertise related to industry-specific terms, and Google’s Keyword Planner), you can’t really use keyword analysis as a way to assess the performance of content once it’s published.
2. Lead Development (or, what’s happening in terms of engagement once they get there?)
Time on page. Keeping in mind that it’s an average, this measurement tells you roughly how long users are staying on a given page. Adding to the imprecision, the time-on-page measure doesn’t necessarily tell you whether those users’ eyeballs are actually on your page — just that their browser window is pointing to it. Still, if the average time is consistently wayyyyyyy shorter than it would likely take to read and digest the content on a given page, that tells you that you’re probably not capturing the attention of visitors. This could have to do with the way the content is framed for SEO (does your content talk about what it promises to talk about in your title, meta-description, etc?), or it could be that your content is simply not engaging enough. Either way, further digging is in order.
Bounce rate. The bounce rate tells you the percentage of visitors who enter the site via a specific page and proceed to leave the site without clicking through to any other pages on your site first. This is a good indicator of engagement, but it’s important to keep in mind that the more content you produce, the higher this number is likely to be.
Conversions. Conversions can be measured a number of ways, depending on your business model and your website’s capabilities — but for our clients, at least, conversions refer to form submissions in sidebar calls to action (CTAs), like signing up for a blog digest or newsletter mailing list. Because these conversions are a clear behavioral indication of users’ interest in your content, while at the same time providing you with more personal data about those users, they are an invaluable tool in terms of lead development. Any content that seems to be driving conversions should be counted as highly successful. However — and this is important — unless a very clear pattern emerges, the rate of content-related conversions typically has more to do with your content in aggregate than it does with any specific blog post or newsletter — so don’t sweat it too much if you aren’t seeing conversions on each and every piece of content.
Set Measurement Benchmarks
Once you’ve settled on a list of metrics, you’ll want to set up a system for measuring content so that you’re comparing pieces fairly, at consistent time intervals. We recommend looking at content twice: first, at some designated time shortly after publication to review the content as an event, and then again a few months later so you can assess its long-term performance as a page. That second assessment period is your opportunity to tweak things that aren’t working. For example, you might consider reworking a page’s title and other metadata to see if you can revitalize traffic. You might also use this as an opportunity to re-promote content via social networks (assuming it’s still relevant).
The nice thing about Google Analytics is that you can set your date range for any measurement, so you can continue to do all your data gathering once a month (or at whatever interval suits your workflow) and just adjust the date range for each piece’s publication date to capture information from the appropriate window of time.
Interpret Your Data and Respond Accordingly
Unless you are publishing a bazillion pieces of new content each month, it’s probably not a bad idea to measure each new piece of content using the metrics and intervals you’ve selected. It’s not so much that you’ll gain tons of insight from each one, but more that you’ll be better positioned to identify larger trends if you’re regularly tracking all your content.
So, for example, you might start noticing that content around a particular topic seems to perform especially and consistently well, or that one type of content (blogs vs. newsletters, for example) seems to get better traction. I don’t know what you might find — and the point is, neither can you, at least not until you start looking at the numbers, consistently and across time. Assuming you go with the full set of metrics listed above, and assuming you pull data once a month, I’d guess you could do that in just an hour or two each month.
Once you start measuring the performance of your content, you can tweak your strategy so the content better matches your users’ interests, as demonstrated by the data. In doing so, you not only stand to improve the performance of your content in terms of the Big Three Reasons (SEO, lead development, and sales), but you also ensure that the time you spend creating content is being spent wisely.