For the past few years, content marketing has thrived on a particularly lax approach to measurement, and a marketing culture that has largely championed ethics and aesthetics over demonstrable ROI. This ideological bent was brought into sharp focus last year when Contently released the stark statistic that “90% of marketers are not confident in how they are measuring content”. This was reaffirmed by the Content Marketing Institute’s own research that found only 7% of UK marketers rated their ability to gain ROI as “very successful”.
Fortunately, we’re starting to see a maturity: those that are winning in the content marketing space aren’t just interested in content creation and audience building, but also making sure their content is optimised for relationship management and value optimisation. Fundamentally, they’re looking to do content marketing that delivers demonstrable commercial results through building profitable customer relationships and a predictable pipeline of quality, qualified leads.
Editorial metrics are not business metrics
The first step towards better content marketing measurement is to delineate between what we call ‘editorial metrics’ and ‘business metrics’.
Examples of editorial metrics include page-view counts, unique visitor counts, followers, shares, comments counts, time spent on page, linkbacks and so forth. These measure the performance of a single piece of content. Examples of business metrics include direct responses (sign-ups, requests for demo/trial), purchases, lead generation, and so forth. Crucially, these measure the effect of a piece of content on a business-critical action such as a conversion or retention decision.
Making these distinctions might seem elementary but for many marketers it is a big leap to concede that editorial (or ‘engagement’) metrics are not the same metrics that deliver business value (unless, of course, ‘increased page views’ is a mandated KPI from the board!).
Measuring your content through the purchase journey
We know from the most recent research from CEB, B2B buyers get 57% of the way through the buying decision before they’re even willing to talk to a sales rep. It’s crucial, then, that content marketers measure the efficacy of their content in the steps before a prospect speaks to a sales agent (the conversion action). If we consider the run-up to this event there are three distinct stages: awareness, consideration and conversion. The same piece of content has different value at different stages of the purchase journey. Naturally, this requires that the way one measures content changes at each stage:
For awareness, your content should experience improved search engine ranking, an increase in first-time web visitors, increase in social metrics (i.e. likes, follows, +1s, RTs, pins, comments, etc.) or an increase in email signups.
For consideration, typical performance indicators that you want to see are an increase in page-views, longer visit durations, decrease in bounce rates, increase in social activity or an increase in email click-through and open rates.
Conversion speaks for itself: a content marketing strategy that is performing well should be delivering a discernible increase in marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, an increase in deals won, or shorter deal cycles.
Content marketing is only set to continue growing as a strategy in 2015. According to the latest CMI B2B Benchmarking report, 70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did one year ago. As this trajectory continues, each business is fighting a battle for buyer attention, and with this explosion of content organisations need to have a firm grasp on the quality and performance of their content.
The key to this is ruthless commitment to content measurement. Not just vanity metrics but content that has a demonstrable effect on the bottom line. As Joe Chernov of Hubspot attests, content marketers that measure ROI are twelve times more likely to achieve positive ROI growth year over year. Content marketers cannot just ‘spray and pray’ when it comes to content marketing – they need to bring a data-driven, performance marketing ethos to their work.