Just one of the features available in PerformanceIN’s free-to-download Content Marketing digital supplement, Richard Towey argues the case that traffic generation is becoming an obsolete benchmark of content success. Advertisers should instead approach the format with a different set of motives… 

Views, hits, traffic, eyeballs: everyone has their own term for categorising people on a page or website. Traffic – for the sake of consistency – is one of the most basic ways of establishing the success of an article or any given piece of media on the web.   

It’s also valuable. Highly valuable, in fact. The promise of reach sells billions of pounds worth of display ad impressions every year. In content marketing, though, its own measure of basic awareness is in an awkward place.

A demand for performance on things like time on site and engagement is working in favour of the niche publisher – groups that may not be able to compete with some sites in terms of traffic, but can assure the writer of a relevant audience.

This granular level of assessment is now sweeping into the post-upload phase, questioning whether traffic really is a worthy barometer for gauging whether a piece of content lived up to its early promise, or flopped when it mattered.

Getting past X and Y

A tidal shift in perception from point A (views are what matters) to point B (what these views are doing) owes plenty to brands getting ‘serious’ with content. There is pressure on turning the millions spent on content every year into hard return, as proven by studies such as the one ran by NewsCred in 2015, showing that 57% of content marketers are eyeing ROI as a priority for the year.

The same study urged readers and respondents to move away from “pageviews” and “uniques” towards producing content that carried a meaningful impact on business.

Thus, there is now a greater focus on bringing relevant users through the door. In this sense, it’s less about the total number of viewers and more about the quality of personnel being reached.

“For us, it’s about getting ‘motivated’ traffic through the site, which equates to the quality of customer we manage to send to the likes of BT and Sky,” comments Mark Irwin, marketing director at Broadband Choices.

The site prides itself on being a price comparison hub for utilities as well as a place to learn about relevant sectors via blogs, guides and news stories. According to Irwin, traffic is just one of many steps towards defining whether the content performed.

“Our strategy enables good rankings through SEO, which translates into traffic, which results in sales, because people receive the information they need to make a decision about something.”

It’s important to realise this step back from prioritising with views has been observed at publishers in a traditional sense, whose sponsored content offerings are growing by the day.

“We definitely try to get past the request ‘I want X views and Y visits,” claims Lee Williams,  director of digital revenues at Haymarket Media Group, known for its publishing of FourFourTwo and PR Week among other titles.

“If that is the objective then there are numerous digital traffic-buying methods to achieve this, but they will not deliver the best result for true underlying objective of the campaign.”

A matter of trust?

This change in mindset seems to have triggered a range of actions – not least a heavy investment in data management at Haymarket and the granular analysis of user interests, but also the marriage of publishers and advertisers based on commonalities.

As of January 2014, there were 861,379,000 registered host domains, up 350,000 year on year. Competition in the publisher space is at an all-time high, yet there is certainly money to be made in broadening horizons; catering for a larger audience; packing in a greater number of audience interests; satisfying even more advertisers. There is, however, a viable argument to stay niche and targeted.

In a poll of trust conducted on 2,000 consumers by UK affiliate network affilinet, bloggers placed third. Family and friends were first and second respectively, while brands placed a lowly ninth. The research urged advertisers to work smarter to find out who was “influencing” their target market after witnessing a “big shift away” from mass, one-to-many marketing strategies.

Reverting back to Haymarket’s need to drill into an advertiser’s needs beyond obtaining a certain amount of views, bloggers are now able to position themselves as the gateway to highly motivated audiences. A hip-hop publication may not boast the same numbers as Billboard or Rolling Stone, but it can outscore the beast in other areas.

Driven by action

It’s not to say that traffic faces a battle to stay relevant. Rather – like so many facets of marketing, affected by a need for measurability and return – it is becoming increasingly obsolete as a singular method of judging success.

Huge advancements in user tracking technology have led to traffic operating as a base point for something bigger, and brands are learning that content can generate ‘hard return’ when it needs to.

This is particularly the case in B2B. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, 75% of content marketers look to their articles and media as a way of obtaining direct sales. If the purchase is a step too far, solid leads are adequate compensation – this demanded by 83% of the CMI’s study group.

Away from sales, the content marketers’ ever-expanding toolset is helping brands translate wordsmithery and ideas into benefits across the company as a whole.

In grading content on the ability to improve customer service times among other skills, proving success on traffic or reach almost seems like a throwback to a bygone era; surpassed by one that sports an action-driven edge.

There will always be a demand for ‘awareness’ campaigns, by new companies or otherwise, that champion traffic above all. But marketers are fast realising that it’s not just about drawing a crowd; it’s about what happens afterwards, too.